Thursday, May 01, 2008

Invasive Species and Citizen Support

Refuge System Battles Invasive Species; Citizen Support is Key
May 01 , 2008 from EV Living

Invasive plants and animals—introduced to the lands and waters of the United States from foreign shores—continue to plague national wildlife refuges. Some efforts to stem this threat are already in place and beginning to take hold. But there are other steps people can take to help by slightly altering their routines.

About 2.4 million acres of the 98-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System are currently infested with invasive plants, according to the 2007 Refuge Annual Performance Plan. Additionally, 4,423 invasive animal populations occupy refuge lands—from the brown treesnake overrunning Guam National Wildlife Refuge to the more common nutria, a species that has spread to many states that was brought from South America when its fur was highly marketable.

National wildlife refuges spent more than $11 million last fiscal year in fighting this problem, which has become pervasive. During each of the past four years, the Refuge System has treated an average of 14 percent of the acres infested with invasive plants.

Five Invasive Species Strike Teams have been mobilized to respond rapidly to the detection of new and threatening infestations. They are working in Arizona, New Mexico, the Upper Missouri/Yellowstone/Upper Columbia River basins, south Florida, North Dakota, and Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

In the near future, a team led by biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be gearing up to rid Rat Island, part of Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, of its namesake invader. More than 200 years ago, Norway rats came ashore to Rat Island when a Japanese ship ran aground. The rat spill changed the island from a predator-free sanctuary for ground-nesting seabirds into a death trap. There are virtually no seabirds left.

The team will hit every potential rat territory on the island, including all vegetated offshore rocks and islets. And areas that can’t be reached by helicopter, such as overhanging cliffs and coastal areas, will be visited by biologists on foot.

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge became a beacon of success in 2004, when it eradicated nutria. But the battle is never-ending, and the refuge’s nutria-free status now depends largely on neighboring landowners to control nutria on their lands. Today, an intensive trapping and detection program is maintained on 130,000 acres of coastal marsh surrounding and including Blackwater Refuge.

Citizen support is key in the battle against invasive species. The Refuge System has worked for the past three years with the National Wildlife Refuge Association, The Nature Conservancy and the National Institute of Invasive Species Science on a program that has enabled about 2,750 volunteers to inventory, treat and restore more than 211,000 acres of Refuge System land.

Many of these refuge volunteers are called upon to wage hand-to-hand combat with invasives. At Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, the New England Invasive Plant Group—a network of agencies and organizations working with the refuge—fought the water chestnut. The aquatic invasive floats on the water’s surface and displaces native plants. The infestation at Log Pond Cove was first detected in 1997, not long after the refuge was established. Once the plant is well established, eradication is next to impossible.

Silvio O. Conte Refuge began to show progress in controlling the problem only after it enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteers to hand-pull the weed, year after year. Machine pulling was not doing the job.

How Citizens Can Help
Learn How to Fight: In collaboration with the Center for Invasive Plant Management, the National Wildlife Refuge System has designed an online training course for volunteers and others interested in joining the army to help fight invasive plant species—one of the single greatest threats to the Refuge System. The new Web-based training course, includes video, text and photos that provide information about the science and management of invasive plants.

In Fishing Season:
• Don’t dump any bait, especially minnows or crayfish, into streams or lakes after fishing.

• Be sure to inspect and thoroughly clean your fishing gear, including boats, trailers and waders. Invasive plants and animals, like hydrilla and zebra mussels, can quickly spread to uninfested waters by hitchhiking on gear used by anglers.

In the Garden:
• When looking for ornamental plants or groundcover for your home or garden, use native plants. Many areas now have nurseries specializing in local native plants, or search online for your local native plant society that can make recommendations for you.

• If you do use a non-native plant, ask your local nursery if it is an invasive species in your area.

• When buying a potted plant, check for unwanted weeds growing in the pot and make sure to pull them out before planting.

• When you pull unwanted weeds out of your lawn or garden, make sure to remove the entire plant and carefully bag it for disposal. Seeds from a dying plant can spread into uninfested areas.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit


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