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Entries in invasive species (195)

Sunday
Dec292013

Snakes, Bears Make Florida a Dangerous Place to Live

Nationally, the exotic species of most concern are carp, mussels, and plants.

But in Florida, a reptile also is in the mix. It’s an apex predator that gobbling up birds, mammals, and other reptiles in the Everglades.

And as its food supply dwindles and its population increases, the Burmese python will expand its range.  It will go south into the Keys, west toward the Gulf coast, north toward Lake Okeechobee, and east toward the most densely populated portion of Florida.

At the moment, it seems unlikely that the python will migrate too far north. But it’s an exotic species in a new habitat, meaning behavior is unpredictable. Also, winters are moderating. Could it travel all the way up the peninsula and then west along the upper Gulf Coast? It’s possible, although unlikely.

What’s more certain is that the threat to human life will increase, especially in and around Miami. One of the largest snakes in the world, the python can grow to 20 feet in its native Asia, and already has been documented at 16 feet in the Everglades. Such massive reptiles weigh more than 100 pounds

And they can kill and consume human-size meals. Check out this recent report from Indonesia, where a python killed a security guard near a luxury hotel. A few years ago, a “pet” python killed a child in Florida. Earlier this year, two children were strangled by another “pet” in Canada.

Children and pets in Florida are going to be especially at risk in the years to come.

But I no longer believe that the python is the most dangerous species in the Sunshine State. No, it’s not the native alligator either.

I put the black bear at the top of the list. Its population has reached critical mass in the central part of the state, and, sooner rather than later, someone is going to be killed.

Especially in the Longwood area, the bears roam neighborhoods, tear up garbage cans, and try to enter houses. Nevertheless, many lived under the mistaken notion that they could peacefully co-exist with these large omnivores that will gobble up garbage as quickly as they will a pot-belly pig. Some of them still feel that way.

But they are wrong, as evidenced by the attack on a woman out walking her dog earlier this month. More recently, a bear broke into a screened patio, looking for food.

And, yet, the biggest problem is not the black bear. It’s the people. Some continue to feed the animals, despite warnings not to. Others don’t secure their garbage and/or feed their pets outdoors.

Those people who are the most problematic, however, are the bear defenders, those who raised holy hell when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) killed two in the aftermath of the attack on the woman, and those who mistakenly believe that they can live in peace and harmony with the bears if all people will just “follow the rules.”

What we’re talking about now in central Florida is a large, aggressive bear population that has lost its fear of humans and has learned that food is most abundant where people live. That food could be the remains of pizza, a dog, or a child. A wild predator doesn’t differentiate.

Of course, the animal apologists argue that their furry friends should be “relocated” to nearby national forests instead of being killed. The problem with that is that those areas already have the maximum population that they can sustain, which is one of the main reasons that bears are roaming suburban neighborhoods. Additionally, bears accustomed to eating from garbage cans and breaking into patios to eat pet food are not going to stay in wild areas; they will return to more civilized dining.

The most logical solution is a managed hunt, which other states, including New Jersey, already utilize as a way of keeping the bear population under check. That’s also the way that we maintain populations of deer, turkey, and other species. If we are going to co-exist with these animals we must limit their numbers because we also have reduced their habitat. It’s that simple.

But you can bet that if the FWC proposes a hunt, PETA and other animal rights groups will descend on Florida like a horde of locusts, delighting in the reality that they will receive nationwide publicity in such a high-profile state.

I don’t envy the good folks at FWC who want to do the right thing, but must figure out a way to manage both the wildlife and the uneducated people who seek to prevent the agency from doing what’s right.

And I am saddened by realization that the only thing that will prompt a rational response to this problem is for someone to be killed. No such easily implemented solution exists for the Burmese python, but it certainly does for the black bear.

Friday
Dec272013

Electric Barrier Isn't Keeping Fish Out of Lake Michigan

 

You know that expensive electric barrier erected to keep carp out of the Great Lakes?

Uh, well, that isn’t working so well, according to a new report from the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s because small fish can ride in on the flow behind barges crossing the barrier.

In a new report, the Corps says the following:

"Initial findings indicate that vessel-induced residual flows can trap fish and transport them beyond the electrical barriers, and that certain barge configurations may impact barrier electric field strength. Additionally, the preliminary (sonar camera) findings identified the potential for small fish (between 2-4 inches in length) to pass the barrier array in large groups, or schools."

Crews dropped in a camera 10 minutes at a time to see what was happening. In 61 percent of the 72 samples, they saw entire schools of fish, “not believed to be Asian carp,” swimming through.

But not to worry:

"There is no evidence that Asian carp are bypassing the barriers. Nor is there any indication that Asian carp are in the vicinity of the barriers," states the report. "The closest adult Asian carp found in the Illinois River are about 55 miles from Lake Michigan, and no small Asian carp have been observed closer than 131 miles from Lake Michigan."

