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Kandiyohi targets its 'most wanted'

WILLMAR -- When it comes to weed control, Kandiyohi County now has its own Most Wanted List.

Most important, it has new funding and a three-county cooperative program aimed at tracking down invasive plants.

The Soil and Water Conservation District office in Kandiyohi County is working with its counterparts in neighboring Stearns and Pope counties and the Nature Conservancy to lead an aggressive campaign to control invasive plant species.

Leafy spurge, common tansy, purple loosestrife, spotted knapweed and wild parsnip are the top five targets, but the newly-launched cooperative weed management program is by no means limited to these plants.

Rick Reimer, Kandiyohi County SWCD, said the new program aims to work with private landowners, and local governments and organizations, to control all types of invasive plants in the county.

Its emphasis is on controlling invasive plants in the northern tier of townships, but the program is available for all areas of the county.

The goals are both environmental and economic, according to Reimer. On the environmental side, plants like leafy spurge crowd out native grasses in prairie, conservation lands and road ditches, and degrade their habitat value to wildlife.

Purple loosestrife invades wetlands. It offers no food value to wildlife, while displacing the vegetation that does.

Invasive plants take a major economic toll, too, noted Reimer. These undesirable plants replace desirable plants like alfalfa and grasses and offer little nutritional value to livestock.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources awarded funding to the three counties and Nature Conservancy to work cooperatively on the weed control effort.

The Nature Conservancy is interested in protecting native prairie communities in the three counties, especially at protected sites such as the Ordway Prairie.

The funding will make it possible to assist landowners with a variety of efforts to control the invasive plants, said Reimer. The three offices and Nature Conservancy will offer technical assistance and funding on a cost-share basis.

Reimer said management for some of the invasive plants can be difficult. For example, the best means of controlling leafy spurge is usually biological. There is a beetle that feeds on the plant and often provides better control than either herbicides or regular mowing, he explained.

Reimer said the program is already drawing interest.

Among the first to call was Cheryl Eblen, clerk for the Roseville Township board of supervisors. Eblen noted that weed control along township roads is costly for the township, and any help is appreciated.

Canadian thistles are the most evident problem along township roadways, said Eblen.

Thistles stand out and are easily recognized, and represent a serious issue on disturbed and neighboring lands in the county, Reimer noted.

He also said that the problems with invasive plants are far more pervasive than people realize. One of the project's goals is to educate people about invasive plants and help them learn how to identify the invaders. Once they learn to recognize and look for invaders like leafy spurge, people soon discover just how widespread it is.

Reimer is hoping that the education effort will also lead people to report weed problem areas to the SWCD office, so that it can work with landowners or government units to control the weeds. The SWCD will also use GPS technology to record the locations of infestations, and monitor the effort to control them.

There are key areas -- such as haul roads and other disturbed areas -- where invasive plants take a choke-hold. They are often widely dispersed by the traffic occurring in these areas.

Those seeking assistance with weed control on private or public lands, or know of problem areas, are encouraged to contact the SWCD office in Willmar at 320-235-3906.