North Fork Weed Coop – A Watershed Initiative in Northern Larimer County

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by Linda Bell, North Fork Weed Coop Education and Outreach Committee Member

 
Volunteer firemen, their families, and members of the North Fork Weed Coop working at the #2 Livermore, Colorado fire station along CR 80.

Weeds – they come on the wind, they drift on the water, and travel overland with help from livestock and humans. Before a rancher, land steward, ditch company, or public land manager can say “blink,” a critical mass of an invasive alien plant species has grabbed a chunk of their best land for habitation.

In the late 1990s the problem came to a head in northern Larimer County, where minimal steps were being taken by individuals and public land stewards, but not through any official channels, to limit the spread of noxious weeds. In the southern part of the county, a newly-established tax-supported weed district assured landowners of at least some form of weed control – but the northern half of the county was not included.

In 1998 representatives of several public agencies and private ranchers in the area acknowledged invasive weeds were becoming a greater problem in the North Fork of the Poudre River watershed. Later that spring they sponsored a public meeting to determine ways of improving control over invasive weeds on private and public lands in the watershed.

The Nature Conservancy, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the North Poudre Irrigation Company, the U.S. Forest Service, the Landowners Association for Phantom Canyon Ranches, and private landowners spearheaded the initiative.

In October 1998, Heather Knight, Land Steward for The Nature Conservancy, and Dave Clarkson, Area Wildlife Manager for CDOW, hosted a meeting in Fort Collins to gage interest among state and local agencies, private organizations and individuals for creating an organization to address the invasive weed problem in the North Fork watershed. There was enough interest to forge ahead. In mid-summer of 1999, twenty people attended a public meeting held at the Livermore Community Hall to hear about a proposal to create a Cooperative Integrated Weed Management Area in Livermore. By September, the cooperative included 13,700 acres represented by The Nature Conservancy, Phantom Canyon Landowners Association, CDOW State Wildlife Areas, the Abbey of St. Walburga, and private ranch land. Later that same year the weed management area grew to over 40,000 acres.

That fall the nascent Cooperative developed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a relationship between organizations that would allow for weed control across boundaries within the watershed and to share resources. Initial funding came from a CDOW $15,000 grant for weed control on its Livermore properties to begin July 2000 if matched in kind by the rest of the Cooperative.

By 2000 the ball really started to roll across invasive weeds in Northern Larimer County. The Cooperative established short and long-term goals, a budget which included a Weed Coordinator 60% of the year, mapping protocols and priorities, best use of herbicide along roadsides and ditches, and weed management workshops. In early 2001 the Coop’s Constitution and By-Laws were set down and adopted, and the organization officially became the North Fork Weed Cooperative.

 
Volunteers at the #2 Livermore Fire Station use the North Fork Weed Coop seed bank and appropriate planting methods to ensure maximum benefit to the restored land.

In 2003 the Coop met requirements to become a non-profit charitable tax-exempt organization. Activities initiated by the Coop included methods and management workshops, weed tours, and a native seed cost share program. Various Coop demonstration projects, such as a riparian restoration project at Rabbit Creek Ranch, resulted in willow re-growth and increased habitat for the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse. These activities and demonstration projects, in addition to a color brochure about the Coop mailed to 1000 homeowners in the watershed, brought increasing awareness and membership to support the Coop’s mission.

Currently there are 10 agency and organization partners and 30 individual Coop members, representing about 200,000 acres in integrated weed management. The Coop has 8 community demonstration projects that all show signs of success and there is a heightened general awareness in the community toward promoting and maintaining good land stewardship.

The North Fork Weed Coop’s mission statement includes working cooperatively on a long term basis with willing community members to steward native plant and animal communities throughout the North Fork of the Poudre watershed; integrating weed management efforts by coordinating management across public and private lands, prioritizing resources and strategies, and promoting best management practices; disseminating information and knowledge about integrated weed management and ecological restoration that supports successful land stewardship; and creating a community-led model of cooperative stewardship that can be exported to other sites. More information about the Coop can be found on their website at http://www.northforkweedcoop.org.