Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
A break in the weather came just in time for a tour of the Milk River Tuesday, with the local weed district coordinator looking for noxious weeds. Terry Turner, coordinator of the Hill County Weed District, said he was pleased with the results he identified only 27 spots with noxious weeds on the tour. “I’ve seen less than I expected,” he said. “I thought there’d be more.” Noxious weeds, as defined on the Hill County Weed District Web page, are non-native plants introduced to the state that may render land unfit for “agriculture, forestry, livestock, wildlife, or any other beneficial uses or that may harm native plant communities. Noxious weeds are designated by rule of the Department of Agriculture or by the County Weed Board.” The rain that has been hitting the area recent afternoons gave the Milk River Watershed Alliance and Hill County Conservation District Milk River Float Trip and Weed Tour a break. Tuesday’s trip had pleasant weather, with a partly cloudy sky, moderate temperatures the National Weather Service reported a high of 65 and a breeze tending toward windy at times. The start of the trip included a tutorial by Conrad Nystrom, supervisor chair of the Conservation District, on canoeing. The key point seemed to be making sure the people boarded the canoes properly. “Put your weight in the center or it will tip over and you will get wet,” he said. The starting point was at the Fresno Tailwater just below Fresno Dam, and proceeded several miles east to a pickup point on the north bank. The tour had 16 members riding in seven canoes their use was donated by Montana State University-Northern, which sponsored the tour along with the Conservation District and McNair Furniture and the weed district personnel riding in Hill County’s amphibious craft. The Land Tamer II, an eight-wheeled all-terrain vehicle with a propeller so it can also be used in the water, is a Montana-made craft, Turner said. It is made in Townsend and exported around the world. Turner used the vehicle to traverse the river, looking for infestations which he then could describe to the tour. One stop was to show some Russian knapweed, a plant that, like virtually all noxious weeds in Hill County, came to the area when ranchers, desperate for feed for livestock in the 1930s, brought in hay from North Dakota, which turned out to be infested with seeds, Turner said. Turner said Russian and spotted knapweed and Canadian thistle are the main concern in the Milk River valley, Although there is little infestation west of Havre up to the Canadian border. Much of previous infestations have already been removed, he said. The river used to have 6,000 acres of Russian knapweed, which the Weed District has cut down to 200 to 500 acres. “We’re making headway on most noxious weeds in Hill County,” Turner said. Another concern is Russian olive trees, which are not yet part of the list of noxious weeds but may be added soon. The Russian olive trees were brought to the area when settlers planted them on the prairie in shelter belts, Turner said. That is usually not a problem, but when the seeds are taken to areas with large amounts of water, like river banks, they take over. Warren Kel logg of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation said the department is working with Russian olives that are causing problems all over the state. “It’s not as bad here,” he added. The trees, which have very hard wood, are difficult to kill, Kellogg said. The most efficient way found so far is to cut them down and spray the stump to prevent regrowth. The trees, if they take off and grow profusely, cut off access to the rivers. They could become so thick along the Milk River, if not controlled, that people could not push through them, Kellogg said. That has already happened on many other river banks, he added. Other sites the tour saw included water pumps, watering holes fenced off for cattle, old wooden fences, and some trash at one point, members of the tour stopped to see an old dump site on the bank, with the prominent feature being an old Chevrolet pickup, with 1963 Liberty County license plates. The lack of weeds seemed to please Turner, especially in large flats along the bank. “Most flats like this are covered by weeds,” he said at one stop to look for noxious plants and found, essentially, none. After the float trip, which originally was set for a $15 fee but was provided free due to the generosity of the sponsors, the coordinators set up a barbecue, also originally not planned, to reward the trip participants for their five hours of canoeing.