Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Looking Back on Invasive Species Encounters in Oregon

A blog post by Dan Hilburn

He writes, "The time has come for me to pass the baton and head for the locker room. I’ll be retiring in November. The Department has generously allowed me several weeks to wrap up loose ends. One of those is downloading information that that might be useful to those still in the race. Here is a look back at how Oregon has responded to invasive species in the last few decades. My focus is on ODA insect and weed programs where I have first-hand knowledge."

The Early Years

1960's - Recognition of the Risks

Prior to the 1960’s, ODA surveys focused on documenting pest population levels of established agricultural pests. By the late 1960’s, this evolved to include surveys for pests threatening to invade but not known to occur in Oregon, including Japanese beetle, cereal leaf beetle, and Khapra beetle. One of my predecessors, Bill Kosesan, recognized the risk. He wrote in 1968: “Because we travel more and faster these days and move plants, food, forest, and fiber products in greater quantities, the danger of spreading plant pests is greatly increased.” “If present trends are any indication Oregon can expect more pest invasions, not fewer.” 1

Gypsy Moths

In 1977, Oregon began annual surveys for gypsy moth, one of the worst forest pests ever to invade North America. Two years later, Diana Kearns, who still works for us, reported the first positive trap in West Linn. The first infestation to trigger an eradication treatment occurred in Salem in the early 1980’s. Mill Creek, right outside ODA headquarters, was covered with plastic to minimize insecticide getting into the water. That was good practice for 1984 when a very large infestation was discovered in Lane Co. 19,096 gypsy moths were caught that year triggering a massive aerial assault that grew to include a quarter of a million acres. 2 The State Legislature allocated several million dollars for the treatments and continued monitoring. Due to concern about spraying residential neighborhoods with chemical pesticides, ODA pioneered use of B.t., a naturally occurring biological insecticide, for this large-scale eradication project. It took three applications per year applied by helicopter for several years, but happily it worked. We’ve continued to rely on that technique for the last three decades and the funding that came in response to that outbreak.

1990's - the Federal Government

In 1993, the U.S. Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment came out with a report on “Harmful Non-Indigenous Species in the United States.” 3 The following year, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture came out with “Biological Pollution: A Serious New Environmental Challenge.” That report concluded: “What is needed is a national initiative to properly address the issue of harmful non-indigenous species as biological pollutants. Such a national initiative would provide a mechanism whereby all federal, state, and private agencies could join in a holistic effort to deal with the problem.“ 4
The term “invasive species” wasn’t commonly used until President Clinton signed executive order 13112 on Feb. 3. 1999, entitled “Invasive Species.” 5 His order created the national invasive species council and it’s advisory committee. I remember reading that order, especially one particular paragraph that read: “Among other things, the advisory committee shall recommend plans and actions at local, tribal, State, regional, and ecosystem-based levels to achieve the goals and objectives of the management plan in section 5 of this order.” Somebody should do that in Oregon, I thought. The idea stayed with me.

The Start of the Oregon Invasive Species Council

Eventually I called Dr. Mark Systma, Oregon’s aquatic nuisance species guru at PSU. He’d also read the executive order and was thinking along the same lines. We pulled in Paul Heimowitz from OSU Sea Grant and Larry Cooper from Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and together drafted a legislative concept that would create an Invasive Species Council in Oregon. We made it easy for legislators by suggesting funding for the Council come from reassigning a few thousand dollars that were going toward a moribund interagency IPM committee. Momentum built through 2000 when OSU hosted a Biology Colloquium called: Biological Invasions! The Quiet Global Change. The legislature responded and the Oregon Invasive Species Council (OISC) was born a year later.
OISC included ex officio members from State agencies that deal with invasive species plus appointed at large members representing “the geographic, cultural and economic diversity of this state.” The Council’s purpose was, and is, to:
  • Facilitate reporting of invasive species,
  • Educate people about related issues,
  • Develop a statewide plan for addressing invasions, and
  • Provide grants or loans for eradicating new invasions.



OISC has made a difference. Oregon’s 1-866-INVADER hotline facilitated reporting right out of the gate and then it’s online counterpart made it even easier to connect people noticing suspicious animals and plants to experts that can identify them and respond if necessary. Public awareness has also improved. In 2005, OISC contracted with Anthill Marketing to do a random telephone survey of Oregonians’ knowledge of invasive species. 6 The conclusion was: “The average Oregonian does not understand what nuisance or invasive species are other than perhaps weeds.” In 2007, Lisa DeBruyckere, was hired as the first OISC Coordinator. She made an instant impact coordinating an educational campaign. Especially effective were a series of articles in the Statesman Journal by Beth Casper, and an hour-long OPB special directed by Ed Jahn called the “Silent Invasion.” Public awareness improved to the point it became rare to encounter someone who didn’t have some knowledge of the issue. That is a big change from early legislative hearings when Mark, Paul, Larry, and I were questioned about zebras and giraffes!
The OISC has produced two action plans, the first in 2003 and an update in 2012. The original is notable for it’s Appendix III that provides a baseline list of 341 invasive species established in Oregon in 2000. 7 A noxious weed strategic plan and an economic assessment of the impact of invasive weeds came out in 2001. 8 9 Look for an updated economic assessment is in the works. Stay tuned for that; the documentable impacts are increasing. Also in 2001, Oregon’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan made its debut. 10 This was followed by a Feral Swine Action Plan for Oregon in 2007. 11 The granting function of the Council is mostly a dream because of the inadequate size of the emergency fund and the lack of a mechanism to replenish it. However, OISC has contributed funding toward the effort to eradicate Japanese beetles from the Portland airport and to address invasive tunicates in the Charleston boat basin and Umpqua triangle. More on funding later.



