Effectively Address Invasive Species Threats: Join or Start a Local CISMA

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Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) are voluntary regional partnerships that help land managers address invasive species threats.

Map of the seventeen Florida CISMAs, with Heartland in the center. Image Credit: Florida Invasive Species Partnership

Dealing effectively with invasive species is a major challenge (Landel 2017). The Heartland CISMA is one of 17 Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) in Florida, all under the umbrella of the Florida Invasive Species Partnership (FISP). CISMAs are voluntary alliances of stakeholders addressing invasive species management in geographic regions facing similar issues within Florida. CISMAs help set regional priorities and develop regional plans to make work efforts more effective across the landscape. Florida’s CISMAs are among 363 across the United States, including similar organizations by different names: CWMAs in the west (Cooperative Weed Management Areas) or PRISMs in New York (Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management).

Invasive plant identification at the annual Heartland CISMA workshop. Image Credit: Cheryl Millet

Invasive species are the fourth greatest threat to imperiled species, after the effects of human activity (overexploitation, development, and agriculture) (Nature 2016). Invasive non-native plant species have harmful impacts on native species, agricultural productivity, infrastructure, and human health (Wilcove et al.1998, Pimentel et al. 2005). Impacts of only a subset of these species are estimated to cost the U.S. about $120 billion annually through direct damage, treatment costs, and losses to productivity (Pimentel et al. 2005). Of the $120 billion, an estimated $35 billion is from plants.

In Florida, half of more than 500 state listed species are directly or indirectly threatened by specific invasives. In effect, they have already suffered some displacement or loss from invaders, have invaders in their immediate habitat, or have invaders encroaching from adjacent habitats (Burks, K.C. 2003). In Florida, many immediately think of Burmese pythons in the Everglades when discussing invasive species, but plants like Old World climbing fern and cogon grass are also major, and costly, problems.

Florida CISMAs ramped up in Florida in the mid-2000s, with many using the Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) cookbook to guide establishment and growth. In Florida, we call the organizations CISMAs because the state’s invasive species are clearly not all plants, unlike the origins of CWMAs in western states to deal with rangeland weeds.

Keys to CISMA strengths are following the cookbook’s guidance by: 1) defining a region, 2) involving key partners, 3) establishing a steering committee, 4) committing to cooperation, and 5) developing a comprehensive plan. As voluntary organizations without dedicated funding, these key elements are stronger in some CISMAs at any point in time than in others, but they provide direction for building our strength.

The Heartland CISMA grew out of the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group‘s Invasive Species Committee. As a CISMA, we expanded our area to five counties in the middle of the peninsula. We have participation from federal, state, county, academic, nonprofit, private contractor, and private landowner partners. The Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy invests staff time in coordinating key CISMAs and, with the help of a Department of Defense Legacy Fund grant, developed a five-year strategic plan template for all to use, in addition to growing on-the-ground projects like treating invasive species on private lands to buffer military lands.

Priority Early Detection Rapid Response identification and treatment decks. Image Credit: Cheryl Millett

Each CISMA has its own personality. In the Heartland CISMA, members participate most in training workshops, and on April 19th we hosted our seventh annual Central Florida Invasive Species Workshop, modeled after Southwest Florida CISMA‘s. At the workshop, there is a full day of speakers and breakout sessions covering core treatment topics, new species we should get to know, and emerging survey and treatment approaches.

In addition to our training workshops, one of our hallmarks is setting priorities to increase our effectiveness. We focus on Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) to identify and treat infestations of key new species while they are still few and small, preventing costly problems from developing. The Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) helps CISMAs create EDRR priority lists, using the University of Georgia’s EDDMapS data. In the Heartland CISMA, with the help of National Fish and Wildlife Foundation/Wells Fargo funding, we created EDRR identification decks, laminated and pocket-sized to be field-friendly, with treatment information on the back of each card. These are a popular and handy tool that brings information into the field when and where it’s needed.

