Friday, June 13, 2014

Lawless weeds causing a calamity in Colorado -- it's not what you think

Tumbleweeds, those iconic symbols of the West, have gotten so bad this year that two Colorado counties declared states of emergency over the thick piles of spiky weeds. What we call tumbleweeds can be several different kinds of plant; none of them is native. One of the worst is the Russian thistle, a fast-growing weed that sprouts with very little water, and then breaks off in the fall winds to drop thousands of seeds from a single plant as it rolls east. Rancher Gary Gibson of rural Crowley County said the overgrowth was so deep this fall that he and other county officials had to close 45 miles of weed-choked rural roads. They are nothing but a hazard. They aren't just a nuisance. They cause damage. In Colorado's wide-open eastern Plains, the weeds blow ahead of storms, piling up on the fences that line both sides of roads. They remain a problem this summer, and Pueblo County on Monday joined Crowley in declaring a state of emergency in an effort to get state assistance. "They are nothing but a hazard," said Gibson, who is also a county commissioner. "They aren't just a nuisance. They cause damage." An extended drought in eastern Colorado gives tumbleweeds ideal conditions under which to flourish: Ranchers' cows typically eat the young tumbleweeds, but without enough water, herds have shrunk, as have the number of irrigated fields sown with wheat or other crops...more

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