Monday, February 26, 2018

National Invasive Species Awareness Week

    Today marks the beginning of National Invasive Species Awareness Week (February 26 - March 2). Invasive species are non-native organisms that, often because they're free from natural controls they had in their native lands, cause ecological, economic or human harm in the new lands they've been introduced into. They often have several traits in common besides freedom from their original natural controls. They often for example reproduce very quickly and out compete native fauna and flora. Though some, such as many exotic invasive plants, may look harmless, they can cause great harm. The National Wildlife Federation estimates that 42% of threatened and endangered species are at risk due to invasives. 
     Arlington County, like all our region's jurisdictions, recognizes these threats. In fact, page 21 of the Arlington County Board approved Natural Resources Management Plan has this statement: "Invasive plant species represent the greatest and most immediate threat to the continued survival of Arlington's natural lands and native plant communities." Arlington, like so many neighboring jurisdictions, has committed many resources and efforts to manage invasives. 

     Again like many jurisdictions, Arlington has an Invasive Plant program as part of our Natural Resources Management Unit. It has a dedicated budget and a rolling 10-year invasives plan based on ecological priorities and citizen interest to maximize our limited resources. You can find out more about it here:
     Arlington's program uses mechanical, biological, chemical, and cultural methods to manage invasives. In addition to staff and contractual services, the County also depends heavily on volunteers to help. Called RiP (Remove Invasive Plants), the volunteer program has weekly events and dedicated, trained volunteers. We invite you to participate (through the link above) and also note that a great many other jurisdictions have similar programs, including many that call themselves Weed Warriors. 
     Many environmental groups also have their own programs they use to cooperate with local governments. One such program was launched by the TreeStewards and Arlington Regional Master Naturalists. It focuses on calling attention to the problems English Ivy causes. You can check out the "Choking Hazard" brochure here:

     There are also several regional efforts and resources available. One such resource is the Mid-Atlantic Invasive Plant Council (MAIPC) in which Arlington staff serves as the Virginia state representative. You can find out more about them here: and you can check out the excellent invasive plant lists they've developed here:
     Much more locally is the newly formed NoVA PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management). Arlington applied for and was awarded a matching $140,000 grant to form this multi jurisdictional partnership. Arlington hired and houses the coordinator and oversees the grant. It includes not just governmental partners but also groups and businesses, such as master naturalists, Earth Sangha and Dominion Energy. It is centered along the whole 45 miles of the W&OD Trail. The grant aims to map habitats and come up with an invasives management plan for the trail. It will feature four pilot projects to create meadows in Arlington, Falls Church, Reston and Loudoun and foster cooperation between all the partners.
     Arlington is also involved in the newly forming NCR-PRISM (National Capital Region Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management). This is the expansion of the existing DC Cooperative Weed Management Area to include more of the region and to expand its efforts beyond just invasive plants. It will focus its efforts on a new program sponsored by the Department of Interior's National Invasive Species Council (NISC) called  "Invader Detectives." Arlington staff was also involved with assisting in developing this program which will hopefully later on go nation wide if successful in the DC area. It will feature citizen scientists looking for potential new invasives of all types on watch lists so the principles of Early Detection, Rapid Response can be tried.
     To throw yet more terminology out there, EDRR (Early Detection, Rapid Response) is the principle that the best way to deal with exotic invasive species is to do so when they're detected early enough that they do not have a firm foot hold yet. Eliminating invasive species while they have not yet gotten established is the most cost effective way as the population is small and the odds of success in keeping the problem from spreading is best.
     This can really work. Here's an example. Arlington County has the dubious distinction of being the first location in Virginia for a potential new invasive shrub, Castor Aralia (Kalopanax septemlobus) in June of 2012. We however quickly eliminated it before it spread and got established (it had been in a 10' colony) and we have not seen it again since. We were lucky it had not spread more where control efforts could have been much more costly and the ecological damage done much worse. More on Arlington County's EDRR program can be seen here:
     Hopefully this blog article has helped to make you more aware of invasive species and the local efforts to manage them. As you can see there are lots of ways to get involved and get better informed. To find out even more about National Invasive Species Awareness Week, webinars and events check out the website:


  1. Thank you for raising awareness of a major problem in the natural world.

  2. Awareness is good, but caution in action against invasive species is highly advised. Use of toxic chemicals to remove invasive species can have long lasting effects on the environment as well as on human health and well being. Let's not be fooled into destroying what we love. The use of chemicals such as Glyphosate may cause cancer and many unforeseen effects in native animals and plants. Breakdown products of many chemicals can persist in the environment, chemicals do not confine themselves to the point of application and can have effects far from the application site, resistance builds up in both target and non-target species requiring heavier or more frequent application of dangerous to the environment chemicals as well as frequent changes in the types of chemicals used. While the unchecked assault on invasives has been a gold mine for Monsanto and other chemical companies, control of these organisms needs to be approached with more thought, planning, and caution! Attempts at eradication are notoriously unsuccessful. Just as Hawaii has to live with the enduring effects of introduction of the Mongoose to control rats while at the same time having to deal with the rats that are still there, we will have to live with the long term effects of the chemical treatments that are so indiscriminately applied while at the same time we will have to live with the plants and animals these were applied to control.