Weed Group Wants To Apply Pressure, Change Policy

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The Tonto Weed Management group has money to attack noxious weeds invading the Rim country, but its members have been restricted to only mapping the locations of the weeds.

"We've been operating for 10 years and battling with Forest Service management," said Shawn Evans of TWM. "We can't kill the weeds."

He said the group has just received a significant grant for its efforts. "We're the first non-federal entity to get a Resource Advisory Committee grant," he said.

The group is holding a day-long meeting Friday, Oct. 22 in Young to rally support.

"We want to apply positive peer pressure on the Forest Service," Evans said. The goal is to get the policy changed so the weeds can be destroyed.

The most effective way to destroy the weeds is through burning, according to Evans. The weed -- the yellow starthistle or Malta starthistle -- is ruining rangeland and forests. It chokes out native plants and can kill horses. Three years ago it had taken over 15,000 acres in Gila County.

To eradicate the invasive plant, the sites must be burned annually for three years, Evans said. Alternative treatments include intensive grazing by goats or young cattle, or applying advanced herbicides. He said the best approach is an integrated one that uses a variety of options.

The meeting in Young will be at Cline's barn, starting at 10 a.m., Evans said. He is expecting Dist. 5 State Representative Jake Flake to attend, as well as staff from the Arizona Department of Transportation, Natural Resource Conservation Districts and the U.S. Forest Service office in Albuquerque.

Patty Fenner, who is in charge of weed management for the Tonto National Forest will also be attending the meeting.

Fenner explained the Forest Service policy for weeds in a phone interview with the Roundup. She said the weed problem within the rights of way of federal and state roads through national forests is handled by the Arizona Department of Transportation. To take care of the weeds elsewhere in the forest, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) guidelines must be followed.

"This involves getting public input and looking at alternatives," Fenner said.

She said all that is needed to start the process is for someone to make a proposal to get rid of the weeds.

"There is nothing to keep people from pulling the weeds, but the use of herbicides requires NEPA," she said.

The weed management program is new for the Forest Service, it started in June 2003, Fenner said. Before, control of the weed problem on forest lands was under the direction of range management specialists.

"They didn't have adequate time to deal with the weeds," she said.

Fenner's office has done a number of different things to address the noxious weed problem. She said last year a burn project was proposed for Punkin Center and it was pushed through. Her office was also instrumental in TWM getting the Resource Advisory Committee grant, she said. The grant was for $85,000. Her office has also been mapping the sites where the weed problem exists.

Fenner said the weed problem in the Young area is primarily on private land. "If they want to burn (the weeds) on private land, they can do that," she said.

For more information, Evans can be reached at (928) 462-3131 or (928) 462-3070.

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