Gypsy moth is our poster species for successful early detection and rapid response (EDRR) in Oregon, but there are other examples including:
Insects. In 1989-‘91 ODA detected and eradicated Japanese beetle infestations in Cave Junction, Rivergrove, and Tigard. Several other infestations have been eradicated since then and a current effort to eliminate JB’s at PDX is ongoing. In 2008 an infestation of granulate ambrosia beetle was eradicated from The Dalles.


Kudzu, the weed that ate the South, was detected in Oregon in 2000. Four sites in Clackamas and Multnomah Counties have been eliminated since. We’ve also eradiated several Spartina infestations on the coast and we’re working on purple starthistle, giant hogweed, Patterson’s curse, distaff thistle, African rue, and yellow-tuft alyssum. Weeds are harder to eradicate because there is a seed bank in the soil; it takes a sustained effort.

Plant Diseases

In 2001 sudden oak death was detected in Curry County. Though the eradication effort ultimately failed, we did greatly limit the spread and impact of this disease and we’ve minimized the importance of nursery stock as a vector. Chrysanthemum white rust, was introduced a couple of times, hasn’t yet established here.
When I look at where we are today, I see a lot of positives -- and one big dark cloud. We’re doing some EDRR in Oregon, we have great people in key positions, our laws and regulations have been updated, and we work together well across agencies and organizations. Our challenge is that globalization continues to accelerate and along with it the rate of introduction of new invaders. At the same time government funding for survey and response programs is static or declining. Even if it were available, I don’t think spending more tax dollars is the answer. What we need is a way to link funding for EDRR to globalization.

Funding for Protecting Oregon against Invasive Species

Earlier this year the OISC proposed a 1% pathways assessment on existing fees related to trade and travel. That type of linkage would make a huge difference; funding would increase with heightened risk or decrease if globalization slowed. I’m convinced that is where we need to go. The people and businesses that are engaging in trade and travel should be supporting efforts to prevent negative side effects. I like the “polluter pays” concept; it just makes sense. Let’s keep working on it.

Introducing Dr. Helmuth Rogg

Dr. Helmuth Rogg is my replacement as Director of Plant Programs at ODA; he has already taken the baton and sprinted off to a great start. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines as he leads us on the next leg of the rat race, pig race, beetle race, weed race, plant disease race, etc. There is no finish line to the invasive species chase; for us, keeping up is winning.

Good luck Helmuth, good luck ODA, good luck OISC, good luck Oregon, good luck USA, and good luck Earth!

 --- Dan


1. Kosesan, W.H. Plant Protectors. 1968. Oregon Agrirecord, State Dept. of Agriculture, Salem, OR. No. 239, pp. 11-12.

2. Plant Division Annual Report 2005. Gypsy moth. Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, Salem, OR. pp.23-24.

3. U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Harmful Non-Indigenous Species in the United States. OTA-F-565 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, September 1993).

4. Westbrooks, R.G. and R.E. Eplee. 1994. Biological Pollution: A Serious New Environmental Challenge, An Exposé on the Ecological Significance of Harmful Non-indigenous Species. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, APHIS, PPQ, Whiteville Plant Methods Center, Whiteville, North Carolina.  5 pgs.

5. Presidential Documents, Executive Oregon 13112. 1999. Invasive Species. Federal Register, Vol. 64, 6183-6186.

6. Oregon Invasive Species Council, Statewide Awareness Campaign Plan. 2005. Ant Hill Marketing. 19 pgs.

7. Oregon Invasive Species Action Plan. 2003. Oregon Invasive Species Council, Mark Systma, Chair, Center for Lakes & Reservoirs, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207-0751. 38 pgs.

8. Oregon Noxious Weed strategic Plan. 2001. Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, 635 Capitol St. NE, Salem, OR 97301-2532. 66 pgs.

9. Economic Analysis of Containment Programs, Damages, and Production Losses From Noxious Weeds in Oregon. 2000. Prepared by The Research Group, Corvallis, Oregon, for the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, Noxious Weed Control Program, Salem, Oregon.

10.  Oregon Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan. 2001. Center for Lakes and Reservoirs, Portland State University. 86 pgs.

