Crested Butte ready to attack invasive weeds

Blue kids and a weed king?

Could the Wildflower Capital of Colorado really become the Wild Weed capital of the state? It could if action isn’t taken, but how drastic should the action be?


A few summers ago, Crested Butte hired a company to spray chemicals in the town park to help eradicate weeds. The day of the spraying, it snowed. When the snow stopped, some children went to play in the park. Their parents were shocked to see that the kids had turned blue.
Apparently a dye marker in the compound that let the workers see the area they had sprayed came off the plants and onto the children’s skin and clothes. The chemicals had already been absorbed by the plants and the kids were not affected—aside from turning blue for a day. But it put a scare into a few families.
Weeds in town and using chemicals to kill them have been a longtime issue, an issue that is before the town again with a state law mandating control of certain weeds. The Crested Butte Town Council on Monday agreed to start attacking the problem, but in a nod to citizen health and safety and in order to not see any more blue kids, they are focusing on trying various options before resorting to chemicals.
Town planner John Hess told the council that the state is requiring local government to address the problem and he presented a proposed plan to go after the weeds. “Town rights-of-way would be our first priority. We also need to get private property owners involved,” he said.
Councilman Dan Escalante asked if the town could help private property owners with weed control. “What about the little old lady who is retired?” Escalante asked. “We are telling her she needs to fix her shed. We are telling her she needs to buy a bear-proof trashcan. Now we are telling her she has to pay to get the weeds out of her yard.”
Hess said that the town currently doesn’t have any assistance fund set up to help with such circumstances.
Councilman Skip Berkshire said he thought the Noxious Weed Management plan was a good start and he liked the aspect of phasing in a weed plan. The plan calls for a weed commission, and Berkshire made it clear he didn’t want that commission to be the council.
Jim Barry of J-dot Barry Custom Weed Control has been hired by the town in the past to spray for weeds. He told the council that all the chemicals used are “EPA-approved and tested. The chemicals are certainly safer now than in the past, but they are still chemicals.”
Councilman Reed Betz wanted to make sure that the chemicals didn’t affect the watershed.
Barry said the greatest danger would be from homeowners who don’t properly mix the chemicals. “We are restricted to where we can spray, and chemicals break down faster in water now,” Barry said. “I don’t think the chemicals are harmful to the environment if used properly. If it went in the river, the chemical would be diluted. Most of these chemicals are less toxic than nicotine, caffeine, even salt water. Once the chemicals dry, there are no ill effects, so kids are safe.”
“I am psyched with the weed management plan in front of us but want to be aware of what we are spraying,” said Betz.
Hess said after years of dealing with weeds on land trust property, he has concluded that some weeds can be controlled without spraying, but others need chemicals to be killed.
Councilman Billy Rankin asked if the trade-off was worth it. “Are the weeds bad enough that they need to be eradicated?”
“Yes,” responded Barry. “I tell people that the Wildflower Capitol of Colorado will turn into the Yellow Toadflax Capitol of Colorado because these things just totally take over an area.”
Councilwoman Kimberly Metsch asked about the best way to educate people about the danger of weeds.
Mary Ellis Cooper, who helped write the weed management plan for the town, said perhaps the Wildflower Festival could help be a conduit for education.
Councilwoman Leah Williams was in favor of the plan. “It gives people who want to be chemical-free that option,” she said. “I also think we should be coordinating efforts with the county and Mt. Crested Butte. And I don’t think we should have blue kids.”
Mt. Crested Butte adopted a weed management plan last summer, along with an ordinance enforcing weed removal on private property.
Mayor Alan Bernholtz agreed. “I don’t want heavy regulation but I think we should get everyone in town to start working on this now.”
Berkshire said the town needed to be up-front and set a good example.
Rankin said he knew a lot of people in town who were into weeds and would be interested in serving on a weed commission.
Bernholtz threw out the idea of a weed festival. “We could crown the king and queen of weeds,” he suggested.
Citizen Sue Navy was glad the council was addressing the issue. She lobbied for a priority on chemical-free weed eradication. “Hopefully the herbicides are used only in desperate situations,” she said. “The chemicals are also airborne and I would hate to see my organic garden get impacted by any wafting of toxic herbicides.”
Kai Allen of the Forest Service said the weed issue was a serious concern. He, too, was appreciative that the council was addressing the situation.
Town resident Vicki Shaw asked the council to consider the cumulative effect of chemicals. “They may say they are safe and legal, but they can add to things that cause cancer,” she said. “I’d encourage you to go slowly before forcing people to use herbicides.”
Hess was instructed to put the call out to citizens interested in serving on the weed commission. The council will continue to monitor the weed situation.

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