Goats will be ba-a-a-ck this summer | SummitDaily.com

Goats will be ba-a-a-ck this summer

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

SUMMIT COUNTY – The goats are returning to battle.

Hundreds of weed-eating goats will descend on Summit County in July to munch their way through 50 to 60 acres of false chamomile, leafy spurge, Canada thistle and knapweed.

It’s part of the county’s program to eradicate noxious weeds – non-native plants that threaten to take over millions of acres of native vegetation in the West.

“Once weeds move into a monoculture habitat, you lose native grass life, then you lose insect life, then you lose birds, then small mammal life, your predator populations, raptors – it snowballs from there,” said county weed coordinator Paul Schreiner, who’s leaving his post today. “It spells doom for the native environment.”

Goats are increasingly being used to eat noxious weeds and help with fire prevention. Goats chew their food so thoroughly, Schreiner said, 97 percent of the seeds consumed are decimated. Weed eradication efforts have eliminated about 2,000 acres of weeds in the county, but there are still about 11,000 acres more to go, he said.

The county now has about 6,000 acres under active management, many of which are in a maintenance phase.

“Once you start the process, that acre isn’t really finished,” Schreiner said. “There’s always going to be some sort of weed there. You manage the acres so they don’t balloon into a big problem again.”

The cashmere goats were first brought to Summit County in 2001 and returned in 2002. Budgetary constraints in 2003 forced Schreiner to use herbicides, host weed-pull days and mow the weeds. But this year, the county has $6,000 budgeted to bring the plant-munching ruminants back.

The goats first consumed weeds in the meadow areas around Dillon Reservoir near Frisco and at the Old Dillon Reservoir along the Dam Road. There, native plants now outnumber noxious varieties 5-1.

“It looks real good,” Schreiner said. “We’ve had dry enough years that we haven’t had a ton of growth, so we’ve been able to stay ahead of it.”

This summer, the goats will be focused on Giberson Bay, the Blue River inlet and the wetland areas near Meadow Creek in Frisco. Other efforts will include herbicide application in the fall and mowing during the summer.

“We really need to start concentrating on some of those wetland areas,” Schreiner said. “Those goats are going to pick on the willows, but we have a ton of Canada thistle trying to come up. The willows will come back. The goats are going to have to get in there and do something about it.”

There are also new outbreaks in the county, including orange hockweed in Breckenridge, a patch of leafy spurge along the Dam Road and another behind Wal-Mart, and spotted knapweed in the bank between City Market in Dillon and Highway 6.

Early detection and a rapid response should eradicate those populations before they go to seed.

“We’re getting ahead of it in the county and the rights-of-ways,” Schreiner said, “but with all the activity in the towns, we’re getting new stuff coming up.”

It’s a never-ending battle.

Road construction and its subsequent dirt disturbance along Highway 9 north of Silverthorne will undoubtedly result in new outbreaks of noxious weeds, Schreiner said. The Colorado Department of Transportation is formulating a plan to combat them.

Another encroaching weed is tamarisk, which has overtaken the banks of the Colorado River farther west. Last year, it had made it as far east as State Bridge; this year, tamarisk has been spotted in Wolford Mountain Reservoir.

The county weed program, which will be run by Lisa Taylor this year, will again feature its cost-share program, whereby the county will assist landowners in developing plans and eradicating weeds.

For more information, contact Taylor at (970) 668-4218.

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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