As the snow melts into the ground and green tips of plants begin to emerge in the Yampa Valley, landowners may need reminding that some of those plants may be noxious weeds and it's their legal responsibility to manage them.
Noxious weeds, those undesirable plants not native to the United States, are dangerous because they grow unchecked by natural predators such as disease and insects. Most animals won't touch them because the weeds don't have nutritional value.
"The biggest danger is that they crowd out native plants," Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said.
If the weeds take over large areas in the county, they could ruin grazing lands for cattle and force big game to find other places to forage.
Routt County officials have identified seven noxious weeds that need controlling. Landowners are being encouraged to educate themselves about leafy spurge, dalmatian toadflax, yellow toadflax, diffuse knapweed, Russian knapweed, spotted knapweed and hoary cress.
It's up to landowners to make sure the plants are not growing on their land. If weeds are present, by law, landowners have to take steps to get rid of them, Mucklow said.
In a worst-case scenario the county can but a lien on private property if the owner has failed to control a weed problem. That has never happened in Routt County.
"Our approach is educate and cooperate," Mucklow said.
It's important that all landowners are aware of what's on their land to avoid the risk of infecting adjoining property with a noxious weed,Mucklow said.
"We're not going to eradicate these weeds but we want to control them," he added.
Some of the biggest problem spots the county deals with are where city and rural areas meet.
Usually noxious weeds show up first in urban areas because they are transported by humans, then they move into rural areas. They are commonly transported along roads on waterways to different properties.
Gravel pits are another place where noxious weeds often show up. Because of the in-and-out truck traffic, the pits play an instrumental role in spreading to plants to other lands, said Carl Herold, who sits on the Routt County Weed Advisory Board.
"We're really working on those gravel pits," he said.
Spraying is the most common way to treat for weeds but bug releases and pulling or plowing the plants are other ways to combat the problem, Herold said.
Currently, hoary cress, also known as whitetop, is the most prevalent noxious weed in Routt County. The first whitetop seeds came into the county in 1937 on a herd of sheep. Since then, whitetop has spread and become a big problem. It has taken over thousands of acres in the Yampa Valley. It can be seen west of town and is all over Emerald Mountain, Mucklow said.
Furthermore, small patches of spotted knapweed were identified in Routt County last year and officials fear that its aggressive nature potentially could make the weed the county's biggest invader.
Spotted knapweed has taken over thousands of acres in Montana, turning the land into useless open space.
The Colorado State Extension Office has information on the seven weeds and can help landowners deal with any problems.
"They're very good at helping people locate and identify the weeds and the coming up with a plan," Herold said.
The office does spray on private lands for a fee. To arrange for weed spraying on contact the Rout County Weed Control Office at 870-5246 and leave a message.
Mucklow said landowners should treat near roadways and waterways first, so the weeds can't spread to other properties quickly.
-- To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org