Three years before Governor Rendell signed Executive Order 2004-1, which created the Pennsylvania Invasive Species Council, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recognized the devastating impacts of invasive plants in riparian areas.
In 2001, DEP awarded Natural Biodiversity, then termed the Invasive Species Control Program, an Environmental Stewardship Fund grant to inspect invasive plants within the Conemaugh River watershed and re-diversify riparian areas.
With matching funds from the Pennsylvania Foundation for Watersheds (known at the time as the Western Pennsylvania Watershed Program), partners joined forces to implement nine visible demonstration riparian forest buffer restoration projects, create a restoration handbook, and form Natural Biodiversity, the program that exists today.
With significant state funding in place, Natural Biodiversity was able to secure its first National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to form a cooperative effort in managing invasive plants within the 1,887 square-mile Kiski–Conemaugh River Basin.
The most important event aided directly by the ESF grant was the demonstration site open house that occurred in July 2002, involving about 25 attendees, most of whom became Natural Biodiversity steering committee members, volunteers, and ambassadors.
With this grant, Natural Biodiversity focused on the floral composition of riparian areas by examining the impacts of invasive plants, specifically Japanese knotweed. It also demonstrated how restoration is possible in the face of entrenched invasive plant problems. One of the most important outcomes of the project was the realization that early detection and rapid response to invasive species is key to protecting landscapes, ecosystems, people, and economies from the impacts of invasive species. With the 2001 Growing Greener grant, Natural Biodiversity was created and launched a three-pronged approach which still exists today: assessment, conservation and engagement.
Natural Biodiversity has since implemented an aerial hyperspectral invasive plant survey, developed an innovative invasive-plant predictive model, and engaged over 1,000 citizens in land-restoration service. Program staff have participated in many exciting projects, from a DCNR Wild Resource Conservation Program-supported invasive species curriculum for Pennsylvania educators to the NFWF-funded Juniata Cooperative Weed Management Area. Natural Biodiversity prioritizes invasive plants based on their ecological impacts and is developing landscape-scale early detection and rapid response.