Montezuma County is applying for a disaster relief grant to manage noxious weeds that have grown on the site of a 5-year-old wildfire.
Bonnie Loving, head of the county weed program, is applying for a disaster relief grant through the Colorado Department of Agriculture to help with the aftermath of the 2012 fire in Weber Canyon. Since the fire, she said, noxious weeds have grown out of control in the canyon, hurting the chances of recovery for native plants and wildlife. If the grant is approved, Loving plans to consult with property owners and land managers and come up with a program to kill the weeds and re-introduce native species.
The Weber Canyon Fire, which started June 22, 2012, burned about 10,000 acres of land south of Mancos and forced hundreds of people to evacuate. Five years later, most of the damage has been repaired, but Loving said no native plants have grown back in some burned areas on Mancos Hill – a “jungle” of harmful weeds. The county, with help from the Bureau of Land Management and the owners of several new Mancos subdivisions, has made progress in managing the weeds on the east side of the hill, but Loving said she neglected the west side.
She said she didn’t realize the extent of the problem until she went on a recent hike. The weeds had grown so tall it was difficult to see through them.
“(T)here were a lot of cuss words coming out of my mouth,” she said in an email.
Some of the weeds are toxic to wildlife, and all tend to crowd out native species and make the area hard to navigate, she said.
Disaster relief is one of three types of grant the Department of Agriculture’s Noxious Weed Program awards each year to weed-management programs in Colorado. Grants in that category support “weed populations that have appeared after natural disasters such as wildfire or floods,” according to the department’s website. Six projects received the grant in 2016. Loving said the department still has funds available for disasters between 2008 and 2012.
If the grant is approved, Loving said she will consider using a helicopter to spray the weed-infested areas on the west side of the hill. Because the terrain is so steep and the weeds are so high, she said she believes that would be more effective than trying to apply herbicide from the ground. She also hopes to get other agencies involved in a reclamation program, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Mancos Conservation District and FireWise of Southwest Colorado. The project will cover state land, BLM land and private property, she said.
The weed program is also applying for a Department of Agriculture grant to help with a project designed to clean up parts of the Mancos River that have become infested with Russian knapweed. Loving said she expected to find out by March whether the grants will be approved.