The Payson Town Council heard an impassioned plea from the U.S. Forest Service urging the town to crack down on careless property owners who are letting a noxious, horse-killing, land-wrecking weed get rooted.
Landowners like, for instance, the Town of Payson.
Tonto National Forest noxious weed officer Patti Fetter brought a slide show and some scary statistics to the Thursday night council meeting in an attempt to enlist Payson in a so far losing struggle against the starthistle. The weed’s toxins and thorns render a horse unable to eat or drink, and make heavily infested land all but unusable.
The toxic, fast-growing immigrant from Spain has spread in the past 180 years to every state and infests at least 20 million acres in California alone.
Now, the insidious, horse-killing weed has shown up in Payson, prompting the Forest Service to seek allies to apply for grants to fund an all-out campaign to keep it from spreading.
The council seemed ready to join the war and research whether the town could crack down on negligent property owners who let the seemingly innocuous weeds grow all spring and then flower, putting out nasty spikes and producing about 3,000 seeds per plant. Fetter noted that three plants could produce about 1,500 offspring in one year, which would produce 75,000 in the second year, about 3 million in four years and perhaps 187 million plants in five years.
But the council got a bit of a shock when Fetter put up a map showing areas in town already infested with the dangerous weed.
The worst infestation at the moment is probably the town-owned rodeo grounds, which is in the business of attracting horses to events.
An aghast Councilor Ed Blair observed, “the owner of the Event Center is the town. We have to be exemplary. What are we going to do?”
Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said town work crews have pulled up hundreds of the weeds and burned them. The weeds are inconspicuous and easy to kill despite an extensive root system if attacked before they put on a growth spurt, sprout flowers and thorns and release thousands of seeds. Those seeds can last for 10 years in the soil and easily smuggle a ride to new areas on the legs of dogs and horses, the undersides of cars, bike tires and pant cuffs.
Zoning Administrator Ray Erlandsen said town “crews have been working on this for years. It started out small, but it’s growing.”
Pam Little, with the Payson Horseman’s Association, urged the council to make the weed fight a high priority — especially on the rodeo grounds.
“It’s like a wildfire,” said Little. “It’s going to affect our community. If people got wind of that being at the Event Center, it’ll shut it down for horse activity.”
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said an out-of-control infestation in the Payson area could easily spread down the East Verde River to a much wider area.
“We’re at the headwaters,” said Evans.
Town Attorney Sam Streichman promised to research the town code to determine whether existing town ordinances designed to prevent the uncontrolled growth of weeds can be invoked to force property owners to get rid of the starthistle at an early, manageable phase.
Fetter noted that the town already has infestations at key locations including the Event Center, portions of Main Street, stretches of Tyler Parkway, the casino, the vacant batting cages property on Highway 87 and areas near the airport. Star Valley also has some infested areas.
“This is a long-term problem that needs a lot of partners,” concluded Fetter.