Get your head out of the weeds

Dear Editor:

In response to the article “Waging a gentler war on weeds along Fryingpan” (Monday, Aug. 2, The Aspen Times), I must strongly disagree with the information and tone of the article.

In my short 20-year career in natural resource management and scientific research, I can firmly attest that, aside from outright bulldozing of habitats, noxious weeds are by far the greatest threat to biodiversity and ecosystem health. Noxious weeds will commonly become established along roadsides, and if left untreated, or ineffectively treated by “pulling” or “mowing,” they absolutely will spread into nearby wetland, riparian and other sensitive areas where use of herbicides can indeed be problematic.

Adopting a loose policy along the Fryingpan – under misguided pseudo-science that is not at all supported in peer-reviewed scientific journals – will in the long-term doom the Fryingpan corridor to diminished native plant diversity, which will further negatively influence wildlife as well; and not just deer and elk, but species such as hummingbirds, mice, shrews, voles and other neotropical migratory birds that depend on plants aside from biennial thistles, knapweeds and non-natives such as black medic that will dominate unless they are treated in a timely manner. Time and again scientific studies (not funded by chemical companies, I might add) clearly indicate that left unchecked, noxious weeds spread quite well into otherwise healthy plant communities

Herbicides are far and above the most cost-effective method at killing target species, and least environmentally damaging alternative (just ask your local accredited university’s range, botany, wildlife or ecology department). Delaying treatment or waging “a gentler war” on weeds just means that more habitats will be invaded by weeds. Treatments will be more expensive and take longer, and collateral damage to other plants and wildlife habitats will be greater. Indeed, plant communities will take longer to recover from weeds, once the subsequent inevitable herbicide treatments begin after policy makers (i.e. county commissioners or town managers) realize that burying their heads in the sand, or letting unsubstantiated pseudo-science and useless anecdotal information influence good stewardship has only let the weed situation get worse.

Calling weed managers “nozzle heads” also only shows Mr. Ostenkowski’s lack of a true understanding of systems ecology and what’s at stake by adopting a touchy-feely attitude toward noxious weeds. Unless he has some true science peer-reviewed by universities and scientific journals that supports his claims (and not just a couple of inserts from a permaculture magazine) he should stick to gardening. I would guarantee that the literature and science tested and published by true professionals in ecosystem science and botany would bury any groovy gardening info that he is pandering as “science.”

Fortunately most land managers hired by counties, towns and land management agencies actually have a real background in botany and science, and do have an understanding of ecosystems and vegetation communities. But their jobs are made a lot harder when they have to teach “Ecology 101” to elected officials who’ve been bamboozled by junk science as put forth by the likes of Mr. Ostenkowski.

Eric Peterson

Glenwood Springs