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Help eradicate invasive weeds from our Park

In his book, The Diversity of Life, Harvard professor E.O. Wilson describes what happened when British colonists introduced, as a “sports fish,” the Nile perch into Africa’s Lake Victoria. One of the world’s richest in freshwater fishes, the lake was home to almost 400 species of herbivorous small fish. Being algae- and detritus eaters, these kept the lake waters healthy and provided for much of the protein needs of people in shoreline communities. Within barely more than two decades the introduced perch, a predator fish that can grow to six-foot length and 200-pound weight, eliminated 60 percent of the native fish species. With these and their organic-matter recycling lost from the lake, the water’s oxygen became depleted in large areas, causing “dead zones” uninhabitable to any fish. The livelihoods of local fishermen, too, was lost, as they could not compete against big fishing fleets that had come in.
The perch, a profitable catch for large commercial boats and processed in foreign-owned, largely automated processing plants onshore, would be marketed in Europe and elsewhere. Local people, unable to afford the commercial fish would resort to processing fish waste, that is, head, backbone and tail, as new food source.
The Lake saw more disaster when a foreign plant, water-hyacinth established itself there. Within a decade after first sighting in 1988, this weed suffocated areas of large extent with thick vegetation mats. Breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes, they also choked off sunlight to lower water levels, enlarged the dead zones that kill off fish and other aquatic animals, clogged irrigation canals and water pipes and, like the perch, caused devastation for the Lake’s native aquatic species and shoreline communities. The hyacinth, native to South America, had been introduced as a landscaping plant to nearby Rwanda, by Belgian colonists seeking to beautify their estates.
Though Lake Victoria may exemplify, in Dr. Wilson’s words, “the most catastrophic extinction episode of recent history,” the planet’s biological endowment is being decimated through foreign-species impacts, worldwide. In the US, nearly half the plants and animals on the threatened or endangered species list are at risk primarily through various foreign interlopers. The Department of Agriculture estimates at $138 billion a year their cost, through losses in agriculture or damage-control expenditures, to the US economy.
The Legislature, through a Joint Resolution, is raising awareness of this increasingly urgent problem. Recognizing the invasive plants’ injuriousness and costliness to “our state’s natural areas, wildlands, farmlands, managed forests, recreation areas and parks, and home landscapes,” the Resolution designates Feb. 22-27 as “Invasive Weed Awareness Week” in Tennessee.
In sections of Persimmon Ridge Park, trees and native herbaceous plants are being choked by Multiflora rose and various other woody invasives. Citizen volunteers are starting an effort to rid the Park of these, through manual removal methods. A first, 2-hour work session is planned for the first day of spring, Saturday, March 20, beginning at 10 a.m. Any citizens wishing to participate are invited and should come to the picnic pavilion behind the Wetlands Water Park at that time.