The Bitterroot National Forest’s Gil Gale was recently recognized nationally for his dedicated leadership in controlling and managing invasive species threatening national forest lands.

While honored, Gale said the award really recognizes the work by many people from all different walks of life who decided to make a difference in keeping noxious weeds and other invasive life forms at bay.

“That’s what this is really all about,” Gale said. “The value of an award like this one is that it gives exposure and emphasis to that effort.”

“This is a complex issue that most people don’t even realize is happening,” he said. “It’s outside most spheres of concern for most people, but it’s a big deal. This is a global and national threat to the native landscapes that we all hold dear.”

Gale’s national award was one of several recently delivered as part of the 2013 National Forest System Invasive Species Program Awards.

The national awards honor individuals and groups for outstanding work against aquatic and terrestrial invasive species threatening the National Forest System.

Gale was recognized for forging strong relationships with local, state, and county partners and adjacent landowners.

In particular, the award focused on Gale’s efforts to implement an innovative partnership with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to deploy a portable boat washing station at lakeside recreation sites on the Bitterroot Forest to limit the risk of introduction of non-native Quagga and Zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil.

He also worked proactively with firefighters to minimize the risk of spreading weeds during and following wildfire suppression activities.

In the wilderness, Gale has taken a proactive approach against high-risk invaders by implementing annual backcountry surveys for detection, coupled with a rapid response strategy for eradication of newly detected populations. He also implemented a strong weed-seed-free forage program in the wilderness.

All of those efforts wouldn’t work without cooperation and dedication from a wide variety of both public and private interests, Gale said.

“For instance, the Ravalli County Off-Road Users Association have done a great job of detecting terrestrial plant invaders,” Gale said.

On top of that, they’ve also instituted a vehicle weed washing program of their own.

“They’ve taken it upon themselves to get involved,” Gale said. “Any success we have in this mission is a product of skills, time and dedication of different agencies, groups and individuals. It’s on the ground work that makes a difference in the detection and eradication of these new invaders.

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“Talk means nothing,” he said. “Action means everything.”

Gale said he’s found fertile ground here in the Bitterroot Valley when it comes to finding people who want to be involved in addressing the issue of addressing both plant and animal invasive species.

“It’s a scientific fact that global warming is accelerating ecological changes across the globe in a drastic way,” Gale said. “We’re facing enormous changes that will impact the function of both our natural systems and managed systems like agriculture.

“Our task and mission is to try to maintain as much of that native function as we can,” he said. “As far as early detection and eradication goes, we’re waking up earlier this time around.

“If we had started playing this game 30 or 40 years ago, we wouldn’t be facing the problems we are now,” he said.

Gale serves as a forest staff officer and program leader for invasive species, wildlife, botany and range on the Bitterroot National Forest.

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Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.

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