SWCD apprentice helping with noxious, invasive weed program

Brianna Winterhalter, an apprentice at the Mille Lacs County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office this summer, works a GPS unit to mark the location of noxious and invasive weeds in the county

Brianna Winterhalter, an apprentice at the Mille Lacs County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office this summer, works a GPS unit to mark the location of noxious and invasive weeds in the county

Mille Lacs County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office summer apprentice Brianna Winterhalter is armed with a GPS unit as part of what one could say is a county attack team against some unpleasant foes.
The foes have names like wild parsnip,leafy spurge, knapweed and purple loosestrife. All of those weeds are invasive and some are also classified by the state as noxious. The wild parsnip, for example, is noxious for its nasty sap that when in contact with bare skin that is exposed to sunlight, will cause a burning of the skin.
Winterhalter, who answers to “Bria,” is a native of Delano and a senior at Winona State University set to graduate this coming December with a degree in environmental geo science. She hopes to then pursue a masters degree in geographic info systems, or GIS, the modern tool that governmental units use for mapping.
Winterhalter began her apprenticeship at the Mille Lacs SWCD office May 28 and it will end Aug. 23.
Having Winterhalter as an apprentice in the SWCD office this summer is helpful, Mille Lacs SWCD Director Susan Shaw indicated on July 2, as Shaw and SWCD conservation tech Lynn Gallice talked about Winterhalter’s job duties.
“We’re working on doing mechanical control and reducing the use of chemicals” in controlling the noxious and invasive weeds, Shaw began. “That requires more planning and hands-on time with the mowing.”
Shaw explained how Mille Lacs County Public Works crew members mow areas where the SWCD staff point out to them as having noxious and invasive weeds.
Where Winterhalter comes in is she goes into the field and along the roadways of the county to search for such weeds and then records their locations with a hand held GPS unit. Winterhalter then relays those locations to the county workers who do the mowing.
“We’re trying hard” to attack the leafy spurge and wild parsnip this season, Shaw added.
One means of attack for some of the invasive and noxious weeds is bio-control, meaning the use of something naturally found in nature as a control measure. In this case, the SWCD workers have been setting insects into areas of weeds that the insects will destroy. There is no insect to wage bio-control warfare on the wild parsnip, but there are insects to attack leafy spurge, knapweed and purple loofstrife, Gallice notes.
Shaw notes that she and her fellow SWCD workers began setting leafy spurge beetles into areas of leafy spurge 10 years ago and that it has been “hugely successful.”
Collecting the beetles to place on the plants the SWCD wants to attack is one of the jobs that Winterhalter helps with.
Winterhalter also helps with other tasks that come up at the SWCD office, Gallice says.
“I’m enjoying it a lot,” Winterhalter said of her apprenticeship there. “I love working with these two (Shaw and Gallice). They’re awesome. I love what we do with GIS.”

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