System Battles Invasive Species

Citizen support is key to helping National Wildlife Refuge System maintain lands.

| May 9, 2008

  • Orange Hawkweed
    Orange Hawkweed
    Courtesy U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

  • Orange Hawkweed

Invasive plants and animals – introduced to the lands and waters of the United States from foreign shores – continue to plague national wildlife refuges. Some efforts to stem this threat are already in place and beginning to take hold. But there are other steps you can take to help.

About 2.4 million acres of the 98-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System are currently infested with invasive plants, according to the 2007 Refuge Annual Performance Plan. Additionally, 4,423 invasive animal populations occupy refuge lands – from the brown treesnake overrunning Guam National Wildlife Refuge to the more common nutria, a species that has spread to many states that was brought from South America when its fur was highly marketable.

National wildlife refuges spent more than $11 million last fiscal year in fighting this problem, which has become pervasive. During each of the past four years, the Refuge System has treated an average of 14 percent of the acres infested with invasive plants.   

Citizen support is key in the battle against invasive species. The Refuge System has worked for the past three years with the National Wildlife Refuge Association, The Nature Conservancy and the National Institute of Invasive Species Science on a program that has enabled about 2,750 volunteers to inventory, treat and restore more than 211,000 acres of Refuge System land. 

Many of these refuge volunteers are called upon to wage hand-to-hand combat with invasives. At Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, the New England Invasive Plant Group – a network of agencies and organizations working with the refuge – fought the water chestnut. The aquatic invasive floats on the water’s surface and displaces native plants. The infestation at Log Pond Cove was first detected in 1997, not long after the refuge was established. Once the plant is well established, eradication is next to impossible.

Silvio O. Conte Refuge began to show progress in controlling the problem only after it enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteers to hand-pull the weed, year after year. Machine pulling was not doing the job.

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