Protecting High Quality Rangelands in Garfield County from Invasive Weed Spread

Final Report for FW05-301

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2005: $20,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Eric Miller
Montana State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Over the past 10 years, noxious weed occurrences have increased in Garfield County. The increase can be attributed to: increased vehicle traffic on the bisecting highways, hunter activity on secondary and private roads, and increased reliance on out-of-county hay. In an effort to maintain and reduce the current noxious weed levels in Garfield County, the Weed Prevention Area (WPA) concept was developed. The principle is to limit new infestations by increasing landowners and visitors’ awareness of the detrimental impacts of noxious weeds to the environment. To track the weed status of lands, GPS technologies are used to map weed locations and to verify locations and acreages of non-infested lands.

Introduction

Noxious weed encroachment has been an ongoing problem in the western US since the early 1900s. (A) In Montana, the spread of spotted knapweed has been documented since 1920. Spotted Knapweed started in Missoula County and today infests every county in the State. Montana currently list 32 plant species in 4 categories as noxious weeds in need of management. Economic and ecological impacts represent a tremendous cost to state each year. Current estimates place the cost of noxious weed control in Montana at between 200 and 300 million dollars annually, with an estimated 42 million dollars for the control of spotted knapweed alone. In addition it has been estimated weeds cost farmers in excess of 100 million dollars annually in control expenses and decreased production.
In 2005, Shelley et al reported noxious weeds negatively impact the native ecology by; displacing native plants, reducing biodiversity, altering the normal ecological processes, decreasing wildlife habitat, reducing recreational value of lands and increasing soil erosion and stream sedimentation.
In recent years there has been a shift in the paradigm of weed control. Instead of the historical thought of waiting until there is an infestation and treating the situation, today land managers are working on the prevention concept. There are still vast stretches of land that are either weed free or have minimal noxious weed impacts. In these areas it is for both labor and economically cost effective and proactive to keep new invaders from becoming established. Prevention is the least expensive weed control method and most effective means to halt further weed spread. There have been several publications in recent years touting the benefits of weed prevention. The methodologies of these strategies are similar and call for many of the following practices:
Education of land owners, land users and the general public; proper weed identification; aggressive monitoring of high probability sites on a regular basis; the use of weed seed free products; aggressive control plans and eradication of new weed infestations; prevent movement of products from weed infested areas to non-weed infested areas; mapping weed areas; limiting access to vehicle travel; and utilizing best management practices of grasslands.
Garfield County Montana is comprised of 70% rangeland. The vast majority of the rangeland is free of noxious weeds, which provides both ecological and economic benefits for all users. Benefits include a decreased cost of production and increased carrying capacity for livestock producers, native habitat for wildlife and native plant and grass species for recreationalists.
Widespread noxious weed infestations have not historically been a problem in Garfield County due to the county’s remoteness and lack of bisecting waterways. Over the past 10 years, noxious weed occurrences have increased in the county as they have in much of Montana, due in part by the lack of general lack of interest or recognition of noxious weed seed impacts by the general population. The increased invasion of non-native species from high density areas can be attributed to: increased vehicle traffic on the bisecting highways, increased hunter activity on secondary roads and private roads, and increased reliance on out-of-county hay. These experiences mirror reports from many other locations in the Western United States.
In an effort to maintain the current low or non-existent noxious weed levels in Garfield County, the Weed Prevention Area (WPA) concept has been embraced. Large, contiguous acreages have been included in the WPA with many of the landowners working jointly to scout for new weed threats. The principle behind the concept is to limit new infestations by increasing the awareness of private landowners, hunters and other visitors to the detrimental impacts of noxious weeds to the environment. In addition to the awareness message, landowners are encouraged to routinely monitor their private and leased lands for new weed infestations and work aggressively to eradicate any noxious weeds they located. To assist the landowners in tracking the weed-free status of their lands, GPS technologies have been employed to map current weed locations and to verify locations and acreages of non-infested lands.

Project Objectives:

This project was designed to promote the following topics:
Outcome based education program
Early weed control methods
Provide tools to restrict weed spread
Protect weed free ecological state of the area
A minimum of 14 ranches will participate in the program

These topics will be provided by striving to meet the following objectives:
Delineate and protect weed free areas from invasive species.
Establish a Weed Prevention Area and educate ranches about the benefits of participation in a Weed Prevention Area.
This objective will be accomplished by:
Raising stakeholder awareness of early weed control, the tools available for early weed control that will restrict ecological and economic impacts through local level awareness and social marketing.
Delineating and prioritizing weed free areas for Weed Prevention Area participation.
Maintain a healthy weed free ecological state by implementing rancher designed Weed Prevention Areas with specific integrated prevention and management plans.

