STRAIGHT TALK: ISN works against invasive species

Courtesy photo

Courtesy ISN

GRAND TRAVERSE — The Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN) is based in Traverse City and has worked against terrestrial invasive plants since 2005.

Operating as a “think tank” for others in the community, ISN shares information, expertise and resources among its partners.

Emily Cook, outreach specialist for ISN, recently spoke with the News Advocate about the mission behind ISN, and how it works to prevent the spread of invasive species in Northwest Michigan.

MNA: What is the main mission of the NW Michigan Invasive Species Network (ISN)? What does ISN do?

COOK: The mission of ISN is to protect, enhance and promote Northwest Michigan’s natural communities through terrestrial (land) invasive plant management and outreach. ISN works directly with partners to share information, expertise and resources. We work to educate the public about invasive species and prevent new invasions through workbees, presentations and additional programming. ISN also works to control high-priority invasive plants in our service area as funding is available.

MNA: What regions does the ISN cover? Who does ISN work with in the community?

COOK: ISN has a four county service area which includes Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Manistee counties. Within this area, we work with over 40 partners to combat invasive species. Everyone from landowners and small community groups to federal agencies — such as the United States Forest Service — contribute ideas and resources to ISN and allow it to operate as it does.

When working on larger scale projects, such as the treatment of Japanese knotweed on Veterans Oak Grove Drive in Manistee, we try to work with as many individuals and groups as possible to have a successful project. It’s crucial to take a community’s insight into consideration and maintain positive relationships.

MNA: How does ISN educate the public about invasive species?

COOK: Education is a huge part of ISN’s mission and critical to managing invasive species in Northwest Michigan. We educate the public in a number of ways. ISN gives dozens of presentations every year on the subject of invasive species, native plants, pollinators and more. We talk with young children in classrooms, garden clubs, municipalities and other community organizations.

We rarely pass on an opportunity to discuss invasive plant issues. ISN also hosts numerous trainings and workbees each year, which combines verbal education with hands-on treatment. When individuals and families can come with us to a site that has been directly affected by an invasive species, our mission becomes so much more clear.

MNA: Explain the meaning behind “habitat matters” and why it holds significance.

COOK: “Habitat Matters” is the mantra behind why we do the work we do. We talk about the importance of habitat and how it affects all of the work that we do — it’s discussed directly alongside our mission statement. Habitat matters in Northwest lower Michigan for several reasons.

First, they matter for people as those who recreate, hunt and generally enjoy this beautiful area. Second, habitat matters for wildlife. Animals rely on having the right resources and relationships with other organisms to survive. Finally, habitats matter for the economy of Northwest Michigan — something that can often be an afterthought in this line of work. Tourism, forestry, fisheries and agriculture all rely on a healthy, balanced habitat. Because invasive species pose a threat to our native habitats, ISN works to reduce that risk to allow our unique habitats to continue to thrive.

MNA: What is the “Go Beyond Beauty” program? How does this program help prevent the spread of invasive species?

COOK: Go Beyond Beauty is one-of-a-kind in the state of Michigan and was started to combat invasive species that are still being sold as ornamentals. Dozens of plants, including some that are considered a high-priority for ISN, are still readily available for people to purchase and use in their landscapes. Go Beyond Beauty encourages nurseries, landscapers, groups and individuals to commit to not selling and/or using these high-priority invasives.

Much of the program is based on education, as many people may not even be aware that they are selling or purchasing a plant that will spread beyond their own garden. However, stopping those plants from being stocked and available in the first place is a key part of the program as well. It’s a relief to know that Go Beyond Beauty participants are stopping invasive species from entering our natural landscapes, and often times they are using native plants instead. Participants receive beautiful garden signage, educational material and public recognition.

MNA:  If someone finds an invasive plant on their property what should they do?

COOK: ISN is always available as a resource when it comes to managing invasive species that you have found on your property. The first step is identification. We highly encourage folks to take a picture of the plant and email it to us so we can confirm that it’s an invasive. There are quite a few native look-a-likes that we want to keep in place. If we confirm that the plant is invasive, we can then recommend a management plan.

Some species are quite easy to remove, while others may take several years of dedicated work. Depending on funding and the plant’s priority level, ISN may be able to come to a property to treat the plant directly. We are also able to provide a list of experienced professionals that are capable of invasive species management. If you want to do your own research, visit the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) webpage at It’s another great online resource for identifying and reporting invasives.

MNA: How can someone become involved with ISN’s mission? What resources are available?

COOK: If you would like to become more involved with ISN’s mission, we encourage you to learn how to identify some of the high-priority invasive species in Northwest Michigan and be vigilant when at the beach, hiking on local trails or even driving. Finding locations of plants and treating them before they are out of control is incredibly important. Visit our website at for a list of ISN’s “Top 20 Least Wanted Species.”

Other resources including native plant lists, treatment recommendations, event calendars and other tips are also available online. Also, keep an eye out for ISN workbees, other trainings or volunteer opportunities. They are only a commitment of two or three hours, but every helping hand can make a huge difference to our local natural areas.


Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or

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