By Steve Tkach
Residents of HOA#1 are reaping the results of waging wars against weeds in their native open spaces in Castle Pines North. After several seasons of integrated weed management and some initial restoration efforts, their open spaces are developing a natural weed free look, reestablishing the natural ecological balance of florae, and providing sustainable habitat for plants, butterflies, mammals, songbirds and raptors. In addition to preserving habitat, their efforts are preserving property values by maintaining the natural beauty of the native Gambel Oak and grassland ecosystems as envisioned by the Castle Pines North Development Guide and the Design Review Guidelines.
Thistle and Knapweed
So says Ray Sperger, ecologist and founder of Ark Ecological Services who helps HOA#1 maintain its native open spaces. Mr. Sperger spoke to an attentive audience at a Noxious Weed Seminar sponsored by the Castle Pines North Master Association. Attending were members from several sub-associations including Glen Oaks, Pine Ridge, The Hamlet, Brambleridge, Bristlecone, and HOA#1, as well as several landscape and property management companies. Also speaking and fielding questions was Johnathan Rife, Douglas County Weed Coordinator.
Sperger began his seminar by describing noxious weeds as a form of biological pollution and how their invasive nature destroys native communities through a cascading process that eliminates many native organisms. As noxious weeds begin to dominate an area, some insects, small mammals, and birds are unable to support themselves. The elimination of these animals forces larger predators such as foxes, raccoons, owls and other raptors to leave. The end result is a monoculture of noxious weeds. These weeds are not aesthetically appealing, contain toxins harmful to humans and other animals, and can be unpleasant to walk through because of saps, spines and sharp bracts. In essence, you lose the natural beauty of an area, the native animals, and any aesthetic or recreational value associated with the land. Residents who paid open space premiums should be especially sensitive to the loss of these values and associated reduced property values
According to both Sperger and Rife, noxious weeds can be managed through integrated management techniques that incorporate chemical, biological, and mechanical methods of control. It can take several years to reduce noxious weed populations and then begin the restoration process. It was repeatedly emphasized that it is important to stop the invasion quickly to reduce weed management and restoration costs. Sperger compared this to fighting a forest fire. In most cases, it is easy to stop the progression or invasion in its early stages, but becomes increasingly more difficult as the invasion progresses.
According to figures presented by HOA#1, it costs several hundred dollars per acre to manage noxious weeds in native open spaces. By comparison, it costs several thousand dollars per acre to irrigate, mow, and otherwise maintain bluegrass landscapes.
Some in attendance were noticeably frustrated. Already aware of the problems associated with noxious weeds and despite their efforts to control weeds on their property, they see their neighbors’ neglected property as a continuing source of seed production and infestation. Some of that frustration was directed at The Ridge because of its past failure to control weeds in the rough part of the course. Rife pointed out that he has spoken with the course’s new management and indicated that they are now more aware and sensitive to the issue. Others were frustrated by developers who disturb land in the development process. Such disturbances give noxious weeds a foothold in the invasion process. Again, Rife pointed out that under new permitting procedures, developers are required to re-seed properties. How well they manage re-seeded areas, including noxious weed management is yet to be seen.
Because noxious weeds have such a negative impact on land use, the State of Colorado has passed a statewide Noxious Weed Law. Under this law, noxious weeds are recognized as a threat to natural resources as thousands of acres of cropland, rangeland and natural habitat are destroyed each year. Under the law, “It is the duty of all persons to use integrated methods to manage noxious weed if the same are likely to be materially damaging to the land of neighboring landowners.” This law authorizes counties and municipalities to manage noxious weeds on private property if not managed by the landowners themselves. County Weed Coordinators, such as Jonathan Rife, assist the public in management efforts, manage weeds on county property, and enforce the control of noxious weeds on private property owners. Using the law is often the most unpleasant method to encourage your neighbors to control their weeds, but it is an option with due process for everyone.
If Robert Frost were alive today, he might wax poetically that good weed control makes good neighbors. If everyone works in tandem to control weeds on their property in the present, we can continue to be good neighbors, good stewards while maintaining the health, aesthetic appeal, and property values of our native open spaces and homes. Such areas are rapidly disappearing from the Front Range. Because Castle Pines North is so biologically diverse and unique, its worth the effort to control noxious weeds on our properties.
The internet provides a wealth of additional information on noxious weeds. A copy of the Colorado Noxious Wed law can be found on the web at www.castlepinescolorado.com under the CPNHOA1 open space section.