Don’t Pick Up Environmental Hitchhikers!

by Tom Galante, St. Charles Natural Resources Commissioner

As our weather finally gets warmer, you may be looking forward to boating and fishing. We are blessed with a number of great nearby waterways, including our own Fox River. Maybe you’re a hiker going trail to trail, or maybe you’ve found an interesting plant in your camping travels or a good deal on firewood from out of state. Did you know, however, that if you take yourself and your equipment from one recreation spot to another, there is danger from hitchhikers? Not the B-movie kind lurking by dark roads with hockey masks and chainsaws. More like these real-life examples:

  • Invasive Carp in the Illinois River (check out YouTube for jumping videos)
  • Rusty Crayfish in Wisconsin (the bane of Walleye fisheries)
  • Zebra Mussels
  • Emerald Ash Borer

Instead of natural migration, all of these and more use vehicles, boats, campers, trailers, bait buckets, even clothing and shoes to “hitchhike” to new habitats. The result can be loss of native plants and animals, destruction of native natural habitat, and even the spread of disease.

How do you avoid these hitchhikers? Check out the quick tips below based on your activity and explore the links included with this article. Our local flora and fauna will be grateful!


  • REMOVE – plants, animals, mud, etc. from equipment and clothing/shoes
  • DRAIN – boat bilges, live wells, bait bucket BEFORE you move to the next waterway
  • DRY – anything in contact with water
  • CLEAN – boats and trailers in a car wash, scrub and rinse boots and waders


  • CLEAN – clothing, shoes, pets, equipment
  • BURN – local firewood only
  • LEAVE – don’t transport wild plants and natural materials, leave them in their habitat

Aquariums/Schools/Water Gardens

  • PLANTS – bag and place in the trash
  • ANIMALS – don’t release! Or re-home. USE “release zero” retailers instead has helpful links and tips
  • WATER – don’t dump, disinfect or repurpose instead

Learn more:

(photo by author taken at Hillside Resort, Phelps WI)