New grant arms weed warriors in southern Malheur County

JORDAN VALLEY – A state grant will boost efforts to battle weeds in the southern part of Malheur County.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board granted $143,454 to the Owyhee Watershed Council for weed eradication work near Jordan Valley. Invasive weed species threaten critical sage grouse habitat in the area.

The grant uses state lottery dollars and will be crucial for the future, said Eric Morrison, the Jordan Valley Cooperative Weed Management Area coordinator.

“It definitely helps us keep the doors open and the lights on in our office in Jordan Valley,” said Morrison.

Eric Hartstein of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, said the grant will address a “pretty serious problem” with weeds.

“We use lottery dollars to restore and conserve fish and wildlife habitat and restore land to native grasses important to the sage grouse,” said Hartstein.

The Jordan Valley weed cooperative is an arm of the Owyhee Watershed Council, Morrison said.


“I work with private landowners, the Oregon Department of State Lands, the Vale office of the BLM and I work with private landowners,” said Morrison.

Morrison said his area of responsibility covers about four million acres.

“I go all the way down to the Nevada line. It is a huge amount of acres,” said Morrison.

The Jordan Valley office was opened in 2007, said Morrison. Morrison said his work “augments the efforts of the Malheur County Weed Department.”

“The primary weeds I am working with are Russian knapweed, perennial pepperweed, spotted and defuse knapweeds and white top,” said Morrison.

Invasive weeds are a big problem in Oregon. According to the grant application crafted by Morrison, noxious weeds have invaded more than 5.2 million acres in the state and increase at a rate of 10% each year across the West.

“Invasive weeds will take over native range. They have the ability to push out the native plants and a monoculture that does not provide the food source or necessary cover for wildlife. Sage grouse is a prime example,” said Morrison.

The Owyhee Watershed, which includes the Jordan Valley management area, is classified by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as a critical habitat for sage grouse.

Sage grouse, though, are not the only element of the high desert landscape threatened by invasive weeds.

Infestations of noxious weeds can impact soil and erosion rates and disrupt the region’s normal fire patterns, influence water quality and produce problems for cattle producers on their grazing areas.

The effort to battle noxious weeds is a long twilight war, said Morrison.

“There will always be some there. The idea you will go in and eradicate a weed species that has been here 20 years or so isn’t feasible,” said Morrison.

That means, said Morrison, the work on weeds is more about management than eradication.

“The biggest thing is, it is a matter of getting the noxious weed population down to where a person can live with it so there is still grass and native plants for wildlife,” said Morrison.

Noxious weeds arrived in Malheur County in different ways over the past century.

“Some were brought in as ornamentals. You look at cheatgrass or medusahead, they came in as part of packing material from the old country. They didn’t have things like Styrofoam for dishes, so they’d go out and pull grass and used it as packing material,” said Morrison.

Morrison said other invasive weeds such as Russian knapweed arrived in the county in other seed.

Russian knapweed probably reached North America in the late 1890s as a contaminant of Turkistan alfalfa.

Weed management, said Morrison, isn’t a part-time job. He manages weeds throughout the four seasons of the year, he said.

“There are some that it is worthwhile to go out and spray right now. Russian knapweed, even with the standing plant that has basically gone to sleep, it hasn’t died because it’s root system is still thriving,” said Morrison.

Morrison said no single herbicide can kill every type of weed.

Morrison stressed his role is not just to kill weeds. Educating area landowners is also a priority, he said. The grant will help with such efforts as teaching weed identification, how to treat noxious weeds and the most effective application of herbicides.

“The Jordan Valley Cooperative Weed Management Area is landowner driven. The landowners make the decisions. We have regular meetings dealing with current issues on noxious weeds and every winter we do a winter weed seminar in Jordan Valley,” said Morrison.

Morrison said the seminar is usually well-attended, drawing 45 to 50 people.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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