A Bug Crew is all about noxious weeds - and controlling them Nature's Way - using insects and disease. But what is a "noxious" weed? Simple, if the weed injures people or animals (like poison hemlock) or threatens crops (like Canada thistle) a state can put that weed on their state noxious weed list and that's when a Bug Crew can work with it.
The Southern Idaho Bio-Control Program is a group of Bug Crews in six counties in southern Idaho that complete a link in the large chain of noxious weed control by land mangement agencies like BLM and the Forest Service. A Bug Crew is made up of one supervisor and four kids 12-18 years of age who work summmers.
Noxious weeds are a complicated problem because these foreign plants have been unkowingly transported, usually in seed form, to the US. Natural enemies such as insects and diseases that keep these plants in balance in their native habitats have not been brought with the seed. Without these enemies, the plants reproduce prodigiously, often forming huge infestations. Examples in southern Idaho are spotted and diffuse knapweed (once a 20,000 acre problem in Camas County alone but still widespread in southern Idaho), Canada thistle,dalmation toadflax,and leafy spurge.
For decades now, entomologists for the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have scoured the native habitats of these weeds looking for the natural enemies. For example, Diffuse knapweed is native to Turkey but it doesn't dominate the plant landscape. The researcher examine these plants to determine what is naturally controlling the growth and spread of this plant. When those controls are identified, they can then bring back to the US the insects and diseases that predate upon the specific plants. Of course, not all are suitable for use in biological control because of the danger that they may effect native plants or agricultural crops. The approval process is rigorous and tightly regulated by the agencies.
So where do the Bug Crews come into play? Once the insects, or host of insects, have been approved for use, the Bug Crews provide two vital links. Firstly, the Crews can get the insects onto the weeds with little or no insect loss. Secondly and of equal importance, is the monitoring. Bug Crews do not simply toss insects out of a moving vehicle in the area of a noxious weed infestation. Each release site is carefully chosen, baseline data on plant vigor and size of infestion is collected, then monitoring of plant vigor is done annually until the infestation is gone and the site is considered "retired". Three years after the intial insect release,the site is examined for insect establishment. Proving that bio-control is effective is a long-term commitment.
Bio-control can take years. But it is also very cost effective, can involve tremendously huge tracts of land, and unless the soil is disturbed, the control of the noxious weed is permanent. No toxic herbicides, no spray rigs, vehicles, laborers. The insects and diseases are the labor pool,and they can be very effective. The Bug Crews have proof.
There are five Bug Crews in southern Idaho as of 2013 working in the counties of Camas, Lincoln, Gooding, Blaine, Twin Falls and Jerome.
Click on the links at the top and bottom of this page for details of each of the five Bug Crews in Southern Idaho, our sponsors and activities.