Weeds, Your Land, and You
By Carol Rawle

We are fast approaching the Fourth Annual SFTR Weedout scheduled for May 8-9.  It is always preceded by Carol's annual weed walk, this year scheduled, rather rescheduled twice because of weather, for 5 pm on Wednesday, May 5.

The purpose of these two events is to involve and educate as many of our ranch property owners as possible in the growing problem of noxious weeds on our lands.

"Why should I care about weeds?" you might be thinking.  Many of us are from the city and have a rather benign concept of weeds.  Picture a blockbuster film with invading enemy hoards, and you might begin to grasp the scale of our weed problem.  To repell these hoards, we must band together and all do our part if we are going to keep them from invading and taking over our land.

We aren't talking about dandelions in the lawn.  The alien weed species that are threatening our lands, if they are successful, can destroy much more than esthetics.  Thistle, several different kinds, migrated here from foreign lands, and here they have found an environment that is free of predators, insects that eat them, and diseases that might curtail their numbers.

Musk Thistle
They've taken over acres and acres of wildlands, sending down deep roots, broadcasting their millions of seeds, crowding out native plant species that feed elk, deer, and even cattle.  The destruction travels down the food chain, removing food that small animals and good insects depend on, reducing food for birds, and on and on.

One thistle plant produces thousands of seeds.  The seeds hitch hike on the wind, in streams, on the hides and in the intestines of animals, in tire treads as we drive over them, on our socks and shoe laces.  Over ten years, one thistle plant can spread out and populate over 36,000 acres! The only real enemy these noxious weeds have is us.  Even if you don't feel up to joining the community effort to battle these weeds, it's important for you to understand your role and responsibility as a steward of your own 35 acres of wild land.

When you bought your land, you probably fell in love with its beauty and wildness.  You may have had the thrill of seeing elk or deer browsing in a meadow of grass and wildflowers.  If you haven't visited your land in several years, that meadow could be all thistle by now, with little or no grass left for deer and elk to eat.  If you were to decide to sell your land, you might be surprised to know that you would be legally obligated to disclose that weed problem in your meadow.  Not doing so would invite the possibility of some real legal hurt down the line.

The problem of weeds on the ranch is every bit as serious as the threat of wildfire.  Both can wipe out wildlife habitat, eliminate your tax break by destroying cattle grazing, ruin your property values, and harm the native beauty.  But we are not helpless against this invasion.  There are some very basic strategies we can each employ in order to defeat the rapid spread of these weeds.

The primary problem weed on the ranch is thistle.  The flowers look like little purple shaving brushes.  The leaves all possess lethal prickly spines.

During spring the plants hug the ground and may be hard to see if the grass is tall.  But by late May, they will be putting out stalks, and will be easier to spot.  If you wait until the purple flowers appear, it's getting late in the game.  Once thistle get flowers, the seed heads will continue to mature and spread even if you chop down the plant.

The best way to deal with thistle is to spray with a 2-4D herbicide.  This is cost effective and has the advantage over Roundup and other non-specific herbicides in that it won't hurt the grasses.  Herbicide is about the only effective way to deal with one very insidious species of thistle, Canada thistle.  This one species will actually spread worse if attempts are made to chop it down or dig it up.

The other thistle species respond well to digging up or chopping off the seed heads.  This method is work intensive, but works well if you are diligent and collect all the seed heads and bag them, then dispose of them in the trash.  If you have a herd of goats or a mower, thistle can be controlled somewhat by removing the plants to ground level before they flower.  Anything to prevent seed heads from forming and ripening will go a long way toward controlling the spread of thistle.

If you are community spirited, you might think about joining us for the Weedout on the weekend of May 8-9.  We welcome anyone who has an ATV who wants to help spray the weeds on the Gallinas Conservancy.  Volunteers also spray the roadsides of the entire ranch every year, saving thousands of dollars that would otherwise be paid to professional spray crews.  We are all mandated by law to control the noxious weeds on our property.  The POA is responsible for our common areas.  If you want to help, you can adopt a section of roadway.  The more volunteers we have, the less work it is for everyone.  The POA buys the herbicide to spray on the roadways.  You have to buy the herbicide you spray on your own land.

No matter how involved you feel you want to become in the ranch weed eradication program, each and every one of us is required to control the weeds on our own land.  So join us for the weed walk and learn what you need to do.  If you have questions or wish to sign up for the community annual weedout, call Bill Wenstrom at 846-7457.

Get involved!  To do nothing about our weed problem is the same as watching a wildfire roaring toward us and not lifting a finger to stop it.