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Stopping invasive plants one bug at a time

Through a Pulling Together Initiative grant, the Becker Soil & Water Conservation District is helping with knapweed control.

Marsha Watland, Becker SWCD, started placing root weevils and flower weevils in Becker County in 2006. Through the grant, she is hitting the county hard, placing thousands and thousands of the critters to take care of weeds.

"They like to move upward," she said as she walked through a field at the south end of the airport in Detroit Lakes on Wednesday afternoon.

Once she finds a suitable location, Watland pounds in a stake and uses her global positioning system to mark the site. It takes eight years to see a noticeable decline in knapweed control, and 11 years to get rid of the weeds all together. That's a lot of years for someone to forget where he or she placed the bugs in the first place.

The two types of bugs released eat the obvious portions of the weed -- root weevils on the roots and flower weevils on the flower of the knapweed.

Root weevils are expected to travel 100 yards in the first year and spread more quickly after that. The flower weevils can fly and disperse easily, but they are difficult to locate after releasing them. After a couple years they multiply, though, and are easy to locate when knapweed is in bloom.

With the help of Rich Luhman of the Detroit Lakes Public Works Department, Watland released 1,200 weevils at the south airport site -- a former gravel pit that is perfect for knapweed growth, Watland said.

ATVs, snowmobiles and other vehicles spread the knapweed.

Earlier on Wednesday of last week, Watland placed weevils in White Earth Township and three private residential locations. She said there are funds for more private fields, but it needs to be a space big enough for the weevils to feed in for years, not just a small patch of knapweed.

For more information or to contact Watland, visit

After finishing up at the airport area, Watland said she had 31 locations to place weevils in eastern Becker County the following day.

"Overall, it's been pretty good, I think," she said. "I would consider this a continuous and extensive site here."

This program is to rid the county of five invasive plants, and knapweed is one of the five, she said.