Grasshoppers on the move

Infestations of insects creating concerns for local landowners

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— Grasshoppers are continuing to spread around Steamboat Springs and Routt County and now dense patches of the insects can be found around at least a 200 square mile area, local agriculture extension agent C.J. Mucklow said.

Over the past two weeks, Mucklow said he has received several hundred phone calls about 15 to 30 a day from residents concerned about what the voracious insects can do to grazing land, crop land and lawns.

Many of the grasshoppers have matured to the adult flying stage and are moving from already-eaten grassy areas to untouched areas. Most of the movement is in a westward direction radiating out and up from the first hotspots along Twentymile Road and County Road 44, Mucklow said.

The infestation is still very patchy, which means some densely-populated areas neighbor areas that have only a handful of insects.

"We're starting to just now to see swarms of them moving in and out," Mucklow said. "I expect them to spread. But this is new to me too, and I really don't know."

In some areas near Steamboat Springs, between 120 and 180 grasshoppers per square yard have been counted by surveyors with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Usually there are 3 or 4 grasshoppers per square yard, and densities of 10 to 20 per square yard are considered to be a threat to crops.

Other areas in the state with these high densities include patches near Hayden and a large region south of Craig in Moffat County.

Grasshoppers hatch in the spring, and many usually die off due to late freezes or fungal diseases that attack the insects when the environment is moist. But this year's drought provided the hot, dry conditions in which grasshoppers can thrive.

For local ranchers and farmers, that has meant big losses in vital grazing land and crops.

Scott Flower, managing partner of Wolf Run Ranch off of Twentymile Road, saw his entire alfalfa crop eaten in a weekend and large areas of the 2,500-acre ranch crawling with grasshoppers during the past few weeks.

Now Flower said it looks like some of the grasshoppers are moving on to other areas.

"We're doing much better," Flower said. "I'm not sure if they've just eaten everything here and moved on, but we've tried ground spraying and air spraying and putting granules out."

Various chemicals can be used to kill grasshoppers, some so strong that they can only be used by licensed applicators.

Elk River Farm & Feed sells some of the common treatments, such as granules with Deltagard-G insecticide that kills younger grasshoppers and liquid sprays with Carbaryl insecticide that kills adult grasshoppers as well as all other stages.

"It seems like most of the people that are coming in are asking for the liquid," said Michelle Townsend, co-owner of the feed store. "They're at least trying to get rid of (grasshoppers) no matter what stage they're at."

Bo Ann Kontas, who lives in the Heritage Park subdivision west of town, said she and her husband have tried everything in their battle for their 5,000 square-foot yard with the grasshoppers.

The insects have eaten away the edges of the couple's yard, but much of the grass is still green.

"I spend six- to eight-hours-a-day protecting our lawn," Kontas said. "My husband's called it a war we are in a war with these things."

Kontas said she has talked to various extension agents and farmers to come up with ways to kill the insects, and has faithfully applied various insecticides and other remedies.

She's even tried spraying a mixture of garlic, Tobasco sauce, onion, a cup of dish soap and a can of beer on her yard, a recommendation from her brother who has a small farm in Utah.

"I just decided I wanted to save my yard," Kontas said. "When I saw these grasshoppers I said, 'I'm not just going to sit idly by.'"

Her yard is filled with dead grasshoppers and every day she said she sweeps up two to three dustpans full of the bugs from her front drive.

She said although her lawn has survived so far, she is not sure how much longer it will last. Many of the yards near Kontas' house that have not been treated for the insects have large, dried patches that have been eaten to the ground.

Peter Doran of Doran Agriculture Services said he has been busy with calls to spray for the grasshoppers.

"We don't normally do much insecticide up here because our climate doesn't really lend itself to the insects," Doran said. But because of the drought-induced grasshopper outbreaks, Doran said insecticide sprays are in demand.

Sometimes there isn't anything people can do to save their grass or cropland. Doran said he watched one alfalfa field get eaten up in 48 hours.

"The (grasshoppers) came in so quick that we didn't have time to react," he said.

The most serious problems could come next spring when the eggs are hatched from this year's group. Grasshoppers will begin to lay those eggs in the next few weeks.

If conditions are hot and dry like they were this spring, there could potentially be an even larger grasshopper infestation with greater damage to crops, grazing land and lawns, Mucklow said.

To be prepared for the worst, Mucklow said he will hold public meetings as early as the next few weeks to inform people about the grasshoppers and to design a program to track where the eggs are laid and begin to hatch. He will also design a pest management program to would stop the insects early in the season.

"We would hope that we would be able to manage the grasshopper damage much better," he said.

Mucklow said that no one can recall a grasshopper infestation as widespread as the one this year and that the community needs to take all steps to ensure that next summer the grasshopper situation is not worse.

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