So . . . it’s okay that we are spending millions of dollars to maintain a barrier that doesn’t work because, well, it doesn’t have to work because the Corps says the invaders are far, far away and don’t pose a threat.

Gee, that makes me feel so much better. I have to wonder, though, if the Corps is as competent at estimating the threat as it is at defending against it. 

Friday
Dec272013

Snakehead is Carrier of LMBV

Scientists have confirmed the presence of Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) in northern snakeheads taken from two Potomac River tributaries.

That might seem a positive development for those who view the exotic predator as a threat to bass and other native fish. After all, LMBV killed thousands of bass during the late 1990s and early 2000s; now maybe it will do the same to snakeheads.

But that’s not a foregone conclusion. The virus doesn’t always turn into a deadly disease. As a result, researchers caution that snakeheads simply could be carriers for spreading LMBV to bass throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, especially since the two share similar habitats.

“The virus has been found in bass, sunfish, and other fish species, but largemouth bass is the only species known to develop disease from it,” reported the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

USGS and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries made the discovery while studying snakeheads for possible pathogens. Until now, little has been known about what diseases this introduced predator might carry and/or be susceptible to.

In 2011, though, researchers found bass with LMBV in all 16 bodies of water tested in Virginia, except the tidal James River.

“The long-term and population-level effects of Largemouth Bass Virus on bass inhabiting these rivers are unknown,” added Luke Iwanowicz, a USGS research biologist.

Meanwhile, efforts to control the spread of snakeheads have been unsuccessful, the USGS pointed out, with scientists predicting they likely will expand their range.

Tuesday
Nov262013

Carp Threat Moves East

This Asian carp was caught at Kentucky Lake, Photo by Steve McCadams.

Asian silver carp DNA has been found as far up the Ohio River as Wheeling, West Va., and Pittsburgh, Pa. That’s bad news for East Coast river fisheries.

The silver is most noted for leaping from the water when frightened, injuring passing anglers and other boaters. But the most damage is being done to our waterways, as silver and bighead carp crowd out and outcompete native species for food and habitat.

"Unfortunately, the test results provide some evidence that this invasive species could be in the upper Ohio River in Pennsylvania," John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania and Boat Commission.

 "This is an early warning sign, since we don't know for certain the origin of the genetic material. We don't know if the eDNA came from live or dead fish or if it was transported from other sources, like bilge water or storm sewers, or even waterfowl visiting the basin."

For years, most of the focus was on the fear that Asian carp would devastate fisheries in the Great Lakes when/if they gain entrance. But now they also are threatening the inland waters of Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota, as well as the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers and their reservoirs, including Kentucky and Barkley lakes.

Read more here.

Monday
Nov182013

Safe Launch Saves Boaters Coming and Going

Photo from www.boattest.com

If you haven’t forgotten to put in the drain plug before you launch, chances are that you know someone who has.

Consequences can range from aggravating--- fishing is delayed--- to catastrophic--- the boat sinks.

But did you know that pulling that plug when you exit the water also is important? That’s because of the threat posed to our fisheries by exotic mussels and other invasive aquatic species, which can hitchhike in water left in the boat. Once established in a new water body, they crowd out native species, smother fish habitat, and block intakes, endangering public water supplies.

As zebra and quagga mussels have spread into Minnesota, across Texas, and over the Rocky Mountains, the danger has become even more acute, and resource managers are taking action. For example, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission recently approved a rule requiring anyone leaving or approaching public waters in 17 north Texas counties to drain their boats and is proposing that 28 additional north and central counties be added to the mandate.

In some places, forgetting to take out that plug is going to hit anglers and other boat owners in the pocketbook, as they are fined for violating the law. That’s how seriously resource managers are taking this threat.

But for a few bucks you can be pro-active to protect yourself, your boat, and the resource, courtesy of the Safe Launch Drain Plug Reminder System developed by Steve Colsher and Ray Haber.

It’s ingenious, but simple and easy to install. You just place a metal flex hook into the drain hole.  The hook is attached to a lanyard with a split ring carabineer that easily attaches to one of the transom/trailer tie-down straps. When you disconnect the tie-downs, you can’t help but be reminded to remove the hook and insert the plug.

Conversely, when leaving the water, you will see the Safe Launch lanyard, which will remind you to remove the plug and insert the hook, which does not impede water drainage.

Colsher told Activist Angler that he originally came up with the idea as a way to remind himself to put in the plug on his own boat. “But as time went on, and we were looking into things, we began to see this as a safety product that could save people $500 or $600 if they forget to plug out the plug.”

It also can help prevent the spread of invasive species, which is why the Lake Havasu Marine Association is partnering with Safe Launch. It promotes Safe Launch as part of its “clean, drain and dry” program for boats, while the company donates a percentage of sales to the association.

“This is a model that I think will work well with other associations,” Colsher said. “It’s a win-win for both.”