Sea Grant Extension fights aquatic invasive species

New national guidelines to keep classrooms from spreading invasive species.
OSU assisted on new national guidelines to keep classrooms from spreading invasive species. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

New guidelines help protect 24 million acres of public watersheds on the West Coast

Oregon’s coast and waterways are under siege by nonnative aquatic plants and animals that degrade habitats, displace native species and damage native ecosystems. These invasive species can quickly become serious threats to the economic and environmental value of the state’s coastal areas. Costs related to damage and control of invasive species exceed $138 billion per year throughout the U.S. (and nearly $400 million annually in Oregon just to control invasive species).

For example, zebra mussels, which can cling to boats when transported across state lines, clog water-intake pipes and hydroelectric power plants. They haven't spread to Oregon, but if there ever were an infestation, an initial outlay of an estimated $24 million would be needed to protect 13 hydroelectric facilities in the Columbia River Basin from them. Additionally, the cost of establishing boat inspection and decontamination stations at state border entry points is estimated at $2.85 million.

With this in mind, Oregon Sea Grant Extension led efforts with other federal and state agencies to develop early detection and rapid response guidelines and provide ongoing training for managers and leaders responsible for monitoring watersheds. The detection/response tools have been adopted as operational guidelines for interagency watershed monitoring activities from northwest Washington into northern California. This is the first formalized interagency adoption of aquatic invasive species detection and control guidelines.

OSU is also part of a national project on preventing school classrooms from releasing organisms from class activities that could become invasive, resulting in guidelines being placed in the Federal Register in 2014. 

Because educating the public is crucial to prevent the spread of invasive species, Sea Grant Extension's Watershed Invasive Species Education program helped train 12 teachers and more than 770 students in 2010 on how to detect, control and report these biobullies as part of their classroom science curriculum. As a result, they identified 30 populations of terrestrial and aquatic invasive species, including yellow flag iris and false brome. The teachers and students reported them to the online Oregon Invasive Species Hotline. The locations of these species were also added to an online tracking database at to help natural resource managers deal with them. After the project concluded, two of the teachers continued using the lessons plans provided by the program.

As a result of the trainings, students at Al Kennedy Alternative High School in Cottage Grove later helped collect field data for a study to assess the effectiveness of non-herbicide treatment of Japanese knotweed. Also, students at Lane Community College studied the distribution and impact of the invasive American bullfrog and the non-native aquatic plant called parrot feather watermilfoil. Furthermore, an oceanography class at Cottage Grove High School studied invasive species then removed meadow knapweed from a forest.

Contact: Sam Chan, watershed health and aquatic invasive species specialist with Oregon Sea Grant; “Potential economic impacts of zebra mussels on the hydropower facilities in the Columbia River Basin” report prepared for the Bonneville Power Administration; Oregon State Marine Board

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