Expert talks about invasive species

  • By Annie Rosenthal
  • Thursday, December 3, 2015 9:51am
  • News

Ask 8-year-olds in most parts of the country to name invasive species in their town, and you’d get a lot of confused looks. But when Matt Steffy, a natural resources specialist at Homer Soil and Water Conservation District, posed that challenge to a class of third- through sixth-graders at Fireweed Academy on Nov. 20, the response was immediate.

“There is mint is all over our garden but we never planted it, it just came up, ” shouted out one eager fourth-grader.

The students raised their hands to shoot off the names of species, rapid-fire: hawkweed, canarygrass, oxeye daisy. Whether they’d had to avoid stepping on hempnettle in their yards or helped their parents burn Japanese knotweed, most of the kids present were already veterans of a war with presumptuous plants.

Thus, this presentation was an important one. The talk was a primer on invasive species — any species that comes into an environment where it isn’t native and spreads enough to compete with native species and damage the ecosystem — and a discussion of how to deal with them.

After coming up with a list of invasive plants in Homer, Steffy and the students talked about how the species got here and how they affect a habitat. He explained that non-native species come in with visitors, human and non-human, and spread in lots of ways, like on machinery or with food or on the wind. And when a species without natural predators comes into an ecosystem, it can really mess things up — like when rats from Norway invaded the Aleutians and started eating all the bird eggs.

Among the clarifying points Steffy made over the hour-long presentation was that animals, not just plants, can be invasive species. Another was that just because something is a pest, like a mosquito, doesn’t mean it’s invasive.

He also pointed out that “invasive” is a relative term specific to a place.

“Something that’s native to us and a very big part of the habitat, once you put it somewhere else can become an invasive species,” he said. The fireweed that makes fall so beautiful in Alaska is taking over native plants in China and costing the country’s government big bucks to eradicate, he explained.

Steffy didn’t shy away from big words, and the kids kept up. Students learned about allelopathy, a competitive mechanism plants use to poison other species around them; seed viability; and manual, chemical, cultural and biological ways to fight invasive plants, from hosing off machinery and pulling up unwanted species to injecting herbicide into roots — something he can do as a certified pesticide applicator.

Occasionally fidgety but always attentive, the students had lots of questions. What’s at the top of the invasive species list to deal with in Alaska? What species in the bay are invasive? Are they why so many otters are dying?

Steffy answered as many queries as he could and left the class with contact information for his office, telling kids to stop by anytime. He also handed out pocket field guides to common invasive plants in Homer, information sheets to color in and a pile of stickers.

Students should keep an eye out for invasive species and learn how to keep them from spreading, he said: “We can all be scientists and we can all have our ears on the ground.”

This was Steffy’s first school presentation of the year — his daughter is a member of the class — but he said he’s hoping to visit others. He just needs an invitation.

“I love it. Every year I try and seize every opportunity to go to every classroom,” he said. He’s also worked with Fireweed students at the schoolyard habitat behind the building, where they can learn about local ecology and get their hands dirty at the same time.

After the presentation, students headed to lunch. A few stuck around to ask more questions.

“I thought it was pretty cool how so many kids had stories to connect to it,” said fourth-grader Poppy Smith.

Teaching aide Meldonna Cody agreed. “I was really impressed with how knowledgeable the kids were. I thought their questions were on a pretty high level,” she said.

More in News

Christie Hill prepares to play “Taps” during the 9/11 memorial service on Saturday. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Homer honors lives lost during 9/11

The Homer-Kachemak Bay Rotary held a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony at the… Continue reading

Judith Eckert
COVID-19 patient says monoclonal antibody infusion saved her life

Antibody infusions highly effective in reducing risk of hospitalization, according to FDA trial ..

A sign flashing “Keep COVID down” also offers information on where to get testing and vaccines on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
SPH holding steady in COVID-19 surge

Despite hospital crisis in Anchorage, Homer’s hospital not impacted, spokesperson tells Homer City Council.

Brie Drummond speaks in support of mask mandates on Monday, Sept. 13, for the Kenai Peninsula School Board meeting at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. During a work session before the meeting, the district presented revisions to its COVID-19 mitigation protocols. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
School district revises COVID-19 mitigation plans

The revisions come as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Alaska and on the Kenai Peninsula.

A protester stands outside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin building in Soldotna on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Parents square off over masks at school board meeting

Some parents said they will keep their kids home if masks are required, while others say they’ll keep their kids home if masks aren’t required.

.
Borough School Board election

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, elections will be held for Homer City Council,… Continue reading

.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly election

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, elections will be held for Homer City Council,… Continue reading

.
Homer City Council election

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, elections will be held for Homer City Council,… Continue reading

Janie Leask, a Homer resident, spoke in support of the new multi-use community center during Monday night’s city council meeting, stating the need for community recreation is vital.
Council moves forward with HERC plans

After years of discussions and planning, the Homer City Council is quickly… Continue reading

Most Read