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Opinion by Jason Fearneyhough

Invasive Species Threaten Wyoming and More by Jason Fearneyhough

While many people don’t know much about them, invasive species are a constant threat to Wyoming’s natural resources, economy and agricultural operations. This problem isn’t just in Wyoming. It’s a countrywide issue that everyone should know about.  Each day, there are numerous opportunities for invasive weeds and pests to be introduced to new areas, potentially altering that area’s ecological system.  

An invasive species may not be something you’ve ever heard of or can easily identify, which often compounds the challenges in controlling them. Invasive species are defined as a non-native, or alien, species to the ecosystem whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic harm, environmental harm or harm to human health. Many of these species have the ability to grow and reproduce rapidly and cause major disturbances to the areas in which they are present. Invasive species can be plants, animals, insects or other organisms that have not traditionally been a part of the ecosystem.

From aquatic invasives like zebra mussels that choke out the natural habitats through overpopulation to plants like cheatgrass that change the fire regime in sagebrush habitat and invasive pests like the gypsy moth that destroy forest trees and habitat, these species are constant threats to our native resources. Invasive species can kill trees, crowd out other plants, negatively impact fish and wildlife populations or indirectly compete for food and space, which can interfere with native species growth, reproduction and development. They can also place other species at an increased risk of extinction from within the ecosystem.

Invasive species can be introduced in many ways. They can be accidentally brought in on contaminated freight, plants, food products or wood products like shipping pallets, firewoods and more. They can be moved on boats from body of water to body of water. It can be as simple as being brought in on clothing, camping gear or any other outdoor equipment. Some are even brought in for ornamental or landscaping purposes. These are just a few situations where these species can travel but they are by no means the only ways. The simple fact is, these species can and do travel any and all ways we travel.

Along with this, the problem isn’t located in only one ecosystem. They can be found in every type of habitat. Invasive species are in oceans, lakes, streams, wetlands, croplands, rangelands, parks, forests, urban areas and everywhere else. This is truly a problem that can have serious impacts on almost any spot on the planet.

To complicate the issue even more, the threat of introduction is constant when it comes to invasive species. What can we do to stop or control the spread of these invasive species? The best answer is vigilance and education. Vigilance through strong collaboration with our federal partners on invasive species along with educating the public about invasives, what they are, their detrimental impacts and how to prevent them are the best steps to take in controlling these dangerous organisms. 

The need for consistent funding at the state level is apparent. Money managed through the state will allow more targeted funding to local governments, weed and pest districts and others who directly handle management programs. This targeted funding at the state level will help make significant and important steps toward the reduction of already established invasive species populations through more boots on the ground. Along with this, the states would have more oversight from a statewide perspective, which would help control the impacts and threats at a higher and systematic level.

Education is extremely important to this problem. A great number of people may not know anything about invasive species. The invasive species in the area need to be common knowledge to best control their spread. It’s important for people to learn what invasive species are in their area and what is being done to control their spread and to keep them out. Community members should be able to identify and report new invasive species and growing populations. Share their knowledge about invasives with others who may not know. Clean equipment and clothing that could harbor invasive species like hiking boots, waders, boats and trailers, off-road vehicles and other pathways of spread to stop hitchhiking invasive species. Use certified “weed-free” forage, hay, mulch and soil and don’t move firewood. Remove invasive plants from your land and plant non-invasives on your property. Finally, ask your political representatives to support invasive species efforts. The more people who understand invasives, the better chance we have to control them.

Recently, I traveled to Washington D.C. to testify in front of a congressional subcommittee regarding invasive species in the United States and Wyoming and what needs to happen to help control the spread of invasives. It was a great first step on a large scale for more invasive species awareness and federal funding but more still needs to be done for this problem.

The problem of invasive species is not going to be an easy fix. The longer these problems aren’t adequately addressed, the harder and more expensive the problem will become. If left uncontrolled, they can and will limit land use now and in the future. Invasives cost this country dearly economically, environmentally and recreationally each day. By putting more funding at the state level for grants to local entities and making control a priority, we will be taking important steps toward winning the battle for control with invasive species.