Havre Daily News
HINGHAM - In at least one small section of Montana, noxious weeds are on the run. The state Noxious Weed Advisory Council toured a local weed battleground on Friday, the Sage Creek Russian Knapweed Project Area north of Hingham. The 15 members and ex officio members who traveled there were impressed by what they saw.
"We can see the money at work," Carol Sparks, livestock representative on the council, said Friday. The council is made up of 10 members representing 10 different land-use interests. It distributes more than $2 million a year in grants for weed-fighting projects.
The council tours weed project areas during the summer to get an idea of how the projects look, Sparks said. They approve grants in the spring and it helps to know how different projects do, she said.
The council won't see another application for the same area north of Hingham, which Hill County weed district coordinator Terry Turner calls a success. In the early 1980s, the area had 4,800 acres of Russian knapweed. That's down to 200 acres today, he said.
Council members and ex officio members agreed with Turner's assessment. They were presented with photographs and descriptions of the area before the project began - Russian knapweed as far as the eye could see. They saw for themselves the contrast: Only isolated patches of the weed remain.
Russian knapweed is a perennial that produces small flowers and appears bright green in the photographs Turner has from the mid- 1980s when it dominated the landscape in areas north of Hingham.
The Sage Creek project was funded by the Noxious Weed Trust Fund, which is administered by the council, four times between 1988 and 2002, for a total of $35,000. The fight against Russian knapweed there started earlier, in 1981, but got a lot of help from the trust fund, Turner said.
"I don't think it could have been possible without the trust fund," he said.
About $60,000 in different grants, including funds from the council, has gone into the project, Turner said.
If the history of the fight against the weed in the area is long, the history of how it got there is longer.
It started in "the dirty '30s of Montana," Turner told the council. Farmers in the area bought cheap hay from North Dakota. On the tour, Turner pointed out the area where the hay had been stacked.
"It just exploded when the flood came" in 1964, 30 years later, he said.
The entire project area includes 32,000 acres owned by three landowners and a section owned by the state, Turner said.
"You guys really need to be applauded for your effort," Dave Burch, noxious weed control coordinator in the state Agriculture Department, told Turner during the tour.
"I've dealt with Russian knapweed. Russian knapweed is tough to deal with," said ex officio council member Stan Huhtala, who works for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
As state coordinator, Burch said he tours plently of projects that have not had the success the Sage Creek project has had.
Local rancher Craig Patrick helped Turner conduct the tour, describing his experience day-to-day dealing with the weed. Patrick works on much of the land the council toured, which is owned by his uncle.
Patrick had his own message for the council. "Somehow get out to the public and tell them they have to control it," he said. "It almost doubles when you do nothing."
Patrick discussed the particulars of his fight against the weeds. He said he's found chemical control has worked better than biocontrol, the application of insects that eat particular weeds. The prevalence of ants and high winds mean the biocontrols don't survive or seem to get dispersed, he said.
The council shared with Patrick the statewide effort to educate people under the governor's recently announced Zero Spread campaign.
"It's like going out and buying more land," when weed control works, Turner said. He praised the landowners involved in the project for understanding that and continuing with aggressive efforts against the weeds once the project funding ended. "They're not going to give it up."
When projects are funded by the state's Noxious Weed Trust Fund, which was begun by the 1985 Legislature, weed fighting costs are split evenly between the landowners and the grant, Burch said. Most projects are funded for four years. In addition, the fund makes about $6,000 available for each county and reservation in the state.
In one place in particular, the council members remarked on Patrick's success. As the 15 people got off the bus in a spot that was once dominated by Russian knapweed, they remarked on the health of the grass beneath their feet. Several people mentioned that their feet didn't touch the ground for all the grass growth.
"This one looks incredible," Burch said afterward about the success at Sage Creek.