Noxious weeds spread as federal funding shrivels
By DAVE WILKINS
The economic downturn may have slowed everything except the spread of weeds.
County weed superintendents in Idaho say budgets have tightened during the recession, and they don't have as much money to assist private landowners as they once did.
Left unchecked, weed infestations from rural subdivisions or abandoned development properties could spread to cropland, officials said.
While private property owners in Idaho are responsible for controlling weeds on their land, some homeowner groups have occasionally received help.
In Twin Falls County, the weed department has used federal cost-share funds to help homeowner associations combat noxious weed infestations. The county would provide the herbicide, while the property owners provided the labor, said Kali Sherrill, weed superintendent for the county.
Those federal cost-share dollars have nearly dried up since the economic downturn took hold a few years ago, Sherrill said.
She still plans to offer occasional neighborhood "spray days," but property owners will have to pick up most of the tab.
"We have pushed our private property owners to do more themselves," she said.
"Now (property owners) are going to have to provide the product, and we will come in and help them. It's kind of a reversal of roles."
Canada thistle, Scotch thistle, Russian knapweed and puncture vine are some of the worst noxious weed problems in the county, Sherrill said.
While farmers have an economic incentive to control weeds, the same cannot be said of all property owners.
In the Treasure Valley, some properties that had development potential during the housing market's heyday have since become abandoned, officials said.
Weeds, not houses, have sprung up.
Now there's a potential for those weeds to spread to cropland, said Jim Martell, weed superintendent for Canyon County.
Worse yet, some of the infestations on the undeveloped properties include weeds that have shown resistance to common herbicides, including glyphosate.
"If these resistant weeds spread from undeveloped property it could have a huge impact on cropland," Martell said.
Weeds with herbicide resistance include Russian thistle, koshia and marestail, he said.
Martell said his department took a 20 percent cut about three years ago, but the budget has been fairly stable since.
He still watches expenditures closely. When forced to control weeds on abandoned properties, he often dispatches a mowing crew rather than a spray rig.
"We have to decide what is the best tool according to our budget," Martell said.
"We have converted some of our operations to mowing and that has helped on some of these development lots," he said.
Landowners can learn to identify Idaho's 64 listed noxious weeds with the help of a free 115-page color booklet available from the Idaho Weed Awareness Campaign.
Visit the group's website at www.idahoweedawareness.net for information about how to treat various noxious weeds.