Thursday, 15 November 2018

Why Are Invasives So Bad?

photo of Phragmites also called common reed grass.

Phragmites creates stands so dense that wildlife cannot move though it.

For the past year, I have been fielding questions about conservation, biology and invasive species on the forum Quora. It gives me a chance to hear the questions and concerns that people have and give back to the community. Questions I think Conservation Digest readers might be interested in have found their way into the FAQ section of this website.

This question appeared last week. Below is my response. After reading it, I hope you see what motivated me to create the website and write this blog.

Invasive garlic mustard, honeysuckle and buckthorn have all but wiped out spring wildflowers from the woodlands of southern Wisconsin. Japanese knotweed crowds out everything along stream banks where it becomes established. Wild parsnip causes serious chemical burns when the sap gets onto the skin. Cattails take over wetlands reducing open water for waterfowl and displacing the native sedge, reeds and wetland wildflowers. Phragmites (common reed) creates such dense stands that waterfowl cannot use the wetland.

Those four sentences capture a small portion of the problems caused by invasive plants that plague natural areas in Wisconsin. They only begin to scratch the surface of the issues created by invasive species.

Check out our new webpage About Invasive Species to learn more about the problem and how to prevent new invaders from getting a foothold in Wisconsin.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

About Invasive Species

photo of Phragmites also called common reed grass.

Phragmites creates stands so dense that wildlife cannot move though it.

It can be really confusing when people talk about invasive species. What exactly are they and why should I care? These questions are especially important for landowners because invasive plants, and to a lesser extent invasive animals, can cause real and lasting damage. Because many of them have been around for years, a property owner may not even know they these unwanted guests or why they pose a problem.

Picture of common buckthorn leaves

Common buckthorn branch. Photo credit: University of Georgia.

Problem Plants

Invasive garlic mustard, honeysuckle and buckthorn have all but wiped out spring wildflowers from the woodlands of southern Wisconsin. Japanese knotweed crowds out everything along stream banks where it becomes established. Wild parsnip causes serious chemical burns when the sap gets onto the skin. Cattails take over wetlands reducing open water for waterfowl and displacing the native sedge, reeds and wetland wildflowers. Phragmites (common reed) creates such dense stands that waterfowl cannot use the wetland.

Those four sentences capture a small portion of the problems caused by invasive plants that plague natural areas in Wisconsin. They only begin to scratch the surface of the issues created by invasive species.

Staying with plants for a moment, think about how many millions of dollars farmers and ranchers spend every year controlling weeds. They pass along those costs to us in the price of our food. Pesticide drift causes both economic and health threats to farm workers and neighbors. Chemical residues are a problem for consumers.

Picture of zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels colony. Photo credit: USDA

Not Just Weeds

Moving past invasive plants, Zebra mussels cause millions of dollars of damage to power plant systems while reducing the electricity they can generate. Those same invasive mollusks consume the available food for native insects and shell fish causing the base of the food chain to collapse. The lakes they invade turn into water deserts.

Those who grew up in Wisconsin before 1975 will remember the curse of alewife. They are a small invasive fish whose populations exploded in the 1960s. Alewife consumed all the small fish and insects that form the bottom of the food chain. That effectively destroyed the commercial lake trout fishery in Lake Michigan. Fish biologists fought over how to control them and settled on introducing Coho salmon to the great lakes. While coho reduced the alewife and created a new game fishery, native lake trout stocks have not recovered as hoped.

Emerald ash borer (EAB) is an invasive beetle that is destroying  Wisconsin’s green ash trees. Homeowners, public works departments and park managers planted millions of green ash trees over the past half century. That makes them one of the most popular trees on the urban Wisconsin landscape. Whole neighborhoods to lost their terrace trees to EAB. Many parks have gaping holes in their shade canopies.

The emerald ash borer is also wiping out the native black ash, which Native American tribes in Wisconsin call basket wood. Ho Chunk woven wood baskets are purchased by collectors around the world. The loss of black ash means an important cultural and economic resource disappears from the state.

Long History

Invasive species are nothing new. Farmers introduced sheep to northern Wisconsin during World War II. Sheep brought with them a liver fluke that nearly wiped out the white tailed deer population in those counties. Dutch elm disease swept through Wisconsin in the 1960s doing away with a large percentage of our native elm trees. Recently, the pest has returned to attack many of those trees it missed the first time, as well as their offspring.

As long as people get on planes and ships, moving around the world and bringing living stuff with them, the threat for bad things happening will be there. Sometimes invaders are introduced on purpose because the they pose is not understood. Other times pest species sneak in as weed seed in grain, or insect eggs in pallets.

Picture of Asian longhorn beetle on human finger.

