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WHIPping terrestrial invasive species

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Wisconsin Headwaters Partnership (WHIP) annual meeting. WHIP is a non-profit group dedicated to finding and controlling terrestrial invasive species. AIS, or aquatic invasive species, seem to get all of the attention - at least until someone tells someone about an invasive plant in their yard or on their property and how those invasives can take over, destroying habitat for birds and other animals and changing ecosystems, leaving a wave of destruction in its path.

I think the big thing with terrestrial invasives species (TIS), in terms of getting the word out, is it is more of a one-on-one thing. With AIS, volunteers or interns are at launch ramps all over the Northwoods talking to hundreds of people per day about invasives and what they can do to a lake.

While the local garden centers are a wealth of information about that, and do a great job helping people pick native species, there are no volunteers or interns standing outside of Home Depot or the Wal-Mart garden center, for example.

Now, I am in no way saying these places are bad or that people should not buy their plants and whatnot from them (although I do advocate shopping local whenever possible), but they do not have the same type of atmosphere and are oftentimes shipped "regional" plant varieties. In any event, there is no one standing outside to tell shoppers about terrestrial invasives and what they can do to a property.

While most people now have an idea of what Eurasian watermilfoil looks like, most would be hard-pressed to spot garlic mustard. Even more, many people do not know some of the "coveted beauties" our moms planted in their flower gardens in our youth are actually terrestrial invasives. I have some Lilly of the Valley behind my house. I remember my mom having some and she thought the little white flowers were so pretty. Well, as it took over my backyard and started spreading into the woods and toward my dog's fenced-in yard area, I decided I better start to do some more checking. I looked it up in a field guide and found out it was an invasive. I know native plants can take over areas, too, so just by the nature of its spread, I was not sure. In my search I also learned the plant can be poisonous to dogs.

Obviously, I needed to do something about it right away. I hand-pulled what was close and into the fenced-in yard and this year plan to cover the majority of the patch with black plastic to kill it off.

Just as with AIS, there are priority and no-priority TIS. I know Lilly of the Valley is not on the "big ten" list or anything.In fact, it is listed on the DNR website as non-restricted, but it is still an invasive, and I would rather it not take over the entire yard. It has been there for a while, but just in the last two years it has really taken off.

The thing with plants is, something is going to take the place of invasives that are either hand-pulled or killed off in some other way - such as my black plastic covering. So my next step will be to find something native that will grow under the trees and behind the house where there is very little sunshine.

Unfortunately, just getting rid of a terrestrial invasive is not the end of the project. It should be purposefully replaced with something else. I do not have a plan for that yet and, honestly, I am not sure what would grow in this particular location.

I am sure answers to those questions can be found through either a stop at the local garden center or a call to either Rosie Page, the executive director of WHIP, or the local Land and Water Conservation Department.

But back to terrestrial invasives in general, the DNR website has lists of invasives as well as a full-color PDF of photos of the most common invasives. It is another good place to start to look for a match to a possible invasive species in the yard or on the property. WHIP is another great resource. They undertake several projects every year with landowners and help rid properties of invasives, or at least put projects in place to help keep them under control. Their website, www.whipinvasives.org, is another great resource for those who think they have an invasive in the property.

While AIS is very important, and can truly damage a waterbody, TIS is just important to our land.

I would encourage people to get to know just a couple of terrestrial invasives, and to take a look for them on your next hiking or biking adventure. Just as with AIS, catching TIS early is always the best scenario. I know I'll be looking a bit more carefully when I am outdoors this summer.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at bgaskill@lakelandtimes.com.


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