The formation of a cooperative noxious weed management association is underway, and getting nonprofit status will allow it to apply for federal grants for abatement, according to the Nevada Department of Agriculture.
The association is expected to cover Washoe and Storey counties and consist of citizens, land owners, and weed management professionals, said Sean Gephart, Agriculture Department noxious weeds coordinator.
Crews currently face challenges that include fire fuel accumulation, weeds spreading via traffic, difficult access, absent landowners, and funding and chemical shortages, Gephart recently told Washoe County commissioners.
Weeds can be declared noxious by the state if species are likely to be destructive and difficult to control, but not so widespread that control is impossible. Tumbleweed, dandelions, clover, and other lawn or garden weeds might be annoying, but they’re not considered noxious.
“Everybody assumes cheatgrass is a noxious weed,” Gephart said. “It’s an invasive species but it’s not a noxious weed. It’s just too widespread.”
The state has 54 official noxious weeds, Gepart said. Among the most serious are medusahead, purple loosestrife, and yellow starthistle, he said.
Medusahead resembles cheatgrass but isn’t edible to grazing animals because of its high silica content and thick layers of fibrous material. Purple loosestrife “escaped and naturalized” after being sold as an ornamental plant in the early 1990s when koi ponds were popular, Gephart said.
“It’s beautiful. I understand that,” Gephart said. “But consider that 80 percent of our federally-listed noxious weeds were introduced at one time through the horticulture industry.”
Yellow starthistle is of most concern, he said.
“I’m seeing this spread extremely fast and I believe personally that by looking at the infestation data in California that this is probably one of the major contributors to the fires that are rampant,” Gephart said. “This annual weed can get about waist high. You have to remove the dead biomass to get down to the new rosettes underneath. If you don’t do that, it’s essentially more fire fuel.”
Gephart also explained the noxious weeds cost share abatement program that’s allowed the state to partner with counties the past 15 years. The state will cover up to 80 percent of costs that counties incur following abatement on private land if the county puts a lien on the property. If the property sells, the county reimburses the state.
Commissioner Kitty Jung asked about the safety of the community, pollinators, and how officials handle elderly property owners who can’t mow.
“We don’t enforce the use of chemicals,” Gephart said. “When I do contact a private landowner, I want to be sure they’re going to be implementing the most efficient means possible to control that weed and it’s not always the use of chemicals. If it’s an annual weed, if you mow it before it goes to seed, you don’t have to use a chemical.”
ON THE WEB
Nevada Department of Agriculture Noxious Weeds: http://agri.nv.gov/NoxiousWeeds/
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.