If outdoor recreation is your thing, you might have your work cut out for you when Invasive Species Awareness Week — a week of action against the ecosystem-degrading culprits — begins Monday.
Gov. Jay Inslee has proclaimed Feb. 24-28 Invasive Species Week in Washington, citing the potential $137 billion annual cost in damages to crops, forests, fish and other wildlife nationally as one reason why it’s important to manage the spread of invasive species.
“Our state’s natural habitat and outdoor recreation destinations are part of what make living in Washington so unique,” Inslee said in a news release. “Invasive species threaten our economy, environment, recreation and even our health. We all must do everything we can to prevent and stop these threats to our way of life and protect the state we love.”
Many of the actions advocated by the Washington Invasive Species Council (WISC) are particularly applicable to people who already spend significant time outdoors.
WISC encourages people to report invasive species in the course of their usual outdoor activities through the Washington Invasives mobile app. In December, a user of the app alerted officials to the first U.S. sighting of the Asian giant hornet. This giant hornet can be up to two inches long, and is native to East Asia. It attacks honeybees and can wipe out entire hives.
“Whether reporting a strange fish you reel in, a plant you spot while hiking or mysterious damage in your flower bed, your reports and information are critically important. … It is key that we find the species as quickly as possible to contain and stop the problem,” Justin Bush ,WISC executive coordinator, said in a news release.
In an interview, Bush defined invasive species as “species that aren’t native to Washington that meet a certain threshold of environmental or economic damage,” and gave the example of quagga (also known as zebra) mussels, whose sharp shells can impede access to beaches, limiting outdoor recreation. Invasive insects, he said, can also do significant damage to trees — no small thing if you count on spending your weekends hiking through forested areas.
Bush said downloading the app is a helpful way to track invasive species because, “It’s a field guide” that doesn’t require its users to be trained experts. If you see an unusual plant species and have the app on your phone, “you’ve got it right there to pull it up and look at photos,” he said. You can also take a photo and GPS location that doesn’t require cell reception, making it easy to submit invasive — or maybe-invasive — species reports. More than 600 such reports were made through WISC’s app last year.
In addition to making reports, outdoor enthusiasts can take practical steps to prevent the spread of invasive species. One way is to avoid becoming an unwitting transporter: Bush recommends brushing off boots and gear before and after going into the backcountry. You can also keep an eye out for noxious weeds in your yard or while walking (and notify appropriate authorities of any sightings), dispose of live bait properly, purchase or gather firewood only where you plan to burn it and plant only noninvasive species in your garden (and extract any that are invasive).
If your desire to battle invasive species goes beyond this common sense list, WISC recommends extra-credit endeavors like participating in the Washington State Master Gardener program or volunteering with invasive-species removal efforts through local parks departments, conservation districts and land trusts. You can also link up with the citizen science initiative Washington Pest Watch for more in-depth education in identifying invasive species — and stemming their reach.