Alaska is home to an amazing array of wildlife.
Among them are, of course, those species that spring so readily to mind, the ones that populate our travel brochures: the fish, the birds, the deer, moose, bears, otters, whales and wolves that all call this vast place home from time to time.
Other flora and fauna, though perhaps less photogenic, are no less important: trees and plants, insects and beetles and arachnids, amphibians and shellfish and invertebrates.
We recall this diverse cast of creatures today, the fourth day of Alaska Invasive Species Awareness Week, in hopes of remembering how our actions, for better or for worse, can have wide-ranging consequences for the species that live here.
For most of us, invasive species are synonymous with unwelcome guests from Outside states.
Zebra mussels, for example, originated in Europe. They've caused headaches in communities all across the country. Not only do they filter out the algae crucial for the survival of many species, they also eradicate native mussels. They also can clog and choke off water intakes used to generate power, costing millions to remove.
The mussels have permeated all five Great Lakes, and have been found in California Texas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
In March, Zebra mussels were detected hitchhiking to the Last Frontier in moss balls for home aquariums.
But invasive species can come from within our own borders, too — as four lakes on the Kenai Peninsula illustrated nine years ago.
In 2012, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed East and West Mackey Lakes, Union Lake and Derks Lake, all located along the Soldotna Creek drainage after observers there discovered that Northern pike, a highly aggressive species not native to the peninsula, had eradicated the native fish in those lakes. The stable ecosystem around those lakes was thrown into jeopardy.
To correct the damage, Fish and Game undertook a four-year plan to deploy a fish poison in the lakes and restock them with native fish species instead.
The project was the largest piscicide treatment project carried out to date by Fish and Game. It cost $1.04 million.
Could there be a clearer illustration that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?"
These expensive tragedies are easy to avoid if we all spend a little time reading up on how to enjoy our wild state without putting our native species at risk.
Over the course of the week, the Alaska Invasive Species Partnership will be promoting national awareness campaigns to help reduce the spread of invasive species and sharing events and activities on its Facebook page.
After all, we are a species, too: Homo sapiens, "wise humans."
This week, and beyond, we ought to live up to that taxonomy. Let's put our brains to use, and make sure that we do our part to take care of this beautiful landscape we all cherish so much.