Michigan DNR, SEMCOG urge residents not to help invasive species spread

DETROIT – Summer is a dangerous time when it comes to spreading invasive species, and residents could be inadvertently helping them move around Michigan. 

From zebra mussels to oak wilt, officials with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources ask residents to take precautions during summer travels.

The DNR believes a barbecue pit with infected with wood from a different county brought picnic beetles to Belle Isle. The beetles went to work on the park's oak trees, spreading oak wilt, a fast-moving virus that can kill an oak tree within 90 days.

Michigan is a diverse ecological place and even traveling within the state itself and accidentally bringing species to new areas can even cause severe damage.

"You shouldn't bring firewood from county to county," said Holly Vaughn, with the DNR. "If you're heading up north, but firewood when you get there."

Travelers are being asked to take precautions because what happens up north doesn't stay up north -- it hitchhikes on boats, personal watercraft, bicycles and ATVs. The beetles and virus created a wasteland of oak trees on an otherwise pristine and environmentally managed island.  

Another invasive species, phragmite, clogs up the waters and habitat. 

"One of the ways you can help prevent the spread of phragmites is to clean your boat when you get out of a waterway," Vaughn said.

Vaughn reached into the water at Belle Isle looking for zebra mussels, but was unable to find any.

While Belle Isle is clean of zebra mussels for now, it might not be when the boats leave and come back.

"Fish and wildlife is really what brings people to the parks and to the Great Lakes," said Bill Parkus. "It's really a part of the economy that we're trying to grow. ... Phragmite and other invasive species are detrimental to the economic development of Southeast Michigan."

Parkus is the environmental planner with the South East Michigan Council of Governments and is an invasive species expert.

"Invasive species cost the Great Lakes region billions of dollars in revenue just to manage them throughout the year," said Parkus.

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