Friday, April 23, 2010

Invasive Species subject matter expert looking for work

Looking for the next opportunity to make a difference, I come with 30 years of demonstrable experience

As one of the owners of one of the largest retail nurseries in the United States, I created a retail marketing project called ‘Stop and Take A Closer Look’ to bring awareness of invasive species to the public. It entailed and created a species database with over 2,000 entries of invasive species, highlighting the landscape impacts of horticultural plants on gardens and ecosystems. This database was used in a program that generated signs on plant species became a sign generating program ; the signs that were later sold to other nurseries in the United States.

I planned, designed and planted a 1,000 species and cultivars trail and stock garden in which, among other concepts, I explored the use of native species as substitute species for invasive species. The cultivar and stock garden was open to the public with educational signage. This program eventually became a part of the “Livable Delaware Program” a partnership between Delaware’s Department of Agriculture and the nursery industry.

I developed and implemented policy and programs of national significance on the prevention of invasive species as an active member of ISAC for 5 years, and Vice Chair for 2 years. During the time I provided substantive advice for the following national programs or policies: systematics in the federal government; invasive species research in the ARS and CSREES; definition of invasive species for the federal government; biofuels and invasive species program criteria and policy guidance. I successfully identified pathways by which invasive species are introduced and make recommendations to establish a risk assessment framework and/or mitigate and minimize the risk of introductions through my active business activities in the nursery trade and business for 20 years.

I have worked to minimize the nursery introduction of invasive species in my nurseries in MD and in the state. I have been a consultant on the horticulture and nursery trade pathway for invasives to ANLA, designing a grand meeting to discuss Horticulture pathway’s use of certification to mitigate the damage of invasives. Meeting participants included scientists, policy makers, program staff and directors, and federal agencies invasive species experts. As a result of the meeting two future actions were identified: to design a State Horticulture Certification program that can be used as a model for states to adopt; and another series of meetings to identify actions to deal with issues of the “nursery plants as a pathway” for invasives.

I have a working knowledge of the conceptual bio-economic model and computational framework for estimating risks due to invasive species that assesses and develops risk management and mitigation plans. I oversaw workgroup meetings of diverse interests, such as scientists and policy makers, in building a consensus on conservation issues. (I am working with the state of AK nursery businesses, the state DNR and the state Dept of Agriculture to design a Certification program for AK Nursery businesses that will mitigate the rist of invasions in the nursery trade. This necessitates working with diverse audiences, establishing their reasons for collaboration, identifying and working out their differences, and getting consensus on the design and adoption of the certification program.

I have many examples of work while in ISAC to deal with complex and difficult invasives issues and bringing participants to a consensus. I created informational PowerPoint and presentations for the public and private sectors dealing with the philosophy and intersection of their interests on invasive species. I instigated several workshops and information sessions on invasive species in collaboration with land managers at numerous symposia and meetings. For example, I am including my participation as a founding director of the Mid Atlantic Exotic Pest Plant Council (MA-EPPC) serving as its third President responsible for organizing regional symposia on invasive species. I convened national stakeholders to discuss cultivar sterility and invasive species, producing an ISAC- approved document, and as well as writing a paper on nursery industry national invasive species certification and convening a two day stakeholder discussion.

I also recently completed a policy briefing paper on climate change and invasive species for the 2010 National Invasive Species Awareness Week meeting in Washington, DC. I am currently working on the use of ‘bioeconomic’ endogenous risk assessment models and protocols as tools for invasive species management. I have having posted on line a power point presentation on various economic geographic models. In addition, based on my role as a technical advisor to the National Green Building Council’s landscape initiative, I worked with a Seattle- based landscape firm involved in the creation of invasive species and sustainability protocols for an international retailer’s landscape projects around the world.

