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Managing Invasive Plants

Managing the spread

Invasive plants pose several significant challenges for ranchers, including reduced forage availability, increased management costs, and potential risks to livestock. Invasives often displace native grasses and forbs, reducing the quality of forage on range and potentially even leading to lower weight gains and milk production among livestock. impacting their profitability. They can pose risks to livestock health, with some species containing toxins harmful to animals if ingested in large quantities. Managing out-of-control invasive plants can also require substantial financial investments, as expenses are incurred for herbicide application, mechanical removal, and other control measures. Invasive plants also compromise the ecological integrity and long-term sustainability of rangeland ecosystems as their presence upsets the ecological balance and structure of the habitats on rage.

All of these effects can be mitigated somewhat with good integrated weed management plans and utilising cultural, mechanical, and biological controls in addition to herbicide use when necessary. Being proactive to prevent and manage invasive plant infestations, and investing in sustainable practices that preserve the productivity and resilience of rangeland ecosystems are key to mitigating invasive plant effects.

Managing the spread

While it is essentially impossible to eradicate invasive species, there are a number of management practices that can slow the spread of these weeds and make pastures and range less hospitable to invasion.  Many times, these plants area spread directly by human activities: vehicles get seeds caught on tires or entire plants caught on grills; livestock get seeds caught in their coats and expel undigested seeds in manure; humans get seeds and plant material caught in clothing, boots, hair, hand tools, and pet fur.

Best Management Practices

Before going out on range:

  • Before moving cattle, use hoses to spray down boxes, grills, under carriages and tires of trucks, ATVs, side-by-sides, etc, to remove as much seed and and plant material as possible. Make sure to spray them down in an area that will not eventually run off into another natural area.

  • Visually inspect trucks, ATVs, side-by-sides, etc at regular intervals while moving cattle and remove any plants or obvious seed heads caught up in the vehicles, discarding into a garbage bag or container

  • Inspect boots, clothes, packs, etc for seeds before going out to pastures and range.  Discard any seeds etc into a garbage can, not onto the ground where they can get picked up by equipment

  • Brush plant material from the dogs' coats before bringing them out to work

  • Feed weed-free hay to confined livestock for two days prior to turning out onto range or pasture to reduce seed spread via manure

  • Whenever possible, move cattle from areas with the least severe to most severe invasive species infestations.

Creating a plan

When planning for invasive plant management, it is important to know your weeds. Annual plants will have different control strategies than perennial plants, and some species may have certain characteristics that need to be taken into consideration, i.e. plants with toxic properties would need be prioritized even if they are less ecologically significant

Identify your weeds and control methods at the Okanagan Invasive Species website

Biological control insects

Weeds with biocontrol agents

There are several biocontrol insects working to help manage some invasive plant species in the Okanagan and Similkemeen.  Biocontrol insects are an insect that is originally from the same part of the world as a specific invasive plant, and these insects live, eat, and reproduce solely on that one invasive species (years of research has determines this before they are released so there is no risk of upsetting ecological balance. By contrast, because these insects are essentially very specific 'predators' of these invasive plants, introducing the insects here is essentially adding some balance back by levelling the playing field.

It is important to realize that these insects will never eat or reproduce on another plant other than their host,. This means they will never fully eradicate the invasive species on which they live, as this means they would have eradicated their only food source!  In order to have these insects continue to weaken and slow the spread of these unwanted plants, they need SOME of the invasive plant to be kept around.  This is where integrated weed management comes in! Biocontrol insects can help keep their plants from taking over completely, but some cultural and mechanical control can reduce the population to a further manageable level.

Further Reading

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