During National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW), Feb. 28 – March 4 this year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) asks Texans to help slow the spread of invasive species affecting our state’s natural resources and economy. The Office of the Governor has recognized NISAW with an official proclamation.
“Each year, a week is dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of invasive species,” said Governor Greg Abbott. “At this time, I encourage all Texans to learn more about the steps Texas takes to control populations of invasive species and how all Texans can help prevent their spread. By continuing to be wise stewards of our natural resources, we can ensure a better and brighter future as we build the Texas of tomorrow.”
Invasive species are non-native to an ecosystem and can cause environmental or economic harm to human health and quality of life. In addition, invasive species are expensive to prevent and control, and can cause costly damage to crops, fisheries, forests and more, costing approximately $219 billion across the U.S., according to recent estimates. Many invasive species are spread inadvertently or intentionally by humans, who play an important role in preventing their spread.
A variety of plants, animals, insects and even diseases can become invasives when they enter a new environment, growing or reproducing rapidly and potentially outcompeting native species. This allows them to become established and problematic across large areas. They can be introduced by humans in a variety of ways, including intentional introduction through aquarium dumping or bait releases or accidentally as “hitchhikers” carried through recreational activities. These risky activities can include hauling firewood long distances for a campfire or moving a boat from one reservoir to another without properly cleaning, draining, and drying it first. Once introduced, some species can harm native species and ecosystems, impact recreational activities, damage infrastructure and require costly, long-term management in cases where control is possible.
This year for NISAW, TPWD offers five easy actions to help prevent or slow the spread of invasive species in Texas.
Never Dump Your Tank
Don’t dump anything, whether it’s fish, animals or plants, out of an aquarium into any of Texas’ waterbodies. The same is true for flushing them down the toilet. Whether saltwater or freshwater, there’s a good chance your aquarium fish, animals and plants are not native to Texas. If they are dumped into the wild, they can quickly introduce diseases and establish themselves at the expense of native aquatic life, vegetation and reef systems. Learn more on the Texas Invasives website.
Similarly, you should never release any animal that you have purchased as a pet into the wild. Most likely your pet is not native to Texas and could cause serious harm to our native species and ecosystems. Find more resources on the Don’t Let It Loose website.
Only Use Native Gulf Shrimp as Bait
Shrimp is a popular bait choice, but not all shrimp species can be used as bait because some can introduce diseases. While not harmful to humans when eaten, imported shrimp may carry several known viruses or diseases that can spread to native Gulf shrimp species and other shellfish such as crabs and crawfish, causing considerable harm to both saltwater and freshwater environments. Many of these viruses can survive the freezing process and therefore may be present even in imported shrimp sold in the freezer sections of grocery stores.
Never use imported fresh or frozen shrimp in Texas waters. Imported shrimp includes all shrimp species not native to the Gulf of Mexico, including shrimp from other countries like Venezuela or Thailand, or from other non-Gulf states like California. Learn more about bait shrimp on the TPWD Fishing with Bait Shrimp website.
When landscaping near your home or planting a garden, it’s important that you choose plants that are native to your region. Non-native plants can escape cultivation and become invasive and have an impact on water quality, biodiversity, fish and wildlife habitats, and more.
Don’t Carry Hitchhikers
You could be carrying invasive species with you and not even know it. Insects and plants, including plant seeds, can hitch a ride on your clothes, shoes, gear or even your firewood. You can help stop the spread by removing plants, animals, and mud from clothes, boots, gear, pets and vehicles, cleaning your gear before entering and leaving recreation sites, using only local firewood and simply staying on designated roads and trails. Learn more on the Play, Clean, Go website.
Clean, Drain and Dry Your Boat and Gear
Boaters can help keep zebra mussels, giant salvinia and other invasive species from being moved and harming more lakes. We ask all boaters to take a few minutes to properly clean, drain and dry boats and equipment every time they go boating before they leave a lake. Remove plants, mud and debris from the boat and trailer, drain all the water from the boat and gear and then open up compartments once you get home and allow everything to dry completely.
For more information on how to properly clean, drain and dry boats and equipment, visit the TPWD YouTube channel for a short instructional video. If you have stored your boat on the water at a lake with zebra mussels, it may also be infested. Before moving it to another lake, call TPWD at (512) 389-4848 for guidance on decontamination.
Learn more about aquatic invasive species on the Stop Invasives page of the TPWD website.
TPWD also encourages the public to use the Texas Invaders app or website to report sightings of invasive species, be it in your backyard or in wild spaces. Citizens can learn how to identify invasive species on the Texas Invasives website.