Celebrating the Centennial: Volunteers Unite in Glacier National Park Weed BioBlitz

More than 90 volunteers gathered in July to be trained on noxious weed identification, monitoring and control in Glacier National Park as part of the Weed BioBlitz. Participants included volunteer youth and adults from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. See Box 1.

The Weed BioBlitz is part of a larger effort coordinated by the National Park Service (NPS) to celebrate the NPS Centennial. “This is a great opportunity to learn more about the biodiversity of a park, and engage youth and adults in hands-on resource stewardship,” says Terry Peterson, Citizen Science Coordinator for the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center. 

Glacier National Park hosts over 1,000 different species of plants including 126 non-native species, about 20 of which are noxious or invasive weeds. Although most invasive plants in the park are closely associated with disturbed areas such as recreational, roadside and construction sites, the 700 miles of backcountry trails also provide a corridor for invasive plants to spread into natural areas. 

“Monitoring these backcountry trails is often difficult and time consuming, and we have limited field staff,” explains Dawn LaFleur, restoration biologist and lead for the invasive plant management program in Glacier National Park. “Our goal is to keep noxious weeds out of backcountry areas, so it’s important to find and control these plants as early as possible to minimize their impact on native vegetation and other natural resource values. With only four invasive plant managers on the summer work crew we need all the help we can get.”

The Weed Blitz is a day-long event with volunteers attending an indoor training program on weed identification, impacts and monitoring presented by LaFleur. In the afternoon, volunteers separate into groups to search for and pull priority invasive plants in high public use areas. 

“Our main objective in the afternoon is to get people familiar with five key target weeds, and hand pulling is a good way to do that,” explains Tyler Jack, a group leader and member of the NPS Exotic Plant Management Team. Volunteers also pulled a lot of weeds, with a total of 48 bags containing about 630 pounds of weeds removed from high public use areas.

The training approach seems to be working! Mac McPherson, scout master with Troup 104 from Westmond, Idaho said that service projects are great for scouts, and hands-on is the best way for them to learn. “These scouts will always be able to identify oxeye daisy and the other weeds they are pulling during the BioBlitz.”

Once volunteers complete the training they can be part of the Invasive Plant Citizen Scientist Project in the park. “The citizen scientists find and report the location of high priority invasive plants in the backcountry,” says LaFleur. “This way we can send crews directly to the site to control the weeds, saving us a lot of time and allowing us to expand what we can accomplish.” 

Species targeted by the program are spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), houndstongue, (Cynoglossum officinale), St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum) and yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris). “These noxious weeds are well established in Glacier National Park high public use areas and are transported into backcountry areas by recreationists, wildlife, wind and water,” explains LaFleur. There are also four new invaders on the high priority list for monitoring since they are recently established within the park or occur just outside park boundaries.See Box 3. 

Each year more than two million visitors come to Glacier National Park from all over the world for the scenic mountain vistas, glaciers, and unique biodiversity. As visitation increases, the risk of introduction and spread of non-native species also escalates, making management a critical priority in the park. 

Although the National Park Service recognizes the spread of invasive plants as a major factor contributing to ecosystem change and instability, funding for the program in Glacier National Park has declined over the last several years. According to LaFleur, adequate funding is always a struggle and managers at the national level needs to recognize and adequately fund invasive plant management programs. 

“We try to be as efficient as we can and our volunteer program really helps, but there is no way we can adequately protect the park from invasive plants with only four employees spread over one million acres,” LaFleur explains. 

The volunteer Invasive Plant Citizen Science Program is one way that concerned public can help support Glacier National Park’s invasive plant program. Strengthening these partnerships and increasing financial resources to control invasive plants is critical to protecting the unique biodiversity of Glacier National Park. For citizen scientists, the rewards are a sense of stewardship, a greater awareness of the park’s resource issues, and an expanded insight in ecological research and management methods.

Slideshow - Photos by:  Celestine Duncan, Dawn LaFleur, Melissa Sladek, and Montana Conservation Corps