How to stop the spread of invasive species as you hike, boat and camp
We are in the middle of our Clean Your Gear Challenge week (it’s not too late to join!), but there’s MORE to cleaning gear besides just keeping it functioning well. When you’re conscious of what’s on your gear (mud, plants, etc.) as you move from place to place, you’re also helping in the fight against invasive species.
This week we celebrate Play Clean Go Awareness Week (more on that below), so it’s a great time to talk about what it IS and why it’s so important. It also happens to be National Get Outdoors Day on Saturday, so we hope you celebrate both!
This post is sponsored by Teton County Weed and Pest. With many travelers coming to Jackson Hole this season (and increasing annually), it’s incredibly important to help get the word out to not only locals, but people who visit the area too.
That said, the information in this post applies not JUST to our local area, but country-wide. We invite you to take some time to really learn, be aware, and take just a few moments to help make a big difference.
Let’s get started with the nitty gritty!
What are invasive species?
Invasive species are any non-native plant, animal, insect, or organism whose introduction is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Sometimes their introductions are conspicuous, as with the infamous murder hornets, but frequently their introductions are much less obvious, arriving in packing materials, carried on vehicles, or sticking on fur and clothing and not noticed until their populations are large enough to catch our attention.
Not every non-native species will be able to establish in a new environment, but some will. Those that can establish have a competitive advantage over native species because these new environments lack their natural predators which allows them to spread rapidly.
What’s so wrong with invasive species?
Once established, invasive species wreak havoc on human and natural systems, choking infrastructure, infesting agriculture, increasing wildfire potential, impeding recreation, and restricting habitat for wildlife.
In the US alone, invasive species are responsible for over $100 billion in annual losses from both the direct impacts (infrastructure and agricultural impacts and the cost of management) and indirect impacts (more frequent and more devastating wildfire, habitat and forage loss and recreation impacts).
But, as with all things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of invasive species, preventing the introduction of a species to an area can save both millions of dollars in management costs and pounds of pesticides that never need to be applied.
Once introduced, some species, like perennial pepperweed, are capable of producing tens of thousands of seeds in their first growing season, and some, like field bindweed, leave seeds that can be viable for more than half a century.
Protecting the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is the largest intact ecosystem and has the largest concentration of wildlife in the lower 48 states. While invasive plants are an ever-present issue in developed areas within this ecosystem, many backcountry spaces remain pristine.
However, with record tourism and heavy use the risk is increasing for spreading invasive species into our beloved trails and wild areas. As you recreate in the Greater Yellowstone area (check out our favorite family hikes in Yellowstone), be conscious of what you’re bringing with you.
How YOU can help stop invasive species as you recreate outdoors
Thankfully, you don’t have to be a botanist or entomologist to prevent the spread of invasive species. All it takes is clean gear.
By removing mud from mountain bike tires and treads of hiking boots, you can stop spotted knapweed from moving up a trail. By pulling seeds out of socks, you can prevent cheatgrass from moving up a hill side (and prevent wildfires from burning hot and fast through sage grouse habitat).
By cleaning and draining kayaks, rafts and boats, you can prevent quagga and zebra mussels from establishing in Jackson Lake and clogging the dam.
By brushing your dog, you can prevent toxic houndstongue from reducing the quality of forage available for elk and bison.
That’s it. Have fun. Recreate and enjoy all this amazing ecosystem has to offer. But clean your gear before and after you get off the trail or river. Then go and recreate some more.
Play. Clean. Go.
The PlayCleanGo initiative is helping spread awareness about recreating responsibly and not bringing invasive species with you as you move from place to place.
Follow these simple steps to stop invasive species in your tracks:
- REMOVE plants, animals and mud from boots, gear, pets, and vehicle.
- CLEAN your gear before entering and leaving the recreation site.
- STAY on designated roads and trails.
- USE CERTIFIED or local firewood and hay.
Use Play Clean Go boot brushes
At trailheads across North America you can find simple boot brush stations to help you clean your boots and gear before AND after you recreate. Just taking 10 seconds makes a huge difference. Check out this map to find them in an area near you.
If you’re recreating in Jackson, Wyoming, you can find boot brushes at the Weed and Pest office at 7575 S Highway 89. We’re also working to help get them at many local trailheads, and will update this as we know specifics. You can also purchase boot brushes here.
- How to Clean Your Outdoor Gear
- Wilderness First Aid for Outdoor Families
- Family Hiking Tips
- Water Adventures for Families
Stop invasive species when hiking with Play. Clean. Go. Recreation Tips
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