Walla Walla District Biologist Walter chosen for ERDC University

Published June 21, 2019

As part of his ERDC University project, Walla Walla District Biologist Damian Walter is netting Flowering-rush plants for a feeding study at the Environmental Laboratory’s greenhouse on the Vicksburg, Mississippi, campus. The plants were treated with different concentrations of jasmonic acid to trigger plant predation protection responses, followed by placement of armyworms on the plants to determine if Flowering- rush developed vegetative protection to predators. Photo by EL’s Dr. Nathan Harms

VICKSBURG, Miss. --Traveling 2,243 miles from his district centered in Walla Walla, Washington, Wildlife Biologist Damian Walter arrived at the U. S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center headquarters for his orientation to the outreach program, ERDC University.

Walter was chosen as one of fiscal year 19’s six selectees who were welcomed by ERDC Commander Col. Ivan Beckman during March’s kickoff week, which featured briefings and tours of four of the seven laboratories located on ERDC’s 700-acre campus near the Mississippi River.

Now in its fourth year, ERDC-U partners Corps division and district participants with ERDC subject matter experts to apply and implement technical solutions during these six-month sessions. The program is sponsored by the ERDC Office of Research and Technology Transfer and the Directorate of Human Capital, which fund either travel or labor costs.  Applications for the 2020 program are now open and available through the “Opportunities” icon at:


“I first heard about ERDC University from some colleagues in the Environmental Laboratory, including Linda Nelson. Then my boss saw the notice and recommended I apply to work with various staff in the EL on some upcoming projects that benefit both Walla Walla District, Northwestern Division and the Nation,” Walter said.

Three ERDC EL team members, Research Biologists Dr. Kurt Getsinger, Dr. Nathan Harms and Dr. Bradley Sartain, are serving as Walter’s mentors for his ERDC-U project for invasive aquatic plant research on Flowering-rush, which adversely affects aquatic systems within Walla Walla District, the Northwest, the Nation and Canada.

According to Washington State’s King County Government Environmental Services report, Flowering-rush is found along lake shores, slow-moving rivers and water up to twenty feet deep and impacts both the ecological and recreational values of shallow water and shorelines. It has spread to large areas of the northern United States.

Public and private landowners are required by Washington state law to eradicate this plant when it occurs on their property. Flowering-rush is a Class A Noxious Weed in Washington due to its limited distribution in the state and the potential for significant impact to state resources. This species is also on the Washington quarantine list, and it is prohibited to transport, buy, sell, offer for sale or to distribute plants or plant parts of this species into or within the state of Washington, the report said. 

“I am gathering information on the biology of this invasive aquatic plant, Flowering-rush, as to growth, sediment preference and feeding pressure responses. My goals are to understand the biology of this invasive aquatic plant to help better understand how to eradicate or control it in an aquatic system and develop chemical control methods in a run of the river reservoir system,” Walter said.

As a wildlife biologist, Walter directs the Walla Walla District mitigation and environmental stewardship programs for wildlife habitat management.

Walter received his bachelor’s in forest science from Pennsylvania State University and his master’s in environmental toxicology from Clemson University. Prior to joining the Walla Walla District 13 years ago, Walter worked with the Alaska District for four years.

Commenting on his introduction to Vicksburg, Walter said “The orientation week was amazing and great to see some of all the work ERDC does.  I know we only saw a small portion of all ERDC does, and I never knew all the different disciplines and laboratories.”

Walter will join his fellow ERDC-U participants in late August for project presentations to ERDC leadership and his graduation ceremony.

For additional information on ERDC University, contract Program Manager Cynthia Brown at Cynthia.M.Brown@usace.army.mil.