Officials at the White River National Forest are anticipating significant cuts to their noxious weed management program. Funding to fight invasive species on the Forest has declined in recent years and it’s beginning to impact the land. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.
The White River National Forest is expecting a 15 to 25 percent cut in the program that includes the management of rangeland and noxious weeds. Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams will get a final budget later this spring.
"This is becoming very challenging to manage the permitees, the livestock and the weed program."
In the summer months, teams of weed specialists spread out across the sprawling 2.3 million acre forest attacking problem areas on land near Aspen, Carbondale, Rifle and beyond. Their aim is to contain and slow the spread of four dozen different kinds of noxious weeds. Hal Pearce is in charge of this weed team. He’s the Invasive Species Coordinator for the Forest.
"We do have areas that are pretty clean and then we’ve got other areas, like Oxeye Daisy in Summit County."
Oxeye Daisies are white flowering plants native to Europe. They’re a problem because they decrease plant diversity. And, because cattle avoid them, they diminish grazing lands.
Weeds not native to the U.S. don’t have natural controls so, Pearce says they can easily get out of control and take over entire ecosystems.
"They’ll crowd out the native vegetation. Many of them are not very palatable, so wildlife and livestock feed and the biodiversity of the system (are affected). With a lot of your weed species, you’ll have a lot more sediment in your streams, which affects your fisheries."
In the Roaring Fork Valley, weeds like yellow toadflax, biennial thistles and knapweeds are a problem. The Forest has about 20,000 acres of inventoried weeds, but Pearce is certain there are more.
"I’m sure there’s more than that. We haven’t had enough money to do an inventory project. Our crews go out and inventory and treat at the same time because of the limited funds."
Over the last three years, Pearce’s division has experienced significant cuts. Areas of the Forest that used to receive spray treatments are going unchecked and the team of weed workers is even less than half the size it used to be. So, Pearce has changed his approach.
"We’re having to be much more priority based, setting some of those high priority areas, high priority infestations and some of the others, we’re just going to have to hope for better times," he says.
The National Forest is also teaming up with other agencies in an effort to tackle more weeds with less money. Melissa Sever is Pitkin County’s Weed Program Coordinator.
"Last year was the first time in a few years we’ve partnered with the Forest Service on controlling noxious weeds. We did a cooperative effort with them up the Castle Creek Valley. We treated six acres of thistle," she says.
The County plans to partner again this summer and it’s in their best interest. Many County lands border Forest Service property so, weeds spread over both jurisdictions and beyond.
"A lot of private parcels border Forest Service lands and the noxious weeds come into those. And, we have open space trails that are throughout the county. And, partnering with the Forest Service is a great benefit for the whole Valley, making sure we all have funding and that we’re working together to tackle the same issues," Sever says.
Still, despite partnerships, Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams says this year’s cuts are greater than before, so problems will grow...like weeds.
"Weeds are going to grow more on the Forest, we can’t do what we’re not funded to do."