They call him the weed whacker
Steve Anthony could very well be the Sherlock Holmes of weeds. As the Garfield County weed manager, it’s his mission to track down outbreaks of noxious weeds. Because he’s curious by nature, he also speculates about how new and often exotic weeds come here in the first place.Take absinth wormwood. The nondescript weed with the fancy name – in Europe it’s used to make a slightly narcotic liqueur – is on the hit list for the state of Colorado. Last year, the state Weed Board became so concerned about the invasive plant, it required eradication in three years in some parts of Garfield County, Anthony said.On one of his sleuthing trips around the county, Anthony spotted the weed near the Sunlight ski area. On a sunny hillside next to Four Mile Road, he pointed out the plants. Looking much like its cousins in the sage family, absinth wormwood is tall with bluish-green, feathery leaves. Anthony had already visited the site a week earlier to spray the weeds. On second look, he saw more up the hillside below a reclaimed coal mine.Like many of the noxious weeds that are targeted by Anthony and other weed experts, these non-natives play havoc with the natural ecology of a place. With their aggressive growth, they spread rapidly. Eventually, they dominate and crowd out native plants, in effect destroying biological diversity.On the way down Four Mile Road a few days ago, Anthony pointed out a hay meadow carpeted in some places by the showy oxeye daisy. A fugitive from home gardens, the daisy is taking over many mountain meadows in the county, Anthony said.”In some meadows they could be full (of oxeye daisies) in five years, they spread so quickly.”Passing a huge bunch at the entrance to a large home on Four Mile, Anthony mused that the daisies were probably planted by the owner many years ago and have since spread into the nearby pastures.Farther down the road is the Spring Ridge subdivision. Along both sides of the road for a good hundred yards are a proliferation of purple-flowered plants.”Spotted knapweed,” Anthony pronounces. Noting, “There isn’t any for miles,” he speculates it was brought in with dirt or gravel used in building the road.One of the frustrations in fighting weeds is keeping them out of people’s gardens. Recently, another friend of Anthony’s was at a local garden center and noticed a gallon container of yellow toadflax, long on the list of noxious weeds. The man bought up all the store had to sell then called Anthony who related the information to a state weed inspector.”He went to the store and talked to the manager, and found out the plants came from a grower in Salida,” Anthony said. About a week later yet another friend shopping at the same store found a plant labeled “wormwood sage.” Sure enough, the plant came from the same Salida grower, Anthony said. The grower will get a visit from the state weed inspector, who has the authority to confiscate noxious weeds.Anthony works with the local soil conservation districts on a cost-sharing program that helps landowners fight noxious weeds. With funding from the county commissioners, who gave $25,000 to the program this year, Anthony will help identify culprits and draw up a plan to fight them.Fighting weeds can be as simple as using hand tools and sweat to dig them up or spraying with an herbicide. Anthony has even advocated the use of weed-eating goats. This year, the program will pay back up to 75 percent of the cost of materials used against weeds.To take advantage of the program, a landowner must request a visit from Anthony, treat the weeds, then send in an application with receipts for what was spent on treatment.”There’s a little risk there to do the work and then hope to be reimbursed,” he said. “But people have to manage their weeds anyway.”For more information about the county cost-sharing program, call Steve Anthony at 625-8601.
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