Tracking an invasive crab

Allen Pleus, who leads the state Department of Fish & Wildlife’s aquatic invasive species unit, holds an invasive European green crab found in Padilla Bay.

From European green crabs along the Padilla Bay shoreline to big-leafed knotweed growing along the upper Skagit River, invasive species can be found throughout Skagit County.

Those plants and animals can wreak havoc on the environment and impact the economy.

Invasive species have cost the state millions and the nation billions in crop and natural resource losses, as well as staff time monitoring and eradicating the species.

In an effort to call attention to the widespread problem, the state and nation have designated this week as National Invasive Species Awareness Week.

Invasive species are non-native plants and animals that can grow and multiply at fast rates, crowding out native species.

With the help of volunteers, government and nonprofit agencies have battled invasive species throughout Skagit County for years, from blackberry in Marblemount to scotch broom on Hope Island.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s Feb. 6 proclamation for Invasive Species Awareness Week states that monitoring, prevention and control of invasive species, combined with damage to crops and natural resources, costs the nation an estimated $137 billion per year.

According to the state Invasive Species Council, state agencies and universities in Washington invest millions each year controlling invasive species, some of which threaten the state’s shellfish industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also spends millions to monitor and control invasive species such as the gypsy moth, which is estimated to cause losses of about $30 million in agricultural and timber revenue each year, primarily in the eastern U.S.

“Invasive species threaten the survival of native plants and animals, damage our land and water and inhibit management of natural resources,” Inslee said in a news release. “We must do what we can to remove these threats.”

Officials from various state agencies said in the release that invasive species threaten agriculture, recreation and the conservation of other species.

Invasive species can threaten endangered species such as the region’s salmon, Joe Stohr, acting director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in the release.

Richard Brocksmith, executive director of the Skagit Watershed Council, said invasive cattails such as those found in restored Fir Island marshes and knotweed found largely in the upper reaches of the Skagit River watershed can impact salmon.

The Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, Skagit Land Trust and several other partners have been working to eliminate knotweed in the Skagit River watershed for several years.

The Skagit Land Trust has also fought back invasive blackberry and ivy on its properties throughout Skagit County, the organization’s stewardship manager Regina Wandler said.

Those are just two of about 20 invasive plants commonly found on trust properties, she said.

Invasive species can arrive in many ways. Some come as seeds blown by the wind or dropped from a dirty hiking boot. Some ride the currents or hitch a ride on a boat. Some crawl out of wood moved by semi trucks or an unsuspecting camper.

Officials urge hikers, boaters, campers, gardeners and everyone else to avoid helping invasive species make their way into new areas.

“Simple, coordinated actions taken by everyone in Washington will save our agriculture, natural resources, wildlife and ability to recreate,” state Recreation and Conservation Office Director Kaleen Cottingham said. “Let’s all do our part to protect the state we love.”

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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