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Missoula Field Office
Release Date: 09/02/10
Contacts: Contact David Abrams 406-533-7617    

“Cypho Teens” Fight Weeds With Bugs

Jordan Addyman and Joey Rokosch were concerned about the bugs’ safety and well-being.

“Careful where you step!” they called out across the grassy slope at Sperry Grade, about five miles west of Ovando. “We don’t want to squish them!”

The two teenagers from Stevensville had every right to worry about insects getting crunched beneath boots. They, along with two employees from the Missoula Field Office, had just released 1600 beetles into a five-acre parcel as part of an innovative weapon in the ongoing war on noxious weeds.

Addyman, Rokosch, Range Technician Ken Cook, and seasonal employee Kristina Davis spent the better part of an hour in Powell County scattering the beetles by hand near patches of the invasive spotted knapweed. The small, beige-colored cyphocleonus aschates were still sluggish from being stored in Styrofoam cups in a cooler on the back of Cook’s truck. They clung tenaciously to Addyman’s fingers until she gently shook them off. “Persistent little buggers, aren’t they?” she said with a grin.

Cook and other “weed warriors” around the state are counting on that kind of persistence to help make a dent in stopping the spread of the non-native knapweed which invades public and private lands, outcompeting native forage important for wildlife and livestock. Adult “cyphos” attack knapweed’s root system, while other insect species feed on the leaves and stems. Females lay up to 100 eggs in their lifetime, so the potential for a population explosion is pretty high.

“We’re excited because we’ve already seen so much activity here,” Cook said as he shook the last beetles from his cup into the grass at Sperry Grade. “The change is gradual, but it’s amazing how well the cyphos work with other insects. It takes more than one species to do the job. One might be chewing the heck out of the leaves and another may be down in the roots. The species complement each other, rather than compete. So, you’ve got a one-two punch with bio-control like this.”

While the beetles don’t necessarily kill knapweed the first year, their chewing and burrowing will weaken the plant to the point that it eventually withers and dies. As he walked Sperry Grade, Cook yanked stalks of knapweed out of the soil and triumphantly pointed to beetles which had already begun destruction on the root system. “This is good,” he said. “This is a really good sign.”

Addyman and Rokosch were members of a four-person youth crew, including three students and a crew leader. They were competitively selected from more than a dozen youth applicants recruited from rural Ravalli County as part of an assistance agreement between the Missoula Field Office and the Ravalli County Weed District. In addition to helping out with weed bio-control, the youth crew also participated in weed pulls, spawning surveys, bat monitoring, fence removal, and bird surveys. Teens gained valuable job experience working as a team and learned important technical skills, including resource inventory and monitoring; data collection using GPS; and map reading and navigation.

Cook said he was excited at the prospect of growing the program that enabled the teens to work in support of the Missoula Field Office’s resource projects, thanks in part to the efforts of Linda Cardenas, Missoula’s Assistant Field Manager for Renewable Resources, who recognized early on that involving the youth would be a triple-win relationship for the BLM, the county, and the young people who needed meaningful work experience.

In December 2009, Cardenas submitted a proposal to support Missoula’s “Youth in Restoration Project,” successfully competing for special Washington Office youth program funding. Cardenas hopes that someday the type of work the students do for the BLM can be incorporated into Montana’s high school classrooms to provide a practical connection between academic concepts and applied resource management.

Addyman and Rokosch and their third crew member, Casey Sutton, spent a good portion of the summer gathering and releasing over 100,000 bio-control insects for the BLM. “They’ve done a tremendous amount of insect collection this summer,” Cook said. “They’ve been a huge help to us.”

Rokosch was equally excited to be working with the BLM and learning a new set of skills along the way. “I plan on working the cypho season as long as possible,” he said.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

Missoula Field Office   3255 Fort Missoula Road      Missoula, MT 59804  

Last updated: 06-28-2012