Shrub Killing Big Game
There are hundreds of invasive non-native plant species in the West that are problematic from a wildlife habitat and ecosystem function standpoint. Some of these plant species may even pose a risk to individual animals if consumed. Unfortunately folks in Idaho are learning this the hard way. Wildlife officials are blaming a non-native ornamental landscaping shrub on the death of 50 pronghorn (pictured above) and 8 elk.
Near Payette Idaho 50 pronghorn were discovered deceased. When carcasses were evaluated by a wildlife vet it was found the animals were in good condition but had congested lungs and kidneys. All of them had plant material from a common, non-native, landscaping plant called Japanese yew in their esophagus and rumen. Cause of death was determined to be Japanese yew toxicity. A similar scene played out in the Boise foothills when a group of eight elk were discovered dead a few weeks ago.
Chances are you may have seen Japanese yew in landscaping, we have, it’s fairly common. Japanese yew contains toxins called taxine A and B, which can be fatal if ingested by dogs, cats, horses, big game, and even people. Wildlife officials are calling for folks to remove the plant if they have it in their yards.
Plant Super Villains
Although an extreme example, this situation illustrates an important point. Non-native invasive plants is one of the greatest threats we have to sustainable wildlife populations. It might not be from direct poisoning like in Idaho, but it decreases the quantity and quality of habitat wildlife need to survive. Take cheat grass for example. It covers millions and millions of acres in the West. It’s non-native to the U.S. and out competes native plants for water and space extremely well. It also burns easily (usually every 7-15 years) and thrives in recently burned areas, thus promoting itself. It’s kind of a wildlife habitat super villain. There are a lot of examples like this where non-native plants are attacking native wildlife habitat. Many of these plants have spread through ornamental landscaping like Japanese yew.
For reasons mentioned above and many other reasons there has been a movement to plant native landscapes. There are several benefits to planting plants where they usually occur. They are adapted to the local soils and moisture and don’t need fertilizer. This means they need much less of your care to survive. Our favorite reason is native plants are WAY better for native wildlife! A native landscape can provide habitat, shelter, and food for birds, insects, squirrels, etc…,and if big game eat it they don’t die. These recent events are surely tragic. We hope the word gets out and a lesson is learned.