Routt County adds 2 weed species to noxious list amid growing infestations
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County has added two new plant species to its list of noxious weeds that could create negative impacts on local ecosystems and agriculture if not monitored or controlled.
Curly dock and common mullein are the latest additions to the county’s list of noxious weeds, bringing the total count to 15 species. The Colorado Noxious Weed Act mandates that counties across the state regularly update local lists and take steps to control the listed species.
A third weed, bulbous bluegrass, was added to the list as a “species of concern,” which does not mandate control measures. This designation was chosen because no feasible treatments exist to combat the weed.
Officials with the Routt County Weed Program named several consequences of failing to battle infestations of these species. They include loss of native vegetation, less food for livestock and wildlife, property degradation and negative impacts to riparian and aquatic habitats.
Tiffany Carlson, who recently took over as the county’s weed supervisor, said officials have been noticing a recent spread of curly dock and common mullein along county roads and public lands.
Curly dock, a relative to rhubarb, grows deep, stout taproots that make it difficult to remove. While it is edible to humans — recipes even exist for its use in the kitchen — the plant can be toxic to sheep, cattle and horses. Common mullein is a highly invasive weed that can produce roughly 100,000 seeds per plant, Carlson said. The seeds can remain viable in the soil for more than 100 years.
Like many noxious weed species, Carlson said it is unclear how curly dock and common mullein arrived in the area. She suspects multiple modes of transmission contributed to the spread, namely vehicles, railways, waterways, wind, livestock, hay, wildlife and people.
Nonnative, noxious species pose such grave threats because they have been transported to new environments that do not have the same natural controls, such as insects and disease, to keep their numbers in check, according to Carlson.
Commissioner Beth Melton compared the situation to the spread of leafy spurge, another species on the noxious weed list, infestations of which have been seen across the Yampa Valley. In Routt County, leafy spurge has become such a concern that a special task force was created in 2015 to combat its spread along a 150-mile section of the Yampa River.
Elsewhere in the country, such as Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, leafy spurge has proliferated to uncontrollable levels. Some ranches have had to shut down operations because the land has become so overgrown with the invasive weed.
According to a study from Montana State University, infestations in North Dakota cause $14.4 million in losses each year due to reduced cattle forage production and control costs.
“We wouldn’t ever want to see where we get to that point,” Melton said, adding that a primary purpose of Routt County’s noxious weed list is to be proactive about such outbreaks and manage them before they get out of control.
Plans to combat curly dock and common mullein include continued chemical and biological treatments through the Routt County Weed Program, according to Carlson. Officials also will send letters to residents who have infestations on their property reminding them of their responsibility to mitigate noxious weeds.
“As stewards of the land and good neighbors, it is our responsibility to work together to monitor and prevent the spread of noxious weeds and thus helping our native landscapes thrive,” Carlson said.
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