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5 Ways Hikers Can Help Stop the Spread of Invasive Plants

Posted by Kindra Ramos at Mar 31, 2016 05:35 PM |
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Tips to help you stop the spread of invasive species while you are hiking.

Julie Combs is the Citizen Science Program Director for PNW Invasive Plant Council. PNW IPC is a nonprofit conservation organization that works in close partnership with National Forests, National Parks and other public land management agencies on early detection and rapid response to report and remove invasive species. We invited Julie to share some tips on how hikers can protect our public lands from the spread of invasive plants.

Volunteer identifies invasive plants on the forest.
A volunteer documents an infestation of spotted knapweed in the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest.

by Julie Combs

Wildflowers call hikers to the hills in the spring. Yet not all flowers are a welcome sight. Invasive plants  are non-native to the ecosystem and their introduction is likely to cause harm by threatening our natural resources, the ecology of local systems and the economy of our state.  Humans are a primary vector for introductions by  unknowingly carrying small seeds from one place to the next.

Here are some tips to help ensure you aren't accidentally introducing dandelions or hawkweeds into an alpine  meadow or garlic mustard into a forest understory.

  1. Clean your hiking boots before and after trips. Non-native seeds can easily hitchhike a ride on your hiking boots. Before hitting the trail, clean your boots, clothes and other gear. You can often find boot brushes at your local dollar store. The point is to clean the mud, dirt and seeds off your boots before and after hiking (some seeds are small and you may not even notice them).
  2. Check all your gear. Non-native seeds can also stick to the bottom of your pack, the cuffs of your pants or in your in pup's fur. Do a quick check as you repack your gear in the car to make sure it is free of invasive hitchhikers. If you hike with a dog you might keep a brush in your car to give them a quick grooming before the ride home.
  3. Stay on designated trails. If you are carrying stowaway seeds and accidentally deposit seeds off trail, you may start a new plant infestation that will be difficult to detect.
  4. Educate yourself. Did you know that about half of all invasive, noxious weeds are escapees from gardens (e.g., butterfly bush and yellow archangel); the rest are plants accidentally introduced to Washington through human travel and trade. Learn more from the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board or your county noxious weed control program. These are great places to start learning about the most problematic invasives in your area.
  5. Get involved. One way to get involved is to become a citizen scientist with The Pacific Northwest Invasive Plant Council. They lead a regional Citizen Science Program that trains hikers to identify and report invasive plants while hiking in National Forests, National Parks and many other public lands.