October 17, 2008

The Invasive Species Conference, the first statewide conference to focus on the threat to the state from invasive plants, pathogens and insects, will be Dec. 12 and 13 in Lexington.

The conference, sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Invasive Species Working Group, Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment and Kentucky Exotic Pest Plant Council, will bring together university researchers, natural resource management experts and landowners to network and share research and success stories in facing down these urgent threats to the state's environment and economy.

Friday, Dec. 12 conference sessions will be held from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Four Points by Sheraton near Interstate 75 in Lexington. According to Songlin Fei, assistant professor in the UK Department of Forestry and initiator of the working group, the first day of the conference will focus on the problem from research and management points of view.

Renowned national experts scheduled to speak include Randy Westbrooks, an invasive species prevention specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey; Robin Usborne, communications manager from Michigan State University, speaking about invasive insect threats; Kerry Britton, national program leader for forest pathology research with the U.S. Forest Service; Daniel Simberloff, Gore Hunger Professor of Environmental Science Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee; Chris Evans, coordinator of River to River Cooperative Weed Management Area in Illinois; and Troy Weldy, director of Ecological Management from The Nature Conservancy in New York.

UK researchers and representatives from the Kentucky Division of Forestry, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Roadside Environmental Branch, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Nursery and Landscape Association will also speak throughout the day.

Saturday, Dec. 13 sessions will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the E.S. Good Barn on UK's main campus. More hands-on, the sessions are targeted toward natural resource managers and landowners and are designed to demonstrate what the problem is and how to handle it, Fei said. The morning sessions will include a land managers' perspective, with speakers from the Floracliff Nature Sanctuary, Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and UK College of Agriculture. Russ Turpin, environmental specialist with EcoGro, will be the keynote speaker.

"Action is important in controlling invasives," said Fei in explaining the importance of the conference.

Kentucky currently is facing some emergency situations, he said. The hemlock woolly adelgid is a dire threat to hemlock trees in the state, and UK entomologists are studying ways to control or eradicate it.

"If it spreads all across Kentucky, we will lose an important species that is vital to the health of stream systems in the state," he said.

The emerald ash borer, which attacks and kills ash trees, is currently in Cincinnati and poised to enter the state, and the destructive gypsy moth has been sighted at the border of West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

Plant species and pathogens can be every bit as destructive as insects. Anyone who has dealt with the rampant spread of bush honeysuckle knows the invasive shrub overruns and chokes the natural understory of a forest, and has the potential to leave a monoculture in its wake.

In the western United States, sudden oak death is decimating forests in California and Oregon. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, as of 2002 the pathogen has only been found on the West Coast. But because it also can affect other species, rhododendrons among them, the cross-country transport of ornamentals could make the situation perilous for susceptible eastern oaks in this part of the country.

Conference registration is $35 for Friday's sessions and $10 for Saturday. Lunch is included both days. Participants are invited to attend either or both days. The registration form and additional conference information are available at http://www.ca.uky.edu/invasives. Registration deadline is Dec. 1.

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