OLYMPIA–Washington state agencies are asking people to clean their gear, pets and clothing this spring to prevent invasive plants from establishing here.
“Washington offers exciting opportunities to experience nature, attracting visitors from around the world to our parks, forests, trails, wild and scenic rivers, wildlife refuges and more,” said Blain Reeves, chair of the Washington Invasive Species Council. “However, recreational activities can introduce and spread invasive species and noxious weeds that damage resources and degrade the lands we love so much.”
In Washington, invasive plants that are especially impactful are defined legally as noxious weeds. The State requires landowners to control noxious weeds when they are present on their properties. However, the vast number of visitors to public lands easily can introduce problem plants that expand to a point where complete removal is not possible.
“Preventing noxious weeds is as simple as remembering to clean your boots, pets and equipment before you recreate so you aren’t bringing a biological hitchhiker with you from home to your favorite trail or meadow,” said Mary Fee, executive secretary of the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board. “It is equally as important to clean everything and everyone once you are finished so that you don’t bring a problem weed back home with you.”
A 2017 state report estimated that the top 22 priority invasive species, of more than 200 in the state, left unchecked by prevention efforts or management controls could cause more than $2 billion annually in economic and environmental impacts in Washington.
Invasive species also can restrict access to recreation sites or prevent use of areas because of their presence and the damage they cause. A second state report from 2020 showed that outdoor recreation contributes $26.5 billion to Washington’s economy annually and supports 264,000 jobs, rivaling the state’s aerospace industry.
“Beyond economics, Washington’s public lands include a wide range of plants and animals that face risk of loss and possible extinction because of invasive species,” said Joe Rocchio, Natural Heritage Program manager for the Washington Department of Natural Resources. “Invasive species are the primary threat to 25 percent of the state’s rare plant species and a significant threat to many of the state’s most imperiled ecological systems, including lowland prairies and oak woodlands in western Washington and shrub-steppe in the Columbia Basin.”
“Washington’s public lands also include 124 state parks,” said Dr. Andrea Thorpe, Natural Resources Program manager for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (Parks). “Parks cares for Washington’s most treasured lands, waters and historic places. Preventing invasive and noxious weeds from degrading the quality of these parks is an important part of our mission so that we can continue to provide memorable recreational and educational experiences for park visitors.”
In addition to recreationists spreading unwanted invasive species, spring showers may mean the germination of unwanted flowers. The Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board and Washington Invasive Species Council recommend that visitors to public land be aware of invasive species and noxious weeds and report any detections to the council. Reports can be submitted through its app, Washington Invasives, or through InvasiveSpecies.wa.gov.
The Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board website contains information on all 159 noxious weeds in Washington and includes field guides and other resources to help with identification. The Washington Invasives app also functions as a digital field guide.
“Protecting our public lands is critically important for future generations,” Reeves said. “Simple actions for prevention or reporting a weed spotted on your favorite hike may prevent thousands of dollars in management costs and irreversible losses to habitat.”