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County getting jump on weeds

Jeremy Heiman

Though a thick layer of snow blankets the ground, Pitkin County’s newly intensified campaign to control noxious weeds is ready to take root.The county will hold a series of three meetings in March and April to familiarize landowners with the provisions of a new weed management plan recently adopted by the county.”I think our real primary goal is to have landowners learn what’s on their property, and not let it spread to their neighbors,” said Michael Craig, Pitkin County land manager.Landowners will learn to identify noxious weeds and how their spread can be controlled. The threat the plants pose will also be explained during the sessions. The management plan provides guidelines for controlling weeds on all lands, public and private, within the county.Because noxious weeds are one of the most pressing environmental problems in the American West, the state of Colorado requires counties to have effective programs to control weeds. The county’s weed management plan is a response to this mandate, according to Craig.Pitkin County is a bit better off than neighboring Garfield County and some counties on the Front Range, where a number of species have already taken over large acreages, Craig said. But Pitkin County does have a serious problem, he said.Two species – plumeless thistle and toadflax – spread rapidly through Pitkin County a few years ago, Craig said, and a number of other non-native weeds are now common. Some of these plants spread aggressively and choke out native plants, and some are toxic to domestic and game animals.Most come from Europe or Asia, where they were controlled by natural enemies which evolved with them, such as insects or other plants.Russian knapweed is toxic to horses. When enough of the toxin has accumulated in a horse’s body, it’s unable to swallow. Another weed, leafy spurge, is toxic to cattle.Hounds-tongue is common in Garfield County and advancing in Pitkin County. Though horses and cattle avoid eating it in the pasture, Craig said, it is lethal to both when harvested accidentally with hay.But the weeds can be controlled.”With good management, we can contain the rest, so we don’t have a problem like we do with plumeless,” Craig said.Control methods effective against weeds include:-Mechanical methods such as pulling, digging, or cutting.-Biological controls, such as introducing insects or other organisms which eat the plants.-Cultural controls – creating an environment, by methods such as revegetation, which is not conducive to the spread of weeds.-Chemical methods, such as application of herbicides which will selectively eliminate the pest. Herbicides are not an ideal method, because they kill desirable plants as well, Craig said. Some leave grasses but eliminate broad-leaf plants, which is good in a lawn, but not in a range situation where other plants are used for forage.”It’s a little like chemotherapy,” Craig said. The negative effects are fairly significant.Craig said he hopes the weed management plan’s education component will spearhead an effort to keep weeds in check.The management plan does have an enforcement section, but Craig said the county is not stressing that aspect.”I’m sort of holding off on the whole enforcement issue, hoping that people will respond to the education component,” he said.”I, personally, don’t want to get into being a weed cop,” Craig said, “but we may need to set some examples.”


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