UF/IFAS, agencies collaborate to help landowners fight invasive species

North Florida cattle rancher . UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It took a few years for Buzz Eaves to notice that tropical soda apple shrubs were overtaking his 1,200-acre cattle ranch near Fort Pierce, Florida. The prickly plant, with fruit the size of a golf ball and the color of unripen watermelon, was creating a barrier to the cattle’s grazing ground and displacing native plants.

“I was spending close to $6,000 a year on fertilizer and it wasn’t working that well,” Eaves said. “Then I heard about a program through the University of Florida that helps get rid of invasive species, so I turned to the school for help,” Eaves said. “It was the best thing I ever did.”

The UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences joined a dozen other organizations to form the Florida Invasive Species Partnership (FISP). The members work across boundaries to address invasive species challenges across the state, said Chris Demers, UF/IFAS Extension statewide program manager.

FISP began as a working group to address invasive species on state and federal land. The program expanded to include privately owned land, Demers said. “UF/IFAS Extension faculty provide various resources on invasive species, control and prevention,” he said. “We work across all species, plants, animals and fungus.”

Now, the partnership has created tools for private landowners to find technical assistance and to get cost-share assistance in the form of grants. This resource and many others are at http://floridainvasives.org/

“FISP is a very clear and important partnership because it offers a way to collaborate and coordinate efforts to educate the general public and land managers about invasive species,” said Steven Enloe, director of the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. “It is a very effective umbrella over all invasive species efforts.”

Another important effort of the Partnership is the support of local or regional groups across the state to help private landowners and managers of state and federal lands. The Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA) project accomplishes this goal, Enloe said.

Researchers and UF/IFAS Extension agents work with CISMAs to hold workshops, symposia, work days, exotic pet amnesty days, and other events across the state. These events provide opportunities for landowners, land managers, and the public to connect to the latest information and resources about  invasive species, such as cogongrass, and those species that are starting to spread throughout the state. Combining efforts across agencies, and reaching out to public land managers and private landowners through UF/IFAS Extension seems to be working, Enloe said.

“Localizing our efforts is incredibly important because weeds know no boundaries: They don’t respect property lines, and don’t stop at the road or on one side of a water body,” Enloe said. “In invasive species management, it is critical that people come together and collaborate on a larger scale to address problems. Extension is a perfect fit in local networks and in statewide networks for impacted stakeholders.”

In the near future, UF/IFAS will beef up its efforts by hiring an invasive species coordinator.

Eaves, the cattle rancher, said he stays involved and encourages other landowners to seek out UF/IFAS help. “Since getting their help in eradicating the tropical soda apple, I have spent zero dollars in herbicide,” he said. “So, that spurred me to join Treasure Coast CISMA to spread the word to other private landowners that UF/IFAS offers the help we need.”

-30-

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

By: Beverly James, 352-273-3566, beverlymjames@ufl.edu

Sources: Chris Demers, 352-846-2375, cdemers@ufl.edu

Stephen Enloe, 352-392-6841, sfenloe@ufl.edu