11.  Rouhe A. and M. Sytsma. 2007. Feral Swine Action Plan for Oregon. Environmental Science and Resources, Portland State University. 28 pgs.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Invasive Species in Vacationland

-- by Dan Hilburn

My wife and I spent much of our youth in Maine and many of our relatives still live there. When we go back to visit, we fly from Portland, OR to Portland, ME and cross our fingers that the luggage handlers don’t get confused. Maine and Oregon have a lot in common, including some invasive species. When I’m there, I can’t help comparing their issues with ours. Here are some observations from my recent vacation Down East.

1. Gypsy moths

Gypsy moth populations in Maine are low this summer. I didn’t look for them; I don’t have to. The males are attracted to my wife and I. This year we only saw a dozen and never more than one at a time. On other visits we’ve drawn small clouds of sex-crazed male moths. All because I work in an office with people that handle gypsy moth pheromone. The lures in gypsy moth traps Oregon Dept. of Agriculture staff place around the state every summer are amazing. Even though I never handle the pheromone, my cloths smell faintly like a female gypsy moth and after our clothes are washed together, so do my wife’s. If you want to hear a funny story, ask my wife about the time a flutter of gypsy moths followed her and my daughter on a guided tour of MIT.

2. Knotweed and Beetle Reunion

I don’t remember Japanese knotweed in Maine when I was young, but it is common there now. This year on my drive-by surveys I noticed considerable feeding damage on the new growth. Since nothing seems to feed on Japanese knotweed here in Oregon, I stopped to check it out. I should have guessed, it was Japanese beetle -- another invader. I was witnessing the reunion of old friends: an invasive insect pest from Asia is attacking a non-native noxious weed from the same part of the world! It will be interesting for my counterparts in Maine to see whether Japanese beetles keep the Japanese knotweed from becoming problematic and whether the proliferation of a favorite host plant serves as a trap crop or a nursery for the Japanese beetles.

3. Eastern white pine replacement masts

I love to sail. This summer we were in Camden on a perfect day and couldn’t resist an afternoon sail on a 100-year old schooner. It was awesome. An added bonus for us was a friendly captain that loved to talk about the local windjammer fleet and the challenges of maintaining those beautiful old sailing ships. According to him, finding authentic replacement masts is difficult. Traditionally they were made from trunks of Eastern white pine, which grew tall and straight. Not anymore. White pine weevil attacks young pines, killing the leaders. White pine is still a common tree in New England, but now almost all of them are crooked or have multiple trunks. Our captain said that replacement masts have to come from the Pacific Northwest!

Since introduction of invasive species is tied to global trade and travel,
invaders have had less impact in Oregon than in Maine

Another difference between the two states is the length of time they’ve been settled. Little signs on historic buildings in Maine attest to construction in the 1700’s. Settlement and intercontinental commerce in Oregon is, of course, much more recent. Since introduction of invasive species is tied to global trade and travel, invaders have had less impact on our environment. There are lots of reasons why that is important, the least of which might be that if you want to build a traditional sailing ship with local materials, you can still do it in Oregon!

If you love both states the way I do, my suggestion would be to build your boat in Oregon, then sail it to Maine. If you do that, keep me in mind for the crew.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Say Goodbye to Our Black Walnut Trees

Photo from Google Street View
  • Post by Dan Hilburn
Next time you drive out Center Street in Salem take a look at the black walnut trees on the State Hospital campus. Those big, beautiful trees are doomed. If you look up, you can see the tops are dying. Within a decade, they’ll all be dead and gone. The same fate awaits other black walnuts in Oregon. The killer is a fungus that causes thousand cankers disease (Geosmithia morbida) and it’s vector, a tiny insect called walnut twig beetle (Pityophthorus juglandis). This is an invasive species story with a twist – both the fungus and the beetle are believed to be native to North America, though not to Oregon.

Until recently walnut twig beetle was known only from the Southwest where it lived in harmony and obscurity with its host, Arizona walnut.

Until recently, the walnut twig beetle lived in obscurity with its host, the Arizona walnut. 
The beetle expanded its diet to include non-native walnuts.
The killer fungus came along too.

Unexplained die-offs of black walnuts in the mid-West in the early 2000’s were initially blamed on drought and/or the walnut twig beetle. Eventually researchers noticed large numbers of dark cankers under the bark of dead trees. And that led to the 2008 discovery of the associated fungus. The researchers named the fungus thousand cankers disease.

The walnut twig beetle, a type of bark beetle native to the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico, is the only confirmed vector of the pathogen. Apparently, it adjusted to non-native black walnut street trees and expanded its range throughout the West. The fungus hitchhiked with the beetle.

No one has yet figured out a control or management strategy that works. Severe pruning and burning of infested branches may slow the disease, but eventually, even big, healthy black walnuts succumb. Neighborhoods with black walnut street trees are going to look bare when they are removed.

