You say `pretty,’ and they say `WEED!’ |

You say `pretty,’ and they say `WEED!’

Jeremy Heiman

A pretty yellow flower known as “butter and eggs” is not pretty in the eyes of those waging the war against noxious weeds in Pitkin County.

The yellow toadflax, an invasive noxious weed from Eurasia, is becoming more and more common in and around Aspen. And that’s bad news for native wildflowers, mule deer and agriculture in the Roaring Fork Valley and across the American West.

“It’s not a pretty flower,” said Chonnie Bliss, chairwoman of Pitkin County’s Weed Advisory Board. “It’s a threat to our wilderness and wildlife.

“I’ve seen it grow amazingly in the last few years,” Bliss said, “and nobody seems to be doing anything about it.”

Toadflax is crowding out native wildflowers such as columbine, lupine and pentstemen, she said, and killing plants that mule deer depend on.

“It’s really bad in Aspen,” said Michael Craig, Pitkin County land manager. “It’s virtually impossible to kill.”

So far, toadflax has only infested a small percentage of the county, Craig said, but it has the potential to grow quickly.

Native plants and animals across the West are under attack by a number of such noxious weeds. In Montana, which has over 4 million acres infested by a weed called spotted knapweed, elk populations have declined by 90 percent in some parts of the state, Bliss said. While Montana has a more advanced problem, Colorado isn’t far behind.

One of the people at the forefront of the war on weeds is Jerry Asher, who will present a talk and slide show in Aspen Tuesday evening. His presentation, “War on Weeds: Winning It For Wildlife and Wilderness,” is sponsored by the Weed Advisory Board.

Asher is a natural resources specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management based in Portland. For the last eight years he has worked full time on educating citizens and agencies about the accelerating spread of invasive weeds.

“Anyone who’s concerned about wildlife should listen to Asher’s presentation,” said Ann Larson, a local weed board member. “He’s got the most incredible slides.”

Weeds can have devastating economic effects, too. According to a Web site that posts the text from one of Asher’s presentations, “A 1,300-acre ranch near Klamath Falls, Ore., is mostly leafy spurge. The ranch was abandoned in 1989, went on the auction block, and sold for less than 10 percent of what it would have otherwise. The following year it was taken off the tax rolls.”

Leafy spurge has been monitored in Pitkin County’s Jaffee Park for several years, and it has recently been discovered at Twining Flats and Starwood. Craig estimates the county has about 150 acres of leafy spurge.

“If it gets beyond about 500 acres, we’re going to lose control of it,” he said.

Asher’s talk is at 7 p.m. at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. It is free and open to the public.

For more information, call 920-5390.

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Posted: Monday, March 5, 2001

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