Unseen to most of us, millions of little helpers are doing damage control on reclaimed coal mine land.
Kelly and Julie Krabbenhoft, KDK Consulting, are the contractors hired by Basin Electric to do the work of moving the beetles in the spring and early summer to make sure the beetles are doing the most damage to the weeds as they possibly can.
“We use nets to collect beetles in areas where we know they’re thick, and move them to areas we want them to focus on,” says Kelly Krabbenhoft. “Naturally, they would just keep moving, but this helps quicken the process.”
The Krabbenhofts walk the pasture, sweeping nets near the ground to collect the beetles. Depending on how thick the beetles are, it’ll take anywhere from 1 minute to 30 minutes to catch 1,000 beetles. “In 2004, we had a year where the leafy spurge was really thin and the beetles were thick. We caught 1 million beetles in an hour,” he says. The Krabbenhofts count the beetles when they get back to their pickup truck; the scoop cup they use holds about 50,000 beetles.
The beetles work effectively in that they kill the plant at the root, whereas pesticide will only kill the plant out of the ground. “When the beetles lay their eggs, they lay them adjacent to the plant. The eggs will hatch and burrow down to find the first lateral root, and stay there all winter and feed off the root system,” Krabbenhoft says. “The beetles don’t eat anything other than leafy spurge, so they only affect the bad weeds, and not the plants that cattle like to eat.”
The Krabbenhofts move the beetles to the edges of large patches of leafy spurge, and the beetles will work their way in. Krabbenhoft says it also seems the beetles like to work from the top of a hill, down.
“Doing this is a more natural method of dealing with noxious weeds than spraying,” Krabbenhoft says. “Spreading leafy spurge beetles doesn’t affect the bees, butterflies, other insects who were out here to begin with.”
Michelle Schroeder, Basin Electric property and right of way agent, says Basin Electric has used leafy spurge beetles to control the weed since 1997. “Because we are required to keep a handle on leafy spurge, unlike a private landowner, we will use pesticide on the highly visible areas of the reclaimed land, and the areas near other landowners,” she says. “If we don’t contain it, it will go rampant. But when you get out into the land, we prefer to use the beetles. Not only is using the beetles less expensive than spraying but it’s also better environmentally.”
Schroeder says the one area of the mine used to be nicknamed, “‘Leafy spurge valley.’ You look at that area now, and it’s mostly grass, all taken care of by beetles.”