It is sad that we’re going to lose some street trees in Oregon, but the real tragedy will be in the East where black walnut is native and treasured for it’s high-value wood. Several states have enacted quarantines to lessen the risk of human-aided introduction. The biggest threat is movement of infested logs and firewood.

The biggest threat is people moving infested logs and firewood.
If the logs or firewood are put on a truck and moved to a mill, buyer or campsite, the beetles can emerge in a new place and Thousand Cankers Disease jumps ahead like a spot fire started by a spark.

When trees die, people naturally want to sell the trunks and cut up the rest for their fireplaces. If the logs or firewood are put on a truck and moved to a mill or a buyer somewhere down the road, the beetles can emerge in a new place and thousand cankers disease jumps ahead like a spot fire started by a spark. Since it takes several years from infection to the first symptoms, by the time trees start dying no one will remember the shipment of infested wood that inoculated the neighborhood.

For us in the West, its a story of a native beetle/fungus with an expanded range attacking non-native street trees. The take home lesson is that firewood should be bought and burned locally. Don’t take it with you when you go camping out-of-state. The same principle applies to logs. When mills and kilns are local, pests and diseases are less likely to hitchhike to new areas.

I used to have a black walnut overhanging my driveway. The falling nuts were hard on my car and messy to clean up so I wasn’t sorry when the power company cut it down. Black walnuts are the sort of tree you enjoy if it is across the street and belongs to someone else, like the State Hospital -- I’ll still be sad to see them go.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Perception, Reality, and Doing the Right Thing

  • Post written by Dan Hilburn

Why is it so easy to get funding to extinguish fires and so hard to get support for eradicating weeds? That question was asked by one of the speakers at last week’s Oregon Invasive Species Council meeting. It is true -- we’ll spend millions of dollars putting out a wildfire even where they are a natural part of the ecology. The Two Bulls fire near Bend burned through $5 million as well as 7,000 acres. That works out to $714/acre!

On the other hand, we spend barely $0.02/acre on noxious weed EDRR (Early Detection Rapid Response) in Oregon. This is true even though damage from noxious weed invasions can be more serious ecologically than fire damage.
Fighting the Two Bulls fire near Bend Oregon cost $714 per acre.
With invasive species, nothing bad happens quickly;
the threat can be more ecologically damaging, but it is insidious.

We spend barely 2 ¢ an acre protecting Oregon's ecosystems from invasive weeds.


Native plants grow back after fire, but they don’t compete well with invasive weeds. Weed invasions can be described as ecological wildfires in slow motion. That’s the problem – the slow motion part. Fires are immediate and frightening; weeds are slow and insidious. People perceive one as a threat right now and the other as a lower priority. If you ignore noxious weeds, nothing bad happens – for a quite a while, often years.
The Metolius River is being invaded by non-native ribbon grass
The Metolius River is being invaded by non-native ribbon grass.

There was a field trip at the same meeting to see the ribbon grass infestation on the banks of the Metolius River.
USFS Public Notice of herbicide treatments
USFS Public Notice of Herbicide treatment

The USFS has been working on the NEPA documents to address weeds in the Deschutes National Forest including ribbon grass for a decade. Last fall the pieces fell into place and some herbicide trials were put out using a weed wiper and several different rates of Glyphosate and Imazapyr. The wiper was required because of a perception that the herbicides could most safely applied to the invasive ribbon grass and yellow flag iris by wiping it on the leaves. The reality proved to be a little different.

The weed wiper looks like a paint roller on the end of a hockey stick-shaped piece of PVC pipe. In order to work, the wiper has to be saturated with concentrated herbicide. That concentrate drips from the wiper as you work and it is impossible to push down sufficiently with wiper on ribbon grass growing out into the water without immersing the fuzzy part of the wiper. Several of the trial sites had good control on the bank with a halo of surviving ribbon grass in the water. A backpack sprayer would be more effective and if used carefully, e.g. spraying from the water toward the bank, at least as safe.
There's a perception that a backpack sprayer is safer than the wiper.
The reality is different.


 Mike Crumine demonstrating the wiper on ribbon grass
Mike Crumrine, the ODA noxious weed control
expert demonstrated the wiper method on ribbon grass. 

Mike Crumrine, the ODA noxious weed control expert that put in the plots, calculated that the wiper trials used 19.5 oz of Glyphosate and 9.4 oz of Imazapyr. You could do the same work much faster with a backpack sprayer and only use 8.2 oz of Gyphosate and 4.1 oz. of Imazapyr.
The difference comes from using a dilute solution with the backpack sprayer vs. a concentrate in the wiper. Water monitoring during last fall’s trials showed no detectable levels of either chemical in the river. I’d expect the same result with a carefully applied backpack treatment.

I’m not so naïve to think we can eradicate invasive weeds on the banks of the Metolius without getting minute quantities of herbicide into the water, but we don’t have a viable alternative. Weed pulling and solarization with plastic have already been tried and discarded as impractical and worse for the river and the native vegetation. Pulling ribbon grass “brings up the whole bottom,” and solarization kills everything under the plastic. If you stand on the Camp Sherman bridge and look downriver, you can see a little island that was covered with plastic to smother the ribbon grass. The little willow that used to grow there died during the solarization. Luckily we have non-persistent formulations of herbicides that are labeled for aquatic use.

