Bad guys are stealing water from our forests, right before our eyes!

Water thieves are afoot. They sneak in from foreign lands while our heads are turned, multiply their numbers to create trouble-making gangs, and refuse to leave. Who are these villains? Invasive plants – out of place, out of control, and gobbling up resources, including our most precious one, water.

By definition, an invasive species is “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” (U.S. Department of the Interior, Federal Invasive Species Advisory Committee) Invasives lack the natural controls that exist in their own native habitat. As a result, they’re usually fast-growing and rapid reproducers. These bad guys alter the forest in a variety of ways including sucking up A LOT of water.

Because of their heavy water consumption and their prevalence, many are concerned that might actually dry out our forests. Is the problem really that bad? According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report, “invasive species are altering large portions of the earth’s terrestrial surface and are considered one of the ‘most important drivers of change in ecosystems.'” Although billions of dollars are being spent to battle invasives in the U.S., the report also predicted rapidly increasing negative effects in the future such as loss of soil health as these water thieves drain up to 250% more moisture than our native vegetation.

Before and after photos showing the invasive vine removal efforts of volunteers.

That battle against invasives is fought locally as The Woodlands Township crews and contractors spend about 200 days a year on vine and invasives removal and control. And for the past three years, volunteer invasives removal task force has joined the fray, with much success. During 2020 alone, nearly 100 volunteers spent 1020 hours removing three dump-truck loads of invasive vines, shrubs, and trees from along our pathways. Their participation freed up the Township’s contractors to work on larger areas of infestation.

Some of the worst crimes of bad guy invasives?

  • Disrupting ecosystem interactions and functions

  • Displacing native species and destroying habitat

  • Using 50% to more than 250% more water than natives

Let’s turn the tables and gang up on these water thieves invading our forest! To start, each of us can examine our own landscapes and kick out the bad guys, replacing them with natives that better serve us. Then help restore the health of forest soils by volunteering to remove invasives from our pathways and green spaces. If you’re ready to join the Task Force, sign up HERE.

For more information, contact Environmental Services at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-2058.


Learn more about invasives from these past articles:

GreenUp: Fall Sweep

Every litter bit counts! Help keep The Woodlands clean by joining the next community litter cleanup day.

Gather family, friends, and neighbors for the next community litter cleanup day, GreenUp: Fall Sweep on Saturday, September 4, 2021. GreenUp: Fall Sweep is a self-guided 1-day volunteer opportunity that targest litter along pathways, waterways, and natural areas. No registration is required. Bags, gloves, and trash grabbers are available by appointment only.

How Fall Sweep Works

  1. Gather your group and ready your gloves, bags, and outdoor gear for an hour or two of community beautification (the amount of time you spend is up to you).
  2. Cleanup litter at any location you like.  The link below offers some suggested sites.
  3. Report large or hazardous items to the Township through the 311 App or by calling 281-210-3800 during normal business hours.
  4. Dispose of full bags at home or in a park trash can. Tie your trash bags tightly to protect sanitation workers. Please avoid causing more litter by not overstuffing park trash cans.
  5. Share your success by posting a photo on social media using #GreenUpFallSweep

For suggested cleanup sites and safety tips or to schedule equipment pickup, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/fallsweep

http://www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/adoptapath

More green plants don’t equal more fish in our waterways – here’s why

Aquatic plants supply food, shelter and oxygen for the fish and other aquatic life that share their environment. Pretty important stuff. So, logically, the more plants in the pond the better, right? Well, sort of.

While native aquatic plants are certainly a good thing, there’s a growing contingent of non-native interlopers in these parts. At least 10 species in The Woodlands water bodies appear on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s prohibited species list. These invasive species are illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess, or introduce into Texas waters.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has identified several plants as illegal to sell, distribute, import, possess or introduce into Texas waters. Some plants on the above list are not yet prohibited but are known invasive plants in The Woodlands.

The problem starts with the unfair advantage that non-native invasive plants enjoy: fewer natural controls than their native counterparts. This allows them to spread easily and choke out the natives. And as native plants disappear, so do many of our native fish species and other life who simply can’t adapt.

These invasives don’t need any help. Yet, we give them plenty by turbocharging their growth with lawn chemicals. Rain and irrigation readily carry chemicals from lawn to storm drain to local waterway. There they fertilize aquatic plants just as they do your grass. All the excessive growth that results eventually dies and decomposes, consuming oxygen in the process – A LOT of it. So much in fact that oxygen-depleted dead zones result – not good if you’re an aquatic organism. If you’ve ever seen fish floating at the top of a pond, particularly in the summer, this is a likely reason.

