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Invasive Species: Time to Change Our Ways

Invasive species experts Stahlman, Sorensen and Joe DiTomaso at a press conference. Photo by Chris J. Benson, Minnesota Sea Grant

Invasive species experts Stahlman, Sorensen and Joe DiTomaso at a press conference.

As a loose analogy, attending the Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference was like attending a music festival. There were multiple stages and a palpable buzz. Subsets of the 700 attendees would dash from one room to another to catch the next act. Some of the shows focused on invasive plants, like knotweeds; others put the spotlight on insects including emerald ash borers and gypsy moths. Great Lakes Sea Grant staff, nine of them, spoke of aquatic invaders and how they relate to bait harvesting, climate change, and social values, among other things.

Beneath the proximate complexity of voices, topics, and energy, though, a backbeat bore an ultimate message: to control invasive species, societal norms need to shift. That shift means you ... me ... governments, big agriculture, the bait store guy, landscapers and their neighbors; all of us need to recognize the ways we bring non-native species into our lives and how we can stop spreading the harmful ones.

Laura Van Ripper, Terrestrial Invasive Species Coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), likened the necessary cultural shift to those that have us always buckling our seat belts or recycling. She called for DNR field staff to model behaviors like not transporting mud and plant parts (including firewood) from one work site to another.

Peter Sorensen, Professor at the University of Minnesota, said, "I can't believe I've spent the better part of my career working to manage invasive fish!" Sorensen
discovered pheromone cues for managing sea lamprey and has been around the world to help battle invasive carp. Making his audience guffaw he said, "Sea lamprey ... I wouldn't even call this a fish. It is some sort of cartilaginous, prehistoric being. I'm serious!"

In a more contemplative moment, Sorensen said that after years of study and discovery he has come to conclude that it may be time to rethink how we value and use our waters as a society. He described lakes and rivers as our heritage and how this heritage is threatened by invasive species in unprecedented ways and therefore, "unprecedented actions seem to be needed." Sorensen and many other scientists are concerned that people expect science to solve problems that could have easily, and much more cheaply, been prevented. He said, "Although fascinating, science directed toward cures is expensive, slow, and time consuming." Pointing to the boll weevil as what may be the only successful eradication story we can tell regarding integrated pest management at a national scale, he said, "It took decades and millions in contributions from industry. The challenge with aquatic invasive species in Minnesota is no less to alleviate pressure on the science, it would seem wise to look at how we use lakes to see if we might make small changes to reduce risk, at least until we understand pathways of spread."

Jeff Gunderson, Minnesota Sea Grant's Director, said one of the most interesting things he learned at the conference was that testing environmental DNA (eDNA) for invasive carp can easily indicate carp genes are present even when live fish are not. A cormorant can eat an invasive carp in the Illinois River then fly hundreds of miles over the next week periodically releasing guano that contains carp DNA. In addition to piscivorous birds, the multi-agency Asian Carp Environmental DNA Calibration Study revealed that storm sewers, fisheries sampling gear, barges, boats and sediments might contribute to positive eDNA hits with nary a live carp in sight.

Gunderson wasn't just at the conference to learn, he also co-led a workshop and delivered a presentation on a system for managing invasive species within the
typical operations of a fish hatchery or bait harvesting business. The name of this
system is IS-HACCP ... or, get ready for this mouthful ... Invasive Species Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point. This self-inspection system for reducing the risk of spreading invasive species has been so effective that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adapted it and has over 180 IS-HACCP plans operating in 30 states. At the workshop, Sea Grant's Marte Kitson, who also co-chaired the conference program, worked with the U.S. Forest Service's Jason Butcher to draft an IS-HACCP plan for operations within the Superior National Forest.

Doug Jensen, Minnesota Sea Grant's Aquatic Invasive Species Program Coordinator, co-chaired the entire conference and presented twice: once about the Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!TM campaign and then again on the HabitattitudeTM campaign.

Pennsylvania Sea Grant's Sara Stahlman joined Minnesota Sea Grant's Hilarie Sorensen to explain how invasions could change as storms become more extreme and flooding and drought cycles escalate. Part of the climate and invasive species discussions involved Risk Assessment Mapping. This computer-based tool is being perfected so that users can better assess the risk of a non-native species spreading within a geographic area based on climatic conditions.

A host of organizations, including Sea Grant, sponsored the 2014 Upper Midwest Invasive Species Conference. The biennial conference is a showcase for the ways people can help manage invasive species. It is one of the largest venues in North America for exchanging science-based information to better manage a hundred-billion-dollar-a-year problem.

To see many of the presentations, visit www.mipn.org/UMISC-2014.html. For abstracts and more information, visit www.umisc2014.org.

By Sharon Moen
December 2014

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