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For the week of July 9 - 15, 2003


Bug Crew on front lines in knapweed war

Knapweed-eating beetles
released at four test sites

Express Staff Writer

At the forefront of an ongoing battle against Blaine County’s silent, noxious invaders, a group of Wood River Middle School students is using biological means to fight the spread of knapweed.

The Blaine Bug Crew, consisting of seven local students, worked last week to set up four research tents at various county locations in order to monitor the success of a biological knapweed-fighting program that pits bugs against the resilient noxious weeds. The crew includes Bob Lewis, 14; Danny Kramer, 13; Connor Fairman, 13; Stormy Mataya, 12; Kammeron Hairston, 13; Vanessa Barratt, 13; and Ethan Hall, 13. Courtesy photo

The Blaine County Bug Crew, as it is called, consists of seven youths who have dedicated portions of their summer vacations to study the effects of introducing knapweed-eating beetles to weed-infested portions of Blaine County.

"It’s a biological control project where we use animals to kill these weeds," said Bob Lewis, 14.

"It’s safer and cleaner for the environment," added Kammeron Hairston, 13.

Wood River Middle School sixth-grade teacher Bridget Kapala is organizing the group’s efforts. She said the project is helping the students learn entomology, botany, data collection, work ethics and the intricacies of scientific research.

Last week, the bug crew worked to set up screen tents at four Blaine County sites. Inside each tent they released between 500 and 1,000 seed-eating beetles called Larinus minutus, that were raised at a knapweed insectary near Fairfield. A similar insectary is under way at The Valley Club, where approximately 160 knapweed sprouts were planted this spring in order to help raise the beetles.

Vanessa Barratt, 13, releases a batch of Larinus minutus, seed head-eating weevils, at a research tent in southern Blaine County, where the insects should begin to eat knapweed. The Blaine County Bug Crew will monitor the progress of the project. Courtesy photo

The tents are used to help establish self-sustaining populations of the beetles and to help protect the bugs from predators while they become established, Hairston said.

The Blaine County Bug Crew has done everything from collect beetles at the Fairfield insectary, collect baseline vegetative data at the four test sites and release the beetles. They also have helped plant and monitor the progress of the young knapweed sprouts at The Valley Club.

Knapweed is among the top invasive species in Blaine County, drawing significant time and money in annual efforts to eradicate the resilient menace. The local effort is intended to add to the local knapweed-fighting arsenal by using knapweed gardens to raise beetles that have been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture for use in the war against weeds.

Nan Reedy, director of the Southern Idaho Biological Control Program, said the beetle program has been enjoying success on the Camas Prairie since 1998. There, at the Camas Bug Crew’s nine test sites, knapweed stem counts have been reduced by two-thirds, and plant species diversity is on the rise, Reedy said.

Blaine County Weed Department Outreach Coordinator Don Wright said the Blaine County Bug Crew’s efforts are a long-range management practice that can at least slow the spread of knapweed.

"This is a form of control, a nonchemical approach using insects that are natural predators to knapweed," Wright said.

The Blaine, Gooding and Elmore bug crews are newly established arms of the Southern Idaho Regional Bio-Control Project group. The groups are working this summer on the biological control of purple loosestrife, spotted and diffuse knapweed, leafy spurge and Dalmation toadflax.

They are working in cooperation with the Tri-County, Wood River, South Fork of the Boise River and Camas Creek cooperative weed management areas.



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