Md. agriculture department calls for help in fight against invasive pests, plants

It's a problem that affects farmers, governments and communities at large: Invasive plants, insects and diseases that harm the natural environment and are often costly for those affected.

That's why the Maryland Department of Agriculture is calling on the public to help stop the threat of invasive species wherever they are proliferating, releasing a set of recommendations for residents and farmers that may interact with the species. The U.S. Department of Agriculture designates April as Invasive Plant, Pest and Disease Awareness Month.

"People are starting to camp and fish and they're outside more," MDA spokeswoman Vanessa Orlando said. "So we're just trying to get the word out on some helpful things they can do to try to keep things from latching onto them and going where they're not supposed to go."

The MDA's recommendations call on all residents to determine where invasive species exist in order to avoid them, and ensure that one removes any invasive plants or seeds that may be stuck on any boots or equipment before leaving an infected area.

Invasive pests often arrive in the U.S. through cargo ships and by international travelers, according to the MDA. Since the pests have no natural predators in the U.S., they can spread rapidly, disrupting natural habitats and damaging commercial crops.

Many people in Carroll County, like in much of the state, are affected by the problems invasive species cause.

Visitors of Piney Run Lake, for instance, have noticed an increased surge of an exotic invasive plant, hydrilla verticillata, that has affected boating and fishing at the lake, said Jeff Degitz, administrator of the Carroll County Department of Recreation and Parks, at a recent Carroll County budget session.

Degitz said the plant grows quickly and must be mowed regularly in the lake. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of the plant now that it is filmy entrenched in the lake, he said.

"Once you have it, you pretty much have it," Degitz said, when asked by a county commissioner if it was possible to eliminate the plant from the water.

Degitz asked for $51,655 for the salary and benefits of a maintenance specialist for Fiscal Year 2015 to help remove the plant from the lake.

Melvin Baile, a grain farmer in New Windsor, said in an interview that in recent years he has had to battle brown marmorated stink bugs that damage his crops. He said the stink bugs, which are originally from Asia and are classified as an invasive species by the state, can highly affect the maturity of the crops he grows.

Baile said it is hard to know how much the bugs have affected his profits, although he noted that he must spray insecticide that keeps the bugs away. Purchasing the insecticide cuts into his bottom line, he said, but is highly necessary.

He said in 2010 there were areas of his soybean field that he could not harvest because the maturity of plants had been adversely affected by the bugs. He said other farmers across the county have to deal with stink bugs and other invasive plants and pests as well.

"Species, when they are taken out of where they are supposed to be, usually create issues that take a very long time to overcome," Baile said.

Baile said he thought the awareness month was a good idea, as public education on the issue is important.

"It's an excellent thing to have awareness of it," Baile said.