Asian longhorn beetle. Photo credit: USDA

Solutions Are Simple But Difficult

There is a way to stop them from becoming a serious problem. The key is early detection and eradication. In 1998, Asian longhorn beetles were discovered on the north side of Chicago. This is a pest that kills maples and other trees in genus Acer. The black and white beetle spreads with amazing speed. The beetles were traced back to pallets that arrived from China that were delivered to a local hardware distributor. Local officials jumped into action and in what was seen by some as over reaction, cut down 1,500 in northeastern Illinois. This quick response stopped the invasion in its tracks, so that by 2003 there were no new infestations.

Be Part of the Solution

You can help. Check out the Wisconsin DNR invasive species website and learn how you can identify them. Report suspicious plants or pests to the DNR using their reporting website. Citizen science is becoming popular in the state. The Wisconsin Early Detection Network is a program of the UW Extension Weed Science program. It encourages landowners to actively get involved in locating and reporting new invaders. The DNR will eradicate prohibited species preventing major problems.

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2017

December 2017

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Landowner Help for Common Reed Control

Picture of standing man with common reed towering over him.

Photo by James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Landowners across southeastern Wisconsin know about common reed, an invasive grass that is even tougher than cattails. If this invasive species is on your hit list we have good news for you.

Description

Common reed (Phragmites australis), also called phragmites, invades moist habitats including lake shores, river banks and roadways. It has extensive rhizomes that can quickly spread underground and take over large areas. These rhizomes store energy, as a result, the plant can recover from cutting, burning or grazing. 

Common reed alters hydrology and wildlife habitat, increases fire potential, and shades native species. It can spread through root fragmentation, long runners above ground, and sometimes windblown seeds or cut stem fragments. Phragmites is on the Wisconsin DNR Chapter 40 list of prohibited and restricted species.

According to the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Phragmites is the tallest wetland grass in Wisconsin. It grows upwards of 14 feet. Seed heads are visible from August to September, and it has a round stem, long, wide leaves. Its prominent plume-like seed head that is whitish to purplish in color. Be aware, there is a variety of Phragmites native to Wisconsin that forms less dense patches (you can generally see through the stand) and flowers earlier (July to August).

The Midwest Invasive Plant Network (MIPN) is working in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service Region 9, to host a series of 3 webinars in January and February featuring case studies of the restoration of sites invaded with exotic pest plants.

Webinar

Illustration of common reed seed head.

The first event will be on Tuesday, January 16th, 11:30 – 12:30 CST. The presentation is titled “Bridging the Gap – New Insights on Technology and on-the-ground Management of Phragmites.” The presentation will be given by Steve Apfelbaum, Founder and Chairman of Applied Ecological Services out of Brodhead, Wisconsin.

For free registration, please visit the MIPN site, and make sure the email address mipn@mortonarb.org is in your approved contacts to receive the webinar link.

October 2017

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

EPA Awards $2.7M for WI Weed Control

Picture of Lake Michigan beach with trees, dune grass and shrubs.

Lake Michigan’s magnificent shoreline faces huge challenges.

The EPA announced that it has awarded 2.7 million dollars to five Wisconsin groups to help control invasive plants in the state. The grants are part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium will receive $600,000 to implement a multi-organization collaboration to control the spread of invasive species along 2,000 miles of roadways and more than 600 acres of woodland habitat. The collaboration will include local government roadway crews, property owners, community-based organizations and school groups.

Picture of someone spraying herbicide on a tree stump.

Volunteer treats freshly cut stump sapwood with Garlon 4 to prevent the tree from re-sprouting.

The Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission is granted $599,997 to control invasive species on approximately 1,000 acres in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin. Funding will help protect high quality habitat, as well as increase access to the coastline and nearshore areas.

The Wisconsin Tribal Conservation Advisory Council will use their $393,750 grant to employ four tribal civilian conservation corps, who will work with eleven tribes to prevent the degradation of subsistence fish and wild rice resources. Funded staff will also manage aquatic, wetland and terrestrial invasive species on more than 500 acres of tribal lands.

Picture of chainsaw and helmet on truck tailgate.

Gearing up for oak savanna restoration.

Two new invasive control employees will be funded for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. They will receive $551,669 to pay for two new crew members to control invasive species in 900 acres of the Great Lakes Basin. Lake Winnebago Chain of Lakes and the Fox River above Green Bay will be targeted.

An award of $599,673 will go to the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership to control invasive species on approximately 1,370 acres of wetland and aquatic habitat in northeastern Wisconsin. The funded project will improve the ecosystem services and enhance tourism, property values and navigation.

According to Jim Kettler, Executive Director of the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership. “LNRP efforts to control and limit Phragmites spread will focus on collaboration between stakeholders including federal, state, and county agencies, local townships, private landowners, community non-profits, and natural area and right-of-way managers through the implementation of best management practices, education, and outreach.”

Contact Allison Nowotarski (nowotarski.allison@epa.gov) for more information about these grants.