Thinking Outside the Norm - Building County Noxious Weed Programs Through Collaborative Efforts

Shelly L. Simmons
April 3rd, 2019
 
 
Most county noxious weed programs have taken a very standard organizational approach: They are housed within county government, sustained by county tax revenues, and employ one or two full-time employees and a few seasonals. 
 
However, many Colorado counties do not have active or robust noxious weed programs. Why? The most prevalent answer is most counties do not have a big enough tax base to support a stand-alone noxious weed program. Other public health and safety programs take precedent due to limited financial resources.
 
Las Animas County, in particular, poses many challenges for noxious weed management. It is the largest county within the State (and one of the largest in the Nation), at roughly 4,700 square miles and boasting 1,700 miles of county roads. It is also one of the least populated counties in the State, thus it has a very small tax base. County resources are very limited and must focus on essential services like maintaining roads and public safety. Over the years, the County has maintained a small program for annual treatment of County Right-of-Ways and spraying of List A species, but there has never been enough County fiscal resources to grow their noxious weed program.
 
So how can a county create a noxious weed program not directly housed within county government? Our answer has been through the local conservation district in conjunction with many supporting partners. Local conservation districts are perfectly positioned to administer noxious weed programs within a county, as long as noxious weed management fits within district priorities.
 
The Purgatoire Watershed Weed Management Collaborative (PWWMC) was born out of the desire of many partners to establish a comprehensive noxious weed program for Las Animas County. Comprehensive meaning not only increasing the County’s ability to treat more miles of ROW and acres of List A species, but also providing the additional capacity to run private lands noxious weed programs, coordinating county-wide noxious weed mapping among all land management jurisdictions, and heavily promoting public education and outreach efforts. The only way to make it happen was to combine the resources of several key organizations.
 
PWWMC’s organizational structure has worked very well, and noxious weed control has exponentially increased on an annual basis since its inception in 2016. There is one full-time coordinator, who implements all program components and supervises one part-time hourly employee. The Spanish Peaks Purgatoire River Conservation District (SPPRCD) houses PWWMC:  The SPPRCD Board of Directors provides oversight for PWWMC, manages over 90% of awarded funding, employs the part-time noxious weed technician, houses and provides substantial financial support for four private lands noxious weed programs, serves as the formal partner for an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Las Animas County to assist the County with ROW and List A treatments, provides administrative support for PWWMC and recently purchased a UTV, spray rig and spray logger system to expand the noxious weed program.
 
RiversEdge West (formerly Tamarisk Coalition) was critical in getting PWWMC up and running. REW employs the PWWMC Coordinator, provides substantial administrative support, has brought diverse funding and partners into the fold of PWWMC and heavily assists PWWMC with operational and funding strategies.
 
Las Animas County, through their IGA with SPPRCD, provides support for PWWMC through the use of a County Vehicle and other County equipment as needed, mechanical assistance for SPPRCD equipment, maintaining and managing all County noxious weed mapping data, and in 2019, is providing financial assistance for the noxious weed technician.
 
PWWMC has thus far relied heavily on state, federal, non-profit and foundational grants. Thus, the Coordinator spends much of her time researching potential funding sources, writing grants, grant reporting and managing grant funding. Organizations that have provided substantial financial support for PWWMC include: Colorado State Forest Service, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Department of Agriculture Noxious Weed Fund, Gates Family Foundation, REW’s Restore Our Rivers program and Duck’s Unlimited through a US Fish and Wildlife Service grant.
 
The ultimate goal for PWWMC is to become a stand-alone program housed within the Spanish Peaks-Purgatoire River Conservation District. However, in order for this to happen, much work remains to secure long-term, sustainable funding such as through local philanthropic organizations/landowners, increasing the current SPPRCD mil levy, and though other creative fundraising efforts. 
 
One major challenge that PWWMC has faced is funding for capacity (i.e. the people needed to run noxious weed programs). Many funders to do not want to fund “people” but only project work; but project work cannot move forward without designated people to make it happen. PWWMC has taken on that challenge by trying to stimulate change within several funding organizations, bringing this issue to the forefront; in order for many Colorado Counties to achieve successful noxious weed programs, funding for capacity must be a priority. PWWMC hopes to serve as a model for other Counties struggling to establish a noxious weed program.
 
The first step for creating the backdrop for a sustainable noxious weed program has been implementing on-the-ground noxious weed control and land restoration projects, proving PWWMC success to stakeholders and funders. Stay tuned for Part II – PWWMC Accomplishments.
 
Shelly L. Simmons
Coordinator, Purgatoire Watershed Weed Management Collaborative
Spanish Peaks-Purgatoire River Conservation District/RiversEdge West

RiversEdge West's

mission is to advance the restoration of riparian lands through collaboration, education, and technical assistance.

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