Partnerships dedicated to addressing invasive weeds demonstrated a renewed commitment to the cause this summer through various projects in wilderness areas across the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and other public lands are valued for their diverse biology, including plant life. Unfortunately, native plants are threatened by invasive weeds which have taken a stronghold across the forest, including the three designated wilderness areas within the forest boundary. Weeds such as spotted knapweed and rush skeletonweed find their way into the forest and flourish in an environment without any of their natural predators. In doing so, they out–compete native plant species for resources, interrupting the natural balance of the ecosystem. This is especially troubling in wilderness areas, which are valued for their pristine wild character.
Recognizing the threat invasive weeds pose to the landscape, a consortium of dedicated partner groups was formed in 2015 to combat the issue. Members of the consortium include the Nez Perce Tribe (and their bio-control center), the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho County, private landowners, and the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. Each group works together to tackle the issue, while delegating efforts in different focus areas. These groups use a variety of tools to address the issue on a broad scale.
One tool the consortium uses to address invasive weeds is biological control. Biological control is the practice of using natural prey–predator relationships to combat invasive species. For these weeds, one predator is a tiny insect called the weevil. Weevils feed on the weeds’ seeds and roots, killing the plant. However, weevils only eat specific weeds, so native plants are left unharmed. Distributing weevils in areas with invasive weeds provides a targeted, effective approach to the issue.
When first approached about the biological control program, Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert recognized the capacity this consortium had to address the issue.
“I believe that the management of invasive species is the most important action we can take to sustain the health and diversity of the forest for wildlife, watersheds, and people,” said Probert. “I am excited that the forest can partner with landowners, counties, and the Nez Perce Bio-Control Center to use this more natural form of invasive plant control.”
This summer saw a resurgence in the work of the consortium and a renewed commitment from each partner group to dedicate time and resources to combat invasive weeds in the Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness, Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness, and Gospel Hump Wilderness.
In the Selway–Bitterroot Wilderness, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game coordinated with the Nez Perce Bio-Control Center to pack thousands of weevils into the backcountry for biological control releases in the Selway and Lochsa drainages. By tackling these weeds, Idaho Department of Fish and Game hopes to help improve important elk habitat in the wilderness. The agency further supports these biological control projects by providing funding to the Nez Perce Tribe Bio-Control Center to raise and harvest the weevils that are later distributed on the landscape.
In the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness, staff from the Nez Perce Bio-Control Center coordinated with the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and private ranches along the Salmon River to host workshops about biological control. At these workshops, landowners were taught about the purpose and use of biological control, and given weevils to distribute back on their ranches in the Wild and Scenic Salmon River corridor and adjacent to the wilderness boundary. Landowners were taught best methods for deploying the insects and given an explanation of how and why the weevils are such an effective tool against invasive weeds.
The consortium has submitted a proposal to begin assessing potential biological control releases in the Gospel Hump Wilderness. These projects would have an additional focus on “Early Detection and Rapid Response” efforts that limit the spread of invasive weeds in the wilderness.
These projects, along with those completed in the past and planned for the future, demonstrate the importance of this partnership effort. Invasive weeds are widespread and resilient, and pose a direct threat to both public and private lands. The consortium allows this important biological control work to take place in an effective manner more powerful than any one entity could accomplish alone. Paul Brusven, Nez Perce Bio-Control Center Coordinator, describes the effort as “neighbors helping neighbors.”
“The power of invasive weed control is bringing people together to combat these weeds in an integrated manner,” said Brusven.
By working together, landowners and land managers have a greater chance of effectively combating invasive weeds on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, protecting the health and diversity of the forest for generations to come.