#3: Interviews and The Next Step: Invasive Species in Vermont

The social issue I’ve decided to address going forward is the current issue of invasive plant species taking over the different ecosystems in our state. I am currently taking Biology at Middlebury Union High School and in the class we’ve briefly discussed invasive species, and talked about how they were a danger to our environment, but we didn’t really delve into why they are a threat to us. I emailed two science teachers at my high school, Justin Gay and Paul Scaramucci, and asked them these question regarding the subject of invasive plant species:

  • Which invasive plant species bring the most threat to our state and what are the potential negative effects of their invasion of our ecosystems?

 

  • What do you think we should do to prevent the further spread of foreign plant species invading Vermont?

 

  • Why is the spread of foreign plant species a danger to the people and animals of Vermont?

 

  • How do the plants that are unfamiliar with our environment invade and overthrow the native plant species so quickly?

 

  • Is it equally important to focus on invasive insects/bugs and possibly even different types of animal species that are invasively integrating themselves into Vermont’s ecosystems and completely take over the environment, or do you think that more focus should be brought to the plants?

 

  • Do you know of anyone else who could provide useful opinions and thoughts to this contribute to this project?

 

When I talked to Mr. Scaramucci he listed a few different ways that Vermont has been actively trying to prevent the spread of invasive plant species, directed me to a website that I can refer to for facts and information (http://www.vtinvasives.org/), and suggested two people from the Maritime Museum that I could contact for more helpful opinions. When I asked him about ways to prevent the further spread of invasives, he told me about how there are signs posted along Lake Dunmore and Lake Champlain that tell people to clean of the bottoms of their boats before introducing them to a new body of water because if there are invasive plants such as milfoil attached to the bottoms of their boats, in fact there are even people that are hired to inspect the boats in more populated locations to ensure that there are no boats leaving with invasives attached to them. He also mentioned that Vermont tried to ban felt soled waders (waterproof fishing gear) because the felt would supposedly pick up invasives and carry them to different locations to spread, however after months of having this ban in effect it was decided that the banning the waders did not prevent the further spread of the invasives, so the ban will be lifted in the near future. When I asked him about where I should direct my focus with this project he told me that there are so many different kinds of invasives, I should mainly focus on the invasive plants. Justin Gay emailed me his responses later on, giving me his thoughts on the same questions. When asked about invasives that brought the most threat to our ecosystems, he broke them down into two categories; invasives that thrive in aquatic environments and invasives that thrive in forests and heavily wooded areas. He listed Watermilfoil, Spiny Fleas, and Zebra Mussels as the invasives that bring the most threat to our lakes and aquatic ecosystems in Vermont. Spiny Fleas and Zebra Mussels are both types of animals, and Watermilfoil is a type of plant. Pertaining to forest type ecosystems he listed that Wooly Adelgid (Hemlock), Emerald Ash Borer (Ash Tree’s), Asian Long Horned Beetles as the most threatening invasives. These are all insects. Mr. Gay says that the biggest problem with these species invading our environment is that it creates “major loss in biodiversity, and impacts on human health, economic loses (recreation and agriculture), predator/prey imbalance, and loss of habitat”. He considers loss of habitat to be one of the greatest issue that come with invasives, and I agree. Changing our ecosystem even slightly creates another issue that will, in time, greatly affect us as well as native plants and animals. Justin concluded by saying that our forests should be conserved and our focus should be mainly set on protects them because “they are relatively undisturbed right now and create many safe and stable habitats for our state many organisms”.

So what I need to do now is decide where I want to direct my focus; should I focus on aquatic invasive, forest/land based invasives, or both? Should I focus on insects, plants, or both? There are so many similarities and connections between the different categories that it would be nearly impossible to mention one without bringing up the other, however, including all different invasives and ecosystems would transform this project into something huge, which in theory would be awesome because this issue is really important and needs more recognition, but I would need to do lots of planning and organization to prevent it from becoming confusing, and I would need to keep it from branching off into several different directions.

I have accumulated a list of different people, websites, and places I could go to for more information. I will continue to expand this list. I will need to add more specification in my questions and elaborate on them so that I can obtain more in depth responses. I’m consider taking a trip to the maritime museum in the near future to gather facts and have face to face conversations with people who specialize in this area.

