DNR fights invasive species, big and small

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

There are plants, animals and even smaller forms of life that wind up with the tag “invasive species.” And then there are those species that are just plain unwelcome.

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources took on both of them this year in its efforts to curb unwanted and harmful species from affecting the state’s ecosystems.

Much of the work came as part of the state’s Invasive Species Grant Program. The 2-year-old program, which also involves the departments of Environmental Quality as well as Agriculture and Rural Development, directed $3.6 million toward eradicating and controlling foreign species.

Oak wilt is a disease that can defoliate or even kill a tree. It particularly targets red oaks and grant money has been directed toward training state personnel to identify it. A 2011 assessment valued Michigan’s red oaks at $1.6 billion in timber.

“Having more foresters who know how to properly identify oak wilt will go a long way toward providing better information and understanding of this disease,” said Ryan Wheeler, a DNR biologist, in a statement. “That means better management, education and, ultimately, containment.”

Asian carp have produced the biggest invasive species headlines in the Great Lakes in the last half-decade. To date, Michigan waters have not seen an established population of the voracious eaters.

In 2015, DNR staffers participated in a regional carp removal exercise in the Illinois River. The river and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal are considered the most likely pathway for Asian carp to move from the Mississippi River system into the Great Lakes.

“Removal exercises like the one in Illinois help to strengthen regional collaboration ... and help reduce the invasive carp population that currently threatens the Great Lakes,” said Tammy Newcomb, DNR’s senior water policy adviser.

Chronic wasting disease made its first appearance among Michigan free-range deer in 2015, prompting concern for the animal’s population numbers. The contagious neurological disease has been found in five deer out of 4,000 tested in Ingham and Clinton counties.

State officials tackled the finding with a hunter education program and the slogan “Keep CWD Out of the U.P.” The program outlines steps hunters and outdoor enthusiasts can take to keep the disease from reaching the white tail deer population in the Upper Peninsula.

During last year’s hunting seasons, the U.P.’s 84,000 hunters harvested a total of 25,961 deer.

jlynch@detroitnews.com

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