PlayCleanGo Blog

Are Invasive Species a Visitor Issue?

Aug 20, 2019 8:00:00 AM / by Forest Eidbo

are-invasive-species-a-visitor-issueWhether you paddle board, mountain bike, hike, or fish, you have experienced visitor management tools.

Water access, trail, and parking design all are visitor management. Signs, interpretive talks, trifold pamphlets, and campground hosts also are visitor management. We look at issues like wildfires, littering, wildlife harassment, and crowding through the lens of the visitor so why not invasive species?

The Framework

Many agencies are already using visitor management tools like boot brush kiosks and boat checking stations. With the release of the interagency visitor use management framework (the framework) in 2016, land management agencies that are trying to prevent invasive species now have a tool to apply visitor use management. This year the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource (DNR) began to use the framework to find the most effective way to prevent invasive species on state forest lands.

While the National Park Service is using the framework to tackle difficult problems like overcrowding at Zion National Park, your agency does not need to have millions of visitors from around the world to find the framework helpful. The beauty of the framework is that it can scale. For the DNR, the framework helped us look at invasive species on state forest land with fresh eyes, and provided a tested method for addressing invasive species spread by visitors.

Understand Your Site and Visitors

The process begins with understanding the site and its visitors. We found that we know a lot about the invasive species in our state forests but less about the people who visit. Before thinking about solutions, we had to understand our visitors: where are they going and what are they doing while visiting? We are currently collecting this data using trail counters and observations; we will also use trail intercept surveys. Once we understand visitor use we can begin to determine which strategies will work to prevent visitors from spreading invasive species.

Determine Your Goals

The second part of the framework defines the land’s desirable conditions. This can vary greatly from site to site, but for PlayCleanGo it will likely be something along the lines of “no more than three invasive plants found along the trail and no newly introduced invasive plants.” Once desired conditions are met, you can set indicators and thresholds that will show whether your strategies are working. An example of an indicator would be the number of new invasive plants introduced; a threshold would be the total number of invasive plants introduced over time. By setting these thresholds before implementing strategies, you have set point where you must change your strategies.

Create Prevention Strategies

The next part of the framework creates strategies for invasive species prevention. You must tailor your invasive species prevention strategies to your visitors (so don’t skip Step1: Understanding Your Site and Visitors). Local visitors who do not read trailhead signs will require a different strategy than equestrian users who visit your site from out of state. This is a good time to think about design: where visitors naturally stop while at your site is likely a good location to place PlayCleanGo tools. The key during this phase is to think of your solution through the eyes of your visitor.

Observe and Adjust for Best Results

The most important part of the framework is also the last part: monitoring, evaluating and adjusting. Even though you might have done everything right, it still might not work—people may not be reading your signs, they may be going off trail, or they could be dumping bags of invasive seeds at the trailhead. There is no way to know whether your strategies are working unless you conduct regular, ongoing monitoring. Check your indicators from Part 2 (Determine Your Goals) regularly, and adjust your strategies if indicators fall below the set thresholds. By monitoring and evaluating your strategies, you can remain on top of invasive species prevention.

PlayCleanGo offers great invasive species prevention tools for agencies and managers, but you must use these tools in a way that engages your visitors. Installing the same boot brush sign at every trail will not work well.

The interagency visitor use management framework provides a tested process that can be modified and scaled for your site and will help ensure that the implementation of PlayCleanGo strategies will be effective.

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Forest Eidbo

Written by Forest Eidbo

Forest is a Terrestrial Invasive Species Prevention Specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry.

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