Dastardly daisies: Invasion of noxious weeds in Grand County isn’t a pretty picture
Grand County, CO Colorado
In the Moose Run subdivision near Fraser, a 3- to 5-acre meadow is covered in daisies – so much so, from a distance it appears snow covers the land.
“They’re beautiful,” said a renter, who happened to be standing outside of a Moose Run home that backs up to the meadow.
His statement summed up a major challenge that lies before weed crusaders like Grand County’s Natural Resources Foreman Jennifer Scott, who heads up the county’s noxious weed program.
“See?” she said out of earshot of the daisy-loving individual. “It’s a losing battle.”
But Scott and others like her are not giving up, because noxious weeds are a threat to Colorado’s biological wealth.
Noxious weeds crowd out native plants and threaten native wildlife that depend on certain plants for food and cover. And with weeds taking over a landscape, pollinators may choose to pollinate the weeds “at the expense of ones we want pollinated,” such as columbine, native clovers, Indian paintbrush and other valued plants, said Doreen Sumerlin, U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist and noxious weed program manager.
Although some noxious species are attractive enough to place in a vase, their blooms are deceptive. Such plants are bullies to biodiversity, can be harmful to animals, and impact agriculture.
The spread of noxious weeds on ranch land can lower yield, can raise food prices by increasing production costs, and can lower land values, according to the Colorado Weed Management Association.
Because of heavy precipitation this season, “I feel like this is a make or break year,” Scott said during her rounds on Wednesday, inventorying weeds along county roadways, “because anything that can seed is seeding out.”
The county is making headway in controlling some problem weeds, but in the “Moose Runs of the world” where one subdivision can be the source of spread onto other private and forest-protected lands, “we’re getting it handed to us,” Scott said. “Certain species are going gangbusters. I’m afraid the Fraser Valley might become one-big daisy.”
Reclaiming the land
Scott’s next stop was in Meadow Ridge, where thanks to one property owner on her own crusade to defend 9 acres of Meadow Ridge open space, weeds that started popping up three years ago due to utility construction are gradually disappearing.
Melinda McWilliams was a single body in a large meadow, yanking scentless chamomile out of the ground with one hand and holding stalks with dangling roots in the other as her sheltie Lucy looked on.
“She’s not a whole lot of help,” McWilliams said, nodding to her dog.
McWilliams is a certified master gardner, formerly the head gardner for the Town of Winter Park.
Worried about the onset of Canada thistle and yellow toadflax on the Meadow Ridge property, McWilliams places flags wherever she finds them so the proper herbicide can be targeted specifically to those plants.
According to the Colorado Weed Management Association, both species of plants have extensive root systems that create new growth and make them difficult to pull. The Association recommends herbicide to control them.
Like pulling, “You want to start with the least toxic” solution, McWilliams said, and if that doesn’t work, “move to whatever gets the job done.”
McWilliams organizes “Pulling Parties” after homeowner association meetings to get residents involved in pulling scentless chamomile and oxeye daisies as an alternative to herbicides.
“It takes passionate people like that to get ahead,” Scott said.
For those who enjoy the bloom of the noxious daisies (some were growing in a planter in front of one Meadow Ridge unit) a much better option is Shasta daisies, McWilliams said, because they won’t proliferate like oxeye and scentless do.
And the pink flowering “fireweed” is not a noxious plant, but nature’s answer to disturbed soils, holding ground so native grasses can root. But oftentimes species such as scentless chamomile beat native plants out of a job.
There are 20 weeds on Grand County’s noxious weed list, among them are houndstounge, a poisonous weed establishing itself on the west end of Grand County, and Myrtle Spurge, an escaped ornamental threatening to enter Grand County on the eastern side of Berthoud Pass.
The Colorado Department of Transportation, Grand County and the U.S. Forest Service are working together on an $18,000 weed-eradication effort on Berthoud Pass to try and stop Myrtle Spurge in its tracks.
Grand County and the U.S. Forest Service spot treat using an herbicide called Milestone for its ability to control the types of noxious weeds that dominate in Grand County.
If used according to the label, the herbicide does not have persistence in soil, Scott said.
While many frown on the use of chemicals to kill weeds, weed managers like Scott and Sumerlin find it’s a choice between protecting Colorado’s ecosystem and plant biodiversity and the unfortunate use of chemicals.
“I like the environment,” Scott said, “I’d rather cause the least harm I can. Until property owners start assisting us in managing their own weeds, we have to.”
“Colorado still has the ability to control weeds,” Sumerlin said. “We still have the ability to make a difference before we do lose millions of acres.”
Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603
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