By The Bakersfield Californian
Tumbleweeds are considered incorrectly to be an icon of the Old West. Wrong: The nasty things were imported. Their proper name is Russian thistle and they were brought in by the government -- we're here to help you -- as an erosion control and cattle food. When the tumbleweeds do their thing and tumble, they are dropping off seeds in their travels and so spread into thick, nasty mats.
They are not a problem in their native lands, as there is a mite that eats them and keeps them under control. The mite is being studied by the Department of Agriculture. These mites would not totally eliminate tumbleweeds, as when the weeds diminish so do the mites and the tumbleweeds make a comeback to start a cycle over again, but in reduced numbers. The microscopic mites are being held in quarantine to make sure that they are a specific predator to tumbleweeds and would not become a pest themselves if released.
The Bakersfield area has so many tumbleweeds that they are expensive to control in local agricultural fields; they also clog canals and damage water pumps. The cost of control is very expensive and the fact that they are burned as a control method affects our air quality.
While the economic cost would justify Bakersfield being a first area for the mite's release, the benefits to what is one of the worst air basins in the nation should be the driving factor for its initial release to this area.