From kudzu-choked trees in the Southeast, to Burmese pythons swallowing pets in the Florida wetlands or cheatgrass thriving in sage grouse habitat in Colorado and much of the West, invasive species are a problem across the United States.
In Durango, La Plata County Weed Manager Rod Cook laughs and says he “wakes up overwhelmed” because there’s so much to do with regard to invasive weeds.
Invasive weeds such as thistles, oxeye daisy and leafy spurge, a deep-rooted plant that spreads 15 to 30 feet into the ground, are just a few on the list of 22 noxious or invasive weeds that La Plata County manages.
Cook and one seasonal worker are tasked with tackling noxious weed species along public roads and properties. They also provide assistance to landowners trying to manage unruly species on their properties.
Invasive species are making their way from state to state, and people unknowingly are playing a part in it. For example, Cook says seeds can be transported from state to state by motor vehicles when seeds latch on to the bottom of cars.
“They don’t respect any political boundaries or fence lines,” Cook said.
La Plata County Weed Management is funded by county tax dollars. Cook says his department has taken a $4,000 budget reduction this year.
Across the country, state and local invasive species programs often are funded by federal money from the Department of the Interior.
In the last year, that department received a $23 million increase to combat invasive species. Last week, during a congressional subcommittee hearing on legislation that would streamline federal funding of invasive species programs, members of the House expressed concern that not enough of the federal dollars was reaching local communities.
By the time the federal money trickles down to “the hinterland, if you will” they are “grossly insufficient,” said George Beck, a professor in weed science at Colorado State University who testified at the hearing on behalf of Healthy Habitats Coalition.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, cuts “administrative costs” by requiring that no less than 75 percent of available funding go to state and local frontline management of invasive species. If the provision passes, that might allow more federal grant opportunities for counties like La Plata that are managing invasive species.
Mary Wagner, associate chief of the U.S. Forest Service, testified that by drawing a hard line on how funding is allocated, it could affect education and prevention programs. For example, it’s not just invasive plants, but also zebra and quagga mussels that find their way onto the bottom of watercraft and easily can be transported to other unaffected bodies of water in Colorado.
“One of the most effective ways to protect forest lands (and) waterways from invasive species is to prevent them in the first place,” Wagner said.
The legislation also requires the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to implement invasive species programs that will result in a reduction of those species by 5 percent annually.
Wagner testified that verifying a 5 percent reduction each year of every invasive species would be an extremely difficult challenge because not all specifies are inventoried in the same manner. However, Wagner said with regard to controlling invasive species some of “the best efforts are local.”