My goal is to draw more attention to Invasive, and make people understand how they not only affect other organisms that inhabit our environment, but also to show them exactly how they could affect us in the future, and get more people on board with the prevention of spreading invasive species.

Brynna Kearns

4 Responses to “#3: Interviews and The Next Step: Invasive Species in Vermont

  • Ceci Lewis
    4 years ago

    Brynna, I am a bit surprised to read the shift you have taken in your research. However, I see many similar threads between invasive plants and marine life with the previous topic that you had discussed, substance abuse. I do applaud you for making the shift, however. The topic of substance abuse and addiction can be equally as overwhelming as invasive species in Vermont, but with a more emotional attachment that can hinder the researcher’s ability to remain objective.
    As you know, I live in Arizona where invasive species have been allowed to run rampant for decades. Currently, we are actively working on eliminating many of them, but as you mentioned in your blog post, this can be difficult and all encompassing. Which should we choose to focus on first and why? In order to prioritize, I believe it is necessary to look at which invasive species are the most dangerous – both to the ecosystem and to the public. For instance, buffel grass has created a severe problem in the Tucson region of Arizona. This highly invasive grass has turned the Sonoran desert, a virtually fire free environment, into a tinderbox. The end result is damage to the ecosystem and to human structures that are currently trying to co-exist in the environment. As a result, there has been a huge movement to remove the buffel grass, one blade at a time. This is not only time consuming and labor intensive, but it is also costly. Volunteers are now working to eliminate this invasive species, and hopefully soon, it will be a thing of the past.
    I tell you the buffel grass story with the hope of helping you select an invasive species that you can work to eliminate. It has been my experience that if I narrow down my research, even if it is to one species, I am better able to manage not only the research, but also the management of a solution for the problem. Ultimately, I believe this is something you might want to focus on also. How can your research effect change in your community and your state? Since you are intrigued with marine life and would like to visit a maritime museum, perhaps this is where you should start looking for a species that you can attach yourself to (how’s that for a pun?).
    I look forward to reading more about your new topic and the ways that you will be approaching it.
    Ceci

    • Ceci, thank you for sharing the buffel grass story with me, it provides a great example of how invasive plant species have created a negative impact on people. I made the topic transition a few weeks ago because I wanted to address an issue that hasn’t gotten much publicity; I wasn’t even aware of how much danger this could potentially bring to our state’s ecosystems until my Biology class had a discussion about it a while back. I feel that substance abuse is an incredibly serious issue, and when it comes down to picking our final topic I may decide to work in that direction, but I thought that this topic was a lot more unique than and brought a different kind of problem to the table, and definitely needs more attention because it’s not something that is addressed or even noticed by many people. I think that narrowing this down to one very specific species or invasive plant is a good idea, but picking the most dangerous would be hard to do because there are many and they all affect the ecosystems they invade differently. However, I have decided that I will be focusing on only plants, and not focusing on animals and insects. I would like to focus on both aquatic invasive plants and woodland invasive plants. I have so many people to contact and places I can visit and collect information from, I’m really excited to keep working with this topic.

  • Emily Rinkema
    4 years ago

    Hi Brynna,

    I love the direction of your new topic. As someone who likes to fly-fish, I got rid of my old felt-bottomed wading boots a few years ago because of the spread of invasives–interesting to hear from your interview that it didn’t make a difference! Focusing on plants is probably a good idea, as it’s still a huge topic, and being able to narrow it down even more over the next few weeks will be key. I liked Ceci’s story about the buffel grass–very specific, and therefore more compelling. It could be interesting to not only focus on a single plant species, but also on a single source of its spreading. I will interesting also to see if there are ways that some of our local invasive issues are being addressed in other parts of the world.

    Can’t wait to read more!

    Emily

    • Hi Emily,

      It’s nice to see that you’re interested in this topic, I’ve had a few people tell me that this subject isn’t interesting enough. These last two days I have been researching this topic intensely, and I’ve noticed that more and more people are starting to realize that this is a very serious issue that will start to noticeably affect people down the road. I’ve accumulated a pretty large list of people for me to contact in the next week or so. I’m excited to move forward with this!

      – Brynna

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