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COOK COUNTY CONNECTION: Invasive Species Impact Everyone

Feb 21, 2020 09:15AM ● By Editor

Spotted knapweed is one of many invasive species found in Cook County. Photo: MN Department of Agriculture


By 
Conservation Technician Michaela Clingaman from Cook County MN - February 21, 2020

 

While some of us have called Cook County home for a few years or even a lifetime, there are other residents who have made Cook County home well before any human could inhabit the region. 

Northern Minnesota has a geologic history born of oceans, fire and ice. Events throughout geological time, such as magma flows, glaciation, weathering and stream erosion, shaped the land and laid the foundation for soil formation. It is from this soil that some of the oldest residents of Cook County grew plants. Plants adapted and changed over time to thrive in this specific environment and they even formed unique relationships with other plant species, animals or microorganisms. Plants indigenous to a given area in geological time are given the prestigious title of “native.”

Native plants have developed, occurred naturally or existed for many years in a specific place. Some native plant species to our region may come to mind, such as an old-growth white pine towering over the tree canopies, a red-osier dogwood shrub whose bright red stems offer relief in the white winter landscape, or the marsh marigolds that pepper the wetlands with bright yellow blooms in the spring. Our ecosystem is dependent on native plants like these, and life as we know it would be much different without them.

However, not all plants that grow in Cook County are native. In fact, some plants can be detrimental if they become established outside of their normal range, capable of causing severe damage, harming the environment, the economy or human health. These plants are given the title of “invasive.” In a new environment free of their natural enemies, invasive plants can spread aggressively and outcompete native plants, changing the environment and conditions for the worse. 

Invasive plants can be found on water, land and in just about every habitat type you can think of. You may ask, “How are these invasive plants spreading?” Like all plants, they can expand their range through natural dispersal methods such as wind, water, gravity or animals. This type of dispersal allows for movement across relatively short distances. However, long distance spread is almost always human assisted and is where we see normally harmless plants become invasive in a new environment. Whether the species was introduced intentionally or by accident, the consequences of their establishment can be disastrous. Reduction of species diversity and wildlife habitat, inhibited growth and/or germination of native species through toxins released in the soil, decreased forest health, displacement of native wildflowers, limitation of tree regeneration, water and soil quality degradation, and disruption of ecosystem functions are just some of the negative impacts invasive plants have. 

Cook County is not immune to the damaging impacts of invasive species, and efforts to coordinate invasive species prevention and eradication is actively taking place. In Cook County, partners ranging from local to federal level government agencies, non-profit groups and other local organizations have joined together to form the Cook County Invasives Team (CCIT).

The CCIT is a multi-agency and community relationship, created to effectively coordinate and implement management and eradication of invasive terrestrial and aquatic plants. Established in 2010, the CCIT is committed to prevention of new introductions of invasive species through education, control of new invaders or new infestations, and containment and management of established species. Increasing awareness is the most effective way to prevent the spread of invasive species. 

As February 24th marks the beginning of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, the CCIT encourages you to consider your role in preventing the spread of invasive plant species. Because their spread is so connected to individual human activities, it is up to each of us to do everything possible to reduce the chance of inadvertently helping their spread.

Invasive species impact everyone and everything. Protecting the resources and unique ecosystem we cherish in Cook County can only be done if everyone takes an active role in invasive species management. You can start by making sure your clothing, equipment, vehicle, or pet is always clean of dirt and seeds to avoid unknowingly transporting hitchhiking species to new areas. You can also take the next step by learning how to identify, report and control invasive plants. If you’re interested in future educational opportunities, keep a lookout for upcoming invasive species identification and treatment workshops hosted by the CCIT this summer.  

For more information, visit cookswcd.org or contact Michaela Clingaman by phone at 218-387-3651 or email at [email protected]

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service

 

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