Biological weed control in Montana dates back to 1948 with the release of Chrysolina beetles on St. Johnswort by then State Entomologist, George Roemhilt. In the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s, additional agent releases were made on St. Johnswort, leafy spurge, musk thistle, Canada thistle, puncturevine, and spotted knapweed by the Montana Department of Agriculture and the USDA ARS Rangeland Insect Laboratory. In 1976, with the successful establishment of Urophora flies on spotted knapweed and growing awareness of the knapweed problem in western Montana, Montana State University (MSU) hired a fulltime research scientist at the Western Research Experiment Station in Corvallis.
In the 1980s, an assistant professor was added on the main campus of MSU to work primarily on biocontrol of toadflaxes and leafy spurge. To augment the Montana biological control activities and the redistribution of agents by USDA ARS and MSU, the USDA APHIS Center for Plant Health and Science and Technology (CPHST) opened a laboratory in Bozeman. Funding was obtained by MSU to construct the Insect Quarantine Laboratory, which became operational in 1988. At this time, MSU hired a Quarantine Officer/Research Scientist and USDA ARS transferred two entomologists from its quarantine in Albany, California. In 1989, USDA ARS expanded its biological control program by hiring a Research Leader for the newly formed Rangeland Weeds Lab. Additional personnel were assigned to this new lab in Bozeman and another scientist was transferred to the USDA ARS laboratory in Sidney to work on leafy spurge.
The 1990s saw a major expansion of Montana biological control activities as agents became available for spotted, diffuse, and Russian knapweeds; leafy spurge; Dalmatian and yellow toadflax; musk thistle; and other weeds. The USDA Forest Service transferred a research scientist from Hawaii to its Rocky Mountain Research Station in Bozeman. The USDI Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) also began active biological control programs. Various school groups in Columbus, later Whitehall and other areas, became active in rearing and redistributing agents. At the end of the decade the MSU Insect Quarantine Laboratory was expanded to include a plant pathology containment laboratory and additional greenhouses. In the late 1990s, the biological control program at Bozeman began to wane. The USDA ARS moved the Rangeland Weeds Lab to Sidney; USDA APHIS transferred from Bozeman to regional facilities in Fort Collins, Colorado; and one of the MSU scientists left Bozeman to join the USDA Cooperative States Research Service (CSRS) in Washington, D.C.
In the 2000s, the importation of new biological control agents decreased as the regulatory process became more discriminating and lengthier. Agents for spotted knapweed and leafy spurge were established and foreign screening for new agents for these weeds ceased. However, screening of agents for several new target weeds, such as hoarycress, Russian knapweed, and hawkweeds, was initiated. Several regional consortia formed to help fund overseas screening. Biocontrol projects against tansy ragwort, leafy spurge, and spotted knapweed started to show success. On the personnel front, the MSU scientist in Corvallis retired but another MSU professor in Bozeman reinitiated work on toadflax. The USDA ARS Sidney lab expanded its biological control personnel and a second Montanan containment facility was constructed at Sidney. The USDA Forest Service in Bozeman also replaced its retiring scientist with two new research entomologists.
Recently new agents have become available (e.g. for Russian knapweed and hawkweeds) and others are currently in the screening process (see Appendix 2). Release sites and biocontrol agents continue to be monitored, agent redistribution projects are ongoing, and surveys continue for new and extant weeds.
In 2013, a new statewide biocontrol coordinator was funded and the Montana Biological Weed Control Coordination Project (MTBCP) was created. The Mission of the MTBCP is to provide the leadership, coordination and education necessary to enable land managers across Montana to successfully incorporate biological weed control into their noxious weed management programs. The MTBCP is possible due to annual contributions received from across the state and success in grant writing. Therefore, MTBCP is ever-evolving, striving to provide the deliverables that land managers in Montana desire.