• Friday, July 3, 2020

Beware the Invaders

How Oregon is Detecting and Preventing Invasive Species

By Keri Ann Beazell for Growing Oregon magazine

Although it might sound like the plot of a sci-fi thriller, the fight against invasive species, from insects to noxious weeds, is a harsh reality. Invasive weeds reduce biodiversity and displace native plant and wildlife species. They invade agricultural land, forests and other natural areas causing severe production losses, increased control costs, and negative impacts to watersheds, ecosystems and sometimes human health. An economic impact study commissioned by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) shows that 25 of Oregon’s most significant invasive weeds cause an estimated annual loss of about $83.5 million to the state’s economy. That figure could be well over a billion dollars without control efforts by state, county and federal weed programs.

ODA has enacted a multi-pronged approach to invasive species: prevention, early detection and rapid response, control and management, education and outreach, and coordination and leadership.

With the support from groups including the Oregon Invasive Species Council and Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “The Silent Invasion” program, there is a growing awareness among Oregonians, asking the all- important question: What invasive species are threatening Oregon and how do we stop them?

Prevent, Detect, Control

ODA sets out thousands of traps statewide each year for about 120 target insect pests. Most of those traps focus on the notorious plant-eating gypsy moth. If a breeding population is detected, an eradication program using the biological insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk) is conducted.

“Finding gypsy moths as soon as possible and quickly eliminating breeding populations allows ODA to successfully prevent economic and environmental losses,” says Helmuth Rogg, ODA’s director of Plant Protection and Conservation Programs. “We must be vigilant in order to protect Oregon’s natural resources and our quality of life.”

Without ODA’s program, private efforts to eradicate or control gypsy moths could involve increased use of chemical pesticides. “Without our traps, an infestation could grow large and harder to eradicate. We do not want to have to learn to live with the gypsy moth,” Rogg says.

Indeed, 30 years ago, 19,000 gypsy moths were detected in Lane County alone, which led to the largest gypsy moth eradication project in the western U.S. Since then, the traps have gone up and ODA has quickly dealt with breeding populations.

Recently, another unwanted, non-native insect pest has emerged.

“We are currently fighting the largest Japanese beetle infestation in Oregon’s history in the Cedar Mill and Bethany neighborhoods of northwest Portland,” Rogg says.

ODA has organized intensive outreach campaigns to inform and involve local, state and federal counterparts, environmental groups, and the community. By utilizing social media, media campaigns, local events and house- to-house communications, Rogg reports that basically 100 percent of the area’s residents have participated in the current Japanese beetle eradication project.

Making Progress

Fortunately, Beth Myers-Shenai, integrated weed management coordinator for ODA, who regularly conducts site visits, has found that individual infestations are getting easier to manage and track through better technology and equipment.

“If an invasive plant is found for the first time in an area, we coordinate or participate in a survey to determine how far it’s spread,” which nowadays can be performed by foot, truck, ATV, boat or even helicopter, she says. The staff has also been employing mobile mapping technology and continues important collaborative work with Oregon State University on online weed mapping.

Additional successful measures have included ODA’s development of a weed-free hay certification program, working with gardeners to identify invasive species, and promoting a national “Play. Clean. Go.” education campaign to remind recreationists about the importance of cleaning gear before and after an outing. “Don’t Move Firewood” and “Don’t Let it Loose” outreach campaigns also help publicize techniques to manage invasive weed species.

Lastly, without the coordination and leadership to bring ODA’s strategy full circle, this outreach wouldn’t be as effective, says Clint Burfitt, manager of ODA’s Insect Pest Prevention and Management Program.

“This issue isn’t about agriculture versus urban culture, so our tactic is to build relationships and trust with a diverse group of people. Whether it’s the media, communities or stakeholders – by developing a sense of ownership at a grassroots level, they are pushing for the project as much as we are,” Burfitt says.

ODA and a wide network of partners are on the battlefield daily, working to prevent, eradicate or control invasive species. Success benefits agriculture, forestry, the state’s valuable natural habitat and even urban livability.

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