The components used in the process include:
Education and weed identification
Awareness
Developing and implementing weed prevention strategies
Early weed detection and rapid response to infestations
Global positioning systems (GPS), monitoring and mapping

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Robert Cosgriff
  • Colin Murnion
  • Pohney Murnion

Research

Materials and methods:

The Garfield County Weed Prevention Area project was designed as a landowner/producer driven group working toward a common goal. The group’s stated goal and objective is to, “protect rangeland and farmland’s productive capacity from invasive weeds to safeguard sustainable agricultural production of livestock, forage and small grains in Garfield County Montana.”
To meet these objectives, the following materials and methods were implemented in each respective area.
The WPA needed to be outlined and delineated. The groups choose to use as many road ways as possible when working on the boundaries. While delineation is useful, it should and will not be a stringent barrier. The participants feel/felt that anyone and everyone should be encouraged to participate because it makes for a stronger group and offers a greater area and number of people working to keep weeds from obtaining a foothold in the County.
A boundary was decided upon that included all of the active participants. The Boundary used both State Highways and County Roads as delineations, as well as ranch boundaries. The area encompasses approximately 250,000 acres of farm and ranch land with 25 active participants. The original area has been expanded to include several other ranches that wanted to participate. To fully recognize the additional ranches, the boundaries were extended, again using State highways and County roads as delineators.
New protocols were developed for monitoring noxious weeds while the mapping efforts were being conducted. Research has shown that most new weed infestations originate along high use areas and waterways, easy seed transmittal locations. The monitoring and mapping procedures call for identifying all moderate to high use roads, or those used by hunters in the fall, on the ranch and all the major coulees and actively flowing waterways. Efforts are then concentrated to the higher probability areas, and they are the locations targeted by the weed scout.
A weed scout’s job is to visually inspect each identified area and record progress with a hand held GPS unit. The data are later downloaded and transferred to mapping software where ranch and WPA maps are made identifying inspected areas and the locations of known weed infestations.
The weed scout visually inspects the high probability weed locations and any adjoining drainages. The weed scouting may be accomplished with a 4 wheeler, pickup, horseback, walking or any means seen fit to cover the area. A mobile GPS unit is used record the entire route or area surveyed. Any location where a listed noxious weed was recorded, a unique GPS waypoint is marked and the weed identified. The weed location data will later be downloaded and maps created to show the areas that were monitored. The data were then analyzed to determine the extent of weed infestations and, over several years, monitor and evaluate weed trends.

A survey was developed to measure the impacts of the educational components of the program. A pre and post project survey was conducted with the participants. The changes measured would reflect those outlined in the goals and objective of the project and included management and methods, weed identification and general noxious weed awareness.
Analysis of the survey was conducted using percentage change in the group’s responses from the beginning of the project in 2005 to the completion in the fall of 2008. Data will be analyzed and discussed in the results section.

Garfield County Weed Prevention Area

survey
Ranch Name:_______________________________________________________

1. Does a State highway or County road bisect the ranch? YES NO
2. Where do you feel the majority of noxious weeds/weed
seeds in Garfield County have come from? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3. How great a problem do you view noxious weed encroachment is to the sustainability of your ranch and farming operations? Please circle a value.
Not a problem Mild Problem Major Problem
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

4. Do you currently actively monitor for noxious weeds on your property? YES NO
5. Do you currently manage known noxious weeds with mechanical practices? YES NO
6. Do you currently manage known noxious weeds with herbicides? YES NO
7. Do you currently manage known noxious weeds with bio-control agents? YES NO
8. Do you currently map noxious weed locations? YES NO
If YES, How do you map? GPS FSA map Other________________________

9. Do you feel you can accurately identify the following noxious weeds?
Confidence
1. Spotted knapweed YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
2. Russian knapweed YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
3. Canada thistle YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
4. Salt cedar YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
5. Leafy spurge YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
6. Yellow star thistle YES NO 1 2 3 4 5

10. What resources if any do you use to help identify weeds?___________________________
_________________________________________________________________________
11. Are you currently using any weed prevention management strategies?________________
__________________________________________________________________________

Cited Literature:

Californian Bereau of Land Management. 2003. Weed Management and Prevention Guidelines for Public Lands. http://www.ca.blm.gov/pa/weeds/weedprevent.html.
Sheley, Roger and Kim Goodwin. 2000. Plan Now for Noxious Weed Invasion. Montana State University.
Sheley, R., M. Manoukian and G. Marks. 2000. Preventing Noxious Weed Invasion. Rangelands. June 1996. 18(3):100-101.
Trainor, Meghan and A.J. Bussan. 2000. Integrated Weed Management; Preventing Weed Invasion. Montana State University Extension.
Siegel, Steven., Susan Donaldson. 2003. Measures to Prevent the Spread of Noxious and Invasive Weeds Durning Construction Activities. Fact Sheet-03-59. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
Sheley Roger L., Bret E. Olson, Carla Hoopes. 2005 (revised). Impacts of Noxious Weeds, What is so dangerous about the impacts of noxious weeds on Montana’s ecology and economy? Montana State University Extension Publications Bulletin No. 152. Montana State University Extension Service.

