- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

The metropolitan region is being invaded by a pernicious assortment of weeds that is choking the life out of native plants, environmental experts say.
Kudzu, Japanese stilt grass and honeysuckle can commandeer an area in a matter of weeks, wreaking not only environmental but also economic havoc by killing off useful, native plants.
"The same species that are a threat to the environment are the same species that are a threat to the economy," says Marc Imlay, vice president of the Maryland Native Plant Society, which battles non-native species.
"It's a huge problem. It's so huge that it is hard to get a reasonable grasp on it," says Edith Thompson, invasive species coordinator for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Environmentalists have tried to get a grasp on the situation by alerting the public to the dangers of invasive plants in their neighborhoods and by organizing groups of weed killers who patrol parks, gardens and back yards to pull the problem out by the roots.
Five years ago, Mr. Imlay says, a one-day weed-killing event at a single park was the most environmentalists could hope for. Today, volunteers work 40 different sites each month.
In Montgomery County alone, 190 volunteers have become certified "Weed Warriors" under the tutelage of Carole Bergmann, a forest ecologist for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Miss Bergmann started the Weed Warriors group three years ago to teach residents how to remove invading plants in their own yards. She has been giving lectures to local garden clubs and has certified a wide age range of Weed Warriors, from 18 to 80 years old.
"This allows people to go out on their own and remove the vine and help," she says. "The vines are turning everything into a jungle."
Mr. Imlay, who heads his group's invasive-plant committee, compares the problem to most of a forest being covered by asphalt.
"It's definitely in everyone's back yard. It's very local," says Elenor Hodges, director of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, which has been working with volunteers to remove invasive plants at three parks in Northern Virginia.
The Environmental Protection Agency calls invasion of non-native plants the second greatest threat to biodiversity after habitat destruction.
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation started to document invasive plants in 1991.
On Feb. 3, 1999, President Clinton signed an executive order that established the National Invasive Species Council, sparking action within state agencies to respond to the growing problem.
Miss Bergmann said she is impressed with the growth in public awareness, but she said local governments need to provide more funds to hire staff to coordinate weed-removal efforts.
Environmental groups, ranchers and other concerned folk are lobbying for the Harmful Nonnative Weed Control Act of 2001, a House bill that would provide federal money for ridding areas of invasive plants and saving native plants.
The impact of the federal bill would be felt locally, Mr. Imlay says, because it would provide money for education, plus labor and supplies for removal efforts.
One such effort is the Chapman Forest/Swann Park project in Southern Maryland. Volunteers for the Chapman Forest project have contributed labor hours valued at more than $30,000 ($14.83 per volunteer hour) in the past two years, Mr. Imlay says.


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