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Group members: Deborah Hayes, Barry Meyers-Rice, Al Cofrancesco, Stanley Jones, Elizabeth Kane, Ken Lakin, Susan McCarthy, Laurie Neville, Alex Petkov, Ron Stinner, Sterling White
All of the other working groups stated that an aggressive public outreach component was essential to the success of the National Early Warning System for Invasive Plants. Outreach can help the public become knowledgeable and willing to participate in detecting and reporting new occurrences of invasive species. It also fosters public support for providing needed resources to deal with new invasive species in a timely manner.
The specific charge to the Public Outreach and Information Access Working Group was to conceptualize an interagency system to encourage public involvement and support for detecting and reporting potential new invasive species or expanding ranges of established invaders, through the training of appropriate individuals in observing, collecting, reporting, assessing, eradicating, and controlling plant invasions. A number of special issues were suggested for group consideration, including:
The discussion was focused on education and outreach of the public, rather than a program to reach the professionals that would be dealing with the scientific and regulatory actions of early detection, rapid assessment, and rapid response. There is a great need to draw the public into the concept of early detection and rapid response so they can be a dynamic and contributing part of the effort - part of the solution, not part of the problem.
The Public Outreach Group operated under the following assumptions:
1. Establish a strategy for the empowerment and involvement of key partners.
Such a strategy should identify target audiences and utilize the appropriate partner to reach that specific group. Specific issues to be addressed include: On what level should the initial alert be broadcast: local, state or regional? What communication media would best supply information quickly to the appropriate recipients? How will information be transferred into the professional network for verification and archiving? What measures will best measure outcomes and how they will be evaluated.
2. Establish a national task group to foster collaboration with similar state task groups that will, in turn, work with local task groups. This hierarchical network would involve all stakeholders interested in participating as a partner. The stratification of an educational/public outreach program would facilitate outreach at whatever level is appropriate for the particular invasive species outbreak. For example, Asian Longhorn Beetle would be considered a regional problem and outreach would be at that level. Whereas, glassy wing sharpshooter was a southern California situation initially and would be coordinated on a multi-county level. The national task group should include all levels of government, tribes, NGO’s, academia, industry and trade groups, environmental groups, and appropriate international groups.
3. Develop educational resources and establish a web-based central information clearinghouse. New educational materials should be developed, both on the general topic of early detection of invasive species, as well as timely materials dealing with the latest alert.
One way of increasing availability of existing materials is through a virtual central catalog. Any group producing educational materials could provide information on content, cost, production runs, and distribution/shipping information to the catalog, and interested groups could order them directly from the supplier. The catalog could cover any type of media, from compact disks, tape cassettes, and videos to printed materials including handbooks, flyers, etc. Training materials such as keys, fact sheets, survey forms, and etc., could also be posted.
A short turnaround time for releasing information on new introductions could be achieved by developing web-based templates that would have standardized format and content. These would be easily adapted to insert the information needed for the invasive species and locale in question and would be accessible for any group to use. Templates could be also developed for wanted posters, flyers, fact sheets, brochures, etc.
Other ideas not specifically linked to early detection were explored. Many other educational materials could be developed and made available through a Virtual Catalog, for instance, quizzes, games and teaching modules for K-12. A web-based course on invasive species for teachers could used for continuing education credits. Canned talks on specific species or invasive species or topics could be downloaded, and a national /state speakers bureau could be established.
4. Establish a communication network for rapid exchange and distribution of early detection information.
Early detection is only valuable if the information is distributed rapid and efficiently, while there is still time to take action. Plans for distribution should already be in place at all levels, nationally, regionally and locally, when an invasive species is first verified.
On a national basis, it would be easiest to work though entities that can forward on information to many other groups. Certainly web-based distribution will be essential, with alerts being posted on national level websites and mailing lists. However, horticultural retailers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Catalog nurseries, could also be helpful in informing their customers about new invasive species.
On a regional basis, state and regional land management centers (e.g., Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Materials Centers) could carry messages for visitors to their lands. Many of these same visitors would carry the message back to other states. Universities and professional societies could issue alerts through their channels.
