Washington State is inhabited by many beautiful native species, however there are many non-native invasive species that now call the state their home. Last week, the Washington Invasive Species Council hosted a week long seminar over Zoom to discuss the invasive pests that have now moved in, and how to best combat them. The meetings were put in place by governor Jay Inslee to show solidarity with National Invasive Species Awareness Week. “Invasive Species threaten wildlife as we know it in Washington State,” said Inslee. “We can all help to kick out unwelcome invaders. I invite you to learn how to spot them and learn who to call when you find them – you would do a great service to our state and environment.”
Whether on land or in water, some human-introduced organisms such as fish, bugs, plants, and other wildlife can damage agriculture, forests, and other resources. They can also threaten the survival of endangered species such as salmon and orca and change natural process such as fire, water availability, and flooding. A 2017 study estimates that some species in other states, such as the freshwater mussels, would cost Washington more than $100 million annually in damage and loss if they become established here. The awareness week included webinars held over Zoom and events aimed at sharing information on priority invasive species. “The role of the public can’t be understated,” said Justin Bush, executive coordinator of the Washington Invasive Species Council. “We have lots of examples where the public was first to discover a new problem species. Many organizations work together to perform surveillance and trapping to detect invasive species, but they can’t be everywhere. People playing active roles in their communities to protect the resources we value is very important.”
Currently there are 25 listed high priority invasive plants in Washington State, most of which were introduced accidentally years ago. Plants such as Garlic Mustard, Scotch Broom, and Poison Hemlock are a common sight in Washington State. With these plant species already heavily established, there are multiple ways to stop the further spread of them. These include; washing vehicles, boots, and animals that may have been in infested areas. Flushing out your watercrafts is another way of preventing the spread of aquatic invasive plants, as well as checking your clothing for potential seeds and stems that may be stuck to you. If you do spot an invasive plant, the WISC encourages individuals to take a picture of the suspected plant, document your location, and send the info to them as soon as possible.
Another invasive species that was covered during the week was the notorious European green crab. These pesky crustaceans were first found in Lummi Bay back in 2019, and have been an ongoing problem ever since. These crabs eat smaller crustaceans and many other plants and animals, and can have a dramatic negative impact to shore crab, clam, and oyster population. Despite the name, not all European green crabs are green. However, they can be distinguished from native shore crab species by the five spines located on both sides of the shell behind their eyes. Currently, the Lummi Nation is working extensively with Washington Fish and Wildlife to limit the spread of these crabs. Trapping and fishing for these crabs is planned to be year round by local fisherman that are also working with the tribe and state. If you spot a European green crab, citizens are highly encouraged to take pictures, document their location, and remove said crab from the area, and to report their findings to Washington Fish and Wildlife.
Residents of Washington also need to watch the sky for invasive species, as the northern giant hornet has been trying to establish a population here for the past few years. Also known as “Murder Hornets,” this species came to the public’s attention in August of 2019, when three individuals were found on Vancouver Island. Soon reports were documented in Bellingham, Blaine, and British Columbia, with there being three confirmed nests and 11 confirmed hornets in 2021. However, as of 2022 there have been zero confirmed nests or hornets but that doesn’t mean that they are completely gone. The WISC still encourages people to keep a watchful eye while outdoors and to immediately report any sightings to them. If the northern giant hornets establish a strong foothold in Washington State, it could spell disaster. These hornets prey on native honeybees and other wasps, if a population is established they could potentially demolish the native populations of other insects. Spotting these hornets is fairly easy since they are the largest recorded hornet in the world, with the average size being 1 ½ inches in length and they sport yellow or orange and black stripes on their bodies. The WISC does warn that you should not attempt to remove a northern giant hornet or their nests by yourself, due to the danger of their sting. The stinger of the northern giant hornet is longer than that of a honeybee and the venom is more powerful than any local bee or wasp, which can inflict serious injury or in some cases, death.
Another species that residents of Washington need to keep an eye out for is the African clawed frog. These amphibians were first identified in 2015 in King County, and have been confirmed in Bothell, Issaquah, and Lacey. It is believed that these frogs entered the state through the pet trade, and were possibly released after being used in science classes. These frogs are often used in school science classes due to them being a popular model system for a wide variety of biological studies. These frogs are also often confused with the African dwarf frog, which is not invasive and also available in the pet trade. African clawed frogs can be harmful to the native ecosystems, due to them having the potential to introduce harmful pathogens that hurt native amphibian and fish populations, including salmon. The WISC stresses that anyone who touches these frogs must thoroughly wash their hands due to the diseases they can carry. An infestation of the amphibians can cause a decrease in recreational fishing potential, due to the need to quarantine infested water bodies and close them off to public use. The best way to stop the spread of these frogs is report sightings to Washington Fish and Wildlife, as well as being mindful and not releasing unwanted pet frogs into the wild. African clawed frogs are classified as a Prohibited Aquatic Animal Species in Washington, meaning they may not be possessed, purchased, sold, propagated, transported, or released in state waters.
While it may seem like an impossible job, fighting these invasive species and reporting them to Washington Fish and Wildlife is the best thing that a community can do. “Washington is a wonderful place to call home due to the clean water and productive land, abundant natural resources, diverse agricultural commodities, booming domestic and international trade and ample opportunities to recreate on the land and water,” said Bush. “Invasive species threaten much of what Washington embodies and values. Please take the time to learn about these important topics and integrate simple preventative actions into your daily activities. By working together, we can solve this shared problem.” The Washington Invasive Species Council hosts the Washington Invasives mobile app and InvasiveSpecies.wa.gov website where people can report sightings of suspected invasive species
There are so many more, including the Egyptian Locust and Stink Bugs, along with aquatic plants and backyard weeds. Remember to contact the state or local offices for assistance. Rmoving them on your own could cause more damage than good. Insecticides and weed killers can impact our water supply or cause their spread. Visit Washington State Invasive Species for more information. Below are a few pictures of some of them.