Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Educational programs help weed awareness

The following piece was written by Boise, Idaho-based reporter Patricia McCoy. — Gary

Capital Press Staff Writer

When I started writing for the Capital Press nearly 23 years ago, noxious weeds and invasive species weren’t a topic I gave much thought to.

Oh, subconsciously I knew they were there. I’m one of the millions of victims of hay fever and occasional bouts of asthma. I avoid weeds, especially when they’re in bloom.

Capital Press reporters hear a lot about the damage these critters cause and the expense of combating them. At least one reader became thoroughly furious with me after I wrote about a control program in his area. There’s a difference between control and total eradication, which he obviously, and understandably, wants. He made that clear in a rather nasty letter I found so hot to handle I promptly dropped it in the trash.

Unfortunately, eradication isn’t too likely. Weeds and other pests have been with us ever since Adam ate the forbidden fruit. Once they take over thousands upon thousands of acres, as Yellowstar thistle has the mountainsides above Hells Canyon on the Idaho-Oregon border, preventing further spread is about the best landowners can hope for.

It may be my imagination, but public awareness of weeds appears to be increasing. Here’s some of the reasons why.

First is Idaho’s coordinated weed management areas. They attack noxious weeds on a watershed basis, pulling federal, state and local agencies together with landowners to map the weed problem in each area, select priorities, then attack them on a regional level.

The areas were the brain child of the late Glen Secrist, former employee of both the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Land Management, and of Pat Takasugi, former director of the state Department of Agriculture. They’ve brought widespread recognition to Idaho, with many other states adapting them to suit their own situations.

Eurasian watermilfoil

Another sign is the $4 million the Idaho State Legislature appropriated last year to tackle Eurasian watermilfoil. The goal is to eradicate this aquatic weed in all Idaho lakes and streams. Great progress was made in the first year of the program and state officials are optimistic for its ultimate success.

The project has other states asking how on earth Idaho’s weed control workers managed to win such a sizable chunk of money to battle a weed. They’re clearly impressed. One wonders how much more impressed they’ll be if the Idaho Legislature appropriates the $6 million for fighting noxious weeds requested by Gov. Butch Otter during his State of the State address this year.

The effort goes well beyond Idaho. Oregon’s important nursery industry is asking USDA help in combating plant pests and weeds. Other states are also taking action.

This week, Feb. 25-March 2, the Invasive Weed Awareness Coalition will host National Invasive Weed Awareness Week in Washington, D.C. The project is designed to share invasive weed information with federal officials at the highest levels, and collaborating with experts to address what has become a national and global environmental concern.

Cost billions

Promoters point out what farmers and ranchers have known for years: Invasive plants are spreading across the United States, costing billions of dollars for control and restoration each year. Successful control strategies and tactics will be showcased during the week. It’s an opportunity for participants to share with each other.

It obviously isn’t practical for many Westerners to travel to Washington, D.C., for such a conference. That doesn’t mean they have to remain ignorant. A number of education programs are available on the Internet. There’s no way to list them all. Enter “noxious weeds” in your search program. Mine turned up over 1.2 million items.

A couple merit mention here. Terri Grimm with Sonata Inc. of Bend, Ore., and Lesley Richman with the Bureau of Land Management in Burns, Ore., have developed http://www.weedinvasion.org/. Their site features Alien Invasion, a weed curriculum for kindergarten through 12th graders. Teachers can log on and find plenty of material for classroom use.

There’s also http://www.idahoforests.org/, which leads teachers to Project Learning Tree, an environmental education program. It includes units on invasive versus native species.

My hot-tempered correspondent would probably do well to visit a few of these sites, then use his energy to encourage teachers in his area to use them. Oh, we know. Teachers have more material from which to choose than they know what to do with. But some things are especially important for them to use — like lessons on noxious weeds. If just one student reminds Dad to be sure to carry certified weed-free hay into the woods for his pack horses during his annual hunting trip, or knows to tell Mom not to take firewood imported from another state into the woods for a campfire lest some noxious pest like the Asian long-horned beetle is lurking under its bark, ready to infest and destroy the local forests, it’s worth it.

Pat McCoy is based in Boise. Her e-mail address is pmccoy@capitalpress.com.

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