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Noxious weeds project in southwest Colorado

Photo courtesy Extension
Jim Smith will serve as interim director for CSU Extension in Archuleta County, until a permanent county Extension director is hired.

By Jim Smith

SUN Columnist

Jim Smith will serve as interim director for CSU Extension in Archuleta County, until a permanent county Extension director is hired.

Smith received a B.S. in ag education from Texas Tech and an M.S. from West Texas State University. He was a county Extension agent for 31 years, working in three states. He retired as the Weld County, Colo., Extension director in 2004.

Also, Jim worked for Monsanto, was co-owner of an International Harvester Dealership, and ranched in the late ’60s and ’70s. After his retirement in 2004, he became a range manager for the City of Fort Collins, Colo., which owns a 30,000-acre ranch that he currently monitors. He served as division manager of agriculture for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe from April 2008 to October 2010. Jim and his wife, Mary Ann, reside in Pagosa Springs. Jim currently serves as chair of the San Juan RC&D in southwest Colorado.

Noxious weeds project

One of my volunteer activities is being chair of the San Juan Resource Conservation and Development Council that serves five counties in southwest Colorado. It was was established in 1972. The San Juan RC&D is a 501(c)(3) organization that promotes sustainable communities and improves the quality of life through economic development and conservation of natural resources. Check out the website at www.SanJuanrc&d.org.

I want to share an important project that the council has been involved with that has had a big impact on Archuleta County. The San Juan Public Lands Noxious Weeds Project began in 2010. Miles Newby has been the Weeds Project specialist since its inception in 2010. Miles has been working with four counties: Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma and Dolores. These counties have received $1.5 million through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to inventory and treat noxious weeds on 48,000 acres of National Forest land. Over 24 people were hired to do this work and at the end of 2012, over 5,000 acres of weeds have been treated.

I asked Miles to share with you how this project has affected Archuleta County and this is his response:

“Who hasn’t returned home from enjoying area public lands with leaves, pollen, mud and weed seeds on their pants, shoes, dogs, horses or vehicles? Weed seeds use us to hitchhike a ride when we unknowingly walk or travel through a patch of hounds tongue, cheat grass or other invasive plants. Picking seeds or burs off clothing, horses or dogs is an unpleasant way to spend 10 or 15 minutes, or more. More unpleasant; however, is to spend a lifetime fighting with the fruits of these seeds, in the form of noxious weeds, in your yards, gardens and throughout your property.

“The most serious of these hitchhikers are seeds produced by non-native weeds that were introduced to North America, intentionally or not, over the past century from such faraway places as Asia and parts of southern Europe. Some were planted as ornamentals and others as a way to control erosion. Still others were in shipments of food, hay, straw or other goods. It is generally agreed that these plants have no purpose or redeeming value in their non-native habitat. What’s worse, these invaders are very aggressive and can wipe out native vegetation in a short amount of time. Farmers suffer loss of production, livestock forage is lost and land values can decrease. Weeds can be poisonous to animals and negatively impact native habitats. Recently, a program has been underway on the National Forest, in Archuleta, Hinsdale and Mineral Counties to change this.

“In May 2010, the San Juan National Forest and the San Juan Resource, Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council, a nonprofit located in Durango, partnered under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) to inventory and treat noxious weeds within hazardous fuels reduction areas located on the forest. The methods used to minimize the fire danger in these areas also disturb the ground and make for a perfect environment for weeds to move in and proliferate.

“Under a participating agreement with the Upper San Juan Weed District, $480,800 was received under the ARRA program to purchase items such as Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) units, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) computer software, two work trucks, two ATVs and treatment equipment to aid in the inventory and treatment of noxious weeds within 31 different fuels project areas. Another important goal of the program was to create local jobs. More than 10 employment opportunities were made possible in Archuleta County, benefiting six local Pagosa Springs students and others. The San Juan RC&D Council also was able to hire two employees to train cooperators and manage the program. The technical skills learned during this project will be a great asset for these people to take with them to other employment.

“Since 2010, the project has seen great success, with 20,867 acres inventoried and over 500 acres of noxious weeds treated within project areas. Additionally, 460 acres were treated along Forest roads that lead to these areas. The dominant species treated in fuels project areas have been musk thistle, Canada thistle, hounds tongue, yellow toadflax, various knapweeds and oxeye daisy.

“The war on weeds is an ongoing battle, but through partnerships and cooperation with local governments and agencies, appropriate management practices and education, we can reduce the rate of spread of noxious weeds and even eradicate some populations. Native grasses and plants are certainly preferable on public and private lands, as they are much easier to maintain and help support healthy native ecosystems. At some point in the near future you may find yourself ‘weed free’ at the end of your day in the National Forest.”

This project certainly wouldn’t be successful if not for Frank Ratliff and his crew at Archuleta County Weed and Pest Control. Frank has been a driving force in the progress and leadership of the noxious weed program.

Calendar

Dec. 11 — 4-H Rocky Mountain Riders Club meeting, 6 p.m.

Dec. 11 — Farm Bureau meeting, 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 12 — 4-H Pagosa Peaks Club meeting, 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 13 — Mountain View Homemakers, noon.

Dec. 14 — Archuleta County Christmas party, 6 p.m.

Learn more about our upcoming events on our webpage at www.archuleta.colostate.edu.

This story was posted on December 6, 2012.