Invasive species threatens riversNovember 07,2006
Thank you for the excellent series of articles about the Winooski River watershed, and in particular for Tom Slayton's inspiring article about the Dog River on Oct. 16. Like Mr. Slayton, I am infinitely grateful for Act 252 and the subsequent cleanups that have restored the 'Dirty Dog' to a river we can all enjoy for swimming, paddling and fishing, and for the wildlife it supports. I was struck, however, by the ironic choice of photograph to accompany the article. The photograph actually exposes a relatively new ecological threat confronting the Dog River, as well as many other water bodies in Vermont. The 'autumnal colors' gracing the riverbank in the photograph are those of the invasive plant Japanese Knotweed ('JK'; Polygonum cuspidatum). In recent years this noxious weed has proliferated dramatically, and it now shockingly dominates the river landscape.
The ecological hazards posed by invasive species like JK (or the infamous zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil) are perhaps more subtle than the raw sewage of times past. They should, however, be of no less concern to those of us who love the river and the wildlife it supports. JK grows in dense monocultures that compete with and crowd out native plants. Since it is alien to the local ecosystem, it does not provide a useful source of nutrition for wildlife, yet it displaces the native species upon which wildlife depends. JK can also threaten the river's water quality by promoting erosion. Because it has a shallow, fine root system, JK does not retain river bank soil as effectively as native plants. When it dies down in the fall, JK leaves river banks destabilized and prone to erosion from flooding or run-off. Currently I know of no organized efforts to confront the problem of JK in the Winooski River watershed. However, opportunities may exist for readers in the watershed to participate in monitoring and control efforts. If you are interested in volunteering for an invasive species management program, in which you would commit to participating in training programs and field work, please contact the Friends of the Winooski River, firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-683-7197 or local 655-4878.
Leslie J. Matthews
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