Pitkin County OKs weed plan | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County OKs weed plan

Naomi Havlen

Weeds, or more specifically, herbicides, were the debate du jour Wednesday in Pitkin County.With a consensus that less chemicals should be used to de-weed the county’s land, the Pitkin County commissioners passed a revised weed management plan at their meeting Wednesday that complies with new state regulations on eradication of non-native, noxious weeds. One Basalt resident, Jerome Osentowski of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, has voiced opposition to the management plan, saying he thinks it’s too dependent on herbicides.Pitkin County Land Manager Jim Lewis argues that a number of alternative methods for weed control are listed in the plan, including replanting native vegetation, pulling weeds and using insects that eat the noxious species. Lewis said the attention brought by Osentowski to herbicide use can only help the county’s methods in the future.”As long as people are aware of it, and there’s increasing awareness, it all helps,” Lewis said. “All the publicity is making the public aware that maybe they should pull their own weeds instead of having the county come through spraying.”Lewis said the county releases thousands of beetles each summer that eat up leafy spurge, and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Land Steward Gary Tennenbaum said a moth released for the past 10 years to eat yellow toadflax has shown “zero results.”Unfortunately, Tennenbaum noted, yellow toadflax takes over natural areas including the North Star Nature Preserve and Aspen Mountain. Wildlife does not eat the plant, and other noxious weeds can actually be poisonous to animals. It’s a conundrum, he said, because using herbicides, mechanically removing the weeds and then replanting native species is ultimately an effective method to getting rid of the noxious weeds, regardless of criticism of herbicides.The county is also careful about where it sprays the chemicals, using a diluted solution and not spraying near bodies of water. Although County Commissioner Michael Owsley said Wednesday he’d seen county staffers spraying near an irrigation ditch near his Woody Creek home, Lewis said the ditch was dry at the time.And it could be an ugly year for noxious weeds, said Chonnie Bliss Jacobson, the chairwoman of the Pitkin County Weed Board and a professional gardener. Judging on the gorgeous wildflowers out this summer, it seems as if every seed in the ground is germinating.”It could be out of control,” she said. “The thistles are definitely around – there are tons in my garden and I’m sure that when the invasive ornamentals start coming out, like yellow toadflax, it’s going to be the same.”As a weed board member, Jacobson said she’s wanted to meet with the county commissioners for years about the difficulties of finding environmentally friendly methods to get rid of weeds.”In a perfect world, nobody would have to spray chemicals and developers would revegetate property, pull all the weeds that come up, and after a few years no weeds would be there,” she said. “I have a 1-year-old, and I’m not in favor of spraying chemicals all over the county.”Besides meeting with county commissioners in the future, Jim Lewis is trying to pull together a public awareness night for noxious weed control, which could include the state weed coordinator for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.”If there was another alternative, I’d love to use it, but it’s the only thing that works right now in some areas,” he said. “In keeping biodiversity in check, it’s the only tool we have that works.”Lewis said the county is spraying its herbicide – one pint of which is diluted with 300 gallons of water – on weeds before they bloom and release seeds. Later this summer, any noxious weeds that have gone to seed must be mechanically pulled, mowed or chopped, because at that point herbicides are ineffective.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com