Bugs set to chow noxious weeds

Ag officials find natural way to get rid of non-native plants

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— Some foreign visitors are getting a free meal thanks to the Routt County Agricultural Extension Office, though the main dish will be noxious.

On Monday, extension agents will release about 8,000 insects of four different species to chow on noxious weeds growing in various parts of the county.

The insects are native to Europe and China, where the weeds are native, Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said.

He said that the weeds have been accidentally introduced to the county over the years. Because they are native to Europe and China, there are no natural predators in Routt County to control the weeds' spread. They also have no nutritional value to humans or animals and take over habitat of native grasses that are important for animal grazing.

To solve the problem, extension agents received insects through the United States Department of Agriculture that are the weeds' natural predators. The bugs are released in an attempt to stop the noxious infestation.

"They have to go through extensive testing before they are given to us," Mucklow said.

The bugs are tested in Montana to make sure they will not feed on native plants once they are done with the noxious weeds, Mucklow said. From there, the bugs are grown in farms. All of the bugs come directly from Palisade except the one that eats Dalmatian toadflax. That bug, called mecumnus yanthinus, comes from British Columbia.

Bug releases aren't the only way to control noxious weeds. Agents do everything from spraying to pulling.

However, in spots that aren't as accessible, which makes it difficult to do follow up spraying and pulling work, a bug release works best, Mucklow said. The goal is to get the insects to establish through the winter because that gives the best long-term results.

The noxious weeds being targeted for consumption are Dalmatian toadflax up Spring Creek, leafy spurge in Hayden and South Routt, St. John's Wort on Rabbit Ears Pass and musk thistle. The location of the musk thistle treatment has not yet been determined, Mucklow said.

Bug releases are common for the extension office, though this is the first time for the service to attack St. John's Wort, Mucklow said.

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