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Stark County weed problems 'out of control,' resident claims

Canadian thistle outside Dickinson's Public Safety Center. (Grady McGregor / The Dickinson Press)1 / 2
A field of weeds south of Dickinson. (Grady McGregor / The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

Nature guides usually show people the beauty of the outdoors, but while driving around the outskirts of Dickinson, Carla Arthaud pointed out the not-so-celebrated and less picturesque part of nature - the weeds.

Arthaud lives on a small farm just south of Dickinson and believes that the spread of noxious weeds in Stark County is reaching crisis levels. She says the problem could get exponentially worse in coming years if the county does not take swift action.

At one point, Arthaud stopped along a dirt road south of Dickinson and pointed to a bush on the side of the road.

"That is Canadian thistle, and each plant will give out 30,000 seeds. When it's not taken care of, it just gets more and more out of control," she said.

According to Arthaud, this year's conditions may also be ripe for the weeds to seed twice the amount that they usually do. Due to the drought, many of Stark County's weeds, such as wormwood, thistle, and spurge plants, dried out and spread their seeds earlier than in past years.

She pointed at the bottom of one thistle plant and said, "We got that moisture in August, so they are green from the bottom again, so some of those weeds are going to seed out a second time."

Billings County Weed Control Officer Katie Clyde confirmed that it has been a particularly challenging year in western North Dakota.

"Weeds are a really competitive species, and they are going to outcompete grass and everything else in a regular year, but especially in a drought year because of the deeper roots (of weeds)," Clyde said.

Stark County Weed Control Officer Jeremy Jepson agreed that weeds were more successful in the drought but also that it wasn't uniform across the county.

"It kind of depends on where you're at," he said, "the leafy spurge seems to be down some but there has been more Canada thistle and wormwood, in some spots, not others."

But for Arthaud, the drought is only working to expose a wider neglect of weed issues by Stark County. Arthaud attended the Stark County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 5, to express her concerns.

She told the commission how bad weed problems have become and that "somewhere the ball is being dropped." Commissioners agreed it was an issue but directed her concerns to Stark County's Weed Control Board.

Arthaud plans to take her issues to the board, but in the meantime she is concerned that weed problems are not being effectively dealt with. She claims that there are problems in understaffing, lack of equipment, accountability and communication.

Arthaud pointed to the fact that Stark County's weed control budget is much higher than neighboring Billings County yet, in her view, is much less effective.

"Billings County has eight pickup (trucks) for spraying and Stark County has two," she said.

Jepson was at the Tuesday commission meeting to advocate for a new vehicle and believes that Stark Weed Control will be able to cover a lot more ground with another truck.

"We're hoping to add another vehicle and maybe some more staff," he said.

Arthaud did however applaud Stark County for having a cost-share program to subsidize the purchase of weed spray, though the last sale of the summer happened on Wednesday.

"(Stark residents) can get weed spray at 60 percent off to spray their personal property, but that is not advertised enough," she said. "Most people don't know about it."

The Press reached out to several members of the Weed Control Board, but the calls weren't returned.

There are a few reasons to expect improved weed control in Stark County in coming years. Stark County's Weed Control Board recently decided not to renew a contract with the City of Dickinson to spray their weeds, which Jepson estimated to take up about a third of his department's work.

Moreover, at the Tuesday commission meeting, Stark County Road Superintendent Al Heiser agreed that he and his crews would soon get trained and begin spraying their own gravel piles, a common problem spot for weeds.

Arthaud thinks these changes will help but still believes that these changes won't be sufficient in tackling future weed concerns.

"The fact that (Stark County) didn't take care of it this year (means) they're going to have a lot harder time getting ahead of it now," she said. "The threat isn't just to the farmers - it's to the ground, it's to Stark County, it's to the residents. The weeds are just going to grow everywhere. It's a threat to community."

Grady McGregor

Grady McGregor is a city and state politics reporter for The Dickinson Press. He joined The Press in July 2017.

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