Survey: More Money Needed to Fight Noxious Weeds

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Land managers along the Rocky Mountain Front spent an estimated $1.1 million last year to fight noxious weeds, and most believe that more is needed to control the spread, according survey released Wednesday.

The survey questioned 10 different federal, state, local and non-governmental agencies that manage land on or near some 2 million acres where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains.

It was commissioned by The Wilderness Society on behalf of the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, a group promoting a plan to protect more than 300,000 acres in the region.

The agencies that responded said they spent about $840,000 combined last year to manage spotted knapweed, leafy spurge and other noxious weeds. The survey’s author, economist Joe Kerkvliet of The Wilderness Society, estimated $230,000 was spent on top of that.

“We wanted to quantify, get a better estimate on just how much money they do spend,” Kerkvliet told reporters Wednesday.

Nine of the 10 agencies said their budgets fell short of allowing them to do all they could to control the spread of the weeds. Most said they’d need a budget increase of about 50 percent to accomplish their goals, according to the survey.

Among the areas where more work is needed, the agencies said the top priorities were mapping existing weed infestations and locating new ones, documenting the effectiveness of treatments and sharing information with each other.

The survey estimated that 32,000 acres are infested with weeds along the 2-million-acre Rocky Mountain Front from the Canadian border to Roger’s Pass from north to south, and the Continental Divide to Montana Highways 89 and 287 from west to east.

Noxious weeds compete with native plants and grasses for water or soil nutrients and eventually overwhelm them. Their spread can damage water quality, agricultural productivity and even wildlife habitat.

“They just eliminate the grasses elk are dependent on, particularly in elk winter ranges,” said Tom Toman, director of conservation for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “If you think about the long term ramifications, it can really change a place for the critters, the soil chemistry and everything else.”

Paul Wick, coordinator for the Teton County Weed District, said he didn’t believe eradication of the invasive weeds was possible, but the control programs are necessary to keep them in check and prevent widespread economical and ecological damage.

Montana Department of Agriculture weed specialist Tonda Moon agreed that the well-established noxious weeds are here to stay. “But that’s no reason to stop trying,” she said. “Containment and control are very effective.”