Missourians asked to celebrate freedom from invasive species July 4

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Under threat of attack, people rally in defense of their homeland. That is exactly what the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is asking citizens to do as they head to the great outdoors for Independence Day weekend.

“Not too many years ago, you could travel around the country without too much thought about spreading pests that could devastate our natural world,” said MDC Invasive Species Coordinator Tim Banek. “Today, we need everyone to be aware of invasive species when they travel, even short distances.”

Don’t move a mussel

Two prime examples, said Banek, are the zebra mussel and the emerald ash borer (EAB). Neither was found in Missouri 20 years ago. Both now have footholds here and require constant vigilance by boaters, anglers, hunters and campers to limit their spread.

In the case of zebra mussels, preventive measures start by knowing where the fingernail-sized, black-and-white mollusks already are established. Lake Taneycomo, Bull Shoals Reservoir, Lake of the Ozarks, Lake Lotawana, the Osage, Missouri and Mississippi rivers and the mouth of the Meramec River all are known to harbor the prolific mussels.

Boaters and anglers who use their boats in more than one lake or stream are urged to remove any clinging vegetation, drain and inspect boats and trailers for zebra mussels and allow them to dry for at least five days before re-launching in a new location. Flushing live wells, bilges and motor cooling systems with hot water or chlorine bleach also is important.

Don’t move firewood

The EAB is a green beetle that has caused millions of dollars of damage across the Northeastern United States and the Upper Midwest by killing ash trees. Its habit of tunneling beneath tree bark, coupled with Americans’ love of camping and campfires, has caused the pest to spread more rapidly than it might have otherwise. Campers who take firewood with them from home or from one campsite to another can carry EAB larvae, which emerge and infest new areas.

Campers can avoid spreading EABs – along with other forest pests or diseases such as the gypsy moth and thousand-cankers disease of black walnut trees – by obtaining firewood in areas where they camp and burning it all before leaving. Even moving firewood from one campground to another in the same neighborhood can spread parasites and diseases. Campers who accidentally move firewood should burn it immediately.

For more information about emerald ash borers, visit www.MissouriConservation.org and search “EAB” or call 866-716-9974. The Missouri Cooperative Emerald Ash Borer Team also has an emerald ash borer newsletter, Borer Bite, which is available at www.eab.missouri.edu and on request from joanie.straub@mdc.mo.gov.

Don’t dump bait

Even Missourians who plan close-to-home “staycations” can unwittingly contribute to invasive species problems. An excellent example is taking fishing bait from one place to another.

“Most people would never dream that catching crayfish in a pond or stream near home and taking them to a fishing spot a few miles away could cause serious ecological problems, but it can,” said Banek. “Different crayfish species have very specific distributions. Moving one species into the next watershed can put larger, more aggressive crayfish in competition with native crayfish and crowd them out. Over time, that leads to loss of biological diversity and undermines the stability of aquatic ecosystems.”

Worms, minnows, crickets and other bait purchased from bait shops also pose potential threats to Missouri’s wild resources. Banek urges anglers never to dump leftover bait.

“Just about everyone has thrown live worms or minnows into the water at the end of a fishing trip, thinking they will feed the fish, but we know better now,” Banek said. “Invasive species sometimes slip into the bait supply chain, and once they are loose they can multiply.”

He said the same is true of worms, which sometimes are imported from as far away as Canada.

“The only safe thing to do with live bait is to send it to the landfill,” Banek said. “If there is a receptacle with a plastic bag at the boat ramp, you can put unused bait there. Otherwise, take it home and put it out with the rest of your trash.”

You can find more information about how to prevent the spread of invasive species by visiting www.MissouriConservation.org and searching “Invasive Species.”