Don’t let unwanted species become established in your backyard

Too often landowners delay efforts to eliminate unwanted invasive species. However, once these species are established, either on land or in the waterways, they can be very difficult to control. Early detection and rapid control response is key.

Emerald ash borer damage. Photo credit: Dave Smitley l MSU Extension

Emerald ash borer damage. Photo credit: Dave Smitley l MSU Extension

Invasive species by definition are exotic organisms which cause ecological or economic harm to the environment. Sadly, too often we aren’t aware of their negative impact until they are well established, making control difficult if not altogether unrealistic.

Any kind of life form can be considered invasive. This includes unwanted bacteria, fungi, fish, plants and animals. These invaders generally have two traits in common. First, they can reproduce and spread rapidly. Second, the agents who keep them under control in their native environments are typically absent in their new habitat. The invader may, therefore, be able to propagate unchecked and become a problem.

These unwanted species pose threats to ecological balance in multiple ways. In some cases they displace native species by disrupting their habitat and stressing or displacing all the other organisms that had been dependent on the displaced natives. Other invasive species simply kill the native trees or plants in their new habitat. Dutch elm disease, beech bark disease and emerald ash borer (EAB) are just a few of these examples. In the case of emerald ash borer, researchers recently estimated the economic costs of this pest to exceed $1.3 billion per year. This figure does not include ecological impacts and given the continuing spread of EAB, costs will only increase.

The federal government, as well as state and local agencies, has policies in place to reduce the chance that nonnative organisms will be introduced or established in the environment. Given the ever-increasing amount of global trade and travel, however, it seems inevitable that potential invaders will continue to be introduced and at least a few will threaten our natural resource ecosystems.

As citizens and residents, we can become active in helping prevent the establishment of invasives within our area of influence:

  • Look for and use only native landscape species
  • Don’t move freshly killed or cut wood or other vegetation from one location to another (firewood for example)
  • Inspect and/or sanitize equipment when relocating (for example, camp trailers or boats)
  • Educate yourself on identification of important invasive species.
  • Watch for “new” species that show up on your property and seek assistance for identification

Michigan State University Extension in partnership with the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNIF) provides information as well as publications that can be viewed or ordered from the MNIF web pages. These can help with accurate identification. Local assistance for dealing with invasives can be found by contacting your local Conservation Districts.

Other reliable sources of information include the Michigan DNR and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. These agencies provide web pages dedicated to invasives with up to date information and links to additional material on established, new or potential environmental threats.

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