Weed issues confront landowners west of Canby

CANBY — Township and county officials in Yellow Medicine County are trying to meet a May 15 deadline to have the best possible 2019 weed control in at least two local townships.

They have until then to revise the county’s weed control ordinance to include the bull thistle and musk thistle. The ordinance change will designate both of them as weeds that can result in enforcement actions if they are allowed to spread unchecked.

Florida Township and Fortier Township, both located west of Canby along the South Dakota border, are seeking the change in order to follow through with weed control in 2019 rather than having to wait another year in situations where a landowner doesn’t wish to cooperate.

“We’ve started the process of identifying locations where control steps are needed,” said Florida Township treasurer Marty Grabow. “The best time to change the ordinance would have been at the annual township meeting (involving all of Yellow Medicine County’s 21 townships). We didn’t do it at that point because we didn’t know it was needed.”

Both townships hired Dawson-based agronomist Mike Mammele to inspect land areas that appeared to have weed outbreaks. The three main weed concerns involve bull thistle, musk thistle, and Canadian thistle — only one of which is regulated by the current ordinance.

Mammele said Florida and Fortier townships each decided to contract with him in order to keep weed issues from causing animosity between neighbors. As a qualified agronomist who lives more than 10 miles from the area subject to inspection, he said he can make enforcement decisions with no potential conflict of interest.

“Unless the ordinance is changed, it will mean the townships won’t be able to follow through on what they hired me for,” Mammele said. “It’s reached the point where weed control should happen as soon as possible. The conditions would be much worse and harder to correct if it has to wait another year.”

Both townships have the highest elevations in the county. As a result, land use involves a higher percentage of pastures than townships located to the east of Canby.

Jolene Johnson of the Yellow Medicine County Planning and Zoning office brought the weed ordinance revisions to county commissioners last week. Revisions usually start with annual meeting approval from the townships. They then go to the county board followed by a review from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Commissioner Gary Johnson suggested asking for letters of support from the remaining 19 townships to give them a chance to comment on the issue.

The board then agreed to revisit the proposed changes after townships have a chance to express their wishes. The next regular commissioners meeting is scheduled for April 9. A special meeting could be called if needed to meet the May 15 deadline, which would need to be attended by at least three commissioners.

Johnson said there should be enough time to have board action in early April, get approval from the state, and then publish the ordinance with the changes before the May 15 publication deadline.

“I sympathize with the landowners,” said Commissioner Ron Antony. “I have weed concerns on my own pastureland. It’s just that we as a county don’t believe the state should give us unfunded mandates, especially if we’re not asked. I’d like to have some township input.”

He said he’ll support the changes if some of the remaining townships express support, noting that if any of them don’t comment they at least had the opportunity.

The county, as well as Florida and Fortier townships, isn’t expecting any concerns from other township boards. The bull thistle and musk thistle are both highly invasive weeds that crowd out other vegetation, both non-native and native grasses. They have few if any environmental benefits.

Johnson said that based on her prior work with the state, it should be possible to finalize the new ordinance terms before May 15. Although control steps in 2019 won’t completely eradicate the three thistle species, it’s expected to reduce their populations by about one half and to allow for better grass stands favorable to livestock grazing, erosion control, and water quality protection.

“It’s a narrow time frame, but it should work as planned,” Johnson said. “The Department of Ag will be aware of the time factor, so as long as there’s no unexpected delay the changes will be effective next month.”

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