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Weed woes

Gas development spurs plants' growth

A surge in gas development, coupled with moister-than-usual weather, has increased invasive weeds in Moffat County during the past year.

Gary Brannan, weed management supervisor, is compiling statistics about the effect energy development has had on invasive weeds here.

“It may not be as big as we’re thinking once we see the statistics,” Brannan said.



But the weed management department had to provide secondary weed treatments on new roads around the Great Divide area and west of the Little Snake River. Those areas are growing hotbeds for gas development.

“Anytime you move into a pristine area and rip up the ground, you’re creating a good environment for colonizer weeds,” said Erik Molvar, a biologist with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Wyoming. Molvar studies the Red Desert, the southern part of which extends into Moffat County.



The most problematic invasive weeds, such as halogeton, a poisonous annual, are highly tolerant of dry weather conditions and respond well to disturbed soil.

Most companies operate with weed management plans and reseed disturbed areas, but desert soils are fragile, and re-establishing native vegetation can take decades, Molvar said.

“Building back a desert ecosystem that’s been bladed is never an easy task,” Molvar said.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has criteria for inspecting and cleaning equipment on BLM property, and the regulations help cut down on weeds transported into an area through mud caked on tires or equipment. But Moffat County has no such regulations, Brannan said.

In Moffat County, disturbed areas for large projects such as pipelines are reclaimed and reseeded, Brannan said. But some smaller projects haven’t been treated for weeds. It’s an oversight that Brannan said he’s discussed with the commissioners.

“It’s cheaper to be reactive than proactive,” Brannan said.

One can spend a lot of money planning for weed problems that never materialize, he said. Sometimes it’s more cost-effective just to treat a problem when it’s been identified.

But the county could receive more money to mitigate the problem if the state Department of Local Affairs approves the county’s application for a one-year exclusion from a state statute limiting property tax growth. If approved, the county could receive nearly $200,000 in taxes from new oil and gas development. Some of the money would be used to manage invasive weed problems caused by energy development.

The weeds have not spread from roads or well pads to rangelands yet, Brannan said.

Brannan hasn’t received any recent reports of livestock dying from eating halogeton.

Ranchers feed their cattle before a drive, so they are less likely to eat it growing alongside the road.


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