Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

UDAF Bugs Noxious Weeds to Death

Utah's "Bug Girl" fights weeds without chemicals and heavy equipment

 

If you ask most of the county weed supervisors in Utah about using insects to control noxious weeds, they’d mention the name Amber Mendenhall. They’d probably say she IS the weed bio-control program in Utah.  Mendenhall’s job, basically, is to bug weeds to death.  She imports and releases certain insects that feed on specific invasive weeds.  For example, there is a type of beetle that eats the seeds of the leafy spurge plant, and another insect that feeds on its extensive root system. In conjunction with chemical spraying and mechanical removal of weeds, biological control has been shown to be a very effective part of weed control efforts throughout the country and here in Utah. Though working with weeds isn’t exactly what she planned to do with her degree,  she says she can’t think of anything else she’d rather do. “I fell in love with it [biological control of weeds],” said Mendenhall.  “I came in at the right time, when bio-control was starting to be more accepted.” For the past nine years, since before she graduated in biology from Utah State University, Mendenhall has been working for USDA  Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). During that time she has built a strong program and has enlightened many weed managers to the importance of using biological control as part of an integrated, comprehensive weed management effort. Introduction of the Invasive Species Mitigation Fund four years ago has really helped push her work forward. Now, due to budget cuts, APHIS is phasing out Mendenhall’s program. UDAF has stepped in and temporarily hired her to continue her program. USDA will continue to provide a vehicle and equipment through the end of this season.  Though Mendenhall’s  position and program is up in the air, weed managers throughout the state hope it becomes a permanent part of the State of Utah’s weed control efforts. “Bio-control is an important part of weed management. We hope we can keep it going,” said Rich Riding, ISM program manager, UDAF. One of the newest aspects of the program is a coordinated effort to teach Future Farmer of America club high school students how to conduct their own ongoing monitoring program of released insects in specific areas of weed infestations.  Mendenhall believes this is an important part of exciting younger generations about biology and environmental sciences, while helping make county weed control efforts more self-sustaining. UDAF is making a video about the bio-control program this summer. Stay tuned for additional updates about the great bug work taking place in several counties this year.

 

Mendenhall works with Wasatch High School Students recently Midway, as they learn to count weed populations and look for

evidence of insects and insect activity on weed populations of leafy spurge.