When nonnative “exotic” plants and animals are introduced to our natural areas, they can have a number of harmful effects. Exotic species can take over new areas because the predators or competition from species in their native range are missing from their new habitat. Their negative impacts often cascade through the whole ecosystem. For example, exotic plants may not provide the food, cover, or nesting sites that native plants provide, thus harming wildlife. They can change soil chemistry, water availability, and affect hydrologic processes or erosion. Some exotic plants can even increase wildfire risks, such as cheatgrass that dries out in early summer and readily catches fire from sparks or an overheated car parked on it. In addition, many exotic species are downright unpleasant for your recreational experiences, such as puncturevine whose seeds cause flat tires or leaks in your raft, and Russian thistle (aka tumbleweed) whose spiny skeletons accumulate in campsites, picnic areas and trail corridors.
Many people don’t realize that they unintentionally help spread these invaders! Mud on vehicles, bikes, boats, and other gear can easily transport seeds from one area to another. Seeds also embed in tires, backpacks, shoes, and clothing, hitchhiking on you into new areas. This is particularly important to think about in a place like Moab, where visitors often come from thousands of miles away. But it’s just as important to think about while recreating within the Moab area, where already established exotic species in one location could be spread to another place where they’re not.
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So please, clean your gear before you come and frequently while you’re here. Leave exotic species behind by brushing off any seeds and dirt from your gear, equipment, boots, and clothing before leaving one recreation site and traveling to another. When possible, shake out gear and dispose of seeds in trash cans. When on longer camping or backpacking trips, consider the best places to clean your gear during your trip and bag seeds for later disposal.
The best way to fight invasive species is to help prevent their spread. And help us spread the word on exotic species—not their seeds!
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