So the perception is that wildfires are worse than weeds and that wipers are safer than backpack sprayers. My point is that the reality is sometimes different. We need to fund our weed EDRR programs like we fund fire suppression and we need to use the best available tools when we attempt to eradicate invasive species from high value habitats.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Proposed Commerce - Dan's Thoughts and Comments

-- Posted on behalf of Dan Hilburn

ODA is often asked to comment on permit applications and proposed import/export ideas. Typically I farm the requests out to staff members for analysis. When their reports come back, I combine their research on the risk with my reading of Oregon’s regulations, and submit comments. Occasionally the risk level is obvious and the laws clear; more often that not, there are grey areas.

This week we were asked to comment on four issues:
  1. Importation of onion leaves for consumption from Hawaii
  2. Commercial sales of a giant African millipede as a pet
  3. Importation of raspberries and blackberries for consumption from Ecuador
  4. Ash logs from the emerald ash borer-infested areas in the central US transiting Oregon for export to Asia. 
 My thoughts and comments follow; the thoughts are in italics.

1.) Onion leaves. 

Dan thinks, "We’re importing onion leaves? You’ve got to be kidding. Oregon grows tons of onions and we throw the tops away. I see that USDA has done a 39-page pathway risk assessment and concluded that only three potential pests have a medium or high likelihood of introduction via this pathway! Of course, none of the three are covered by Oregon quarantines because who would have imagined anyone would want to import onion leaves?"
Onion leaves
Oregon grows many tons of onions and discards the tops.
Oregon may import onion leaves from Hawaii. 

None yet. There are no Oregon laws that apply. The pathway risk assessment is thorough and USDA will use it to choose appropriate phytosanitary measures to mitigate the pest risk. We’ll comment on the final proposal if we think they’ve missed something.

2.) African millipede pet. 

Dan thinks, "Another giant African millipede? What’s wrong with the five species we’ve already determined to be low risk put on our approved list? According to staff the scientific name given is wrong, though widely used in the pet trade. There is very little known about this species except that it comes from central Africa and it eats lettuce and cucumbers in captivity. Oh, it is also readily available on the Internet."

“Oregon Department of Agriculture staff have reviewed this application and draft permit. The scientific name should be Spiropoeus fischeri [instead of Mardonius parilis]. We have no concerns. [Except the general unease that comes from knowing someone, somewhere will release them and we are just guessing as to the risk. Note to self: add this species to the approved list. Cross fingers.]

3.) Berries from Ecuador. 

Dan thinks, "I know there is demand for fresh fruit year-round. I like fresh berries on my cereal and now that they are available all year at our grocery store, I’ve gotten spoiled. We’re already importing lots of fresh fruit from Chile during our winter (their summer). 

None yet, I haven’t heard back from staff. [The fact that Oregon grows blackberries and raspberries increases the risk. On the other hand, off-season introductions of fresh fruit that are eaten soon after importation are relatively low risk.]

4.) Ash logs to Asia. 

Dan thinks, "It can’t be economical to ship ash logs half way around the world! Actually it probably is because of all the empty containers and light ships heading back to Asia. The pest risk for the receiving countries is low because emerald ash borer likely came from Eurasia. Of course we don’t have regulations because we’re preempted by the federal emerald ash borer quarantine and no one has ever proposed such an improbable scheme. The staff analysis indicates the risk is high. I’ll have to bluff."
Oregon may ship ash logs infected with emerald ash borer. 
So far, the pest is not found in the state. 

“Thanks for asking for our thoughts on this proposal. We do have concerns. Here is our feedback:

1.) Oregon doesn’t have state regulations that would apply. On the other hand, Oregon does have native ash trees and ash is an important street tree. Keeping EAB out of the state is a priority.

2.) The risk from the proposed actions as described would be acceptable only during the months of December through February. During the winter we’d expect the logs to arrive cold and the weather would be cool enough here to make EAB emergence unlikely. If the shipments were restricted to the winter months, we’d be comfortable with the proposed protocol.

3.) For non-winter shipments, we’d like to see additional safeguards. Here are some possibilities that would give us more comfort:
  • Shipping in refrigerated containers.
  • Fumigation at origin.
  • Debarking before inspection, and inspections of individual logs rather than piles of logs.
  • Restricting origin of logs to outside the EAB-quarantined area, and setting a maximum time logs could be in transit through Oregon.
Thank you for consulting us. Please keep us informed of any new developments.”

In this business, we keep our fingers crossed a lot -- and put out lots of insect traps to detect what gets missed at the borders. Living in a global economy makes for grey areas, and grey hairs. I always ask my barber to cut the grey ones, but she misses more and more!

