Vermont received bad news last week when we learned that a new aquatic invasive species, the spiny water flea, was found in Lake George as well as in feeder canals to the Champlain Canal - both waters that flow into Lake Champlain. Like many invasive species, the spiny water flea competes with native species for food, but because it has no natural predators or other population controls it can quickly dominate the ecosystem and make it hard for native species to survive. The tail spines of the spiny water flea also catch and foul up fishing lines causing a great inconvenience to anglers.
This is just the latest of a growing number of threats to Vermont’s environment from non-native species.
• The hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect from Asia that feeds on the sap of hemlock trees, has been detected, for the first time, in Bennington County. If left unchecked it can decimate our hemlock trees which are important for both timber and wildlife.
• The emerald ash borer is an insect from Asia that was first discovered in Michigan in 2002. Now, ten years later it has spread to 16 states and provinces, killing tens of millions of trees. In July it was detected in Connecticut, the first confirmed infestation in New England.
• Common Buckthorn is already established in some parts of Vermont. It is a native of Europe and was introduced into the United States as an ornamental shrub. Once it gets established it can take over an area, destroying wildlife habitat and impeding productive forests by crowding out other understory plants and preventing the regeneration of slower growing hardwoods like Sugar Maple trees.
• VHS (Viral hemorrhagic septicemia) is a deadly fish virus that originated in Europe that wipes out populations of trout and salmon. In 2005 this virus was identified in Lake Ontario and has since then spread across all five Great Lakes and into many inland lakes including the Finger Lakes in New York, killing tens of millions of fish in the process.
Scientists at the Agency of Natural Resources, along with our state, federal and academic partners, are working hard to understand how best to prevent new invasives from coming to Vermont, and to eradicate (when possible) or contain the ones that are already here. But they cannot do this alone.
Invasive pests do not generally move to a new area all by themselves. People help. The spiny water flea hitchhikes on boats or equipment that has passed through an infested area. The emerald ash borer spreads from the movement of firewood or through the purchase of infested nursery stock. Buckthorn got its start as an ornamental plant in yards and gardens. Diseases like VHS can be introduced in a new area when baitfish are moved from one water body to another. This means that to prevent the spread of invasives everyone needs to do their part.
In some cases we have rules in place to prevent the spread of a particular plant, pest or disease. Our state parks only permit firewood that comes from within 50 miles of the park, and we ask boat owners to wash boats and equipment before moving it to a new water body. We regulate the use of baitfish and we ban the sale of some invasive plants; however in many cases we must rely on education to get homeowners and landscapers to be cautious about what they transplant into their yards and gardens.
In nature everything is connected, so when an ecosystem becomes unbalanced because of an invasive pest, plant or disease it has a domino effect that can create big problems for Vermont. It not only changes the balance in an ecosystem, destroying habitat, but it is also costly for Vermonters. The estimated damage from invasive species is in the millions of dollars.
As the Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources I know that small steps can make a difference. I also know that we cannot protect Vermont’s environment alone. We need your help! Find out how you can help prevent invasive species from harming Vermont’s environment by visiting www.vtinvasives.org/take-action.
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Things you can do to help protect Vermont’s native plants and animals
• Use only local firewood – not only in Vermont, but wherever you travel.
• Make sure the plants you transplant into your yard or garden are not invasives and replace invasive plants with non-invasive alternatives.
• Clean your boat and boating equipment thoroughly before transporting between bodies of water.
• Don’t move baitfish from one water body to another.
• Clean your boots and equipment before you hike or camp in a new area.
• Never release exotic animals or aquarium fish and plants into the wild.
• Volunteer your time with one of Vermont’s invasive eradication teams.
• Find out more by visiting the Vermont Invasives website http://www.vtinvasives.org/.