Monday, January 31, 2011

Got Weeds? So Now What?

It is quiet common for us to receive calls from people complaining about weeds on their neighbor’s property. You can understand the annoyance of someone that works hard to control the weeds on their property, only to have the neighbor’s weeds continue to seed the whole area. There ought to be a law that your neighbors have to control their weeds, right?  Of course, if there was such a law, it would apply to everyone, including you and I. Hmmm, maybe we should think about that very carefully.

            The Oregon Department of Agriculture is thinking about weed regulations and gathering input from interested parties. Here is the background:

            The last legislature passed a law declaring noxious weeds to be a public nuisance. It is important to note up front that the dandelions in your lawn and many other common weeds are not official state noxious weeds. Only the really bad ones that cause economic or ecological harm are listed by the State Weed Board as noxious. You can find the list at:

            Last fall the Department started the process of turning the legislature’s directive into policy. The first thing we did was ask for help from people all over the state that care about weed issues. Here is the email we sent out to our weed list serve:

“Dear Cooperators,
ODA needs your help. In the last legislative session, Oregon's noxious weed statutes were consolidated, updated, and expanded (ORS 569). Included in this rewrite was new authority to address noxious weeds as a public nuisance:

ORS 569.180: ". . .noxious weeds are declared to be a public nuisance and shall be detected, controlled, and where feasible, eradicated on all lands in this state. It is declared to be the policy of this state that priority shall be given first to the prevention of new infestations of noxious weeds and then to the control, and where feasible, eradication of noxious weeds in infested areas."

It is time for us to develop regulations clarifying what this means for you, me, and the other citizens of Oregon. Before ODA puts pen to paper to develop draft rule language, we'd like your thoughts on what should be included in the regulations.

Below are some questions to stimulate thinking. Are there other questions you'd like us to consider?  What issues/gaps would you like to see addressed?

1.) The State Weed Board classifies noxious weeds as "A" (highest priority for exclusion/eradication) or "B" (bad, but too late for eradication). How should this classification be applied to land mangers that have noxious weeds on their land?

2.) What about "T" (current target weeds, either A or B) weeds? Should a T/B be a different priority than a non-T/B?

3.) Enforcement of noxious weed regulations has been exclusively a county function, but not all counties have weed programs. Is there an enforcement role for the State, especially in counties without weed programs?

4.) The new law grants ODA "access to all lands within this state to carry out ORS 569.175 to 569.195."  It also says "no person shall fail to cooperate with the State Department of Agriculture in the administration" of these laws and the "rules promulgated pursuant thereto . . . " Further it states that: "if abatement procedures are required of a landowner, recommend that the landowner and the department jointly develop a management strategy or plan. . . " How would that look in practice?

5.) ORS 569.185 directs ODA to "administer and enforce" an "integrated weed management approach that focuses on the prevention of noxious weeds. . ."  How should we do that?

We'd appreciate your thoughts as we start down this road. There will be lots of other chances to provide comments, but this is your best opportunity to help shape the overall framework. Thanks for your help. We look forward to your input.”

       The response was huge. We got over fourteen pages of comments!  Four themes appeared over and over:

1.)  Whatever you do, make it simple to understand and easy comply with.
2.)  “B” weeds do matter.
3.)  Don’t interfere with existing programs that are working.
4.)  People need more information about weeds and how to control them.

            The next step was for us was to brainstorm how we could convert these ideas into regulations that would work in the real world. This week our Noxious Weed Control staff grappled with that issue and settled on a direction we’ll soon propose as a draft regulation. The nutshell version is that we’ll be proposing to amend OAR 603-052-1200 (Noxious Weed Quarantine, which prohibits importing and selling noxious weeds), to clarify ODA/County/ landowner responsibilities for weeds in the landscape.

“A”-rated weeds would continue to be handled by ODA with the goal of early detection and rapid response (EDRR), i.e., eradication. Dealing with “B”-rated weeds would be the landowner’s responsibility. Enforcement of “B”-weeds issues would be on a case-by-case basis through the county weed district system, as it is now. ODA would continue to be a source of information, technical help, weed identification, and biological control agents for all weeds.

            That is the proposal. You can expect proposed rule-language later this winter and a public comment period in the spring. What do you think?  Are we on the right track?  Would it work for both you and your neighbor?

Dan Hilburn

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