- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2010

One place where Americans commonly cut back is on lawn care services. Not so for the feds. They don’t waste money on TruGreen; instead, they use the Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds (FICMNEW).

When families decide to tighten their belts, they often begin by weeding out the seemingly little things - small extravagances that, while nice, aren’t necessary. And those seemingly small budgetary cuts begin to add up - the daily lattes, the weekly sirloin, the monthly cable bill. If Americans have to cut back on such niceties, the government could, too.

According to the 1995 Symposium Proceedings of the California Exotic Pest Plant Council, FICMNEW was created in 1994 via a memorandum of understanding (MOU) among 17 landowning federal agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, the Interior and Transportation. “Through partnerships, cooperation and collaboration, we can stem the raging storm of exotic weeds,” the committee said in 1994.

The committee receives no direct federal funding, but it moves funds from the agencies it represents to various pet projects. For example, it is sponsoring the upcoming conference Weeds Across Borders 2010 with funds from Transportation and the Bureau of Land Management. Says the MOU, “… what is needed from FICMNEW is coordination, funding, and [the] execution of a joint weed control policy.”

While the nation suffers unprecedented budget deficits, the nation’s weed warriors merrily trundle along.

Page 11 of the FY 2010 Budget Justification from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (one of the 17 landowning agencies that created the weed-fighting committee) says $8 million was directed to the National Wildlife Refuge System to help “treat more than 341,467 acres infested with invasive plants.” However, the National Wildlife Refuge Association claims that the annual cost of curbing invasive plant and animal species is upward of $150 million. Why is it so expensive to combat the “raging storm” of invasive plants? And, at a time when our national debt is exorbitantly high, why spend government money on pulling weeds when we should be spending it on more pressing concerns?

For a little perspective on how ardently some professionals approach weed management, a publication of the refuge association has this to say: “[A]liens are quietly spreading throughout America. They arrive by air, in ships, and over highways. They don’t carry identification, and they don’t stop at borders. Despite dozens of vigilant government agencies, including the Department of Defense, on the lookout - they slip in.” The publication is referring to invasive plant and animal species that, according to the association, need to be eradicated.

One example of an invasive plant is the Canada thistle. Classified as noxious by the Department of Agriculture, it is common in the United States but native to Europe. It’s also a source of food for birds and small mammals. Known for its rough exterior, the Canada thistle is often viewed as pesky and undesirable. However, it can be used for medicinal purposes, and many people enjoy the paradox that is the thistle: its subtle beauty yet alarmingly harsh surface. The Scottish admire the thistle for this very reason. They also admire it because, according to historical record, it literally stopped an approaching enemy in its tracks. It goes to show, there’s a place in the world for apparent “undesirables.”

If a Scotsman or Scotswoman were to try pronounce the acronym FICMNEW the phrase might come out sounding pretty vulgar. Americans with a salty vocabulary might use some of the same words when first learning of our government’s lawn-control obsession.

Carolyn Bolton is a National Journalism Center intern at The Washington Times.

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