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Roadside Use of Native Plants

Controlling The Spread Of Nonnative Invasive Plants — The Need for State Noxious Weed Law

Ira Bickford, Utah Department of Transportation

I am sometimes asked why should Road Departments care about weed control. Road Departments are here to build and maintain roads. We all know how important roads are to our lives. They provide the means for the rapid transport of goods and services. If someone is injured, they can be transported to a hospital in minutes. If you need a truckload of hay from a feedlot, it can be loaded and moved across the State in just hours. Want to go on vacation to another State? You can drive to most in a few days. So what does this have to do with weeds?

The very vehicles that provide the means for goods and people to move long distances in short periods of time, also provide the means for weed seeds to be transported just as fast. Weed seeds are caught in the frames of vehicles and moved quickly to new places. Many food stuffs are contaminated with weed seeds which are moved from one place to another. Weeds spread from agricultural products or by tourists often show up first on a State or County roadside.

Department of Transportation spray crews are often the first line of defense against a new infestation. Weeds found on roadsides, when there are only a few plants, can be easily controlled. One case in point is a weed brought in with grain by a railroad. When first discovered, it only covered a few acres. It was decided not to spray the weed, but only keep an eye on it. The next time someone took notice, the weed had covered nearly 300,000 acres. There are thousands of miles of roads in America with millions of cars and trucks. Weeds are being transported into new areas of public and private land where they quickly crowd out native vegetation. The impact from weeds is millions of lost acres and millions of dollars in costs. Good weed control by State and County Road Departments cannot only stop new infestations, but can act as physical barriers to stop the spread of infestations.

If we have a serious problem, why are we not doing more? Simply said, most people do not know how bad the problem is. The public's first exposure to noxious weed law comes with enforcement. Land owners or public agencies are given notice to comply — not what one would call a positive experience. A County agent cites you for non compliance with a law you did not know existed. Most State weed laws are fairly weak with minimal enforcement.

State noxious weed laws could be strengthened by forming an organization like that of Utah. Every County has a weed supervisor to control weeds at the County level. They are the legal eyes for the State Department of Agriculture. They can hold taxes, set fines, and declare areas a public nuisance. This group has formed the Weed Supervisors' Association. The Association holds an annual meeting, usually a workshop. Many DOT personnel attend that workshop. Next, Regional Boards are made up of several County supervisors, DOT supervisors, land managers from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and farmers. University experts join members of the Regional Boards in the Utah Weed Control Association. This private/public sector network strengthens the control of weeds statewide.

Weed laws do much more than make weeds illegal. These laws give us a way to make landowners and others aware of the size of the problem. In Utah they encouraged a network of partnerships to control a true environmental problem. We can pay now or we will pay later!

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Questions and feedback should be directed to Deirdre Remley (deirdre.remley@dot.gov, 202-366-0524).

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