An op-ed from Florida’s Restoration Project Manager Brian Pelc
Florida’s wonderful climate draws in millions of visitors each year, helping to drive the health of our economy. Unfortunately, Florida’s climate is also hospitable to visitors of a different kind—invasive species that cause more of a crisis here than anywhere else in the continental United States.
Unwanted plants and animals do much more than spoil a lush green lawn or leave irritating bite marks on those “bare footing” it in the park. About 1 percent of the thousands of unwanted species brought into Florida have the ability to thrive and spread in the last great places where endangered animals make homes and where humans seek refuge from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Native plants and animals have a difficult time competing against these foreign organisms in our natural lands, and some rare species can be pushed out completely.
While many friends of mine question whether they can make a difference in protecting Florida, exotic invasive species is an issue that desperately needs the attention. If we focus on the handful of plants and animals that pose the greatest threat, every homeowner and renter, garden club member and every outdoor enthusiast has the chance to help save our natural spaces by taking control of their own, small piece of the planet.
In honor of Invasive Species Awareness Week, February 22-28, here are some top tips from The Nature Conservancy to fight damaging invaders:
- Don’t harbor backyard invaders. Heavenly bamboo and Mexican petunia may sound nice, but plants like these can overrun, crowd out and strangle life from native Florida plants.
- Don’t let it loose! Don’t release aquarium fish and plants, live bait or other exotic animals into the wild.
- Don’t buy it! Acquiring invasive reptiles like Burmese or African rock pythons as pets is prohibited in Florida.
- Wash your boats — and boots! Clean your boat thoroughly to remove invasive stowaways. Clean your boots before you hike to get rid of hitchhiking weed seeds.
- Don’t “pack a pest” when traveling and don’t move firewood. Fruits and vegetables, plants, insects and animals can carry potentially devastating forest pests or become invasive themselves, and firewood can harbor forest pests.
- Get involved! Volunteer at your local park, refuge or other wildlife area or with your local Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) to help remove invasive species.
For more information, visit www.nature.org/FloridaInvasives.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org
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