Controlling noxious weeds requires watershed approaches and strong partnerships. Two conservation districts have joined forces with local, state and federal partners to get the work done.
(Images and article courtesy of the National Association of Conservation Districts’ report, Our Land, Our Water.)
Gaining a foothold in efforts to eradicate noxious weeds is like herding cats. They’re not always where you want them to be.
That’s one of the lessons learned by partners in noxious weed control on the Walker River basin in western Nevada. But the weeds may be corralled by a project that focuses on pinpointing where they are and then eradicating them a watershed at a time. The first step is developing a comprehensive map.
“We’ve known for some time that a comprehensive map is not available,” says Michelle Langsdorf, district manager of the Mason Valley and Smith Valley conservation districts. The districts chair the Walker River Basin Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA), comprised of landowners and local, state and federal agencies. “All the stake-holders in the basin got together to find those gray areas where noxious weeds aren’t targeted or funding is not available. Those are the areas where weeds thrive most,” she says.
The partners decided to coordinate efforts to have a greater impact. The conservation districts have a central role. The partners decided to address weeds on a watershed basin. The Walker River has east and west branches that join into a main stem. Each of the stems has a reservoir that serves agricultural producers who grow alfalfa, garlic and onion and graze cattle and sheep.
“We’ve targeted the east stem first. It’s about 75 miles long and has private landowners and federal land managers along the way,” she says. “Some of the areas are pretty remote, and because people aren’t back there, we don’t really know what’s in there.”
Gaining access for mapping and subsequent eradication efforts isn’t always easy, but the conservation districts’ local identity helps. “We have access to 99 percent of the east fork, and the portions we haven’t gotten access to, the landowners haven’t said no,” she says.
The districts are developing a comprehensive map of the basin, and that will be followed by eradication efforts spearheaded by the CWMA and the districts. The partners will move on to the west branch next year and then the main stem.
Funding includes the federal Desert Terminal Lakes Program, in this case administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program’s goal is to assure water supplies to at-risk desert terminal lakes. Lyon County provides base funding, and the Nevada Department of Agriculture helps fund CWMA.
The Walker River Irrigation District provides equipment. The state Department of Wildlife will provide work crews for eradication efforts, especially on difficult terrain. State departments of Water Resources and Environmental Resources are engaged, as are Cooperative Extension and dozens of local landowners. In addition to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Forest Service are involved. The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides technical assistance.
“The districts would not be doing good work if not for our partners,” Langsdorf says. Langsdorf has the services of a district technician, and she also contracts with the Americorps Program for a two-person seasonal field staff. She also trains volunteers who replant native species.
Targeted weeds include tamarask (salt cedar), perennial pepper weed, Canada thistle, puncture vine, hoary cress, spotted and Russian knapweed. What makes them noxious weeds? “The simplest way I explain is all noxious weeds are invasive, but not all invasive weeds are noxious,” she says. Nevada identifies noxious weeds for several reasons, including displacement of native vegetation; reduced value of an area for wildlife, agriculture, recreation and other uses; reduced biodiversity; altered nutrient and water cycling; and increased stream sedimentation.
The weeds’ impact on marketing agricultural commodities can be significant. It’s illegal to transport noxious weeds in Nevada. The vast majority of crops are sold to California, which has even more stringent noxious weed laws. Langsdorf likes the partners’ chances.
“We feel there’s a possibility to eradicate rather than manage some of these populations.” The traditional role conservation districts serve in education is important, Langsdorf says. “If people don’t understand why something is a bad plant and care about why, we’re not going to get anywhere,” she says.
The districts hold workshops for local residents on weed identification and management, and on safe use of herbicides. In the schools, the districts and the Western Nevada Resource Conservation and Development Council combine to sponsor Walker River Basin Work Days, which reaches out to elementary and secondary students with education in the schools and in the field.
More information: Contact Langsdorf.