Category Archives: Invasive Hunter

Austin Kids Become Invasive Hunters at the Wildflower Center

Setting up the Invasive Hunter Academy with samples of edible invasive plant species

Setting up the Invasive Hunter Academy with samples of edible invasive plant species

It was wonderful bringing the Invasive Hunter Academy to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Thursday, June 11, 2015, to help teach kids about invasive species as part of this summer’s Nature Nights events.

I previewed the event along with some videos in my Yum! Edible Invasive Species at the Wildflower Center during Nature Nights blog post.

The Nature Nights event that I attended focused on edible plants, so naturally, I found some varieties of edible invasive plants for the kids to try:

What a hit they were! The Taro chips went fast, but many agreed that the Bamboo was an acquired taste.

Here are some pictures from the event:

Lots of plant activities for kids during Nature Nights 2015

Lots of plant activities for kids during Nature Nights 2015

The young Austin naturalists found a great spot near the academy table to sample invasive plant species and work on their Invasive Hunter action diorama.

The young Austin naturalists found a great spot near the academy table to sample invasive plant species and work on their Invasive Hunter action diorama.

Remember that to become an Invasive Hunter, you need to learn the action moves to take down your opponent.

Remember that to become an Invasive Hunter, you need to learn the action moves to take down your opponent.

I enjoyed talking with kids about invasive species as they picked the invasive plant they wanted to battle for their action diorama.

I enjoyed talking with kids about invasive species as they picked the invasive plant they wanted to battle for their action diorama.

Thanks, Ms. Julie Graham, Wildflower Center Education Specialist, for inviting me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy back to Nature Nights this year! We had a lot of Austin kids graduate as Invasive Hunters, ready to protect their native ecosystem from non-native plants.

Nature Nights in July

There are more opportunities to enjoy the Wildflower Center this summer! Nature Nights continues with more fun, family-friendly events in July:

  • July 9 – Springs, Streams and Ponds Ecology
  • July 16 – Harnessing Fire
  • July 23 – Birds of Prey

I hope that you’re having a wonderful summer!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Elephant Ear, Golden Bamboo, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights

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

Which invasive species will you battle at the Wildflower Center?

Wanted: Invasive species - Needed: Invasive Hunters to protect our native ecosystems!

Wanted: Invasive species – Needed: Invasive Hunters to protect our native ecosystems!

This week starts a summer of fun at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. On Thursday, June 12, from 5-8 p.m. the Wildflower Center kicks off the first Nature Nights of 2014 with a focus on plants and play in the new Luci and Ian Family Garden. (The garden is new to the Wildflower Center this year, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it with all the kids.)

There will be lots of free kids activities, including habitat hikes, a scavenger hunt, big bubbles (oooh! I’m liking this!), ring toss, and lots more. You’ll even meet local nature celebrities, including Bill Oliver and The Otter Space Band. (I first met Mr. Oliver at this spring’s Milam County Nature Festival.)

Invasive species at the Wildflower Center?

There are a few plants that I’m sure will not be part of the plant petting zoo during Nature Nights, and they’re all invasives!

You can do your part to help stop the spread of these non-native plant species from overrunning our native ecosystem.

As part of my Invasive Hunter Academy during Nature Nights, kids will get the chance to learn about invasive species and their impact on our environment through these fun activities:

  • Visual activities (Is that an invasive or native plant that I see?)
  • Action moves (I attended my taekwondo class last night to brush up on the moves that I’ll teach you!)
  • Creating an action diorama featuring you battling an invasive species (You can take this home along with some other surprises!)

Graduates from the academy become Invasive Hunters, ready to protect their native ecosystems. We need young naturalists (like you and kids you know!) to become guardians of our central Texas galaxy!

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Wildflower Center

Commander Ben calls for reinforcements to battle invasive species during American Heroes Days

I'm calling in the big guns for the battle against invasive species

I’m calling in the big guns for the battle against invasive species

Calling all Austin Invasive Hunters! Your native ecosystem needs you!

Join me this weekend (April 26-27) in Austin, Texas, during Camp Mabry’s 2014 American Heroes Days, which includes the Muster Days event and the Texas Military Forces Museum open house. This event traces its roots back to the days when Texas was still a republic and troops were “mustered” or called to report.

