Volunteers sought to help combat invasive Cogongrass in SC

He's not exactly decked out in red, white and blue with a star on his top hat, but Steve Compton's recruiting effort would make Uncle Sam proud.

Compton wants you to volunteer, not "over there," but right here at home for the war on Cogongrass.

"It's a nasty pest, a noxious weed," Compton said of the invasive plant, which is banned in the state of South Carolina. "We need as many eyeballs as we can get to help us locate it so we can eradicate it from the Palmetto State."

Compton, an environmental health manager with the Department of Plant Industry, a part of Clemson University's regulatory division, oversees the effort to eliminate Cogongrass, an invasive species that found its way to America a century ago from its native Asia.

"Cogongrass is an invasive weed that can choke out even the most hardy native plants," Compton said. "It can easily displace native plants that are used by birds, animals and insects for forage, host plants and shelter. When its leaves turn brown in the winter, Cogongrass also can create a substantial fire hazard. This stuff is like gasoline."

To prepare new recruits for the battle against Cogongrass, Clemson and The Nature Conservancy will hold a workshop at 10 a.m. Thursday, March 21, at the Harbison Environmental Education Center in Harbison State Forest near Columbia.

The workshop will introduce the 2013 Cogongrass survey process and prepare Clemson Extension agents, master gardeners, environmental workers and volunteers to identify the weed. The two-hour training will include a presentation on other invasive species in longleaf pine forests and update participants about the South Carolina Exotic Pest Plant Council.

Cogongrass has been identified in 11 of South Carolina's 46 counties, four of which are now free of the pest. Nine known sites in seven counties — from Beaufort to York — are still active.

It spreads both through its small seeds and by creeping rootstalks called rhizomes, which can be transported by machines like tilling equipment. Across the South, some surveys have shown it as pervasive as kudzu.

"Nothing will eat Cogongrass, so it has no benefit whatsoever. And it forms a monoculture: It pushes out native species," said Sherry Aultman, who coordinates Clemson’s Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey program. "It disrupts native habitats for other vegetation that is food for livestock and wildlife. It interferes with prescribed burns in forestry. The economic impact of this pest is extensive."

The Clemson regulators maintain a website with information and a way to report Cogongrass infestations online.

The site also includes a volunteer signup form.

"We're looking for volunteers who are willing to learn what it is, how to identify it and what to do when you find it," Compton said. "They’ll be doing the state — not just its farm and forestry community, but its environmental and wildlife community, too — a tremendous service."

Courtesy Clemson

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