Ihave always marveled at the natural beauty of East Texas. As a child, I spent much time immersed in East Texas’ treasures—from the rich forests of Big Thicket to the diverse wetlands of Big Cypress. As an elected representative of this great state, I consider it both a duty and an honor to help preserve these wonders for future Texans to enjoy.

Every year I take a road trip to highlight unique aspects of Texas geography and history. This year our East Texas bus tour included a visit to Caddo Lake and its magnificent national wildlife refuge.

Caddo Lake is an especially important part of East Texas. Not only is it Texas’ only natural lake, but it also provides a shelter to many species, such as the peregrine falcon and the alligator snapping turtle. Situated on our Louisiana border, Caddo Lake is one of Texas’ most diverse freshwater ecosystems, the second largest natural body of water in the South and an important point along the Central Flyway for migratory birds.

Unfortunately, Caddo Lake has come under siege by an invasive plant species. A South American plant, giant salvinia, has taken root in these pristine waters and threatens the lake’s ecological balance.

Giant salvinia is a free–floating aquatic fern that is native to Brazil. It aggressively takes over any body of water where it is introduced. It is capable of doubling in size within a few days.

Since being introduced in Caddo Lake, it has threatened the ecological health of the lake by eliminating needed oxygen in the water, killing native fish and other wildlife.

Within two years of arriving in 2006, the giant salvinia had gone from covering less than two acres of the lake’s surface to more than 1,000 acres. Because Caddo Lake is home to 216 bird, 47 mammal, and 90 reptile and amphibian species, it is imperative that we move quickly to find ways to eradicate the giant salvinia before it damages any more of the lake’s habitat.

Community leaders made me aware of this growing problem. Don Henley (known to many as a founding member of the Eagles), who was raised nearby, is also a passionate advocate for preserving Caddo Lake and its ecosystems. He founded the Caddo Lake Institute not only to help preserve the lake but also to educate generations of Texans about the importance of its ecosystem. Working cooperatively with Texas A&;M University to create the Center for Invasive Species Eradication, we have made great progress in fighting this invasive species.

This summer I toured the Giant Salvinia Eradication Project facility on the refuge and witnessed first–hand the innovative methods being developed to eradicate this aggressive invader. One successful method I was shown was the production and release of salvinia weevils—tiny insects that feed only off these plants. In addition, the project’s goal is to identify the most effective control methods—whether they are biological, chemical, mechanical or others—so that they can be used to fight invasive species in bodies of water throughout the country.

Great strides in research are being made because of the cooperative efforts among Texas A&;M researchers, federal, state and local governments, and community groups such as the institute.

After visiting the refuge and the lake this summer, I can understand why Caddo is called “the most beautiful lake you will ever see.” By working together, we can ensure that future generations of Texans will be able to enjoy its unique beauty.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior senator from Texas.