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Presence of noxious weed increasing as community leaders wrestle with how to handle it

PHOTO SUBMITTED BY CROOKED RIVER WEED MANAGEMENT AREA - A growing number of locations in Prineville have become infested with puncturevine.

The Crooked River Weed Management Area focuses on managing noxious weeds within the Crooked River Watershed, an area comprised of 2.9 million acres of land throughout Central Oregon.

While the nonprofit organization targets many weeds, one specific one has seized its attention this spring and summer. Known for the sharp, goat head seeds it leaves behind, puncturevine has become a growing problem in Prineville.

"This year being a wet year, the puncturevine population around the city has increased," said Weed Management Coordinator Debbie Wood. "We have seen it everywhere around the city."

Puncturevine is an annual with a single tap root from which the plant spreads out along the ground like a vine. It tends to grow in heated areas that don't collect a lot of rainwater like driveways, alleyways and sidewalks. As the plant grows larger and matures, it will develop yellow flowers.

"Once you see those blooms come on, then the seed pods – which is the goat heads – will come on immediately," Wood explained.

Consequently, the best time to try to eradicate the weed is before it comes up through the dirt or when it is still small. Wood noted that pulling the puncturevine weed is an effective option before it reaches the rosette stage and starts developing the goat heads.

Spraying the weeds can be effective as well. Crook County Weed Master Kev Alexanian said that a commercial applicator can attack an area where puncturevine grew and seeded the prior year with a 2-ounce rate of Telar herbicide.

"That works in a very pre-emergent fashion," he said. "It'll take out about 90 percent."

Alexanian went on to say that if the plant has reached a foliar stage, a commercial applicator or a private citizen can use a 2-quart rate of 24D Amine herbicide.

"It's dirt cheap and it will knock the daylights out of it," he remarked.

Once the puncturevine plant has matured and is starting to bloom, Alexanian said "you have missed the boat" on managing the weed with herbicides.

"The only thing you can do – the only thing – is to gather it," he said. "I have heard of people using vacuum cleaners to clean (seeds) out of the cracks and sidewalks. It is going to have to be gathered, bagged and destroyed."

Another way to slow down future growth, according to Wood, is to spread Casoron on an area recently infested with puncturevine. However, Casoron should only be applied to an area where you don't want any vegetation to grow.

Puncturevine can spread rapidly and take over an area so the Crooked River Weed Management Area team urges property owners, who are ultimately responsible for keeping the weed under control, to take care of the problem before it reaches that point.

"It's one of those weeds we don't want to let go," Wood said.

However, because the weed is a "B-listed" noxious weed, the nonprofit does not receive as much funding to help residents get rid of puncturevine. So the group has focused on outreach and education.

"We had a trailer at the (Crook) County Fair. We had about 170 people come through. One of the main topics was puncturevine throughout the community," Wood said. "We are here to make recommendations."

Meanwhile, enforcement of weed abatement is handled by the Prineville Police Department, and more specifically by Community Resource Officer James Young. Since the agency lacks the resources to patrol the community in search of noxious weed offenses, he most often deals with puncturevine issues when they are reported by other parties.

"It is complaint-driven," he said.

After hearing concerns from the Crooked River Weed Management Area group, the city of Prineville updated its nuisance ordinance in April to better control noxious weeds in the community. One change, according to Young, was to expand by one month the timeline for which property owners must control weeds. That time window is now April 1 to Nov. 1, rather than May 1 to Nov. 1.

"We wanted to add an extra month of enforcement to get people focused on taking care of the weeds before they become a problem," he said. "Prevention is better than playing catch-up later."

The city also added better definitions regarding the different problems noxious weeds can cause. Vegetation subject to the ordinance can be either a health hazard, a fire hazard or a traffic hazard that impairs the use of a thoroughfare or right-of-way. Also included is any vegetation that is maturing and being allowed to go seed and spread to abutting properties.

Notification of the changed ordinance was sent out with city water bills shortly after its approval.

If the police department receives a complaint or encounters a noxious weed violation, the agency follows a multi-step process to enforce removal of the weed on the property.

The first step is to try to contact the property owner and issue them a 10-day compliance notice.

"Compliance is our main goal," Young said. "There are steps that could lead to enforcement fines and abatement, but we usually start out with a warning."

So far this year, the majority of noxious weed cases have gotten resolved in that 10-day timeframe, Young said. But one time this year, the police were unable to gain compliance and moved onto the next step, posting the property for abatement. During this step, another 10-day notice is posted on the property.

"If nobody responds after those 10 days, we then contract out to a company to come and take care of the weeds," Young said.

The police department pays the bill associated with the work but the property owner is expected to pay the agency to cover the money and time spent on the abatement. Not acting on this requirement within 30 days could result in a lien on the property.

"We have to have recourse to be able to try to recoup our lost time and money," Young said.

Another option considered before abatement is to cite the property owner or occupant. Fines start at $50 and can increase with each offense up to $1,000.

"We have never gotten to that point," Young said.

Accompanying police department enforcement, the city sprays certain portions of the community to try to keep problem weeds at bay. Its weed management program currently focuses on city-owned properties, alleyways and the sides of certain major streets within the city limits.

City Street Supervisor Scott Smith points out that they only spray roads where landscaping does not come up to the edge of the pavement, otherwise lawns or flower beds could get damaged.

"We don't do spraying on sidewalks unless it is adjacent to city-owned property," Smith added, noting that sidewalk maintenance, which includes weed management, is legally the responsibility of the property owner. "The property owner should be spraying those."

Because the city doesn't have a weed master or any person on staff specifically trained for noxious weed management, the municipality contracts out its weed spraying, spending roughly $30,000 per year.

While Crook County has a weed master and a weed control department, Alexanian said it is unable to take any action on puncturevine within the city of Prineville. The only thing the department has jurisdiction to enforce there is A-listed noxious weeds.

He therefore believes the city would benefit from a program that specifically targets puncturevine and takes action against the presence of the weed in Prineville.

"I will gladly work with the city of Prineville in an advisory capacity," he added.

Unless something changes, Alexanian can see the puncturevine problem in Prineville getting much worse in the future.

"This plant is going to consume the town," he warned. "It's scary."

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