Removing the Invasive Star Thistle on Austin Wildland Conservation Division Lands

Yellow Star-Thistle Invasive Plant Species (Photo credit: Eugene Zelenko from Wikipedia)

Yellow Star-Thistle Invasive Plant Species (Photo credit: Eugene Zelenko from Wikipedia)

The Yellow Star-Thistle is an invasive species in Texas with a yellow flower and nasty spines. It can grow up to five feet high and does well in areas with dry summers. It’s difficult to remove because of its long tap root.

The Yellow Star-Thistle seeds do not spread with the wind and this means new plants will usually sprout just a few feet away from the parent plant. Traveling animals or people working on roadsides help to accidentally spread the thistle and give its seeds a chance to invade new ecosystems sooner than it naturally could.

For the Yellow Star-Thistle, I was fascinated to learn from the Texas Invasives plant database that six biological control insects have been released in the United States to attack the seedhead of the thistle.

Just a few years ago, Dr. Damon Waitt predicted that the Yellow Star-Thistle would be the next big invasive species to threaten Texas rangelands. (Dr. Waitt is the Senior Director and Botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.)

Whether by mowing, hand pulling, insects, or other means, any way that we can reduce the number of seeds that the invasive thistle can produce will help us limit its spread and give us a chance to keep our native ecosystems safe or reclaim areas that have been invaded.

Give the thistle the business on the City of Austin’s wildlands

There’s a chance for you to help rid our native ecosystem of invasive species by removing the star thistle from lands that are used for water quality and recharge with the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division.

Dr. Kevin Thuesen mentioned that the Malta Star-Thistle and King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem) invasive species have been invading Austin’s water quality lands near Onion Creek. (Dr. Thuesen is the Environmental Conservation Program Manager for the Water Quality Protection Land program that is part of the Austin Water Utility.)

Karst feature with a huge draining crack

Karst feature with a huge draining crack

The Wildland Conservation Division is also looking for volunteers for other activities on their water quality protection lands. Water that seeps through karst features (big and small cracks and caves under the surface) and from Onion Creek on these lands makes its way to the Barton Springs Aquifer. So helping to maintain the natural ecosystem of this land is important to water quality.

In addition to invasive species removal, here are some of the other upcoming volunteer events in April:

  • 4/4 – Star thistle invasive species removal at Reicher Ranch
  • 4/11, 4/12, 4/14, 4/15 – Recreation survey to understand trail use
  • 4/11 – Seeding the Water Quality Protection Lands after a prescribed burn
  • 4/19/, 4/26 Land stewardship to restore endangered species habitat at the Vireo Preserve

Sign up for an upcoming volunteer activity with the Wildland Conservation Division.

I enjoyed the time that I volunteered with Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division. Here are a few of my posts with my past adventures on the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) that are part of the City of Austin’s wildlands.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Damon Waitt, Dr. Kevin Thuesen, Invasive Species, Wildland Conservation Division, Yellow Star-Thistle

A Salute to Justin Bush, Invasive Hunter

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas

I was sad to receive an email from Mr. Justin Bush, letting me know that he will be leaving his position as Invasive Species Coordinator for Texasinvasives.org and the University of Texas at Austin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

This month’s iWire newsletter also announced the changing of the guard and Mr. Bush’s move from Austin, Texas, to Seattle, Washington, to work for the King County Noxious Weed Control Program.

I enjoyed getting to know Mr. Bush at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council (TIPPC) conference and later had the chance to join forces with him at last year’s Camp Mabry Muster Days.

Muster Days adventures

During our Muster Days weekend, Mr. Bush shared the Texas A&M Forest Service table with Mr. Mike Murphrey. Mr. Bush talked with attendees about the Wildflower Center and invasive species, and Mr. Murphrey talked with them about our wonderful Texas trees.

I set up my Invasive Hunter Academy nearby to recruit kids of all ages as future Invasive Hunters. We had a great time and were thrilled by the exciting activities during the Muster Days weekend.

Throughout last year, we kept in touch and he provided me with many materials about Texas wildflowers and invasive species to hand out at my Invasive Hunter Academy events.

Mr. Bush is a wonderful man. What truly amazed me about Mr. Bush was his dedication to the fight against invasive species. Mr. Bush had a gift for two of the most important skills as an invasive hunter, early detection and rapid response. He helped to detect and manage invasive species with his leadership and by participating in and leading surveys and removals.

Like Dr. Damon Waitt, Mr. Bush was a great mentor to me and really helped me to learn more about invasive species and our wonderful Texas ecosystem.

Thank you! :-)

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Damon Waitt, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Justin Bush, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas Invasives

National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2015

National Invasive Species Awareness Week logo (image credit: NISAW)

National Invasive Species Awareness Week logo (image credit: NISAW)

National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) 2015 starts today (February 22) and continues through February 28! After being absent from Washington D.C. since 2012, NISAW 2015 returns with lots of activities, including a invasive species fair and congressional reception on February 25. There are also many state activities too.

