Hair, Hay, and Hooves: The Places Where Invasive Plants May be Lurking
In the 2nd installment of our PlayCleanGo program, Jennifer Bearden showcases how horse owners can ensure that their equestrian activities don’t introduce invasive plants. Within the video, Jennifer identifies cleaning / inspection techniques for horses, trucks, and feed along with other ways to be proactive in preserving our environment such as using the Ivegot1 app
Hiking: Watch Your Step and Clean Your Soles
The first of 5, this video created by Rick O’Connor and Carrie Stevenson discusses how residents can enjoy the outdoors and wildlife trails while still making sure to preserve the environment. Brushing and cleaning your shoes, bags, and clothing helps remove the seeds of invasive plants. By taking a few simple steps, you can help support our beautiful native plants and wildlife so that yourself and others can continue to enjoy it.
PlayCleanGo is an educational campaign by the North American Invasive Species Management Association. The goal is to stop the spread of invasive species as we recreate in our beautiful environment. Each day we will feature a new video highlighting different recreational activities.
Day 1: Hiking
Day 2: Horseback Riding
Day 3: Watercraft and fishing
Day 4: Camping and firewood
Day 5: ATVs and Trailers
Invasive species are defined as introduced plants and animals that cause harm to the environment, the economy, and/or human health. They often displace native species further harming the ecosystem. Many times, invasive species are introduced by humans either intentionally or unintentionally. This means WE can do some things to combat the spread of invasive species.
The Invasive Lionfish
In the case of intentional introductions, we typically see either plants or animals moved from native lands to our area. Most often, the mover does not know the species is dangerous to our area. Other times, they know the species is invasive, but they introduce them anyway. Exotic pets are one of the ways invasive species are introduced. The Burmese python is an example of this as well as the lionfish. These pets were released by owners who grew tired of caring for their unique needs. So, one thing we can do is encourage people to research exotic pets prior to owning them. Also, encourage people to take advantage of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s exotic pet amnesty program. For plants, people should not bring any plant materials into Florida without going through the proper regulatory process.
Sometimes, introductions of invasive species are accidental. Invasive species can hitch a ride on clothing, animal fur, vehicles, and equipment. Cogongrass and Old World climbing fern are examples of plants that were moved around on vehicles and equipment. Also, invasive species can stow away in packing materials and find their way to Florida. Florida has an exceptional process to intercept invasive species, but we do see them slip in occasionally. Be very vigilant when shipping items either into or out of Florida. Clean equipment and vehicles when working in areas where invasive species are found.
Florida’s climate and ports of entry allow new species to get here and survive. It is difficult and expensive to eradicate an invasive species once it becomes established. Our best defense is to do our part in stopping the spread of invasive species. For more information on invasive species, you can contact your local extension agent or go to the UF IFAS Invasive Species Program.
I routinely receive calls about “failed food plots.” My normal response is to ask about soil testing first. If they performed a soil test and applied fertilizers according to the test, I move on to more questions about the planting methods. I ask what was planted, how was it planted, when was it planted. In some cases, we don’t find the problem even after all these questions. This leads me to my next question: Did you put exclusion cages on your plot?
Exclusion cage in food plot with heavy deer feeding. Photo Credit: Jennifer Bearden
In my experience, I have seen wildlife feed so heavily on the food plot that you think it has failed. This can happen when you have high populations or where non-target animals feed on the plot. In one case, I saw turkeys feeding on newly sprouted plants so heavily that we had “bald spots” in the plot. In another instance, I was called to check a chufa plot that wasn’t performing well. When I arrived at the plot, there were rabbits digging up the chufas and eating them before they sprouted. In the photo here, I am showing heavy deer feeding on a demonstration plot with exclusion cages. Without exclusion cages, I would have assumed a crop failure.
Exclusion cages are simple structures that allow you to see what is growing in the plot versus what the wildlife are eating. They are easy to create and put in place. I use field fence with small openings. I use a piece that is about 5-6 foot long by 3-4 foot high. I roll the fence and make it into a circle that is about 18 inches in diameter. Then, I secure the cage in the plot with landscape staples or rods/posts. I normally install these directly after planting and fertilizing the plot.
Exclusion Cage in food plot with more normal deer feeding. Photo Credit: Jennifer Bearden
Exclusion cages are just another tool to use in evaluating food plot success. These simple tools allow us to see what is growing and compare that to what the wildlife are eating. This allows us to evaluate the food plot. I would also recommend using visual observation. Look for wildlife sign in the food plot. What tracks do you see? Do you see evidence of feeding on the forages? Game cameras are also helpful in determining what wildlife are feeding on the plot. Use your tools wisely to evaluate food plot success each season and adjust accordingly.