Grasshopper forecast concerning for Routt County ranchers, landowners this summer

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Rangeland Grasshopper Hazard forecast warns that Routt County may see some of the highest populations of grasshoppers in the state this summer.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The first hatch isn’t expected for a couple of months, but if projections for Routt County’s grasshopper population hold true, Routt County Extension Agent and Director Todd Hagenbuch said the time to start talking about mitigation has come.

Based on the counts of adult grasshoppers in 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected that a large section of Routt County — including areas around Steamboat Springs — will have 15-plus grasshoppers per square yard this summer. That area is the largest in the state with those numbers.

“The potential is mostly based on the count last year of adult grasshoppers and extrapolating that and knowing how many eggs,” Hagenbuch said. “The potential lies out there, and that is what the forecast looks like.”

Kathy Stokes, who lives in Deer Mountain Estates, has been dealing with grasshoppers since 2015 when she started organizing efforts in her neighborhood to address the problem.

“We started a number of years ago,” Stokes said. “We had help that year, and after that, we were on our own, which was fine.”

Stokes said the the Deer Mountain neighborhood on the west side of Routt County 44 joined Rabbit Run, and eventually Elk Mountain Estates, after the person who was doing it there retired in a joint effort to control grasshoppers.

“It’s such a group effort, and it has to be,” Stokes said of spraying. “The problem has gotten so far outside of our neighborhoods that even when we spray, they come back … so it must be a whole coordinated effort.”

The 2023 Rangeland Grasshopper Hazard map from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that Routt County should expect some of the highest number of grasshoppers across the state.
United States Department of Agriculture/courtesy photo

Stokes said the only way to truly address the grasshopper problem is to get landowners, neighborhoods and ranches working together.

Hagenbuch added that timing the use of pesticides is critical to limiting grasshopper populations.

He said grasshoppers will hatch in waves and at different times in different areas. He said the best time to spray is after the nymphs have hatched but before the grasshoppers mature. Because hatches can be spread out over weeks, it’s important to make sure that all the nymphs have hatched before spraying. He added that because the pests are so transient, they can quickly move into one area and out of another.

“It’s really important for small subdivisions,” Hagenbuch said. “Elk River Estates and Deer Mountain Estates have coordinated efforts because grasshoppers don’t know property lines.”

Hagenbuch said that when it comes to grasshoppers, it takes widespread efforts to gain control and affect the landowners in an area in a positive way.

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While large portions of Routt County have the potential for adverse grasshopper populations this summer, Hagenbuch said it’s still too early to tell if the forecast will be right. He said it’s likely, but there are many factors that could still have an effect.

“If it remains warm and dry, that’s when we have lots of grasshoppers,” Hagenbuch said. “If they hatch and then the weather turns cold and wet again, that’s when those little nymphs suffer a lot of mortality, and then we can hopefully turn the curve back the other way.”

Last year, the Routt County Extension Office held a grasshopper workshop and then different neighborhoods broke into groups that coordinated efforts to control the grasshopper population.

“The most important thing (people) can be doing is talking to their neighbors and trying to coordinate control efforts in larger swaths of land,” Hagenbuch said. “It’s a conversation that needs to start now.”

He urged people living in more urban neighborhoods to use baits that will more directly impact the grasshoppers and not pets, children or residents who might become exposed to the pesticide while passing through an area that has been sprayed. He also said that chickens are a great option for those looking for a more natural way to control grasshopper populations.

Hagenbuch said Routt County commissioners recently approved the reimbursement program for this summer in which landowners and groups can be reimbursed for some of the cost of spraying through the Taylor Grazing Act funds.

Reimbursements are available on a first-come, first-served basis in the amount of $2 per acre for control efforts that encompass 35 acres or more. Acreage minimum can be achieved by grouping properties under different ownership.

Those control efforts can include aerial spraying, ground spraying, baiting or any other generally accepted control effort appropriate for large-scale application. Last year, the program included 18 properties, and nearly 3,000 acres were sprayed.

Stokes said she hopes that grasshoppers will not be a problem in 2023, and she is still hoping for a few days of cold temperatures in late May and early June to help keep the grasshopper population down.

“I was hoping with the cold and the long winter and all that stuff that Mother Nature might be helping, but it doesn’t sound like that,” Stokes said. “But we don’t know that, of course.”

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