In April, environmental, agricultural, and university representatives from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada met at the Weeds Across Borders (WAB) conference in Cancun, Mexico to discuss issues related to managing invasive plants across the continent. They explored efficient methods to share data and other information among nations, discussed the benefits of community-based social marketing to change public awareness about invasive plans, and reviewed challenges and accomplishments in invasive plant control on tribal lands. WAB conference participants also attended presentations, field trips, and sessions to share information about new invasive plant threats, discuss how climate change will impact the spread of invasive plans, and explore opportunities to expand international border partnerships and weed management collaborations.
The WAB conference is the brainchild of the Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds (FICMNEW), an interagency collaborative to tackle invasive plants and noxious weeds in the U.S. Although FICMNEW launched in 1993 as an unprecedented alliance among 16 federal agencies, (which soon expanded to include U.S. state and local agencies), after less than a decade, it became clear that the need for cooperative invasive plant management extended well beyond U.S. borders. That need gave birth to the WAB conference — an international biennial event, targeted toward interdisciplinary and multi-level decision makers from not only the U.S., but also Canada and Mexico. The first WAB conference was held in 2002 in Tucson, Arizona.
Typically, attendance at WAB conferences is limited to encourage smaller group discussions and create a more intimate setting to build long term exchange relationships among participants. During this most-recent WAB conference, attendees proposed the creation of a continental invasive plant database and explored the possibility of expanding communication networks to facilitate information-sharing throughout North America to be known as the North American Information Sharing Network (NAISN). Participants also explored the idea of creating a Trilateral Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate working together across borders. In addition, participants shared a wide range of problems and possible solutions to address the invasive plant threat. In Mexico, for example, weeds like salt cedar, phragmites, and arundo are choking the life out of the Rio Grande, while Canada is grappling with populations of European green crab, purple loosestrife, and other invasive species. In an effort to address their invasive species problems, Canada has launched a community-based social marketing effort that raises awareness of invasive species and urges citizens to take an active role by keeping an eye out for potential threats and reporting them to agency officials.
As wildlife professionals grapple with invasive species, WAB conferences will continue to enable the U.S., Mexico, and Canada to discuss the issue of invasive plants or noxious weeds with environmental and agricultural scientists, agency policymakers, and local and state practitioners. The next WAB conference will occur in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2014.
Bonnie L. Harper-Lore served the Federal Highway Administration as a restoration ecologist for 17 years. Harper-Lore is retired, but continues conservation work in other venues including the National Invasive Species Council’s Invasive Species Advisory Committee.