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Eliminating the scourge of spurge

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County aims to educate landowners about need to eradicate myrtle spurge

By Ramsey Scott

Just because marijuana is legal, it doesn’t mean Colorado has changed its stance on weeds.

The state Department of Agriculture wants Jeffco to step up efforts to eliminate myrtle spurge, a noxious weed the state has targeted for eradication, from unincorporated parts of the county. 

Myrtle spurge is one of several weeds the state identified in 2003 for complete eradication. The weeds on the eradication list are in limited and isolated areas, thus making it possible to eradicate them before they spread, said Alicia Doran, Jeffco Parks and Open Space’s weed and pest management specialist.

Since myrtle spurge was targeted for eradication, Jeffco estimates it has reduced the number of properties that have the noxious weed from 450 to 160. 

Doran said myrtle spurge was introduced into Colorado as an ornamental plant due to its bright yellow flowers and the small amount of water it requires. But the plant has a toxic sap that can cause severe blistering and rashes. 

And, more importantly, it tends to flourish without cultivation, escaping into natural areas where it drives out native plants that animals depend on for food. 

“It was starting to be observed in natural land, and so at that point it showed up on the state’s radar,” Doran said. “It really is starting to move out of the gardens, and if left to its own devices, it forms large monocultures in natural lands.”

Proposed changes to Jeffco’s noxious-weed plan would allow county employees to start enforcement actions if they see myrtle spurge on private property. Currently, Jeffco may start an enforcement action only if a complaint has been filed by a neighboring landowner. 

“This is an amendment to our noxious weed plan, and it’s centered around enforcement activities where we have non-compliant properties,” said Tom Hoby, director of Jeffco Parks and Open Space. 

While the state has asked Jeffco to increase the number of enforcement actions related to myrtle spurge to 30 to 50 a year, Doran said the goal is to first get compliance through education. 

The new process would work like this: Once myrtle spurge is identified on a property, the county will notify the landowner and provide information on the weed and how to eradicate it. If the landowner fails to take action, the county can issue a notice of complaint. 

“With the initial notification under the law, they have 10 days to respond. If we don’t hear from them or if they won’t let (our inspectors) on the property, then we have to get an inspection warrant. After that, they have five days to complete a treatment,” Doran said. 

If the landowner still doesn’t comply, the county will hire a contractor to remove the weeds at the landowner’s expense. 

“We’re hoping we won’t have to take the full amount of actions (specified by the state),” Doran said. “I find the majority of landowners are simply not aware that, one, it’s a weed or, two, that they have a responsibility to eliminate it. Once they become aware, they take action.”

“It was part of the landscape when many of the landowners bought their homes, so they had no idea that it was considered a noxious weed and they needed to get rid of it,” Doran said.”

The county commissioners must adopt the proposed changes before the new rules are enforced. 

“Once the Board of County Commissioners adopts it, at that point we’ll send info packets to the properties where we observed them last year,” Doran said. “We will then follow up on them later, and if they still have it, we’ll send them another informational packet. And after another month, if it’s still there, then we’ll start the enforcement actions.”

To find out more about myrtle spurge or other weeds identified by the state for eradication, visit
www.jeffco.us/parks/weed-and-pest-management/noxious-weed
-identification-list. 

 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine. Check back at www.columbinecourier.com for updates.