UNL NAIPSC Targets Invasive Weeds
With educational programs for high schoolers to scientists
Figure 2. Number of Nebraska acres infested with noxious weeds from 1990 to 2011, based on county infestation reports. (Source: Nebraska Department of Agriculture)
Next week the National Invasive Species (NIS) Awareness Week will bring attention to the issues and challenges associated with invasive species. Invasive plants impact the environment by causing losses to biodiversity, production, the ecosystem and human health.
During the NIS Awareness Week, the focus will be on education and preventing the spread of invasive species across the country. This has been a primary focus of theNorth American Invasive Plant Ecology and Management Short Course (NAIPSC), whose mission is to support invasive plant management, research, and education by providing a venue for sharing resources, ideas, and information. NAIPSC is based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's West Central Research and Extension Center at North Platte.
Noxious Weeds in Nebraska
While certainly not exempt from noxious and invasive plants, Nebraska has seen a decline in the number of infested acres since 1990 (Figure 2). Mitch Coffin, manager of the Noxious Weed Program for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, said this decline has occurred even while the state has added weeds to its list of official "noxious weeds." This trend is significant, particularly since there were only four state-listed noxious weeds in 1990. Coffin said noxious weed coordinators from many western states have been amazed at what has happened in Nebraska.
Currently, Nebraska has 11 state-listed noxious plants with some more widely recognized than others. The notoriety of a particular noxious or invasive weed does not have any bearing on its impact on ecosystems, economies, and societies. In fact, most start out fairly benign in the environment and with a disturbance or sudden change in conditions, they begin to proliferate, turning a few "harmless" plants into a raging infestation that can cover hundreds to thousands of acres.
The list of officially designated noxious weeds in Nebraska are: Canada thistle, leafy spurge, must thistle, plumeless thistle, sericea lespedeza, giant knotweed, purple loosestrife, spotted and diffuse knapweeds, saltcedar, Phragmites australis (non-native common reed), Japanese knotweed, and Bohemian knotweed.
The decline in the number of acres of noxious weeds in Nebraska does not signal a time to relax the effort and vigilance needed to control them. At this point, ramping up our efforts would reap even greater benefits and result in many more acres being converted or restored to more desirable landscapes.
Invasive Weed Educational Opportunities
The NAIPSC has been part of the statewide effort to reduce noxious and invasive weed species. The NAIPSC began in 2010 and has now become a year-round program that provides instruction, training, and information for elementary, high school, undergraduate and graduate students, teachers, land owners, managers, professionals, and policy makers.
After the first NAIPSC Field Course took place in North Platte with almost 40 individuals, it was obvious that an additional resource was needed to keep participants engaged and informed about invasive plants, thus the NAIPSC Online Community was developed. In addition, several other NAIPSC programs have been added to make information on invasive plants more widely known and easily accessible.
• The Water and Weeds Field Tour surveys invasive plant research being conducted in the field, lab, and greenhouse in North Platte. The tour is in late September, which is the beginning of the NAIPSC season. In addition to weeds, the tour includes work by a UNL hydrogeologist, who examines water and water resources issues.
• The NAIPSC Webinar Series is part of the NAIPSC Online Community where speakers from throughout North America are invited to present their research or information with NAIPSC members. Beginning in late fall and continuing through early spring, two webinars are broadcast on the internet each month. The webinars cover a range of topics, for example, restoration, management, identification, and bioenergy, and are archived for later viewing. One of the most highly attended webinars was the 2013 discussion on Phragmites australis removal on the Platte River.
• The NAIPSC Webinar Course, the online version of the NAIPSC Field Course, is conducted in mid-January. Because many people are busy or do not have the funds to travel to the field course in June, the web course is a great alternative. Topics presented in 2014 included plant identification, integrated management, mapping, restoration, and special topics, such as drought and invasive plants. Many of the instructors for the NAIPSC Field Course also teach the web course.
• The NAIPSC College Course is another online opportunity to learn in depth about invasive plants and their impacts on ecosystems. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers the 15-week course (AGRO/NRES 107) in the spring semester. It is suitable for undergraduates, AP high school students, and as professional development for practitioners and land managers. The course investigates the "why" and "how" of invasive plant establishment through lectures, readings, a discussion board, assignments, and a final project where students can design an educational tool on invasive plants, interview a professional, or probe the details of an invasive plant of their choosing.
• The NAIPSC Field Course is the signature program, from which the other programs initiated. This three-day field course is held in late June at the UNL West Central Research and Extension Center at North Platte. Over a dozen instructors come from across the country to teach participants the basics of invasive plant ecology and management. Each year, a special session is devoted to a focus topic such as water use by invasive plants, biocontrol, and plant identification. Over 75 people from Alaska to Washington, D.C. to Belgium have participated in the NAIPSC Field Course.
Figure 3. Students conducting a field exercise at an NAIPSC Invasive Plant workshop.
• The NAIPSC Invasive Plant Workshops are one-day educational programs for high school students and their teachers. Each fall high school classes from across Nebraska either travel to the workshop in North Platte or host a workshop where they can study some of the same material presented at the NAIPSC Field Course and in the college course. From study is intensive with students learning about the importance of invasive plants, insects, and invasive plant identification, conducting an experiment, and mapping invasive plants in the field using GPS and other technology.
What began as a field course has now become a year-long program to educate Nebraskans about invasive plant species and the importance of managing them. The NAIPSC Online Community has over 100 members and the NAIPSC college course and workshops have reached nearly 800 people. Just like invasive plants, there is no telling how far or wide NAIPSC can reach, helping slow or end the spread of invasive plants.
Weed Ecologist, West Central REC