National Park Service advances plan to control invasive weeds
THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK, N.D.” An invasive weed known as the leafy spurge can be spotted across the North Dakota Badlands, sharing the arid landscape with bison, elk and other wildlife and vegetation.
But in 70,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the intrusion of the lime-green and yellow plant is being slowed by a new weed management plan the National Park Service hopes will curb weed growth in other parks.
In the park’s Cottonwood Campground, weeds dot the muddy ground rather than fill it completely. “In the past, this whole area was covered,” said Bruce Kaye, chief naturalist at the park.
Kaye said the number of acres infested by leafy spurge has been cut from about 7,000 to about 3,000.
The new plan ” which analyzes weed control strategies and their potential effect on the environment ” has been in the works for nearly two years. It will be put into use this summer if it meets federal requirements.
The goal is to give national parks in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Nebraska a better means to control the weeds while still complying with federal environmental laws.
The group in charge of making it work is a team of weed management specialists headed by Chad Prosser. The specialists are from Theodore Roosevelt and two other national parks in South Dakota.
“Having a team like this, you have that knowledge base that is consistent from year to year,” Prosser said.
That means much of the paperwork and planning has been done. Various treatment methods have been examined, ranging from herbicides and controlled burning to the introduction of insects that devour weeds.
North Dakota agriculture officials list a dozen plants including leafy spurge as noxious weeds, meaning they are difficult to control, spread easily and can harm crops, livestock or other property.
At the Missouri National Recreational River and the Niobrara National Scenic River in Nebraska, purple loosestrife has crowded out habitat for the piping plover, a bird that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists as threatened.
If allowed to grow unchecked at Theodore Roosevelt, the park soon would have little forage available for the wild bison and horses that roam there, Kaye said.
Devils Tower in Wyoming has identified 56 nonnative plant species within its borders, while Theodore Roosevelt has 82.
Prosser and Kaye acknowledge it’s not terribly exciting stuff. But in national parks that are seeing more and more weeds, it is crucial to stay one step ahead.
Seven years ago, Congress authorized funding for the regional weed management teams. They number 16 nationwide, though Prosser said the Northern Great Plains group was the first to develop a plan. A team in Florida also has begun work, he said.
Wayde Schafer, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said the regional approach probably is the most efficient way to go. Park Service officials also have increased efforts to educate the public about weeds, and how visitors can unknowingly spread them from one area to another.
Kaye points beneath a sign for a trail ride in the heart of Theodore Roosevelt Park. There, a newer placard announces that any feed brought in for horses must be free of weeds.
“I think the word is getting out a lot more than it used to,” Kaye said.
On the Net:
Theodore Roosevelt National Park: http://www.nps.gov/thro/
North Dakota invasive weeds: http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/invasiveweeds/invasweedlist.htm
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