HELP!!! THEY'RE TAKING OVER!
by Suzanne Webel
What's invading federal public lands alone at the rate of 4,600 acres a day (not to mention other public lands of all kinds, as well as private lands, throughout the West)? What has taken over more than 100 million acres in the West, at a price tag of over $7 billion (more than one million acres in Colorado alone, stealing more than $100 million in lost revenue from the people who own the land right here)?
Growth, sprawl, drought, or locusts? Nope. "It" is the juggernaut called noxious weeds, and it's quite possibly the next big range war in America. So far, it has been winning battle after battle, crowding out native plants, poisoning livestock, increasing soil erosion, and damaging watersheds. The good news is, rallying around control of noxious weeds is something we can and should unite on the same team with environmentalists, ranchers, farmers, and public land managers to fight together.
Personally, I have been involved in fighting the noxious weed war before we bought our farm. I've pulled knapweed on Forest Service lands and City of Boulder Open Space, and I've whacked Canada thistle along roadsides and ditches. All those challenges paled in comparison to dealing with the mess I acquired- almost 80 acres of almost nothing but weeds and rocks. With my own personal zero-weed-tolerance policy firmly in place, and five years of battle scars to show for it, I'm especially proud to tell you that my large hay field passed its first "Certified Weed-Free Forage Inspection" this summer.
How was this accomplished? The weed police, you ask? Well, sort of. This program is strictly voluntary and is being administered by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. But public land managers around the state are beginning to require that equestrians who bring their livestock onto these properties, including all National Forests and National Parks, bring with them and feed only certified weed-free forage. At this time, the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Department, and Boulder County Parks and Open Space, are requesting, but not requiring, that equestrians feed only weed-free forage at their trailheads.
So, farmers who choose to participate in the program can expect to reap modest rewards from anticipated future demand for their hay, which has suddenly caused their produce to become less of a commodity and more of a custom-produced, limited-quantity, sought-after item. Statewide, there are only about 18,000 acres of certified weed-free forage (out of a total of approximately 1,400,000 acres in hay production). In Boulder County, there are 714 acres of certified weed free pasture out of a total of 14,500 acres. A list of certified forage producers can be obtained from the Colorado Department of Agriculture, 303-239- 4149.
Currently, there is a concerted effort by Boulder County, the Longmont and Boulder Valley Soil Conservation Districts, and the City of Boulder to educate landowners about noxious weeds in the county. The Colorado State Extension Service has conducted seminars on weed management for small horse pastures, and the County has sponsored information sessions throughout the county. A recent mailing advised landowners that "enforcement of the Colorado Noxious Weed Act is imminent. Landowners could receive notice requiring noxious weed management on their land in 2001 or face property liens as legally permitted by Boulder county Noxious Weed Management Plan authorized through Colorado Revised Statute Title 35, Article 5.5." If you own property, you may be eligible to apply for grant funds to help you control noxious weeds (call 303-678-6110).
What else can you do? Spread the word about the seriousness of this issue. Talk to your neighbor about eliminating the little patch of weeds in the far corner of his property before the seeds spread to yours. Buy only weed-free hay. Participate in weed pulls on public lands, and pressure public officials to eliminate the weeds from their lands using appropriate methods. Inform yourself about the options available for specific weed control (e.g., spot spraying, whacking, aerial applications, mowing, biological controls or prescriptive grazing). No one method will work for all weed infestations, so you'll have to be openminded and flexible.
Most important: Think globally, act locally. Only if each of us takes personal responsibility will we have any hope of winning this war of the weeds. If I can do it, so can you!