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Weed awareness can protect favorite places

Feb 24, 2016 Aaron Foster

It's the time of year when Wyoming's weather begins to tease us with a few sunny days warm enough to melt some of the snow off our favorite hiking trails. '

While there's still plenty of winter ahead of us, in light of National Invasive Species Awareness Week, the board and staff at Fremont County Weed and Pest invites you to participate in PlayCleanGo, a national awareness campaign and important local effort to stop the spread of terrestrial invasive species.

You may have seen PlayCleanGo boot brush stations and signs at trailheads in the Lander area -- in Sinks Canyon State Park, at U.S. Forest Service sites on the Louis Lake Loop Road, and at trailheads at Johnny Behind The Rocks and The Bus Loop.

More boot stations are planned for the Dubois area this year.

We hope the stations serve as a reminder to always check your boots, clothing and gear before you leave any recreational site and to clean off any potential hitchhikers you find.

Please use the boot brushes provided at the stations to remove seeds and other plant debris from your boots.

Here's why it matters.

Terrestrial invasive species are non-native plants, typically from Eurasia, that have competitive advantages over our native plants. Seeds from these invaders can get into new areas, usually by accident, clinging to our boots, clothing, pets and vehicles.

The super-plants that spring up when the seeds germinate can spread quickly and overrun a wild space, particularly if the plants go undetected in the backcountry. Many of these invasive plants are undesirable to our native wildlife; some are even poisonous.

The result of an untreated weed infestation can be the reduction of or, in some cases, total loss of native habitats, which support everything from big game animals and livestock to threatened and endangered species.

With only a few known exceptions, the forests and other backcountry areas of Fremont County are in excellent shape - and we intend to keep them that way.

But we only have to look next door to surrounding states to see the potential devastation the arrival of an unwanted super-species can bring to a landscape.

We've seen it in western Montana where spotted knapweed infestations have reduced Rocky Mountain elk habitat by millions of acres.

Or we can look to the Great Basin states of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, where the once diverse sagebrush steppe ecosystem has largely been replaced by non-native cheatgrass deserts, monocultures of unproductive, fire-hungry annual grasslands.

Fortunately, we stand a good chance to keep that kind of destruction from happening here. Prevention is the most effective weed control method there is. That's where you come in - the hiker, equestrian, ORV rider, biker, hunter, angler -- any user of the outdoors.

We ask you to join us in the PlayCleanGo effort by taking the following steps to stop the spread of terrestrial invasive species:

- Arrive to the trailhead, campground or other recreational area with clean gear.

- Burn only local or certified firewood.

- Use weed-free certified hay when feeding livestock in the back country.

- Stay on designated trails as much as possible.

- Before leaving a trailhead or other recreational site, remove mud and all seeds from your shoes and gear.

Not only is it important to avoid bringing weed seeds from other areas into Fremont County recreational sites, we also need to avoid spreading seeds within our county.

A local spot where it's critically important is at The Bus Loop Trails near Lander. On this State Trust land there are persistent infestations of Dalmatian toadflax and leafy spurge that we've been fighting to control for many years.

A mountain biker who doesn't clean off his gear after riding The Bus Loop could spread weed seeds the next time he goes riding somewhere else, such as on the trails at Johnny Behind the Rocks or on a national forest road.

Another worrisome example is if a horseback rider takes a trail ride in the Absarokas above Dubois, then later crosses the valley to ride in the Winds. He could spread non-native oxeye daisy from one mountain range to another.

It will take effort from all of us to keep our recreational places weed-free and I believe we can. Working together we can stop invasive species literally in our tracks, protecting the legacy of Wyoming's great outdoors for generations to come.

You can learn more about the effort online at Also, visit Fremont County Weed and Pest's Facebook page where you can find messages about PlayCleanGo and other news.

Editor's note: Lander resident Aaron Foster is supervisor of the Fremont County Weed and Pest Control District.

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