NEW LAW STRENGTHENS FIGHT AGAINST INVASIVE WEEDS

A recently enacted law is expected to significantly strengthen the fight against invasive weeds in the United States, helping restore native plants and ecosystems nationwide. Signed last October by President Bush, the Noxious Weed Control Act enables the Secretary of Agriculture's office to assist eligible weed management agencies in responding to noxious weed problems on public and private lands.

Passage of the Act was noted throughout the 6th Annual National Invasive Weeds Awareness Week Conference in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27 through March 4. The conference spotlighted problems caused by invasive weeds and other types of invasive vegetation, and highlighted the successes of hundreds of projects designed to curb the spread of invasives.

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“With invasive plant species infesting an estimated 100 million acres across the United States, the Noxious Weed Control Act is a strong step in the right direction,” said Rob Hedberg, director of science policy, Weed Science Society of America. “It will provide funding for planning initiatives to control invasive vegetation, which is what we really need in this country. Early detection and rapid response are the first lines of defense against noxious and invasive weeds — which are a growing threat to our nation's native ecosystems.”

In the United States alone, invasive plant species displace native species by a rate of eight to 20 percent each year, often causing serious environmental problems. For example, thirsty invasive brush such as saltcedar can threaten vital water supplies. A single plant is capable of consuming as much as 300 gallons of water a day — or about 6,000 gallons per month. In comparison, the average American household uses about 8,000 gallons of water per month.

During National Invasive Weeds Awareness Week, representatives of weed management agencies hosted a conference to increase the understanding of invasive plant management issues in the United States. The conference is sponsored and hosted by the Invasive Weeds Awareness Coalition (IWAC), a Washington, D.C.-based coalition dedicated to increasing awareness of invasive weed problems and associated research and management needs.

The U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., showcased how to identify harmful invasive plants and highlighted successful partnership projects that are controlling and managing invasive plants and restoring ecosystems. Include was information exhibits on menacing invasive weeds, including:

Saltcedar: This aggressive colonizer (also called tamarisk) often forms single-species, or monotypic, stands that replace willows, cottonwoods and other native vegetation in communities nationwide. A single plant can consume 300 gallons of water a day, lowering groundwater levels and threatening water sources for communities and wildlife alike.

Giant Hogweed: Grows mostly in the Northeast and contains sap that can cause long-lasting swelling and blisters in people and animals, and may cause temporary or permanent blindness in certain cases.

Kudzu: A highly invasive weed, kudzu currently infests approximately seven million acres throughout the southern United States. The weed creates a safety hazard by reducing visibility on highways and causing transmission failures on power lines, while choking trees and any other plant in its way.

Salvinia: An aquatic weed notorious for dominating slow-moving or quiet freshwaters, its rapid growth, vegetative reproduction and tolerance to environmental stress make it an aggressive, competitive species that negatively affects aquatic environments, boating and other recreational uses, and economies of nearby communities.

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