Monday, June 13, 2011

Invasive Plants

Shane's new job is with the USDA. Instead of checking food, however, he's looking at invasive plants. They're a bigger problem in Alaska than one might think, considering the climate. The ones most commonly known here are dandelions and vetch, which some people call 'wretched vetch'. It's an innocent looking plant with pretty purple flowers, but it's viney and it strangles out the native plants fairly quickly. Our dog loves to run through tall grass (it's what cocker spaniels were bred to do, after all, to flush out birds for hunters) but the vetch will make her struggle to get out of it. When we're walking, I'll sometimes pull out vetch as I go along.
Shane's job, though, is something that I've never thought of before. He's dealing with bird seed. A lot of bird seed is grown in places like India and China, and since it's for bird seed and not food crops they don't get weeded as strenuously as food does. The government has a list of plants and plant seeds (and a few animals, like Asian carp) that aren't allowed into the country for any reason, ever. Not even research. These invasive plants do untold damage to native species, which is why they're so thoroughly banned. But the seeds can still come in in packs of bird seed. Someone with the USDA invented a machine that heats the seeds up to the point that they're not viable anymore (i.e., if they're planted they won't grow) but still leaves the oils that make the seeds attractive to birds.
This process is dependent on the manufacturer, however, and not all of them comply. They might heat the seeds for too little time, or not heat them at all. So Shane's boss went around town gathering as many different kinds of bird seed as possible, then sent the seeds off to a lab to have them pull out which ones are the invasive species on the banned list. One of Shane's projects over the summer is to try to grow these seeds, to see which companies don't comply with governmental policies. Neat, huh?
Now we just need congress to pass a budget that doesn't cut funding to the USDA, because if they do he has this job for two years. If they don't, everyone on this project is out of a job. And that's exactly what we need, right? More people who are unemployed? Grumble grumble.
Shane's gone all this week for field work and won't be back until next Monday. :(

No comments:

Post a Comment