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Michigan marks progress against invasive species, considers ways to meet new threats

As part of PlayCleanGo Awareness Week, today’s MI Environment article is courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The goal of the PlayCleanGo campaign is to show outdoor enthusiasts how to stop spreading invasive plants and pests — while enjoying the great outdoors.

Since 2014, Michigan’s Invasive Species Program (MISP) has received $5 million in annual state funding to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species and minimize harmful impacts from those already established in the state.

Two women in a tall-grass prairie lean in to inspect a plant.

Volunteers examine native plants at a workday sponsored by the Lake St. Clair Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area. 


This support has substantially enhanced MISP’s work on aquatic organisms, supported a terrestrial species program and established the $3.6 million annual Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program.

The recently released Michigan Invasive Species Program 2022 Annual Report highlights the achievements of a complex network of state, regional and institutional and outlines what is needed to meet future challenges.

The MISP network

The program is cooperatively implemented by the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development; Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; and Natural Resources and targets non-native species whose introduction can harm Michigan's economy, environment or human health. Key elements include:

  • State staff work across departments to implement Michigan’s aquatic and terrestrial invasive species management plans by identifying invasive species threats, assessing priorities, leading early detection and response efforts and managing the state’s lands and waters.
  • Grant funding aimed at preventing the introduction or spread of high-risk species, strategically managing existing species, and assuring all 83 counties have access to assistance through cooperative invasive species management areas.
  • Michigan’s 22 CISMAs identifying priorities on a regional scale and working with local partners and volunteers to provide education, outreach and management assistance on private and public lands.
  • University partners exploring more efficient and effective management strategies including testing biocontrol agents for invasive plants, using experimental treatments for red swamp crayfish and determining the efficacy of pesticides in treating aquatic plants and tree pests.
  • Educators and non-profit organizations engaging the public to encourage participation in prevention efforts.


Preventing invasive species is more cost-effective than management, especially if a species becomes widespread. Prevention focuses on species that might find their way to Michigan, thrive and pose a threat to the environment. Those deemed a high risk are prioritized as watch list species

  • A communications network of program partners shares watch list species information to recreationalists, lakefront landowners, nurseries, pet stores and others who might encounter them. In 2022, workshops, site visits and outreach programs provided in-person prevention messages to over 150,000 people. Social media, news stories, mailers and other indirect communications garnered nearly 10 million impressions.
  • Prevention-focused laws requiring boaters to clean and drain boats and prohibiting or restricting possession or sale of harmful species support program efforts. Each year since 2019, over $400,000 in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funds have been directed to education and enforcement of these laws, ensuring conservation officers can spend time educating boaters, visiting live food markets and inspecting cargo at entry points across the state.
  • Volunteers assist with invasive species removal on state land and with boater education during the Great Lakes Aquatic Invasive Species Landing Blitz, setting up information booths and boat cleaning demonstrations at over 70 boating access sites each year.
  • Outreach programs such as Michigan State University Extension’s Clean Boats, Clean Waters and Reduce Invasive Pet and Plant Escapes (RIPPLE), targeting pathways of invasive species introduction and spread.

Many pathways lead to Michigan

Effective prevention and early detection require knowledge of how a species might arrive in Michigan.

For invasive bighead, silver and black carp, the main pathway to the Great Lakes is the Illinois Waterway, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Michigan continues to champion the process of constructing new deterrent structures at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam to prevent these invasive fish from disrupting the Great Lakes ecosystem. Governor Whitmer’s 2024 budget includes a proposed $64 million for the Brandon Road Interbasin Project. This, matched by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed $50 million, will cover the 10 percent non-federal share of estimated project costs.

For other invasive species, pathways can be numerous and nearly impossible to close off. Spotted lanternfly, first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014, doesn’t fly far on its own. However, before it was found in Michigan in 2022, it made its way to 12 other eastern states by hitchhiking or laying egg masses on cars, trucks, trains and goods travelling across the region.

Early detection

Raising awareness plays a key role in early detections of new invasive species. Spotted lanternfly and beech leaf disease, both newly detected in Michigan in 2022, were reported by individuals who recognized they had found something unusual.

When spotted lanternfly was confirmed on municipal land in Oakland County, MDARD helped plant nurseries on the site develop compliance agreements to continue operations and traced previously shipped stock to ensure the insect wasn’t moved off-site. County employees went to work immediately with MDARD, Michigan State University and U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service staff to survey and treat infested trees. Survey and response efforts are ongoing.

Though early detection was beneficial at this site, Rob Miller, MDARD invasive species prevention and response specialist, cautions that Michigan isn’t out of the woods regarding spotted lanternfly. “As infestations spread across more states, it’s important for everyone in Michigan to help prevent new introductions of this destructive pest.”

While it might be easy to spot the colorful spotted lanternfly, Simeon Wright, a DNR forest health specialist, is dealing with a worm that’s not visible to the naked eye. “Beech leaf disease, associated with the microscopic Litylenchus crenatae nematode, is generally detected by its symptoms – curled leaf buds and striping between leaf veins,” said Wright, “By then, the tree is already infested.”

After symptoms were confirmed in a woodlot in St. Clair County, media coverage led to additional detections in Oakland and Wayne counties.

Unfortunately, not all invasive species come with ready-made treatment plans. “Michigan is working with other states and Canada to better understand the disease, its spread, and possible treatments,” said Wright. “We’re recommending that people refrain from moving beech trees and plant material.”

Minimizing harmful effects

While maintaining a focus on prevention and response to new invaders, the program also is making headway on reducing the impact of invasive species in high-priority areas.

After a 10-year, peninsula-wide effort, most invasive phragmites infestations in the Upper Peninsula have been reduced to maintenance mode, with the region’s five CISMAs working with landowners to treat regrowth on an annual basis.

MDARD’s quick action following the detection of balsam woolly adelgid in 2021 has led to promising results. After removing infested Fraser fir trees from the site in Rockford, Michigan and conducting extensive door-to-door surveys of the area in 2021 and 2022, no additional evidence of infestation has been found to date.

As of 2022, EGLE has successfully eradicated invasive parrot feather from four ponds and is monitoring the results of treatment in eight others. An aquatic invasive plant is considered eradicated when a site is free of the species for three consecutive years.

Looking ahead

Invasive species are a critical issue facing both natural resources and agricultural producers. Since 2014, eight new high risk invasive species have been confirmed in Michigan.

As Michigan’s diverse manufacturing, agricultural and tourism economies thrive, the potential for new invasive species to arrive through shipping, transportation and recreation is likely to increase.

Governor Whitmer’s proposed 2024 budget includes $6.1 million in ongoing funds to support invasive species response teams within the DNR and cooperative invasive species management areas across Michigan, as well as to promote invasive species prevention through outreach and enforcement.

The proposed investment also includes a one-time $5.7 million deposit in the Invasive Species Fund to support invasive species immediate response actions and equipment purchases.

“While the program continues to reduce the impact of invasive species that are already here, it’s critical to keep looking ahead,” said Joanne Foreman, DNR invasive species communications coordinator. “A comprehensive approach to private and public lands is essential in addressing new invasive species and eliminating or containing the risk to the agriculture, forestry, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation valued at over $27 billion to Michigan’s economy.”