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Weed Warriors Do Battle with Invasive Foes
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Morgan Miller shows off a clump of Scotch thistle.
   
Friday, September 23, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

A couple of lovely yellow and deep pink hollyhocks danced in the gentle breeze as Vicky Ownbey made her way through the drainage easement near Woodside Boulevard and Winter Fox Lane.

But her eyes skipped over them, instead darting back and forth scouring the dried bunchgrass for spotted knapweed and other noxious weeds.

When she spotted a noxious weed—and they weren’t hard to miss—she took out the Japanese hori-hori weeding knife she kept in a holster around her waist and went to work digging and slashing, unceremoniously stuffing the decapitated weed in a discarded bag from Sawtooth Brewery.

 
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Lindsay Mollineaux gets a workout tackling houndstongue.
 

One weed down, the general of the ERC’s Weed Warriors program marched through the grass to do battle with another weed.

Ketchum’s Environmental Resource Center started the volunteer Weed Warriors program last summer to give the community opportunities to help improve the health of the natural environment by removing noxious weeds.

Noxious, invasive weeds have amazing adaptations to taking over an area and destroying the natural habitat, which harms our wildlife and aquatic life, can increase fire risks and can be poisonous to people and pets, as well as wildlife,” said Lindsay Mollineaux, the ERC’s executive director.

The Weed Warriors organize weekly weed pull events beginning in late May and running through October, weather permitting. Last year it hosted 29 events, primarily on public lands. It has nearly doubled that number so far this year.

 
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Vicky Ownbey carries a handmade hori-hori weeding and cutting knife made in Japan.
 

This summer, it held:

  • 10 weeding events within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area
  • 20 within the Ketchum Ranger District, the efforts funded by the National Forest Foundation
  • 26 countywide priority events funded by the Blaine County Land, Water and Wildlife Program.

In June 2022 alone Weed Warriors pulled more than 1,000 pounds of weeds from public lands.

“By pulling weeds before they went to seed, we estimate that we prevented millions of seeds from being spread,” said Mollineaux.

 
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John Shelley, a retired forester and vice president of the Wood River Native Plants Society, notes that noxious weeds can be problematic for dogs, getting stuck in their ears and under their eyelids.
 

In the Weed Warriors’ crosshairs: Spotted knapweed, diffuse knapweed, houndstongue, rush skeleton weed, Canada thistle, hoary alyssum, scotch thistle and toadflax.

But they occasionally find less well-known weeds, such as huge patches of camelthorn in Bellevue and at Sun Peak near Hulen Meadows.

“It’s not listed as invasive but it’s nasty and it’s spreading,” said Ownbey.

Volunteers are not tasked with pulling weeds that are toxic to humans, such as poison hemlock or black henbane. Instead, they report those to the Blaine County Noxious Weed Department so they can be dealt with by the proper authorities.

 
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The best part of weeding is finishing.
 

They also report weed infestations to that department’s “Report-a-Weed” site so weed authorities can have a better understanding of weed spread.

The ERC hired six fellows to assist this summer. They not only dealt with noxious weeds but did bear patrol for the Forest Service, visiting campgrounds in the ERC van and educating people about how to store food and garbage to keep bears at bay.

The fellows also set up recycling bins at Ketchum Alive and Hailey Alive and helped the Forest Service  map cheatgrass in areas like Deer Creek and Fox Creek.

“I’d like to have funding to have weed-eating goats,” quipped Ownbey. “I can picture myself out there weeding with a 1-year-old, two dogs and goats.”

One of the summer fellows--Morgan Miller--lives in Twin Falls but spent much of the summer in the Wood River Valley working with the noxious weed program.

“It feels good being able to help such a beautiful community,” she said. “I’ve been humbled. I didn’t know how much there was to learn. And it’s given me good skills—I find myself pulling weeds as I go on walks and stuff.”

An early effort to eradicate noxious weeds near the SNRA headquarters north of Ketchum in 1980 cut infestations down to a handful of acres. But the infestation grew to thousands of acres after the person who had been working on the noxious weeds left. Numerous efforts have been made to get it under control since.

“Being a Weed Warrior is being a good neighbor,” said Mollineaux. “Weeds know no boundaries. They can even impact agriculture.”

The small group of Weed Warriors spread out, pulling, yanking, whacking and cutting away. Everyone laughs as Miller tussled with a weed that refused to be budged from its spot.

Jennifer Montgomery, whose home borders the easement, pointed out how Woodside Boulevard had flooded five years earlier because no culverts were installed along the street. Since, she said, she’s had  an ongoing dialog with the city trying to get them to keep the easement mowed and the noxious weeds eradicated to reduce fire hazard.

But she was happy with the morning’s efforts.

“Our efforts make us, our kids, pet, home and landscaping safer from the many negative effects of noxious weeds,” she said.

Those interested in finding out more about the program or volunteering should contact Vicky Ownbey at vicky@ercsv.org.

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