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New Coastal Network Targets Alien Invaders

New Coastal Network Targets Alien Invaders

Image: Cutting down phragmites near I-95

CISMA may sound like an alien species, but the acronym actually refers to an effective approach in combating those non-native plants and animals that threaten ecosystems. And it’s an approach taking shape on Georgia’s coast.

Representatives of more than 40 organizations met in March 2012 to launch the Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area. The goal: Help conserve the region’s native wildlife and habitats through a collaborative effort to prevent or control invasive species on public and private lands across 11 counties.

DNR natural resources biologist Eamonn Leonard, who coordinated the meeting, said the cooperative is aimed at focusing efforts and filling gaps in the war on exotic aliens like Chinese tallow, the giant reed called phragmites (pictured above, being cut down) and feral hogs, species that can reshape landscapes and displace native wildlife.

As Leonard summed up: “What are the gaps, what are we doing and how do we work as a cooperative to fill those gaps.”

Cooperative invasive species management areas, or CISMAs, are offshoots of cooperative weed management areas started in the western U.S. in the 1990s to cope with invasive plants. The model was adapted in the Midwest, Northeast and the South to accommodate more land parcels, more land owners and often more than plants. Florida’s network grapples with everything from ball pythons to Brazilian peppers.

Purdue University’s Kate Howe, coordinator of the Midwest Invasive Plant Network, has led training sessions since 2006 and helped with the March 15 workshop in Richmond Hill. Howe said the greatest benefit of the cooperatives is “looking at landscapes as a whole, and not property by property.”

“You can get rid of all the privet on your property. But if your neighbor has it, you just keep getting it. If you look across the landscape as a whole, you’re much more likely to have success.”

CISMAs also provide a structure for detecting invasive species early, raising public awareness, training staff and acquiring grants. Challenges include getting organized and staying energized.

Yet Howe has plenty of success stories. Among them: a Wisconsin cooperative worked with road crews to successfully stem the roadside spread of leafy spurge; a southern Illinois group helped eradicate water hyacinth and another freshwater invader, Brazilian elodea, soon after the plant populations were found.

Leonard sees the coastal CISMA as critical. “Just from the planning meeting … it has really short-circuited a lot of isolated efforts to figure out what is the best method (to control a species). As for efficiency, I think this is one of the best ways to share that kind of information.”

A 10-member steering committee will meet in May to chart the group’s future. Members represent DNR, Georgia Forestry Commission, Jekyll Island Authority, Little St. Simons Island, Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service. Partners have already coordinated a water hyacinth pull for late April 2012 and an Invasive Species Workshop at Skidaway Island State Park on June 14, 2012 (details at www.gaeppc.org).

The Coastal Georgia CISMA will build on and compliment statewide strategies for invasive species and, specifically, aquatic nuisance species, as well as the work of the Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative, which is focused on conserving natural communities and wildlife habitat while promoting sustainable development.

Counties covered in the cooperative include Chatham, Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn, Camden, Charlton, Brantley, Wayne, Long and Effingham.

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