Invasive plants are a rapidly growing issue in Alaska. Education is the key to preventing new species from establishing in Alaska and reducing the spread of the species already here. WEED WACKERS is designed to be an Alaska-specific resource for teachers to integrate the study of invasive plants in their classrooms. Because the issue of invasive plants is such a new issue in our state, teachers implementing these lessons in their classroom are at the forefront of conservation education in Alaska. Students will conduct research that is on the cutting edge of this topic. The information they obtain will be relevant and useful to our state and communities, and should be shared with the community of researchers, land managers and experts trying to tackle the issue of invasive plants across the state.

In Unit 1,
Alaskan teachers and students will become familiarized with invasive and non-native plant species currently in Alaska. The lessons will help students define the problem of invasive plants and explore questions relevant to halting the spread of invasive plants in Alaska. Which plant species are non-native and invasive in the state? How can we identify them? Why do we care about invasive species? How can invasive plants impact Alaskan habitats? A variety of activities in this unit will help students address these questions and set the stage for further experimentation and exploration of invasive plants.

In Unit 2,
students will conduct meaningful, cutting edge research in experiments adapted from current University of Alaska experiments. The classroom inquiries in this unit investigate questions that are only beginning to be studied in Alaska’s unique ecosystems. For example, in the lesson “Weed Seeds and Alaska’s Changing Climate” students investigate the question “What is the relationship between a warmer winter climate and invasive plant establishment in Alaska?” In a series of three lessons on the relationship between invasive plants and disturbance, students have the opportunity to investigate the question “Will increasing fires in Alaska promote invasive plant spread?” This question becomes ever more relevant as the warming summer temperatures in Alaska create drier, more flammable forests. In two WEED WACKERS experiments, students will compare germination and competitive abilities of a variety of Alaska’s native and invasive plants species helping to gain valuable evidence in the current quest to answer the question “Will invasive plants alter boreal and arctic tundra plant communities?” Students will be immersed in current ecological puzzles and will help fill the information gap on invasive plants in Alaskan ecosystems.

In Unit 3, students explore the relationships between human society, culture and invasive plants in Alaska. As Alaskans, we depend on many non-native plant species, and introduce them either on purpose or by accident for agricultural or ornamental purposes. Not all non-native plants are able live in Alaska without the help of humans. However, some non-native plant species can live on their own, or become naturalized, and some can become invasive and spread out of control.
Human activities facilitate the spread of invasive plants throughout Alaska. Unlike any other state in the U.S., we are only at the beginning of the invasion process and still have many wild areas that have never been touched by a human, let alone an invasive plant. If we act quickly and continue to educate our communities, we can help prevent the continued invasion.

The lessons in WEED WACKERS can inspire Alaskan youth to become advocates for the conservation of our natural resources and habitats and empower them to be civic leaders and scientists that will make a positive difference for Alaska.