Chemicals and sagebrush

Sep 15, 2019 Steven R. Peck, Publisher

Fremont County has weed and pest issues.

We've been a West Nile virus "leader," if that's the right word to use, for more than a decade, and now the fogging truck prowls the streets every summer for mosquito control.

We've declared war Canadian thistle and Russian knapweed, among other invasive plants. Now we're plotting against a new invader, cheat grass.

We're the biggest sage grouse region in the entire nation, and the sagebrush is vital to the birds' habitat, which faces danger from human development, drought and the impact of the invasive species.

So, two news stories from the past week or so figure prominently in this part of our local public discourse. The first regards a legislative committee bill proposing that the State of Wyoming collect more money for certifying herbicides to be used in the fight against invasive plant species. It's known that these chemicals are effective, but they're expensive for consumers.

The added money gathered up by the state for permitting the chemicals would, under the legislation, be made available to county weed and pest departments to acquire the chemicals at lower cost, along with assisting other local weed/pest programs.

This is the sort of "inside lawmaking" bill that legislators and staff in Cheyenne conjure up, trying to fine-tune bureaucracy so that it does more good. It might take an attorney, an accountant and an English-language translator to explain this stuff to the public, but the intentions are good - and the results can be powerful.

The second story concerns a plant problem being tackled from the far, opposite end of the treatment spectrum. Recognizing the threats and impacts related to sagebrush and the habitat it supports, officials and inmates at the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton have an organized program that has grown more than 40,000 young sagebrush plants.

The little sages are going to be transplanted in areas where invasive plants and humans have done damage to sagebrush, and to other places deemed suitable to introducing the plant.

It might seem to anyone driving from Lander to Casper that we have all the sagebrush we could ever need, but land and wildlife managers know better. A wider, healthier sage prairie helps keep a lot of problems at bay.

Debate flourishes once we humans identify a problem and set out to solve it, with plans and approaches competing for public attention, public approval and, crucially, public funding. A mistake can be made when the powers that be determine not only that one size can fit all, but that it must.

These two approaches to our invasive plant issues aren't necessarily aimed at the same problem, precisely, but they could overlap nicely if the sagebrush plants are placed in areas where the chemical herbicide has done its work.

Neither one is costing the Wyoming taxpayer much of anything. The sellers of the chemicals will be picking up the tab on one side, and the Honor Farm's sagebrush greenhouse is about as low-cost as a program can get.

Beyond that, the complementary ideas are important in demonstrating how there's usually more than one way to skin the cat, so to speak. More often than not, history shows that a balanced approach - and by "balanced," we mean actually balanced, rather than using that word as an excuse to eliminate a competing alternative - the truly balanced approach often is the best way to get something done.

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