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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Weeds and Change


by Carol Mack

Newcomers to the Pend Oreille Valley occasionally wax enthusiastic about the beautiful purple wildflowers lining summer roadsides and fields. This faux pas usually provokes a quick lecture from any listener who has lived here more than a year or two, and may be the first indication that all is not well in the local plant landscape. Welcome to the topic of noxious weeds, agents of change.

Are our weeds a result of change or do they cause change? The short answer is, both. Current shifts in microclimates have allowed plants to move into territories that previously were hostile to their needs. Human activities disturb the soil, and weeds are quick to grab and defend this toehold. Through our accelerated travel, we have broken down the geographic barriers that kept plant communities separated and distinct.

Shifts in plant community distributions are normal when they occur on geologic or biologic change scales. However, through our actions and behavior patterns, we have sped up the natural rate of change. Once introduced into an area, weed populations can grow to levels that affect the relationships between the native plants and animals of its new community, and even can lead to extinction of vulnerable members.

Weeds are not inherently “evil.” They do damage the integrity of our local forest community, with the myriad functions and services it provides to us, supporting our economy, quality and way of life. What do these changes mean? Are these values worth preserving? What sacrifices are involved? What changes in our local community will we tolerate? These are necessary questions to help us understand the problem, where we fit into it, and find a solution that fits our community.

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