Photo: David Moynahan in Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bulletin

“Recently, I was at a local bar shooting aliens. They just kept coming, rows and rows of them, dropping bombs while I tried to pick them off with one puny laser after another. I had a good run for a while, until the speed at which they descended upon me increased to the point where I no longer stood a chance. My defenses were destroyed. My fingers were tired. Those aliens bombed me into obliteration…

I realized that this 1980s throwback serves as a perfect analogy for the real war we wage on invasive species here in Florida every day. Invasive species are not native and are causing, or are thought to have the potential to cause, harm to native ecosystems. Like the rows of aliens in Space Invaders, invasive plants and animals seem to just keep coming no matter how many we eliminate. And, like the token-slurping arcade game, the fight against invasive species will cost a great deal of time and resources if we ever hope to win.

Invasive species closely follow habitat loss as a leading cause of extinction. They cost huge amounts of money to control. In some cases, they are downright dangerous. To put it simply, they’re bad news. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) aggressively targets invasive species as part of its overall management of wildlife habitat in Florida. This is especially true in South Florida, a region appropriate to describe as the front line in the war on invasive species here in the Eastern United States.

J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area (WMA) occupies 60,478 acres in Palm Beach County, Florida. Invasive species seem to creep in from all directions there, resulting in an uphill battle in the larger war. Carrie Black, the lead area biologist for J.W. Corbett WMA who oversees its management, took some time with me to explain why and how this battle gets fought.

‘The problem with invasives is that they’re exploiting resources that native species require for their survival because no natural enemies exist to keep the number of invasives in check,’ Carrie told me over the phone. ‘If there’s some disturbance in the environment, [invasive] plants are well-adapted to come in and take over. Open spaces are very important for our native plants and animals, and Florida is a fire-adapted ecosystem. Typically, the pine flatwoods, which is one of the most common communities in Florida, would burn every two to three years. That creates a very open environment. When these exotics come in, they create dense [stands], they don’t behave the same way that native plants do to fire, and they really take up valuable habitat, places that other animals would use either for housing or, in some cases, for food.’

A question that came to mind early in the conversation was how it was possible to make even a dent on 60,000-plus acres of invaded land. The answer is two-fold: have your own invasive species biologist and hire contractors to cover as much ground as possible. At J.W. Corbett WMA, the two work in tandem to ensure that the issue is, quite literally, nipped in the bud…

Would you like to play a role in invasive plant management? Check our list of events to find an invasive species workday near you. Each of you can help FWC better understand the distribution of invasive species by downloading the FWC Reporter App, participating in Florida Nature Trackers and/or by downloading the IveGot1 app. To see the benefits of invasive species management, visit a WMA near you. See you out there!”

— Peter Kleinhenz, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bulletin issue #16 2017

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