Weeding out what works

A multi-tool approach to county roadside vegetation and noxious weed management

Tansy ragwort is an example of a noxious weed that can be lethal to horses and cattle that Clallam County Noxious Weed Control officials would like to better control in collaboration with the county Road Department through their roadside vegetation and noxious weed management draft plan.

Tansy ragwort is an example of a noxious weed that can be lethal to horses and cattle that Clallam County Noxious Weed Control officials would like to better control in collaboration with the county Road Department through their roadside vegetation and noxious weed management draft plan.

Learn about the plan

What: Informational and interactive workshop series on Clallam County’s draft roadside vegetation, noxious weed management plan.

• Forks: 6-8 p.m., Tuesday, July 12, at the DNR conference room, 411 Tillicum Lane

• Sequim: 2-4 p.m., Wednesday, July 13, at the Sequim Prairie Grange, 290 Macleay Road

• Port Angeles: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 13, at Dry Creek Grange, 3130 W. Edgewood Drive

More info: Contact Cathy Lucero, Clallam County noxious weed coordinator, at 417-2442 or clucero@co.clallam.wa.us.

 

Clallam County has about 528 miles in its road system, which equates to about 1,000 acres of underutilized land.

For years the county’s Road Department has used a roadside vegetation management approach never intended to control invasive and noxious plant species.

“It has really just been about the hardscape and making a safe, efficient transportation system because that’s the primary role of the Road Department,” Cathy Lucero, Clallam County noxious weed coordinator, said. “As the invasive species issue started to come into the foreground people really didn’t think about it.”

To better manage and enhance the vegetation along county roads, Lucero has created an 91-page draft plan — the “Clallam County Integrated Roadside Weed Management Plan” — that if implemented would be the first update to the county’s approach since 1990.

“It’s deploying three new tools that we’re not using,” Lucero said. “It ties the Road Department to the weed board that has the (plant) knowledge.”

The plan takes a multi-prong strategy that integrates prevention techniques, cultural control and focused herbicide use. It looks not only at the hardscape, but the green-scape, too.

“This is really about putting all the tools on the table … and an ecological opportunity that hasn’t been explored fully,” Lucero said. “It’s not about recreating those bare-ground shoulders, it’s about trying to make that plant community more resilient and maybe serve more functions than it currently is.”


The weed board

As the Noxious Weed Coordinator for Clallam County, Lucero works to locally enforce Washington’s weed law coordinated through the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board. The Clallam County Noxious Weed Control Board was one of the last to be activated in 1997.

Lucero works closely with a five-member, volunteer board to implement the state’s weed law that mandates the control of many weed species. The list of controlled species and class of each is annually updated.

“The weed board has regulatory power over all of Clallam County except the entities the state can’t give us authority over like federal and tribal lands, but we work closely with those,” Lucero said.

Throughout the 19 years Lucero has worked with private landowners to control noxious weeds and invasive plant species, she has continued to run into a challenge because of the number of noxious weeds growing along the county roads.

“It’s really hard for me to go after a private landowner when the county isn’t leading the way and being the best steward and model,” she said.

Invasive, noxious weeds don’t know boundaries, Lucero explained, and thus it takes a collaborative approach to control their dispersal.

In developing the draft Clallam County roadside vegetation and noxious weed management plan, Lucero did extensive surveys of nearly half of the county’s roads. About one-third of the roads surveyed had either a weed that’s required control by law or so rare that it was the only sighting in the county, Lucero said. “We had 16 different species that met that criteria.”

Instead of focusing on widespread invasive species like scotch broom and thistle, Lucero is after the infrequent species in hopes of controlling them before they become widespread.

“The weed law emphasizes what we have the least of as the top priority because you have the best chance of control,” she said.


Multifaceted approach

To control the noxious weeds along Clallam County roads, the draft plan includes responsible herbicide treatments on noxious weeds only. Of the nearly 500 acres Lucero surveyed, about four acres were identified as areas ideal for herbicide treatments.

Based on this initial survey, Lucero said, that’s about “1 percent we’d actually like to use herbicide on.”

