[ Triad Online Home ]                                                                                       October 28, 2005

McCoy leads fight in military's defense against invasive species

      Tomah, Wis. (National Wildlife Federation) --  Wisconsin's Fort McCoy is one of the leaders in America's defense against a new and aggressive threat: invasive species. These nonnative plants, animals and microorganisms including pathogens are invading military lands across the country, degrading some of the training lands, creating health and safety concerns, impacting the richness and diversity of natural areas, and threatening rare species, according to a new National Wildlife Federation report.

      "Each of our military installations has a unique and important mission it is expected to carry out," says Peter Boice, Conservation Team leader, Office of the Secretary of Defense. "Invasive species put unnecessary roadblocks in the way of achieving this mission, putting undue strain on America's defenses."

      "Invasive species are putting America's natural heritage in danger," said Corry Westbrook, Legislative Representative for Species Restoration at the National Wildlife Federation and co-author of the report.   "They are taking hold and pushing out native plants and wildlife. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to stop invasive species from destroying America's wildlife legacy."

      Under Siege: Invasive Species on Military Lands reports that invasive species are a widespread and growing problem for military installations throughout the country. According to the report, exotic, invasive plants are a problem on Fort McCoy, contributing to soil erosion, creating potential safety/health concerns for Soldiers, and are out-competing native plants.

      "We have been combating invasive species for over a decade," said Kim Mello, Wildlife biologist at Fort McCoy. "Currently, we have between 30 to 50 exotic plant species, of which 10-15 are considered very invasive, on our 60,000 acre installation. Even so, our cooperative approach to the problem has produced some positive outcomes. It has been a continuous learning curve."

      Fort McCoy is one of 12 case studies highlighted in the report. Issued by the National Wildlife Federation in cooperation with the Department of Defense, the report is the first comprehensive look at how invasive plants and animals affect military lands. It details the threats of invasive species on these lands and how land managers are combating the problem.

      The U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest land owners in the country, managing more than 400 major installations that encompass 25 million acres of land. Resources managers at military installations are not only responsible for the stewardship of these lands, but to do so in a way that supports the primary mission of their installation.

      As Westbrook points out, "second only to habitat loss, invasive species are the greatest threat to native species' survival. U.S. military lands harbor over 350 species protected by the Endangered Species Act. As a result, installations across the country have the added duty of protecting imperiled plants and wildlife."

      The report concludes that invasive species have the potential to impair military operations in four ways. They can:

      1). Inhibit realistic conditions for training or testing operations and/or directly limit training activities.

      2). Require the diversion of funding from other natural resource or operation priorities.

      3). Act as one of the leading causes of habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, which can further degrade and reduce available training land; and

      4). Pose a security risk and/or create potentially life-threatening situations.

      Invasive species can harm installations and adjacent landowners in different ways.       Fast-burning exotic plants such as cheatgrass out west also can increase the frequency and severity of fires threatening lives and infrastructure both on and off the installation. Tall invasive plants can block vision and compromise security around sensitive military facilities. More commonly, exotic plant species can render large areas of land required for training inadequate.

      At Fort McCoy, invasive species affect the quality of training lands and create health and safety concerns to Soldiers who train at the installation. According to Mello, loss of native vegetation is another serious concern for the Fort, which is responsible for protecting the endangered Karner blue butterfly. The only food source for the larvae of these federally protected butterflies is the native wild lupine plant, which is threatened by invasive plants.

      "Once we recognized the scope and extent of the invasive species problem on Fort McCoy and the surrounding area, we knew it would take a cooperative effort to control their spread and impacts," said Mello. "That is why it was important to establish partnerships with federal, state, and municipal agencies, as well as, local community schools."

      In addition to the on-the-ground work carried out on the base to detect, remove and prevent the future spread of invasives, Mello has spearheaded community outreach and education programs on invasive species including a local county working group.  The Monroe County Invasive Plant Species Working Group was established in 1999.

      "What makes Fort McCoy's story unique is the level of partnership, outreach and volunteer opportunities the base has developed to combat its nonhuman invaders," said Westbrook. "They are one of the big success stories. We hope that by telling their story, this report inspires installations across the nation to develop equally successful invasive species management solutions."

      The report includes a plan of action to turn back the tide on invasives:

      First, prevention must be at the forefront of any invasive species management plans or policies. Unlike traditional pollutants, invasive species will not dissipate when new species stop being introduced; so stopping additional introductions is not enough. Existing populations must also be controlled or eradicated.

      Second, new management tools must address entire ecosystems, not just individual species or pathways of introduction. Also it is vital that the environmental impacts of treatment techniques be considered and negative impacts minimized to the greatest extent possible. 

      Third, action must be taken on several levels. Management plans, education and outreach, funding, research, and sound policy at all levels of government are ways to address the problem on multiple fronts.

      "We are at a critical moment in this battle," said Westbrook. "There is still time to turn the tide on these nonhuman invaders. McCoy is a shining example of what can be accomplished."

      "Combating the problem takes a lot of work and a long-term commitment," said Mello. "But the outcome is worth it. I honestly feel that we have made a big difference in the quality of the lands we manage. We have been able to share with and provide information to other agencies and groups, and developed good relationships with our community. However, we still have a lot of work left to do."

      The National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization protecting wildlife for its children's future.

(Note: To read the full report go to  http://www.nwf.org/news/.)

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