Saturday, August 6, 2011

Vacationing with Invasive Species in Mind – Part 1, the Good Stuff

Giant sequoia in California.

        Biologists have trouble leaving their work behind when they vacation. Entomologists and weed scientists are the worst. Everywhere they go, they see interesting specimens that they have to examine, photograph, or collect. Pity their long-suffering spouses.

        I’m not a fanatic, but my wife will tell you I’m guilty of biological interruptions while vacationing. On our recent camping trip through the Sierra Nevada, I couldn’t help noticing invasive species and our California colleagues’ efforts to combat them. There were some good things and some not so good things. In this article, I’ll focus on the good stuff; next time I’ll cover the problems.

        1.) Gypsy Moth Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR). I’ve been involved with gypsy moth early detection and rapid response for so long that I can spot gypsy moth traps at highway speeds. In spite of California’s budget woes, I was happy to see gypsy moth traps in the campgrounds and other high-risk introduction sites. Oregon’s 30-year record of success at excluding gypsy moths wouldn’t have been possible without similar commitments from our neighbors. California, Washington, and Idaho all have roughly equivalent gypsy moth EDRR programs and the same record of success. The program works because we’re all doing it.

        2.) Boat Inspection Stations. We passed a couple of boat inspection stations targeting quagga/zebra mussels. We weren’t pulling a boat, so I don’t know how thorough their inspections are, but it was gratifying to know they are trying to slow the spread of aquatic nuisance species. Signage at campgrounds and boat launches was also much in evidence. One boat launch at Lake Tahoe had four posters on an information board, three of which had to do with invasive species. Again, this has ramifications for Oregon. The more Californians that know to clean their boat between launches, the lower the risk of invasive mussels or weeds hitchhiking to Oregon.

        3.) Firewood. At two different retail outlets I saw firewood being sold in boxes. Neat idea!  The boxes included kindling and, of course, the cardboard itself makes an excellent fire starter. The label included not only the origin of the wood (Fresno, CA) but also a statement that the contents met California air quality standards. It would sure be nice if all commercial firewood was sold this way and all of it met an invasive species-free standard.

        4.) Healthy Forests. Gawking at enormous 2,000-year old sequoias is an awesome experience. They are so big and so old, one can’t help but marvel at their continued survival and apparent good health. There were a lot of other healthy-looking trees in the Sierras, too. The species composition, at least in the parks, is what it has always been. Not all our nation’s forests are like that—chestnut blight, gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, and other invasive species have undermined the forest health of large regions and changed the species composition. Our western national forests and national parks are still in pretty good condition.

        5.) Road Shoulders. The roads through Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Lassen Volcanic National Parks were beautiful. Not only was the scenery stunning, but it was enhanced, in my opinion, by the beautifully built and maintained roads. It wouldn’t have been nearly as spectacular if the shoulders were covered with weeds. Kudos to the National Park Service for beautiful shoulders!

        6.) World Visitors. Our national parks are swarming with people. Campgrounds and parking lots were full. Interestingly, a large percentage of the visitors were not speaking English. My wife is a foreign language nut, and she identified people speaking: German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Icelandic, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages she didn’t recognize!  It was extraordinary. One night we shared a campfire with a Dutch couple. We asked them why they were camping so far from home. They said The Netherlands has only one national park. and it isn’t very popular because there is nothing to do there. We all talked about our jobs, and I explained my passion for invasive species exclusion. They were aware of the issue through a familiarity with eastern grey squirrels (native to eastern North America) which have spread to Europe—and Oregon.

        It was a great vacation. Thanks, California, you’ve got some amazing landscapes, and I’m glad you’re working to protect them. We left behind much more Oregon-earned money than we’d budgeted—that should help pay for an insect/weed scout or two!

Dan Hilburn

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