Category Archives: Damon Waitt

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

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

Wildflower Center Features Teen vs Invasive Species

Commander Ben Featured in Summer 2013 Wildflower Center Magazine

Commander Ben Featured in Wildflower Center magazine

The Summer 2013 issue of Wildflower, the printed magazine for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, features my exploits as Commander Ben in my battles against invasive species.

Many thanks to Ms. to Saralee Tiede, Communications Director for the Wildflower Center, for interviewing me!

Commander Ben & Ms. Saralee Tiede at The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Commander Ben & Ms. Saralee Tiede at The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Being interviewed by Ms. Tiede for the Wildflower article was so much fun. When we arrived at the Wildflower Center’s offices, Ms. Tiede took my Mom and me upstairs to a beautiful conference room. For about an hour, Ms. Tiede asked me all sorts of questions about how I got interested in science, and specifically invasive species, as well as questions about how I got started making videos and blogging. She said that one of her favorite videos was Tea Time with English Ivy. Seems like so many people like that one!

After the interview, Ms. Tiede treated us to a delicious lunch at the Wildflower Cafe where we were surprised by Dr. Damon Waitt, Senior Director and Botanist for the Wildflower Center, who joined us for lunch. It was great to see Dr. Waitt again and talk about invasive species. Next, I topped off my lunch with a fantastic cookie which Ms. Tiede assured me was “the best”. And she was right!

Thanks again to Ms. Tiede for the great interview and making me feel like a celebrity for the day!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Damon Waitt, English Ivy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Saralee Tiede, Wildflower Center, Wildflower magazine

Commander Ben Receives 2013 Outstanding Invasive Species Volunteer Award

Commander Ben displays his 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award in front of admiring Giant Reed invasive plants.

Commander Ben displays his 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award in front of admiring Giant Reeds

I have some wonderful news to share with you!  I recently received the 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award from the National Invasive Species Council (NISC).

The NISC was created in 1999 and is co-chaired by the U.S. Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce.  NISC provides coordination of federal invasive species actions and works with other federal and non-federal groups to address invasive species issues at the national level.

I am so honored to receive this award but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of so many fantastic people:

  • First, I want to thank my Mom and Dad who always support me in everything I do.  They’re the best!
  • I would also like to thank the National Invasive Species Council; Ms. Lori Williams, NISC Executive Director; and the entire National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) team.  They were just great for inviting me to be a presenter at NISAW in 2012.
  • Next, I want to thank the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Dr. Damon Waitt, Wildflower Center’s senior director; and Ms. Jessica Strickland, Wildflower Center’s invasive species program manager.

    They taught me a lot about invasive species and have always been such a great support to me in my efforts to help educate others about invasives.  They have also been very kind to invite me to be a presenter at numerous events at the Wildflower Center, including to the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

    And congratulations to the Wildflower Center, Dr. Waitt, and Ms. Strickland too for receiving the 2013 Outstanding Achievement in Terrestrial Invasive Species Outreach and Education Award from the NISC.
  • Also, I would like to thank the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas; Dr. Jay Banner, Director; and Mr. Geoffrey Hensgen, Outreach Coordinator.

    I started attending their Hot Science – Cool Talks lectures when I was only about six years old!  They have been instrumental in developing my love of science, and they have been so supportive of giving me the amazing honor of being able to be part of the Hot Science – Cool Talks community by giving me the opportunity to interview many of the speakers and to also be a presenter at the pre-lecture activities, including bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to Hot Science – Cool Talks
  • Additionally, I want to give many thanks to Science Under the Stars; Brackenridge Field Laboratory at the University of Texas; and Ms. Laura Dugan, doctoral researcher, who gave me a chance to help out with their research on the invasive Jewel Cichlid.

    My very first Commander Ben video, “Who will fell this titan?, won first prize at the Science Under the Stars 2011 Film Festival. In a way, that’s where my Commander Ben adventures first started!
  • And I could never forget to thank Master Chris Abramson, my Taekwondo instructor, who is such an amazing teacher and mentor.  Everything that I have learned from him has not only helped me battle invasives ;-), but has helped me in life.  He has taught me the five most important tenants of what it means to be a man: Courtesy, Integrity, Self-Control, Perseverance, and Indomitable Spirit!

Many thanks to everyone!

