Working together to strengthen and support noxious weed management efforts in Montana.

Success Stories

Beaverhead County Weed Day 2010

Friday, September 3rd, 2010


Annually Beaverhead County Weed District holds a multitude of community weed/spray days, but the Beaverhead County Weed Day held in July is essentially the big hooray of weed days!  In 2010, several areas were targeted throughout the county including Blacktail Deer Creek, Poindexter Slough, Bannack, Beaverhead River, Limekiln Canyon, and Timber Butte Estates Subdivision.  Participants for the day include volunteers from Beaverhead Search and Rescue, Pheasants Forever, local outfitters, the weed board, 50 kids from county 4-H groups, and other weed fighters, as well as Beaverhead County, Madison County, Bureau of Land Management, Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and Bureau of Reclamation spray crews.  A barbeque held at the end of the day fed roughly 150 participants.

So what is it about the Beaverhead County Weed Day that makes it such a success?  It is not necessarily the number of acres that are treated during the day, or the number of hamburgers that are served at the barbeque; the success of the day comes from the people that are involved.  We get 4-H kids involved in pulling weeds along the Beaverhead River and Bannack State Park.  At an early age, these kids are seeing a difference from year to year in their pulling efforts.  Where a couple years ago in Bannack they were pulling bag upon bag without moving but only a few feet they are now having to search among the willows and throughout the area to fill half the number of bags they did before.  We have also had local outfitters donate river days to the 4-H kids to float down the Beaverhead River pulling weeds.  Another great thing about the weed day is the cooperation between agencies in Beaverhead County.  All these diverse people fight have their own jobs and interests, but at the end of the day everyone involved in weed day is united for a single cause…to manage noxious weeds.

Thanks to Amber Burch, Assistant Weed Coordinator in Beaverhead County for her story.

An Evening Ball of a Different Sort

Thursday, August 26th, 2010


Weed Whacker Ball September 11th

Weed Whacker Ball September 11th

Let me set the scene:  a pickup rolls up at the big get-together in the little town of Wise River, Montana, and the whole family gets out.  It is early September in this little rural town and it may be a wonderful fall afternoon or it could be snowing. There are three wall tents set up—two big, one small—and the smell of pork roasting over a bed of coals wafts through the air, taunting the senses and causing all the mouths to water.  A local group of ladies have worked all day preparing several table’s worth of salads and desserts, which have earned reputations of being utterly delicious.  This feast feeds over 325 people, and all of them are here for one thing:  The Big Hole Watershed Weed Committee’s Weed Whacker Ball.

When bellies are full, the crowd moves inside the buildings where there are drinks, dancing, silent and live auctions, and ample socializing.  Special awards are given out, vicious bidding occurs on the numerous silent auction items and when that ends, the real entertainment begins with auctioneer Mark Anderson and his sidekick Rick Later. These two know the crowd which makes for the most entertaining and fun live auction a person can attend.  This event is one of the more family-oriented affairs around; in fact, all evening you’ll see kids playing their own games and darting in and out of the crowd.  It is a casual dress occasion, so one needs to bring their appetite, some shoes suitable for dancing, and oh yeah—your sense of humor!

So what exactly IS the Weed Whacker Ball?  Well, it’s a fundraiser held every year to earn money for weed control projects in the Big Hole Valley.  What makes this event so unique is the fact that it is the local landowners who are the driving force behind it.  They are the ones who started the fundraiser, now in its fifth year of running—a very successful running I might add.  Since its inception, the event has raised over $90,000.

The tradition of holding the fundraiser in Wise River has also attributed to the Ball’s success, because it has become an event to schedule the calendar around for residents of the Big Hole and surrounding areas. Not only has it become tradition for those who travel from as far as Ravalli County to attend, but it’s also become tradition to all the hard-working citizens of Wise River and elsewhere who so graciously organize and coordinate this event every year.  As Joan Stanchfield, a local rancher’s wife who lives in the Big Hole, puts it, “The local people are what keep it going.”

The Weed Whacker Ball has had much success when it comes to raising money for their cause, but some may ask whether that cause is still relevant today, and if so, why should we as Montanans care?  Is it relevant?!  Of course it is!  I cannot stress enough the relevance of noxious weed control in Montana no matter who you are!  As Jeanne Caddy, the chairperson and chief organizer of the Weed Whacker Ball, said herself, “Everybody is a contributor and everybody is affected by noxious weeds.”  It may seem like some of us are exempt from the consequences of weeds, but these nasty little plants truly leave their mark on everyone in some tangible way. Weeds affect Montanans in numerous ways:

If you’re a recreationalist or a wildlife enthusiast, you should be aware that noxious weeds threaten animal habitats of all sorts, thereby critically disrupting the balance of ecosystems and stripping the land of its natural beauty, not to mention displacing native species of plants.  Foreign plants (All noxious weeds are non-native.) are most often malicious to the native plant species, choking the natives in a variety of fashions; long taproots, extensive root systems and even producing their own type of herbicide to kill off surrounding vegetation.

