Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

State Invests $1.3 Million to Fight Fire-Prone Weeds

UDAF has awarded $1,300,000 in grants to fight the spread of invasive weed species throughout Utah. Controlling the spread of invasive weeds is one means to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires. A total of 41 projects were chosen for funding this year. Ten of those are continuation projects from last year. The other 31 are new projects.

The 10 continuing projects target weed species that are highly invasive and greatly increase the risk of wildfires. Cheatgrass (June grass), medusahead, squarrose knapweed, and rush skeletonweed are targeted species that out compete native species, dry out earlier in the summer, and increase the intensity and spread of wildfires. To this point, the targeted weeds are concentrated in certain geographic areas. Aggressive control efforts are designed to stop their spread statewide.

“We are pleased to continue funding several important projects started last year, that have shown a high degree of success,” said Rich Riding, Plant Industry weed specialist.“ Many of this year’s new projects will focus on many of the same invasive weed species, but in additional geographic areas.”

Counties receiving grant funds to fight invasive weeds are: Cache, Box Elder, Morgan, Salt Lake, Tooele, Wasatch, Weber, Duchesne, Uintah, Utah, Emery, Garfield, Grand. Wayne, Sevier, Sanpete, Juab, Beaver, Millard, Iron, Washington, San Juan, Kane, Daggett, and Rich.

One of the continuing projects is along the shores of Utah Lake, in Utah County, where a water loving weed, phragmites, has taken over much of the shoreline. Phragmites chokes off native vegetation, which impacts wildlife and recreation at the lake. In 2012 helicopter spraying and mechanical removal of the invasive weed at the Lindon boat harbor resulted in the return of native species on the beach. Additional phragmites removal work will be done this year in the same area and other nearby beaches.

“The long term goal of the project is to return all the beaches around the lake to a healthy, usable condition,” said Aaron Eager, Utah County Weed Supervisor. “Working in cooperation with the Utah Lake Commission, great progress has been made to reclaim beaches and restore desirable vegetation.”

In recent years the UDAF has awarded approximately $150,000 - $200,000 annually to counties and other interested parties to control the spread of invasive weeds at the local level. In 2012, the Utah State Legislature made $1 million available for the fight of invasive species, through Senate Bill 61, sponsored by Ralph Okerlund, (R) Monroe, Utah. These funds are an extension of the “war on cheatgrass,” initiated by UDAF Commissioner Leonard Blackham, following the Milford Flat fire (2007). The Milford Flat fire, Utah’s largest wildfire to date (363,052 acres), was fueled largely by cheatgrass.

“With the additional funding we hope to focus on more watershed scale projects this year,” added Riding. “These large scale projects require multi-year planning and implementation to restore native plant populations.” Project selection was based on the probability of measurable success, and a high degree of cooperation between government agencies, local workgroups and private landowners.Grant funding decisions were made and approved by the Utah Conservation Commission on June 19, 2013.

Funds will be available by the end of July.