During American Heroes Days you’ll meet reenactors from all periods of Texas history and get to know their historical uniforms and equipment.

On both Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, you won’t want to miss the WWII battle reenactment, where you’ll find out about the troops and tactics that were used. I’ve been to these reenactments when I was younger and they are amazing!

Focus on Texas native species and cultural heritage

My thanks to Dr. Linda Brown, Natural Resource Program Manager, for inviting me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to be part of event’s environmental section, focusing on Texas’ native species and cultural heritage. In addition to learning about our American heroes at Camp Mabry, young naturalists can also learn about invasive species and become official Invasive Hunters!

Parents and adults won’t want to miss talking with Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. He’ll also have a table to talk about the ways that you can treasure our native Texas plants and protect our native ecosystem.

This weekend’s going to be action packed!

Whirlwind of activity

I’ve brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to so many great events these last few weeks, that I haven’t had a chance to talk about them with you.

Look for my posts in the coming weeks where I share some of my experiences working with young naturalists and the Invasive Hunter Academy.

Hope to see you this weekend! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Heroes Day, Camp Mabry, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Justin Bush, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Linda Brown, Muster Days

Austin Invasive Species in the spotlight at St. Edward’s University 2014 Earth Week

Our Place in Space: Sustainability, Stewardship and Community - Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward's University

Our Place in Space: Sustainability, Stewardship and Community – Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward’s University

If you love nature and you’re in Austin tomorrow, April 22, 2014, join in the “Our Place in Space: Sustainability, Stewardship and Community” – Earth Week 2014 festivities at St. Edward’s University.

There will be lots of environmentally friendly organizations, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Car2Go, Sierra Club, ecoRise, LCRA, Wheatsville Food Coop, and Austin Youth River Watch. They’ll have lots of information and fun events.

Invasive Hunter Academy

Join the Invasive Hunter Academy and be one of the few. The proud. The fighting naturalists!

Join the Invasive Hunter Academy and be one of the few. The proud. The fighting naturalists!

I’ll be helping to teach kids from nearby elementary schools about invasive species with my Invasive Hunter Academy. Get ready, Austin invasive plants! There are going to be a lot more Invasive Hunters ready to help to protect our native ecosystem after tomorrow.

Thanks to Ms. Phoebe Anne Romero with St. Edward’s University for inviting me to join in their Earth Week fun! And thanks too to HEB, our local grocery store. They are a generous sponsor of this event and many great environmental events around Austin, including Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I enjoyed collecting many stickers from HEBuddy to win great prizes when I was a young naturalist.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Earth Day, Earth Week, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Phoebe Anne Romero, St Edward's University

Fun Activities for Young Texas Naturalists at the Milam County Nature Festival

The 2014 Annual Milam County Nature Festival has fun and free nature activities for kids of all ages

The 2014 Annual Milam County Nature Festival has fun and free nature activities for kids of all ages

It’s spring…yea!…bringing life to nature, including our native plants and…ugh!…invasive species too. Invasive species have both economic and environmental costs. They crowd out our native plants, including our beautiful Texas wildflowers, and compete with our crops. We’ve got to protect our native ecosystem!

Commander Ben and his Invasive Hunter Academy before the start of the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

Commander Ben and his Invasive Hunter Academy before the start of the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

Young naturalists, join me and I’ll show you how to become an expert Invasive Hunter with my Invasive Hunter Academy at the 5th Annual Milam County Nature Festival, April 11-12, 2014, at the Rockdale Fair Park in Rockdale, Texas. The event is free with lots of activities for kids of all ages!

Future invasive species hunters train with Commander Ben at the Invasive Hunter Academy during the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

Future invasive species hunters train with Commander Ben at the Invasive Hunter Academy during the 2013 Milam County Nature Festival

I had a great time training young invasive hunters at last year’s festival. There were a lot of fun events in 2013, including a booth on crayfish. They’re fascinating invertebrates that I’ve always enjoyed and learned more about in my freshman high school biology class this year. (The Texas Crawdads exhibit will be back in 2014 too!)

