Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Guest Article - River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area

Illinois is full of dedicated people and innovative ideas for addressing invasive species. From time to time, this blog is going to host guest articles in which the stories about some of these people, projects, or ideas are told. The next article in this series comes from Karla Gage with the River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area.  All of the guest articles can be viewed HERE.

River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area – a partnership in southern Illinois to manage invasive plants
by Karla Gage

The River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) is a partnership between 13 federal and state agencies, organizations, and universities aimed at coordinating efforts and programs for addressing the threat of invasive plants in southern Illinois. Southern Illinois is a unique region in Illinois. Most of the region exists directly south of the southernmost extent of glaciation, and so it contains un-glaciated topographical features, such as hills, canyons, and rocky outcroppings, as well as numerous lakes and wetlands. The regional habitat diversity yields a high level of biological diversity. The area of the CWMA includes the southern eleven counties of Illinois (Image 1), which includes three Conservation Opportunity Areas, a National Forest, three National Wildlife Refuges, 15 state Parks, 22 State Natural Areas, nine NGO conservation areas, and thousands of acres of conservation easements.

In almost 2.5 million acres of land, southern Illinois boasts almost 2,100 species of flowering plants, 500 more species than the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or any other national park. Southern Illinois has 107 records of state threatened and endangered plant species (Illinois Natural Heritage Database 2008). However, the species diversity and high-quality natural areas in southern Illinois are threatened by invasive species. It is estimated that 62% of the Species in Greatest Need of Conservation are directly threatened by invasive species in the state of Illinois (Illinois Wildlife Action Plan - Invasive Species Campaign). Invasive species degrade wildlife habitat and compete with native species for moisture, sunlight, nutrients, and space, and many have the ability to alter ecosystem properties, such as nutrient cycling and the presence of soil microbes, on which native plants may rely. In addition, these invasive plants may directly impact our lives through degraded water quality, increased soil erosion, and limits to recreation.

The CWMA was formally established in 2006 as a project of the Shawnee Resource Conservation and Development Area, Inc., and is grant funded and projects-based. Since the CWMA began, the organization has brought about $900,000 to the region for invasive species work (through grants from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Forest Foundation, Boat U.S. Foundation, NRCS – Conservation Innovation Grant, USFS State & Private Forestry, State Wildlife Preservation Fund Grants, State Conservation Grants, Participatory Agreements and Challenge Cost-shares, State Wildlife Grants, and others) and reached almost 6,000 audience members through more than 100 presentations. The CWMA has produced numerous outreach publications (Image 2), and makes these available on the website (, which has had over 300,000 hits in three years. Through the work of the CWMA approximately 5,000 acres of land in southern Illinois has been managed for invasive plants. Through collaboration and facilitating communication among our 13 partners, we address all issues related to terrestrial and aquatic invasive plant species, while focusing on:

• Education / Public Awareness
• Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR)
• Prevention
• Control and Management
• Research

We attempt to create our projects so that they complement each other, creating a foundation for long-term success. We foster participation between our partners, while engaging new stakeholders and private land owners. Some examples of new and ongoing projects are…

Publications & Research: We recently received an Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund Grant to create a companion guide to our “Invasive Plants of Southern Illinois” publication. The companion will highlight 28 species and give control recommendations. This will be used in trainings and will also be publicly available for free.

We have ongoing herbicide efficacy trials for new herbicide technology from Dow AgroSciences, using a mixture of aminopyralid and triclopyr to control Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata), and Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) in low-volume basal bark applications. Our test plots for this trial will double as demonstration plots for educational workshops.

In collaboration with Dr. Andrew West from Ozark Koala Ecosystem Services, we are establishing a long term comparative study of plant community effects after autumn olive removal with heavy machinery as compared to targeted control with herbicides. We expect a difference in the recruitment of new autumn olive plants as well as native species between the treatments as a result of the high level of disturbance associated with mechanical removal.

Additionally, we have conducted a seed bank analysis of soil samples from 26 boot brushes at trail heads within the Shawnee National Forest to examine the efficacy of boot brushes at removing invasive plant seeds (Image 3). This study was led by Southern Illinois graduate, Misty Dodd, who plans to publish these data in the scientific literature.

EDRR: We host regular training sessions to help businesses, organizations, and private land owners learn to recognize invasive species on the land they manage. As part of these trainings, participants have the opportunity to learn how to report new sightings by entering data into the national public database EDDMaps. This summer we will continue to survey for purple loosestrife in the Ohio River Basin watershed, a project with the Central Hardwoods Invasive Plant Network, while also monitoring for Japanese chaff flower. We also plan to continue our yearly aquatic boat ramp surveys.