Research results and discussion:

28 ranches now have GPS units and have learned how to use them to monitor for noxious weed encroachment.
250,000 acres have been delineated as a Weed Prevention Area, within the area, 28 ranches have become active cooperators. The ranches strive to maintain the current weed free status of the area by following the guidelines and management plans that they developed.
8 large signs delineating the WPA and providing a weed prevention message have been located around and within the delineated WPA
Maps with 4 years of information have been developed that accurately show known weed locations and show areas that have been scouted/monitored by either the land owners or the weed scout. The maps also can be used to show the relative reduction in weed locations along the road ways since 2005.
A proactive WPA brochure with weed identification picture and the WPA goals was developed based on participants requests. The brochure will be used to raise awareness within the area and the rest of the County to noxious weeds and their negative impacts to the sustainability of Agriculture. Participants requested an easy to use brochure for distribution to hunters, fisherman, recreationalist, truck drivers and other persons entering the county.
Weed identification publications were distributed to all the WPA participants. The weed identification materials were requested to help participants quickly id weeds they discover while monitoring the area.
2 4×4 mounted commercial grade spray units were placed in the WPA for participants use. The spray units have been a great success and several ranches have purchased their own units following the use of the WPA units. These sprayers have allowed ranchers to quickly control weeds in hard to reach areas.

Participation Summary

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The participant’s of the WPA decided on the following document as the guiding element of the WPA.

Eastern Garfield County Weed Prevention Area
Revised 11/2007

Thousands of acres of rangeland are lost each year in Montana due to rapidly spreading invasive weeds. These aggressive plants are a threat to rangeland stability and future cattle production. Invasive weeds seriously impact producers through lost revenue and costly management, posing unmanageable economic burdens on ranchers whose operating capital is already limited. Spotted knapweed infests over 4 million acres, with noticeable movement towards eastern Montana. This weed alone (there are 27 others) has the potential to seriously impact producer profits, local communities, and rural economies of eastern Montana, all of which depend on strong agricultural production. These industries rely on healthy, productive plant communities, which are threatened by rapid and chronic weed spread.

The development of cooperative Weed Prevention Areas (WPA) will help protect Garfield County and surrounding areas from extensive, unmanaged noxious weed encroachment. WPA’s maximize participant’s efforts and resources by rapidly responding to new weed invasions as a coordinated stakeholder group. The unified group shares common goals to protect native plant resources, healthy rangeland ecosystems and agricultural livelihoods from invasive weeds. WPA’s follow a basic cooperative, local-level strategy, where landowners within an area work collectively to manage common weed problems. WPA’s promote a proactive, cost-effective, approach to weeds control. Weed-free rangelands are aggressively protected from weed spread and complex and costly weed problems are avoided. The following measures are regarded as necessary management tools and policies for continued profitable ranching and “zero tolerance” for invasive species.

The goal of the Garfield County WPA is to:

Protect and maintain rangeland and farmland’s productive capacity from invasive weeds to safeguard sustainable agricultural production of livestock, forage and small grains in Garfield County Montana.

1) Prevention strategies are designed to reduce continuous weed pressure into the WPA by identifying, monitoring and interrupting human-influenced weed pathways:
A. Materials: Beware of any material such as hay, other feed stuffs and building materials. They may carry weed seeds. Know where the materials were used and monitor those sites for new patches of weeds.
B. Hunter activity: Hunter activity in the area will increase weed invasion and “walk-in only” areas decrease the spread of weeds. If the ranch practices “walk-in hunting”, monitor all parking areas for new weeds. If driving is permitted on the property, encourage hunters to stay on roads and monitor roads for weed invasions. Encourage hunters to notify landowners if they find any noxious weeds while hunting and record the locations with a GPS if possible.
C. Machinery, Combines and Heavy Equipment: All types of equipment entering the WPA have the potential to bring weed seeds with them. Operators should clean equipment if it has come from an area with known noxious weeds. Equipment from western Montana may be high-risk and should not enter the WPA without thorough cleaning and inspection. Monitor all sites where equipment has been used for new patches of weeds.
D. Livestock: Livestock that are coming from high risk areas may bring weeds with them. Livestock should be placed in a dry lot for 3 days prior to rangeland turnout. If this option is not feasible, the first pasture grazed should be monitored for new invasions of weeds.

