Cogongrass is causing big problems for wildlife, having attacked millions of acres of wildlife habitat across the Southeast. Photo courtesy of Chris Evans, River to River CWMA, Bugwood.org.
GEORGIA — Cogongrass – a little-known, aggressive weed – is causing big problems for wildlife, having attacked millions of acres of wildlife habitat across the Southeast. But the National Wild Turkey Federation and its project partners are fighting back.
To combat cogongrass, which appears on the US Department of Agriculture’s Federal Noxious Weeds list, the NWTF and 22 partners recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding that formed the Georgia Cogongrass Task Force. The task force will complete projects to clear cogongrass from areas in Georgia that already have been overtaken, and will educate landowners about the importance of learning to identify and control cogongrass.
Cogongrass, which is native to Asia, was first introduced to the United States as packing material within shipping crates that arrived in lower Alabama. Later, it was planted to control erosion and feed cattle. Unfortunately, animals will not eat it.
“Cogongrass does not provide food, shelter or benefits of any kind to wildlife,” said the NWTF Director of Land Management Programs Bryan Burhans. “It is a dangerous fuel source for wildfires, it multiplies at an alarming rate and it chokes-out native vegetation. Even kudzu looks like a bunch of wildflowers compared to cogongrass.”
Cogongrass can burn at any time, making it a year-round wildfire source and cause of constant concern. Its leaves are spaced far apart, which allows for tremendous air flow between the leaves and plants.
“Because fields of cogongrass are highly oxygenated, a wildfire would burn very quickly,” Burhans said. “Also, cogongrass flames burn so hot and climb so high that trees such as pines, which provide food and shelter for wildlife, would be killed if they are growing in a stand of cogongrass.”
Nip It in the Bud
While cogongrass has not become as widespread in Georgia as it has in lower Mississippi and Alabama, the Cogongrass Task Force is working to identify and eradicate the 144 spots that have been pinpointed in Georgia.
Because the weed is highly flammable, forest managers avoid prescribed burns as a management tool, and will treat affected areas with herbicide. Project partners also will teach landowners how to prevent the spread of cogongrass by following three steps.
First, learn to identify cogongrass. The invasive weed will be easiest to spot through mid-June, when it is in bloom. The most identifiable characteristics are fluffy white seeds that resemble dandelions, one-inch-wide leaves that have serrated edges and whitish, off-center midribs.
Second, steer clear of cogongrass. “If you see cogongrass, don’t touch it, mow it or try to dig it up,” said James Johnson, forest health coordinator for the Georgia Forestry Commission. “Call the nearest forestry office, and don’t go near the site. Also, avoid moving soil from an area you think may be contaminated because 80 percent of new spots are created by moving affected soil to new sites.”
Third, clean equipment thoroughly. After working in a cogongrass-infested area, use a pressure washer or broom to remove debris from vehicles and equipment. Cleaning equipment that may have come in contact with cogongrass is one of the best ways to keep the weed from spreading.
“Now is the time to act,” Johnson said. “There is nothing in the natural landscape that can stop cogongrass from spreading. If we ignore this problem and fail to wage an aggressive campaign against it, this weed will continue devastating wildlife habitat.”
The NWTF, Georgia Forestry Commission, The Governor’s Office of Georgia, USDA APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine, USDA Forest Service, University of Georgia, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Farm Service Agency, Georgia department of Natural Resources, Georgia Department of Agriculture, Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia Exotic Plant Pest Council, Georgia Forestry Association, Tall Timbers Research Station, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, Georgia Power Corporation, the Nature Conservancy, Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission, Georgia Wildlife Federation, Quality Deer Management Association, Georgia Farm Bureau and the Georgia Chapter of the Society of American Foresters.