Additionally, our CWMA has joined forces with several other organizations in an effort led by the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership (NIIPP) to create the Hydrilla Task Force. Hydrilla verticillata is an aquatic weed that is extremely difficult to eradicate once established. Hydrilla has not been found in Illinois yet but is nearby, and could be devastating to the ecology of the region’s abundant natural lakes and streams. The Hydrilla Task Force seeks to educate the public about Hydrilla through the Hydrilla Hunt! Program (Image 4), in the hope of detecting infestations early so there may be immediate management. Please see the website for more information.

Education & Awareness: Through several events, such as the Conference on Invasion Biology, Ecology, and Management, Stewardship Week at the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center, the Gallatin County Soil and Water Conservation District Mini-Fair, Cache River Nature Fest, and garlic mustard awareness and control events, NRCS Field Day, the Garden Clubs of Illinois State Summer Convention, and the Goods From Your Woods Forest Consortium Workshop, we estimate to have reached almost 1,000 people (half in K – 7th grade) since January.

Control & Management: We have an ongoing project, funded through State and Private Forestry to survey and map bush honeysuckle infestations and prioritize control of Amur honeysuckle. We have aerially mapped over 5,000 acres at the Trail of Tears State Forest and ground-truthed these data with volunteers. We are now assisting private land owners in control efforts. We expect to reach almost 250 acres of private lands management with this project. Through the SIU Center for Ecology, we hosted an intern during the spring semester, Austen Slone, who was able to manage almost half of the documented infestation at Trail of Tears State Forest. The remaining control work will be carried out by the Southern Illinois Invasive Strike Team. The Nature Conservancy has received two more years of funding for the Strike Team, which will address invasive species across multiple agencies’ lands, starting in late 2013.

We also continue to maintain the CWMA community equipment bank to assist land owners in control, and we regularly host control events on public and private lands. This spring at one of our garlic mustard pull events, led by Rob Stroh, volunteers were able to remove 32 – 30 gallon garbage bags of garlic mustard from a priority conservation site at Giant City State Park (Image 5).

We are grateful to all of our partners (USDA Forest Service, Shawnee National Forest; the Illinois Department of Natural Resources; the USDI, Fish and Wildlife Service, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, and Middle Mississippi National Wildlife Refuge; The Nature Conservancy; the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; the Illinois Department of Transportation; the Illinois Department of Agriculture; University of Illinois Extension; the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; the Shawnee Resource Conservation and Development Area, Inc.; and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale) and the other organizations, businesses, and private citizens who have taken an interest in working with us to control invasive plants in southern Illinois. If you would like to become involved or would like more information about invasive plants, please contact the CWMA coordinator:

Karla Gage
River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area
8588 Route 148
Marion, IL 62959
Phone: 618-998-5920

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Article from NWF on EPA approval of Arundo donax for biofuel use

Here's a press release from the National Wildlife Federation regarding the recent approval of Arundo donax as a biofuel feedstock.

Aviva Glaser

EPA Approves the Use of One of the World’s 100 Worst Invasive Species for Biofuel

“We want to move forward with homegrown sources of renewable energy, but by doing so, we don’t want to fuel the next invasive species catastrophe.”

Washington, DC (July 1, 2013) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a final rule which would allow for biofuels made from two well known invasive species to qualify for credits under the Federal Renewable Fuels Standard. The rule, which was finalized late Friday afternoon, allows two invasive grasses, Arundo donax (also known as giant reed) – assessed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as being a high-risk species – and Pennisetum purpureum (commonly called napiergrass), to qualify as cellulosic biofuel feedstocks under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“By allowing producers to grow these two invasive plants for biofuel production, EPA is recklessly opening a Pandora’s box,” said Aviva Glaser, legislative representative for agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “We want to move forward with homegrown sources of renewable energy, but by doing so, we don’t want to fuel the next invasive species catastrophe.”

The EPA rule, which was first proposed in January 2012, has been publicly opposed by more than 100 state, local, and national groups, including the National Wildlife Federation. Arundo donax is a non-native species that is a well-known and well-documented invader of natural areas. Currently listed as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species, the plant is particularly destructive to riparian areas where it quickly becomes established. It has been shown to crowd out native-plant species, contribute to greater and more intense wild fires, and destroy habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the Least Bell’s Vireo. USDA, in their June 2012 weed risk assessment, concluded with very high certainty that Arundo donax is a high-risk species, noting that it is a “highly invasive grass” and a “serious environmental weed.”

The rule does require certain producers to put risk mitigation plans in place, but it has significant loopholes. Even with best management practices, wide-spread cultivation of these two highly invasive grasses is incredibly risky.

“Assuming that best management practices will prevent the escape of highly invasive weeds grown on a large scale is na├»ve, risky, and dangerous. We’ve seen time and time again with invasive species that good intentions can result in expensive unintended consequences,” Glaser said.

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