2013 National Invasive Species Awareness Week

NISAW_logo

Unfortunately, the budget problems in Washington DC and the government sequester, cancelled the formal awards banquet that was part of the 2013 National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) activities, but here’s what Ms. Lori Faeth, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs at the Department of the Interior, was going to say about my 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer Award:

“The winner of the 2013 NISAW Award for Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer is Ben Shrader, founder of the Invasive Hunter Academy in Texas. Ben has given invasive species presentations at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas and at National Invasive Species Awareness Week in Washington, DC. ‘Commander Ben’ has led efforts to engage students in invasive species issues through his Invasive Hunter Academy, using interactive methods to teach about invasive species and their effect on native ecosystems. He has used a wide variety of media to create a public discussion on invasive species and has produced a series of video interviews with scientists to publicize invasive species issues and research. Ben has also focused his efforts on conducting invasive species research, helping in the studying of the effect of the Jeweled Cichlid on native ecosystems at the University of Texas at Austin.”

Thanks Ms. Faeth for your kind words!

What’s next in the fight against invasives?

As always, I will continue my battle against invasive species! If you would like to be part of the fight against invasives, join me and my Invasive Hunter Academy and learn how to become an Invasive Hunter at the following upcoming events:

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award, Brackenridge Field Lab, Damon Waitt, Department of the Interior, Environmental Science Institute, Geoff Hensgen, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Award, Jay Banner, Jessica Strickland, Jewel Cichlid, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Laura Dugan, Lori Faeth, Lori Williams, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, National Invasive Species Council, NISAW, NISC, Science Under the Stars, Taekwondo, University of Texas, UT Austin, Wildflower Center

My First Day at SXSW Eco with Foodies and Filmmakers

Commander Ben at SXSW Eco 2012

After checking in at SXSW Eco at the fantastic UT Austin AT&T Conference Center, I headed over to Rm. 103 to attend a talk titled Fighting Food Insecurity with Urban Agriculture in Austin…and guess who I got to meet? Ms. Addie Broyles, a food writer for the Austin American-Statesman!

Food in Austin

Ms. Addie Broyles and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

It was neat to get to meet her because I have heard my Mom (the foodie in the family 🙂 ) talk a lot about her. Even though my blog isn’t about food, Ms. Broyles said she was looking forward to checking it out because she too has a budding filmmaker at home…her five year old son! 🙂

Clean energy

Ms. Griffin Gardner and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

Next I walked over to Rm 204 to attend the Filmmakers Clean Energy Confab. I took my seat in the second row and that’s when someone in the front row turned around and said, “I know you, you’re famous!” It was Ms. Griffin Gardner, UT Austin Media Coordinator, who remembered taking a picture of me at the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) Hot Science – Cool Talks event. I’m not sure if I’m really famous, but Ms. Gardner made my day!

Making great films for good

Mr. Steve Vogelpohl and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

Next, as I headed out to lunch, I ran into Mr. Stephen Vogelpohl who recognized me from the Lights. Camera. Help. Focus on Good Film Festival. Mr. Vogelpohl is with Social Good TV. We talked about future projects we’re both working on, and he encouraged me to continue making great films for good.

Green army on the march

Today is the big day! As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I’ll join Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Dr. Damon Waitt, Director Native Plant Information Network; and an elite team from the Wildflower Center and the Green Army to map invasive species as part of the conference events.

Let’s find the Giant Reed (Arundo donax), Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta), and all the invasive plants that may be along Waller Creek in Austin, Texas!

I hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. Tomorrow’s the last day to vote! Please vote for my SXSWedu presentation, “What Invasive Species Taught Me About Dyslexia”. I’ll talk about my great experiences with the Wildflower Center and Learning Ally too. Thanks!

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Filed under Addie Broyles, AT&T Conference Center, Austin, Austin American Statesman, Clean energy, Clean energy, Damon Waitt, Elephant Ear, Environmental, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Focus on Good, Giant Reed, Green Army, Griffin Gardner, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Lights. Camera. Help., PanelPicker, Social Good TV, Steve Vogelpohl, SXSW, SXSW Eco, SXSWedu, University of Texas, Urban Agriculture, UT Austin, Waller Creek, What Invasive Species Taught Me About Dyslexia, Wildflower Center

My Adventure as an Invasive Hunter at SXSW Eco Begins

I’m looking forward to being part of the SXSW Eco conference today!

I’ll be tweeting on my InvasiveHunter Twitter account and creating blog posts about the conference this week.

Tomorrow, I’ll join Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Dr. Damon Waitt, Director Native Plant Information Network; and an elite team from the Wildflower Center and the Green Army to map invasive species as part of the conference events.

Many thanks to SXSW Eco for inviting me and providing me with a complimentary pass to this conference!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, Green Army, Invaders of Texas, Invasive Species, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, SXSW Eco, Wildflower Center