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COMMUNITY VOICE

Prevention most cost-effective way of fighting the threat of invasive species

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 12:01 am

Were you one of the countless homeowners in the Fort Wayne area who lost ash trees to the ravages of the emerald ash borer this past summer?

If so, you’ve gained a painful understanding of the destructive potential of invasive species. Not only did entire neighborhoods lose their beautiful tree-lined streets, but removal and replacement costs are estimated in the millions of dollars.

Now the fight against invasives has put Little River Wetlands Project, and our largest preserve, Eagle Marsh, squarely in the national news.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed nine options aimed at preventing the spread of Asian carp and other aquatic nuisance species from crossing between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi watersheds via Eagle Marsh. Under extreme flooding conditions, invasive species might be able to swim or float from the Wabash River (which drains into the Mississippi basin) into the Maumee River and then into Lake Erie — and vice versa.

Many of the options involve construction at Eagle Marsh, a 716-acre restored wetland preserve just off Engle Road. As the landowner, we’re listening carefully to all the plans presented and will have input on the option ultimately chosen.

But here’s the thing. Fighting invasive species is critical, and we want to be part of the solution. In fact, we have an intense appreciation — gained through our own restoration work — of the importance of preventing and controlling the spread of invasive species.

At Eagle Marsh, we’re restoring wet farmland to wetland. To bring back the plants that originally lived here, we battle invasives, mostly non-native plants such as phragmites, reed canary grass and garlic mustard. Our strategies? Everything from hand-pulling with volunteers to spraying and controlled burns.

Occasionally someone asks, “Why not just let nature run its course? What’s so bad about invasives?” The answer is that native plants and animals often can’t successfully compete against non-natives.

Whether insects, weeds or Asian carp, invasive species have a potentially crippling effect on ecosystems, waterways, crop growth and the U.S. economy.

Exotic pests cost the U.S. billions of dollars per year, and 42 percent of America’s threatened or endangered species are at risk due to non-indigenous species.

In the case of silver and bighead carp (Asian carp), these voracious fish would likely deplete the food supply of native fish in the Great Lakes, which in turn sustain a Midwestern fishing industry worth $7 billion a year.

Increasingly, the cost of eliminating invasive species has to be weighed against the cost of allowing them to continue to spread. In the last few years, efforts at the federal level have intensified greatly, as the impact of spreading invasives became clear.

Coalitions of governmental and non-governmental groups are working together, understanding that multifaceted approaches will be needed.

We firmly believe that prevention is the most cost-effective way of dealing with the threat of invasive species. To stop the next invasive species before it spreads, let’s work together.

Fort Wayne doesn’t often attract headlines in national news, but in the fight against invasives, we have a crucial role to play.

Sean Nolan is executive director of Little River Wetlands Project, a member-driven nonprofit organization that restores and protects wetlands in the Little River watershed of northeast Indiana.