Natural resource specialist Will Drews says he’s grateful county leaders are budgeting $20,000 to address the invasive Callery Pear trees and poison hemlock that have taken root in Knox County.

“It’s both exciting and a little daunting,” Drews said with a laugh. “We’re thankful that the commissioners know there’s a large problem and are trying to address it.”

It was commissioner Trent Hinkle who made the pitch to county council members during their recent budget hearings to begin reducing the invasive species, saying he envisions a process similar to the Unsafe Building Board, by which the code enforcement officer and a three-member board handle complaints and work to make improvements.

The county already has an Invasive Species Board, set up in 2020 to crack down on the sale of invasive species locally.

But the new funding would be used to handle complaints of areas where the Callery Pear and poison hemlock are growing wild, taking over native plants and shrubs.

Drews says the invasive species ordinance has gone fairly smoothly with most businesses willingly complying, but this new plan is the next step in stemming the influx of invasive plants and trees.

“The idea is to do something about these couple of particularly problematic species before they get any worse.

“The Callery Pear is only going to get much worse in the coming years if we don’t do something about it now,” he said.

A drive through other nearby cities, like Evansville or Indianapolis, reveals solid stands of the problematic pear tree along highways, and Drews says while Knox County isn’t quite that bad yet, without immediate action, it’s only a matter of time.

Drews, who leads the Invasive Species Board, says they will specifically target areas along highways, ditch lines, and field edges for the removal of both of the invasive species.

The hemlock, he noted, “is in more places than it’s not,” because it can pop up anywhere thanks to birds spreading seeds.

“It’s nasty and a tricky one in that way, and it spreads aggressively,” Drews said, adding that “it is highly poisonous and can cause severe rashes in people who touch the sap from the plant.”

The board is still formulating the actual logistics of the new program, but essentially, reports of wild-growing Callery Pears and poisonous hemlock would go to Drews via a reporting system. The sightings would then be added to a treatment area list for removal.

“So we aren’t using the money to target households or force people to remove the Callery Pears from their private landscape, but we hope they will voluntarily remove them to prevent them from spreading further,” he said.

Next steps will include a revision to the invasive species ordinance, which Drews hopes will take effect in 2023. Then, he says, the board will begin pushing out information about the program and how people can participate.

“We’re grateful for the funding but know it’s a drop in the bucket, so for right now, we’re just trying to triage the situation,” he said.
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