Invasive Species Strike Team
The R4 ISST, based at the J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR and formed in November 2004, is composed of two persons: a team leader and assistant. Originally, the team was formed to coordinate invasive exotic plant and animal management activities in south Florida, but has since expanded its coverage to include all Florida National Wildlife Refuges.
In addition, the team provides technical assistance to the remaining states within the Southeastern U.S. Although the team will use independent experienced contractors to conduct the bulk of exotic plant control projects on Florida national wildlife refuges, the R4 ISST two person team will conduct rapid response eradication projects on a finite scale on Florida refuges needing assistance.
The primary functions of the R4 ISST will be to: (1) administer invasive species mapping and exotic control contracts on Florida National Wildlife Refuges; (2) assess, monitor, manage and treat new plant threats, ‘outlier’ populations or incipient infestations to prevent establishment to new areas (early detection and rapid response); (3) provide technical assistance to Florida refuge managers regarding invasive species management including identifying and mapping problematic species and developing control strategies; and (4) represent the FWS on various invasive species task forces coordinating invasive species management in Florida.
When not traveling, assisting with contract oversight or conducting exotic plant control operations on other Florida National Wildlife Refuges, the team provides assistance to the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling NWR including using local school groups, volunteers and the Youth Conservation Corps to remove a host of invasive and exotic plants. Some of these invasive exotic plant species include air potato, Australian pine, Brazilian pepper, chinaberry, earleaf acacia, Hong Kong orchid, java plum, Mother-in-Law’s tongue and seaside mahoe to only list a few.
Numerous other species impact the native plant communities by shading out desirable vegetation thereby decreasing native plant diversity and abundance, impeding water flow or drainage or forming impenetrable thickets which impede wildlife and human traffic and viewing opportunities. The primary method of control employed on the refuge is the safe application of herbicides that target the individual exotic plant species. Smaller plants can generally be hand pulled. Using this controlled method and by spraying individual plants, non-target damage to desirable plant species and wildlife is avoided.
To date, the R4 ISST has completed treatment of exotic plants on more than 225 acres. In addition, the refuge actively partners with the City of Sanibel, Lee County and Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation on all aspects of invasive species management.