WASHINGTON – A new national report cited the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge as an example of the No. 1 threat to such habitats — invasive species and the lack of funding to fight the problem.
The National Wildlife Refuge Association said Thursday that Congress needs to give $150 million over the next five years to help combat at least 675 different species that have invaded half the nation’s 540 refuges.
The money is needed to train and mobilize 5,000 volunteers, 50 rapid response teams and to promote coordination between federal, state and private agencies, the association said.
“The problems are very real and very devastating to the wildlife that this national wildlife refuge was created to protect,” said Glenn Carowan, the manager of the Blackwater refuge. “Hardly any species or any habitat is not being affected by some sort of invasive or injurious species.”
The 27,000-acre Blackwater refuge loses about 1,000 acres of marshlands a year to nutria, a transplanted South American rodent that eats the roots of marsh plants, slowly destroying the refuge’s ecosystem.
Although experts are working on a three-year, multimillion-dollar study of nutria removal, no money has been set aside for eradication, Carowan said. And the refuge is also threatened by other invasive species, including gypsy moths, phragmites and purple loosestrife, he said.
Officials at other national refuges in Maryland agreed that funding is a major problem in the fight against alien species.
“The amount of money we have to spend . . . doesn’t increase very much” and goes mostly to pay salaries, said Brad Knudsen, manager of the Patuxent Research Refuge. Extra funds would go towards fighting invasive species but there simply are not any left over, he said.
Patuxent does not have as large a problem as Blackwater, but is bedeviled by lespedeza, an aggressive plant species planted years ago before staffers realized it crowds out native species, Knudsen said.
With little money to fight the problem, staff and volunteers at the 13,000-acre refuge are forced to pull the plants out by hand, he said.
Carowan said Blackwater only has enough funding to annually purge 80 to 100 acres of phragmites. The densely growing plant blocks the sun from reaching other smaller plants, and has infiltrated several thousand acres of the refuge.
About $90,000 a year is spent controlling the gypsy moth invasion, but there’s no money to treat surrounding areas, so those moths simply move onto the refuge, Carowan said.
“It’s kind of like fighting a losing battle,” he said.
The problem is particularly bad at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Rock Hall, said Assistant Manager Tarick Adams.
“Being an island refuge there’s nowhere for it (invasive species) go,” Adams said.
With only five year-round staffers to man the 2,238-acre refuge, dealing with invasive species can be overwhelming, he said, especially when struggling with species like mile-a-minute, a vine that can grow up to 3 feet a day. Tarick said the refuge manages with the funds it is given, but more money for staff and equipment is definitely welcomed.