Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network Coordinator Katie Grzesiak, left, and Outreach Specialist Emily Cook received a state grant to roll out the local Go Beyond Beauty campaign statewide. The program identifies and highlights landscapers and plant/flower nurseries that exclusively use native species.

TRAVERSE CITY — Local awareness of the dangers of invasive ornamental plants and flowers spurred a program now tapped for a statewide rollout.

Michigan state officials recently awarded local invasive species combatants a pair of grants to both continue their environmental battle plans in Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Manistee counties, and also push a successful program statewide.

The big project is the $215,150 grant to be paid out over the next three years to help make the local invasive species prevention program called Go Beyond Beauty a new effort for all of Michigan.

The Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network’s voluntary program is available to nurseries and landscapers across the region, and also concerned citizen gardeners who wish to nurture the native plants movement.

The idea is to not only choose beautiful plants and flowers for outdoor spaces, but also make them native plants that will thrive in the local climate and provide critical habitat for pollinator insects.

“This next year is for planning,” said Katie Grzesiak, network coordinator.

Emily Cook, network outreach specialist, said the nonprofit organization has had inquiries about the program from landscapers and plant nursery owners from outside the agency’s service area. That shows there’s already more than just local interest, she said.

The environmental cost of invasive ornamental plants and flowers being used in home gardening is the likely risk they may spread beyond gardens and into adjacent natural areas, disrupting the ecosystem. Among the most commonly sold invasive species on the network’s hit list are Oriental bittersweet, baby’s breath, Japanese barberry and dame’s rocket.

“We are trying to get to the source and prevent those sales from happening,” Cook said.

More than a dozen local businesses are already listed as participants in the Go Beyond Beauty program, dedicated to only selling native species. Home gardeners interested in using only native plants can easily find a local business on the list where they can’t make a mistake and buy an invasive plant in error.

A goal is to grow the program’s roster of participating businesses and still continue to support those that signed up early on, Grzesiak said.

The statewide plan calls for the use of regional hubs for the program from which to extend positive outreach and education measures.

“We want to empower hubs throughout the state,” Grzesiak said. “We want to help them.”

There may even be one website for the program developed, a clearinghouse of information about native plant-focused businesses across Michigan.

The grant money also is expected to pay for an additional Traverse City-based employee to help expand the program across Michigan, Grzesiak said.

The network’s second state grant was for $71,000 to continue ongoing efforts to fight and raise awareness about invasive species such as black swallow-wort, garlic mustard, baby’s breath and autumn olive.

The network’s two grants were among 32 projects that last month received a collective $3.6 million in grant funds through the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program.

The program is cooperatively run by several state departments — Agriculture and Rural Development; Environment, Great Lakes and Energy; and, Natural Resources — to focus on prevention, detection, eradication and control of both aquatic and land-based invasive species in Michigan.

Other area organizations that received 2019 invasive species grant dollars include:

  • Antrim Conservation
  • District: $73,290 for education, outreach and control measures related to priority invasive
  • species in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Kalkaska counties
  • Benzie Conservation District: $126,700 for outreach, boat decontamination, technical support for water groups and species surveys in Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Manistee counties
  • Huron Pines: $60,000 for expanded education, prevention and control efforts focused on forested landscapes and river corridors in Crawford, Ogemaw, Oscoda, Otsego, Montmorency and Roscommon counties.

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