Tag 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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Austin School Kids Learn about Invasive Species at St. Edward’s University

Commander Ben and Austin school kids practice the moves to take down invasive species during Earth Day at St. Edward's University

Commander Ben and Austin school kids practice the moves to take down invasive species during Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

I was honored to be invited back to St. Edward’s University to celebrate Earth Day 2014 with them this spring. I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy along with me and entertained 200 kids on a field trip from Travis Heights Elementary School.

As always, the kids enjoyed going through the Academy and graduating as official Invasive Hunters. Upon graduation, the kids loved picking out a nature prize along with some candy to fill their field trip goodie bags! And of course they each received their official “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker. Who doesn’t love stickers?!?

Here are some fun pictures from the event:

Knife hand attack is superb for taking down invasive plants like the Giant Reed (Arundo donax)

Knife hand attack is superb for taking down invasive plants like the Giant Reed (Arundo donax)

And let's not forget about swallow hand stalk strike! I see an invasive plant going down!

And let’s not forget about swallow hand stalk strike! I see an invasive plant going down!

Austin school kids eager to work on their invasive hunter dioramas

Austin school kids eager to work on their invasive hunter dioramas

Future invasive hunters thinking about which invasive species to battle

Future invasive hunters thinking about which invasive species to battle

Young Austin naturalists working on their Invasive Hunter Academy action dioramas

Young Austin naturalists working on their Invasive Hunter Academy action dioramas

HEBuddy joined in the fun on Earth Day too

HEBuddy joined in the fun on Earth Day too

National Wildlife Federation booth during Earth Day at St. Edward's University

National Wildlife Federation booth during Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

Commander Ben trying out Car2Go's electric car at St. Edwards University

Commander Ben trying out Car2Go’s electric car at St. Edward’s University

On a quick break, I visited the Car2Go booth and decided to sit in the car and get a feel for what it’s like to be behind the driver’s wheel…especially since I’ll be getting my driver’s license soon!

Wild Basin Creative Research Center booth during Earth Day at St. Edward's University

Wild Basin Creative Research Center booth during Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

I enjoyed talking with the representative at the Wild Basin Creative Research Center table. The center’s also called the Wild Basin Preserve, and St. Edward’s University acquired the preserve that’s along Austin’s loop 360 in 2009. Here are some of my previous posts about Wild Basin:

Now is the time for all invasive hunters to dance!

Now is the time for all invasive hunters to dance!

And just when I thought Earth Day was winding down, the music cranked up, thanks to Topper Radio, and I led a dance party with all the elementary kids. It was so much fun and a great way to end the day. I think we’ll have to add a new move to the Academy to take out invasives. Maybe a dance move…and we’ll call it the invasive stomp!

Commander Ben and Phoebe Anne Romero meet in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy before Earth Day festivities

Commander Ben and Phoebe Anne Romero meet in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy before Earth Day festivities

Thanks to Phoebe Anne Romero for inviting me to bring the Invasive Hunter Academy back to St. Edward’s for this year’s Earth Day celebrations! I had a lot of fun with Austin’s young naturalists!

Ready for action during Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward's University

Ready for action during Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward’s University

Previous Earth Day celebrations at St. Edward’s

It’s been a summer of adventure for me! I hope you’re having a great one too!

Your friend,
Ben

1 Comment

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

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

Leave a comment

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

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.

  • Subscribe to the iWire newsletter
    Receive a monthly email newsletter for news and information about invasive species across Texas. You can also learn about upcoming Sentinel Pest Network and Invaders of Texas Species workshops.

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

4 Comments

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

Invasive Species Are on the Run at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

Commander Ben searches his Sherlock mind palace for ways to defeat invasive species

Commander Ben searches his Sherlock Mind Palace for ways to defeat invasive species

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be presenting at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference this month!

I’ll be talking about “Adventures with Invasive Species and the Invasive Hunter Academy” in the auditorium at the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas, on February 27, 2014.

If you’re a scientist, citizen scientist, Texas naturalist, or Taekwondo-wearing invasive hunter, this is a conference that you won’t want to miss! The conference is a great opportunity to learn about invasive plants, insects, and other pests across Texas.

2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest conference

Commander Ben rallies scientists at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

I was privileged to attend and present at the last Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference that was held at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center from November 8-10, 2011. I had started creating my Battles with Invasive Species video series earlier that year and receiving great feedback from kids and scientists across the country.

My presentation was entitled, “Origin of an invasive hunter: Educating kids of all ages about invasives”. Apple’s Siri had just come out, and I used the then new iPhone 4s to invite my invasive species loving nemesis, Baron Neb, to lunch with me at the conference. (He was too scared to attend.)

I had a great time at the conference. Many scientists were very friendly and generous with their time to create videos with me and talk about their work with invasive species.

Here are some previous posts about the 2011 conference:

2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest conference

Since my 2011 talk, I’ve learned more about invasive species and created the Invasive Hunter Academy. (Also started high school in the fall of 2013!) With the Academy, I’ve been able to bring fun activities to help educate kids about invasive species at in-person events in Texas and across the country.

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

Because of my successful outreach to help budding naturalists appreciate their native ecosystems and learn about the problems of invasive species, I was honored in 2013 to be awarded the “Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer” from the National Invasive Species Council. (Terrestrial sounds cool. It means on the land, where I’ve battled many invasive species. Although I must confess straying into riparian habitats from time to time in my pursuit of the Giant Reed too.)

Unfortunately, the government had shut down just before the start of National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW), and I wasn’t able to go to Washington D.C. to attend the festivities and meet other scientists. I also missed not going back to the U.S. Botanic Gardens or the International Spy Museum. Drat! 😦

Eco-Hero Commander Ben talks about his work with invasive species at the Action for Nature awards ceremony

Eco-Hero Commander Ben talks about his work with invasive species at the Action for Nature awards ceremony

In 2013, I also was honored to receive an International Young Eco Hero award from Action for Nature. I had a great time meeting other scientists and young naturalists and talking at their annual conference at the American Institute of Architects in San Francisco, California.

For my 2014 conference presentation, I’ll talk about my experiences creating the Invasive Hunter Academy, filming Battle with Invasive Species videos, and educating kids about invasive species. As part of the Academy, kids can create an action diorama showing themselves battling an invasive plant. Which plant do they pick most often? You’ll have to come to my presentation to find out. 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. Do you have a favorite (I mean worse) invasive species in Texas? If so, let me know in the comments below!

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award, 2014 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Action for Nature, Battles with Invasive Species, Eco-Hero, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species Award, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Marine Science Institute, National Invasive Species Council, University of Texas

Secrets of the Invasive Hunter Academy

I wanted to film a video to thank Action for Nature for honoring me with their International Young Eco-hero Award for my work on educating kids about invasive species and for creating the Invasive Hunter Academy.

As part of the video, I share a bit about my background with invasive species and the secrets as to why the Academy is so popular with kids. I also talk about my experiences training young invasive hunters and bringing my Academy to the United States Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C., and to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

Thank you Action for Nature for your International Young Eco-Hero Award!  I will put it to great use to help educate kids of all ages learn about invasive species.

Your friend,
Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under Action for Nature, Eco-Hero, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, U.S. Botanic Garden, Wildflower Center