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Posted 4/1/2014

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By Erica Skolte

In Florida and across the nation, invasive species bring with them high ecological and economic costs. It’s far too big a problem for just one agency or group.

The Florida Invasive Species Partnership (FISP) is a collaborative group of federal, state and local agencies and non-government organizations, all with a stake in managing non-native species in Florida. As stated on the FISP website, “Because species can spread beyond fence lines, our goal is to connect private landowners and public land managers with invasive species expertise and assistance programs across boundaries...FISP increases communication, coordination and the sharing of resources to protect Florida's natural landscape.”

FISP facilitates the formation of Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs), alliances of stakeholders addressing regional invasive species management. Some of the concerns that they try to address include prevention, education/awareness, early detection, rapid response, monitoring and integrated pest management.

Though prevention is always the first line of defense, even the best prevention efforts will not stop all invasive species. According to the National Invasive Species Council, “Early detection and rapid response efforts increase the likelihood that invasions will be halted and eradicated. Once a species becomes widely established, the only action possible is the partial mitigation of negative impacts.”

The cooperative groups provide expertise with common problems statewide, and serve as the experts on challenges in the local area. Each CISMA covers a certain type of habitat and climate zone. They are large enough to have regional impact but small enough to deal with specific local issues. Though some of the problems may overlap, others are localized. Members of these groups are often in the field and can help to monitor species locally. They try to identify and deal with potential problems before they become more serious. Some of the problems in south Florida are very different from those in north Florida.

In south Florida, for example, a species of Asian mangrove (Lumnitzera racemosa) was brought into the country as a specimen plant at a botanical garden. Its population started to expand and escape into natural areas. The local Everglades CISMA had multiple workdays and successfully eradicated this new infestation. Follow-up is still needed to catch any new seedlings, but it appears the invasion has been stopped.

Another way that CISMAs raise awareness and help control invasive animal species is to sponsor Pet Amnesty Days, where people can turn in their unwanted pets without penalties, instead of releasing them into the wild.

In Jacksonville and north Florida, some of the early detection and rapid response efforts have targeted salt cedar and old world climbing fern. Brazilian pepper has firmly established itself in south Florida, but it is now creeping north along the coast and seems to be headed toward Jacksonville. “It’s really important to be able to get on top of these species early on,” said Jessica Spencer, a biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville and member of the First Coast Invasive Working Group, the CISMA that covers northeast Florida. “We’ve got to control the problem before the species becomes established and starts to expand its range. Once the population expands, the impacts and the cost of control escalate exponentially.”

“We try to reach out to folks on public and private lands. We provide treatment recommendations, management advice and sometimes we can even help with treatment,” said Spencer. “We are a good resource for land managers all over the state.”

For more information, visit the Florida Invasive Species Partnership website:  www.floridainvasives.org and the National Invasive Species Council website: http://www.invasivespecies.gov/global/EDRR/EDRR_index.html.