If you happen to be a wildlife enthusiast of a different sort—hunters, fishermen, and outfitters—noxious weeds are your enemy as well.  These invaders will cause erosion of fisheries and displace desirable native forage for wildlife. It all flows downhill from there; reduced game living in an area means fewer tags available for hunting; this leads to a reduction in business for any outfitters who use that area during the hunting season.

To make matters worse, weeds also have a reputation for spreading very quickly, taking over the area in which they’ve been introduced.  Another rising issue is the control of aquatic nuisance species.  Basically, when noxious weeds grow either in or along the water’s edge produce their seeds, those seeds use the water as transportation and stick to boats, boat trailers, chest waders, creels, and any other equipment a fisherman might be using. By transporting his gear, the fisherman may be transporting malicious foreign seeds, usually unknowingly.  When he goes fishing again at another river or lake, all of that gear is once again submerged in the water, loosening up the seeds’ holds and thereby transplanting noxious weeds and other nuisance species to the new body of water; in fact, Eurasian water milfoil plants can reproduce from any portion of the plant and will remain viable long after the plant pieces dry.  An immediate goal of Jeanne Caddy’s is to push the education of this issue and make the topic of aquatic nuisance species more recognized and acknowledged throughout the Big Hole Valley.

And if you happen to be a farmer or a rancher, you probably know more than the average Joe about how much of a battle it can be to fight noxious weeds.  Some of the other noxious weeds in the Big Hole Valley include Canada thistle, yellow toadflax, common tansy—the latter of which sparks an eye roll from Jeanne at the mere mention of this stubborn little plant—and the one that presents probably the biggest battle of all, the oxeye daisy.  In the Big Hole, the battle with oxeye daisy is just as much a battle with weed education as it is with the weed itself.  This devious little weed looks like any daisy you would commonly find in your garden, but don’t be fooled, this noxious weed is just as wicked as the rest of them.  It uses its appearance to trick people into thinking it’s a pretty flower instead of the weed it really is.  Unfortunately, its seeds are sometimes sold in wildflower mixes; so it can easily be said that education is key when it comes to weed control.

The Big Hole Watershed Weed Committee leverages funds used from the proceeds of the Ball to help obtain grants. Jeanne worked on a grant through funding the Wise River/Big Hole River Oxeye Daisy Project which she will manage throughout the season.  When the Wise River School students are back in class this fall, they will work with her to measure the effectiveness of different control methods on the oxeye daisy.  Aside from this, a commercial applicator was hired with funds from the stimulus program and Jeanne’s committee is continuing to build on the Anglers Education Project from 2009, which was funded by a DEQ mini-grant and will be conducting an educational float trip with Trout Unlimited this summer.  Thanks to another grant the Divide Elementary School students have become well-educated on noxious weeds and attended local spray days as well.  However, grants aren’t always easy to come by so this is where the annual Weed Whacker Ball comes into play.

Why has this fundraiser been so successful?  As Joan Stanchfield puts it, “Because it’s been fun and people realize it’s necessary.”  The ripples of the Weed Whacker Ball have reached great lengths in the fight against noxious weeds; this event has led to the creation of a community weed day in Melrose, Glen, and Divide as well as serving as a model to develop several weed management groups throughout the Big Hole.  The fight against weeds is as much an awareness issue as anything, but is raising awareness just as instrumental as other preventative measures when it comes to noxious weed control?   “Definitely—because it starts with education,” according to Jeanne.  She goes on to say, “The key thing is establishing relationships with people…and it takes a long time.”  People like Jeanne, Jack, and Joan still spend hours of their time at kitchen tables throughout the Big Hole Valley to build those relationships, driving home their point that when it comes to the battle of weeds “It IS a winning battle if you try hard enough,” insists Jack.  Jeanne makes a good analogy about weed control:  “It’s a maintenance thing.  It’s like yard work—it never goes away.”  So if it never goes away, why should Montanans be proactive when it comes to noxious weed control?  “We can’t afford to NOT be proactive,” she continues, “It’s part of keeping Montana, Montana.”

