Go ahead, weed, make my day…

Ridding an ecosystem of invasive plants is never easy. We can bring in goats to munch on offending plants or force armies of schoolchildren into slavery to pull them out; but, in all likelihood the sneaky little devils (the invasive plants, not the schoolkids) will be re-sprouting and back with a vengeance before we can turn around. For many invasive plant infestations the most practical long-term solution is chemical control – in other words, herbicides. Of course, herbicides have their issues such as drift and potential impacts on non-target plants. And what do you do when you want to get rid of invasive plants in a remote, sensitive ecosystem with limited access? Enter Herbicide Ballistic Technology (HBT). The HBT system uses the same technology as a recreational paint-ball gun but instead of filling the projectiles with paint, the balls are filled with triclopyr, which is commonly used in homeowner products for brush and poison ivy control.

Dr. James Leary at the University of Hawaii has been exploring the use of HBT to control invasive plants in various ecosystems in Hawaii. Most of the time Dr. Leary and his colleague use the standard paintball HBT system, but for the big jobs they call in the heavy artillery – literally. Dr. Leary recently presented a seminar here at MSU on work he and his team have conducted in conjunction with the Maui Invasive Species commission to eliminate populations of Miconia calvacens, one of the most problematic invasive trees in Hawaii. According to the seminar abstract, Dr. Leary reports “Our best utility for HBT deployment on a Hughes 500D helicopter platform featuring real-time capabilities in target elimination. …we have conducted 17 tactical search and destroy mission covering a total net area of 3,888 ha and eliminating 7,463 Miconia targets.”

Targeting miconia from a helicopter. Photo: C. Duncan.
Targeting miconia from a helicopter. Photo: C. Duncan.

Clearly the war on invasive has been raised to a different level

5 thoughts on “Go ahead, weed, make my day…”

  1. When I first read this I thought you were joking but a little research shows it’s serious business. Creative genius at work!

  2. If you’ve ever driven up Highway 1 in California you would know that this is what it would take to control the $&%#^ Pampas grass which disfigures some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. I look at the PG across the canyon from my own house and my fingers just itch to hike over there and annoint it with Roundup.

  3. Would you recommend using triclopyr to get rid of poison ivy and English ivy? I’m in the process of ridding the area of invasive and non native plants to replace with native plants (non poisonous plants), but I don’t want triclopyr to harm the soil for future plants or harm current native trees.
    I’ve pulled some at the roots already but with the quantity of the ivy, I’m sure there’s some I might have missed.

    1. We don’t make pesticide recommendations on this blog. Personally, I prefer nonchemical means (you can search for mowing and mulching as an effective method). And don’t feel that you need to remove noninvasive, nonnative plants. You should strive for a diverse palette of well-chosen species to support wildlife biodiversity.

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