Eastern UP organization battles invasive plant species

While invasive plant species might seem like a bunch of weeds to some, they pose a real threat to the environment and economy of the Upper Peninsula. Not only do these exotic species encroach on pristine recreational and hunting areas, but they also devalue property and clog lakes and streams.  
Fortunately, there is an organization that is working to address the problem. The Three Shores Cooperative Invasive Species Area (CISMA) is one of five such organizations in the Upper Peninsula taking on the task of eliminating these troublesome weeds.
The mission of Three Shores CISMA is, among other things, to educate the public of the potential problems related to invasive species in the area and, when necessary, use every means at their disposal to remove or control them. 

The organization, which is entirely grant funded, is currently partnering with dozens of public and private agencies and has recruited scores of volunteers to go out and manually pull weeds, where necessary. Right now there are two full-time staffers who can go out, free of charge, and treat stands of invasive species that they believe are a priority for eradication or control. Seasonal workers are also employed to help in these efforts.
And while most invasive plants are not native to the region, not all non-native plants are a problem, says Three Shores CISMA coordinator Nick Cassel.
"An invasive species is a plant that has a negative impact on our native ecosystem, local economy and human health," he explains.
Environmental and economic threat
Invasive species are not only an environmental threat but an economic one as well, Cassel notes. 
In the EUP, the threat is felt in many different ways, but particularly on recreational properties and waterways that are cherished by the locals and draw countless tourists to the area. They can also be a threat to property and property values.
Phragmites is a prime example of an invasive species in the EUP that has the potential to do harm to the economy in the region. It's a very tall grass that produces a thick mass of plant material that can be difficult to walk through, let alone manage. 
It inhabits wet areas of the landscape and grows so tall it can block views of the beach while driving out the native wildflowers that are part of the local ecology.
Another troublesome plant is Japanese knotweed. 
This plant, which some people refer to as bamboo, towers over native wildflowers in the landscape and is very difficult to eradicate. If planted too close to a foundation of a home, it can cause structural damage running into the thousands of dollars, which is exactly what it has done in Sault Ste. Marie, according to Cassel. LIke phragmites, it can also block pristine views or otherwise clutter the landscape.
Garlic mustard is yet another example of a plant that can cause extensive damage to the environment and economy. If not kept in check this benign-looking plant can overpower valuable hardwood timber stands and eliminate normal deer grazing areas, since deer won't eat the stuff. This, of course, has an impact on hunting and the timber industry.
"If garlic mustard moves into a stand of hardwoods of a favorite camp you've been coming to for many years, all of sudden it's 60 acres of garlic mustard on the forest floor and all your game species are gone," says Cassel.
Mackinac Island's invasive species problem
Invasive species could also have an economic impact on a tourist destination such as Mackinac Island, which in addition to raising the economic stakes, has different challenges due to its location.
"We've dealt with Mackinac Island since 2013," says Cassel. "We go over there multiple times a year to treat Japanese knotweed, phragmites and garlic mustard."

He says the impact of these invasive species, especially phragmites and Japanese knotweed, can have quite an effect on the island's economy;  tourists who flock to the island expect to be able to look out on the water as they bike around the island. Cassel's group has identified other troublesome species on the island which they are working to eradicate.
Aquatic invasive species
Invasive species are in lakes and rivers as well. Plants like Eurasian milfoil, frogbit and zebra mussels, are clogging our local waterways, getting tangled up in boat props and even making it difficult for duck hunters to venture into their favorite hunting spots. 
Cassel says they also crowd out habitat for micro and macro invertebrates which fish need to survive and reproduce. If left unchecked, invasive aquatic species could pose a significant threat to the region's fisheries.
"We have a huge fishery in the EUP," says Cassel. "A lot of people come here for this fantastic fishery." 
Cassel says part of the concern is the spread of these invasives from a boat going from one lake to another. He says his group is working on making people aware of the problem, and how to prevent the spread of invasive species by doing things like draining the water from your boat, motor, and bilge between lakes. 

Health impacts of native species
There are also negative health implications related to invasive species, like in the proliferation of wild parsnip, a plant that has become increasingly conspicuous along the roadside in the EUP. The plant contains a phytotoxic sap which can cause a rash, and which poses a threat to workers and other people who may come in contact with it.
Cassel says wild parsnip turned up near a park in St. Ignace, and was removed before it could become a hazard to campers. 
Three Shores CISMA is working with the county road commissions in the EUP to help them control the wild parsnip that is growing along road right-of-ways.
"The county is excited about getting on board to control wild parsnip," says Cassel. "With the proper timing of mowing, you can prevent it from seeding and you won't need to treat it with gallons of herbicide."
Making people aware of the threat
Like a lot of things that can potentially harm us, people aren't concerned with the potential problem with invasive species until it becomes more immediate. 
The task for Cassel is to bring the subject to the forefront of people's minds. He does this by giving countless talks on invasive species to sportsman clubs, civic groups and various public agencies on the potential impact invasive species can have on the environment and economy. 
He says most of the response has been good; people are calling his office either with a request for help eradicating a species or to simply report a sighting.
The threat of invasive species is kind of like that ominous sound you hear in the engine of your vehicle. You know in the back of your mind that you need to get your vehicle into the shop soon or the cost to fix it will likely double or worse. 
Cassel says early detection of invasive species on your property will practically ensure that you can get it eradicated long before it causes significant harm or is too costly to deal with.
"The wonderful thing about Three Shores is we're a partner across jurisdictional boundaries, we can bridge the gap between private and public entities," says Cassel.
For more information on invasive species or to request they be removed from your property contact Three Shores CISMA at 906-632-9611 or threeshorescisma@gmail.com.
Neil Moran is a freelance writer/copywriter living in Sault Ste. Marie. He blogs and details his writing services at Haylake Business Communications.
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