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Report: Public awareness key as invasive weeds threaten to spread in Wyoming

Aircraft attack a wildfire near Glenrock on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon’s Invasive Species Initiative, spearheaded by a team of 32 “experts in the field of terrestrial invasive plants,” have delivered a set of recommendations for how the state can combat invasive plant species in a final report released Wednesday.

“Wyoming is at a critical point in time; we can either move towards a head-on confrontation with terrestrial invasive plant species or risk the consequences that have manifest[ed] in other states,” the report states. “This applies not only to the species that are already present, but also to those which may invade Wyoming.”

“There are over a half dozen species in neighboring states that could be reasonably expected to arrive in Wyoming in the next several years.”

The report states that Wyoming is not currently facing infestation levels as severe as in some neighboring states, but that the state should work to prevent the spread of noxious and invasive weeds.

“While our neighbors are contemplating restoration, we still have the opportunity in many areas to contemplate prevention, retention of habitats, and improvement,” Gordon wrote in a letter in 2019 after the initiative team was assembled.

While efforts to combat invasive plant species can appear costly, the report says that inaction could be more expensive over time.

“A leafy spurge treatment may cost one million dollars over ten years but ignoring the issue, or treating for a year and walking away, could ultimately
come with a much larger price tag, both financially and ecologically,” the report states.

While landowners and land managers often think about ecological systems as a whole and may be aware of the risks posed by inaction in terms of response to invasive weeds, the report states that some in the public may not be aware of these impacts.

“Those who depend directly on the land for their livelihood are not the only people impacted by these changes,” the report says. “The public also depends upon and expects the benefits provided by functioning and healthy ecosystems – clean air, clean and abundant water, habitat for wildlife, food, fiber and recreational values.”

The report adds that impacts from failure to prevent or address invasive species can include:

  • reduced biodiversity
  • altered species composition
  • decreased productivity and palatability
  • altered fire cycles
  • degraded wildlife habitat
  • reduced water holding capacity
  • altered soil biomes

When the team was formed, Gordon asked that they address the following questions:

1) What species, or groups of species, are the highest priorities for Wyoming?
2) What are the gaps, in terms of both policy and technical expertise, in managing these
species? How could these gaps be addressed?
3) How do we assess the current extent of invasion and how do we use that information in the
future?
4) Is a statewide strategy appropriate? Can and should we develop goals at this level?
5) Is there a sustainable funding model for invasive [plant] species management, at any scale?
6) How do we organize and engage stakeholders in large-scale management and
implementation? And,
7) How do we define success and how do we monitor long-term success?

Governor’s Invasive Species Initiative Final Report

These questions are addressed in the roughly 40 page final report. The report includes recommendations for the governor to consider which include “developing assessments, improving collaboration with federal partners, and exploring revisions to the funding model for invasive species management in the state.”

Gordon noted in Wednesday’s release from his office that the initiative’s efforts were hindered by large storms in 2019 which made in-peron meetings “nearly impossible.”

“Then in early 2020, COVID-19 impacted the ability for the teams to meet again,” Gordon said. “Nevertheless, the group delivered a product that can serve as a launchpad for future discussions and I am extremely appreciative of their efforts during these challenging times.”

The team was comprised of “local, state and federal government representatives, private citizens representing industry and agricultural groups, as well as scientists and practitioners.”

Members of the policy team included:

Steve Meadows (chair), Wyatt Agar, Brian Boner, Jacque Buchanan, Josh Coursey, Jessica Crowder, John Elliot, Jack Engstrom, Colleen Faber, Jamie Flitner, Slade Franklin, Rob Hendry, Mark Hogan, Matt Hoobler, Astrid Martinez and Tom Walters.

The technical team members included:

Justin Derner (chair), Bob Budd, Ben Bump, Todd Caltrider, Justin Caudill, Scott Gamo, Lindy Garner, Ken Henke, Brian Jensen, Julie Kraft, Rod Litzel, Brian Mealor, Dwayne Rice, Dan Tekiela, Amanda Thimmayya and Mahonri Williams.

Gordon has ordered 250 copies of the final report to be distributed to Weed and Pest Districts across the state as well as to federal agencies and the Wyoming Legislature.

“A link to the report is also available on the home page of the Governor’s website,” Gordon’s office says.

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