Next time you're at the cabin letting your mind take in that soul-refreshing view, rest your eyes for a moment on your favorite tree, then maybe the bushes Uncle Joe replanted a few springs back, then that little mudprint where you expect some flowers to sprout shortly. It can be easy to forget that your local greenery is essential to that cabin-sweet-cabin feel that makes it impossible to imagine your getaway situated anywhere else. So, it's important to remember that maintaining the green stuff you love means doing a bit more than your garden-variety yard work. Why? Because thousands of invasive species are choking out native plants across the U.S.
Invasive species aren't just benign substitutes for the plants you know and love. According to Karan A. Rawlins, Invasive Species Coordinator at the Center for Invasive Species & Ecosystem Health at the University of Georgia, only plants that pose a significant threat to the economy, environment and/or human health are considered invasive. If left unchecked, she says, invasive species can and will limit your enjoyment of outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, trail riding, even cabin yard games now and in the future. Studies estimate that already the U.S. loses $1.1-120 billion a year due to invasive species.
After you've found a few troublemakers, hop over to www.invasive.org to see images and learn more about the plants and their impact.
After you've determined a few species you want to watch for, collecting and submitting your discoveries is as easy as taking a few photos and filling out an online form to explain the type, scope and location of the infestation. To add your findings to the more than 2.2 million existing records, just register as a user at www.eddmaps.org.
There, you can upload images and information, including GPS coordinates, for any invasive plants you find.
If you've got a smartphone or tablet, you can choose from several apps created by Bugwood Apps (apps.bugwood.org) to submit your findings. Most of the apps are targeted to a specific region in the U.S., so download the one designed for the area nearest your cabin. "The main difference between the apps is the list of species available for reporting," says Rawlins. Dropdown menus for choosing the name of the invasive species will vary by region.
"Always take a good picture of the invasive to upload with the report," Rawlins says. Good pictures are key because experts use them to validate all submissions. But, says Rawlins, "above all, be careful when out in the field. Personal safety should be the first priority." For detailed information on collecting and submitting invasive species information, as well as tips on taking great photos and staying safe in the field, check out EDDMapS Invasive Plant Mapping Handbook (available through the aforementioned site).
Being able to ID local invasive plants and reporting them will earn you a cabin scout badge, for sure. The bottom line, says Rawlins, "is that sooner we detect an infestation, the easier it will be to eradicate it. If we wait, it may be too late to do anything. When we wait, the cost to control/eradicate it goes up exponentially."
To learn more about identifying, reporting and even containing the worst invasive-species offenders in your cabin country, contact your county extension office (search for yours at www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension) and regional chapter of the National Association of Exotic Pest Plant Councils, www.naeppc.org. After you've schooled yourself, you can be a great resource for others. "Public outreach is also crucial to fighting invasive species," says Rawlins, "so help to educate your neighbors and your representatives."
Top offenders More than 18,000 scientists, land owners and garden-variety nature lovers across America are going online or using Boxwood apps on their smartphones to report local invasive species to EDDMapS, a national online tracking system. According to reports, the plants listed here are some of the most common troublemakers in these states:
Oregon – Heavy infestations of invasive bull thistle can prevent livestock from grazing. In both cultivated and natural areas, it deprives native plants of space, water and nutrients.
Colorado – Yellow starthistle overtakes grazing areas. It's toxic to horses and may lead to a fatal neurological disorder known as "chewing disease". It also overpowers native vegetation in grasslands and woodlands.
Indiana – The prolific, fast-growing vines of Oriental bittersweet constrict the stems of native vegetation, shading, suppressing and eventually killing native plants.
Georgia – Chinese privet forms dense thickets in the forest that can shade out native plants in the understory. It can even prevent tree seeds from germinating to produce the new trees needed to replace those that die.
New Hampshire – Able to self- or cross-pollinate, a single plant of garlic mustard can populate an entire site. It spreads quickly and releases chemicals into the soil that inhibit the growth of other plants.
You can help Given the scope of the problem, it's not possible to make effective changes without outdoors-loving people like you. And everyone else who visits your cabin. Or ever steps foot outside, really. "The longer we ignore the problem," says Rawlins, "the harder and more expensive the battle for control will become."
The good news is that you can help just by taking your smartphone or a camera and GPS unit with you as you're hiking, biking or out on the ATV. Using these simple tools, you can collect and submit data, either online or via a smartphone app, to EDDMapS, an online national database that tracks invasive species and shows exact locations of problem plants on a U.S. map (www.eddmaps.org).
To find out which invasive plants are in your area, you can search the EDDMapS distribution maps by state and even by county. The list of invasives in your area may seem overwhelming at first. "Choose just two or three species to learn," Rawlins recommends. She says you may already be familiar with the problem plants at the cabin but unaware of their invasive potential.