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Officials seek funding to weed out invasive plant species

by DERRICK PERKINS
Editor | April 6, 2021 7:00 AM

Local experts say they have a shot at nipping the spread of an invasive weed in the bud, but they need financial backing from the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.

State officials added ventenata to the Department of Agriculture’s list of noxious weeds in 2019. The plant species, native to southern Europe, western Asia and northern Africa, is fast spreading, and increasingly popping up locally.

“We’re finding it here there and everywhere, but we still think we have a chance,” said Deena Shotzberger of the Lincoln County Weed Board. “We’re asking everybody … if they find ventenata or we find ventenata, it needs to be treated this year.”

Local experts say they have a shot at nipping the spread of an invasive weed in the bud, but they need financial backing from the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.

State officials added ventenata to the Department of Agriculture’s list of noxious weeds in 2019. The plant species, native to southern Europe, western Asia and northern Africa, is fast spreading, and increasingly popping up locally.

“We’re finding it here, there and everywhere, but we still think we have a chance,” said Deena Shotzberger of the Lincoln County Weed Board. “We’re asking everybody … if they find ventenata or we find ventenata, it needs to be treated this year.”

Also known as wiregrass, ventenata usually takes root in rightsof- way, rangeland and pastures. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it replaces perennial grasses, but is of little forage value. Its shallow root system can leave the surrounding soil at risk of erosion.

Going after the weed can be costly. Rejuvra, an herbicide manufactured by Bayer, is perhaps the best option for treatment, but the price tag per acre is about $42 before application fees, Shotzberger said.

A cost-share program, Shotzberger told commissioners at their March 17 meeting, is one potential solution. She has applied for a Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) grant for $12,000 to kick-start the effort. Shotzberger told commissioners she originally planned on asking for $15,000, but was told to lower expectations. Ultimately, the weed board wants to set aside $20,000 for the effort. But that would require $8,000 from county coffers.

“We don’t know how much we’re going to find,” she said. “The first two

years, I think we’re going to have more money going out.”

Given the speed of the weed’s expansion, Shotzberger said the money would be used to help private landowners tackle ventenata on their home turf. That would potentially stem ventenata’s spread without competing with the private sector and allow the county to avoid aerial application of the herbicide. Three Montana counties have reached that point, Shotzberger warned.

She envisioned a plan where the ventenata fund covered 75 percent of the cost of a landowner’s application of herbicide. It would be capped at $500. If officials discovered a more costly problem, they could apply for additional grant funds, Shotzberger said.

County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1) asked Shotzberger to see if officials with the Kootenai National Forest might help. Earlier, Mike Bradeen of the county weed department told commissioners that all of major players in the area — the U.S. Forest Service, Southern Pine Plantations and the state Department of Natural Resources — were going to have to deal with the ventenata problem.

“Allude to how much property the federal government owns in this county and how they should be the biggest partner,” said County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2).

Peck suggested Shotzberger emphasize Lincoln County’s relatively small tax base while searching for grants.