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Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Features

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 grasses.

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 native vegetation.

"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 population."

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 Greg Stahl

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 & Restoration, Inc.

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 substantial fruit.

"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."


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.





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