I have arranged for political tours of politicians, Congressional members and staff, and policymakers as well as ISAC’s tour of USDA ARS facilities with a focus on systematics and the importance to invasive species. As a member of NISC’s ISAC I was a collaborating author of the federal white paper on invasive species definitions, and was invited to present the results on changes in definitions and their impacts on invasive species issues and problems to a meeting of private and public stakeholders at the 2010 National Invasive Species Awareness Week meeting.I have experience in preparing business strategic plans and policies on invasive species, preparing the plan for the nursery that was adopted and implemented from 1995 through 2008. I have been an industry expert on invasive species since the early 1990s. As the Perennial Plants Department Manager, I began internal research into Miscanthus germination rates. I instituted a business policy not to sell invasive Lythrum spp. at the garden centers based upon my early research into the negative impact of this ornamental species. The cost of this decision approached $35,000 dollars per year in lost revenues. This unilateral action eventually became a basis for the Maryland Nursery industry’s voluntary reduction of Lythrum sales This required that I find alternatives and convince the public as to the efficacy of alternatives in private and public gardens.

In addition, I began to interact with native plant constituencies on invasive species impacts to natural areas and the implication for ornamental landscape practices. This resulted in my collaboration and oversight in the writing of the invasive species chapter in the Maryland Nursery Industry professional certification program. As an industry representative, I met with natural area land mangers and organized and conducted tours of invasive species in public parks in the Washington DC area.I facilitated the first conversations between invasive species ecological interest groups and the Perennial Plant Association of America (PPA). I made a presentation at the Association’s national meeting of over 800 members about the state of invasive species issues in the United States. I worked with the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA) to establish its invasive species position and input to USDA APHIS and Q37. I also assisted ANLA in its conduct of a national landscaping industry conversation related to USDA/APHIS input into North American Plant Protection Organization’s positions on invasive species prevention issues .In this role I reached out to USDA/ARS for support on questions of systematics and taxonomy, and eventually I became an advocate of support for U.S. systematics collections working closely with the Area Directors of USDA ARS (BARC & NAL).

To be able to provide advice as a member of the National Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC), I routinely had to analyze budget data, sometimes from multiple agencies, to be able to assess the level of funding spent or projected to be spent in an invasive species program. Furthermore, as an advisor to USDA ARS BARC’s friend's association and in conjunction with its area directors I routinely assisted in preparing documents that explained programs and needs, to be presented to Congressional members or staff. I am confident in my abilities dealing with budget formulation, implementation and review because of my extensive experience, not only as an owner, but as the CFO, COO & CEO of a major nursery for more than 10 years. Budget is not an esoteric issue in business: you live or die by doing it right --- and I have those skills.By late 1990s, early 2000s I had become a nationally recognized leader on invasive species policies and issues speaking before not only the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) but industry and private organization across the US and Canada and Africa. In this role I worked to bring people, policies and programs together to afind common ground. I was appointed to the National Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) eventually becoming its Vice Chair. I worked with Early Detection and Rapid Response Initiatives with the port of Charleston.

I served at the U.S. Green Building Council’s national sustainable landscape initiative (SITES) managed by the LBJ Wild Flower Center in Austin, Texas working on the invasive species component of the vegetative landscape sub committee for more than two years. I have testified on issues of environmental justice before state legislators in Annapolis and worked with a river keeper to develop invasive species policy parameters. I reviewed and commented on proposed legislation and regulations in the State of Maryland surrounding invasive species, including the regional planning staff’s landscape manual plant list.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Five quick tips before buying a plant for your home (PodCast)

If you want more detail let me know -

Friday, April 09, 2010

USDA BARC: Public Testimony to Congress on behalf of the people and programs of the National Agricultural Research Center

Friends of Agricultural Research – Beltsville, Inc. (FAR-B)
P. O. Box 1061
Beltsville, MD 20704-1061
Dedicated to Promoting the Research and Education Mission of the Henry A. Wallace
Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Beltsville, Maryland

Written Public Testimony for Fiscal Year 2011
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development,
Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations United States House of Representatives

Submitted by Vernon G. Pursel, President, Friends of Agricultural Research–Beltsville
March 18, 2010