Monday, April 28, 2014

1% for Protecting Oregon from Invasion

  • posted by Carolyn Devine on behalf of Dan Hilburn 
“What if we decided we to spend 1% of existing fees related to trade and travel on invasive species?” That is the question Mark Systma, OISC Chair, and I posed to the Governor’s Natural Resources Cabinet last week.

Oregonians have another opportunity to do something bold in the field of environmental protection. The 1% pathways connection would be as audacious as the bottle bill and just as important in the long run. Here is a summary of the pitch we made to the Cabinet.

Improving Greater Sage-Grouse Populations Requires Managing Invasive Weeds

Invasive species are tied into most of the environmental hot topics of the day: clean water, working landscapes, reducing exposure to toxics, and protecting habitat for wildlife. For example, there is an ongoing effort to halt declines in Greater Sage-Grouse populations with the objective of keeping Greater Sage-Grouse off the endangered species list. Weeds such as cheatgrass and medusahead rye are part of the problem. When these invasive grasses move into Greater Sage-Grouse habitat, fires become more frequent than would naturally happen. This is bad for sagebrush and other native vegetation that the Greater Sage-Grouse depend on.
We won't have success protecting Greater Sage-Grouse without dealing with the related invasive species problem.

Fighting Weeds with Herbicides is a Necessary Evil

Another current topic we highlighted was herbicide drift from conifer release sprays. At first glance these appear to be a straight-forward cases of pesticide misuse, but guess which plants are out-competing the desired forest seedlings: mostly Scotch broom, Himalayan blackberry and other invaders. If it weren’t for these invasive weeds we wouldn’t be using so many herbicides.

A Growing Funding Gap for Fighting Invasives as Globalization Increases 

Hopefully, having established for the Cabinet that invasive species matter, we went on to describe the widening funding gap that we face in Oregon. The rate of introduction of invasive species is correlated with trade and travel. Hitchhiking weed seeds and woodborers are a side effect of globalization. Increasing trade and travel means more and more introductions. At the same time funding for survey and eradication programs is declining. We’re falling behind.

Solution:  Link Invasive Species Funding to the Pathways of Invasion

The ideal solution would be to link the funding for invasive species programs to the trade and travel activities that bring these problems to us. This is the essence of the 1% for invasive species proposal.
To do this we wouldn’t need to invent new taxes. We already collect fuel taxes, lodging taxes, landing fees, docking fees, imported timber fees, aquatic invasive species permit fees, and lots of other fees related to trade and travel. All we would have to do is to decide as a state to spend 1% of the revenue collected from those existing fees, about $5 million annually, on invasive species response and we could close our funding gap not just for next year but for the long run.

Cabinet members listened and asked good questions. How would the money be used and who would control its distribution? What about federal lands and federal agencies, do they pay their fair share? Do all the pathways have associated fees? What about the constitutional dedication of fuel taxes to roads and rights-of-way? Our agency already spends millions on vegetation control, would that count for something? Would this be like the 1% for art program? The questions indicated to me that they were thinking seriously about the proposal. Afterwards, Richard Whitman, the Governor’s Natural Resource Policy Advisor, indicated he’d talk to the agency heads individually and get back to us.
Now we wait with our fingers crossed to see if the idea catches hold.
I’m optimistic by nature but not naive. I recognize that because we are not proposing a new tax or fee, this idea would represent 1% budget cuts for other programs. However, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For weeds, we know that for every $1 spent in preventing a new species from invading, the state saves $34 in management later. That's significant. We’ve put the ball in the air and our shot hasn’t been blocked yet. We’ll know if this first shot goes in by whether we get permission to draft a bill for the next legislative session.

If that happens we have a chance to move Oregon into another landmark natural resources decision in 2015. Are you on our team and ready to play? We’re early in the first quarter and it’s a long game.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hotline Highlights

Posted by Carolyn Devine on behalf of Dan Hilburn 

Fifteen years ago when the Oregon Invasive Species Council was just an idea, the founders saw a need to create an easy way for people to report sightings of new invasive species. It had to work for all taxa and we needed to connect the person making the report with an expert able to make the identification quickly. Nowdays we’d probably design an app for that, but back then a toll-free hotline was the way to go. An Oregon Dept. of Agriculture employee (Jim LaBonte) suggested we apply for a phone number that would spell INVADER. That is what we did, and the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline was born.

Our 1-866-INVADER number still works today. It rings in two places, my desk and Leslie Shaffer’s desk. She is the office manager here for Oregon Dept. of Agriculture’s Plant Programs. We screen the calls and make connections with wildlife biologists, entomologists, marine scientists, weed control experts, etc. depending on the report. Over the years we’ve received some important tips and handled some crazy calls besides.

Here is a random highlight reel from my memory bank:

“Hello, I’d like to buy this number for my home security business. How much would you sell it for?” Me, thinking of the six months it took us to get an easy-to-remember number and the poverty of Oregon’s invasive species programs: “$1 million.” I never heard from him again.

