(Miami-Dade County, FL) -- The Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department's Natural Areas Management Division (NAM), in partnership with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the TERRA High School Environmental Research Institute of Kendall will mark the one year anniversary of their joint partnership to discover and establish a new bio-control agent for the eradication of Air Potato Leaf with a special ceremony on Thursday, April 11, 2013, at 10:00 A.M. at Kendall Indian Hammocks Park, Pavilion #2. The event's main feature will be the ceremonial release of the Lilioceris Cheni beetle, the bio-control agent that has thus far proven in controlled environments to control and destroy the exotic invasive Air Potato, which has been a menace to agricultural lands, parks and residential backyards and gardens throughout the warm weather states in the southern region of the United States from Florida to Texas.
Just as the White Fly pest has been a destructive force in the area, Air Potato is a serious threat to South Florida's environment. Capable of growing vines that are 30-40 feet long, stifling native plants, and destroying landscaping, the nuisance has invaded various communities throughout Miami-Dade County, including Kendall, Coral Gables, Village of Palmetto Bay, Homestead, South Miami, Florida City, Miami Gardens, North Miami Beach and many more including unincorporated areas of Miami Dade.
"NAM's participation in this project has been vital," said Dr. Min Rayamajhi, a plant pathologist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service's Invasive Plant Research Unit. "NAM has provided us with a living laboratory without which this testing would not have been possible, and their bio-agricultural expertise in the removal of invasive non-native plants and bug control has been invaluable. We are extremely appreciative of their assistance, as the Air Potato situation is urgently in need of a remedy for which currently there is none."
Long-standing partners for more than 15 years, the USDA and NAM began this joint venture to discover a safe and successful method for eradicating the exotic, invasive Air Potato plant species in fall 2011, when the USDA requested NAM's help, asking it to provide a controlled living preserve in which to test the impact of the Lilioceris Cheni Beetle on Air Potato. In November 2011, the first test-release of the beetles to combat Air Potato took place in Kendall Indian Hammocks Park, where growth of the vine has been a rampant problem. Thursday's ceremonial event marks the start of the second year of the project, which is expected to show results in summer of 2013 that will conclusively reveal the release of the beetles is an actual and practical method for eradicating Air Potato. The test project will have serious implications for the successful control of the invasive vine on a national and even international scale, as Air Potato has also been found in Canada and Mexico.
Most of Miami-Dade County's natural areas are seriously threatened by invading non-native pest plants, a situation aggravated by hurricanes and storms, which destroy tree canopy and increase the vulnerability of natural areas to invasion by exotic species. Natural areas are the hammocks, pinelands, wetlands, mangrove forests, and seashores that once covered all of Miami-Dade County, but now remain only in protected undeveloped areas. These habitats, and the plants and animals living in them, comprise the County's natural heritage, a treasured resource for future generations.
NAM is responsible for the restoration and maintenance of nature preserves throughout Miami-Dade County, a total of 26,000 acres across 85 properties. In addition to serving as a division of Miami-Dade Parks (MDPROS), NAM also performs services for the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program of Miami-Dade County's Regulatory and Economic Resources Department.
"NAM is a critical division of the Miami-Dade Parks Department," said Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department Director Jack Kardys. "NAM's daily management and restoration of environmental resources throughout Miami-Dade County help to create a healthy environment for people, wildlife and nature to live in and flourish."
Important to the success of the USDA-NAM Air Potato eradication initiative has been the participation of the students of TERRA Environmental Research Institute's Environmental Academy in Kendall. TERRA, Miami's first Gold LEED-certified high school, a "green school," whose campus is adjacent to Kendall Indian Hammocks Park, has involved the students in NAM volunteer projects since the school opened in 2009. The joint project with the USDA has presented a unique opportunity to engage the students in a high-profile experiment, working alongside scientists, and to provide them with hands-on experience in an outdoor lab, represented by the park. The students have helped NAM to build Air Potato research and control plots at their school, using equipment donated by the USDA. They have also helped with Air Potato removal from the park and four seniors have worked on thesis projects and research related to Air Potato management. These students will be presenting their research findings during the event.
Together, the USDA, NAM and TERRA students will release the exotic Lilioceris Cheni beetles on April 11, for what is hoped to be the final conclusive 12-month trial-run of the usage of the beetles to control Air Potato. If this final test is successful, the official announcement of the discovery of a viable and environmentally sustainable solution to the problem should follow later in 2013, and the Air Potato's days of wreaking havoc on vegetation throughout Florida, the US and abroad will be history, thanks to the local efforts of NAM, the USDA and a little known high school in Kendall named, "TERRA High."
About the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department:
Nationally accredited, a three-time winner of the NRPA National Gold Medal Award and winner of the 2009 Florida Governor's Sterling Award for excellence in management and operations, Miami-Dade County Parks is the third largest county park system in the United States, consisting of 260 parks and 12,825 acres of land. It is one of the most unique park and recreation systems in the world. Made up of more than just playgrounds and athletic fields, it also comprises out-of-school, sports-development, and summer-camp programs; programs for seniors and people with disabilities; educational nature centers and nature preserves; environmental restoration efforts; arts and culture programs and events; the renowned Zoo Miami and the Deering Estate at Cutler; the Crandon Tennis Center, home of the Sony Open; golf courses; beaches; marinas; campgrounds; pools; and more. For information about Miami-Dade County Parks call 3-1-1, or visit www.miamidade.gov/parks/.
Miami-Dade County Parks is supported by The Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade a non-profit 501(c)3 organization supporting the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department's efforts to further develop Miami-Dade County's world-class parks system for residents and visitors. Its mission is to create a healthier, more livable and sustainable Miami community by ensuring the implementation of the Parks Open Space Master Plan and the development of year-round park and recreation programs for local children, adults and people with disabilities. For more information on the Parks Foundation, please visit www.miamidade.gov/parks_foundation.
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