Planting the seeds of knowledge: Northwest Colorado kids learn ecological lessons on scourge of leafy spurge | CraigDailyPress.com

Planting the seeds of knowledge: Northwest Colorado kids learn ecological lessons on scourge of leafy spurge

Lauren Dodd/For Craig Press
Chris Rhyne, Bureau of Land Management specialist, speaks to Boys & Girls Club members about leafy spurge, an invasive weed, along the bank of the Yampa River in Craig.
Lauren Dodd/For Craig Press

A group of children adventured to two parks this week to learn about a green ecological terror threatening Northwest Colorado. 

With the help of volunteers, eight Boys and Girls Club participants took to the outdoors to learn about leafy spurge — a tall bright green invasive weed capable of shooting seeds up to 15 feet with a root system capable of growing up to 30 feet — and various ways to keep the weed at bay.

Local and state organizations including the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, CSU Extension offices of Moffat and Routt counties, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife joined forces with the Yampa River Leafy Spurge Project to conduct a two-day educational series for children from Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Colorado. 

John Kaltenbach, with Colorado Department of Agriculture, talks to Boys & Girls club members about leafy spurge and the beetles that can control the invasive weed at Loudy-SImpson Park on Tuesday, July 9.
Lauren Dodd/For Craig Press

“We are interested in working with kids as a way of connecting them to the river, because the river affects everyone who lives here and sometimes they don’t realize it,” YRLSP volunteer Tamara Nauman said. “It’s a good way to get kids to expand their universe a little.”

On Tuesday, kids explored Loudy-Simpson park in Craig learning about the weed and its reliance upon the river for seed transportation. Later in the week, on Thursday the children visited Yampa River State Park to learn about biological controls, such as the flea beetle. 

Leafy spurge poses a serious threat to agricultural producers because cattle and other farm animals, with the exception of sheep, will not eat it. Since the weed’s root and seed system is so abundant, it is capable of taking over large swaths of land to the point where native grasses can no longer grow to feed farm animals or produce hay.

Boys & Girls Club’s Carter Duran, left, and Haley Duran examine the seed pods of a leafy spurge weed found along the banks of the Yampa River on July 9.
Lauren Dodd/For Craig Press

The invasive weed is present in Moffat and Routt counties, along the river and expanding inland. Yampa River Leafy Spurge Project volunteers are working with University of Wyoming and local private landowners to control the weed before it turns into a worst-case scenario.

“There are examples (of worst-case scenarios) in the Dakotas and Montana,” Nauman said. “Some cattle ranches up there became so infested back in the 1980s and into the 90s that it would’ve cost more per acre to treat than the land was actually worth and so people were abandoning ranches, just walking away. To me, that’s just so terribly sad. … The habitat here isn’t so different that it’s not so much of a stretch to imagine, if we allowed it to get that bad, we’d have the same thing going on here.”

The children appeared engaged in the two-day experience, listening to speakers along the river, analyzing bugs and seeking out the scourge of spurge.

“It (the Leafy Spurge project) has a lot of things that kids can relate to like bugs, being outside, and being near the water and a lot of kids’ families are involved in agriculture so we thought it’s a good way to engage kids in both helping more people in the valley understand the problem and what the future could look like if we don’t get on it, and get them to help us solve the problem,” Nauman said. 

Forrest Ottoman, 8, of Craig, was proud to relay what he learned. 

“We learned that leafy spurge has sap in the center of them, we learned they are an invasive species and they are really, really, really bad,” Ottoman said.