The week of Feb. 25-March 3 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week. Invasive species are plants, animals and other living things that are not native to the particular place they are located, and have a tendency to spread in a ways that are harmful to the surrounding environment. Some commonly known invasive species include Variable-leaf and Eurasian Milfoil, Northern Pike, Green Crabs, Emerald Ash Borers and Browntail Moths. Invasive species at best are perennial pests and at worst can cause real, lasting harm to the environment and the economy.

Emerald Ash Borers, which lay eggs and tunnel under the bark of ash trees, eventually killing them, can be particularly damaging. Since their discovery in the continental United States in 2002, they have spread to 35 states and are believed to be responsible for the destruction of hundreds of millions of ash trees. They have not been widely reported in Maine so far, except in some southern parts of the state, and one case in Madawaska last year.

They are prevalent in Canada as well as New Hampshire and other nearby states and can easily spread, usually when folks transport firewood. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) has proposed an emergency order restricting the movement of firewood and ash trees out of areas of the state where Emerald Ash Borers have been spotted.

There are a few telltale signs of Emerald Ash Borers. They are green, about a half-inch long and bullet-shaped. They leave marks on the ash trees they inhabit, such as small, D-shaped holes in the bark and tapeworm-like larvae with bell-shaped segments under the bark, as well as S-shaped larval tunnels and vertical splits in bark. They are also a favorite food of woodpeckers, so look for signs of woodpecker damage. If you think you’ve spotted an Emerald Ash Borer, you should contact ACF at (207) 287-2431 or [email protected]. Make sure to gather as much evidence as you can, including pictures, samples and/or GPS location.

Browntail Moths also have a reputation for harming trees, as well as humans. As caterpillars, they feed on the leaves of hardwood trees, which eventually kills the trees. In addition, the caterpillars have tiny hairs that can cause rashes and difficulty breathing. Legislators have submitted several bills this session that seek to deal with Browntail Moths, including LD 643, “An Act To Provide Funding to Municipalities Severely Affected by Pest Infestations,” sponsored by Rep. Denise Tepler, D-Topsham, which would provide funds to municipalities to deal with, among other things, Browntail Moth infestations. Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, is introducing a similar measure, LD 840, “An Act Regarding the Control of Browntail Moths,” which would appropriate funding for the state to support the collection and disposal of Browntail Moth nests.

Milfoil is an invasive aquatic plant that grows in dense mats in shallow fresh water, clogging the inland waterways in which it grows. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) summarizes the challenge presented by milfoil on its website: “Once introduced into a lake, milfoil is virtually impossible to eradicate. It grows rapidly and aggressively, reproducing primarily through fragmentation. The introduction of one single fragment of this plant can result in the infestation of an entire lake.”

There are two bills in this session that seek to tackle Maine’s growing milfoil problem. Rep. Walter Riseman, I-Harrison, is introducing LD 235, “An Act To Increase Funding To Contain and Manage the Spread of Invasive Aquatic Species,” which increases boat fees to provide funding for expanded programs to combat milfoil and other invasive aquatic plants. Rep. Ralph Tucker is introducing a bill that will direct the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to consider risks and economic impact related to the potential spread of invasive aquatic species like milfoil when issuing permits and making decisions about bodies of water infested with those species.

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via email at [email protected], or to call my office at (207) 287-1515 if you have any questions, comments or concerns about invasive species or anything else. My line is always open.

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