Combating Invasive Weeds in the Shadow of the Novel Coronavirus

Here at the WeedWise program, we are all too familiar with the science and strategies behind stopping and slowing the spread of harmful threats to our communities.  Topics such as prevention, early detection, rapid response, containment,  exclusion,  and the disruption of vector pathways are not only familiar to us but are also daily discussion topics within the WeedWise program. In many ways, we are “ecological epidemiologists” trying to stop the unchecked spread of novel organisms to protect the ecological, economic, and cultural health of our communities.

When news reports started coming out about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) we understood the importance of preventing its introduction.  We also knew that if it was introduced that we would need to focus on its early detection and the rapid response of public health officials.  We use this same approach as a foundation for our program through our early detection and rapid response reporting system where the goal is the eradication of the threat before it can become established.

In the last few weeks, as reports started emerging about coronavirus cases that could not be readily traced back to recognizable introduction sources, we knew that this threat had likely spread beyond eradication and instead had shifted towards containment and exclusion.  As is the case with the introduced threats of invasive weeds, this transition is significant and requires a fundamental shift in management and strategy.

We now find ourselves in the containment area of the management curve, where we are focusing on the disruption of vector pathways to slow exponential growth.  Public health officials are encouraging “social distancing” to prevent the transmission of the novel coronavirus.  We employ similar strategies in our work with invasive weeds, by focusing treatments on transmission pathways such as waterways, roads, or trails for some weeds to prevent their spread and redistribution.  For others, we disrupt spread by prohibiting the sale and redistribution of invasive weeds through the retail trade.  For many of our invasive weeds, we also focus on disrupting the spread of these invasive weeds with people by promoting prevention and sanitation.  This is the foundation for national prevention campaigns like PlayCleanGo.

We understand the approaches being employed to combat the novel coronavirus because we employ them every day.  So we encourage all of you to follow public health guidelines to protect the health and safety of you and your loved ones.  If we all work together we can minimize the impact of coronavirus and protect the most vulnerable members of our communities.  So please take some time to educate yourselves about the coronavirus, and take steps to protect you and your loved ones.

Changes to Our Work

Spring is a time of year that we rapidly increase our field activities.  Invasive weeds are sprouting all around us and are beginning to grow rapidly.  Soon many of our invasive weeds will begin flowering and in no time at all, they will set seed and spread further across the landscape.  Our work is focused on disrupting the life cycles of these invasive weeds and is largely defined by the season.  During these spring months, we spend a great deal of time in the field working to combat spread on both public and private property.  To work on all of these properties we regularly interact with many private landowners and public land managers.

In light of the new social distancing guidelines, we are taking extra precautions to limit face-to-face interactions between staff and landowners. One step was to close the Clackamas SWCD offices to the general public until further notice.  Most of our employees are working remotely when possible.  Since much of our spring work occurs in open natural areas, we are still operating in the field, provided that we can continue to do so in a safe manner.  This includes adhering to some strict social distancing practices.

In prior years we have always provided a customary door knock to notify landowners when working on a property.  This year, we are suspending door knocks and instead will be relying on phone notifications and a newly designed door hanger to communicate our presence with residents and landowners.

We will also be maintaining a minimum 6-foot distance when working on-site and ask that landowners respect this 6-foot boundary at all times.  Because we are working on many sites, we have to make sure that we not only keep our employees and contractors safe but that we also ensure the safety of our residents and landowners as well.  We are confident that we can carry out our work in a safe manner, but we require the cooperation of our landowners.

With public health guidelines changing on a daily basis, we also recognize the need to be adaptive.  In short, recommendations that look good today might be unacceptable tomorrow.  Therefore we are prioritizing our work efforts with the realization that at some point this season we may not be able to continue to work as planned.  This site prioritization effort includes limiting much of our work in the more densely populated areas

of the county. As a result, if we are forced to limit our implementation on a property that you own or manage, we will work to notify you of this limitation and provide guidance about how you can manage the infestations.  We understand that this may create a burden for some residents, but we want our residents to be prepared for potential disruptions.

We want to hear from you!

We understand that the coronavirus pandemic has greatly increased the anxiety that may people feel.  We understand and share your concerns.  If you have concerns or are uncomfortable with having our employees or contractors on-site, please contact us and let us know.  We will do our best to address your concerns. We are non-regulatory and offer our services to the residents of Clackamas County.  As a result, we rely upon your willing participation in our program. So thank you for your ongoing trust and cooperation. We wish you and your loved ones the best in these difficult and unsettling times.

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