Alliance for community agriculture: insects could help in the fight against leafy spurge
Leafy spurge is a Eurasian weed that has aggressively invaded irrigated farmland and riparian habitats in Western Routt and Moffat counties for several decades. Its yellow-green flowers are most prominent along the river in May and June. Leafy spurge is toxic to cattle and horses, degrades habitat for elk and other wildlife, and repels native vegetation.
In the Yampa Valley, it continues to spread downstream — its seeds carried by the river — establishing new infestations along river banks and irrigation ditches.
In 2015, a group of concerned citizens, along with partner agencies and organizations, began working together to help landowners effectively manage this aggressive weed. The Yampa River Leafy Spurge Project is “just an informal group of people who want to find solutions to a problem that threatens the place where we live, care and make a living,” said Ben Beall, local resident and former County of Routt. Commissioner.
The goal of the YRLSP is to provide a local information base to develop effective and economical management strategies to curb spurge growth along the Yampa River and its tributaries.
In 2019, the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable and Moffat and Routt Counties began working together to help fund the YRLSP’s mapping, scientific research and public awareness efforts. Friends of Yampa stepped in to serve as the YRLSP’s local non-profit tax agent to facilitate work between partners.
This fall, the University of Wyoming will complete several YRLSP-sponsored studies aimed at developing: remote sensing technology to detect leafy spurge in large and inaccessible landscape areas; predictive models to help us understand how much vulnerable land we have in the Yampa Valley; and field-tested management tools adapted to floodplain farming systems. These tools will help plan future management efforts. Weed control programs in Routt and Moffat counties are already using new information in their local management efforts.
Volunteers from the Yampa River Leafy Spurge Project have spent hundreds of hours mapping leafy spurge in the field since 2019. The resulting maps are available on the website. YRLSP website. The data collected also contributed to the development and calibration of remote sensing models developed by the University of Wyoming.
One of the most interesting contributions to leafy spurge management has been in the area of biological control.
“Our research suggests that the first releases of biocontrol insects in the Yampa Valley took place three decades ago,” said Peter Williams, a YRLSP volunteer who leads mapping, data management and development. of websites for the group.
Many believed that the many species of beetles released along the Yampa River in the following years had failed to establish themselves. However, work by YRLSP volunteers, in cooperation with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, has shown that beetles are still present from Hayden to Dinosaur National Monument.
In collaboration with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the YRLSP has begun work on building populations of biocontrolled insects. Over the past two years, around 30,000 more insects have been released in carefully chosen locations here in the Yampa Valley.
Tamara Naumann is a volunteer for the Yampa River Leafy Spurge Project and a member of the Friends of the Yampa Board of Directors.