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Alien animal and plant species cause trouble

By DICK MARTIN • Feb 24, 2018 at 8:00 AM

People over the past few centuries have learned some hard lessons when it comes to animals and even plants, lessons they're still learning today, and we outdoorsmen need to know them more than most.

The major one is that plants and animals have over hundreds of thousands of years changed, adapted, and learned to live with each other in a finely tuned balance of nature. Predators adapt and find ways to catch prey and prey, animals adapt and find ways to escape predators.

They balance out and keep each other under control.

But man likes to believe he's smarter than Old Mother Nature and has frequently introduced alien animals and plants into new environments where they have few or no enemies. And too often let alien creatures arrive through slackness in watch dog controls. The disastrous results are with us today and we'll have to learn to live with them. One good example is the round gobie, a small, voracious and rapidly breeding fish that was accidentally introduced to Lake Erie when ships emptied their bilge water into the lake. Now they're everywhere, a curse to smallmouth bass and their eggs and a curse to fishermen who too often see their expensive nightcrawlers nibbled off hooks without result.

Zebra mussels came to Lake Erie the same way, from foreign ships, and now cost a fortune yearly as they plug up inlet pipes for water purification plants and coolant pipes for nuclear reactors. Wild hogs are growing rapidly in numbers in Ohio, and while most are still in the south, southwest, and southeastern counties, they're spreading north. The original animals were escapees from hunting preserves, but had hardly any natural enemies and will continue to grow in numbers. Already they cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in ravaged crops and we've lost many ground nesting birds, snakes, frogs, and other creatures.

Newly introduced plants, accidental or not, cause the same problems. Purple loosestrife is covering Lake Erie marshes and choking out native swamp plants that provide food for everything from ducks to muskrats. Multiflora rose was brought in to use as hedges and has spread everywhere, a difficult plant to eliminate without bulldozing. And don't forget such things as autumn olive, planted to provide bird and animal food and now spread to where its pale grey leaves line highways and fields across the state.

It isn't just an Ohio thing or even a national problem, this bringing in of alien plants and animals, accidentally or on purpose. The Australians once introduced a few rabbits to their countryside and the few grew into a horde that ravaged sheep pastures and had to be partially controlled by "rabbit roundups" and poisoning. They brought in a half dozen European red foxes too, since many settlers were English and wanted to hunt foxes on horseback and hounds as they did in England. The six have grown into seven million that threaten the survival of more than 20 native species. They're partially controlled today by poisoning and trapping.

And don't forget the classic mongoose stocking introduced into South American countries to kill rats and the deadly black mamba that was biting sugar cane workers. The mongoose didn't like the huge and lightning fast mambas, but they did like native snakes, ground nesting birds, and chickens running free. It sums up to Mother Nature knows best and if we don't find ways to keep alien species out of habitats that haven't evolved to handle them, we'll face more disasters. And some might be really bad.

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Hooks & bullets

• A new survey is available for Ohio hunters to voice their opinion on hunting habits, traditions, and hopes when they enter the woods. The survey is a joint effort between Whitetails Unlimited and Fin Feather Fur Outfitters. Numbers of Ohio deer hunters are dropping, and the survey might show why. To take it, go to www,whitetailsunlimited.com and click on the scrolling survey box.

• A special drawing will be held Saturday, March 24 at the Lake La Su An Wildlife Area headquarters for youth interested in turkey hunting. Youngsters 17 and under may participate. The headquarters is located at 09-455 County Road R, Pioneer, Ohio. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. For more information, call 419-485-9092.

• While working litter enforcement along the Lake Erie shoreline, wildlife officer Randy White saw two men sitting on a break wall drinking beer. After finishing their beverages, the men disposed of their cans between the rocks. Officer White contacted them as they left to issue summonses, and found they had active warrants for their arrests. Both men were arrested, issued summonses for litter, and taken to jail. Some days you just can't win


Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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