Katmai team fights invasive plants

Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) often grows on lake shores in Katmai. Its heart-shaped seed pods are a distinguishing characteristic. (NPS photo)
Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) often grows on lake shores in Katmai. Its heart-shaped seed pods are a distinguishing characteristic. (NPS photo)

Staff at Katmai National Park are taking steps to combat invasive plants like shepherd’s purse, common dandelion, and a legume called bird vetch.

Jordan Tourville is with the Exotic Plant Management Team (EPMT) at Katmai. He says these exotic species not only damage the ecology of the area, they can also threaten the park economically.

“People come to see the wildlife, the natural vegetation, the beauty. And when you have dense, matte-forming plants like birdvetch or dandelion that can form huge stands of monocultures, it can be a main detractor from tourism. It’s something we’re concerned with,” said Tourville.

Tourville says the best things for concerned visitors to do is to be aware of exotic species and how they spread.

“We want people to understand what these plants look like, and how they can stop the spread of the plants into the park… checking their shoes, for instance, before they walk into a park,” said Tourville.

Tourville says visitors should check with a ranger before attempting to remove any plants themselves, as seeds can be easily spread that way.

The EPMT is also on the lookout for elodea. Tourville says the aggressive underwater weed, recently found in Anchorage area, has the potential to harm salmon.

“[Salmon] prefer not to enter areas occupied by elodea,” explained Tourville. “It reduces the oxygen content of the water, and it reduces the habitat available to them.”

Earlier this summer an infestation of elodea at major floatplane hub Lake Hood prompted the state to begin spraying the lake with herbicide. Katmai staff ask that float plane pilots who may be traveling from Lake Hood take precautions not to spread the weed to the waters of Katmai.