Meeting to address leafy spurge as threat to Northwest Colorado agriculture

Lauren Dodd/For Craig Press
Leafy spurge in false-flower along the banks of the Yampa River.
Sasha Nelson

As spring flowers start to bloom, so will an invasive pest capable of decreasing property value, harming livestock and rendering agricultural land useless in Moffat County and across the state.

Leafy spurge, an aggressive exotic perennial weed found in the Yampa Valley, will be the focus of an upcoming public meeting held by the Yampa River Leafy Spurge Project — a coalition of state, federal and local agencies. 

For the first time since the group’s formation in 2015, YRLSP members are inviting the public to join them in a stakeholder meeting and dinner 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at the Moffat County Fairgrounds Pavilion to talk about their 2019 plans to tackle the leafy plague. 

“What’s going on right now is that the infestation along the Yampa River, which started between here and Hayden about 40 years ago, it’s been slowly intensifying over time and getting bigger,” YRLSP co-founder John Husband said. “This is a weed that is toxic to cattle, toxic to horses. In Montana alone, there are a million acres of land that is agriculturally worthless, people can’t sell it and they can’t graze it because of that weed problem.”

Leafy spurge is a master at self preservation, according to the Colorado State University Extension. The weed’s root system can bury itself 15 feet or more into the ground. When in bloom, a single plant can produce about 140 seeds, which, when dry, can shoot seeds up to 15 feet from the plant.

“That’s one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to kill,” Husband said. “You can kill the top, spray it and it’ll start coming up from the roots.”

Once the plant is alive and well in an area, he said it steals nutrients from native plants and, eventually, can take over large areas of land completely.

“There’s a county in Wyoming to the north of us that has made the decision that they can no longer afford to try to control this plant because it’s too widespread,” Husband said. “It costs too much to try to control it. We don’t want to have us get in that situation, we want to try to keep it contained.”

In an effort to tackle the problem in Moffat County before it gets out of control, YRLSP has joined forces with University of Wyoming plant science professor Daniel Tekiela.

In coming months, Tekiela’s research team will select sites to begin testing the effectiveness of various leafy spurge control methods including mechanical treatment, grazing and chemical treatment. YRLSP plans to map out the extent of the infestation and design a management strategy to address the problem. 

Husband said he hopes Moffat county residents, land owners and businesses attend the upcoming inaugural YRLSP meeting to gain a better understanding of how to spot and tackle the invasive pest.

“It will take all of us working together to get a handle on this situation,” he said.

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