Stop the spread of invasive species with a few simple practices

Using boot brush stations, planting native species in your yard, and buying firewood locally are a few ways you can protect the environment.

Boot Brush
Boot brush stations are popular at trailheads. This simple tool can remove invasive seeds that may be stuck to the bottom of your shoes. Just scrub your footwear on the brush before and after taking a hike.

The term invasive species is broad and refers to any living organism that is not native or naturally found in an ecosystem and causes harm. This harm could be to the environment (outcompeting native wildlife for food), harm to the economy (reducing home values), or harm to human health (spreading disease). Invasive species can come from overseas or may even be native to a specific part of the United States. For example, red swamp crayfish are native to the southern United States but considered an invasive species in Michigan because they were introduced by human activity and outcompete our native crayfish for food and space.

Many invasive species are introduced to new ecosystems by accident. Over 25% of aquatic invasive species found in the Great Lakes were introduced by ballast water from ocean-going vessels. Smaller boats can also carry aquatic invasive species to inland waters when they attach to trailers and propellers. Insects move around in firewood, on shipping pallets and in plants that are offered for sale. Sometimes ornamental plants used for landscaping escape cultivation and become invasive. Invasive species may even be unwanted pets that are released into the environment by their owners who no longer want them. It can be overwhelming to think about the seemingly countless ways invasive species could invade your yard, lake or favorite hiking spot.

Preventing invasive species is easy

The good news is that each of us can prevent invasive species from spreading by following a few simple steps:

  • Don’t landscape with invasive plants! While some plants are prohibited from sale, it’s best to plant native or at least avoid plants with an invasive tendency. Visit a local nursery and consult with them or connect with your local MSU Extension office to see if they have native plant sales during this time of year. Say goodbye to tree of heaven and hello to flowering dogwood! Check out the Michigan State University Native Plant website for a variety of resources.
  • Clean your hiking and fishing gear to ensure you are not accidentally spreading hitchhiking invasive species to your favorite places. Simply wiping down your gear should do the trick. Many parks have boot brush stations to assist in the cleaning process. For those who fish, consider trading in your felt-soled waders for rubber ones. An added benefit is they are much easier to keep clean! Check out the PlayCleanGo website for additional tips on keeping hiking and fishing gear invasive species free.
  • Don't pack a pest - avoid moving firewood! Firewood is a favorite home for many invasive insects like the pesky emerald ash borer. Support local businesses and buy firewood where you burn it. Learn more about buying firewood locally on the Don’t Move Firewood website.
  • Never dump an unwanted aquarium or plants and animals from water gardens into lakes or streams. Give or trade with a hobbyist or surrender to a local retailer. Check out the Reduce Invasive Pet and Plant Escapes website for more information on disposal options.
  • Clean, drain, and dry your boat after leaving lakes. Plants wrap around propellers and zebra mussels can stick to the sides of boats. Thoroughly remove all debris from your boat and trailer, drain water from live wells and bilges, and consider letting it dry before enjoying another lake. The Clean Boats, Clean Waters website has an educational resource library if you are interested in learning more about clean boating practices.

Our best defense against invasive species is you! The more eyes in the forests, yards, lakes, and wetlands the better. Learn how to identify some of Michigan’s least wanted invasive species and report them online through the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network.

There is work happening at the national, state, and local level to prevent and manage invasive species. In Michigan, every county has a Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, commonly referred to as a CISMA. Your local CISMA can provide technical assistance, identification tools, training workshops, treatment options, monitoring assistance, and educational materials. They work with a variety of nonprofit organizations, businesses, government entities, and volunteers to tackle invasive species and prevent their spread. While not all CISMAs have funds to treat invasive species on private property, they can connect you with contractors or provide advice on how to do the work yourself. Many also have invasive species remove equipment available to rent.

Curious if you have an invasive species in your yard or lake?

Consider submitting a photo to your local CISMA (find yours on the Michigan Invasive Species Coalition website) or seek advice at Michigan State University. Plant identification is one of the many services offered by the Michigan State University Plant & Pest Diagnostics and the MSU Herbarium. Help is also available through the MSU Extension Lawn and Garden Hotline (1-888-678-3464) and Ask Extension. There are also a variety of mobile device apps that use photo recognition software to identify plants. You can learn more about them and their accuracy in this MSU Extension article.

If you do have an invasive species in your yard, do your research before removing it. If you plan to use an herbicide, read the label carefully - not all are safe to use near water. If removing by hand or cutting, send all plant fragments to a landfill or burn them, never compost. Many invasive plant species can regrow from small pieces.

A version of this article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of the Lakefront Lifestyles Magazine.

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