So the Weed Whacker Ball is a method of raising much-needed dollars to help educate about, prevent, and manage noxious weeds in the watershed. It really says something about an event when a community of less than 125 people comes together to produce such a successful shin dig, but it also says a lot when the tickets are sold out early every year.  This year the Weed Whacker Ball will be held in Wise River on Saturday, September 11th, and if history is an indicator, it should be a great time as always.  By asking around about it, I’ve been told by many that the Weed Whacker Ball is “THE THING to go to,” so come out to the little town of Wise River and enjoy a fantastic time with everyone at a great, family-oriented event.  All of the relationship building accomplished throughout the season shines during the socializing and festivities of this relaxed, casual, end-of-the-summer affair.  As all of the coordinators of the Weed Whacker Ball would agree, it’s about more than just weeds.   If you are interested in attending this unique event, please contact Jeanne Caddy at 406-267-3354 or If you are interested in helping the noxious weed cause in one of Montana’s more beautiful watersheds, you may also donate to the event, again by contacting Jeanne.

The Weed Whacker Ball is many things to many people who attend:  a great time to visit with old friends,  enjoy some lively dancing, and to celebrate  all those who have made such a difference during the season, not to mention enjoying the best food in the valley (or so the rumors go). Come find out for yourself and join in the fun of the 2010 Weed Whacker Ball in Wise River, Montana.  See you there!

Thanks to Emily Calvert for her story about the Weed Whacker’s Ball.

Bear Trap Success Story

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010


In April of 2001 a float trip down the Madison River was conducted involving members of the BLM, the Montana Wilderness society, Madison County, U.S. Forest Service, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Gallatin County and other interested individuals. They determined that due to the size, density and location of the current infestations, that eradication was no longer an option but that a long term plan of control and containment would be more practical and cost effective. With members of the original group plus a Dow AgroSciences representative and others knowledgeable in noxious weed control a second float trip was conducted in August to help devise a plan of action.

Weed control was initiated in the fall of 2001 using both biological agents and herbicide. The biological control was released in the more inaccessible areas above the river and above the hiking trails, while herbicide was used along the trails and from the trails to the river, where public use is the highest. Herbicide application was done as a joint effort between the BLM and the Madison County Weed Board with joint spray days being held twice yearly, one in the spring and the other in the fall. After the first year of treatment we were surprised at how the native grasses came back and became fairly competitive with the knapweed. In 2002, 2003, and 2004 a private contractor treated the road leading into the trailhead and any of the trails that couldn’t be covered during the joint spray days. Starting in 2005 the BLM hired a crew of two sprayers that would take over the role of the private contractor. A minimum of three float trips a year were scheduled in order to gain access to some infestations of Leafy Spurge that are inaccessible by land.

To date the project has met with great success. The size and density of the noxious weed infestations has been reduced dramatically with the only problem being the re-infestation of some of the treated areas by cheatgrass. Beginning in 2010 we hope to get the original group together again to determine what our strategy for the next ten years will be and how we will handle the re-vegetation of some of the areas infested by cheatgrass.

Canal Success in Valley County

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010


Leafy spurge is along fenceline and in the pasture

Leafy spurge is along fenceline and in the pasture

The Valley County Weed District has teamed up with the Glasgow Irrigation District since 2002 to control noxious weeds on 46 miles of main canal and 44 miles of lateral canals. Think about noxious weed seeds being spread by a water system 90 miles long. Wildlife and domestic animals have been spreading seeds from near that water source. Also, think about walking through a solid stand of mature Canada thistle for 1/8 mile! Not a pleasant thought! That was the situation in 2002 on the irrigation canal system in Valley County. The Glasgow Irrigation District and the Valley County Weed District decided to do something about these noxious weeds. Now in 2009, they are under control and the canal system, overall, is in good condition, thanks to financial funding through the Montana Noxious Weed Trust Fund Grant Program. The canal system has 46 miles of main canal from Vandalia Dam in the west and flows east to Nashua. There are 19 lateral canals (44 total miles) that also were infested in areas with leafy spurge that are under control. For anyone who has ever been involved with noxious weed control, the reality is that the work is never truly done. However the ranchers and farmers who use the canal system have seen great results and can be confident that their land and crops will not be lost or severely damaged by infestations of noxious weeds.

Leafy spurge was treated with Tordon22K and 2-4D

Leafy spurge was treated with Tordon22K and 2-4D

For more information contact Rick Stellflug, Valley County Weed Coordinator

Missoula County Success Against Yellow Flag Iris

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010


Bancroft Pond in 2006

Bancroft Pond in 2006

We tend to be a little unique here in Western Montana. Many of you know that here in Missoula we walk to the beat of a different drum, just stand on Higgins Ave. any day of the week and you will see people walking, literally to the beat of different drums! All joking aside, we have made great progress over here in terms of raising public awareness of noxious weeds and the importance of using an integrated approach to manage them. This is evident on City Open Space, County Parks and within our VMA’s. The Missoula Valley Yellowflag Iris Eradication Project is one project in particular that deserves attention and has been very successful at raising public awareness about controlling noxious weeds and has generated  overwhelming public support for stopping new invaders.

