Thursday, August 21, 2014

Invasive Species in Vacationland

-- by Dan Hilburn

My wife and I spent much of our youth in Maine and many of our relatives still live there. When we go back to visit, we fly from Portland, OR to Portland, ME and cross our fingers that the luggage handlers don’t get confused. Maine and Oregon have a lot in common, including some invasive species. When I’m there, I can’t help comparing their issues with ours. Here are some observations from my recent vacation Down East.

1. Gypsy moths

Gypsy moth populations in Maine are low this summer. I didn’t look for them; I don’t have to. The males are attracted to my wife and I. This year we only saw a dozen and never more than one at a time. On other visits we’ve drawn small clouds of sex-crazed male moths. All because I work in an office with people that handle gypsy moth pheromone. The lures in gypsy moth traps Oregon Dept. of Agriculture staff place around the state every summer are amazing. Even though I never handle the pheromone, my cloths smell faintly like a female gypsy moth and after our clothes are washed together, so do my wife’s. If you want to hear a funny story, ask my wife about the time a flutter of gypsy moths followed her and my daughter on a guided tour of MIT.

2. Knotweed and Beetle Reunion

I don’t remember Japanese knotweed in Maine when I was young, but it is common there now. This year on my drive-by surveys I noticed considerable feeding damage on the new growth. Since nothing seems to feed on Japanese knotweed here in Oregon, I stopped to check it out. I should have guessed, it was Japanese beetle -- another invader. I was witnessing the reunion of old friends: an invasive insect pest from Asia is attacking a non-native noxious weed from the same part of the world! It will be interesting for my counterparts in Maine to see whether Japanese beetles keep the Japanese knotweed from becoming problematic and whether the proliferation of a favorite host plant serves as a trap crop or a nursery for the Japanese beetles.

3. Eastern white pine replacement masts

I love to sail. This summer we were in Camden on a perfect day and couldn’t resist an afternoon sail on a 100-year old schooner. It was awesome. An added bonus for us was a friendly captain that loved to talk about the local windjammer fleet and the challenges of maintaining those beautiful old sailing ships. According to him, finding authentic replacement masts is difficult. Traditionally they were made from trunks of Eastern white pine, which grew tall and straight. Not anymore. White pine weevil attacks young pines, killing the leaders. White pine is still a common tree in New England, but now almost all of them are crooked or have multiple trunks. Our captain said that replacement masts have to come from the Pacific Northwest!

Since introduction of invasive species is tied to global trade and travel,
invaders have had less impact in Oregon than in Maine

Another difference between the two states is the length of time they’ve been settled. Little signs on historic buildings in Maine attest to construction in the 1700’s. Settlement and intercontinental commerce in Oregon is, of course, much more recent. Since introduction of invasive species is tied to global trade and travel, invaders have had less impact on our environment. There are lots of reasons why that is important, the least of which might be that if you want to build a traditional sailing ship with local materials, you can still do it in Oregon!

If you love both states the way I do, my suggestion would be to build your boat in Oregon, then sail it to Maine. If you do that, keep me in mind for the crew.