We’re losing to the invaders

GHENT—They are like freeloading relatives who invite themselves over for the weekend and never leave.

They are invasive species and the U.S. spends more than $120 billion annually dealing with the havoc they wreak. Worldwide, the invasive-fighting price tag is a staggering $1.4 trillion dollars, nearly 5% of the global economy.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, about 50,000 species of plants and animals have invaded the U.S. causing many different types of damage to managed and natural ecosystems.

That was just part of the message delivered in an eye-opening presentation on invasive menaces by guest speaker Marilyn Wyman, an issue leader on natural resources and the environment with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties, at the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Brunch, March 30.

The brunch was held at the sleek, all-new Love Apple Farm Market/Cafe/Bakery on Route 9H. Forty-five people bellied up to the bountiful buffet of vegetable quiche, French toast, muffins, breads, fruits, yogurt and other local dairy and farm products presented by Simons Catering.

Columbia County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Jeffrey C. Hunt, CCE, was the master of ceremonies, introducing local notables in attendance followed by a short film called “Voices of the Northeast” in which farmers of all types from: cattle to chickens; fruits and vegetables to logs and lobsters; and wine to roses tell why they love what they do.

In her slideshow and lecture, Ms. Wyman explained three terms used when in connection with invasive species:

Native: species that were here at the time Europeans settled

Naturalized: new species that successfully compete for water, sun, space and nutrients in their new home, like Queen Anne’s Lace

Invasive: (as defined in Presidential Executive Order 13112, issued February 3, 1999) is “a species that does not naturally occur in a specific area and whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health,” such as giant hogweed, which can burn human skin.

When invasives are in their native locations pests and diseases help keep populations in balance. But here there are no such population controls, Ms. Wyman said.

The spread of invasive species has been fueled by the global economy.

The volume of Chinese imports to the United States has increased from $5 billion in 1985 to $483,245 billion in 2015….. The past eight years have seen a dramatic 82% increase in U.S. imports,” she said.

Unknowingly we bring them in, they move with us.”

Climate change indicators such as increased greenhouse gases and higher temperatures often favor invasives.

The threat invasives impose on the landscape is measurable, with 46% of federally endangered or threatened species at risk due to invasive species, nationwide, said Ms. Wyman.

Showing an “Alien Forest Pest Explorer” map indicating “species richness” across the country by color-gradation, she noted, “the Northeast is the epicenter of forest invasive pests.”

It’s not until later on the “Invasion Curve” timeline graph that public awareness takes hold, like when dead ash trees start appearing, but by then control costs to municipalities are already soaring.

Responses to dealing with invasive species may include: mechanical control (cut down the infected tree), chemical control, biological control or doing nothing (in hopes the invader will just run its course and diminish.)

We’re at ground zero,” said Ms. Wyman, noting it’s important for people to deal with invasive species” which out-compete for resources and eliminate native plants that are components of regional ecosystems and the foundation of an ecosystem’s food chain.

Among the resources invasives complete for is water, which Ms. Wyman said “will be the new gold.” Some invasives have dense root systems that monopolize water and nutrients.

The list of invasive pests, plants and diseases is long and, according the U.S. Forest Service, “Nationwide, invasive plants now cover an area larger than the entire Northeast, from Pennsylvania to Maine. Each year, they gobble up an area larger than the state of Delaware.”

Invasive plants are bad actors: some with poor root systems that allow soil to erode; with flowers that draw pollinators away from native plants; or with fruits that attract birds away from native plants.

Ms. Wyman gave an example of a certain butterfly that feeds almost exclusively on common toothwort but prefers to lay its eggs on garlic mustard, an invasive with leaves that are toxic to the larvae.

People can help by becoming educated about the importance of early detection and rapid response to invasive species. They can also become familiar with invasive species identification and report sightings to appropriate agencies.

Learn more about invasive species through the New York State Invasive Species Clearinghouse or the Cornell Cooperative Extension Invasive Species Program by visiting www.nyis.info.

To contact Diane Valden email

What you can do

APRIL IS INVASIVE Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month, according to an April 3 press release from the USDA in Washington, D.C.

Invasive plant pests and diseases cost the U.S. about $40 billion in crop losses, damage to forests and vulnerable ecosystems, and expensive eradication and control efforts annually.

It only takes one person who moves one piece of infested firewood, one infected plant or one piece of infested fruit to spread these invasive pests to a new area,” the release said.

Spring is the perfect time to remind everyone of the simple steps they can take to prevent the spread of harmful invasive plant pests.

If you’re not careful, you can unknowingly spread invasive pests by simply taking firewood on a camping trip, buying plants or seeds online, or mailing a friend a gift of homegrown fruit,” the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Plant Protection and Quarantine Deputy Administrator Osama El-Lissy said in the release.

Here’s what people can do to help keep invasive pests from spreading as spring gets underway and all year round:

Buy plants from reputable nurseries or online businesses. Ask if they comply with federal and state quarantine restrictions to ensure their plants are pest-free

When traveling, check with the local USDA office before bringing back fruits, vegetables or plants, to know what’s allowed. When returning from abroad, always declare all agricultural items to U.S. Customs and Border Protection so they can make sure items are free of harmful pests or diseases

Don’t move untreated firewood. Instead, buy or responsibly gather firewood near the place it will be burned or, take certified, heat-treated firewood on trips

In areas under state or federal quarantine for an invasive pest, don’t move produce or plants off the property. Call the local USDA office to find out how to safely dispose of yard debris like trees and branches. Also, allow authorized agricultural workers access to property for pest or disease surveys

Clean outdoor items before moving them. Wash dirt from outdoor gear and tires, before traveling long distances to or from fishing, hunting or camping trips. If relocating to a new home, clean lawn furniture and other outdoor items before placing them in a moving van or storage pod

Report any signs of invasive pests and learn more by visiting www.HungryPests.com.

The website includes photos and descriptions of 19 invasive pests that can be moved easily by people, an online federal quarantine tracker by state, and phone numbers for reporting signs of invasive pests.

Visit www.aphis.usda.gov/planthealth/sphd to find contact information for one’s local USDA office. Or call USDA’s Customer Service Call Center toll-free at 1-844-820-2234 (Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern).

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