Habitat conservation

The 2014 Milam County Nature Festival focuses on habitat conservation. In keeping with the festival theme, you’ll enjoy nature songs from “Mr. Habitat” Bill Oliver, the “Environmental Troubadour”, and you’ll find Mr. Doug Phillips with the US Fish and Wildlife service talking about wildlife habitat improvement, including a discussion of prescribed fires and vegetation management. Ms. Linda Ruiz-McCall, with UT Austin, will also be there to talk about water conservation with a ground water simulator that I’m sure will be fun to interact with.

In addition to the speakers, there will be tons of kids activities, including:

  • Angler education – Have fun learning how to cast for fish
  • Archaeology digs – I always enjoyed digging for treasures when I was younger
  • Knapping demonstrations – Making arrowheads is another fun activity
  • Mammal pelts and paws – Learn about Texas animals, see and touch their skulls and pelts, and create animal tracks with molds

And lots more!

Talking with kids about invasive species and dyslexia

Commander Ben talks about invasive species to kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School in 2013

Commander Ben talks about invasive species to kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School in 2013

Last year, I had a fantastic time talking with the kids at the Rockdale Intermediate School about my adventures as Commander Ben, “The Invasive Hunter”, and my experiences with dyslexia. This year, I’m really looking forward to talking with the students at the Milano Elementary School on Friday.

Thanks, Dr. John Pruett, for inviting me back to this year’s festival! I love working with all the master naturalists in the El Camino Real Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists, and I especially enjoy having fun with all the kids.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Doug Phillips, El Camino Real Chapter, Habitat conservation, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, John Pruett, Milam County Master Naturalists, Milam County Nature Festival, Milano Elementary School, Rockdale Fair Park, Rockdale Intermediate School, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Water conservation

Invasive Hunters and Surprises at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

Commander Ben thanks the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council for his Outstanding Citizen Scientist award

Commander Ben thanks the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council for his Outstanding Citizen Scientist award

I had such a great time at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council (TIPPC) conference that was held last month at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. I gave my invasive species presentation in the institute’s auditorium, talked with lots of scientists, and received such a great surprise!

Adventures with invasive species presentation

Commander Ben prepares for his invasive species presentation for scientists at the Texas conference

Commander Ben prepares for his invasive species presentation for scientists at the Texas conference

My presentation at this year’s conference was entitled, “Adventures with Invasive Species and the Invasive Hunter Academy”. I talked about how I use social media and my many science videos to educate kids about invasive species. With each of my Battles with Invasive Species videos, I created a character and focused on a specific invasive species that kids could learn from and remember.

For example, you’ve heard of grumpy cat. Here’s my grumpy scientist character who starred in two of my invasive species videos:

Adventures with Invasive Species presentation slide showing my grumpy scientist character's wide range of emotions

Adventures with Invasive Species presentation slide showing my grumpy scientist character’s wide range of emotions

Looking for a fun activity for in-person events led me to create the Invasive Hunter Academy, which I described in my presentation. Since I’m dyslexic, I talked about how I wanted to create a multi-sensory approach to helping kids learn through visual matching, physical activities, and creative crafts. I shared my many successes taking the academy to the US Botanic Gardens in Washington D.C. and to many nature events across Texas.

Graduates from the academy have fun, create an action diorama they can bring home, and become official Invasive Hunters!

I fielded many great questions from the audience, including how my videos can be used in school science classrooms. (Please feel free to use them to help kids learn more about invasive species!) I also received a warm invitation from Dr. Linda Brown, Natural Resource Program Manager with the Texas Military Department, to bring my academy to Camp Mabry!

Scientists gathered from across Texas and the nation

There were many great talks from scientists who are helping to research and control invasive species in Texas. Here are just a few of the presentations from some of the scientists that I had a chance to talk with at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference and at the 2011 conference.

Adding species to Texas’s Noxious and Invasive Plant List

Dr. Damon Waitt and Commander Ben catch a moment together at the Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

Dr. Damon Waitt and Commander Ben catch a moment together at the Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

At this year’s conference, Dr. Damon Waitt led the Leadership and Coordination sessions and he gave a presentation on The Texas Invasive Plant Inventory and Efforts to Add Plant Species to TDA’s Noxious and Invasive Plant List.

