"Spurgefest" Will Offer Flea Beetles a Feast
ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Kathryn Barry Stelljes, (510) 559-6069, email@example.com
June 23, 1999
MEDORA, N.D., June 23--Millions will gather here for lunch at the end of
June--millions of beetles, that is. The featured menu item, courtesy of
scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service, is an exotic noxious
weed called leafy spurge. The weed causes millions of dollars in production
losses each year.
Researchers plan to give away up to 10 million flea beetles (Aphthona
species) to ranchers and land managers at Spurgefest '99. Held June 29 to
July 1 in Medora, N.D., Spurgefest will be the first field day for The
Ecological Areawide Management of Leafy Spurge, or TEAM Leafy Spurge.
Biological control using the one-eighth-inch beetles represents the
cornerstone of an integrated approach to curbing the spread of leafy spurge.
The weed, known to scientists as Euphorbia esula, covers at least 5 million
acres in 29 states and increases about 10 percent annually.
The Agricultural Research Service established TEAM Leafy Spurge in 1997 as
its first Areawide Integrated Pest Management program to address rangeland
weeds. The program is managed in cooperation with the USDA's Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service, and includes numerous state and federal
agencies as well as four land-grant universities.
Spurgefest begins June 29 with a scientific meeting to present research
progress against the weed. On June 30, field tours will demonstrate
biological control, grazing, herbicides and other control tactics. On July
1, speakers from the Departments of Agriculture and Interior will discuss
broad issues regarding invasive weeds, including a recently signed executive
order on invasive species. July 1 is also the date of the Aphthona beetle
Production losses and control costs attributed to leafy spurge amount to
more than $144 million annually in just four of the 29 spurge-infested
states: Montana, North and South Dakota and Wyoming.
"Herbicides have long been the foundation of weed control," said ARS
ecologist Gerry L. Anderson. "But we know now that using various
combinations of control tools, such as grazing, biological control and
herbicides, provides better control than any single tool. We're showing land
managers how to integrate the available tools to get the best control for
the lowest cost."
Anderson is ARS' principal investigator on the project. He works at the
agency's Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, Mont.
Leafy spurge is native to Europe and Asia. ARS researchers returned to the
weed's homeland in the 1960s to search for natural enemies that might help
prevent it from running rampant. Several species of flea beetles were among
the most useful insects they found.
After years of safety testing, ARS began importing and releasing the beetles
in the 1980s. Since then, the insects have become established and are eating
leafy spurge at thousands of locations in more than 19 states and Canadian
provinces. The millions to be distributed this summer will be collected from
sites where the beetles have reproduced on leafy spurge.
"The use of biologically based, integrated management strategies is the best
option for ranchers and land managers to effectively and affordably control
leafy spurge," said Anderson. "This approach will help keep rangelands
productive and preserve native plants and biodiversity."
Leafy spurge infests about 4,200 acres of the 70,448-acre Theodore Roosevelt
National Park in the North Dakota Badlands. But since 1987, the National
Park Service has released more than 4 million flea beetles as part of a
program to rein in the weed. The park will host the Medora event.
The growing environmental and economic threat of invasive species like leafy
spurge has spawned the creation of an Invasive Species Council. Agriculture
Secretary Dan Glickman will co-chair the Council with his counterparts at
Interior and Commerce. The Council will coordinate the federal strategy to
combat invasive species and identify ways to prevent their introduction and
spread in the U.S. Meanwhile, the President's budget proposal for fiscal
year 2000 includes an increase of more than $28.8 million for the war on
Scientific contact: Gerry L. Anderson or Chad Prosser, ARS Northern Plains
Agricultural Research Laboratory, 1500 N. Central Ave., Sidney, MT 59270,
phone (406) 482-2020, fax (409) 482-5038, firstname.lastname@example.org or
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