Weed control rises as priority for county

New ordinance gives officials authority to intervene on private land

Montezuma County now has the option to crack down on landowners who dismiss major invasive weed infestations on their land.

After a public hearing on Monday, the board of county commissioners passed a tough weed enforcement policy targeting scofflaws who don’t properly manage, and/or continually allow noxious weeds to flourish.

“It’s a problem because if I control my weeds it doesn’t matter if my neighbor doesn’t control his because the seeds just blow over,” said commissioner Steve Chappell.

The Montezuma County Noxious Weed Plan (MCWP) has teeth, allowing county officials to act if mitigation plans, multiple notice letters, phone calls and face-to-face warnings to violators are ignored.

According to the ordinance, “In the event the landowner ... fails to comply with any notice to eradicate or manage the identified weeds or implement the plan developed by the arbitration panel, the MCWP shall provide for and compel the eradication or management of such weeds in any manner deemed necessary.”

County officials said severe enforcement is a last result, but the ordinance allows the county to control a landowner’s weeds and then bill the landowner or put a tax lien on his or her property in order to collect payment.

The county weed ordinance was modeled from the Colorado Noxious Weed Act, enacted by the state to prevent noxious weeds from threatening natural resources and agriculture.

“This management is with the intent of maintaining and protecting property values of property owners and their adjacent properties,” the ordinance states. “It is the duty of all persons to use integrated methods to manage and prevent the spread of all noxious weeds if the plants are likely to be ecologically destructive or aesthetically or materially damaging to neighboring lands.”

The county has a 50-50 cost-share program in place to help landowners pay for their weed control. The county contribution tops out at $250 per year.

If a property is deemed problematic, under the ordinance a mitigation plan is put in place with the landowner. The county then creates a weed-controlled barrier for at least 50 feet around the property, and the property owner is responsible for weed management within his or her boundary.

Several people testified in favor of the ordinance. A similar weed policy is in place in La Plata County.

“We want to educate landowners of the different types of noxious weeds that are a problem,” said Steve Miles, of the county weed advisory board. “We have published a guidebook on the worst 10 to 12 weeds, and we’re getting the word out that they are worth controlling.”

It was noted that Russian thistle can be effectively controlled by putting down affordable pre-emergent herbicides on problem acres. Application costs $2 to $3 per acre.

Frank Green, who controls weeds for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, noted that kochia is becoming a bigger problem.

“It is becoming tougher to control because it is more resistant to herbicides,” he said.

Said one farmer, “When you spend $25,000 to spray for knapweed on 600 acres, and then it all comes back the next year, due seeds blowing over from other properties, it becomes a big economic issue.”

Another problem are weeds that grow uncontrolled in designated open space areas of platted subdivisions.

“It is the responsibility of the subdivision lot owners to control those weeds, and this is not well understood by those residents,” said planning assistant LeAnn Milligan.

Investigations into problem weed areas will be complaint driven and also by county staff observation. Letters are then sent to the landowner.

“One tactic I’ve seen work is for the county prepare in advance letters for areas that are known to be problematic so they can be sent out advising control of the weeds before they go to seed,” Miles said.

There are three categories for noxious weeds in the ordinance. A list are targeted for eradication; B list weeds must be managed, and C list are recommended for management.

“I farm 3,000 acres with my son, and (controlling weeds) can be done,” said Brad Foyt.

The weed ordinance will be posted on the county website at http://www.co.montezuma.co.us/ soon. The A, B, and C lists of weeds are included in the document.

“It is a good ordinance – it makes the landowner be responsible,” added commissioner Keenan Ertel.