/ Opinions / Terrestrial invasive species and hunters

Terrestrial invasive species and hunters

September 25, 2020 by Beckie Gaskill

As hunters, many of us are about to spend more time in the woods than at any other time of the year. While our primary focus is the animals we look to harvest, we can also help in the fight against terrestrial invasive species. 

Last week in this column, I spoke about duck hunters and aquatic invasive species (AIS). This week I wanted to take a little closer look at terrestrial invasive species (TIS). I have seen more interest in keeping terrestrial invasive species under control in recent years, which is great. Hunters, too, can play a part in that.

Because we are in the woods a great deal, especially this time of year, we can also be at the forefront of detecting potential issues before they get out of hand. As with AIS, TIS is easier to control if it is caught early. Better yet, if we can keep it from spreading, that is even less costly and labor intensive.

According to Rosie Page, coordinator for the Wisconsin Headwaters Invasives Partnership (WHIP), there are several terrestrial invasive species she sees as the big problems for our area. One of those is wild parsnip. This invasive is of special concern because the sap from it can cause actual chemical burns on skin. Obviously this can be quite painful and something we would all hope to avoid. But, as an invasive, if it gets a foothold somewhere, it can grow prolifically, pushing out other, native, plants. Wild parsnip can attached to boots, clothes and equipment we bring into the woods with us.

Thistles are an invasive that can be easily spread. Most people who have spent time in the woods are familiar with thistles. They get stuck to our clothes and hair and can be difficult to remove. Because they enjoy hitchhiking so much, it is a good idea to be on the lookout for them. When I come out of the woods, I check all of my outerwear to be sure nothing has tagged along. 

One of the good things about thistles is they are big enough to see easily. This makes removal easier. When I find them attempting to go along for a ride with me, I remove them and put them in a plastic bag. From there I dispose of them in the garbage so they do not get a chance to spread anywhere else. That is a better option than simply removing the heads and leaving them on the landscape, of course. 

The issue with thistles is, like most invasive species, they will push out native plants, meaning many other native species will lose habitat. They can also make a favorite stomping ground virtually un-stompable. At the very least, places we like to walk will be unenjoyable. In many instances, though, the dense stands of thistle can even prevent us from entering, or be a hiding place for other unwanted guests such as ticks and other insects that “bug” us in the woods. 

Tansy, Page said, is relatively new to the Northwoods, making it one for which we should be on the lookout. Again, stopping a problem before it starts, or as soon as possible, is alway a better option than letting an invasive run rampant and then attempting to play catch up. Tansy roots very strongly, which can make it difficult to remove. It also contains an alkaline chemical that is poisonous to grazers such as deer. At this point, with CWD, predators increasing and habitat decreasing, the last thing hunters need is a plant that can kill deer, too.

One last terrestrial invasive species Page highlighted is garlic mustard. Interestingly enough, when the leaves of this plant are crushed, they actually does smell like garlic. It can be used for cooking, which is a good way to use up some of it where it has been found. But, like other invasive species, it is not one we want to have around if we can help it. It is common on the forest edge and can be easily spread just by walking through it.

Get educated

As I said, up until recently, even on our own properties, when we talk about creating habitat for deer and other animals we like to see and like to hunt, we have talked a lot about things we can do to improve conditions for those animals. Now, we are also starting to talk about what we can do to make sure things do not get worse — such as keep invasive species off of our landscapes. As with most things, I believe education is key. Whether a hiker, hunter or somewhere in between, I feel as though outdoorsmen and women want to do what is best for the ecology of the places they love. Some of that focus, now, has turned to invasive species prevention.

There are a few things we can all do when we come out of the woods (no matter the reason for our visit) to help stop the spread. First, hunters should inspect their clothing. Be sure there is nothing tagging along for the ride, whether that be vegetation of some sort or mud or some other substance. Having a boot brush is also a great idea. It only takes a few minutes to brush all of the mud, sand, debris and vegetation from boots and shoes. By doing this, any “bad gut” that may be stuck in the tread of boots, or in the laces, will be left close to where it was found. 

I have yet to pull the trigger on an ATV or UTV, but I do consider it here and there. While these are all great for transportation into and out of the woods, they, too, can be subject to unwanted travelers such as TIS. They are hard to thoroughly clean in the field, but before driving them up onto the truck or trailer, it is a good idea to just take a look around and remove any debris or vegetation that may be stuck in easier to reach places. Once a hunter or rider gets out of the woods, it is a good idea to take the vehicle to a car wash for cleaning, or to fully spray it off at home to remove anything from the nooks and crannies.

Many hunters and outdoorsmen and women have become more familiar with various species they find on the landscape. My recommendation is, if you happen to see something that was not there before, and you think it might be invasive, take a picture of it with your phone if you can and note the location. When you get home, you can get in touch with your local Land and Water Conservation Department for your county and have them take a look at it. If possible, you can even bag up a specimen to bring to the land and water shop. The Oneida County Land and Water website oclw.org has a TIS identification page to help you determine if what you have found is an invasive species. The WHIP website, www.whipinvasives.org, is another good place to look for help in identifying invasive species as well as learning the best control methods. 

I hope everyone enjoys their time in the woods this fall — and hopefully we do not run across any new stands of TIS while we are out there. But if you think you might, do not be afraid to reach out to either of these great groups of people. They will be more than happy to help in any way possible.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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