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Coordinated spraying efforts help keep grasshoppers at bay

Effort buoyed by $10,000 from Routt County to partially reimburse landowners

Routt County allocated $10,000 to reimburse landowners who sprayed for grasshoppers this year, and the program seems to have spurred more spraying.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

It was too late to do anything last August as hordes of grasshoppers made some roads in Routt County appear alive.

The second half of 2021 was the hottest ever recorded in Colorado, and the dry, untilled soil across the county was ideal for the pests to lay their eggs.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture measured 15 or more hoppers per square yard in 13 locations around the county, which translates to as many as 4,000 eggs laid in a three foot by three foot square.



The high number of grasshoppers posed a problem that became too much for some landowners to deal with on their own.

This year there was hope that a cool, wet spring would drown out the grasshoppers and prevent their populations from growing even larger. However, the cool spring just delayed the hatch for thousands of these insects.



Still, Routt County is not facing the swarms some feared it could.

“Is this year as bad as we thought in terms of the numbers that have hatched? Absolutely,” said Todd Hagenbuch, director and agricultural agent for the Routt County’s Colorado State University Extension Office. “The thing that has saved us is that people really have done widespread, large-scale spraying. So, in terms of adult numbers, it’s not as bad.”

For the first time ever, Routt County set aside $10,000 to partially reimburse landowners who sprayed grasshopper pesticides, and Hagenbuch said the new program is working.


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There are still problem areas — north of Steamboat Springs Airport, south of Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area and near Routt County Road 44 in particular — but overall, the spraying has significantly cut down on the number of grasshoppers that could have made it to adulthood.

“On my family’s property, you’d walk and truly the ground was just moving with these little itty bitty quarter-inch grasshoppers,” Hagenbuch said. “So I sprayed and now I drive across the field, and yeah, there’s a lot of grasshoppers, but it’s hundreds, not thousands.”

Grasshopper counts were worse in 2021 than they were in 2020 with 13 measurement cites in Routt County seeing more than 15 grasshoppers per square yard.
U.S. Department of Agriculture/Courtesy

Grasshoppers need a somewhat mild winter with adequate snow cover to protect their eggs until they hatch in the spring. Having cool, wet weather after the initial hatch can wipe out the population. But, this year the eggs just didn’t hatch until the weather warmed, Hagenbuch said.

Spraying is only effective after the bugs hatch because it stunts their growth, prevents them from being able to fly and eventually kills them. Without widespread spraying, there isn’t much stopping them from hopping from an area that was sprayed to one that wasn’t.

That is what led to the reimbursement program, and Hagenbuch said it has been successful spurring more people to spray.

Now, spraying costs landowners about $8 an acre, and the funding will reimburse them $2 an acre. Hagenbuch said those reimbursements are just starting to be processed, and applications are still available on the Routt County Extension website.

The reimbursement has a minimum of 35 acres, but many homeowners in subdivisions banded together to spray much of the neighborhood and become eligible for reimbursement.

“The goal of the spraying program was really to get people to work together, and that appears to have been the case,” Hagenbuch said. “It would not have been possible in most areas though if it hadn’t been for a couple key community members who took it upon themselves … which they did because it was the right thing to do.”

He anticipates the $10,000 allotted for the program will all be used, especially as several large landowners sprayed thousands of acres.

Hagenbuch said that if the funding runs out, he may approach county commissioners about allotting more money to the program. It also likely won’t be the last year this coordinated effort is needed.

“While we’ve done a great effort this year, there are still thousands and thousands of grasshoppers out there on individual properties that are going to be laying millions of eggs,” Hagenbuch said. “There’s a decent chance we will have to do this again in 2023.”


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