By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
An area rancher has asked the county to step up its eradication efforts for a plant that's harmful to cattle.
Conrad Nystrom told the Hill County Park Board last week that he would like the county to become more proactive in controlling burdock, a plant that produces small burs that easily attach themselves to livestock.
Burdock is a biennial plant that produces burs during its second year of life. It is prevalent south of Havre, especially in Beaver Creek Park.
"It's an aggravation," Nystrom said during the meeting. "It gets in the animals' eyes and urinary tracts. It's a nuisance and I'd like to see something done about it."
Nystrom said he uses herbicide to eradicate burdock on his land, but that when his cattle graze in Beaver Creek Park in the fall, they return carrying burs that reseed the plant.
Burs can cause cattle to go blind, and can lead to lower prices at market, Nystrom said. To combat this, Nystrom asked the Park Board to establish a one-week period every year for the county to spray burdock in the park.
A maximum of 2,500 head of cattle graze in the park from Labor Day to December. Ranchers pay the county $8 a head per month.
The Park Board did not act on Nystrom's request, instead referring him to the County Weed District. The district sprays plants that have been designated as noxious weeds.
Weed district manager Terry Turner said burdock can be harmful to livestock, but finding an efficient solution is difficult.
"Some of those cows are just covered in it. It does a lot of damage to livestock and deer," he said. "At this time it is not classified as a noxious weed. It is something that has been discussed by the Weed Board in the past, and the two problems that came up are the cost and the method of how to control it."
Burdock tends to grow in places that are not easily accessible, Turner said. Much of the spraying would have to be done by hand, he said, a task that would be time-consuming and expensive.
Nystrom said he would be willing to donate time to apply the herbicide if the county paid for the chemical. Many area ranchers use herbicide on their property and have completed state certification programs, he said. A number of them have indicated they would also be willing to provide labor if the county provided the herbicide.
"I think it's unfortunate that the county walks away from all the free labor," he said.
The rancher acknowledged that chemicals are expensive, adding that he spends between $300 and $400 annually to combat burdock on his land. Nystrom told the Park Board he believes the county should assume the cost of spraying in the park.
"I think rightly the county should take care of it," he said. "I'm a taxpayer and some of that money should be used to spray for it."
The weed district has two programs designed to reduce burdock in the park, Turner said. The first is the traditional method of applying herbicide. The weed district typically sprays the park one day a year.
The so-called "spray day" was hampered this year by construction on and near the Beaver Creek Highway, Turner said.
The second method is less traditional. As part of an educational field trip, fifth-graders from local elementary schools take to the park and uproot the plants.
There are four locations in Beaver Creek Park that have been organically certified, Turner said, meaning they have not been sprayed with chemicals. The burdock roots are sold to Amber Gold Inc. for $1.50 a pound to be used in an herbal tea.The money raised through the venture is used to purchase T-shirts for participants.
The goal of the program is twofold, Turner said: cut down on burdock in the park, and give students a hands-on science lesson.
Local rancher Larry Kinsella said he also would like the county to increase its spraying program.
"I'd like to see it controlled," he said. "For the general public, whether you're walking your dog or riding your horse, it's a problem. It's a problem for ranchers that try to control it. When the cattle return from the park, they reseed it."
A single burdock plant produces between 40,000 and 60,000 seeds, Turner said.
Kinsella said he has had cattle discounted at market because they have been injured by burdock.
"They will discount it if it's in their eyes," he said. "There are cattle they refuse to take at all and are returned as unsellable."
Nystrom said he plans to approach the Weed Board about adding burdock to the list of noxious weeds in Hill County.