TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — As invasive species continue to damage the natural flora and fauna of the region, the state is working to help residents combat the many invasive species that can be found in Indiana through awareness, education, and easy access to experts.

The State of Indiana Cooperative Invasives Management (SICIM) has recently entered into a new five-year agreement with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help fund the Indiana Invasives Initiative. 

The funding will help to maintain the staff and general operations of the Indiana Invasives Initiative while also providing some reimbursements for the Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) in the state for their conduction of Weed Wranglers, landowner surveys, and other outreach events. 

With the goal of having every county in the state represented by a local Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, SICIM will continue to work with counties in the area that are in need of invasive species management.

“We really just want to get everybody on board and the best way to do that is to create groups in every county and to help them out along the way. They can come to a meeting and bring their concerns and their plants to be identified, and if there’s a project that they know needs worked on. For example, if they love a certain part of a trail but it’s just overrun with something they see as a problem, we can help coordinate work days in that county,” explained Amber Slaughterbeck, West-Central Regional Specialist for the State of Indiana Cooperative Invasives Management.

The federal definition of an invasive species has to include two parts. A species is considered invasive if it is non-native, and more importantly, if it causes harm to the native species of the area.

“There are over 120 invasive plants in Indiana. This is a battle we’re fighting that started as a good intention. Over 80 percent of the plants on our list of invasive species in Indiana began as either landscaping or agricultural practices. These plants don’t just stay as a shrub in your landscaping, they tend to spread especially if they’re in a woodland habitat, which is what we mostly have here in Vigo County. Plants that you’re going to see all the time are things like Asian bush honeysuckle,” Slaughterbeck said.

Slaughterbeck mentioned Autumn olive, burning bush, and Japanese barberry as also being banned in the state.

While some invasive species are easier to identify than others, there are ways to identify, report, and fight back against invasive species. Primarily focusing on the honeysuckle, Slaughterbeck gave tips on how to manage invasive plants.

“If you want to get rid of it, if it’s a large one, it has a shallow root system and you can attempt to pull it out of the ground, but if you want, you can try to pop them out of the ground and make sure the roots don’t touch the ground after that. Another process, this method stands for all the invasive shrubs, you can cut all the stems and put herbicide on each open cut. Sometimes it requires a chainsaw,” Slaughterbeck said.

While there are many invasive plants in Indiana that residents should be aware of, the struggle of battling invasive insects is a very different process.

“Insects really do represent a new challenge in comparison to plants. They just kinda stay and get worse and worse over time. Insects, however, represent a different kind of problem because of how they spread,” explained Bob Bruner, the Exotic Forest Pest educator at Purdue University.

Bruner named a few different invasive species that were a problem in Indiana but stressed the growing concern of one insect in particular.

‘The spotted lanternfly is in Indiana. It currently has 2 locations that would be considered an infestation. In Huntington and in a rural area in Switzerland County. It’s a very bright insect, beige wings with black dots, it’s shaped a little bit like a cicada,” Bruner explained. “Why this insect is so important is because it attacks so many different types of plants.”

As the spotted lanternfly poses a threat to many of the native species of plants in Indiana and across the country, the insects’ method of travel and camouflage are what make it difficult to combat.

“Spotted lanternflies, they can fly, but they’re not very good at it. So they tend to land on cars and trains and when they lay their eggs, they attach them to a car or a tree, but they’ll cover them up and it makes them look like a mud speck, so it really makes it a real mess to control all that. So we do know that it got here originally by different ways of shipping,” Bruner said. “So you have this insect that can hop on trains, travel on cars, and cover its eggs so it’s hardly visible. While it won’t kill most of its hosts, it will kill grapes, which may affect our grape production. And it will attack maples and will reduce the maples’ ability to produce syrup.”

Along with the spotted lanternflies, Bruner mentioned a few other invasive insects, specifically mentioning the brown marmorated stinkbug. Bruner discussed ways to identify, get rid of, and prevent more from coming back.

“We have a few different native species of stink bugs, the one that is the big problem right now is an invasive species, its known as the brown marmorated stink bug. Unfortunately, this stink bug has been part of our lives for many years now,” Bruner said. “The brown marmorated stinkbug is marbled brown and gray and it has striping on it, usually like a beigey yellow bordered by a black band. It may not always be easy to tell the difference between them and the native ones but there’s so many of them now that you can work under the assumption that it’s a brown marmorated stinkbug.”

It may not be uncommon to see stinkbugs in and around your home during the winter months. Bruner gives some advice on ways to remove and prevent stinkbugs from entering your home.

“They come in our homes to find shelter so they can find shelter for the winter, however, they’re not very smart. They’re not meant to stay warm, they’re meant to go dormant, so they get in our homes and die. The best thing to do is to find where they’re getting in. Maybe a window screen is broken, fix it, make it so that it is sealed. They cling to us, they’re going to fly in when you open your doors, but they are not harmful to your pets at all and they don’t represent a health concern to us. Mainly, they’re just smelly and annoying and the best thing you can do is put them in a bucket of soapy water, or throw them back outside.”

While invasive species pose a threat to the natural habitat in our area, there are ways to take action. For those that may struggle to identify a plant, or who may not be able to remove it themselves, there are many great contacts and resources available.

Bruner recommended Reportinvasive.com, The Purdue Plant Doctor, and a contact for the DNR at 1-866 NO EXOTIC (1-866-663-9684).

“For the spotted lanternfly, if you see something, even if you’re not sure, go ahead and report it. If you think maybe, go ahead and call that number or that website and go ahead and report it. I would also encourage people to reach out to their local extension offices,” Bruner said.

Slaughterbeck also gave options for contacting local officials to help people identify invasive and even threatened or endangered plants on a large property.

“I would encourage everyone to reach out to me if they’re local. I’m the regional specialist. With my job, I’m allowed to go to public and private landowners and walk their property and tell them about all the invasive species they have and how to remove them,” Slaughterbeck explained. “Especially our endangered and threatened species that are on the brink of completely disappearing, those are definitely directly feeling the impacts of invasive species. It’s totally free and they can request my assistance on the website or by email or call. Or they can always send a photo for extra help identifying.”