Weed war takes new tack
Indian Creek homeowners wage biological
battle on invasive species
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Of his roughly 17,000 hungry goats, Salmon
rancher Stan Jensen said the hairy critters will eat just about any kind of
weed, while at the same time conveniently passing over natural forbs and
As part of an effort to use biological
means to rid Indian Creek of weeds, goats were brought in from Salmon to mow
down the noxious invaders. Express
photo by David N. Seelig
For a week last month, about 70 of
Jensenís goats were herded into the Indian Creek valley north of Hailey as part
of an ongoing effort to control weeds without help from herbicides or
pesticides. The experiment includes use of the weed-eating goats,
knapweed-eating beetles, mowing, hand pulling and bolstering populations of
"That went really, really well," said
Courtney Cole, the Indian Creek resident who has spearheaded the effort. "We
sort of used this season as a getting-to-know-the-goats season, and there was
nothing but positive response from people.
"Even with that few goats in that little
bit of time they were here, they still made some good dents in the weed
Cole, a relative newcomer to the Wood
River Valley and a member of the Coalition for a Healthy Environment, has headed
up recent efforts to preclude use of chemicals to kill weeds. This spring,
citing the detrimental effects posed by common weed-killing chemicals, she
corralled citizen support to prevent spraying along the Wood River Valleyís
popular 22-mile bicycle path. The Blaine County Recreation Districtóthe pathís
manageróhas since organized a number of volunteer weed pulling days.
Botanist Carol Blackburn from Shoshone
is one of the experts helping with the innovative Indian Creek biological weed
control project. Express photo by
But Coleís big project is in her own
backyard, where she has led the Indian Creek Homeownerís Association to
implement long-term, biological weed management strategies.
With the Blaine County Commissionís June
14 blessing, the project is moving forward. Indian Creek, with the exception of
private homeowners who do not wish to participate, is a pesticide-free valley.
"The one thing I think is the most
important aspect of this entire project is to use it as a model, not only for
the Wood River Valley, but for the mentality of dealing with noxious weeds in
general," she said.
What that means is working to shift public
sentiment from a focus on fighting noxious weeds to a focus on strengthening
native vegetation as a primary line of defense.
"Itís positive. Itís sustainable. And it
allows for a much more cooperative effort," Cole said. "Now itís fun. Itís
positive. You can get excited about it. Thatís what I think we need to convey to
the larger community."
Late in May, Cole hosted a field tour of
Indian Creek for local biologists, conservationists, ranchers and interested
members of the community. For botanists who are consulting on the project, the
visit served as an opportunity to see what varieties of weeds have already
invaded Indian Creek, and at what densities.
"In regard to the noxious weeds, the
ground is in pretty good shape," said Timothy Prather, a University of Idaho
weed ecology specialist who attended the May outing. "From that standpoint, what
youíve got is more manageable."
During a tour in late-May, local weed
experts, conservationists and politicians gathered in Indian Creek to get an
overview of the projectís scope.
Express photo by Greg Stahl
Prather said two management approaches
could be used in the Indian Creek project area, which encompasses roughly 2,500
acres. He said management could focus on the native plant community to ensure
that it remains in good health, and it could focus on restoration.
Indian Creek homeowners have chosen to use
both techniques. A variety of means within those two overall approaches have
been and will continue to be used, Cole said.
"The variety of means, thatís the exciting
part," said Craig Barry, executive director of the Environmental Resource Center
in Ketchum. "I think youíre already seeing that integrated pest management has
started to grow. I think itís getting a foothold here in Blaine County."
And thatís a good thing, said Steven
Paulsen, a restoration ecologist with Twin Falls-based Conservation Seeding &
The more means of biological weed control
methods that can be used in any given location, the better.
"Goats and bugs work well together,"
Paulsen said. "The bugs work really well, but we intend to do as much weed
pulling as we can, too."
Thatís only half of the plan.
"We are concentrating on a native plant
restoration project behind these things," Paulsen said.
Beginning in May, Paulsen and other
experts began compiling a botanical survey of the Indian Creek area that will
help with restoration efforts.
"Obviously this has been done for quite a
while, and we intend to bring it into this valley in a big way," Paulsen said.
The hitch is that results are far from
immediate. Cole said it could take 15 years before the effort begins to bear
"And, again, everyone needs to know this
is an incredibly long-term process," Cole said. "It is not immediate. We will
start to see results five years from now."
She is not alone, however, in her hope
that the Indian Creek project could serve as an example.
"It could be a model for the whole Wood
River Valley," said Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael. "No one else is
doing it. Youíre doing a fabulous job."