National Invasive Species Awareness Week is Feb. 22-28. This week is dedicated to raising awareness about preventing the spread of invasive species. Everyone is affected by invasive species, and everyone can help prevent the spread of these organisms.

What is an invasive species? Both terrestrial (on land) and aquatic (in water) invasive species are nonnative animals, plants, or pathogens (cause a disease or illness) that cause harm to the environment, economy, or human health.

There are many nonnative species in Minnesota that are not considered invasive. Lilacs are common terrestrial plants that are nonnative, but not considered invasive because they are beneficial to humans and do not adversely harm the environment.

So why prevent the spread of nonnative species? Because we don’t know what will happen when a nonnative species is introduced into a new environment.

Hydrilla, a very aggressive aquatic plant, was released into the wild sometime in the 1950’s because someone dumped their aquarium into a lake or river. Now it is in 30 states in the U.S., including Iowa and Wisconsin, and millions of dollars each year are spent trying to manage the plant.

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One of the excuses I often hear for not following prevention actions is that “animals move invasive organisms around, so why do I have to do all this prevention work?”

In prevention, we look at the most common ways these invasive organisms move from place to place. The majority of the lakes that have invasive species are the most popular for people to visit. It is well documented that people are the biggest movers of invasive species. The invasive species that do get moved by animals travel short distances, for example across the street.

But if we can slow or even prevent the spread of invasive species by people, we would not see this rapid expansion of invasive organisms across the state. The spread would be slow or nonexistent.

We have seen and experienced the harm that some nonnative species can do, so we need to be cautious in introducing new nonnative species. We also need to be aware of what we are spreading when we travel. Please do your part to prevent the spread of invasive species. Search the web for “how to prevent the spread of invasive species” and learn what you can do!

Bruce Anspach, Bemidji, is an Aquatic Invasive Species Lake Technician for the Beltrami County Environmental Service.

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