Part of a burn scar from the 2012 Weber Fire south of Mancos has become infested with noxious weeds, but Montezuma County and the Bureau of Land Management disagree on how it should be managed.
County weed manager Bonnie Loving is pushing for the BLM to conduct an aerial herbicide spray on a 600-acre area being overtaken by musk thistle and Canadian thistle within the Menefee Mountain Wilderness Study Area east of County Road 41.
“The concern is that uncontrolled noxious weeds on public lands will infest nearby private land and hinder landowners’ weed control efforts,” she said.
A nearby 300-acre section of burned State Land Board property has a similar noxious weed problem and was sprayed from the air by a state contractor in spring 2018 with successful results.
But BLM officials said that because of a limited weed management budget and staff, an aerial spray of the area brings planning challenges. They said it is within a nonmotorized wilderness study area and would require a site-specific environmental assessment, which would take time and additional funding that they don’t currently have.
The BLM’s Tres Rios office must spread a small noxious weed budget across an eight-county area, said Field Manager Connie Clementson.
Although an aerial spray is possible for that area, at this point no commitment has been made to explore that option with an environmental assessment, said BLM range specialist Mike Jensen.
“We are going to continue to treat weeds there with other methods,” he said.
Tactics include containing the infestation with timely spot spraying from the ground and potentially releasing a weevil that feeds specifically on thistles.
The BLM noted that aerial spraying projects can be controversial. While some would support the tactic, others with nearby organic farms and “No Spray” signs worry about the risk of drifting spray, Jensen said.
Montezuma County officials lamented the lack of resources afforded to federal land agencies for weed control.
“They have all this land, but not enough funding to take care of it properly,” said Commissioner Keenan Ertel.
The BLM officials said they will continue to support cooperative weed management plans with the county to address problem areas. The partnership helps attract state and grant funding for noxious weed control.
County commissioners view the restrictions of the wilderness study area designation – including for motorized use, new roads and trails – as a hindrance to managing the land.
The WSA designation gives Congress the option of either making the areas official wilderness areas or releasing them from consideration. County commissioners have been pushing local representatives for the wilderness study area designation to be released.
According to a 1991 analysis, the BLM concluded that the Weber and Menefee Wilderness Study Areas were not suitable to become wilderness areas and recommended they become nonwilderness areas.
In response to the commissioners, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, stated in a March 5 letter that he was “committed to exploring the possibility of releasing these WSA’s and working with you on a path forward.”
The WSA’s listed in the letter include Weber Mountain, Menefee Mountain, Cahone Canyon, Cross Canyon, and Squaw and Papoose Canyon.