In Texas, Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for Texasinvasives.org, has special Invaders of Texas Citizen Scientist Workshops that you can join to learn how to report invasive plants and use the new Texas Invasives mobile app. (Here’s a video I made with an earlier version of the Texas Invaders iPhone App.)

Kids’ Day at National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2012

I was happy to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to Kid’s Day at NISAW 2012 that was held at the US Botanic Garden. Here are some of my adventures teaching kids about invasive species during my 2012 trip:

What happened to National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2013 and 2014?

Sadly, the events for NISAW 2013 were cancelled because of the government sequester and the event was not rescheduled until 2015.

NISAW 2013 was special for me because the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) gave me the 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award. What a great honor! But I was disappointed that I couldn’t go to Washington DC that year to accept the award.

Kids’ Day at National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2015

This year’s Kid’s Day at NISAW 2015 is being held on February 28, 2015, during National Invasive Species Awareness Day at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

If you’re in Washington D.C., you’ll learn about invasive species from the presenters with lots of interactive activities for kids. Afterwards, be sure to visit the top five Washington DC museums for Invasive Species Hunters. (Don’t forget the International Spy Museum. It’s great! Sometimes hunting invasive species requires stealth.)

Invasive Hunter Academy at Nature Nights 2015

I have some great news to share with you! I’m excited to announce that I’ll be bringing the Invasive Hunter Academy back to Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

The Nature Nights plants special event on June 11 has a special theme this year. I can’t wait to share it with you in an upcoming blog post. ;-)

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Species, Justin Bush, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, National Invasive Species Council, NISAW

A New Age of Enlightenment with Hot Science – Cool Talks

Sébastien Leclerc I, Louis XIV Visiting the Royal Academy of Sciences, 1671 (Source: Wikipedia - The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1962)

Sébastien Leclerc I, Louis XIV Visiting the Royal Academy of Sciences, 1671
(Source: Wikipedia – The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1962)

We are studying the enlightenment in my high school world history class. There was an explosion of scientific knowledge and advancements in art and literature during this time period, which was also known as the Age of Reason. This change in Western civilization promoted individualism and thought and reached its peak in Europe in the mid-1700s.

Some of the great scientists during this time period include Nicholas Copernicus who came up with the heliocentric theory of the solar system with the Earth and the planets revolving around the sun.

Sir Francis Bacon (Image credit: Wikipedia, public domain)

Sir Francis Bacon (Image credit: Wikipedia, public domain)

One of my favorite scientists of the enlightenment is Francis Bacon. He encouraged scientists not to rely on ancient thinkers, but to use experimentation and then draw conclusions. This approach helped to develop the scientific method, which is basically to have a hypothesis, test your hypothesis, get your results, and see if others can copy your experiment and get the same result.

These scientists allowed us to advance past intuition and into reason. An example of intuition is that since frogs live in the mud, they must be made of mud. Also, since rotten meat has maggots, the maggots must be born out of meat. But with the scientific method, we were able to use experimentation to learn that flies lay eggs on rotten meat, and that the maggots just don’t come into existence.

We’re doing a fun activity in class soon. It’s called a salon. Not the beauty one, but one where intellectuals get together and discuss the topics of the day. It originated in France, and the exchange of scientific ideas helped to propel this Age of Reason.

Sadly, intellectual salons are not as common today, but there is something better – Hot Science, Cool Talks, and my friends, we have an opportunity to join a modern day scientific salon on Friday, February 20, 2015, at the University of Texas at Austin.

Power Trip: The Story of Energy

Power Trip: The Story of Energy (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Power Trip: The Story of Energy (Image credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute)

Dr. Michael Webber will talk about the role of energy in our lives and society, spanning hundreds of years. (Including the enlightenment too?) He’ll bust a few myths on the way and give fun facts on future technologies and solutions.

This Hot Science – Cool Talks event is a part of UT Energy Week and includes a community science fair before the event.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to talk with the great scientists of our time? Well, you can with Dr. Michael Weber, Dr. Jay Banner, and many illuminating UT Austin researchers and scientists during Hot Science – Cool Talks events. And this month’s presentation about energy is a great way to turn on a new age of enlightenment!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Environmental Science Institute, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Michael Webber

Austin Kids Learn about Invasive Species at the Camp Fire Nature Festival

Thumbs up to Austin kids practicing their invasive hunter moves!

Thumbs up to Austin kids practicing their invasive hunter moves!

Happy New Year!

I had a great Christmas break and started my sophomore spring semester this month. I’ve been studying the Renaissance in World History, listening to the audiobook of All Quiet on the Western Front in English, performing Chemistry labs to measure reactants and products, and having a lot of fun times in high school.

Invasive Hunter Academy at the Austin Camp Fire Nature Celebration

Getting ready for young Austin naturalists before the event.

Getting ready for young Austin naturalists before the event.

In November, I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Camp Fire Nature Celebration at Mueller Park in Austin, Texas.

