Forest Service has a weed problem in wilderness

EVERETT — Knotweed, knapweed, hawkweed, herb Robert and tansy ragwort.

Botanists have discovered these noxious weeds and many others in seven wilderness areas of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

The public is being asked to comment on how to deal with the weeds. People have until April 2 to express opinions about the weed eradication options the Forest Service is considering.

Five weed infestations in the Wild Sky Wilderness were found along a segment of the former North Fork Skykomish Road 63, which is part of North Fork Skykomish Trail 1051; a sixth site was discovered on Scorpion Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness; and the seventh area is located inside the Glacier Peak Wilderness boundary beyond the junction with Milk Creek Trail.

Seeds travel into remote areas hitching rides on hiking boots and horse hooves, and to trail heads outside the wilderness on the tires of vehicles. From there, these hard-to-beat weeds also travel by bird and animal, said Forest Service botany program manager Laura Potash.

Forest personnel are working on an environmental impact statement that proposes treating the 43 different noxious weeds growing in 968 individual infestations on 5,250 acres throughout the forest. Of that total acreage, 117 acres are in wilderness areas and most of that is a daisy infestation on more than 100 acres of meadow at Scorpion Mountain. The treatment proposed would use herbicide, manual, mechanical and biological agents over several years until the weeds are controlled.

If the invasive species are not treated, they will continue to spread, causing multiple adverse environmental impacts, Potash said.

Problems that could result in not getting rid of the weeds include displaced native plants, increased soil erosion and fire hazard, degradation of fish and wildlife habitat, a threat to rare and culturally significant plants and a great harm to natural scenic beauty of these wilderness areas, Potash said.

“We aren’t talking about a lot of herbicide. Some species can be controlled by cutting, digging and removal, and they won’t need herbicide at all,” Potash said.

The rules about activity in the wilderness are strict, and only the minimum amount of herbicide needed to control the weeds would be used and it would be applied very carefully, she said. “In some cases, the herbicide may not hurt native plants. If a daisy species is found in a field, the correct herbicide won’t hurt the grasses.”

The strategy is to attack the weeds in the most remote places, and then work back toward populated areas, Potash said. If plans are approved, work to eradicate weeds in wilderness areas probably wouldn’t begin until 2013.

Forest trails manager Gary Paull said the noxious weed infested areas in the wilderness are relatively few.

The proposed weed eradication action and updated maps that include the wilderness areas involved are online at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mbs/NEPA.

People can comment by writing to Laura Potash, project leader, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, 2930 Wetmore Ave., Suite 3A, Everett, WA 98201.

Gale Fiege: 425-3393427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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