Why Invasive Plants Are Costing California a Staggering $82 Million Per Year

According to the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC), non-native plants that grow uncontrollably cost the state more than $82 million every year. That astronomical cost is for managing invasive plants. But how does California’s budget get sucked dry by invasive plants? The short answer, according to Cal-IPC, is a combination of expenses for invasive plant control, mapping, monitoring, and outreach. However, the farming, timber, and other industries that are impacted by widespread plant infestations in California suffer a stunning amount of lost revenue.

All Californians experience the effects of invasive plants in various ways, according to Cal-IPC. Invasive plants can alter and devastate the ecosystems of the wildlife that hunters and fishermen in California pursue for food. Boaters, hikers, and campers are forced out of some natural settings because of the invasion of non-native plants. Due to a spike in wildfires and congested waterways that lead to more flooding, invasive plants have an effect on Californians living in cities as well.

Let’s investigate the problems these plants cause in more detail to learn why they are costing California an astounding $82 million year.

How it Affects Biodiversity

The diversity of different living forms within an ecosystem is referred to as biodiversity. The decline of animal and plant species in impacted environments is a result of California’s invasive plants, which harm biodiversity.

Over time, the loss of biodiversity brought on by exotic species may have far-reaching effects.

Invasive species make it difficult for pollinators to adapt, which disrupts pollination throughout the entire habitat and leads to the extinction of native plants.

Due to interrupted breeding and nesting locations, loss of shelter, and a reduction in wildlife hunting and foraging areas, invasive plants outcompete native species, which results in increasingly altered food chains.

Animals in California who survive these changes must relocate to places with better conditions, leaving a worsened environment in their wake.

Invasive Arundo Plants’ High Cost

The harm done by the gigantic reed, or arundo plant (Arundo donax), is one illustration of how invasive plants alter California’s biodiversity. Arundo, a native of Asia, has a surprising amount of applications, but it also grows extremely quickly, according to the UC Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research. Each robust arundo plant has a growth rate of up to 4 inches per day and can grow to a height of 25 feet in a single year.

In addition, arundo grows so quickly that one acre planted with these invasive plants can yield 25 tons of biomass each year. Unfortunately, this implies that arundo spreads rapidly, getting out of control, and harming the local biodiversity.

How Invasive Plants Affect Agriculture in California

The negative effects of invasive plants on California’s agricultural industry include decreased crop yields, higher pesticide costs, and a demand for more labor. In fact, invasive plants are thought to cost California’s county agriculture departments’ respective businesses at least $6 million annually. The battle to bear such a hefty expense is all too true for farmers, ranchers, and lumber industries.

Here are just a few of the numerous ways California’s agricultural sectors are harmed by the high expense of invasive plant species:

  • Decreased crop and timber yields
  • Crop and timber quality compromises
  • Decrease in farmed food for livestock
  • Land rendered unfit for grazing animals
  • Affected soil health and erosion brought on by an invasive plant’s poisonous sap or oils, aggressive root systems, huge removal of invasive stands, altered biodiversity, and pesticides employed to control the issue.
  • Increased wildfire and floods incidents
  • Herbicides are expensive, and using them requires more effort and equipment.
  • increased costs for labor and supplies when removing invasive plants by hand
  • Annual costs that remain due to weeds

When you consider all those detrimental effects on agriculture, $6 million doesn’t seem to come close to making up for the loss. Where are the remaining $82 million in costs associated with invasive plants in California come from? The state organizations in charge of managing invasive plants will require a bigger percentage of this sum (about $26 million). Additionally, according to federal authorities, their management efforts in California alone cost an additional $21 million.

Agency Environmental Management Costs

Invasive plant management and eradication efforts are being made in California by numerous state and federal entities. Additionally, they project that their combined yearly costs for invasive plant treatments will exceed $47 million.

These organizations are listed along with what they do to advance the cause:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife:
The Invasive organisms Program of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife lessens the detrimental effects of alien land and aquatic organisms. Along with their cleanup initiatives, they also hold educational activities, competitions, and provide a reporting app for invasive plant observations.

California Department of Food and Agriculture:
This USDA division oversees a number of programs for the control of invasive species and operates the National Invasive Species Information Center on the internet.

California Department of Water Resources:
The California DWR conducts studies on invasive species, compiles data on them, and provides public education initiatives.

Millions of dollars must be spent year on education, documentation, and invasive plant research by these state agencies and others. However, those millions do not account for government funding expenses for direct management of invasive species and restoration of damaged ecosystems.

Additionally, many of these same agencies are impacted by the significant expenditures associated with wildfires. By making disturbed environments more flammable, invasive plants help to increase the frequency of wildfires.

Wildfires in California and Invasive Plants

It is surprising how expensive wildfires in California that are partly caused by invasive vegetation are. Unfortunately, invasive species like grasses and vines cover native plants and occasionally even reach up into trees with highly flammable vegetation.

A handful of the California invasive species on the list below have the potential to produce massive fuel loads, which encourage wildfires to spread quickly:

The invasive perennial shrub known as Scotch Broom emits a highly flammable oil.

Eucalyptus: In particular, dead leaf piles from this species still contain its volatile oils and provide a fire hazard.

Pampas grass: This lovely ornamental grass is a hazard in California and supplies a lot of dry, easily-ignitable materials.

In addition, every autumn, the arundo plant, also known as gigantic weed, produces up to 25 feet of burning growth.

Effects on Animal and Human Health

Although the estimated costs of invasive plants to Californians do not include healthcare expenses, it is crucial to note how these invaders harm our health.

Some invasive plants, such as poison hemlock, are toxic to both humans and animals, posing health concerns to anyone who comes into contact with them or consumes their leaves, fruit, or roots.

Health concerns for people, pets, animals, and wildlife are exacerbated by decreased crops, greater wildfires, and floods that are at least partially brought on by invasive plants.

Healthcare institutions require money for invasive plant programs in addition to the expenditures of medical charges and emergency services. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) in California, for instance, assesses the toxicity and health dangers of invasive species.

Cost Analysis of California’s Invasive Plants

The annual cost projections for the invasive plants in California are managed and updated by Cal-IPC. The following categories represent the cost breakdown according to the most recent estimates:

State agencies = $26 million

Federal agencies = $21 million

Districts for resource conservation = $10 million

Land trusts and conservancies = $10 million

County agriculture departments = $6 million

Regional parks and open space districts = $4 million

Non-profit organizations = $3 million

Energy = $2 million

TOTAL = $82 million

The expenses of invasive plant “control, monitoring, and outreach,” as stated by Cal-IPC, are included in the aforementioned estimations, it is vital to highlight. However, over time, the total expenses associated with invasive plant impacts reach billions of dollars.

It Takes a Village to Control Invasive Plants in California

To the greatest extent practicable, Cal-IPC collaborates with state and federal agencies, land trusts, and conservancies to manage invasive plants throughout California. However, individuals can also have a significant impact by becoming knowledgeable about invasive species, reporting plant sightings, and assisting with plant removal where practical.

To find out the best removal techniques, including when it’s best not to remove an invasive plant on your own, speak with local organizations. Hopefully, Californians working together to combat invasive species will eventually bring down these astronomical prices.