SITKA (AP) -- Japanese knotweed is spreading in Sitka, choking out native plants around the Southeast town.
Now local writer Richard Nelson is waging a campaign to wipe out the nuisance plant, and the U.S. Forest Service also has joined the effort.
Nelson said he had never heard of the pesky plant until a couple years ago when he watched a large clump of knotweed engulf a salmonberry bush.
''That opened my eyes,'' Nelson said. ''And I realized, this is the Schwarzenegger of the plant world.''
Michael Shephard, a Forest Service ecologist, participated in a knotweed surveillance study sponsored by the agency. He said knotweed could easily advance up the surrounding mountains into avalanche chutes. Once it establishes a foothold in Sitka, it could spread along the shoreline or estuaries, choking out native plants, Shephard said.
The detritus from native plants that would normally fall into the streams would be reduced, potentially impacting insect and fish populations.
''It disrupts the entire cycle of the aquatic ecosystem,'' Shephard said.
Brad Krieckhaus, a biological technician with the Forest Service, said that, as far as he has seen, the plant doesn't offer anything in the way of food or nutrition for surrounding organisms.
''It's pretty much just a nuisance,'' Krieckhaus said.
Nelson also fretted about its strength against salmonberry bushes.
''I have salmonberry jam every morning,'' he told the Daily Sentinel in Sitka. ''I don't want to lose those bushes.''
Shephard said the knotweed probably was brought to the area in the 19th century as an ornamental plant from Great Britain. He said that the British Isles already have a huge problem with the plant, to the point where one community has hired a person solely for the purpose of eradicating it.
States in the Lower 48 such as Washington and Oregon have already taken action against knotweed, classifying the plant as ''noxious'' and imposing fines for raising the plant privately.
Even with the use of herbicides, getting rid of large patches of knotweed can take up to eight years of repeated intervention, according to Krieckhaus.
Such a widespread effort would require the help of the community, Krieckhaus said. He has already scheduled Community Noxious Weed Removal Day, on Sept. 22, when the public is invited to help clear sites infested with the knotweed. Representatives from the city, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska's Kayaani Committee, and the Sitka Conservation Society will also participate in this effort.
''I think that people just need to be aware of the plant,'' Krieckhaus said. ''It's a matter or raising consciousness.''
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