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Stark County noxious weed problem grows with oil boom

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Weeds like leafy spurge, Canada thistle and wormwood are taking over Stark County and area farmers and landowners want to make sure county officials have a game plan to deal with the weeds that have gotten worse as the oil boom has grown.

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A group of concerned citizens addressed the Stark County Commission during its regular meeting at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson on Tuesday morning a little more than a week after officials from Billings, Dunn and Hettinger counties joined Stark County in an informational meeting about weeds in southwest North Dakota.

"We're looking for some possible policy changes and probably some ideas on how we can deal with the noxious weeds that have so proliferated since our last big oil boom took off," said Byron Richard, a Belfield-area farmer.

The commission unanimously approved a motion attaching weed control responsibility to those putting in power lines, pipelines and other infrastructure needs.

The citizens' group wanted an enforcement mechanism for weed control similar to that of unmowed ditches, Richard said. The county will mow the ditches of those who do not complete the task themselves and charge the landowner for the county's services.

And while the issue is prevalent on private lands, county-owned properties were just as likely to have weeds, Commissioner Jay Elkin said.

"We need to lead by example too," Elkin said. "Our pits are full themselves and we're telling everybody else to clean up their act?"

Stark County's road department could complete some of the spraying, and his department would work to get crew members certified to spray the required chemicals, Road Supervisor Al Heiser said.

"I can do it," Heiser said. "I'll get some guys to go on Fridays and Saturdays and get it done."

Stark and Billings counties share Weed Control Officer Diane Allmendinger.

"I think she's overextended," Richard said. "That's just my thought on that. You probably need somebody more full time, similar to what other counties have."

A lack of awareness on the part of landowners could also be adding to the weed issue.

"I wouldn't see anything wrong with doing a yearly notice, whether it be an ad that's purchased in the newspaper or something that's talked about on the radio talk shows," Commission Chairman Ken Zander said.

Those not spraying for weeds may be making a conscience effort not too, resident Ron Decker said.

"If you send a letter, I think the people who are conscience about weeds are taking care of them," Decker said. "But the guy who's not is taking that letter and throwing it in the garbage."

Commissioner Russ Hoff said some people may be making an honest effort to control their weeds but fail.

"I don't think any of us that are farmers and ranchers don't have weeds on our land," Hoff said. "That's just the way it is, that's the way it's always been, that's the way it always will be. But yes, there's areas where you say, 'That person isn't trying at all.' But if it's tough for me to sit here and say, 'Yeah, they should be taking care of their weeds.' I have the too. I try it. I don't get all of them, but I sure give it my best try."

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Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
(701) 456-1206
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