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Oregon Invasive Weed Awareness Week

By Oregon Department of Agriculture [1],

Spread the word, not the weed. That’s the slogan being used for this year’s Oregon Invasive Weed Awareness Week to be celebrated May 16-22 as proclaimed by Governor Kulongoski. The annual weeklong observance aims to raise public awareness of the threat noxious weeds pose to Oregon’s environment and economy. For 2010, there is a call to action for all Oregonians to do their part in preventing the spread of invasive weeds and their seeds.

“The theme this year is summed up in one word- clean,” says Tim Butler, supervisor of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed Control Program. “We are promoting prevention strategies to help us protect Oregon’s natural resources. If we can educate the public about how to prevent weeds in the first place, it will be time well spent.”

It’s true that weeds can spread naturally. But people don’t think about how often they can be a vector for spreading weeds. There is a wide array of ways that weeds are geographically moved.

“Heavy equipment is a major vector for moving invasive weeds,” says Butler. “Seeds get trapped on the equipment in soil or mud, then transported to another site. That’s when a new noxious weed infestation gets started.”

Logging and construction equipment often spread weed seeds. Contractors are urged to clean equipment before moving it offsite. Agricultural equipment can also be a culprit. Many farmers and ranchers diligently clean equipment before moving it from a weed-infested field to a non-infested field. But all it takes is one slip for weeds to spring up in a new location. Weed seeds also hitch a ride on recreational equipment. Off road vehicles can easily pick up weed seeds and carry them long distances.

ODA learned first hand how weeds and seeds can travel undetected on a vehicle. Last year, Dan Sharratt, an invasive weed management specialist based in Eastern Oregon, conducted the usual pressure washing routine on one of the programs all-terrain vehicles used for survey and detection of noxious weeds. Wanting to confirm that he had sufficiently scoured the vehicle, Sherratt removed the skid plate affixed to the underside of the ATV. To his amazement, a sizable amount of plant material, including seeds, had been trapped under the plate. A closer look unveiled the seeds of two of the worst invasive weed species in Oregon- Russian knapweed and African rue.

“Even those of us who are professional weed warriors can spread the problem,” says Butler.

ODA continues to emphasize the use of weed-free certified seed in restoration projects. It also administers a weed-free forage program to certify hay and straw that is used to feed livestock throughout the state.

Thorough cleaning and heightened awareness of where they’ve been are critical steps to those who knowingly and willingly go into areas of noxious weed infestations. But what about the campers, hikers, and other recreationists who probably don’t think about the possibility of spreading weeds?

“Your boots, your backpack, your jacket, even your dog can all be vectors for moving weed seeds to other areas,” says Butler. “The same kind of awareness and diligence is just as critical for the public as it is for those in agriculture, forestry, or construction.”

The Center for Invasive Plant Management in Bozeman, Montana has developed prevention guidelines for people ranging from land managers and firefighters to the public. Recreationists are instructed to

* enter public trails with clean shoes and clothing. Clean dogs if there is a possibility they are carrying weed seeds. Wearing gators when hiking in weedy areas can greatly reduce the chance of picking up weed seeds in socks and shoelaces
* do not pick wildflowers unless they are distinctly identified and plant-harvesting is allowed. Invasive weeds often bloom with pretty flowers
* thoroughly clean bicycles prior to using public trails.

Mention the problem of weeds and most Oregonians probably think of dandelions and other common undesirable plants in lawns and gardens. However, the kind of plants that make the so called “A” and “B” list of noxious weeds in Oregon could have extreme impacts to the state’s natural resources as well as the economy. Some of these plants may look pretty, but have nasty characteristics- reproducing prolifically and crowding out desirable native plant species. In some cases, they can change an entire habitat important to wildlife.

In addition to taking steps that minimize the chances of spreading weeds, the public can keep an eye out for invasive weed species and report them to the Invasive Species Hotline at 1-866-INVADER.

It is conservatively estimated that the annual damage caused by noxious weeds in Oregon is in excess of $100 million. Early detection and rapid response is an effective strategy to keep introductions of invasive weeds from fully establishing. Not introducing the weed to a non-infested area in the first place is even better.

Of course, weeds can spread any time of the year. But as the weather warms and summer approaches, more outdoor activity will be taking place, increasing the potential that people and equipment might transport weed seeds and other propagative plant material into new areas.

“Having the governor designate this special week is appreciated,” says Butler. “Oregon Invasive Weed Awareness Week is important, but we work year around and across the state to get the word out to the public and educate them about problems associated with these invasive plants. It really is a full 52-week effort.”

Last year’s theme for the special week focused on teamwork. That message is still appropriate and, combined with this year’s clean theme, demonstrates the commitment Oregon has to battle noxious weeds.

For more information, contact Tim Butler at (503) 986-4621.