Alabama Declares War on Cogongrass

Cogongrass has taken over ecosystems in Alabama and USD 6 million in economic recovery funds is now being used to exterminate this invasive non-native species, writes The New York Times. Cogongrass (Imperata Cylindrica) is also known as the “perfect weed,” and considered one of the worst in the world. “It can take over fields and forests, ruining crops, destroying native plants, upsetting the ecosystem. It is very difficult to kill. It burns extremely hot. And its serrated leaves and grainy composition mean that animals with even the most indiscriminate palates — goats, for example — say no thanks.”

According to The New York Times, cogongrass first arrived in the U.S. in the early 1900’s as packing material for satsuma orange shipments from Japan. Government officials at first encouraged the use of the weed as a “forage crop” that could stem soil erosion. Records now show that the species was allowed to escape, and has spread through southern Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, and now can be spotted in nearby regions.

Larson & McGowin, a land management company, won the Alabama state contract to eradicate the weed. Ernest Lovett, a former soldier and member of the reserves, is leading the attack, and told The New York Times: “I wanted one more war project before I quit.” His team has used GPS to identify locations of cogongrass, and will start “dispatching advance teams across this field of engagement to spray herbicides that are best known by their aggressive commercial names, Arsenal and Roundup.” The Alabama Forestry Commission web site lists 5,611 “spots” where there’s infestation.  The extermination strategy is “to draw a line using Highway 80 and eradicate north of it. Then, in phases, try to control it south. There will be a lot of parallel attacks.” Lovett fears the weed may spread to Michigan.

Many foresters and ecologists have been warning about a cogongrass crisis. Stephen Pecot, a project manager with the eradication team, told The New York Times: “They don’t understand that cogongrass can replace an entire ecosystem.” Cogongrass is also highly resilient. “It is with awe for the enemy’s almost extraterrestrial resilience … you can’t kill it with one application of herbicide. You have to return several months later and do it again.”

In addition to the ecological benefits, Alabama’s forestry commission also sees fighting the weed as a source of green jobs. Creating or retaining jobs in Alabama is part of the plan. 

Read the article and learn more at Alabama’s Cogongrass Task force site.

Image credit: Alabama Forestry Commission

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