Did you know that goldfish can be found in Iowa lakes and rivers? Or that the invasive aquarium plants, brittle naiad and Brazilian waterweed, completely took over an Ames pond last year? Why are these things showing up in parks and natural areas?
Often these pets or plants are released intentionally by owners, who are no longer able or willing to care for them, sometimes creating serious mini “natural disasters.” Releasing your animals into the wild, or dumping aquarium or water garden plants into rivers, streams, lakes and storm sewers can cause harm to the environment and the economy when some of these pets and plants become invasive species.
Some examples of the way invasive species harm the environment, economy and people are by preying on native species, competing with native species for food, degrading habitat, introducing new parasites and diseases, damaging crops, decreasing recreation and causing safety hazards.
“It is extremely expensive, and often not possible, to control invasive plants and animals,” said Kim Bogenschutz, Iowa DNR’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program coordinator.
Some of the most notorious invasive species in the United States were originally sold as pets or plants for water gardens and aquariums. Goldfish, some even approaching 2-3 pounds in size, are commonly seen in urban ponds in Iowa. These fish compete with native species like bluegill and young largemouth bass for food. Additionally, they act and feed very similar to common carp, by resuspending sediment and uprooting native vegetation, which leads to poor water clarity.
“It is actually illegal to stock any fish into public waters in the state of Iowa, but it can make matters worse when it is an invasive species,” said Bogenschutz.
Certainly the best approach to solving this widespread issue is that prospective pet owners make sure they will be able to accommodate all life stages of a pet before buying or adopting it. If your circumstances change and you can no longer care for your pet, the responsible choice is to find it a new home – letting plants and animals loose into the wild is not an appropriate solution. If you are not able to place your pet with another caring owner, your best course is to contact an animal shelter, a natural resource agency or even a pet store near you. The knowledgeable personnel in these places can help you find the right place for your pet.
For those in or near Story County, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Wildlife Center, Story County Conservation, Story County Animal Shelter and the Ames Animal Shelter have formed an initiative called ROAR – Rehoming Our Animals/Aquariums Responsibly, with the goal of raising awareness and providing alternatives to setting pets “free.”
ROAR works with other rehoming partners to find the right home for your pet. We’ll just have a few basic questions about the pet’s health and history. You can contact us any time, but owners also have an opportunity to surrender unwanted pets or aquarium plants at the Rummage RAMPage in Ames this summer. ROAR can accept animals and plants including fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, invertebrates and aquarium plants. If you need to rehome a dog, cat or other domestic animal, please contact the Ames Animal Shelter or the Story County Animal Shelter. Rummage RAMPage takes place at the Ames Intermodal Facility Parking Ramp from Friday, July 26 – Saturday, Aug. 2. For more information about Rummage RAMPage, visit www.cityofames.org/living/rummagerampage.
Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RehomingOurAnimalsAquariumsResponsibly. Please help us spread the word about responsible pet ownership and local rehoming options.