Monday, December 22, 2014

Invasive noxious weeds impact Oregon economy

December 10, 2014… A newly released economic impact study shows that 25 of Oregon’s most significant invasive noxious weeds cause an estimated annual loss of about $83.5 million to the state’s economy, a figure that could be well over a billion dollars without current control efforts by state, county, and federal weed programs.

“This study is key to showing that noxious weeds not only have a critical environmental impact to native plants, water quality, and threatened and endangered fish and wildlife species, but these invasive weeds have a major impact on Oregon’s economy,” says Tim Butler, manager of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Week Control Program.

The study, Economic Impact From Selected Noxious Weeds in Oregon, was prepared by The Research Group, LLC of Corvallis for ODA, and updates a similar study conducted in 2000. In its executive summary, the final report says “this current study provides an opportunity for ODA to look at the impacts of two widespread invasive weeds, and address the value of potential impact of up and coming noxious weeds. The study reveals the benefits of having safeguards such as prevention, early detection rapid response (EDDR), biological, and other control programs in place to minimize impacts.”

The two widespread noxious weeds examined in the study are Scotch broom and Armenian blackberry, invasive plants that contribute $79.6 million to the current overall economic impact. Those two species– already well established throughout the state– are responsible for 95 percent of the total number of $83.5 million identified in the latest study. The remaining 23 species are limited in distribution and are under intensive management so that they don’t become the next Scotch broom and Armenian blackberry.

“We did predictive modeling in this study showing that if these noxious weeds were left to go everywhere they might go– if we did nothing to control them at their current levels– we could have a potential loss to the state of about $1.8 billion,” says Butler.

The economists who conducted the study use a variety of factors to derive a dollar amount, which is equated to personal income. Factors include livestock losses due to noxious weeds, reduced cattle foraging, reduced wildlife grazing, crop yields, decreased quality of seed and crop, potential impact on marketing and export of agricultural commodities, and even the loss of available fishing and hunting opportunities because of invasive weeds. The $83.5 million is the equivalent to the loss of 1,900 jobs and the $1.8 billion in potential losses if these weeds are unchecked is the equivalent to 40,800 jobs lost.

Butler is quick to point out that the estimated negative impact is conservative.

“The study looks at 25 species, but we are currently working with about 118 noxious weeds in our program that are state listed noxious weeds,” he says. “This is just a subset of that total. So, in reality, if you look at the full list, the total economic impact to the state is much, much larger.”

Nonetheless, the study demonstrates the value of ODA’s Noxious Weed Control Program and similar programs at the county and federal level that keep invasive weeds in check while they are relatively small populations. The “early detection, rapid response” model used by weed control cooperators has kept Oregon from being completely overrun by these undesirable plants and reaching that $1.8 billion scenario.

“On many of these species, we’ve had success in preventing them from getting well established in Oregon and, in some cases, pushing them back,” says Butler. “That’s the good news in that we’ve kept the economic impact number at about the same level since 2000.”

In fact, the earlier study, which analyzed only 21 noxious weeds, reported an estimated loss of $83 million– just half a million less than the latest study. Analysts note the availability, thanks to technology, of better, more precise information that validates the acreages of noxious weeds currently in Oregon. Those advancements also allow for the predictive modeling that shows the potential impact these weeds carry.

Even the two major weeds causing the majority of economic damage could be worse. The use of biological control agents– good bugs fighting bad weeds–  have kept Scotch broom seed somewhat in check even if they don’t actually kill individual plants. Other species, such as purple loosestrife, are being kept at a lower population level than it could be because of effective biocontrol.

The current report echoes a finding from the 2000 study– prevention programs have a benefit to cost ratio of 34 to one. That means for every dollar spent in these efforts, there is a $34 return on investment based on stemming potential losses caused by noxious weeds.

“This study validates the importance of what we do, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need to be doing more,” says Butler. “Our resources are stretched thin at the state and county level as far as dealing with these species, but we have been very efficient and strategic about what we’ve done.”

Governor Kitzhaber’s 2015-17 recommended budget just released this week recognizes the threat of invasive species to Oregon’s environment and economy. He is proposing an additional $500,000 to fund various efforts to combat invasive weeds.

If another weed impact study is done a decade from now, Butler is hopeful it will contain good news.

“I’d like to see that we continue to be successful in at least holding our own and, in some cases, reducing the acreage of many of these invasive weeds in Oregon,” he says. “It all depends on having adequate resources in programs to continue doing the things we are doing. It’s critical to implement effective control programs to contain, and in some cases, move towards eradication of some of these weed species.”

Having solid numbers from the economic impact study will help make the case.

Full report of weed impact study.

For more information, contact Tim Butler at (503) 986-4621.

For an audio recap of this story, please go to and scroll down.