Ask Eartha: Help control the spread of noxious weeds (column)
August 23, 2018
I've got lots of noxious weeds I need to get rid of. What can I do besides send them to the landfill?
You've raised a great question, Brian. Noxious weeds in our area are going to seed around this time of year, which means they're getting ready to populate for next year. Now's a great time to take care of the problem before it spreads, so thanks for doing your part! Mitigating these weeds is vital to conserving the native ecosystem, so here's a brief overview of the problem and what each of us can do to help.
In Summit County, noxious weeds are non-native, aggressive plants that invade and replace native vegetation, reducing wildlife habitat, food sources and agricultural productivity. They sometimes also create a nuisance for recreational activities. The county's Weed Control Department is dedicated to preventing the introduction of new noxious weeds and eradicating existing populations of them, but we locals can help, too. In fact, under Colorado's Noxious Weed Act, all state residents are required to control noxious weeds if they're likely to damage the property of neighboring landowners.
You probably don't have to look too hard to spot some of these non-native plants around your neighborhood. The most common found here include chamomile, Canada thistle and musk thistle. The thistles tend to be more aggressive and are hardy in a variety of environments. You can tell if a thistle is native by its flower color. Those with purple or pink flowers are noxious weeds. Those with cream or white flowers are native.
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What makes a plant "noxious"? To start, they are not native and actually outcompete plants in the pre-existing ecosystem. These weeds stake up space needed for native plants and aren't typically foraged by wildlife and livestock, who feed on the native ones. Let's use a pasture in the north end of the county as an example. This terrain is considered mountain grassland. Ranchers use it to graze livestock and to bale hay. Since wildlife and livestock prefer to nibble on native plants, nothing prevents the non-native species from spreading throughout the fields. The weeds then create less than desirable conditions for grazing (because the animals don't find them tasty) and they contaminate hay bales. Even the wildlife that graze these ranchlands are sometimes forced to alter their migration routes. Similar situations can occur in all ecosystems throughout the county.
If you believe there are noxious weeds where you live, identify them using guides found on the Summit County Weed Control website (CO.summit.co.us/114/Weed-Control). Once identified, the guide will tell you how to get rid of them using methods like pulling, plowing, mowing, grazing certain livestock (like goats), herbicides or even attacking them with insects. For a few weeds here or there, simply pull and leave them on the ground or compost them. If they're flowering, however, they must be bagged and put in your trash bin to prevent seed spread. If you have a significant amount of weeds, consider hiring a licensed noxious weed contractor to do the job. Be sure to check out weed control's cost share program for assistance in mitigating your property's weed problem. Their office will also let you borrow a backpack to spray herbicide through their backpack loaner program, but I encourage you to try the most natural means first.
While the county does have a department dedicated to controlling these weeds, everyone should understand that weeds on your property are more than just your problem: Everyone must do their part to help. Noxious weed seeds can and will spread by wind, water, birds, wildlife, etc. Be a responsible citizen by learning to identify and control weeds before they spread and become your neighbor's problem, too.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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