A local distribution network might be composed of posting flyers in grocery stores,
Library branches, and Garden centers. Many groups have already been successful in working with local newspapers to develop inserts. A group in California was able to get a line on the local ,
5. Target the media is as a fulltime communication network.
Media relations can be critical in communicating directly to the public, and in establishing the credibility of the information. At the national level, electronic news bureaus such as the Associated Press can be invaluable in disseminating information. To foster a knowledgeable media, seminars for journalists could be held to provide information on invasive species issues as well as the need for immediate response to new reports of invasions.
Local cable TV distributors often have a channel reserved for local information, both both for new shows and talk show formats. Community service information distributors, such as libraries and museums should be contacted. Other regional/local media, such as the environmental newspapers, freelance writers, local newspapers, etc., should also be included in developing news on local, regional and national impacts of invasive species. All interagency committee or coordinators dealing with invasive species should become adept at pulling together relevant information press packages as well as in determining when and how to issue appropriate press releases. Video clips of stock footage should be made available to new organizations as attachments to press releases.
In addition to a characterization of invasive species alerts as appropriate news flashes, there is also the option of taking out paid advertising. In planning a national media blitz for the general topic, it would probably be prudent to work with a professional marketing agency. Many local groups have been successful at engaging the public by paying for local inserts on their current weed problems. Public service announcements (PSAs) should be developed and made available for local news/media outlets, and should be kept current.
Documentaries of invasive species impacts can be very effective in laying out the problem before the public. Film from these documentaries can be used in shorter educational videos, or even made available as stock footage to the media or used for PSAs.
6. Develop efficient ways to facilitate information exchange between messengers and recipients.
A "World-Wide Weed Web" (WWWW) would be extremely useful, and far reaching in addressing early alerts. The initiation of such a project would be challenging. The challenge would be in screening the participant websites for accuracy and credibility of information posted. For this reason, the backbone of such a undertaking would have to be the government agencies, NGO’s , industry, academic and scientific institutions. For example: state and local government, extension agents, farm bureaus, libraries, and schools at all levels could develop websites relevant to their own issues; but there would still have to be an organizing force at the national and international level.
A WWWW would be useful in posting not only early alerts, but also training materials, templates for information brochures and other educational materials. When a new alert is issued, a taxonomic key could be posted to help volunteers distinguish a new invasive species from related or look-a-like organisms.
7. Develop mechanisms for the public to become involved.
Volunteer programs for early detection of invasive species can be quite powerful. Not only would they serve to get hundreds of thousands of new eyes looking for new invasions, but they would also reinforce the information received through other outlets. Several concepts underlie a successful volunteer program for early detection: 1) The partnerships should be developed early, before there is a new invasion; 2) the volunteers should be duly recognized in a public manner for their contributions; 3) there should be adequate feedback to the volunteers that their efforts have been successful and useful.
There are a number of options for developing such a national program, but one of the best models would be the "Master" programs, such as Master Gardeners and Master Loggers, often are taught through universities and their extension programs. Volunteers trained in these programs could become the local spotters on a county basis. They could also serve as the local educators in working with youth groups, such as Girl and Boy Scouts, 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA). They could also work with schools to sponsor science fair projects dealing with invasive species. These volunteers would be the local links to State Weed Coordinator. There are also professional groups that provide additional information in the course of their normal duties, such as the Crop Consultants of America, or Highway Department personnel.
Two specific volunteer projects that were mentioned were highway cleanup teams and a national invasive species inventory. The highway cleanup teams would work in a manner similar to the Adopt-a-Highway program, i.e., a local volunteer group would periodically walk a highway corridor to inventory and identify invasive species. The group could go a step further to eradicate or control invasive species where safe methods are available. The national invasive species inventory would work in a manner similar to the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, especially in sensitive areas considered vulnerable to invasive species, or in perimeter areas of infestations. A well trained volunteer force could functionally augment the professional cadre in carrying out important inventories.