Environmental Stewardship: Invasive Species

by John Berge

Did you see the recent PBS program, “Making Waves: The Battle for the Great Lakes”? It was an excellent summary of the causes and consequences of alien, invasive, aquatic species that have changed the Great Lakes forever.

One of the participants in that program was Dan Egan, to whom I made reference last month. I have since finished his well researched, well documented and very readable book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, which I highly recommend to anyone wishing to become more knowledgeable about the Great Lakes and related issues.

He unfortunately leaves only a little room for optimism. There is evidence of some rapid evolution of whitefish in Lake Michigan which permits this toothless, week-jawed fish to swallow, digest and grow on zebra and quagga mussels. They swallow them whole and use evolving stomach muscles to crush the shells and digest the meat. A total change of their diet! Also, as salmon populations crashed, some native prey fish are returning.

In the Great Lakes, there is little that the individual can do to counteract the changes resulting from governments giving in to the demands of industries such as shipping and sport fishing. On land, which also has lots of invasive, alien species, there are actions we can take.

Many of us are aware of some of these invasive plant species: Garlic Mustard, Dame’s Rocket, Common and Glossy Buckthorns, Non-native Bush Honeysuckle, Multiflora Rose, Reed Canary Grass and Purple Loosestrife. There are more invasives on the beautifully illustrated sheets distributed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. These flora can be just as obnoxious as the fauna which have invaded the Great Lakes. You wouldn’t have much effect going down to the lake shore and chiseling off some of the billions of zebra and quagga mussels, but in our parks and in our yards, you can have a noticeable effect on invasive, alien, plant species.

On Saturday, May 6, there is going to be a “Garlic Mustard Pickin’ Party” in Colonial Park, starting at 9:00 a.m. and running until 1:00 p.m. This is a somewhat delayed Earth Day Event, sponsored by Weed Out Racine, Discover Racine, the Sierra Club, the City of Racine’s Parks, Recreation & Cultural Services Department and several other organizations. There will be gloves and trowels available (or bring your own, I like my own weed digger) and “experts” on invasive plant identification and removal to lead the host of volunteers that we expect. There will be lunch and music at noon, the latter provided by the aptly named “Garlic Mustard Pickers Band.” Dress for the weather, including long pants and closed-toed shoes. Meet at the parking lot past the Steelhead Facility in Lincoln Park, just across the bridge from Colonial Park.

If you have any questions, contact Melissa Warner (262-639-0918) or me at 262-633-8455. See you on May 6!

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