It is not news to say that 2020 has been a year unlike any other. We have all needed to adapt and re-strategize to keep up with the changing tides this year has brought us. The annual California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) Symposium was not exempt, adapting by taking the symposium online for the first time. The topic this year was Recovery and Resilience: Confronting Fire, Weeds, and Forest Pests. However, you might as well add confronting COVID-19, toilet paper shortages, and presidential elections to that list, too. The theme of ‘Recovery and Resilience’ could not have been more apt for 2020.
The Cal-IPC Symposium was the third online conference that I attended in the month of October. At the beginning of the month, the UC Master Gardeners hosted their online mini conference through YouTube and Facebook live with the recordings uploaded to YouTube later and remain available to watch for free. Then there was the North America Invasive Species Management Association (NAISMA) Conference at which I was invited to present on PlantRight’s behalf. NAISMA held their conference on a platform called Attendify. The hosts thoroughly prepped the presenters by hosting practice sessions on the platform and posting how-to videos for screen sharing, using the chat functions, and more. The Cal-IPC Symposium was held on a platform called Whova. It had some similarities to Attendify such as a home page for the event with tabs on the side of the screen where you could click to the agenda, exhibitors “hall,” personal messages, and more. Both platforms worked very well for hosting an online conference although there was a learning curve to using them.
Overall, I think the online conference format was a positive experience. It gave speakers and attendees an opportunity to attend conferences they may not otherwise have access to. It was also convenient to have the power to watch recorded sessions when it worked best for my schedule rather than rushing around from room to room in an event center and crossing my fingers that I’m in the right session at the right time. That being said, I do miss travelling and networking in-person. I think the future of conferences will likely be a hybrid model of online and in-person events. Best of both worlds, so to speak.
It was an honor to co-present at the NAISMA conference. NAISMA has a national audience, and it was interesting to hear about invasive species work being done all over the country. In my session, “Engaging the Horticultural Industry on the Sale of Invasive Ornamental Plants,” there were two other presenters. Evelyn Beaury who presented on her work of surveying for invasive species in Massachusetts and Katie Grzesiak from Go Beyond Beauty, an invasive plant program in Michigan. I co-presented with Jan Merryweather of Sustainable Conservation on what PlantRight has learned during our 15 years of operation.
A main take-away from this session was that PlantRight is not alone in its work to get invasive species out of the horticultural market! This important issue has been recognized and is being addressed nationwide by numerous organizations. Another key take-away was that collaboration is key! Not only is collaboration a key tenet of the PlantRight program, but it is essential to any successful invasive species work. Hearing from the other speakers doing similar work has sparked creativity and inspiration for me, and by the number of times PlantRight was mentioned by the other speakers, it seems our work has inspired other programs as well.
At the Cal-IPC Symposium there were many wonderful and informative presentations. There were some fantastic innovative projects discussed such as treating aquatic invasive plants with UV light boats, monitoring and treating invasives with drones, and sequencing environmental DNA to gather data on invasive plants and influencing factors in their environments. As someone who works in an office instead of the field with invasive plants, I found these methods fascinating albeit not applicable in my day-to-day job. However, it is important to hear reports from the field on what is and is not working and which plants are and are not being well controlled.
One particularly relevant talk was Jutta Burger (Cal-IPC) and Robert Prices’ (CDFA) new weed alerts presentation. Although most of the species discussed were not ornamental, one was—licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare). This species has been on the PlantRight survey before, but has not yet been listed on our Priority Invasive Plant List; yet with reports of new spread, I’d be surprised if we don’t hear a lot more about this one in the coming year.
Another session I want to highlight was Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR). It resonated with me because PlantRight’s programs also work at this point in the invasion curve—prevention. Some key themes that kept coming up reminded me of my own key themes from my NAISMA talk: collaborate with existing efforts, partner with other business and organizations, listen and be flexible, and involve volunteers. These themes are the pillars of our work, and they are what make us resilient.