At a massive dining table in an old two-story farmhouse on the outskirts of Mason, Michelle Beloskur and Erin Pavloski throw around the names of invasive species with the same tone you would use to describe food poisoning. Never mind what a starry stonewort or a European frogbit actually is, just from listening to Beloskur and Pavlowski, anyone would know to be wary.
The floorboards of this house-turned-office creak and the fireplace crackles as the pair walk around the living area until they return with the preserved bodies of two Asian longhorned beetles accompanied by a sample of a tree damaged by the insects.
“Can you tell we love our job?” Beloskur asked.
Invasive species in the United States
Invasive species have proven to be a disaster for ecosystems and economies around the world. The economic impact alone costs the United States $120 billion annually, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
When a non-native species is introduced to a new ecosystem (usually by accident or carelessness), it is classified as an invasive species if it starts to compete against native species for food, water or land. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that invasive species are a leading cause of the endangerment or extinction of other organisms.
The Ingham County catalyst
The Mid-Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, MM-CISMA, began in April of 2016. Beloskur, executive director at the Ingham Conservation District, received a grant from the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program, took off with it, and has been seeing improvements ever since.
Invasive Species Management Areas exist all around the nation but this was something new for Ingham and much appreciated, according to Beloskur.
“Given the importance of invasive species and how devastating they are, not only environmentally but economically, there was a real need to be more involved in that issue and I think it fit in really well with our mission,” she said.
The Mid-Michigan Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area focuses on three priority species throughout Ingham, Eaton, Clinton and Ionia County. They are the black swallow-wort, Japanese knotweed and invasive phragmites.
While the district receives no federal or state funding, it reaches out to Ingham County to be included in their annual budget. This has been the case for the past four years and will continue in 2018. The amount Ingham provides for operational support covers the cost of doing business which according to Beloskur is critical.
“It bridges the gap that we can’t always fill with grants or fundraising.”
Outreach is an important part of the grant and Pavlowski said she most enjoys that aspect of her work. Whether going to schools or talking to farmers, she said she enjoys spreading awareness. Since the launch of the management area in the four counties, reports of invasive species sightings have increased dramatically.
“We want to make that people understand what an invasive species is, learn to recognize it, how to report it, and when appropriate, when to manage it. There’s a lot of education for it,” Pavlowski said.