As part of the academy, kids learn about invasive species through fun activities, including playing a flashcard game, practicing action moves, and creating a diorama where their character battles an invasive species.

The action diorama craft was very popular. I helped some of the younger kids glue cut out pictures of their invasive species to their action diorama backgrounds. It was a sticky situation!

When I gave one boy his “I’m an invasive hunter” sticker, he gave me a salute and said, “Thanks, Commander!” I had a good laugh. He was a very nice young man!

I was also teaching a group of kids who came up to my table about the environmental and economic harm that invasive species do to our wonderful native plants. I pointed out Elephant Ear plants that were growing nearby, and one boy turned to me with a face of shock and awe and said, “Wow! The stuff you’re talking about is really a problem!”

Here are some pictures from the event. (And here’s my Texas Invasive Species and the Camp Fire Nature Celebration blog post that originally announced the event.)

Austin kids having fun practicing action moves and creating dioramas to learn about invasive species

Austin kids having fun practicing action moves and creating dioramas to learn about invasive species

Future graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy

Future graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy

Flashcards help kids learn about the difference between invasive and native Texas plant species

Flashcards help kids learn about the difference between invasive and native Texas plant species

Practicing invasive hunter moves as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy

Practicing invasive hunter moves as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy

The nearby concrete wall made a nice platform for kids to create their invasive hunter diorama

The nearby concrete wall made a nice platform for kids to create their invasive hunter diorama

One of the fun parts about the academy is choosing the invasive species to battle for your action diorama

One of the fun parts about the academy is choosing the invasive species to battle for your action diorama

Graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy get goodies, including an "I'm an Invasive Hunter" sticker

Graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy get goodies, including an “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker

Creating your invasive species action diorama was a popular craft all morning!

Creating your invasive species action diorama was a popular craft all morning!

Watch out for the Elephant Ear!

Watch out for the Elephant Ear!

Commander Ben has a great day with the kids at the Austin Camp Fire Nature Celebration

Commander Ben has a great day with the kids at the Austin Camp Fire Nature Celebration

More pictures from the event

Austin Camp Fire sign welcoming kids to the event

Austin Camp Fire sign welcoming kids to the event

Landon McNeely and Commander Ben at the Austin Camp Fire information booth

Landon McNeely and Commander Ben at the Austin Camp Fire information booth

Kids learned about the ecological food chain with the Texas Parks and Wildlife activity

Kids learned about the ecological food chain with the Texas Parks and Wildlife activity

Getting to know some of the critters at the Austin Nature and Science Center insect petting zoo

Getting to know some of the critters at the Austin Nature and Science Center insect petting zoo

I put up a poster about Zebra Mussels from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

I put up a poster about Zebra Mussels from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

More resources for kids to learn about invasive species

My thanks to Dominic Martinez, AmeriCorps VISTA Programs coordinator, and Landon McNeely, Americorps VISTA Policy and Volunteer coordinator, for inviting me to the event!

My thanks also to Justin Bush, invasive species coordinator for Texasinvasives.org, for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center handouts and for mentioning my event in the iWire newsletter.

I look forward to my next adventure helping to teach kids about invasive species!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Camp Fire Nature Celebration, Elephant Ear, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species

A Christmas Carol from Central Texas

I’m finishing up the last of my midterms, and soon I’ll be off on Christmas break. It’s been such a busy semester for me that I haven’t been able to post as much as I’ve wanted to.

During my sophomore year in high school, I’ve been having a great time learning about chemistry, world history, and a lot more. I’ve also been enjoying strength training, getting stronger to battle those invasive species!

I love the Christmas season because it is so festive, and when I was younger, I created a fun video called An Invasive Carol where I get to play Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and all the ghosts too! If you haven’t had a chance to see it, I hope you’ll enjoy it. (It’s a classic! :-) )

I hope that you and your family have a merry Christmas!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under A Christmas Carol

Can Invasive Species Hide from Drones?

The Giant Reed can run, but it can't hide from drones (Photo credit: InView Unmanned Aircraft by Fasicle Wikipedia)

The Giant Reed can run, but it can’t hide from drones (Photo credit: InView Unmanned Aircraft by Fasicle Wikipedia)

Many researchers are using drones to help find and identify invasive species in those hard to reach places. Here are just a few recent articles about where they are using drones to hunt invasive species:

Learn more about drones with Hot Science – Cool Talks

You can learn more about drones this Friday, November 21, 2014, with the latest Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation, Drones: Myths, Facts, Hacks, and The Future, by Dr. Todd Humphreys, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics with the University of Texas at Austin.

The presentation starts at 7 pm in Welch Hall, but be sure to arrive early, since fun science activities will start at 5:45 pm!

Dr. Humphreys will talk about how we can use drones in the future and how that may be different from how movies portray drones. He and his team were the first to show how GPS hacking can take over a drone.

The invasive plant Giant Reed (Arundo donax) better be on the lookout!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Drones, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Species