Until 2001 the bulk of the distribution of yellowflag iris (YFI) in the Missoula Valley was confined to a 1.5 mile section of lower Pattee Creek. In 2001 redevelopment of southwest Higgins Avenue involved updating drainage culverts and resulted in connecting lower Pattee Creek to the Bitterroot River through a series of drainage ditches and ponds. One consequence of altering the path of Pattee Creek was an explosion of YFI in these waterways. After reconstruction the YFI populations expanded to approximately 3.5 miles of drainage ditch between lower Pattee Creek and the Bitterroot River, and completely lined the Bancroft Ponds, a popular urban park. When the Missoula County Weed District mapped the extent of the YFI in order to get baseline data on the infestation, the discovery of several immature YFI where the ditch now drained into the Bitterroot River and this increased the severity of the problem. Land managers in this area recognized the need for immediate response to this problem; if the infestation remained unmanaged it would easily spread throughout the lower Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers.

In 2004 a collaborative effort was undertaken by multiple partners in the Missoula Valley to begin to address these YFI infestations. The Missoula County Weed District, Missoula City Parks and Recreation, and the University of Montana launched an awareness campaign, targeting residents in the Pattee Creek area as well as the greater Missoula area. This campaign included newspaper articles, direct mailings, door-to-door visits and homeowner group meetings. The partners were pleasantly surprised, as once most residents where informed about the negative impacts YFI has on riparian habitats, they became very supportive of managing this invasive weed.

In 2005 the City of Missoula Parks and Recreation Department began chemical and mechanical control of YFI in Bancroft Ponds Park, home to the largest infestation of this plant in the valley. A commercial applicator sprayed the infestation with an 8% solution of aquatically labeled glyphosate and a team of interns mowed mature flowers for a ¼ mile upstream of this infestation to reduce seed input into the pond. The city continued these same controls on these infestations in 2006.

In the spring of 2006 Missoula County Weed District staff and a team of University of Montana interns went door to door in neighborhoods at the upstream end of the infestation handing out educational materials about YFI and the eradication campaign. In the spring of 2006 landowners in the Pattee Ck. Vegetation Management Area became involved with the project and a commercial applicator was hired to treat the upper ½ mile of the infestation; all of which was on private lands. Along this stretch of creek concentrated aquatic glyphosate was injected into flower stalks. This helped to eliminate the possibility of non-target damage to the many ornamental plantings landowners have established along the creek. In the fall of 2006 the University of Montana treated several infestations at a flood control pond within the project area.

In 2007, the project received a grant from Noxious Weed Trust Fund to treat the entire project area. This increase in funding for the project coupled with promising   results from 2005-06 controls for the first time partners felt confident that eradication of YFI in the Missoula Valley was actually achievable. The treatments have moved away from stem injection, to precision spot spraying with a backpack. Stem injection proved to be too labor intensive and not as effective as foliar application. The entire project area was treated again in 2008, with huge reductions in infestation size and frequency.  In 2009 we again received a grant from the Noxious Weed Trust Fund. In the 2009 field season some sites no longer need to be treated but where still monitored for seedling germination. In the past five years, we have observed as much as a 90% reduction in YFI across the project area, with complete eradication at many sites. Yearly monitoring of all areas will continued to assure no seedlings emerge as the seed viability of YFI isn’t well documented.

Bancroft Pond in 2009

Bancroft Pond in 2009

Each field season we maintain contact with our landowners and each year we are encouraged by the positive response from the landowners.  From the beginning of the project educating the public on the negative environmental impacts of noxious weeds and instilling a vision of attractive replacements for YFI was critical for getting support from a largely skeptical public. Partners (public and private) are now working on restoring the ponds and urban wetlands present in Bancroft Ponds Park, with the hopes that this site will serve as a restoration demonstration area. On Halloween of this year volunteers from across the project area held a planting day, where we planted Rocky Mountain Iris, Blue Camas, Yellow Monkey Flower and spread a native riparian seed mixture.

Call us what you want… Granola, Hippies, Freaks. But remember we are all in this battle together, working towards a common goal of protecting Montana from the invasion of noxious weeds. And bite your tongue because your kids may someday be going to school here and if they do, they may like it so much they never leave!