3 invasive weeds the county wants to destroy

The Snohomish County Council is opting to dig out more money for weed workers rather than give up the fight against some of the county’s original noxious weeds.

Three weeds — Canada thistle, bull thistle and some types of hawkweed — were put on the chopping block by the county Noxious Weed Control Board amid budget concerns. They said they couldn’t afford to focus on those weeds any longer in the face of a list more than 100 weeds long.

Canada thistle can take over grazeable pasture land and was one of the first weeds tackled by the county noxious weed control board.

The County Council was swayed to keep the weeds on the list by letters from groups concerned that the county was turning away from controlling Canada and bull thistle, Councilman Mike Cooper said.

“It’s important for us to keep after it,” Cooper said. The council plans to find about $5,000 or $6,000 in county accounts, Cooper said.

“If it was really expensive, we would have had longer discussions,” he said. Final action is planned at a future council meeting.

The shot of money is needed to keep the thistles on the list and allow workers to respond to complaints, county noxious weed coordinator Sonny Gohrman said.

The council move “gives enough money to concentrate that much on thistle, and contact people we’ve contacted in the past to get them to mow their fields, respond to complaints and stop by at the worst-case scenarios we see when we drive by,” Gohrman said. “Without the $5,000, we would not respond to complaints and we wouldn’t be doing anything with thistle.”

The county’s weed police have about $220,000 to spend this year on mowing and spraying herbicide on roadside plants and teaching property owners how to control the spread of nonnative weeds. The money comes from the county and state and federal grants.

The board felt it had little choice but to cut thistles and hawkweeds as a way to prioritize. The county’s weed list blossomed to about 100 weeds, Gohrman said. Gohrman and the board were frustrated they were trying to do too much and were spread too thin.

Tansy ragwort is the county’s biggest priority because it is poisonous to horses and cattle; knotweed and spartina come in a close second because they can choke out wildlife habitat.

The U.S. Forest Service and County Conservation District wrote letters asking the county to hold the line on thistles.

Left unchecked, thistles increase rapidly and hurt hay growers, Snohomish Conservation District manager Kim Levesque wrote.

“Thistles are one of the main weeds people are concerned about, besides tansy ragwort, for (grazeable) pasture productivity,” Levesque said. Cutting it from the list also would make it harder to persuade the public to control the weeds, she said.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

Three weeds back on “bad” list

Bull thistle: A purple flower that is a problem in pastures, vacant lots, roadsides and industrial areas. Chokes out grass production in pastures. Terribly thorny and can be invasive if not controlled. Cut the tap root and it dies.

Nonnative hawkweeds: Roadside problem. Interbreeding and hybrid plants force Hawkweed experts to disagree about which hawkweed is which.

Canada Thistle: A purple flower that is a problem in pastures, vacant lots and roadsides and will invade into plowed fields and native growth protection areas. To learn more about Canada thistle, go to www.nwcb.wa.gov/weed_info/Cirsium_arvense.html.

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