County preserves headwaters ecosystem with noxious weed care |

County preserves headwaters ecosystem with noxious weed care

A bumblebee pollinates the flower of a Canada thistle, classified as a noxious weed by the state, in Granby. Noxious weeds threaten native species by taking resources, such as pollinators.
McKenna Harford /

With its sunny tangerine petals and small blooms, orange hawkweed looks like a harmless flower, but it’s actually one of the top threats to native plant species in Grand County.

That’s where Amy Sidener and her team at Grand County Natural Resources come in. From May to October, the department controls and eradicates certain plant species the state classifies as noxious weeds.

This week, the office is focusing its efforts around the Granby Airport, the Granby Landfill, along US Highway 40 between Granby and Tabernash and County Roads 73, 731, 5, 6, 627 and the Pole Creek area.

“Typically we try to get on every county road that’s maintained and get all the highway, but the reality this year is we’re not going to be able to do that so we’re triaging and trying to hit the worst looking places,” Sidener said.

As a county department, Sidener said they are responsible for maintaining all county roads and property, as well as Colorado Department of Transportation rights of way. The department also partners with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to maintain their properties in Grand County when needed.

The legally required work of handling noxious weeds in Grand County is typically done using herbicides, specifically Milestone and Telar XP. Sidener emphasized that these herbicides are low toxicity products that target the specific noxious weeds they are handling.

“They’re not broad-spectrum, they don’t kill everything, they’re targeting what we’re treating,” she said. “We are spot-spraying, so that’s how we apply the products on the sides of the roads. We’re not boom spraying, we’re not aerial spraying.”

Unlike the weed-killer Roundup, the herbicides Grand County uses don’t contain the potentially cancer-causing agent glyphosate. She added that a few ounces of the chemicals are mixed with 80 gallons of water before it’s sprayed and noted the herbicides don’t linger in the environment.

The department is also careful to abide by the herbicides’ labels, which provide specific instructions on how and where to use them, as well as safety precautions. Sidener said they don’t use restricted use products.

“We want to be careful and we’re using the safest herbicides that we know of,” she said.

However, some Grand County residents would prefer herbicides not be used at all. Carol Sidofsky, a Fraser resident and one of the founders of Grand Countians Against Spraying Poisons, said she worries about the impact the herbicides could have on residents’ health.

She would rather the county use non-chemical methods, such as pulling or goats.

Unfortunately, Sidener said they don’t have enough capacity to use more time-consuming methods, like pulling, on all of the weeds in the county and that it’s not effective for all plants.

“For the most part we’re using herbicide because we don’t have time to do anything else,” she said. “And depending on the species, mechanical is not very effective. With orange hawkweed, it’s a root spreader, … so when you pull it, you break off pieces and it leaves 10 more.”

The department does rely on manual methods when weeds are found too close to water to be sprayed or if they are in a sensitive location, Sidener said.

When it comes to residents’ concerns, Sidener understands, but is required to handle the weeds if they are on county property. She suggested that anyone who doesn’t want herbicide sprayed on or near their property is welcome to take care of the weeds using manual methods.

“We would love it if people put us out of work,” she said.

Overall, whether the noxious weeds are pulled, eaten or sprayed, the importance is to protect the native species in the headwaters community.

“When we have an overrun of noxious weeds, they are using up all the pollinators and not allowing the native species to be pollinated,” Sidener said. “We should be responsible land owners.”

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