Pesticide Action: Stories from the Field

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In summer 2018, the ERC hosted two Pesticide Action interns, Ben Brunelle and Grace Stribling-Hough. Each summer, the efforts of the Pesticide Action interns are integral in furthering the ERC’s and United States Forest Service’s (USFS) efforts in providing safe methods for noxious weed control. The Pesticide Action interns work to maintain an insectary in Sun Valley that is raising Cyphocleonus achates, root-boring weevils which exclusively eat spotted knapweed, a noxious weed. Interns also monitor noxious weed populations and the effectiveness of a variety of controls at locations around Blaine County. At the end of their summer, both interns took the time to share about their projects and experiences, read all about it below.

“Doing an internship like this one in Sun Valley was something I had never experienced before. Growing up in Washington, DC and studying the environment in a class was a great prerequisite for furthering my education once I moved to Geneva, in upstate New York, to study at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, but I never had the opportunity to do “field work” in the city. Geneva provides a better setting to study the environment, but even still, the ability to drive north of Ketchum, for five minutes and be out in the mountains to monitor a transect was unparalleled.

The Pesticide Action Internship allowed for connections with an assortment of groups, organizations, and people – all of which demanded different skills. Whether that was working in youth education, maintaining the insectary, or monitoring transect sites around the valley, everything all connected back to a greater subject matter that we, as a population, should all be educated and working together on to make our physical world a better, safer, and healthier place.

One of my favorite parts of the internship was working with kids and teaching them about some of the things we were working on. I think it is so important to acknowledge when kids show interest in important world issues. These interests should be rewarded – and I think the ERC does a great job with youth programs to do so. Ben and I both commented that we would have loved to have had the opportunity to participate in camp like EcoCamp when we were younger.

I think the most interesting part about this internship was connecting the work we did with the insectary (maintaining the “old” location by the SNRA, moving it to the new location, watering it and transplanting dead plants so the whole environment thrives, etc) to the work we did with monitoring transect points around the valley. At the beginning of the summer, when we got overviews from both the ERC and the Sawtooth National Forest, it all sounded interesting and important, but once we started doing both tasks (insectary and transect points) in July, everything really started to come together. It was clear at that point how each job influenced the other. My only hope now is that the insectary turns out to be a success (I think having a survival rate of 85-90% after transplanting is a good start) and sightings of cyphos do start to become more prevalent so that this project can continue and grow to be a bigger and more effective form of biocontrol. I look forward to keeping tabs on this project in the years to come.” – Grace Stribling-Hough

“I ended the summer being very thankful for the opportunity to work with the Environmental Resource Center doing the Pesticide Action internship. I partnered up with Grace for the summer and we were able to forward both new and old projects for ERC and the USFS. Grace and I spent a bit of time in the office, but the majority of our work was outside. Our daily routine consisted of watering the insectary and monitoring several transects located throughout the Wood River Valley. On other days, we would help out with youth camps and other community outreach programs held by the ERC.

Early in the summer, we moved the insectary from the SNRA to a location out Trail Creek, a couple of miles from the Sun Valley Clubhouse. Unfortunately, the old location wasn’t producing the numbers of weevils it was supposed to and was overrun with native plants (ironic, right?). Because of this, we wanted to change locations to a warmer and more knapweed-friendly site. Since the new insectary hasn’t fully matured, we couldn’t release any weevils into it this year. Once the plants grow, set, and multiply, we can then release the bugs and truly get the insectary up and running. We expect the Trail Creek insectary to be a few years out from full productivity.

All in all, I am very thankful that the ERC extended this opportunity to me this summer. I honestly believe that the knowledge and experience I gained will help immensely in finding where I want to go after college. Currently, I am studying Environmental Economics and Policy with a minor in Earth and Planetary Science so this gave me real-world insight into the research side of where I can see my career going. Big ups to the whole ERC crew!” – Ben Brunelle

The ERC is so grateful for Ben and Grace’s hard work this summer and to USFS employees, Gilbert Moreno and Deb Taylor at the Ketchum Ranger District, who helped supervise and mentor Ben and Grace. Summer 2019 internships will be posted in late winter.

Alisa McGowanPesticide Action: Stories from the Field