Invasive Species

Invasive Species:  What They Are, Why You Should Care, What We Are Doing About Them, and Additional Resources

What are “invasive species”?

According to the National Invasive Species Council (NISC), “An invasive species is a non-native species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human, animal, or plant health.”

Japanese knotweed.  Randy Westbrooks, Invasive Species Prevention Specialist,
Japanese knotweed. Randy Westbrooks, Invasive Species Prevention Specialist,

For a bit of further clarification for those that aren’t necessarily fluent in scientific jargon, a “species” is just a specific type of living thing or organism.  For instance, a sugar maple, red maple, and silver maple are all different species of maple trees.  All of these maple trees happen to be native to Michigan, which means that prior to any human interference (typically thought of as pre-European settlement), silver, red, and sugar maples could all be found living in suitable places in Michigan.

So, simply put an “invasive species” is a plant, animal, fungus, or other living thing that was not found in a specific area prior to European settlement and either does or is likely to cause damage to the environment, economy, or health of humans, plants, or animals.

Phragmites.  Bernd Blossey, Cornell University,
Phragmites. Bernd Blossey, Cornell University,

Why are invasive species such a concern?

Invasive species cause such a concern because they are responsible for billions of dollars in damage to the environment every year.  According to one scientific paper, the estimated cost is $120 BILLION in damages per year in the United States alone (Pimental et al. 2005).

Invasive species interfere with how the environment works.  Important environmental functions are compromised such as cleaning the water and providing food and shelter for native animal species to survive and thrive in their historical homelands.  Once scenic vistas can be ruined, great fishing spots go dry, property values diminish, common plants and animals become scarce, and the list of negative impacts goes on and on.

Anyone interested in preserving some semblance of continuity between how you and your grandparents experienced nature, and how your children and grandchildren will experience nature in the future should be concerned about the spread of invasive species throughout Michigan and the United States.

What is the Allegan Conservation District doing about invasive species?

The Allegan Conservation District is part of a collaborative called the West Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (WMCISMA) and is also a member of The Stewardship Network’s West Michigan Cluster.  Because invasive species don’t recognize political boundaries, the multiple member organizations of these two collaboratives help us and the people we serve by crossing county lines with on-the-ground invasive species management assistance and educational outreach activities.  Through the pooling of financial and human resources we are able to accomplish much more together than any one of us would be able to accomplish on our own.

The WMCISMA was awarded $393,900 in February 2015 by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to treat invasive plant species and provide educational outreach to landowners in Oceana, Newaygo, Mecosta, Muskegon, Kent, Montcalm, Ottawa, and Allegan Counties.  This grant will be in effect through the end of 2016.

Black swallow-wort.  Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,
Black swallow-wort. Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut,

During the time this grant is in effect, the WMCISMA will employ experts in invasive species management who will be available to:

  • Help landowners identify and treat invasive plants on their land;
  • Team up with local agencies of government to treat invasive plants on public land;
  • Provide workshops for the general public to help inform them of the concerns regarding invasive plants, how to properly identify invasive plants, the tools available to the public for the management of invasive plants, and related topics;
  • Reach out to nurseries, landscapers, and others in the horticultural industry to educate them on the concerns regarding invasive plant species.

What happens when the DNR Invasive Species grant is over and the money runs out?

The Allegan Conservation District and the WMCISMA will continue to apply for grants to receive funding for their programs and services related to invasive species management long into the future, but as anyone who has ever worked with grants knows grant funding is never a sure thing.  In the end it will be up to the individual citizens and local government entities in the counties served to recognize the benefit of continued invasive species management and step forward with their verbal and financial support.  Any break in our vigilance and ability to treat and manage invasive species in a timely manner could result in permanent (or at the very least much more expensive) impacts to the local environment.

Want help identifying a plant you think may be invasive?  Check out our Contact page and give us a call or drop us an email.

Additional Invasive Species Resources:

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