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State budget provides $4.9M to tackle invasive species

Del. Bulova walks to the Virginia State Capitol on Monday
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Del. David Bulova (D–Fairfax) answers questions on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024 in Richmond.

The money will help local and regional groups, as well as state agencies.

About a decade ago, Charlottesville landowners Rod and Maggie Walker realized that Asiatic bittersweet, a vining plant invasive in the eastern United States, had overtaken about 15 acres of their land.

The vines climb over native trees, blocking sunlight, hogging nutrients and water, and weighing down branches. Like other invasives, they don’t have to deal with the predators and diseases from their native range in China, Japan and Korea — and local organisms aren’t able to fill those gaps.

“The problem is that when those plants get introduced here, they like the climate, but none of those things that keep them in check exist here. And so they just propagate without end and ultimately, they can overwhelm all the native plants that are in a particular area,” Rod Walker said.

The Walkers realized this problem wasn’t unique to them — so they decided to do something about it. The result was the Blue Ridge Partnership for Regional Invasive Management (Blue Ridge PRISM), a nonprofit cooperative weed management area formed through the Shenandoah National Park Trust, the first of its kind in Virginia.

“Our targeted geography is 12 counties running up the northern Blue Ridge, from Nelson and Augusta on the south, up to Clarke and Loudoun and other counties up north,” Walker said.

Over the years, Blue Ridge PRISM has coordinated volunteer efforts, helped organize local stewardship groups, consulted landowners on invasive management, directed people to professional and financial resources, and evangelized about invasive management. It also coordinates federal, state, local and individual resources.

PRISM member explains invasive plant IDs to group of 5+ outdoors
Blue Ridge PRISM
Blue Ridge PRISM holds an invasive plant identification and management workshop at Rockfish Valley Trails in Nellysford on April 5, 2024.

The Virginia Invasive Species Management Plan, published in 2018 by the state Invasive Species Advisory Committee, calls for this type of collaboration to manage invasives.

But Walker said the plan has mostly never been funded by the commonwealth.

“Finally, this year, there was money put in the budget… to really begin to implement some of the stuff that's in that plan. So this year's budget is kind of a down payment,” Walker said.

The recently approved two-year state budget sets aside funding to support PRISMs in other regions of the state, as well as staffing in several state agencies:

  • $1,880,000 over two years for the Department of Forestry to hire two staff members, cover related expenses for invasive species management, support the development of additional PRISMs and provide statewide coordination for invasive species management
  • $1,550,000 over two years for the Department of Wildlife Resources to hire two staff members and cover related expenses for invasive species management
  • $970,000 over two years for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to hire one staff member and cover related expenses for invasive species management
  • $500,000 over two years for the Department of Conservation and Recreation to hire two staff members and cover related expenses for invasive species management

Del. David Bulova (D–Fairfax) sponsored the budget amendments, which were approved during negotiations with state lawmakers and Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office.
Walker says the regional approach helps in a few ways. Blue Ridge PRISM has no plans to go statewide — staying in the region means its members have expertise on the local invasive threats there — and can make the most of limited funding.

“The state's too big, it's too logistically difficult for us to do that,” Walker said.

An organization could go a long way to concentrating and capitalizing on management efforts — not to mention lobbying efforts for more state and federal support. Walker said at a Blue Ridge PRISM conference in December 2023, dozens of groups from around the state attended.

Virginia’s fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30 each year. The new state budget goes into effect July 1.

Learn more about how invasive managers are tackling one species, tree of heaven, in the Richmond area from VPM News’ listener-powered series, Curious Commonwealth.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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