2) Early detection/rapid response strategies are aimed at detecting new infestations early and quickly responding while management is still cheap and easy. A “zero tolerance” policy has been established. When new infestations have been located, they are immediately managed by spraying, hand-pulling or digging. All identified patches will be mapped and managed with follow-up monitoring. Contact the Garfield County Weed District at 557-2770 for assistance.

A. High probability sites within the WPA should be frequently surveyed. These areas include sites disturbed by heavy equipment, rest and viewing areas, as well as pathways such as road ways, waterways, and irrigation canals. Parking areas and hunter-traveled roads are also high probability sites.
Identified Sites in GCWPA:
1. Highway 200 West and East
2. Highway 59 North
3. U-Haul Road
4. West Little Dry Road
5. Long Branch Road
6. Two Furrow Road
7. Steve’s Fork Road
8. Road 17211
9. State Highway Gravel Pit/Storage
10. County Stockyards
11. Little Dry Creek
12. Big Dry Creek
13. Sand Creek

B. Low to moderate probability sites within the WPA will periodically be surveyed when fencing, moving livestock or other daily activities. All people working on the farm or ranch will be trained in noxious weed identification.
C. Monitoring should be conducted on all potential introduction sites the year following the potential introduction. Any known treated weed site will be monitored annually for additional seedlings.
D. Sustainable management practices will be utilized to maximize the persistence of native rangeland communities to discourage weed invasion. The use of proven sustainable grazing management practices, such as pasture rotation, altering season of use, promotion of litter accumulation, moderate grazing levels and multi-species grazing, all work to encourage a healthy native plant community.

Use of grant funds as identified by landowners in the WPA:

1. -GPS units for all farms and ranches in the area.
2. -Weed identification booklets for landowners, employees and sportsmen using the area.
3. -Spraying new small patches of weeds that are targeted for eradication.
4. -Brochures of the WPA.
5. -Signs showing the WPA at strategic locations

To determine if many of the goals of the WPA have been meet, the following are a simple analysis of the pre and post survey taken by many of the participants. The object of the survey was to measure a change knowledge or change in behavior due to participation in the WPA and it’s development process.

Garfield County Weed Prevention Area
ANALYSIS
Ranch Name:_______________________________________________________
N=19 full sets of surveys.
1. Does a State highway or County road bisect the ranch? 66% responded Yes
2. Where do you feel the majority of noxious weeds/weed
seeds in Garfield County have come from? Imported hay, non-local hunters, non-local vehicles, wildlife, birds and ducks, gravel, seed from the CMR wildlife refuge, machinery/equipment
How great a problem do you view noxious weed encroachment is to the sustainability of your ranch and farming operations? Please circle a value.
Not a problem Mild Problem Major Problem
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
25% increase in the severity of the problem from the pre to the post survey.
Pre survey weighted average was scored at 5
Post survey weighted average was 7.4

3. Do you currently actively monitor for noxious weeds on your property? YES NO
a. Pre answer : 72% yes Post answer: 100% Yes Increase of 18%
4. Do you currently manage known noxious weeds with mechanical practices? YES NO
a. Pre answer: 58% yes Post answer: 75% Yes Increase of 17%
5. Do you currently manage known noxious weeds with herbicides? YES NO
a. Pre answer: 72% yes Post answer: 100% yes Increase of 18%
6. Do you currently manage known noxious weeds with bio-control agents? YES NO
a. Pre answer: 9% Yes Post answer: 25% Yes Increase of 16%
7. Do you currently map noxious weed locations? YES NO
a. Pre answer: 9% yes Post answer: 93% yes Increase of 84%
If YES, How do you map? GPS 90% FSA map 3% Other________________________

8. Do you feel you can accurately identify the following noxious weeds?
Confidence
1. Spotted knapweed YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
2. Russian knapweed YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
3. Canada thistle YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
4. Salt cedar YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
5. Leafy spurge YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
6. Yellow star thistle YES NO 1 2 3 4 5
In the initial survey 61% of responses were Yes, the plant could be indentified with a confidence of 55%.
Post survey results were 96% positive responses that the weed could be identified at a 94% confidence level.

9. What resources if any do you use to help identify weeds? County Agent, Weed of the West Book, other weed identification books.
10. Are you currently using any weed prevention management strategies?
85% or respondents answered NO or did not fill in the question on the initial survey.
90% answered yes or listed prevention strategies on the post survey.
Answers:
All of the ones we outlined in the plan, limited tillage, grazing management, not buying out of county hay, limiting hunter access, walk in hunting only, certified weed free hay, MONITORING, designated parking areas, insect releases.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.