From: Bob Anez, Associated Press
Published June 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Montana to Fight Spread of Noxious Weeds

HELENA, Mont. — They infest a portion of Montana the size of Florida and Arkansas combined, and go by names like tansy ragwort, yellow toadflax and houndstongue. One species, knapweed, takes an estimated $42 million economic toll on the state every year.


Noxious weeds have invaded about 8.2 million acres of Montana and continue to spread, choking out valuable pasture, wildlife forage and native plants, forcing Montanans to spend about $19 million annually in a losing battle for control.


State and federal officials announced a new campaign Tuesday to encourage landowners and other citizens to combine efforts in fighting the spread of weeds.


Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Whitefish farmer and soil scientist, kicked off the Zero Spread campaign by yanking several spotted knapweed plants from wet soil on state land here.


That's part of the message in the campaign: See a weed, pull it.


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"When you're out, when your fishing, when your hunting, when your camping and you see knapweed along the trail, pull it out, pull it out," Schweitzer said.


Les Pannetier, a Helena-area rancher, said he spends about $6,000 a year to fight the leafy spurge, thistle and knapweed on his 600 acres. But he has no illusions about winning the battle.


"We'll never be free of noxious weeds in Montana," he said. "There's just too many over too large an area. But if they're not controlled, they will eventually take over Montana. There wouldn't be a Montana as we know it."


Nancy Peterson, state Agriculture Department director, said the goal of the campaign is to make more Montanans -- not just farmers and ranchers -- aware of the weed problem and the damage it does to the environment and people's pocketbooks.


Weeds affect water quality and fish habitat, destroy feed for wildlife and cattle, and can be poisonous to animals, she said. The seeds of weeds spread the plants by hitching rides on vehicles, pets, boats, horses, or the shoes of hikers and campers.


Even spending $19 million a year on weeds, Montanans are losing ground, Peterson said. Estimates are that $47 million annually is needed to begin reducing the infestation by just 5 percent, she said.


Dave Burch, noxious weed control coordinator in the Agriculture Department, said the state has about $2.1 million a year available for grants to help landowners kill weeds. That money comes from a $1.50 fee added to the cost of registering every vehicle in the state.


The state also has some money to spend from the interest earned on a noxious weed trust fund created in 1985. It contains about $4.7 million. But the demand for money is about 50 percent greater than the supply, Burch said.


Dave Kascht, assistant state conservationist with the U.S. Natural Resource and Conservation Service, said his agency helps pay 50 percent to 75 percent of agricultural producers' weed control, grazing management, irrigation and erosion control projects.


Source: Associated Press


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