Heritage Act would protect Front from noxious weeds

Heritage Act would protect Front from noxious weeds


Lewis and Clark County encompasses a significant part of the Rocky Mountain Front and includes some of the finest wildlands and productive agricultural lands in the state. As a county commissioner and a member of the Weed Board, I was interested in a recent report on the economic and ecological impacts of noxious weeds on the Rocky Mountain Front.

The findings that noxious weeds are an economic burden on taxpayers and a growing ecological disaster for our wildlife came as no surprise, but I was heartened to see an otherwise disheartening issue get so much attention.

In most cases, noxious weeds originate in other countries, and they have no natural competitors or predators to keep them in check here in Montana. Because of that, they are unrelenting, and they quickly push out and take over Montana's native plants.

This means loss of critical winter range for our elk and deer populations, fewer nesting places for our upland bird species, and a general loss of habitat for our world-class wildlife populations.

Noxious weeds also cost Montana's agricultural industry millions of dollars each year in forage and crop losses. On the Front, where both agriculture and wildlife drive the local economy, the report points out that more resources, better cooperation and a coherent strategy for fighting noxious weeds is needed.

First and foremost, the most effective, economical and ecologically viable method of managing weeds is to prevent invasion.

Good proactive weed management strategies rely on prevention or early detection of new invasions in addition to management of existing infestations.

A comprehensive, systematic approach for preventing introduction and spread of noxious weeds is essential. That's why it makes sense on the Front to invest adequate resources now, so we don't lose our wildlife habitat and agricultural heritage in the future.

While there is no silver bullet when it comes to fighting noxious weeds, folks on the Front are committed to collaborative conservation efforts and finding creative solutions.

Over the last several years I have seen this happen as ranchers and land owners have rolled up their sleeves to hash out the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act.

The act includes a section that responds directly to the concerns about noxious weeds and aims to deal with the problem through on-the-ground engagement of the Front's four counties.

The Heritage Act would require land managers at the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to prioritize noxious weed management on public lands and to develop a comprehensive strategy for fighting noxious weeds including setting goals, identifying challenges, and working cooperatively with counties and private landowners.

The Heritage Act would also provide the foundation for securing new federal funding to help counties fight noxious weeds and assist willing private land owners.

As always, politics are an essential part of the equation when it comes to addressing natural resource challenges.

We won't know if the Heritage Act is a viable tool in our weed management toolbox unless it becomes law.

Our delegation has strong ties to the agricultural community and cares about family farmers and ranchers. Now is the time for Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg to support the Heritage Act and help protect the Front's working landscape and wildlife heritage.

I urge all Montanans who care about the economic and habitat values of the Front to contact our delegation today about introducing this wise, balanced, and locally crafted piece of legislation