The irritating persistence of weeds – be it a thicket of Canada Thistle erupting alongside a driveway, or the incessant spread of innocent-looking Oxeye Daisies across a backyard lawn – is known to cause headaches among homeowners. For San Miguel County Weed Control Program Manager Sheila Grother, the struggle against the spread of noxious plant species is more than just a passing nuisance, but rather a full-time crusade.
“2007 is going to be a banner year for weeds,” Grother warns, pointing to recent years of drought conditions followed by this season’s normal precipitation amounts as the culprit behind a potentially much more troublesome weed season this summer. “Up until a week ago, we were doing great. But now it’s getting crazy.”
Grother is talking about the decisive proliferation of “Whitetop,” AKA Hoary Cress, across Wright’s Mesa; the choking of cottonwoods and other native species in regional riparian areas by the tenacious tamarisk; and the incursion of fast-multiplying species like Canada thistle and yellow toadflax onto local private lands, to name just a few of the weed problems facing San Miguel County.
Grother undoubtedly has her finger on the pulse of the state of weeds in San Miguel County. She can easily spot a wayward patch of cypress spurge in a seemingly benign backyard garden, and has identified hot zones for such damaging species as scentless chamomile and spotted knapweed in every corner of the county. But why, exactly, is weed control such an imperative for Grother, a veritable one-woman army leading the charge against noxious weeds in San Miguel County?
“If we allow those plants we know to be invasive in this climate to propagate without any control, we will lose our native species,” she says. “Native birds and animals will be forced to move elsewhere because their environment will have changed so substantially that they won’t fit into it any more. Native plants that no longer have a niche where they belong will no longer exist here, since there’s no option for them to uproot and go somewhere else.”
Weed problems are likely not to get any better either, Grother says. Although she is weary of attributing local weed problems entirely to hot-button issues like global warming or climate change, she admits that it appears as though the wet-dry cycling has been more pronounced in recent years, causing native plants to become more stressed. That opens the door for hardier non-native plants to move in and take hold.
The noxious species most commonly found in San Miguel County are those on the Colorado Weed Management Association’s B List, meaning those species that are well established in some areas of the state but not in others, and are not required by law to be eradicated but it is highly recommended to control their spread. B List weeds found in San Miguel County include Canada thistle, Russian knapweed, houndstongue, oxeye daisy, yellow toadflax, and Russian olive.
Luckily, the county has very few populations of A List species, or those that the State of Colorado requires eradicated. Two A List species, black henbane and scentless chamomile, are found almost exclusively in the Telluride area, but in very small populations. For a full list of San Miguel County’s noxious weeds and their control recommendations, visit www.ag.state.co.us/CSD/Weeds/mapping/counties/SanMiguel.html
Grother admits that the war against weeds may seem a futile battle. But she is unwilling to give up the fight, maintaining that education and action can substantially defray the potentially devastating effects of noxious species in the region.
“Some say that it’s just evolution,” she says, “but I think we need to not give up that easily. If we allow this to occur without our attention, one day we’ll be saying ‘There goes another native plant, there goes another bird species.’”
Encouraging good land stewardship, whether it’s of a small backyard plot or a 10,000 acre ranch, is vital to suppressing the rampant spread of weeds in the county. It can be as simple as paying attention when a nursery plant has escaped your yard, Grother says.
“The biggest thing is for landowners to be as educated as possible about the plants that are know to be invasive,” she says, adding that time is of the essence when it comes to noxious weeds. “If it’s just a small patch, take care of it now before you have to deal with it with a great amount of time and money,” she says.
Individuals can find noxious weed lists and species descriptions and photos on the Colorado Weed Management Association website, at www.cwma.org. The San Miguel County Weed Control office also has a number of programs designed to help private landowners successfully deal with any size weed infestation, including equipment loaning, cost share programs for landowners with large cleanup projects, and in-person consultations.
“This county’s direction is to work with landowners on their weed problems, providing all the tools and information they need, rather than waiting to go to the next step and forcing them to do the responsible thing,” Grother says. For more information on the County’s Weed Control Program, or to request a property visit from a weed control specialist, contact the San Miguel Weed Control office at 327-0399.