Possession of thistle: Colorado cracks down on new illegal weed
With weed season on its way in Pitkin County, officials are warning that failing to keep yards free of certain pests could draw penalties and fines.One of this county’s most notorious weeds – the reddish-purple plumeless thistle – is on a statewide list of three weeds to eradicate in 2005. Jim Lewis, Pitkin County vegetation manager, said property owners must get rid of the weed “no matter what.””Noxious weeds take over all the native vegetation, inhibiting wildlife forage and recreation, and decreasing property values,” Lewis said. “In Montana and California some weeds have already made huge economic impacts in agriculture.”
Trying to get rid of noxious weeds in Pitkin County is nothing new – six or seven years ago the county’s “Thrash the thistle” campaign got the word out about the threat of the plumeless thistle. But Lewis said a number of other weeds have cropped up in Pitkin County in the last few years, decreasing the attention given to the thistle.But this year it’s actually illegal under state law for property owners to have any plumeless thistle that is putting out seeds.As of Feb. 25, legislators put weeds into three different lists: one for weeds that aren’t yet widespread in Colorado but have proliferated in states like Montana and California, one for weeds that are common throughout Colorado and are considered detrimental to the environment, and one for weeds that are common in this state but aren’t considered as detrimental.Pitkin County will enforce the law through a new land codes officer. If weeds are discovered on a piece of private property, the owner must get rid of them. If he or she does not, the county can spray the weeds with herbicide or hire a contractor to do the job, and serve the landowner with the bill.
If the landowner refuses to pay the bill, a lien could be placed on the property. Altogether, Lewis estimated that with penalty fines and the expense to spray weeds, costs could climb to $1,000 to $2,000 per acre.”It’s much cheaper if landowners hire their own contractor to do the spraying,” Lewis said, adding that weeds are easiest to kill earlier in the summer and must be killed before they flower and produce seeds.”I’m happy to do site visits on properties if people would like to know if there are weeds on their property – often, we get complains too late because people don’t notice them until they flower and the seeds are floating around in the air,” he said.The other two weeds on the list with the plumeless thistle are absinth wormwood, which Lewis said is found in very small amounts in the county around Highway 133, and Chinese clematis, found in limited populations in Snowmass Village.
Weeds on the first list, set for total eradication in the state, include meadow knapweed, which has been seen in the Little Elk Creek area, and myrtle spurge, seen in the Red Mountain area. Orange hawkweed is also on that list, and Lewis said there have been reports of the weed in the Hunter Creek Valley.Although the third list includes weeds that aren’t overly detrimental to native plant species, Lewis said one of the weeds on that list – chicory – will hopefully be eradicated in Pitkin County this year.”We want people to be aware – if they know they have weeds, start thinking about it now before it’s too late,” Lewis said. “It can be friendlier to the environment and less expensive if you spray weeds in the spring.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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