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Keeping Invasive Species out of Michigan

photo courtesy of conservationcorridor.org

photo courtesy of conservationcorridor.org

Invasive species are a hot topic, here in Michigan, as well in other states.

Invasive species are non-native plants and animals that enter the Michigan environment. Typically, these species are hardier than some of our native flora and fauna and are more successful in accessing food and habitat, thereby crowding out native species. Many times, the native species have no known local predators in the food chain, particularly as they are “out of their element”. The end result is that invasive species pose a significant risk to native species and have a potentially huge impact on our region’s ecology, animal life, sometimes even affecting tourism and public health.

Invasive species arrive in Michigan through various channels. One culprit appears to be ballast water from ships that have been on the world’s oceans. When these large boats need to adjust their weight to improve stability, the ship releases ballast water. The containers for ballast water are supposed to be sealed to prevent the ballast water from escaping. If this is not possible, the ballast water is to be transferred to an auxiliary sealed ballast water containers.

The Coast Guard inspects ballast water containers; nevertheless, sometimes the sealants fail. As these defective ships arrive at ports, their ballast water is released into oceans, lakes and rivers. Oftentimes, the ballast water contains seeds of invasive plants, eggs of invasive species or full grown specimens. Because Michigan is part of the Great Lakes waterways, which feed many rivers and even more creeks, once invasive species enter the water, they can reproduce and travel quite far. Invasive species enter Michigan through other means: through shipped material, via nurseries and live animal purveyors.

A recent invasive plant to crop up in Michigan is parrot feather, which is sold commercially as a filler for aquariums. Parrot feather, while seemingly innocuous, can be prolific and chokes out native reeds, grasses and plants and can be difficult to eradicate. Parrot feather can clog navigable water, negatively impacting water sports and shoreline ecology. It is illegal in Michigan to possess, transport or release the species. Parrot feather has been found in a detention pond in Wayne County and an early effort to get rid of it appears to have been successful.

There are a number of invasive animal species that have appeared in Michigan. Probably the most infamous is the Asian carp. In addition, the emerald ash borer wreaked havoc with the ash tree population all over Michigan. Now Michigan researchers from Central Michigan University and the University of Notre Dame have published findings that bait fish vendors, who are lightly regulated, may be inadvertently introducing invasive species, particularly the dreaded Asian carp into Michigan waterways. DNA of invasive species, including Asian carp, were found in minnow bait samples at 27 bait shops in Michigan. Fishermen are urged not to dump unused bait into the water, a practice which could easily introduce invasive species.

Invasive Species legislation is still largely being handled at the state level, although there is a growing regional, national and even international collaboration.  Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York signed legislation requiring boat owners to clean, drain and dry boats and trailers of all visible plant and animal matters both prior to launches and after pulling watercraft out of the water. States, provincial leaders and federal regulatory authorities are beginning to recognize that coordinated efforts will be critical, as there are so many pathways for invasion.

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