Thursday, September 27, 2012

Invasives at Our Doors: “All Tricks, No Treats” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Links Social Media, Halloween Themes To Highlight a Conservation Challenge

Things that go bump in the night aren’t any scarier than things that bump native fish, wildlife, and plant species out of Northwest forests, fields, and streams. 

That’s the premise of a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-sponsored social media campaign launching Monday, October 1, 2012. The agency’s Pacific Region will use its Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube sites during the month of October to demonstrate how creeping, crawling invasive animals and plants can make local habitats resemble haunted ecological houses.

“Invasive plants and animals are one of the biggest challenges we face while protecting, enhancing, or restoring native fish, wildlife, and plant populations and their habitats” said Robyn Thorson, Director of the Service’s Pacific Region. “Preventing the introduction of new invasive species is the preferred method of avoiding these challenges but we need extensive outreach and education to be successful. We hope this campaign, which will be educational and entertaining, will do that.”

Dubbed “All Tricks, No Treats,” the campaign will highlight four invasive species challenges—one a week-- that have plagued conservation efforts like a zombie invasion. For instance, one will address the species and habitat impacts of releasing popular aquarium or ornamental species like red swamp crayfish, red-eared sliders (a turtle), and hydrilla (an invasive aquatic weed).

Release of non-native aquarium species often occurs by educators and students at the conclusion of science projects or when classes end for the summer. Most people have no idea they are creating a potential nightmare scenario in local waterways for native species and habitats; one-third of the world’s worst aquatic invasive animals and plants are aquarium or ornamental species. 

The campaign intends to raise awareness of such ‘pathways for introduction’ and offer audiences easy prevention measures they can take at home and in the classroom. It will use humor and horror-themed punch lines like “Invasion of the Waterbody Snatchers,” video clips, cartoons, even recipes in which invasive species are the main ingredient to make youth and adult audiences aware of existing initiatives and educational campaigns such as “Don’t Let it Loose,” “Squeal on Pigs,” and “Clean, Drain, Dry.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners anticipate that by connecting popular scary Halloween themes with information about a serious ecological challenge, the social media campaign will parlay an invasive species fear factor into action.

In the Pacific Northwest and Hawaiian Islands at least 5,000 introduced species have been documented outside their native range. While many assimilate into ecological communities with little to no environmental or socio-economic impacts, other introduced species, such as quagga and zebra mussels, can cause millions of dollars in damage to local infrastructure, require expensive annual maintenance, alter habitats, and imperil native species.

Follow “All Tricks, No Treats” on 
USFWS website:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fantasy Platform on Invasive Species

I’ll never be President. That’s OK. I would be a terrible campaigner, and my views are not exactly mainstream. However, during this campaign season, that reality hasn’t kept me from thinking about what I’d do if I was President-for-a-Day.

Here is my 10-point Platform on invasive species. The first thing I would do is have my staff prepare executive orders on each of these issues, and then I’d sign ‘em all with a big smile on my face!

1.) Education. Most people can’t identify the plants in their yard, so it’s no wonder they can’t distinguish salal from Spartina, dead man’s finger from dulse, or a gypsy moth from a geometrid. Therefore, from now on, environmental literacy will be a priority in our schools. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is also instructed to create a mascot similar to Smoky Bear to promote invasive species awareness among all citizens. One tenth of 1% of their budget will be dedicated to this program.

2.) Innovation. We’re faced with some difficult invasive species problems without obvious solutions, such as cheat grass taking over our grasslands. We also have amazingly creative and innovative people. If we turn them loose on these challenging problems, there is a good chance they’ll come up with new ideas and workable solutions. Therefore, I’m creating the Invasive Species Innovation Prize. Every year a new invasive species challenge will be presented, and $1 million will be awarded to the person with the best solution.

3.) Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR). Invasive species are a serious threat to our economy and natural resources, and we need to be ready when an introduction is discovered. Too often, new infestations aren’t discovered until it is too late, and/or no money has been set aside for a response program in case an infestation is discovered. Therefore, from now on, all federal, state, and local agencies that have land management or safeguarding responsibilites must spend 1% of their budget on EDRR and one tenth of that must be held in reserve for eradication programs.

4.) Raw Logs/Green Firewood. Raw logs, green wood pallets, and untreated firewood harbor wood-boring pests like emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle. These products continue to be shipped across the country and around the world in spite of numerous examples of tree-killing pests hitchhiking in these products. Our trees and forests are precious and worth saving. Therefore, from now on, all wood products must be kiln dried before crossing state or national boundaries.

5.) Nursery Stock. Nursery stock can be a vector of plant pests and diseases, such as sudden oak death and boxwood blight. The longer nursery stock has been exposed to the environment, the more likely it is to have hitchhikers. Therefore, from now on, nursery stock shipped across state or national boundaries must be grown in greenhouses, or it must be less than one year old, grown in soil-less media, and it must meet the National Plant Board National Nursery Stock Cleanliness Standard (currently under development, at zero quarantine pest or pests of concern and all non-quarantine pests under effective control).

6.) Boats/Ballast Water. Boats and ships are vectors of aquatic nuisance species like zebra mussels, mitten crabs, and hydrilla. Therefore, beginning in 2020 (this would take some innovation), all boats and ships must have non-toxic anti-fouling bottoms. Ships built after that date must have automatic ballast water exchange systems, or the equivalent, so that ballast water is never transported from harbor to harbor.

7.) Seeds. Seed lots are vectors of weed seeds and pests and diseases, such as the weed-infested soybeans that arrived in Portland recently. Therefore, from now on, seeds of all sorts, whether for planting or processing, must come from weed-free fields or be cleaned before crossing state or national boundaries.

8.) Fruits, Vegetables, & Raw Meats. Non-commercial fruits, vegetables, and raw meats carried by passengers in planes, cars, trains, and boats carry an amazing number of hitchhikers. Therefore, from now on, international/interstate passengers are not allowed to carry any fruits, vegetables, or raw meats.

9.) Pets. Exotic pets, such as Burmese pythons in Florida and rusty crayfish in the John Day River of Oregon, can cause problems when released into the environment. Therefore, from now on, only animals on an approved list are allowed in commercial trade. Other animals are not allowed to be transported across state or national boundaries. [Note that Oregon is out in front on this issue. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Integrity Rules and the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Terrestrial Invertebrate Rules are models for how this should be done on a grander scale.]

10.) Simplify Laws. Our laws are too complicated and too numerous. Therefore, from now on, anybody that proposes a new law has to find two existing laws to eliminate or simplify. This executive order will stay in effect until average citizens can understand the laws of the land.

In my fantasy world, these things are doable. We know how to solve our problems, we just don’t do it because it would cost a little more, or it would be inconvenient for some people and they would complain. So we bump along in reactive mode and wonder why new invaders keep showing up.

We can hope for change, or we can move forward to a proactive approach like the platform above. In the long run, it would cost less money and help us balance the budget. What’s your platform? I’m looking for a Proactive Progressive Conservative with a strong environmental ethic to vote for.

Dan Hilburn