“I hear you’re interested in invasive yellowjackets.” Me: “Yes, we are; we’re documenting the invasion of German yellowjackets.” Caller: “We have German yellowjackets in Tillamook.” Me, highly skeptical knowing that German yellowjackets look exactly like our most common native species, Vespula pensylvanica: “Really? Could you send us some specimens?” He did and they were indeed V. germanica. It turns out the guy knew more about yellowjackets than I did; he collected them professionally! I learned from him that drug companies use yellowjacket venom to produce anti-venom.

“Is it legal to release lobsters?” Me, not sure I heard correctly: “Could you repeat that question?” Caller: “Is there a law against releasing lobsters into the ocean? Would it be bad if someone did?” Me: “Why in the world would anyone do that?” Caller: “I don’t know, but someone is releasing them in Puget Sound and I don’t know who to call.” Me: “What makes you think that?” Caller: “Every day there are empty boxes on our dock labeled ‘Live Lobsters’ and people say a woman is buying lobsters in the fish market and releasing them from the dock.” Me, incredulous: “I have no idea what laws apply, I’ll have to get back to you.” I passed the questions on officials in Washington and, now curious about Oregon’s regulations, I called around and learned that our laws allow importation of live shellfish for consumption, but the folks that wrote the regulation didn’t anticipate people wanting to release them. However, the marine biologists were less concerned that I imagined. One told me he was sure the sea lions in the area were enjoying the Maine seafood appetizers.

“Can I bring in soil from around the world?” Me: “It is possible but you’ll need a USDA permit. Why?” Caller: “I want to bring in soil from all the world’s hot spots, mix it together, and plant a Peace Garden.” Me: “That’s a sweet idea, but I need to warn you that soil is highly regulated. It can harbor all kinds of living things including many invasive weeds, pests, and diseases. You’ll be required to sterilize the soil and ship it in secure containers. Getting a permit can take a few months.” Caller: “Oh, I had no idea.” The permit application never came.

“I think there is something inside the wooden mask I brought back from Africa.” Me: “Why do you think that?” Caller: “Well, there is sawdust under the mask every time I vacuum.” Me: “Sounds like powderpost beetles. They are common in imported African handicrafts, you can kill them by putting the mask in the freezer overnight.” Caller: “No, I don’t want it any more, can’t you just take it away?”

Leslie Shaffer takes a call on the hotline. 
“Why don’t we have lightning bugs in Oregon?” Me: “We do actually, but the species here don’t light up.” Caller: “I grew up with them in the East and I want my grandchildren to have the experience of seeing lightning bugs on summer evenings. Where can I get some to release around my house?” Me: “I’m sorry, that isn’t allowed. Release of most non-native insects is prohibited. I’d be happy to send you a copy of the list of approved species.” Caller: “Are you saying I can’t get lightning bugs for my grandchildren? That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.” Me: “I’m sorry, the reason is. . .” Caller, now upset: “Who is your supervisor?”

I could go on. There was the ‘rat in the oven’ call, the ‘aren’t humans the worst invasive species’ call, the ‘wolves are invading’ call, and dozens of ‘I think I found a stinkbug, Scotch broom, mud snail, etc.’ calls. Yesterday I took a call about suspected imported fire ants. This morning Leslie fielded one from someone wanting to find a source of giant knotweed for planting! The actual percentage of calls that involve sightings of new invasive species is small. That used to bother me, but though the good tips are few and far between, each is incredibly important. Finding a new invasion early increases our chances of successful eradication if the species is potential harmful.
As for the others. . . Well, hopefully the callers learn something useful from the experts and sometimes we learn fascinating things from the callers.

 Overall it’s a cheap and effective way to connect people with questions to experts with answers. The success of the system is a result of the Council and the group of exerts who support our effort to protect Oregon from invasive species. And the For Leslie and I, the screeners, it is also a mini-adventure every time the hotline rings.

 See something odd, give us call!

Friday, February 28, 2014

60 Grants and 3 Odd Weeds

The most recent Oregon State Weed Board meeting was notable for two reasons. 

1. There were a large number of high-priority grant applications.
The Board considered 86 applications and was able to fund 60 for a total of $1,370,000. The funded projects targeted weeds which have small infestations and  containment or local eradication is possible. The Board skipped over “hole-in-the doughnut” projects that would treat small areas in a larger sea of weeds and "treadmill" projects that would only suppress weeds temporarily.

2. The second notable part of the agenda came during consideration of species to add to the State’s official noxious weed list.
Typically, the Board considers non-native invaders that are spreading in Oregon or knocking on our door. Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) staff assess the risk of these invaders and recommend to the Weed Board those weeds that are likely to cause economic or environmental harm. Currently, the Weed Board lists 118 weeds and divides them into “A” “B” and “T” categories.

A Weeds

  • These are the worst threats and are targeted for eradication or containment. There's a good chance you've never seen A weeds, which include:  kudzu, Paterson’s curse, and purple starthistle. 
  • All known infestations of these weeds are under intensive control. 
  • If you do see an “A” weed, we’d like to know about it (1-866-INVADER). 

