Invasive species are one of the greatest threats facing our lands and waterways. Their impacts are not just ecological but social and economic. The Forest Service estimates the economic impact of these invaders is as much as $138 billion annually. The ecological damage and secondary influences these species have on everything from recreation to agriculture make the cost jump even higher.
Looking specifically at plants, the incursion of a noxious weed is far reaching. Once established they continue to spread—displacing native plants and weakening the natural erosion and water filtration controls within a watershed. Established weeds can also change the fire ecology of an area and, in arid areas, lead to desertification or the death of natural springs. Their presence negatively influences wildlife diversity and the general health of an ecosystem. Most frightening is that once they are established—these plants are virtually impossible to remove or control.
What is the defense? A good offense—by proactively attacking the problem from all angles. Well managed and ecologically healthy lands and waters are the first step. But you can help too. An army of individuals is needed to indentify invaders early before they are out of control and to eradicate their advance. It is also essential for people to follow a few simple guidelines when visiting public lands to prevent invasions.
Let’s look at some guidelines for reducing the spread of invasive species while recreating.
- Stay on designated trails and roads especially when traveling by vehicles. Vehicles easily transport seeds and disturb soils.
- Following a trip, wash your vehicles and gear to remove seeds.
- When traveling with pack animals, bring pellets, grain, or weed-free hay to areas where feed is limited or grazing is not allowed. Also use this feed several days before leaving as seeds are dispersed through waste.
- Check your animals before and after every trip and remove any “hitchhikers” you find.
- Notify land managers when you see an outbreak of weeds. Do not pull weeds as you may inadvertently help them spread through both seed and root dispersal.
- Following a trip– wash your gear, watercraft and support vehicle.
- Make sure to remove all plant material from the watercraft, motor, trailer and other gear and dispose on dry land in a garbage container.
- Drain livewells, bilge water and transom wells at the boat launch prior to leaving.
- When fishing, use only artificial lures. Live bait has the potential to accidentally introduce exotics.
The next time you find yourself surfing the web, check out your state’s natural resources website to learn about the invasive species in your neck of the woods. Better yet, become one of the many volunteers on the front line combating these invaders threatening the beauty and health of your favorite recreation spots.
Visit the National Invasive Species Information Center to learn more about prevention and management of invasive species.