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Monday, October 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Citizens, now’s the time to weed out intruders

Everyone who enjoys wildlife and wildflowers should enlist in the war on weeds, or be drafted.

That means everybody, from the big-game trophy hunter to the ladies in the morning walking and latte group.

Don’t turn the page and pretend others will answer this call to duty. Government can’t keep up with the incursion, and your neighbor probably isn’t doing a good job, either.

The battlefield extends beyond our yards and into public-land playgrounds.

There can be no grounds for conscientious objection. Step up with a little of your own time, and recruit some friends.

Join forces and zap the knapweed, surge on the leafy spurge and gnaw away at the skeletonweed.

From the foothills of Mount Spokane to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, unpalatable weeds are usurping native foods needed by critters ranging from songbirds to elk.

Wildflowers and bunchgrasses are losing ground along the tracks of hikers and mountain bikers. Go no farther than the popular South Hill trails below High Drive or the paths into the Dishman Hills to see the invasion raising its ugly little green heads.

Local governments don’t have staff, funding or equipment to adequately deal with weed infestations, officials confirmed to me in interviews this week.

They’re barely keeping up with dandelions in irrigated parks and roadside areas they can treat with vehicle-mounted sprayers.

After writing last year about the impressive results I’ve had by carefully pulling and spot-spraying weeds in a once-infested recreation area I’ve adopted, a North Side weed warrior came forward from his undercover position near Indian Trail.

“I’m concentrating on about 20 acres and it’s been very rewarding,” Bob Stokes said.

He proposes an area adoption program for weed control similar to the litter pickup program families and groups have embraced along highways and the Centennial Trail.

With enough interest, land managers could help coordinate the effort.

“We’re always up for volunteers,” said Chris Guidotti, Riverside State Park manager, noting that the park began mapping weed infestations to prioritize control efforts last year.

“The magnitude of the problem is staggering,” he said. “Of the park’s 10,000 acres, about 5,000 acres have some sort of invasive weed problem and we have a budget of $6,000 a year to deal with it. That’s a drop in the bucket.”

The public needs to put a few drops of herbicide in a bucket and help out, starting from one firm principle: Do no harm.

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.

Cultural: Planting and nourishing desirable vegetation to close openings for weed invasions.

Mechanical: Pulling, mowing or sometimes burning can be effective, although these methods can sometimes do more harm than good.

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.

Biological: Best for large infested areas with professional guidance.

Chemical: Effective, but not to be used carelessly.

Roundup is Stokes’ preferred weapon because it quickly breaks down. But Roundup will kill everything it touches. A wildflower or bunchgrass next to a weed could be zapped by an overzealous applicator.

“I use it only to spot-spray specific young weeds when there’s no wind,” he said. “It takes time, but it’s very effective in small areas. I buy it by the gallon and carry a small spray bottle regularly.”

Weed-B-Gon and other 2,4-D based sprays nail weeds without killing the grasses. Mix them with a surfactant that breaks down the surface tension of the spray droplets so they are better absorbed. Still, spot spraying is preferred to broadcasting.

The trick is to positively identify weeds and spare the native plants.

We’re talking about a grassroots effort here. Engage.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or e-mail

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