King County Executive Dow Constantine recently debuted a new mobile app feature at Marymoor Park near Redmond that makes it easy for King County residents to submit a photo and the precise location of noxious weeds to a team of county specialists who will quickly respond anywhere in the region.
The new feature — developed with Microsoft and Slalom Consulting — sends the photo and location to a team of specialists who will determine if it is a noxious weed that needs to be eradicated and what action to take. The team will coordinate other county employees and partners to remove the noxious weeds, typically within a few days after receiving the tip, according to a press release.
“King County has the strongest commitment to environmental stewardship in the country. We are also the proud home of world-leading tech companies,” Constantine said in the release. “We have combined those two strengths to design an easy-to-use app that will help our specially trained experts eradicate invasive plants that are harmful to people, wildlife, and habitat.”
According to the release, the app, called King County Connect, does not require users to sign in or enter a password. It features a library of photos and weed descriptions to help users identify the plant. If a user is unable to identify the plant, one of King County’s specialists will personally respond to help.
It is the newest feature on King County Connect, an app that offers mobile access to county employees who can answer questions and help residents navigate the other services that King County offers.
“I am excited to see King County continue utilizing innovative technology by launching this noxious weeds smartphone app. This app makes it possible for residents to identify and report noxious weeds to the county from wherever they may be,” county councilmember Kathy Lambert said in the release. “Noxious weeds are a serious problem across all of King County, as invasive species can damage the delicate ecosystem of the region. Additionally, the County owns so much land that it is impossible to monitor it all. That is where you come in. This app makes it easy for you to help solve this problem, and I strongly encourage you go outside and give it a try.”
Removing invasive species
According to the release, King County prioritizes new invasive species and poisonous weeds — particularly giant hogweed, tansy ragwort, poison-hemlock, and garlic mustard — that pose the greatest threat to people, wildlife, and habitat. Noxious weeds can degrade forests, trails, and recreation areas and can alter the region’s ecosystem. They also can have a significant impact on agriculture, resulting in smaller crops and higher production costs, the release states.
“It can be difficult to find new patches of invasive plants over such a large county, so the more eyes we have out there looking, the better chance we have of preventing future problems,” Sasha Shaw, education specialist for King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, said in the release. “This easy-to-use app will enhance the great work our talented staff does each day by making it easier for them to connect with the people of King County.”
The idea for the noxious weed locator emerged last year during a hack-a-thon where King County IT employees brainstormed with representatives from Microsoft and Slalom to make it easier for residents to connect residents with local government, according to the release. The noxious weed reporting function is the first of what will be several features of the King County Connect app.
“This app uses the latest technology to deliver innovative solutions to keep people and our environment safer in King County,” said Tanya Hannah, chief information officer and director for King County’s Department of Information Technology, in the release.
In the release, Eric Egland with Microsoft’s public sector division, added, “The app was developed using Microsoft Visual Studio, Xamarin cross-platform mobile technology, as well as Azure Cognitive Services and ESRI’s mapping service. These high performing and scalable technology platforms make it simpler and quicker for the public to engage in noxious weed reporting. We’ve partnered with innovators like King County and Slalom to ensure this app is a resource that evolves and will grow as future innovations and needs for the county arise.”
Jen Travis with Slalom said in the release that the county was spending crucial staff hours on followup phone calls and emails, clarifying details and tracking down plant locations.
“We know governments work better when communities are involved, which is why we’re thrilled to see this app saving time and resources, while empowering residents to be a partner in noxious weed eradication,” she said in the release.
How to use the app to report a noxious weed
- Download the King County Connect app from Google Play or the Apple App store
- Select the ‘Report Noxious Weeds’ button
- Take a photo of the plant and submit it along with the type of plant, a brief description, including the date, and location
- A photo gallery and weed description can help you identify the plant
- If you would like help determining what type of plant you are reporting, a member of King County’s Noxious Weed Program will respond
King County’s Noxious Weed Control Program includes 17 specialists who have biology or environmental science degrees, according to the release. They monitor noxious weeds in all areas of the county — in both cities and in unincorporated communities — to ensure that high-priority, state-regulated noxious weeds are controlled before they spread.
The release states that over the past 20 years, King County has detected 17,780 infestations of regulated noxious weeds, covering 1,460 acres. About 20 percent of those infestations have been on county-managed lands and roads with the remaining 80 percent found on private, city, state, and federal properties. To date, 45 percent of all infestations found have been eradicated, and 79 percent of the infested areas have been cleared of noxious weeds.
King County will significantly increase the control of invasive weeds on lands that are protected under the Land Conservation Initiative Constantine launched in 2018, according to the release.
Residents already can notify King County when they identify a potential noxious weed. Having a mobile app that identifies the precise location and makes it easier to identify the plant makes the county’s response more efficient and effective.