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Weed tour brings
Blackfoot Valley together

September 30, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson,
Wildlife Biologist
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder

Your scribe on the Blackfoot-Clearwater society beat was pleased to attend a pitchfork steak barbecue at the Rolling Stone Ranch last week, along with 150 hungry souls from all across Montana.

Mike and his staff from Condon's own Hungry Bear Steak House provided the main attraction at the Ovando area rancha steak dinner prepared fondue style.

It was a memorable blend of the fondue and familiar. A black, cast-iron kettle was suspended over an open campfire, cowboy style. But, instead of beans and franks, the kettle was filled with vegetable oil. And, instead of using the pitchfork to roast a dozen steaks over the fire, it was used to submerge them into the boiling oil.

Only about 5 minutes were required to cook a pitchfork full of delectable animal protein, along with French fried spuds from an iron basket in a separate kettle. They were the main course in a buffet that included the best beans and potato salad ever sampled by this reporter.

The only price of admission was a tour of weed control projects in the Blackfoot Valley, conducted earlier in the day. Thanks are due the Blackfoot Challenge and various partners in weed control for sponsoring an informative tour, and ordering up a gorgeous fall day.

The U. S. Bureau of Land Management deserves an extra nod for its special dedication of funding and priority to support effective weed control on BLM lands, and to develop lasting partnerships with other agencies and private landowners for controlling weeds up and down the Blackfoot.

Steve Singleton, from BLM's Missoula Field Office, described his agency's heroic efforts to combat an intimidating leafy spurge problem in Section 30, located immediately east of FWP's Russell Gates Fishing Access Site. In the process of acquiring an important segment of river corridor and deer winter range for the public a few years back, BLM also accepted responsibility for a long established and expanding spurge infestation.

Instead of making excuses, BLM turned its unenviable plight into a weed management opportunity. Personnel from the Missoula Field Office brought Congressional staff to meet the people and appreciate the resources of the Blackfoot Valley. The result was designation of the Blackfoot project as one four national weed demonstration projects. Since then, BLM has been a key force behind recent advancements in weed control throughout the Blackfoot, and its work in Section 30 has been an important part of that effort.

How do you combat a weed like leafy spurge that is supported by a 30-foot root? Most importantly, you prevent the mature root system from establishing in the first place by eradicating first and second-year shoots wherever you find them. This involves lookingand looking hardevery spring, summer and fall. This dedicated prevention effort is part of BLM's annual weed control effort in Section 30, and is an effort Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks shares on adjacent Game Range lands.

Land Lindbergh described how he deals with the problem of spurge seeds carried by the Blackfoot River to his private property. "If there's spurge anywhere upstream, I know it'll end up on my place eventually," he lamented.

His message on the importance of hard work and persistence in finding and eradicating new weed occurrences was underscored by the place from which he delivered it. Betty DuPont's property along the Blackfoot River has been leased for livestock use by neighboring ranchers for many years, and Mrs. DuPont has a zero-tolerance policy on noxious weeds. The prodigious stands of rough fescue and massive yellow pine, uninterrupted by leafy spurge or spotted knapweed, were testimony to years of dedicated effort by lessees Bill Potter and Jim Stone. Tour participants couldn't help being impressed by this example of what can be accomplished.

BLM's task on Section 30 is much more imposing. How can a landowner deal with long-established stands of leafy spurge, covering acres of steep uplands and riparian areas, after the opportunity for prevention has been lost? According to Dr. Roger Sheley, Weed Specialist from Montana State University, it sometimes may be necessary to withdraw from expensive battles against established, mature spurge patches, and "draw a line in the sand" beyond which new spurge seedlings will not be tolerated. This is the tact being taken by FWP on the steep slopes across from the Russ Gates Fishing Access Site.

But, BLM is pushing the envelope to see if the heavy recurrent costs of spraying established spurge stands, combined with biological controls, can be rewarded with progress that will result in lower maintenance and control costs over the long run. The jury is still out as to whether it is more practical and effective to spend tens of thousands of dollars attacking an established spurge seed source, rather than fall back and fight the seeds as they disperse and sprout. Hats off to the BLM for incurring the expense to provide this important demonstration.

And, hats off to all who participated in a great outing on a great day in the BlackfootValley!

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