There’s an effort underway to eradicate a Lower 48 weed that’s choking off plant life in part of Southeast Alaska.
It’s black bindweed, which is native to parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. It’s been carried to the Lower 48, where it’s widespread. Now, it’s in Alaska.
“This is a plant that you just have to continue to eradicate year after year and you hope for success,” says Daven Hafey, wilderness stewardship coordinator at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
“It will wrap itself around whatever’s near it. And it will restrict that plant. It will effectively choke it out. And over time, it will kill off a lot of the native vegetation, native species in the soil, or even larger species [that] deer might depend on summer or winter,” Hafey says.
SEACC, the Forest Service and Angoon’s tribal government have combined forces to eradicate black bindweed. They’ve been working at Whitewater Bay, south of Angoon and east of Sitka on Admiralty Island.
Volunteer Dick Farnell of Juneau says it’s hard work.
“Some of them are down right on the ground and there’s thick vegetation from other species that they’re intertwined with. So there’s no way that you can kind of walk around at standing level and see them. You’ve got to be down on your hands and knees. You feel sore … doing that all day,” he says.
The volunteers worked with five employees of the Angoon Community Association.
ACA watershed crew leader Calvin Washington says bindweed can be a little tricky.
“It’s like a heart shape and one we saw was maybe 4 or 5 feet long. And they do come in all shapes and sizes,” Washington says.
The work is also helping Angoon, where unemployment is high.
“It’s a good job for the public crew for the summer,” he says.
The weed likely came to the bay on logging equipment more than 50 years ago. It took a while to spread, but was expanding its range until the eradication effort began. (Read about other invasive plants in Alaska.)
SEACC’s Hafey says there’s less now than then.
“In 2010 the crew went down to Whitewater Bay and picked tons and tons of black bindweed. It was just everywhere. They were picking it left and right. Last year it was still fairly widespread but they had a little harder time finding it but were still finding it in large amounts,” he says. “This year we had to look a little bit harder. There were some areas where it was fairly obvious and there was lots of it. For the most part we had to look fairly hard to find it.”
The effort will continue for a while. Hafey says black bindweed seeds can take about eight years to germinate. So even if this crop is gone, there’ll be more next summer.