BUFFALO — In its first year, Johnson County’s weed bounty was wildly successful. So successful, in fact, that the weed bounty program will return again this summer with the same purpose: providing a financial incentive for citizens to remove invasive weeds from the ecosystem.
County residents are asked to pull spotted knapweed, houndstongue and common mullein.
Beginning May 26 and continuing until Sept. 30, Johnson County Weed and Pest District will pay 50 cents for each pound of weeds collected. Weeds must be bagged in clear bags that are supplied by the district. Each participant will be given as many as six bags. Bags will be weighed at the weed and pest office from 7 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday.
“It was a lot of fun last year,” said Supervisor Rod Litzel. “The Scouts were pretty regular in bringing in bags of weeds, and they’d get a little money at the end of it. Plus they knew they had done something good for the environment.”
The spread of all three species can be effectively controlled through pulling, as long as you do so before they go to seed in late August, said Thad Berrett, rangeland management specialist for the Bighorn National Forest.
Pulling is often preferable to spraying because there are not the added risks of killing desirable plants in the area.
Berrett said that residents pulled 3,350 pounds of weeds last summer – no small feat. But the impact grows exponentially considering that those weeds prevented tens of millions of seeds from being dispersed.
The invasive species are probably familiar to anyone who gets out for a walk regularly. The species can be easily found throughout the county, including along the Clear Creek trail system, at the Mosier Gulch day-use area and at the Bud Love Wildlife Management Habitat area, as well as BLM and state lands around the middle fork of the Powder River west of Kaycee.
The Weed and Pest District will provide maps of potential weed-collecting locations, Litzel said. Organizing a weed-pulling outing for groups or clubs can be a good fundraiser, Berrett said, and Weed and Pest is happy to direct groups to big patches of weeds. Private landowners are also encouraged to look for the weeds on their properties.
Keeping weeds in check in Johnson County is a herculean effort. The county is bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, so just knowing where a weed outbreak may occur takes more eyes
than any agency in the county could muster.
So this year, Weed and Pest is adding a component to the program to enlist the help of backcountry users and a phone app.
Backcountry users who spot any of the three invasive species are asked to photograph the weed, pull the weed – provided it hasn’t gone to seed – and leave it on the ground. Using the Survey123 for ArcGIS app, backcountry users are then asked to document the location of the weed. That helps build a database of information that Weed and Pest can use to plan mitigation projects.
“It’s kind of an early detection, rapid response system,” said Litzel. “If they’re finding locations that we aren’t aware of, and it’s too big an area to pull, my crew can respond. The more people looking the better.”
The Weed and Pest District is offering a prize for the person who documents the most data points during the summer.
In addition to pulling the three species of weeds, weed pullers who report new locations of ventenata or medusahead grasses will receive $50. In 2019, two new locations of ventenata were discovered by weed bounty participants, allowing those invasive grasses to be treated quickly.
There are also end-of-the-season prizes for the individuals who pull the most weeds – by pound.
A joint program of the Weed and Pest District, U.S.
Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Buffalo Trails Board, Powder River Conservation District, Clear Creek Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation District, the program also increases community knowledge of noxious weeds and management practices.
“I’d like to see the program continue for about five years and see if we can make a difference,” Berrett said.