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Words for the weed wise

Controlling your noxious invasives helps everyone

Rod Cook, La Plata County weed manager, stands in a patch of leafy spurge near Bodo Industrial Park. The weed patch started off 10 years ago the size of a small car, but now is almost 1½ acres in size. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Rod Cook, La Plata County weed manager, stands in a patch of leafy spurge near Bodo Industrial Park. The weed patch started off 10 years ago the size of a small car, but now is almost 1½ acres in size.

Homeowners: It’s time to keep an eye peeled for noxious weeds, as in obnoxious weeds that seem to sprout up everywhere this time of year.

Don’t despair, there is a way to control them and meet the demands of county and city ordinances.

“Effective weed management is important to keep land healthy and productive and not becoming overrun by invasive plant species,” said Steve Barkley, code compliance officer with the Durango Police Department.

Identifying noxious weeds

Noxious weeds are plants that exhibit aggressive traits such as pushing out other plants over time – the most aggressive noxious weeds can become a “monoculture,” La Plata County Weed Manager Rod Cook said.

The city of Durango and La Plata County work together to enforce two “management goals” that homeowners and landowners should be aware of this spring.

Management goal No. 1 aims to eradicate noxious weeds that are not yet widespread.

“The focus on those weeds is trying to keep intensive pressure on them and not letting them flower and go to seed every year,” Cook said. Over a period of time, once you have exhausted the seed soil bank, there is hope for eradication.”

Management goal No. 2 includes weeds that have been present in the county for a number of years with the goal of containment and reduction of spread over time.

“Eradication might not be possible with those weeds. They’ve been established here for a number of years, but it just depends on the effort that an individual land owner puts forward,” Cook said.

The process

What happens if property owners don’t report noxious weeds or simply are not aware of them?

Infestations are identified by either a third-party complaint or discovered by a patrol of code compliance or the county weed office.

“If they are not aware of the infestation, they get a notification letter from us,” Cook said.

After a notification letter is sent, home and landowners have 10 days to either “manage the weeds according to which plan they fall under, or come up with an effective management plan,” Cook said.

“If they don’t know what to do about it, we can do a field visit and show them what the problem is,” Cook said.

The county weed office manages weeds that grow on public lands, but if the weeds are adjacent to private properties, the county will issue a “notice of need to inspect property,” or a “notice of presence of noxious weed letter,” Cook said.

Once a letter is received, the property owner has 10 days to respond, solve the problem or identify a plan to solve it.

“If we see something or are notified of something, we will advise the property owner,” Barkley said.

“If someone has noxious weeds, they need to abate them within in 10 days of their courtesy notification,” Barkley said.

Without compliance from the landowner, the city will either abate the problem and charge the property owner or the property owner may be summoned to court, said Barkley.

“If they refuse to acknowledge the problem, the county will manage the weeds if they don’t do it, and the bill is presented to the landowner,” Cook said.

“If it is not paid in three days, then it is added to the property tax,” Cook said. “We give the landowner a lot of chances to reply.”

The private landowner is also entitled to a hearing before the Undesirable Plant and Rodent Advisory Commission as to why they should not assess a tax lien on the landowner or occupant’s property for the costs of management.

The neighborly thing

Noxious weeds can spread readily to adjacent areas and push up into other areas causing land and property damage because native plants can’t survive with these non-native species, Cook said.

“We look at the properties adjacent to the area where an infestation is reported to make sure that weeds haven’t run into other areas,” Cook said.

Officials are also asking property owners to look out for this year’s high-priority weeds: the plumeless thistle and hemlock.

“The plumeless thistle and hemlock are the problem weeds we run into most in this part of the state,” Barkley said.

“These particularly aggressive species of weed become more widespread every year,” Cook said.

The plumeless thistle can be identified by a spiny stem, and purple bloom.

“It is a highly aggressive species because of its high seed production,” Cook said.

Other weeds are poisonous to livestock and humans and can become fatal over time.

Every year, Cook notices a “fair amount” of poisoning from infestations of Russian knapweed, which is a priority for noxious weed managers because it is poisonous to any equine species such as horses and mules.

“Animals that are confined under an infestation of this weed, get poisoned over time after they accumulate 50 to 70 percent of their body weight,” Cook said. “It’s an accumulative poison in the animals’ system- they cant get rid of it.”

New weeds that show up in the area need to be identified as being aggressive or not.

Geography helps Colorado

“Most weed infestations come from the coast and work inland, so we’re behind, fortunately, because we are centrally located in a high-mountain desert,” Cook said. “Aggressive species have been slower getting here which allows us to be proactive about management.”

“C-listed weeds,” such as the common dandelion, have no laws governing them and are optional for management, Cook said.

“If county or private landowners want to manage those, it is up to them, those types of weeds are already widespread across the state,” Cook said.

“Without having the expertise of knowing what is considered a noxious weed, property owners are encouraged to contact the county noxious weeds office or the code compliance line for the city of Durango,” Barkley said, “If they see something that they’re not sure about, don’t hesitate to notify city or county officials.”

“Landowners will be fine as long as they monitor their property and report or manage noxious weeds,” Barkley said.

pblank@durangoherald.com

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