After months of sometimes contentious meetings, and a lot of hard work and study, Ridgway’s Weed Committee presented its draft Integrated Weed Management Plan to town council last week.
Some had anticipated fireworks Wednesday night, as opponents of chemical spraying, who had given emotional voice to their concerns for years, were expected to appear. But instead just one anti-Milestone (herbicide) advocate showed up, lawyer Susan Baker of Solar Ranch, and she had mostly conciliatory words for the committee. “I think it’s a great compromise,” she said, referring to the document’s clear preference for using non-chemical control methods, including goats, wherever possible. “I want to thank the committee for keeping our kids and pets safe. Education, notice, respect is so important,” she said.
Town Clerk Pam Kraft, a committee member, reinforced the point. In each case, given a specific weed and a specific location, “the use of chemicals would be the last resort,” she said in a brief overview of the draft.
Most of the rest of the committee were present as well, including Public Works Director Joanne Fagan and councilmembers John Clark and Ellen Hunter. The public works department will be charged with implementing the plan once it’s adopted, and deciding when and where chemical applications are needed.
Also in the room were committee members Dickson Pratt, Heather Bussey Patterson, and Jean McDonnell, who is registered with the state as a chemically sensitive person. “My hat’s off to the town for sincerity of intention,” she said. “For listening to all viewpoints. The patience was there. There are real safeguards in [the plan], for the humans and the animals.
“I’m on the committee because I don’t want to bump into chemicals,” she continued. “But we also have a legal obligation as a town to control our weeds. I see this [integrated approach] as the least toxic way. I think we’re ahead of the pack here.”
The plan lays out four management options: biological, chemical, cultural and mechanical. Mechanical methods include hand pulling of weeds, mowing, weed whacking, etc. Cultural management covers a broad spectrum of behaviors, including the minimizing of disturbance during new construction and the seeding and encouraging of native and desirable plants to outcompete noxious weeds. Chemical control is the most controversial, but will probably be necessary, said Ouray County Weed Manager Ron Mabry, to get a handle a couple of the town’s highest priority weeds, leafy spurge and spotted knapweed.
Biological controls are among the most diverse and experimental. The town and the county – the two entities have signed an intergovernmental agreement on weed control and share Mabry’s services – have looked into introducing insects to specific weed infestations. Certain insects feed on certain plants, and the method has been successful elsewhere in reducing weed populations. Insects won’t eliminate a weed population, but they can reduce its seed production and keep it from spreading.
The problem, Kraft explained, is that the bugs may not survive Ridgway’s cold winters. An initial application is not expensive, around $100, but if the bugs don’t overwinter and breed, the experiment could get expensive.
There are other biological methods mentioned in the plan. Bussey Patterson said that the county “wants to do a test plot in Ridgway using a mycorrihzal, or fungus treatment, at no cost to the town.” The mushroom spores have been shown to kill the seeds in certain weed species.
Without doubt the most talked about biological (mechanical?) tool discussed was the goats. Goats can eat a lot of weeds. And the town is committed to trying them in four locations beginning next month.
Weed manager Mabry reported that he was close to signing an agreement with a Montrose woman who would bring her 70 goats to Ridgway for the summer. Mabry wants to put goats up at Lake Otonawanda to gnosh Canada thistle. They will attack thistle and knapweed, Hoary Cress and Common Burdock at the town’s wastewater treatment plant. And they will munch portions of the athletic fields and Rollans Park by the river.
“We have detailed prescriptions for each location,” Mabry said. “Fifteen goats somewhere for 10 days, move them over here, etcetera. Then they come back 20 days later for another go . . . I’m kind of excited about it. I want to see if it works.”
Newly sworn-in councilman Jim Kavanaugh had a question: “Don’t you want to do a test plot first? To see how the goats are going to work out?”
“No,” Mabry said. “We’re jumping in with both feet.”
Medical Marijuana Licensing Put Off for Another Year
Ridgway Town Council last Wednesday was prepared to discuss the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries in town, when Town Attorney John Kappa advised them that a bill in the state legislature was likely to extend the state’s deadline for developing licensing regulations by another year, until July 2012. (And indeed, last week the legislature did extend its timetable by an additional year.)
Kappa advised the council “to extend our moratorium to go along with the state scheme.” And council agreed, voting unanimously to “keep the town under moratorium until the state licensing process begins.”
Kappa reviewed that the licenses would be for three possible types of medical marijuana facilities: dispensaries, growing operations, and infused product manufacturing, like tinctures and food products. The town has already adopted an ordinance, he reminded council, that allows such businesses in the town’s industrial zone and in part of its commercial zone. He said the licensing would be “very similar to liquor licenses.”
Voyager – Survey Reveals Substance Use by Ouray Youth
Karla Cline, executive director of the Voyager Youth Program, gave a presentation on youth substance use at Ridgway’s regular town council meeting last week. Her PowerPoint was subtitled: “Is it an Issue of Concern for Ouray County?”
Her answer was, clearly, yes. Though she stopped short of suggesting specific actions the town might be able to take to combat the problem.
Cline’s figures came from an in-schools survey called Colorado Healthy Kids Survey that was administered in 2009-2010 by Voyager and scored by a Denver firm called OMNI Institute. The survey was completely anonymous – the kids felt free to express themselves honestly, she said – and broad-based, with questions on all kinds of behaviors, like “Do you always wear a seatbelt?”
The conclusion, Cline said, is that there is “widespread and consistent substance use” by school-age children in Ouray County.
She gave a few examples. To a question regarding consumption of alcohol within the last 30 days, 21 percent of Ridgway and Ouray middle-schoolers said yes. Forty-nine percent of high school students said they had consumed alcohol in the period. The national average, Cline said, is 29 percent.
Marijuana use, Cline said, is “higher than the national average.” Binge drinking is “significantly higher.”
Thirty-one percent of high school students reported having been sold (or given) alcohol or drugs at school.
“We’re not talking here about medical marijuana, or what you and I might do as adults,” Cline told the council. “We’re trying to bring this issue out of the subjective (‘Well, I did it as a kid, and I turned out OK.’) into the objective. Young brains can be permanently damaged by substance use. The memory function is especially hard-hit. Teens get drunk twice as easily as adults. Their judgment, their understanding of consequences to their actions, is not yet fully developed. The health risks are real and include accidents, sexual activity and sexual disease.
“You need to hear a consistent message,” she said, “at home, at school and from the community, that youth substance use is an unhealthy choice that can have detrimental unintended consequences now and in the future.”
She ended on a positive note, saying that Voyager was preparing to host its annual After-Prom Party, which has in recent years attracted large numbers of pro-goers to a safe and substance-free good time.