Bug Crew on front lines in knapweed war
released at four test sites
By GREG STAHL
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.
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
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
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
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.