Coos County is under attack.

On the hulls of recreational boats, in the tread of tires and in the ballast water of cargo ships, invaders have infiltrated our shores. More are likely to come.

"Coos County is facing a constant barrage of invasive species issues," said Sam Chan, chairman of the Oregon Invasive Species Council.

"Any time you move things in and out, it's a potential way to carry in a new pest or invasive species."

As a tourist destination, "Oregon's Adventure Coast" is particularly at risk.

"It's a beautiful place. People like to go to Coos Bay," Chan said. "With it you bring, basically, invasive hitchhikers."

Boats may have served as vectors for the Didemnum vexillum, an invasive tunicate discovered at the Charleston Boat Basin in April, Chan said.

The tunicate, which is on the council's list of 100 worst invasive species, tends to coat hard surfaces, such as the shells of oysters. The tunicate also competes with shellfish for food.

That's a problem in a region known for commercial oyster growth.

"It may not kill them but if it fully engulfs them, it will weaken them," Chan said.

Shells can be cleaned, but not without expense to growers. Researchers have yet to find a consistent method of control.

The best way to contain invasive species, he and fellow council member Dan Hilburn said, is to prevent their arrival.

"People are part of the problem and part of the solution," Chan said.

Take gorse. Introduced to Bandon in 1873 by the city's founder, Irishman George Bennett, the flammable shrub grew abundantly in Coos County's wet, temperate climate. It's believed to have worsened the Bandon fire of 1936.

"That's a perfect example of how invasive species are important," Hilburn said. "It has real consequences when those types of things happen."

Hilburn, the administrator of the plant division for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said if people had worked to slay the intruder 100 years ago, they might have had a chance. No longer.

"We could spend all the money that the Department of Agriculture has, and all the money in all the banks in Oregon, and we wouldn't get rid of it. It's too late," Hilburn said. "We've drawn the line at about Florence, and we keep gorse out of the rest of the state."

While Bandon will never be free of its spiky yellow guest, people can prevent other invasives from coming to the region. In the case of the invasive tunicate found in Charleston and Winchester Bay, there may still be time. A group of scientific divers is expected to look at the extent of the infestation this summer.

Other species that could threaten the area in the future include Sudden Oak Death, which was found in Curry County; spotted wing drosophila, also located in nearby counties; garlic mustard; and quagga and zebra mussels. The last are known to clog water intake pipes, such as those at municipal treatment plants.

Scott Groth, a shellfish biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, said a new species is found in the waters of Coos Bay nearly every year.

To shield the area from continued infestations of troublesome pests, the Tenmile Lakes Basin Partnership wants to open a boat and trailer washing station at the Coos County Tenmile Lakes Park.

Mike Mader, the watershed coordinator for the basin partnership, said several agencies will cooperate to build and operate the station. Groundbreaking may occur in fall 2011. In the meantime, locals have been asked to lend a hand.

"It's important for us local folks to take charge," Mader said. "No one is going to do it for us."

Lakeside resorts are beginning to offer boat questionnaires to visitors. Suspicious boats from out of state are likely to be sent to the closest spray-off station, in North Bend.

He noted that the Oregon Marine Board is serious about infestations of the pesky mussels. If they are found in Tenmile Lakes, they will be quarantined. That will mean no boats in or out.

"It's going to hurt everybody on the South Coast," Mader said.

The board and the Department of Fish & Wildlife are also working to control mussels and other invasives through Oregon's new Aquatic Invasive Species Program. New boat permit fees support outreach, education and enforcement efforts in threatened areas. That will include five regional inspection teams, as well as training, decontamination equipment and the infrastructure needed to produce the permits.

Hilburn and Chan said that while invasive species are a concern, they shouldn't cause alarm. People just need to report new creatures, when they see them, to the council, ODFW and other agencies.

"I think that's an important thing to recognize. In general our environment is in pretty good shape compared to other places," Hilburn said. "They need to value what they have and realize that it could be degraded by harmful invasive species moving in."


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