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