Dr. Waitt is the Senior Director and Botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, and he talked about the successes and challenges for listing invasive species for inclusion on the State of Texas’ Noxious and Invasive Plants list.

Dr. Waitt talked about two invasive plant species that were added to the state’s list:

Dr. Waitt has been a great mentor to me as I’ve learned about invasive species. Here are a few of my blog posts with Dr. Waitt:

Update on invasive species in Texas

Commander Ben and Dr. Earl W Chilton II at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

Commander Ben and Dr. Earl W Chilton II at the Texas Invasive Species Conference

As with the 2011 conference, Dr. Earl W. Chilton gave a wonderful status update on invasive species in Texas with a special focus on aquatic invasives, including the Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha). Dr. Chilton is the Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program Director for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Around Central Texas, Dr. Chilton talked about Austin’s successful efforts to bring Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) under control in Lake Austin. He also talked about how scientists found Salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima) near Lake Travis. Unfortunately, fire ants are attacking the larva of the leaf beetles that have been helping to control the spread of Salt cedar across Texas.

At the last conference when I was just a budding invasive hunter, Dr. Chilton talked with me about Reeling in the Top Aquatic Invasive Species in Texas.

Institute for the Study of Invasive Species

Dr. Jerry Cook and Commander Ben near invasive species posters

Dr. Jerry Cook and Commander Ben near invasive species posters

Dr. Jerry Cook is the Associate Vice President for Research at Sam Houston State University. He served as the program chair for this year’s conference, and he talked about the university’s Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS). He was also part of two presentations at the conference:

I was happy to catch up with Dr. Cook at this year’s conference. I had a chance to create a video interview with him at the 2011 conference to talk about his New Institute for the Study of Invasive Species: Early Detection, Rapid Response.

Coordinating invasive species across Texas

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves

During the conference and at the evening dinner, I had a great time talking with Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. He has a background working on controlling aquatic and terrestrial invasive species and on habitat restoration projects.

With the Wildflower Center, he works on invasive species projects in Texas and on many parts of the Texas Invasives website, including reviewing pictures and sightings of invasive species uploaded by citizen scientists in their Invasives database.

Mr. Bush helped organize the many workshops for this year’s conference. He was very kind and encouraging, and I’m excited to work with Mr. Bush and the Wildflower Center in the future.

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More invasive species presentations

Commander Ben and Dr. Ronald Billings during a break at the invasive species conference

Commander Ben and Dr. Ronald Billings during a break at the invasive species conference

Since I could only attend one day of the conference (since I didn’t want to miss my high school biology class!), I didn’t get a chance to talk with all of the scientists. Here are just a few of the presenters and session chairs with links to videos where I had a chance to interview them during the last 2011 conference.

There were so many great presentations and sessions at the conference that I can’t list them all. Thanks to everyone for the wonderful conference, including everyone I’ve already mentioned, plus Jim Houser, Alex Mathes, Scott Walker, Trey Wyatt, Mike Murphrey, Autumn Smith-Herron, and Sara Pelleteri.

Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year

Commander Ben receives the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award

Commander Ben receives the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award

I received such a wonderful surprise at Thursday night’s conference dinner! In addition to receiving a presentation award, the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council presented me with the 2014 Outstanding Citizen Scientist of the Year award!

Wow! I was so honored to receive this award and for all the kind words. It was so heartwarming to hear from a scientist that I was “one of the team!”

Thanks, TIPPC, for the award! I’m so happy that my work to help educate kids about invasive species has had an impact, and I’ll continue to train more invasive hunters to help protect and treasure our native ecosystems.

Invasive Hunter Academy: Spring events

Speaking of the Invasive Hunter Academy, I’m excited to announce that there will be lots of chances for you be part of the academy this spring:

These events are a great chance for kids of all ages to learn about invasive species, have fun with nature, and learn about Texas history. Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, 2014 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Camp Mabry, Chinaberry, Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, Dr. Stephen Clarke, Earl Chilton, Hydrilla, Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS), Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Award, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Japanese Climbing Fern, Jerry Cook, Justin Bush, Karen Clary, Luci Cook-Hildreth, Marine Science Institute, Milam County Nature Festival, Ronald Billings, Saltcedar, Sam Houston State University, Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council, Texas Invasives, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, University of Texas, Zebra Mussel