3 Ways to Fight the Spread of Invasive Species

A few years ago, I took a trip to New Zealand to hike around the South Island. It was a phenomenal adventure that I had been looking forward to for years, and the week before my plane left I spent every evening taking all of my hiking and outdoor gear out of my gear closet and meticulously scrubbing every tread, rain fly, and zipper enclosure in my apartment’s bathtub.

Because it’s an island country, New Zealand is pretty concerned about foreign travelers bringing anything in that might affect their environment. Hiking boots have to be declared at customs and everything is inspected when you enter the country.

Although there is no such strict procedure when you enter the United States, invasive critters can still cause some significant problems here, too. Recently in California, the Asian citrus psyllid has been causing some major headaches for the state’s citrus industry — and while many invasive species are introduced through global shipping, a significant number can be introduced and transported by unwitting outdoor travelers — often in the soles of boots or lodged between the fibers of socks.

The US Department of Agriculture is helping to raise awareness of how invasive species can be introduced with its website, Hungry Pests. The site goes into great detail on invasive species affecting individual states, as well as providing helpful ways for people to recognize signs of those invasive species as well as ways to help combat them — with several tips for the most-common ways invasive species travel inside and around the country.

Three of the top eight methods of transmission are relevant to people who enjoy spending time outdoors: Firewood, Outdoor Gear, and RVs.

Firewood – Buy Local, Burn Local

If you’ve tried to load up on firewood before heading out for a camping trip, you’ve likely seen those Buy It Where You Burn It signs and wondered what the big deal was. Burning untreated firewood is one of the most common ways invasive species can get to a new area. Wood-boring beetles and caterpillars may still be alive inside the logs when you buy them or bring them from your property, and they may wriggle out whenever you unload your firewood haul near your campsite — same goes for bacteria and fungi that can cause diseases like sudden oak death. Although it may seem like an extra inconvenience to wait until you get near your campsite to pick up firewood, remember that it can go a long way toward keeping local pests and local outbreaks under control.

Outdoor Gear – Keep It Clean

For invasive plant seeds, insects, and eggs, there are few better ways to hitch a ride to a new, untouched environment than via a hiker’s boot treads. Not only are those treads being dug into the ground over a wide range of territory, but if you’re an active hiker the odds are you’re putting those boots on the ground all over the place! And let’s face it, you probably don’t wash those off that often, do you?

Before you get back into your car at the trailhead, try to shake off any dirt or mud that’s lodged its way into your boot treads. And if you can’t clean things off before you head home, definitely take a few minutes to wash off your gear when you get home, before you head out to your next trailhead. And don’t forget to clean off your tires if you’ve taken your mountain bike out on the trails!

muddy boots

Muddy boots. Please wash stuff like this. Photo by Flickr user mjtmail, used by Creative Commons license.

Recreational Vehicles – Wash Often

If you’ve got an RV or other vehicle that you keep parked for an off-season, remember to run that thing through a wash cycle before you take it back out on the road. Apparently bugs love to lay eggs around wheel wells while the vehicles are off-duty, and that is one of the easiest ways invasive species can find their way to a new location.

This can also happen after a few days spent parked in a campsite, too – so you can also help out by just inspecting your vehicle for any bonus travelers and knocking them off before you hop back onto the open road and your next destination.

invasive species

Although invasive species are in many ways just a reality of an increasingly connected world, by spending a little extra time cleaning and checking our gear before moving on to our next adventures,  outdoors recreators can definitely help control some of the more damaging infestations.

For more information and to learn additional ways invasive species are spread, be sure to check out the Hungry Pests website.


This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The opinions and text are all mine.


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