Feral Hogs, Domestic Cats, and More Invasive Species Are Threatening Native Wildlife at U.S. National Parks

Photo: Nina Perminova/Unsplash

Heading out on a road trip to enjoy any of the nation’s national parks is as timeless a pastime as anything in this country. Turning off your devices and admiring the majesty of the Yosemite Valley or the power of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful is just what we need in this digital age. Another big draw is the wildlife that reside in these breathtaking habitats. Bison, elk, moose, bears, deer, and… domesticated cats and feral hogs? You read that right. The number of invasive species thriving in U.S. national parks is growing and seriously threatening the native wildlife, according to a new study published in Biological Invasions.

Roughly 42 percent of threatened (or endangered) species are at heightened risk due to invasive species, according to the National Wildlife Federation. This makes invasive species among the leading threats to native wildlife.

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So what makes a species invasive? The NWF explains it “can be any kind of living organism that is not native to an ecosystem and causes harm. They can harm the environment, the economy, or even human health.” They also state that invasive species are largely a result of human activities (often unintentional), and that they don’t necessarily have to be a species from a far-off geographical area or another country. Take lake trout. They’re “native to the Great Lakes, but are considered to be an invasive species in Yellowstone Lake in Wyoming because they compete with native cutthroat trout for habitat.”

This competition leads to one of the two species being deprived of what they need to thrive—a quite literal “survival of the fittest” situation. When too many invasive species inhabit an area, the native species may get muscled out, leading to an imbalanced ecosystem. In some cases, the invasive species can even alter things like soil chemistry and introduce new diseases, reports CNN.

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Invasive species can spread in many different ways, but it’s mostly due to humans. The NWF says: “…ships can carry aquatic organisms in their ballast water, while smaller boats may carry them on their propellers. Insects can get into wood, shipping palettes, and crates that are shipped around the world. Some ornamental plants can escape into the wild and become invasive. And some invasive species are intentionally or accidentally released pets. For example, Burmese pythons are becoming a big problem in the Everglades.”

The authors of the study—experts from the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, the US National Park Service, and university departments—claim only 11 percent of the 1,409 reported invasive species are under control, CNN reports. Based on the severity of the threat to national parks’ ecosystems, the authors urge the National Park Service to declare the issue a “service-wide priority.”

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The report explains that this problem is too large to be handled on a park-by-park basis and that a system-wide approach needs to be put into place. This means that organizations need to collaborate and communicate more efficiently with each other, as well as with outside communities and nearby landowners. They also recommend employing new technologies to supplement traditional methods of invasive species prevention.

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