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Alle-Kiski Valley native, ecologist Bier appointed to fifth term on state's Invasive Species Council

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Charles Bier, on his Buffalo Township property watching birds, has been reappointed to the Pennsylvania Invasive Species Council. Dec. 28, 2012 Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Alle-Kiski Valley native and ecologist Charles Bier was recently appointed to his fifth term on the state's Invasive Species Council.

Bier, 58, of Buffalo Township is senior director of conservation science at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, where he has worked for 30 years.

“He is truly one of the most talented and knowledgeable people I've had the privilege of being around when it comes to nature and the environment,” said Jim Bonner, executive director of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Gov. Ed Rendell created the Invasive Species Council in 2004 to combat non-native species that impact biodiversity in Pennsylvania. The council is chaired by the state secretary of agriculture and includes members from six other governmental agencies and nine nongovernmental agencies.

The council makes recommendations on how to manage and prevent the introduction of non-native plants and animals like the destructive gypsy moth and multiflora rose bush.

“One of our missions is to work to protect nature and biodiversity, and one of the real challenges to doing that is that there are a lot of non-native species that are present or being introduced into America,” Bier said. “They work against the continued existence of our natives.”

During his time on the Invasive Species Council, Bier said members have strategized about how to control two of more recently discovered invasive species: Asian carp and feral swine.

Asian carp can grow up to 2 feet long and weigh 20 pounds. It has a voracious appetite and depletes the food chain in rivers to the extent that native species can no longer survive, Bier said.

Feral swine, which are a wild type of swine native to Europe, have been moving up from the southern states and weren't known in Pennsylvania until a few years ago, he said. The swine damage farms and private property and carry diseases that can be transferred to farm animals.

The state implemented a trapping program for the swine based on a council recommendation.

“So far, the population hasn't exploded,” Bier said. “There are a lot of states that are struggling with this.”

An O'Hara native, Bier pursued his interest in nature as a student at Fox Chapel High School. He participated in the Junior Audubon program, leading nature hikes and helping to publish a student newsletter focused on the outdoors.

He became the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania's first paid employee. He worked at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel when the Audubon opened its headquarters there in 1977, Bonner said.

Bier continued his service with the Audubon Society by helping to manage the Todd Nature Reserve, which is located near his home.

“He has been invaluable in helping to steward the reserve and in helping us with a whole host of things out there,” Bonner said.

At the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Bier is seen as the go-to scientist for information about Pennsylvania's flora and fauna, said Tom Saunders, president and CEO of the conservancy.

One of Bier's true talents is his ability to share his deep experience and knowledge with others, he said.

“He has an amazing ability to educate and connect with people about the natural world,” said Saunders. “I've been in a room full of people who don't know much about nature, and they listen with rapt attention as he talks about some place he's been. He brings it alive and makes you realize how important it is.”

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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