In short, invasive aquatic plants bring a slew of bad news.

BUT there’s good news, too! With a couple of simple steps, you can help turn the tide. In fact, more and more residents across The Woodlands are doing exactly that.

Step 1 – Remove all non-native plants from your landscape. Even if they aren’t an aquatic species, they still risk escaping into natural areas. Remember, plants don’t have to grow their way to new areas; seeds are great at dispersing by wind or bird.

Step 2 – Reduce, or even better, eliminate chemical use in your yard. Substitute organic products in their place. Did you know organic compost is probably the single best amendment for your yard?

Support your local fish populations, and all the other critters that depend on clean, healthy water. Remember to: Remove, Plant, Repeat! Remove invasive species, plant natives and repeat the process.

Learn more during Watershed Project: Aquatic Invasive Species, an online workshop scheduled for June 5, 2021, from 9 to 11 a.m. The workshop is FREE, but registration is required. Click the button below to register.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Earth Day GreenUp 2021: Thank you volunteers!

Over 700 volunteers worked together to remove an incredible 8,000 lbs of litter from our community at the 10th annual Earth Day GreenUp community litter cleanup day on Saturday, March 20,2021. The amount of litter collected is the equivalent of 125 of our curbside trash carts.

Single-use plastics, such as grocery bags, disposable cutlery and cups, fast food containers and straws, were the most common type of litter collected at GreenUp. These items are blown from parking lots, picnic areas and trash barrels into forested areas. Choosing reusable alternatives and refusing single-use plastics reduces this type of harmful litter. Volunteers also collected larger items such as construction debris, discarded lawn furniture, used tires and more.

Help keep The Woodlands looking beautiful by continuing the litter pick up habit. Consider organizing your own cleanup any time of the year or adopting a pathway through the Adopt-a-path program. Trash grabbers are available for loan through the Environmental Services Department. For more information or to reserve grabbers, contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov.

Scouts seeking their Soil & Water Conservation badge or the It’s Your Planet – Love It Journey badge can receive free equipment to organize their own cleanups from Keep Texas Beautiful. Check out their website for more information.

Earth Day GreenUp is hosted by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department with support from the following sponsors: Waste ManagementKeep Texas BeautifulChevron Phillips ChemicalYellowstone LandscapeWoodlands WaterHoward Hughes CorporationThe Woodlands GREEN, and Papa John’s Pizza

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov


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Today I Saved A Frog

Never underestimate the power of youth to bring about change. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean they can’t show us older folks how to be environmentally responsible. Kids get it!  

Take the case of the Discovery School of Innovation students who stepped up recently to protect our local streams. A volunteer project installing storm drain markers near their school in Grogan’s Mill piqued their interest; they wanted to learn more, get involved and make a difference. 

Along with the school’s Director, Cathy Sagar, the students started by connecting with a Township environmental educator, diving a little deeper into The Woodlands’ water quality. They studied watersheds and modeled how stormwater carries pollutants from lawns and roads into our local waterways, like Spring Creek. They also grappled with some tough problems. Some people mistake storm drains for trash cans dumping grass clippings, litter, auto fluids and more into storm drains. Unfortunately, everything dumped in the drain is carried directly to a nearby waterway.    

Others fail to pick up after their pets. Pet waste is one of our biggest water quality issues. Dangerously high bacteria levels result when waste is left on the ground. Though it eventually breaks down, harmful bacteria remains, eventually working its way into nearby water bodies, endangering aquatic organisms and humans, alike. 

The good news? Youthful determination prevailed. Understanding that something can be done about these issues, they leapt into action to get the message out: keep our creeks clean!  

Remember how everything felt so certain when you were young? On a crisp December morning, the Discovery students jumped into action, affixing markers that carry the message about pollution in storm drains. As they were finishing their final drain marker, they observed a frog intently observing them.  In that moment, they felt certain the frog was telling them they had done the right thing that day, for him and all the other critters that rely on clean water.

 

But that’s not the end of the story for these young water heroes. Each student committed to picking up litter when they see it and picking up after their pets, too. They bubbled over with enthusiasm to share their new knowledge and commitment with others, continuing to expand their impact.  

Sure, most of the Storm Drain Marker Project volunteers are adults. But none of us, young or old, should take clean water for granted. And let’s not take our action-oriented youth for granted, either. If you see them installing markers or picking up litter, give them a shout out. And consider joining them by  registering to volunteer. Save a frog, a fish, or maybe Spring Creek.  

To learn more contact The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or 281-210-3800.