Lucero made maps of the targeted areas, included them in the draft plan and will have them on-hand during a series of upcoming informational workshops in Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks. The workshops are intended to be educational and a chance for citizens to ask questions or give input of how the roadside vegetation is managed near their residences, Lucero said.

A handful of experts, including a researcher from Washington State University, the state Noxious Weed Control Board executive secretary, vegetation branch manager for Olympic National Park and the noxious weed coordinator for Washington Department of Agriculture, will be attending the workshops to lend their knowledge and answer public inquiries. The state Department of Transportation landscape architect also will be available at the Sequim and Port Angeles workshops.

In making provisions for landowners that don’t want any herbicides used adjacent to their property, Lucero hopes to build a pool of landowners interested in contributing toward effective roadside vegetation management near their property.

“This could be a new opportunity for citizen engagement,” she said.

Herbicides are just one of three tools the weed board aims to use in working with the road department.

Intended for more common and widespread use, the plan incorporates prevention. Examples of prevention include cleaning weed seed contaminated gravel pits, stopping the use of contaminated gravel along the roads and taking advantage of new road construction to plant native species.

Also, altering the road department’s reliance on mowing for roadside vegetation management is outlined in the draft plan. Mowing can invigorate some unwanted plants, create open space for noxious weeds and invasive species to grow, decrease the ability of native plants to thrive and removes potential habitat and/or resources for pollinators.

“Prevention is huge,” Lucero said. “That’s really where you want to be — it’s the cheapest and it’s the least impactful.”

The third approach the draft plan utilizes is “cultural control” where native vegetation is encouraged as the first line of defense against noxious weeds and invasive plants. Lucero is excited at the possibility to collaborate with Olympic National Park to utilize the native plant nursery at Robin Hill Park that supported the planting effort following the Elwha River dam removal.


Full circle

A “full circle” approach to managing county roadside vegetation where noxious weeds are controlled and a healthy, native plant community is allowed to thrive has been a long time coming, Lucero said.

“We’re kind of in a reaction stage because we haven’t done enough for so long — so we really want to root the program now.”

The silver lining of the time passed without an updated plan is it has allowed the weed board and Lucero to gain years of experience.

“We’ve been doing Forest Service work for many years and to see the change and success over time is exciting,” Lucero said. “We have the experience to show we can get there, but it’s not fast.”

Maintaining biodiversity and a healthy native plant community are important for a variety of functions humans and wildlife alike rely on, such as water filtration, food production, erosion control and habitat for pollinators, Lucero said.

“When these plants (noxious/invasive species) get listed it’s because they are interfering with the functions that we rely on,” she said. “I’m not after every weed on the road because the environment may adapt to that and it will be limited, but these appear to be the biggest bullies.”

However, an observed increased rate of change to the native plant community is driving the need for an updated roadside vegetation and noxious weed management plan.

“There has been too much change, too fast,” Lucero said, but through multiple control methods “you can help prolong the protection of the community and allow it to make its own adaptation.”

In developing the draft plan, Lucero pulled from existing scientific research, risk assessments and published reports.

The California Invasive Plant Council and Pesticide Research Institute recently finished creating “Best Management Practices for Wildland Stewardship” that involved thorough risk assessments of the herbicides Lucero was interested in. Lucero also included the findings and methods to use roadside vegetation to promote and protect pollinators outlined in the Federal Highway Administration’s recently published “Pollinators and Roadsides: Best Management Practices for Managers and Decision Makers.”

“We are tagging along with research and efforts that have been underway for a number of years,” she said.

Because the draft plan sets out to address an environmental and thus ever-changing issue, it must be adaptable.

“This plan is not finished and it will never be finished,” she said. “The idea is that it always has to be reviewed and evaluated.”

Once implemented, the plan will become part of the Clallam County Noxious Weed Control Board annual public hearing process held every January.

Although the plan doesn’t require a formal adoption process, Lucero is proposing the Board of Clallam County Commissioners adopt an ordinance to supersede the old vegetation management approach and resolution that doesn’t allow any herbicides, ever.

“The ordinance puts boundaries on where herbicides can be used and it binds the Road Department to a process in their own county law,” she said.


 

 

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