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Meet USDA’s Youngest Ally in the Fight against Invasive Species: Ben Shrader, Invasive Hunter

Posted by Kelsey Branch, APHIS Biologist in Animals Plants
Feb 21, 2017

In the battle to preserve agriculture and the environment, Ben Shrader is Luke Skywalker and invasive species are Darth Vader.

Ben, a young man from central Texas, first became interested in invasive species after reading a newspaper article about plants wreaking havoc on native ecosystems. Also known as “Commander Ben,” he describes it as a “battle in nature, like good versus evil” and decided that he wanted to help the “good guys” win.

In his first of many spars with invasive species, Ben conducted a science fair project on giant reed (Arundo donax), an invasive plant that is damaging riparian ecosystems in his home state of Texas. But Ben didn’t stop there. Combining his love for filmmaking with his passion for science, Ben created a blog entitled “Commander Ben-The Invasive Hunter,” where he records his exploits and posts videos and other content to teach kids about the fight against invasive species.

When asked what young people can do to get involved, Ben recommends to “First, educate yourself about the area of science you’re interested in and then do field work to get hands-on experience. You can try different science activities, including pulling out invasive plants, looking through telescopes, doing chemistry experiments, digging for rocks and fossils, and observing things through a microscope.”

Kelsey Branch, APHIS Biologist, is pictured with “Commander” Ben Shrader, Invasive Hunter.
Kelsey Branch, APHIS Biologist, is pictured with “Commander” Ben Shrader, Invasive Hunter.

I first met Ben at Kids’ Day, an event held at the U.S. Botanic Garden to kick off National Invasive Species Awareness Week in Washington, DC. At Kids’ Day, Ben led the “Invasive Hunter Academy,” a brief program designed to teach kids about combatting invasive species in their area. In the near future, Ben hopes to make more “Battles with Invasives” videos, interview scientists at the Environmental Sciences Institute at the University of Texas, work with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and find new opportunities to bring his Invasive Hunter Academy to more kids.

Ben is an extraordinary young man and I am honored to have met him. He is one of those people that will excel at everything he attempts, because of his love for learning, creativity, and great work ethic. When asked what one thing he would change about the world, Ben replied that he would “prevent the burning of the ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt. Because of that loss, we, as a people, experienced a significant set-back and had to spend a lot of time relearning so much. If those books had never been destroyed, technology would be further advanced today.”

It is safe to say that we can expect great things from Ben Shrader, Invasive Hunter. Keep up with Ben’s battle against invasive species by following his blog at www.commanderben.com.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has declared April as Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month. Throughout the month, APHIS will post a series of blog entries here and also share invasive plant pest and disease information through our twitter feed. APHIS and its federal and state partners are fighting to protect our communities, our public lands, and our agricultural resources from invasive species. But we can’t do it alone. Join the fight by visiting www.HungryPests.com.

Commander Ben incorporates hands-on activities into his Invasive Hunter Academy, encouraging kids to join the fight against invasive species!
Commander Ben incorporates hands-on activities into his Invasive Hunter Academy, encouraging kids to join the fight against invasive species!

 

Category/Topic: Animals Plants