Status of Kudzu in Illinois: Building a Framework for Eradication

Field investigations were conducted in 1996 & 1997 by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Heritage to determine the extent and distribution of kudzu (Pueraria lobata) in Illinois. Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) was introduced into the United States from Japan in 1876. Though promoted and planted in the 1930s to control soil erosion, kudzu has grown out of control, smothering, suppressing and killing other plants beneath its thick mass of leaves and vines, interfering with natural ecosystem function. As a result of this survey, 53 kudzu populations were documented from 23 counties.

As a result of this information, the Division of Natural Heritage hosted a meeting on August 18, 1998 to discuss the status of kudzu in Illinois. Land managers from various state and federal agencies were invited to discuss several aspects of the threat of kudzu and its control in Illinois. Officials presented evidence based on life history, impacts, and management case studies that kudzu posses characteristics of invasive nonnative species and pose a serious threat to public and private lands. It was agreed that kudzu could be and should be eradicated from Illinois and land managers were encouraged to initiate kudzu control/eradication. It was also emphasized that all land owners in an infestation area must cooperate in a unified program. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (INDR) was then challenged to incorporate private landowners into any eradication program.

In 1999, IDNR continued the Illinois kudzu survey and immediately began kudzu control on IDNR properties. Populations were treated using methods recommended by the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission which, as an agency, had been treating kudzu in Kentucky since 1990. The IDNR also began a comparative treatment study to gauge pesticide effectiveness and partially funded a seed viability and germination study with Eastern Illinois University. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois Department of Transportation also began treating kudzu on properties under their jurisdiction. IDNR met the challenge of treating private lands by providing assistance to landowners who would enter into a management agreement with the State. Thirty-three landowners entered into a management agreement the first year.

On August 23, 2000 a similar meeting was held, again, with Illinois land managers to summarize research findings, present updated survey information, discuss recent control efforts and methods, and to evaluate the current goal of eradication. First year results of control indicate the current control methods are successful. It was, again, decided that kudzu meets the criteria for eradication.

In March, 2002 State and Federal agencies in Illinois entered into a landmark agreement to implement an formal plan to eradicate kudzu from Illinois. The Illinois Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Transportation, along with the U.S. Forest Service (Shawnee National Forest), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service joined in the unique partnership to eradicate kudzu in Illinois before the federally listed noxious weed becomes a major economic and wildlife habitat pest. IDNR serves as the coordinating agency in this unique partnership, compiling and maintaining population data and treatment records for all land ownerships.

As a result of this agreement, The Illinois Department of Agriculture added kudzu to Illinois list of State Noxious Weeds and IDNR and State legislators added kudzu to the list of Illinois State Exotic Weeds. Both amendments which added kudzu to the existing laws are essential components of the eradication plan in order to aid in removal and to prevent inadvertent spread and reintroduction.

Currently, it is estimated that 461 acres of kudzu occurs in Illinois. Nearly eighty-one percent of these acres are currently under a treatment program. One-hundred and nine of the 133 landowners who have kudzu are currently receiving assistance from IDNR for eradication. Several populations being treated required multiple owner cooperation. IDNR expects to work with the remaining landowners in 2009. Funding for assistance on private lands came from grants awarded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, The Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Pulling Together Initiative and the US Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry Program.

Contact: Jody Shimp
Illinois Department of Natural Resources