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Invasive Species Management is People Management

Two workshop participants check out a stand of invasive Japanese knotweed in Hartley Park, Duluth.

Two workshop participants check out a stand of invasive Japanese knotweed in Hartley Park, Duluth.

Over 430 people interested in aliens gathered in Duluth just before Halloween. The aliens they were studying weren't the extra-terrestrial kind, but the terrestrial and aquatic kinds either found in Minnesota or on their way. They gathered as part of the Minnesota Invasive Species Conference 2008 in the first event of its kind to explore the impacts of these species found in Minnesota's lands and waters.

Minnesota Sea Grant co-chaired the conference along with the Minnesota Chapter of the Minnesota Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society. It was hosted by the Minnesota Invasive Species Advisory Council (MISAC). The council is one of the first in the country to join many organizations together to address aquatic and terrestrial issues as a single statewide entity.

"Combining aquatic and terrestrial invasive species interests at this conference made sense because the approaches to management are similar," said Doug Jensen, Minnesota Sea Grant aquatic invasive species program coordinator and conference co-chair. "People from each arena had opportunities to share their experiences, tools, and lessons learned."

Tips for Preventing the Spread of Invasive Species

  • Replace invasive plants in your yard with native plants
  • Don't release live bait, pets, or plants into the environment
  • Clean off your boat if you move it between lakes
  • Don't 'pack a pest'
  • Volunteer for invasive management and education efforts

Meredith Cornett, director of The Nature Conservancy's science program in Minnesota

"We emphasized the key species that affect Minnesota," said Rick Bale of the Bay Lake Improvement Association. "The public plays a crucial role in preventing the spread of invasive species and in preventing future infestations."

The conference began with workshops designed to (and entitled) "Close the Door on Invasive Species." Over 80 cabin, woodland, and lakeshore owners; land mangers, service providers, educators, students, and other professionals learned about management and prevention measures to protect resources from invasive species.

Workshop plenary speakers sharing their viewpoints included Luke Skinner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Terry Christian with Minnesota Waters. Jana Goerdt, a Duluth News Tribune reporter, described her continuing battle against spotted knapweed.

The workshops were followed by two days of technical presentations by 120 speakers, including a well-attended symposium focused on managing ballast water's capacity for ushering invasive species by commercial shipping around the world and throughout the Great Lakes.

Young people participated in the conference through the Restore the Balance Youth Program poster and essay contest, hosted by the Great Lakes Aquarium. Awards were presented to three students from the Duluth/Cloquet area for their posters.

Several students and their teachers attended a media briefing along with reporters and journalists. They heard Peter Sorensen, a University of Minnesota professor, discuss his research on common carp. Noting that although these invasive fish are despised by many Minnesotans, Sorensen believes they are "living, breathing, fascinating animals that could be an excellent model for testing invasion theory and fine-tuning integrated pest management."

David Ragsdale, University of Minnesota, received the 2008 Carol Mortensen Invasive Species Award and Bonnie Harper-Lore, Federal Highway Administration, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

David Ragsdale, University of Minnesota, received the 2008 Carol Mortensen Invasive Species Award and Bonnie Harper-Lore, Federal Highway Administration, was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Katherine Kromoy with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture explained how firewood might be transported thousands of miles between the day it was harvested and the point where it is ignited. During its journey, cords of wood can potentially harbor all sorts of invaders, including the dreaded emerald ash borer. So far, this harmful beetle has not been found in Minnesota.

Earthworms also received some airtime. Cindy Hale, a research associate with the University's Natural Resources Research Institute, intrigued reporters when she explained that all of the terrestrial earthworms currently found in Minnesota are non-native. If Minnesota had indigenous earthworms, the scouring glaciers of the last Ice Age eliminated them. She described how earthworm activity changes forests and reiterated that people are the primary vector for spreading this harmful invader.

Conference plenary speakers featured people with regional to local viewpoints such as Miles Falk with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. Minnesota State Senator Dennis Ozment stressed the need to educate local elected officials about the situation.

"They don't know all the issues when they're elected," he said. "Explain the problem to them."

Peter Shutrop explained the role of county agricultural inspectors, and Ken Grob described efforts by the Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations to raise awareness about aquatic invasive species.

Closing plenary speaker, Steve Bortone, director of Minnesota Sea Grant, offered a "big picture" perspective on invasives by discussing how people have moved species around for centuries. He praised current efforts among state managers to network, communicate with the public, and conduct research, but stressed that invasion science is new, which offers both opportunities and challenges because there is "no light to lead the way." He encouraged participants to explore other ways to get messages out to the public, develop hypotheses in anticipation of the next likely invasive, and to incorporate climate change into the hypothesis-generating framework.

The conference concluded with tours of research facilities and field trips. The Minnesota Invasive Species Advisory Council plans to host another conference in the future and will use results from evaluations to guide content. Judging from the results, participants found the event useful:

  • 96 percent of respondents thought the conference achieved its goals
  • 96 percent gained an understanding of invasive species issues
  • 98 percent of workshop participants who responded and 93 percent of conference respondents plan to implement the knowledge they gained and dozens provided specific examples

The conference's resounding message continues to reverberate throughout the state: effective invasive species management requires people management.


By Marie Zhuikov and Sharon Moen
December 2008

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