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Jan-10-2008 05:25printcomments

New State Publication for Outdoor Use Identifies Weeds of Concern

Noxious weed field guide gives ODA more surveillance.

(SALEM, Ore.) - The Oregon Department of Agriculture's Weed Control Program just doesn't have enough eyes to find every invasive noxious weed that might be setting roots in the state.

However, with so many Oregonians enjoying the great outdoors, help may be on the way in detecting unwanted weed species early before they become well established. ODA has published a handy loose-leaf field guide that outdoor workers and enthusiasts can carry with them to help identify key invasive plants.

"If people find these invasive weeds, we want to know about it," says Tim Butler, supervisor of ODA's Weed Control Program. "We think this guide will help. Anything we can do to heighten the awareness of noxious weeds will help us do a better job protecting agricultural and natural resources."

The guide contains 51 waterproof cards, roughly four inches by five inches in size, bound by an easy-to-detach ring so that new cards can be added from time to time. Cards contain photo identification, description, and pertinent information for each of the most serious weed species threatening Oregon.

"It's designed for people to take into the field with them," says Butler. "They can throw it in their backpacks or have it in their rig for handy reference. The guide focuses on species that are either in very small amounts in Oregon and we are actively trying to eradicate, or they are entirely new species to the state that we want to detect early before they become significant problems."

The field guide makes continual reference to EDRR– Early Detection and Rapid Response– which is an approach to invasive species management that focuses on surveying and monitoring at-risk areas to find infestations at their earliest stages of invasion. As the guide points out, EDRR is the most successful, cost effective, and least environmentally damaging means of control. The field guide is a tool to help non-weed experts with the detection of these invasive plants.

"We think this guide is very useful for outdoor enthusiasts and people who work outdoors, in agricultural or natural resource-type activities– people who are out in the field but may not be as familiar with these plants as weed specialists," says ODA's Tom Forney. "They can flip through a book like this and help identify specific noxious weeds. The more people we have looking, the better off we are."

Species identified in the guide range from shrubs such as purple loosestrife and saltcedar to vines like kudzu and something called "mile-a-minute". Broadleaf weeds such as giant hogweed and garlic mustard are described in the guide. So are grasses like barbed goatgrass and aquatics like hydrilla. Along with pictures, there is information on the known distribution of these weed species, their distinguishing characteristics, life cycle, and impact on native species. Color coding of the cards helps to sort weed species into useful categories.

Getting the guides into the right hands will be key. Forney uses Spartina (cordgrasses) as an example of a weed species that can be detected early with a little help from outdoor folks.

"Working with kayaking and birdwatching groups, we might be able to find this weed early and respond quickly," says Forney. "These people have a good environmental background and are interested in protecting our natural resources. If they have a guide like this handy, they can reference what they might see while they are conducting recreational activities."

Spartina is well established in neighboring Washington and California. Oregon still has a chance to keep it from becoming a permanent resident through early detection and rapid response.

The field guide was made possible through funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Cooperating agencies include the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service, and the Oregon Department of Forestry– along with APHIS.

"We are the defenders of the homeland against biological invasives," says Mitch Nelson, the APHIS Plant Health Director for Oregon. "Our success is dependent upon having good tools to do our work. This guide allows us to have extra sets of eyes covering the entire state, in places we don't have the resources to be at."

ODA already had pictures and information for many of the weeds found in the guide. ODA Weed Technician Beth Myers-Shenai did additional research on the not-so-common weeds that are listed. The department moved forward on its production and has printed 4000 field guides at this time. Many have been distributed to county weed control programs and others who are getting them into the hands of people on the ground. The guide so far has been well received.

"It's an exceptionally well done handbook," says Jan Kerns of Baker County, a member of the State Board of Agriculture who is involved in local weed control efforts. Kerns gave copies to volunteers doing road inventory assessments for the Forest Service. "These are people who are out on their four-wheelers, four-wheel drive vehicles, and enjoying recreation in the forest. They were impressed with the guide's simplicity, good pictures, and easy-to-read text. The size is perfect for slipping into a saddlebag pocket on the four-wheelers."

In the next few weeks, ODA will post the field guide on its Web site which will allow anyone to download and print off the same information found in the hard copy version.

Public outreach and education are key components of the battle plan against noxious weeds. In addition to the new field guide, ODA has produced a number of tri-folds focusing on priority weeds. Staff members also made more than 80 presentations to groups last year on weed identification and integrated weed management.

The noxious weeds detailed in the field guide could have extreme impacts to the state's natural resources and the economy. Armed with a little knowledge and a great deal of awareness, Oregonians can be successful in protecting the state from invasive weed species. A hand-carried resource book can now be their guide.

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