May 28, 2009 in Outdoors, Sports

It’s a noxious task, but someone’s got to control weeds

By The Spokesman-Review
 

It’s not good enough that most outdoors aficionados don’t care for noxious weeds.

We need to hate them.

Weeds impact wilderness and wildlife habitat as surely as they reduce the value of a farmer’s crops or a rancher’s pasture.

Yellow starthistle is crowding critters ranging from chukars to bighorns from their home in the Snake River canyons.

Eurasian watermilfoil is fouling our waterways and evicting trout from our fishing holes.

Knapweed continues to work its way from winter ranges into the backcountry where it’s pushing palatable food off the dinner table for elk.

This isn’t just a sportsman’s issue.

Have you ever hiked or ridden a mountain bike on a trail infested with knapweed or rush skeletonweed? Nasty.

Last Saturday I launched a personal assault along three stretches of popular dog training, hiking and mountain biking routes.

It’s a payback for the privilege of recreating on private land.

By late afternoon I had delivered 6 gallons of Roundup ? in pinpoint squirts to nail sprouting knapweed and skeletonweed as they tried to blend like gutless terrorists among natives, such as bunchgrass and lupine.

In three years of persistence, I’ve been able to fight back what was once a daunting infestation of weeds. The result is a ribbon of habitat that’s flush with bunchgrass and blooming with grass widows, balsamroots, lupine and other natives of our ponderosa pine habitats.

But considering how much time and herbicide I had to invest on small sprouting weeds this spring, it’s clear the job is permanent, if not eternal.

Knapweed seed can remain viable for at least 50 years. It’s a survivor, which is why I’ve become a weed warrior.

Pat Munts had some advice for me and others who might enlist in the war on weeds.

First, keep it legal, said the WSU-Spokane County Extension small-acreage coordinator.

“Spraying on other people’s land really needs a commercial spray applicator’s license from the state Department of Agriculture. Technically, you are running afoul of the law in what you are doing unless it’s your own property.”

Solution: Talk to the property owners and work out an approved control program.

Any county weed control board or extension office (Spokane’s is at 222 N. Havana) can recommend services to evaluate the land, identify the property and tailor the management plan to the situation, she said.

It’s also illegal to go out on public land and spray weeds without approval and possibly a permit from the land mangers, she said.

In other words, weed warriors need to retreat, at least briefly, and get a grip.

The five components of weed control should be understood by anyone rising to the service of protecting wildlife habitat:

Prevention: For outdoorsmen, this can start with cleaning our boats, trailers, bikes, wading shoes and other toys to prevent the spread of weeds from one natural playground to the next.

Avoid disturbing soil, which inflicts a wound that weeds can infect.

Adhere to the new weed-free-feed rules for stock on public lands.

A few bucks spent on prevention can save the fortune it costs to deal with weeds once they become established.

Cultural: Planting and nourishing desirable vegetation to close openings for invading weeds.

Mechanical: Pulling, mowing or sometimes burning can be effective if done properly. Note that these methods can sometimes to more harm than good.

For example, pulling one plant such as rush skeletonweed or Dalmatian toadflax leaves numerous small roots that will sprout as multiple new weeds.

“Knapweed pulling works if the plants haven’t flowered and on the first year rosettes,” Munts said.

Biological: Best for large infested areas to get your money’s worth from the investment in weevils or other adapted bugs before they deplete their weed-specific food source and die.

Incidentally, a biological agent released in a particular spot in northeastern Washington was wiped out by a flock of wild turkeys before it could do much good, Munts said.

Chemical: Effective, but not to be used carelessly.

“Roundup is OK in some cases, but people have to realize it will kill everything it touches,” Munts said, noting that the wildflowers next to a weed would be zapped by an overzealous applicator.

“Another option is 2,4-D based sprays, such as Weed-B-Gon. They’ll get the weeds but won’t kill the grasses. Mix them with a surfactant that breaks down the surface tension of the spray droplets so they are better absorbed.”

Spot spraying as I did last week is effective but impractical in large areas.

But since a commercial applicator’s license is required to spray on somebody else’s land, an outdoorsman would be safer to join a group, pool resources and hire experts to do the job, she said.

Sometimes people with good intentions can do harm, such as contaminating waterways or killing plants they believe to be weeds.

Some thistles are native, she points out.

On the other hand, people commonly mistake noxious weeds for wildflowers. Oxeye daisy, bugloss, hawkweed and toadflax are admired by some people even though they’re invasive and unpalatable to wildlife.

Incidentally, you’ll lose any appreciation for the reddish-purple beauty of hounds tongue blooms if you ever have to pluck a few hundred of its Velcro-like burs from your English setter’s fur.

Contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508, or e-mail to richl@spokesman.com.


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