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County drafts weed strategy

by Allyn Harvey

Ask Chonnie Bliss why she thinks county residents should aggressively attack the weeds that are infesting large swaths of land in Pitkin County, and she’ll tell you about what happens if we don’t.

The examples she’s got in mind are stunning reminders of what can happen to native plants and animals when the problem is not dealt with.

“There are places in Montana where the only thing growing for hundreds of acres is weeds – the sage and its ecology doesn’t exist anymore,” Bliss said.

Noxious weeds can take over an area because, unlike native species, they don’t have any natural enemies. “The columbine has enough to compete with – delicate soils, bad weather – as it is,” Bliss said.

Colorado has been working on the problem since 1990, when the state passed a law requiring counties to put together weed management plans. Pitkin County complied with law, but never really devoted the resources needed for an effective program until the state toughened the law in 1996, according to county land manager Jodi Smith.

The county has since appointed a citizens’ board which has drafted an extensive management plan. It went before county commissioners yesterday for first reading, and is scheduled for public hearing and adoption on Oct. 27.

The plan and its accompanying ordinance will give the county the power to attack weed infestations on both public and private land, even if the landowner is not interested in dealing with the problem.

County officials will be allowed to enter private property when a weed infestation is suspected, and if the landowner steadfastly refuses to do anything about noxious weeds on their land, the county commissioners can declare the property a public nuisance and bill the landowner for the work it takes to clean things up.

But Bliss and Smith are confident that won’t happen very often. A dozen landowners contacted so far this year hired private contractors to eradicate the problem on their land.

The key to a successful program is the county’s ongoing education program, which helps people identify noxious weeds and teaches them how to kill them. Smith said next year will be especially difficult, because the heavy rains this year have extended the growing season.


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