B Weeds

  • B weeds are “A” weeds that get out-of-hand. There's a good chance you've seen B weeds, which include:  blackberries, Scotch broom and yellow starthistle. 
  • Abundant regionally or even statewide, suppressing their grown is the best we can do. 
  • Many “B” weeds are targets for biological control.

“T” weeds 

  • T weeds are "Targeted" weeds. The Weed board directs ODA Noxious Weed Program staff to pay attention to these.
  • T weeds include all A weeds and some B’s that haven’t spread throughout their potential range.

What to do with 3 odd balls? 

Ribbon grass, cheat grass, and Western juniper didn’t fit the usual pattern when they came before the Board.

Ribbon Grass

Ribbon grass is a pretty horticultural variety of reed canary grass, Phalaris arundinacea. There is an infestation along the Metolius River starting at Camp Sherman and spreading downstream along the banks for a couple of miles. I’ve written about it before (post Aug. 24, 2011).
Reed canary grass itself is both a wetland weed and a valuable forage species. The challenge for the Weed Board was how to handle a unique local weed issue in an otherwise pristine habitat involving a horticultural variety of a widespread, sometimes-weedy, forage grass!
After an interesting discussion, the Board voted to list ribbon grass as both “B” and “T.”
The management plan for ribbon grass will focus on the banks of the Metolius. Treatments will start this fall. Hopefully, we can clean up the infestation and preserve one of Oregon’s most scenic spots for future generations of fly-fisherman, photographers, and visitors.

Cheat Grass 

Cheat grass isn’t pretty and it has annoying seeds that stick to your socks. It is well-adapted to dry habitats and it has been spreading in the West for over a century. Cheat grass is important ecologically because it shortens fire cycles. When cheat grass moves in, rangeland burns more frequently, and that is bad for sagebrush. Sage-grouse and other native species hat depend on sagebrush decline. Next year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will consider whether or not to list sage-grouse as a threatened species. Thus there is renewed attention on cheat grass.
It would seem to be a no-brainer to list cheat grass as a noxious weed, but, as was pointed out at the Board meeting, it is also an important forage species where little else will grow.
In the end, the Board decided not to list it but instructed staff to come up with an official policy recognizing that cheat grass can be a problem and keeping it out of important sage grouse habitat should be a priority.

 Western Juniper

The Board took a similar path with Western juniper, a native tree that is spreading like a weed (post June 1, 2013). Juniper encroachment is another reason sage grouse are declining and ironically, fire suppression favors juniper. Soon Oregon will have an official policy recognizing juniper encroachment as a problem. Hopefully that will encourage juniper removal from invaded habitats. It is unlikely that the Board would ever approve a grant for juniper removal by itself, but I expect we’ll see projects that include survey and treatment for cheat grass and other weeds that can move in after disturbances including juniper removal.

It is all related – nature is complicated!

-- post written by Dan Hilburn

Friday, January 31, 2014

On Lizards and Toads

Every January we’re inundated by top 10 lists, score cards, and annual reports reflecting on the past year. Here is one little invasive species story that didn’t make the news and won’t appear on anyone’s top 10 list for 2013.  I want to tell it to you before I forget because it illustrates the importance of communication, interagency cooperation, and digital photography -- all increasingly important in our world and in the fight against invasive species.
It all started with a phone call to the invasive species hotline (1-866-INVADER). Employees at a Beaverton distribution center had opened a shipping container full of ground-up tennis shoes from Indonesia. Don’t ask me why we’re importing shredded sneakers from the other side of the world, but we are. 
 Inside were live lizards. Not just one, but several and they were ready to get out. Thankfully the employees were aware that live critters from overseas can be problems, so they called the hotline and asked, “What should we do?”  My first thought was, "Who's in charge of that? US Fish & Wildlife, ODF&W, Customs and Border Protection?”
I was having flashbacks from five years when a toad hopped out of a shipping container carrying granite from China. One agency after another said, "not our problem," and the container languished on the dock for weeks until it was finally fumigated. The cost to the importer and agencies:  many hundreds of dollars, countless headaches, and more gray hair for all involved.
So instead of passing the buck, I asked if they could photograph the lizards and send pictures. They had a cell phone camera and did just that. I forwarded the photos to taxonomists here at ODA, to wildlife biologists at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and to the US Dept. of Agriculture. One of those people consulted with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Within hours the lizards were identified and the appropriate regulations reviewed. Thankfully they turned out to be a common species of gecko that is sold legally in the pet trade. A USFWS employee even offered to catch them and find them good homes. The cost to the importer and agencies: a few hours of staff time and some chuckles.

The lesson? Next time you’re confronted with a head-scratcher of an invasive species problem, think of the lizards that lived and not the toad that croaked! Take a picture, get on the phone, and let people know what you've found.
-- Dan Hilburn