It’s summertime and in a back yard near you aliens have landed. No, this isn’t a pitch for some new action movie, it’s an honest-to-goodness problem worldwide. Alien invaders are busy smothering and swallowing up native habitats and species across the world. They don’t come from outer space, they aren’t the byproduct of some mad scientific experiment gone horribly wrong and they’re not the malignant work of an evil government. They’re displaced plants, animals, bugs, birds and fish that when put into new environments thrive with ample resources and no natural predators. They compete with native species for food an other resources without any control for their growth like predators or disease. They breed and reproduce unchecked. Invasive species have single-handedly destroyed the natural order of habitats from the Great Lakes to prairies to ocean shores to forests.
Everyone’s familiar with kudzu taking over Southern states. Currently a plant called Purple Loosestrife produces up to 2.7 million seeds per plant annually and spreads across an additional million acres of wetlands each year. Reed canary grass has spread across fields and prairies unchecked, turning huge swaths of land into a matted carpet that continues to spread and choke out everything in its path, destroying food sources for birds and animals on its way. A fast-growing kelp from the Far East is spreading along the California coast from L.A. to San Francisco Bay. It grows 6 feet long, creating dense underwater forests and choking off sunlight necessary for the native kelps that provide food and shelter for otters, fish and other marine life. The seaweed was brought over by people cultivating it for use in popular Japanese foods, clueless people who didn’t know the seaweed spreads by releasing millions of spores that do not disperse in protected bays and marinas. Ragweed, Canada thistles, leafy spurge and pigweed are other prolific invaders that choke out native species.
Marine species carried from place to place through ships’ ballast water are wiping out native species. The tree-killing Asian longhorned beetle came into Massachusetts through imported packaging from Asia. It has cost the state $25 million and 22,000 trees to date. The emerald ash borer is determinedly destroying millions of ash trees in 12 states. Wild boars are damaging native plants and crops while even posing a human threat in Texas and other states. The European Starling has taken over New York at the expense of many native songbirds.
What can YOU do as an Eco Warrior to protect the planet from invasive species?
1. Learn about the invasive species in your area. Not sure where to start? The USDA’s National Invasive Species Information Center is a great resource, offering a state by state breakdown of invasive species, lots of pictures to help you identify invasive species and ways to control them.
2. Control the invasive species on your property. If every property owner did their part, the spread of plant species in particular would be significantly slowed.
3. Volunteer to help clean up invasive species in public areas like nature centers and parks. Many have “eradication days” when volunteers take to the trails to pull loosestrife, thistles, and mustard.
4. Be aware of what you plant. Learn whether your “exotic” might become “invasive.”
5. Do not transport firewood or mulch — this is how a lot of insect species get a foothold in new forests. Buy and use only locally produced firewood and mulch. When camping, get your firewood at your campsite, don’t bring it in with you.
6. Beware exotic pets — the Giant African Snail has become a threat to the environment. In the mid 1960′s a young boy snuck 3 Giant African Snails into Florida. He released them into his grandmother’s back yard. Florida spent $1 million over 10 years to eradicate 18,000 snails resulting from his pets. If you MUST get an exotic pet, do not let it go in the wild.
7. Be a cautious boater! Drain your boat’s live wells, bilge, and motor. Remove all plants, animals, and mud from your boat and water sport equipment. Dispose of unused bait in the trash. Dry your boat and equipment thoroughly. Aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels move from lake to river to lake by hitching rides on boats, trailers, and equipment. Likewise, diseases threatening the health of many fish are transported the same way.