Many CISMAs also focus on outreach and education. In the Heartland CISMA, we have partnered with the adjacent Osceola CISMA and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for the past two years to host an annual Exotic Pet Amnesty Day. On this day, owners of exotic pets they can no longer keep can surrender their pet to be adopted by eager new owners who have been vetted by FWC. We recruit volunteer veterinarians to check the health of the surrendered pets, partners to have informational booths, and in our first year had 83 pets brought in and adopted. This has been a popular media event, raising awareness about our message of ‰ÛÏDon’t Let It Loose,‰Û to prevent new exotic animal invasions by providing alternatives for those who can no longer keep their exotic pet. This year, both CISMAs partnered with the Central Florida CISMA to bring the event to a new location.

The Heartland CISMA has been an incubator for new approaches. The Central Florida Lygodium Strategy was initiated as a way to treat invasive Old World climbing fern on a landscape scale on public and private lands. The Heartland CISMA served as a case study for the Spatial Invasive Infestation and Priority Analysis Model, a Geographic Information System approach to prioritizing invasive species treatments developed by Deb Stone, and FNAI is looking to test that approach as a way of prioritizing FWC selection of invasive plant control projects in the future, using the Heartland CISMA as a test case.

Albino Burmese python surrendered at Exotic Pet Amnesty Day getting health examination. Image Credit: Cheryl Millett

While the Heartland CISMA has pioneered new projects, it is not too proud to copy others’ successful projects, like the Southwest Florida CISMA’s annual workshop mentioned above. Other CISMAs have held annual Air Potato MegaRaids (invasive removal workdays on a number of sites on the same day), and we joined them in 2015, earning great media coverage. In addition to removing bulbils that would grow new air potato plants, we donated those bulbils to researchers rearing biocontrol air potato beetles, to provide food for those new beetles before they were released. That project has been so successful that we had only one location that held an Air Potato workday in 2016, because they were the only one that had bulbils to collect (and they only collected one small bag full). åÊ

CISMAs find out what other CISMAs are doing through FISP-organized monthly CISMA calls. On those one-hour webinar calls, there is a topic talk (in March it was about invasive bromeliad weevils) and an update from one of the CISMAs. Anyone can join, and the calls are recorded for those that cannot attend live. åÊFISP also organizes an annual CISMA Workshop at the spring conference of the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) where CISMA members focus on a topic like how to deal effectively with road right-of-way vectors.

FLEPPC provides an annual CISMA grant (in addition to an education grant that CISMAs can apply for) to help fund a CISMA project. Not all CISMAs have applied for funding, partly because CISMAs are not an official entity that can receive funds. However, there are different ways CISMAs have figured out how to get financial assistance for projects. In addition to soliciting contractors for workshop lunches and The Nature Conservancy writing grant proposals for projects across several CISMAs, the Everglades CISMA formed a Friends of group to raise funds, and the Resource Development and Conservation Council in the Treasure Coast CISMA has held funds for projects there.

All in all, CISMAs empower partners to expand efforts across the landscape, rather than stopping at political or property boundaries. Invasive species do not respect boundaries, and while CISMA members do respect them, we work across them.


[1] H. Landel, ‰ÛÏInvasive Species: Searching for Solutions in a Globally Connected World,‰Û Earthzine, Jan. 31, 2017.

[2] S. L. Maxwell, et. al., ‰ÛÏBiodiversity: The Ravages of Guns, Nets and Bulldozers,‰Û Nature, vol. 536, no. 7615, pp.143-145, Aug. 2016.

[3] D. S. Wilcove, et. al., ‰ÛÏQuantifying Threats to Imperiled Species in the United States,‰Û BioScience, vol. 48, no. 8, pp. 609-615, Aug. 1998.

[4] D. Pimentel, R. Zuniga, and D. Morrison, ‰ÛÏUpdate on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States,‰Û Ecological Economics, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 273-288, Feb. 2005.

[5] K.C. Burks, ‰ÛÏThreats To Florida’s Rare Native Flora From Invasive Exotic Plants: The Bad News And Good News‰Û In: Proc. 7Th International Conference on the Ecology and Management of Alien Plant Invasions (Emapi) [Invasive Plants In Natural And Managed Systems: Linking Science And Management], 37

November 2003, Fort Lauderdale, Florida [Abstracts]ê_ 109 pp. (Abstract, p. 14)

Cheryl Millett is Tiger Creek Preserve Manager at The Nature Conservancy in central Florida and chair of the Heartland CISMA.