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Biological Programs Fight Invasive Species

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Biological control isn’t new to Wyoming, but it is a growing option for combatting weeds throughout the state. This pest management strategy is the control and reduction of unwanted species by naturally occurring enemies.

For a little over two decades, the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council (WWPC) and the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) have partnered on and helped fund projects to slow the spread of invasive species in Wyoming. 

CABI works hard to research species that can feed and develop on invasive species without threatening native plants and wildlife.

CABI tour

Recently, Mikenna Smith, an entomologist with Teton County Weed and Pest, visited CABI’s campus and research labs to understand the process of studying biological control.

“CABI is researching projects important to Wyoming,” Smith said. “One of the biggest things for me was seeing how our funds are used, how the science works and what the experiments look like.”

Smith was able to meet with the scientists overseeing research projects for Wyoming and the U.S. and observe some of the research projects in action.

Currently, WWPC funds six research projects with CABI. These research projects are looking at the best and safest ways to biologically control Dyer’s woad, Dalmatian/yellow toadflax, oxeye daisy, Russian knapweed, Russian olive and whitetop.

Biological control

The process for biological control can take years, with research taking time and the approved agents becoming established in their environment. WWPC released biocontrol agents for Russian knapweed in 2009 and is now seeing some indication the impact is successful. 

It will take even more time to see clear results of this study.

Fortunately, many successful biocontrol projects exist in several counties throughout the state, including spotted knapweed, leafy spurge and Dalmatian toadflax. All biocontrol agents fighting these invasive species are harmless to native species or wildlife.

Currently, 10 biocontrol agents, including beetles, moths and weevils, are slowing the spread of spotted knapweed in Wyoming. Additionally, there are eight effective agents for leafy spurge and four effective agents for Dalmatian toadflax.

“We had a huge infestation of Dalmatian toadflax in Teton County, and after just six years, the biocontrol agents knocked it back significantly and brought so many native plants back,” Smith said.

Aaron Foster, chairman of the Wyoming Biological Control Steering Committee, says there is a tendency to want immediate results, but biological control doesn’t usually work this way.

Successful biological control often means accepting the weed will still be there, but the balance between weed and desired vegetation will be increased.

“Biological control is a good tool for integrated management of species which are already widespread,” Foster said. “They give us an option in areas where the conventional tools, such as herbicide, may pose a greater risk to the system than weeds alone. Or, when we don’t have the resources for utilizing conventional methods.”

WWPC is comprised of 23 weed and pest districts in the state of Wyoming. The council works closely with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture and the University of Wyoming to keep current with the latest technology and research available in the ongoing management of noxious weeds and pests. 

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