Annual weed pull targets invasive plants at UAA

Photos courtesy of Pat Leary

Just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you can’t relive your summers as a child.

One such opportunity was the annual weed pull, held on Wednesday, June 23. Volunteers joined the landscaping department for three hours pulling out weeds before heading to a barbeque hosted by the landscaping department.

Mary Parker, business manager for the UAA School of Social Work, clarified the purpose of the weed pull.

“The word weed is really misleading,” Parker said. “I realize you look around campus and see a lot of dandelions, but what we’re really focusing on are invasive plant species that don’t belong here in Alaska.”

Invasive weeds, also referred as invasive species and invasive plants, are those that are not native to the land in which they are growing. They are also characteristically stubborn; they outcompete the local plants and do not contribute to the ecological system.

One of the main invasive species present on campus is bird vetch. Also known by its scientific name, vicia cracca, bird vetch is a vine plant with purple flowers.

“It started out as a plant introduced for fodder for animals up in Palmer and then it spread through tires, vehicles, animals and people,” Pat Leary, UAA landscaping and horticultural supervisor, said. “It replaces the natural plants in the woods and around the streams. Weeds are opportunists.”

- Advertisement -

Those who have spent endless summer afternoons pulling weeds know that the work is never done. That is why Leary stated the annual weed pull is an important resource for dealing with UAA’s invasive weeds.

Gov. Sean Parnell recently issued a proclamation declaring June 20 through June 26 as Alaska Invasive Weeds Awareness Week.

“Cornerstones of Alaskan life and quintessential Alaskan experiences are threatened by the introduction and spread of invasive and noxious weeds, damaging the health and abundance of our natural resources,” the proclamation asserted.

Unlike many other states, Alaska remains less harmed by invasive weeds.

“Widespread invasive plants have created burdensome expenses in the other 49 states, but Alaska still has the potential to avoid such extreme damages,” according to the proclamation.

The weed pull and weed awareness week were both part of a larger national initiative to remove invasive plants from areas where they are disturbing the local ecology. Along with the environmental hazards they pose, invasive weeds have gained much attention because of the economic impact they can have.

The Nature Conservancy is one of many organizations that aims to control the threat of invasive weeds. They estimate that the troublesome weeds cost the United States over $120 billion a year due to loss in agricultural production and control and management initiatives.

A study done over a decade ago by the University of North Dakota found that Montana was losing over $42 million annually from the effects of knapweed, a plant indigenous to Russia. Knapweed damages all land, including grazing acres that are vitally important for Montana’s economy.

According to the University of Nevada’s Cooperative Extension, Nevada loses up to $19 million a year just in outdoor recreation losses. The problems invasive weeds cause in Nevada might sound especially alarming to Alaskans. These problems include soil erosion, poor water quality and loss of habitat for fish and game, according to the Cooperative Extension’s study.

Preventing these types of ecological and economical distresses was the purpose of both the annual weed pull and the Alaska Invasive Weeds Awareness Week. So grab your gloves and help keep Alaska beautiful by participating in events around the state that target invasive weeds.