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Brush off invasive species; terrestrial threats on the march

Caroline Roers, Echo Press Intern, Alexandria Echo Press

We’ve all heard of aquatic invasive species, like zebra mussels that lurk in our lakes. But what about terrestrial invasive species that travel on land? They can be every bit as destructive yet few people know the risk.

Terrestrial invasive species have become a growing threat to Minnesota’s precious prairie and forest land.

In response to this, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources developed a collaborative educational campaign called PlayCleanGo: Stop Invasive Species in Your Tracks. The campaign promotes outdoor recreation and creates awareness and education about terrestrial invasive species.

“In the past few years there has been so much in the news about aquatic species that people have kind of forgotten about terrestrial invasive species. But they are still important and are making just as devastating of an impact on Minnesota forests as aquatic species are doing to our lakes,” said Ben Eckhoff, Lake Carlos State Park naturalist.


Terrestrial invasive species are plants, animals and microorganisms that are not native to a particular area. Like aquatic species, such as zebra mussels, they can cause severe impacts to Minnesota forests, wetlands and prairie resources such as killing trees and altering soil.

Some of the most common species include buckthorn, wild parsnip and emerald ash borer.

Though these organisms are slow moving alone, with the help of people they can move across large portions of land in a matter of hours.

According to PlayCleanGo, emerald ash borers will move less than four miles a year on their own. But tucked into people’s firewood, nursery stock and personal belongings, they can cover 55 miles per hour.

“Sometimes people simply don’t even realize that they are transporting these species,” said Eckhoff. “They go to one place and the seeds get onto their boots and gear and then they go to a new site and transport the eggs and seeds of the species unknowingly. Having a little bit of knowledge can drastically reduce these species spreading.”


To reduce the spread, PlayCleanGo has created five simple reminders for outdoor enthusiasts:

--Clean your gear before entering and leaving the recreation site.

--Burn only local or certified firewood.

--Use only local or weed-free hay.

--Stay on designated trails.

--Remove mud and seeds from clothes, pets, boots, gear and vehicles.

“The biggest thing is that people need to learn how to identify it. You don’t have to be a marine biologist or plant expert, you just need to know what plants to stay away from,” said Ryan Sansness, assistant manager at Lake Carlos State Park.

For instance, small yellow flowers can be seen populating the ditches along County Road 38 toward Lake Carlos State Park. While these plants, called wild parsnip, are beautiful to look at, they can cause severe rashes.

Another prevalent species found at the park is birdsfoot trefoil.

“You can literally see it spread down the trails every year. We can clean it off with the mowers, but it spreads so easily that it always comes back,” Sansness said. “That is why cleaning off boots, gear and even our mowers is such an important thing to do.”

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