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Northern New Mexico Cooperative Weed Management Area declares war on noxious weeds

ABIQUIU - Some people see wildflowers as pretty, but many of those pretty plants are noxious weeds that are invasive to agricultural operations.

Jesse LeFevre, NMSU's Jicarilla Apache Reservation extension agent, applies a herbicide on a noxious weed found in Rio Arriba County. Sixteen partners have formed Northern New Mexico Cooperative Weed Management Area to help landowners learn how to control noxious weeds from invading their property. (Photo by NMSU Photo)

The soil and water conservation districts (SWCD) of Rio Arriba County - Upper Chama and East Rio Arriba - have formed the Northern New Mexico Cooperative Weed Management Area (NNMCWMA) and are declaring war on noxious weeds.

"When I visit friends, I see that they have picked the flowers of some of these weeds and have them in vases in their home," said Leroy Salazar, treasurer of the weed management partnership and chairman of Eastern Rio Arriba SWCD. "They don't realize that these plants are dangerous, not just to their animals and land, but to their grandchildren if they were to eat the flowers."

Salazar and Agapito Candelaria, of the NNMCWMA and chairman of Upper Rio Arriba SWCD, realized it takes all landowners private and government to work together to control the invasive plants. That is why throughout the county from Espanola to the Colorado state line, there are 16 organizations teaming together to educate and train the people on how to control the plants.

"Weeds are an ever growing problem. If you just battle them in one area you can't contain them. It takes the entire community working to have success in eliminating them," Candelaria said.

Partners in NNMCWMA include New Mexico State University Rio Arriba County Extension, Rio Arriba County, Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service at Santa Fe National Forest and Carson National Forest, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) at the Chama and Espanola field offices, Jicarilla Apache Nation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, New Mexico State Land Office, New Mexico Department of Transportation District 5, New Mexico State Forestry, New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) and the soil and water conservation districts.

There are 14 Cooperative Weed Management Areas in New Mexico. Over the past three years New Mexico has seen a dramatic increase in the number of management areas. This growth has been in response to the increasing threat that New Mexico is facing from noxious weeds.

"These non-native plant species are extremely invasive and are having tremendous impact on New Mexico's natural and economic resources," said Jim Wanstall, NMDA's state noxious weed coordinator. "Management areas are a partnership of federal, state and local government agencies, tribes, individuals and various interested groups cooperating to manage noxious weeds or invasive plants in their area." The three top noxious weeds threatening Rio Arriba County are the Russian knapweed, spotted knapweed and many of the thistle species, including Canada thistle, Wanstall said.

Tony Valdez, NMSU Rio Arriba County extension agent, and Tomas Gonzales, NRCS Espanola Field Office district conservation, help landowners identify the noxious weeds on their property and provide suggestions on how to control the spread of these plants.

"We make them aware of the noxious weed problem and then we educate them on tools to control the problems, which may include chemical applications," Valdez said. A person also needs to understand the biology of the plant and attack it at its weakest point, he said.

NNMWMA set a goal of treating 100 acres in 2008. With the financial assistance of the Rio Arriba County Commission the group was able to work on 307 acres. John Garcia led the campaign as the noxious weed coordinator. His job is to link NNMCWMA with the landowners by helping them identify noxious weeds and treat the plants.

"I educated the landowners and trained them on how to fight the weeds," Garcia said, adding that 99 percent of his job was educational.

"The hardest thing was getting people to understand the seriousness of having noxious weeds on their land, and the urgency they should take in attacking the problem," Garcia said. "I think the people of Northern New Mexico have just lived with these weeds. We haven't realized or been made aware of the impact the weeds have on our land. Some people say, 'That's a pretty flower, it won't hurt to leave it there.' Then the next year they say, 'Gee. That sure grew a lot.' Instead of having a little problem the weed has now taken over the garden or field."

Garcia said that as a farmer he realized he had problems with field bindweed. He thought if he plowed it under it would go away but instead it multiplied. After a year as a weed management coordinator, he said he changed how he manages his fields to help decrease the weed.

"I didn't know much about noxious weeds when I started working the weed management area. Luckily, Tony Valdez trained me daily. I learned to use him as my main resource for answering questions from the public," Garcia said.

For more information about the program, contact Tony Valdez at 685-4523, or Tomas Gonzales at 753-7390.