Madam Chair, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to present our statement regarding funding for the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and especially for the Agency’s flagship research facility, the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC), in Maryland. Our organization--Friends of Agricultural Research - Beltsville―promotes the Center’s current and long-term agricultural research, outreach, and educational missions. In this request, we support $13 million of increases proposed in the President’s budget for the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. Also, we ask restoration of $111,000 of decreases proposed for the U.S. National Arboretum, Washington, DC, and $2,918,000 of decreases proposed for the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. These actions, if approved, would restore the increases for the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center to $13 million.
Before turning to explanatory specifics, please allow us to note for the record that during this calendar year the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center will mark a great historical milestone, a milestone to celebrate the many great and small accomplishments that BARC research has contributed to the nation’s agricultural bounty and to the overall march of scientific progress. A century has passed since 1910, the year research at Beltsville began with the assembly of a dairy cattle herd for research purposes. The ensuing BARC story is by all rights a great national story—a story of world-class accomplishment. BARC Director Joseph Spence and his staff are planning worthy events to commemorate the centennial year.
The Friends of Agricultural Research - Beltsville (FAR-B) is honored to be both a participant in the centennial planning process and a contributor to coming events. We would be pleased, Madam Chair, to answer any questions, to collect any information or documents the Subcommittee might wish regarding the centennial.
We now turn to the specifics of our testimony for FY-2011. Most Fiscal Year 2011 increases in the President's budget for BARC appeared (sometimes under slightly different headings) in our testimony for Fiscal Years 2009 or 2010. We strongly support all the proposed increases.
Animal Breeding and Protection, $1,500,000. The promise of understanding the genome of plants and animals is being fully exploited at Beltsville. In groundbreaking research conducted here, scientists have been able to quickly and accurately identify dairy bulls that will produce daughters that are the most efficient milk producers. Now a simple test at birth can predict at twice the former accuracy and at a cost of about $250 the potential of a bull to sire high producing cows. Traditionally, bull prediction methods have required farmers to maintain and study cows for several years, at a cost up to $50,000 per bull. The potential for developing and expanding this breakout technology is huge and at great savings to farmer and consumer alike.
Colony Collapse of Honey Bees, $500,000. The loss of honey bees has and will continue to have a major effect on American agriculture. Crops such as almonds are entirely dependent on the honey bee for pollination. Research conducted at Beltsville is regarded as the most significant and effective at addressing the issue of colony collapse disorder and the funds will make use of the recently reported DNA sequence of nosema, a pathogen that is associated with colony collapse disorder. BARC scientists determined the DNA sequence for nosema.
Crop Breeding and Protection, $1,250,00. A number of crops of great agronomic importance to the United States are at risk from emerging diseases that can devastate crop yield. Research to identify germplasm that is resistant to these emerging diseases is being conducted at BARC. The research combines BARC’s unique germplasm resources with outstanding breeding research ability to develop improved crop varieties with resistance to emerging diseases.
Food Safety, $1,500,000. The Beltsville Area has established the largest single food safety unit in ARS. This research unit will focus on a number of issues, including safety of fruits and vegetables and food safety issues related to organic agriculture. The ability exists at BARC to raise crops and animals under farm conditions, and then to process, store, and package the resulting products. The ability to propose and test interventions that greatly reduce pathogen exposure in foods, and ultimately in people, is a unique feature of the food safety research program at BARC.
Global Climate Change, $800,000. BARC has unique growth chambers that can measure and observe plant growth at every stage or part from root to stem, and under every conceivable atmospheric condition. BARC is using these chambers to measure the effects of increasing atmospheric CO2 and changes in environmental temperatures. Studies are underway not only on agronomically important crops, but also on invasive weeds. BARC research shows that environmental changes may enhance the rapid growth of invasive plants, thus threatening to exacerbate already costly problems for American agriculture.
