Noxious Weeds Attracted
Comments at Fair


Game Range Ramblin's

Game Range Articles
by Mike Thompson,
FW&P wildlife biologist,
writing for the Pathfinder


August 16, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Mike Thompson


Last week was a beauty for the Western Montana Fair.

As usual, I did my stint at the Weed Booth on behalf of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), along with cooperators from the Missoula County Extension Service, City of Missoula, Bureau of Land Management, Plum Creek Timber Company, Missoula County Weed Board, Lolo National Forest, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Citizens For A Weed-Free Future and others. The Booth is organized every year by the Missoula County Weed District, and was coordinated this year by Marijka Haverhals.

Marijka is perfectly suited to handle the pressure of leadership. With an email handle like, she is a force to be reckoned with in the area of noxious weed control and native vegetation management. We laggards under her command looked as smart as we could whenever we thought we might be subject to her inspection.

Lots of passers by were drawn into our booth by the live displays of leafy spurge, houndstongue, common tansy, dalmatian toadflax and others. We exchanged information and observations with many interested people, but one in particular made a lasting impression on me.

She was a Fair official, and at first glimpse of the blooming spotted knapweed plant, she made a beeline to it and exclaimed how pretty it was. This by itself was not an uncommon topic of discussion at the Weed Booth. Yes, indeed, the flowers of quite a few noxious weeds are of blue ribbon appearance in the eyes of many beholders.

But, this lady had developed a bona fide obsession for knapweed's purple flower. She explained that she routinely plucks knapweed flowers and wears one on her lapel.

"It gives my friends fits," she admitted, without any obvious remorse in her tone.

My partner in the booth, John Rimel, and I, neither of whom are normally given to long periods of silence, were speechless. And, what was left to say? She gave us the impression that she was already informed of the burden that noxious weeds place upon human society and our environment. Certainly her friends had already admonished her. She simply didn't care.

I guess that's hard to swallow for a landowner like FWP, having spent more than $78,000 to control noxious weeds on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range alone over the past four years. Some government and private landowners spend even more on a per-acre basis.

Unfortunately, it's still not enough to fully achieve FWP's goals on the Game Range of reducing the distribution of spotted knapweed in native rangelands, keeping leafy spurge patches contained within existing boundaries, and preventing any new weed introductions. We are falling short in all three categories, and we are constantly reevaluating our efforts to see if we can do better.

However, our past efforts have not been wasted. Far from it. Despite a gradual, incremental advance of spotted knapweed, despite the new spots of leafy spurge that pop up and must be treated every year, despite the new establishment and spread of yellow toadflax in recent years, we are still effectively controlling noxious weeds and maintaining native plant and animal communities across thousands of acres of bunchgrass rangelands in the core of the elk winter range.

Had we not committed the effort to do so, I am quite sure that the ecological function of our elk winter range would be seriously compromised by now, and the monetary costs of restoring that function in the future would be several orders of magnitude higher than the expenditures we've already made to maintain the existing condition.

Our failures have been confined to the outskirts of the core winter range, which is small consolation. Leafy spurge continues to spread under the forest canopy along upper Cottonwood Creek, on land leased into the Game Range near the Dreyer Ranch. We have made an annual effort to spray and defend an outer boundary around this infestation, but the spurge community is still spreading. Waterways and trees hamper our control efforts, both in applying herbicide and establishing insect populations for biocontrol.

Yellow toadflax has spread across portions of our hayfields on the old Dreyer Ranch, and occurs in lower densities along Woodworth Road beside Cottonwood Creek. We sprayed the largest toadflax infestation on the Dreyer Ranch last September, and will try again this fall, in support of our neighbors working in the Woodworth Weed Management Group.

One notable success in weed control this year has occurred on lands owned by FWP on the south side of Highway 200, along the Clearwater River. Our grazing lessee has been spraying knapweed on these lands under FWP direction for several years. However, a variety of weeds continued to spread to the detriment of another neighbor whose irrigation ditch runs across FWP property. At the neighbor's urging, we brought in a private herbicide applicator this spring to catch up with the full extent of the problem. Now, with our neighbor's help, we would hope to have an easier time keeping up with the spots that pop up again over the next few years.

Just ask FWP's Jamie Jonkel, who seeks and destroys new weed occurrences in remote locations across the Game Range every June. Few tasks can be as depressing as finding so many new sprouts of exotic species every year, and worrying that you have only found the tip of the iceberg. Such an important resource is at stake.

Well, I told you about the lady that made me angry. Now let me tell you about the one that made me smile.

She moved assuredly from display to display in our weed booth, commenting on this plant and that, mentioning her own control experiences and observations as she walked. "Hmph," she commented as she closely examined the purple loosestrife flower. "They are marvelous plants, aren't they?"

Before I had a chance to reply, she added, "They're just out of place."