Invasive species pose serious threat to Washington state

Scientists are fighting a never-ending multi-billion dollar war across the country: an attempt to keep invasive species from spreading and wrecking economies.

In Washington alone, there are 200+ invasive species that have already taken root. The Washington Invasive Species Council tracks them, along with others that have not made it within the states’ borders that could cause the state serious harm.

Invasive species can destroy crops, the environment and kill off native animals.

The term invasive species is simply a special way to say: a plant, animal or insect that is in the wrong location. The species themselves aren’t bad – they simply are out of place, and in some cases, a species in a location without a natural predator can outperform or harm native species.

The recent European green crab invasion has proven to be a major concern. The invasive crabs have no natural predators in the Pacific Northwest – their arrival has sounded alarm bells within the science community. In 2022, Gov. Jay Inslee bumped the species profile when he issued an emergency order to increase tracking, and eradication efforts.

European green crabs are a threat to native shellfish and eelgrass. They can also damage habitat critical to salmon that are already facing an uphill battle, several species of which are critically endangered.

"In my world, the sky is always falling in one way or another," said Justin Bush, the executive director of the Washington Invasive Species Council. "We really don’t have the full number of staffing we need to staff every invasive species. We need to work together across organizations to define priorities and make sure we’re putting resources in the best places, for the best return."

The Northern giant hornet is another example of a priority species that Washington has focused on in recent years.

So far, Northern giant hornets have only been discovered in Whatcom County. Upon the arrival of the giant hornet, scientists made plans to trap and track the hornet.

A single Northern giant hornet can wipe out an entire honeybee colony. There is a concern that if the species were to establish itself in the Pacific Northwest it would eventually work its way throughout the United States. That would be detrimental to the U.S. agricultural industry – farms ship in honeybee colonies to pollinate crops.

Honeybees are already facing issues ranging from pesticide to disease. Another predator could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

"It’s going to cause food prices to go up because farmers pay me to bring these to put on their lands," said Ted McFall, a beekeeper in Whatcom County whose honeybee colony was attacked previously. "They expect these bees to be there because if I don’t bring them, apples are going to be a lot smaller, and blueberries will have a poor yield."

The European green crab and Northern giant hornet are just two species that Washington is actively working to keep at bay.

Quagga mussels – also known as zebra mussels – are a major threat to infrastructure. The freshwater mussels have spread to nearly every freshwater system in the country. A 2017 study estimated that the mussels could cost Washington state more than $100 million annually in damage if they established themselves in Washington’s waterways.

Gypsy moths are regularly discovered in Washington communities – they are capable of damaging entire forests, nurseries and parks. The USDA estimates that the moth causes $30 million worth of damage a year.

The list continues, in fact, there are dozens of plants, animals and insects that the state is actively managing or monitoring.

The public plays a role too. As Bush explained to FOX 13, prevention of a species ever making it into an unwanted location is their best tool – steps to avoid the introduction of an invasive species can be easy too.

Some simple actions can make an oversized impact: 

  • Cleaning hiking boots, bikes or gear you use in the outdoors before you go to a second-location
  • Avoid disposing aquarium pets, plants and water in waterways
  • Buy firewood where you’ll burn it, don’t move firewood from one location to another
  • Never move fish from one body of water to another
  • Use weed-free hay or mulch
  • Avoid planting invasive plants in your garden.

If you’re interested in taking a more active approach – reporting invasive species, or things that look out of place you can even download the Washington Invasive mobile app.

You can learn more about programs in our state by visiting the Washington Invasive Species Council webpage.