Human Nutrition, $5,400,000. Obesity negatively impacts the health and productivity of the American public. Moreover, obesity comes with greatly increased risk of chronic diseases that dramatically add to the economic costs of health care. The Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC) is researching barriers and facilitators that may discourage or encourage Americans from following recommended Dietary Guidelines; that is, why adults and children from major U.S. racial/ethnic groups may or may not follow dietary guidelines. A major research emphasis is to prevent obesity through a better understanding of why people make the food choices they do. This research also will help USDA design and implement more effective food assistance programs. Furthermore, this research will help to define the progress of efforts to prevent obesity in children because it takes advantage of the unique national food consumption survey “What We Eat in America”, conducted by BHNRC and is the nation’s nutrition monitoring effort.
Local Food Systems, $500,000. BARC scientists are working with farmers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to learn how to improve on-farm conservation practices that will improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. The research goals—targeting the entire range of Eastern Shore farming practices—include reducing fertilizer and pesticide usage. A central goal is to create agronomic and animal waste management practices that will reduce fertilizer usage and control pollution runoff. Biocontrol studies are searching out ways to minimize the need for pesticides. Scientists also are using advanced remote sensing and hydrological technologies to protect the health of the Chesapeake watershed. Because BARC is a working farm and has established collaborations with producers on the Eastern Shore, BARC is an ideal place to study the utilization of farm-generated waste products. Farm-generated waste products can be environmentally harmful, have little or no value to the farmer, and be costly to dispose of. Work at Beltsville has led to the effective development of technologies and products that take waste by-products and convert them to valuable new products. Examples include biofuels and plastics made without petroleum.
Plant, Animal, and Microbial Collections, $1,250,000. BARC maintains and expands the Federal government’s unique collections of biological materials and organisms that are of utmost importance in identifying pests and parasites in the United States and are critical for preventing unwanted pests from entering the United States through imports or by international travelers, as well as demonstrating that our exports are safe. These unique, irreplaceable collections include the invaluable reference collections of insects, nematodes, parasites, and fungi, and the national Germplasm Resource Information Network. These world-class collections and information systems attract leading experts from around the world in efforts to globally control diseases and pests. The continued availability of research in this general area of systematics is essential for trade, for homeland security, and for the protection of American agriculture.
Reduce World Hunger, $300,000. This research will collect phenotypic data and use genome sequence derived markers to characterize germplasm for traits of importance in food animals. Of most significance, this work will utilize BARC’s Animal Improvements Laboratory, which is a truly unique research operation that builds on 100 years of expertise at BARC.
Now we turn to proposed decreases, all listed as earmarks in the President’s budget. We recommend restoration of these funds.
Medicinal and Bioactive Crops, $111,000. This funding is critical to continue research on the beneficial boioactive components in plants and herbs. These components have been shown at BARC to enhance human health.
Biomedical Materials in Plants, $1,700,000. Plants can be used as factories to manufacture vaccines and other pharmaceuticals for animals and humans. This research focuses on development of alternative crops to produce these biomedical products.
Bioremediation Research, $111,000. Munitions storage sites and bombing ranges in parts of the U.S. have left huge tracts of soils and lands contaminated by highly toxic residues from such explosives as TNT. Those soils and lands now are limited environmentally for commercial or agricultural purposes. These funds support ongoing research to determine if forage plants can remove TNT and its metabolites from contaminated sites. Beltsville is a world recognized leader in the field of bioremediation. This work is not done anywhere else in ARS.
Foundry Sand By-Products Utilization, $638,000. Waste sands from the metal casting industry currently are dumped in landfills. This project is working with industry on guidelines for beneficial uses of these sands.
Potato Diseases, $61,000. These funds are used for research activities on genetic improvement of potato and reducing diseases of potato. While a small amount of money, these funds are used to supplement ongoing efforts in this important area.
Poultry Diseases, $408,000. Coccidiosis, a parasitic poultry disease, costs the industry almost $1 billion per year. This research focuses on understanding the genetics of both the parasite and the host chicken to identify targets that will allow better disease prevention and control.
Madam Chair, that concludes our statement. We again thank you for the opportunity to present our testimony and for your interest and support.


Vernon G. Pursel, Ph.D.