Thursday, August 13, 2020
War on Weeds Never Ending
Kay Draper identifies a knapweed growing in a Ketchum backyard.
Friday, July 17, 2020


 Waging war on weeds may feel like a losing battle, but if property owners don’t join the fight, they could be breaking the law.

“A lot of times property owners don’t see it as a problem…a lot of people think it’s a pretty wildflower,” says John Cenarrusa, superintendent of Blaine County’s Weed Department. “We try to educate people on what they go.”

 Idaho state law requires property owners control noxious weeds on their land.

Eric McHan, working here with his daughter Melody, says that the bug crew has insects to control Canada thistle. However, he has found they don’t perform very well in the northern part of Blaine County.

 Here locally, the Blaine County Weed Department has identified 25 local weeds that can be harmful to people, livestock, wildlife and/or crops. These plants can be invasive, crowding out native species and upsetting the ecological balance, possibly causing erosion if left unchecked.

 To prevent and combat plant problems the county offers free advice and written reminders to prompt property owners into taking action.

 Increasing awareness about noxious weeds is a top priority for John Cenarrusa,

Call 208-788-5543 and you’ll find the number leads to his department’s Support Specialist Kay Draper in Hailey.

Hounds tongue.

 She makes house calls to identify noxious weeds on properties and suggest treatments such as hand pulling, mowing, or spraying with herbicides. She can also provide a free supply of the herbicide Milestone.

 “It’s pretty toxic, we’re very careful on how we spray it and apply it,” she says.

 Every year the weed department sends out 200 to 300 letters to notify property owners that noxious weeds have been found on their land. The letters request a response within five working days to come up with a game plan for control or proof of treatment.

 If property owners fail to comply and continue to violate the Idaho Noxious Weed Law, the letter states: “Be advised that your weeds will be controlled at cost plus an enforcement fee of $100.”

Rush skeletonweed.

 “We have a lot of absentee property owners, so we have to give them fair warning,” Cenarrusa says.

 A letter might be generated after a neighbor lodges a complaint. The department’s report-a-weed link can be found a few clicks in on the website

 A weed identification section is also posted on the website, providing color photos and physical descriptions.

 Earlier this month a property owner invited Draper to identify noxious weeds on a hillside in the Warm Springs area of Ketchum. She found six common offenders: Houndstongue, knapweed, Canada thistle, rush skeleton, toadflax and leafy spurge.

 Draper advises on the best ways to tackle each species. For hand-pulled weeds, for example, she recommends putting then in a bag before tossing them in the garbage.

 “Don’t put them in a compost pile so they don’t spread in our landfill,” she says.

And she cautions about the continuous need for treatment. “Spraying once usually won’t do it – a thistle seed can lie dormant for 10 years.”

 Using insects for bio-control is another more long-term option for specific weeds.

 The department helps fund the Blaine County Bug Crew, which due to Covid-19 safety restrictions amounts to a father/daughter combo covering both Blaine and Camus counties this summer.

 In normal times, Eric McHan, an English teacher in Dietrich, leads a crew of five middle and high school students. For 12 years now they have inspected properties for noxious weeds, recorded hundreds of sites, collected insects, and released them in hopes the bugs will breed, populate and eat enough to keep the weeds under control.

 The insects they use have been approved by the US Department of Agriculture and only eat specific weeds. The sites must meet certain criteria too; the land must be left undisturbed, not mowed or sprayed so nature can run its course.

McHan explains why bio-control works well in some situations, and not so well in others: “So many people want weeds gone yesterday, and don’t have the time or patience for bio-control. Usually it takes four years for it to take effect.”

 McHan and his daughter Melody, a sophomore who has been a bug crew member for several years, walked around the same hillside Draper visited. They arrived in a vehicle loaded with gear that had been provided by the Bureau of Land Management.

 Within 10 minutes they identified a swath of spotted knapweed and proceeded to set up a 20-meter-long transect, where every two meters they placed a rectangle made out of PVC pipe to mark study areas.

 Together they observed how much weed, bare ground, grass, other plants and bugs existed in each patch. Melody marked down the data on paper, her father entered it on his cellphone, and then he sent a digital report to BLM and the county’s Cooperative Weed Management Area Coalition.

 Next month the McHans plan to collect a root-boring weevil called cyphocleonus achates in Indian Creek and release 50 to 100 of the insects in the new transect.

 A year later they will then check the site to see what progress has been made. The idea is for the bugs to overwinter in the roots and eat the seed heads next summer.

McHan says he’s had a pretty good success rate with these weed-eating bugs in the past.

“The good thing is the bugs don’t respect property lines,” he says.

 For more information about the bug crew’s free service call 208-316-0355.







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