INVADING OUR SPACES:  What you need to know about invasive species

Cindy Fitzwilliams-Heck, MRWA Board Member & Ferris State University Biology FacultyBy Cindy Fitzwilliams-Heck, MRWA Board Member & Ferris State University Biology Faculty

Too much of something is never a good thing. Invasive species for example, when present in abundance can prevent you from enjoying your favorite outdoor recreational pursuits.  According to the National Invasive Species Council, an invasive species is non-native to an area with the ability to spread aggressively and potentially cause harm to the environment, the local economy, or even human health. 

The term non-native refers to species that did not exist in Michigan’s ecological communities prior to European settlement. Realize however that non-native species do not always harm the environment.  Michigan depends on many non-native species such as crops, livestock, and domestic animals to provide us economic benefits and create lifestyles.  On the other hand, those that encroach upon the natural environment that we depend on for recreation and ecological services represent a serious cause for concern. 

The introduction of non-native species to a natural ecosystem may be intentional by conservation groups attempting to combat an existing invasive species, or it could be the release of an unwanted pet – not a lawful option.  Unintentional introductions of non-native species mainly originate in shipping – in the ballast waters of freighters or insects bored into wooden pallets.

Other possibilities include planting non-native plants that spread easily and the unknowing transport of species hidden in firewood, or on the hulls of watercraft, on waders, tires, recreational vehicles, and even on people.  Once established, the invader starts to transform the area into something potentially undesirable or harmful.    

Invasive species reproduce quickly and do not have natural predators to keep the population under control.  This can alter the balance of the invaded ecosystem – causing the loss of native species.

In turn, when native species disappear, the resulting ecosystem often fails to provide essential services such as:

  • providing food sources and habitat for other species
  • filtering and purifying  nearby water and air, or
  • cycling of nutrients, which we rely on. 

Early identification of invasive species in a region is critical for preventing their establishment in an ecosystem, and preserving our local ecology, society, and economy.  The moment invasive species appear problematic to humans, indicates it will likely be extremely difficult or impossible to fight (see Figure 1).  Prevention and early detection will remain keys to putting an end to unwanted invaders.


Here are 10 things you can do to help combat invasive species:

  1. Which are the most wanted?  Visit “Michigan’s Invasive Species Watch List” to learn about the species that we may actually have a chance of eradicating. 
  2. Complete some/all of the free, 15-minute invasive species education modules.  Visit the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) website to help you become more comfortable with identifying the species in the field.
  3. Report invasive species using the MISIN online reporting tool or the MISIN smartphone app.  MISIN is an excellent resource for learning about invasives, becoming a citizen scientist, and sharing data.  Alternately, your sightings can be reported to a local conservation district. 
  4. Subscribe to the DNR’s Invasive Species Updates for the state of Michigan.
  5. Plant only/mostly native plants.  Native plants are adapted to our region and help maintain a balanced ecosystem.  If you plant non-natives, they should not spread easily, and consider potting the plants and/ keeping them near your house to prevent the accidental spread into natural areas.  Try removing any non-natives on your property altogether! 
  6. Rinse boat hulls and waders between visits to different waterways.  The MRWA has free boat washings in the watershed to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.  Visit the MRWA website for more information (    
  7. Volunteer to help protect or restore natural areas by removing invasives or planting native plants.  Contact the MRWA about upcoming stewardship workdays, or how to plan a workday near you.  The Stewardship Network also has regional groups offering events and initiatives toward early detection and rapid response to invasive species and restoring ecosystems.  Our watershed is part of the West Michigan Cluster. 
  8. Do not dump your bait.  Dispose of it on land or in the trash, or consider using eco-friendly alternatives.
  9. Do not move firewood.  Forest pests and diseases are easily spread this way.
  10. Know the laws.  Invasive species cannot be bought, sold, kept, or moved.

These are just some of the ways you can help.  It starts with awareness and knowledge, and hopefully leads you to becoming a lifelong steward.  Do not contribute to the problem of invasive species – be part of the solution.  Take action against the introduction and spread of invasive species in our terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.  All of us need good quality land and water now and for future generations.


Borland, K., Campbell, S., Schillo, R., & Higman, P. (2009). A Field Identification Guide to Invasive Plants in Michigan’s Natural Communities.  Retrieved from

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). (2016). Education and Outreach – Identifying Invasive Species. Retrieved from,5664,7-324-68000—,00.html 

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). (2016). Michigan Invasive Species Watch List. Retrieved from

Midwest Invasive Plant Network. Why Should I Care about Invasive Plants? How invasive plants affect hunting, fishing, boating, gardening, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and other recreational activities in the Midwest.  Retrieved from,PlayCleanGo.pdf

Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN). (2016). Retrieved from

State of Michigan. (2016). Michigan Invasive Species. Retrieved from,5664,7-324-67998—,00.html

The Stewardship Network. (2015). Clusters. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of the Interior. (2016). National Invasive Species Council. Retrieved from