Idaho Falls Citizen Journalism

Leslie Shumate's picture


The Lemhi County Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) program has been in effect since first established in 1992 with the help of Lemhi County Ag Extension Office Agent Shannon Williams. The CWMA is a partnership comprised of private, federal and state entities in an effort to control weeds within its logical geographical boundaries based on similar land types, use patterns and problem weed species. It is not limited to county lines. 

At the August 28 meeting of the Lemhi County Commissioners Monte Bruhn, owner of the Salmon River Spray and Ag Company, showed a power point presentation of what in his opinion isn’t working about the CWMA program. 

Jeremey Varley has been the county’s Weed Management Supervisor since 2013. He saw Bruhn’s presentation and his reaction was, “Monte didn’t do his homework.” Varley said he feels the need to clear up several points of misinformation. He prefaced his remarks by saying he was speaking only as the former Weed Management Supervisor, not for the county or the state. Referring to Bruhn’s remarks he said, “Had he as an individual come into the office he could have got a lot of his questions answered.” 

Bruhn made the statement that the weed treatments were being applied at the wrong time of year and also said that workers were not wearing Personal Protective Equipment. Varley strongly disputes both statements. “I really do my research with these herbicides to make sure I’m making proper application.” He said the applications are done by the book and by the label.

As an example, Varley used the infestation of Canada Thistle which is causing severe problems for Lemhi Valley ranchers. He said “The best time to spray Canada Thistle is post flower as it goes to seed because that’s when the plant’s in the draw-down phase.” The ‘draw-down phase’ is the cycle of the plant in which it is most likely to suck the herbicide down into the root. Varley said it is the plant’s root which makes the weed such a problem. “The root is perennial; kind of like Quaking Aspen…it goes everywhere.” He said the ranchers asked the CWMA for help and Varley has been working with them as well as with small and large acreage landowners wherever there is a specific problem.

As to the workers not wearing protective equipment Varley said he has never allowed that. He said the crews are equipped with long sleeved shirts, long pants, hats, gloves and everything else required by law. He guessed Bruhn might have seen the crew members at the end of a hot work day after the outer layers of clothing had been shed.

Bruhn made the statement that the county was impacting commercial sprayers by giving away free chemicals which Varley said is also not true since giving away county assets would be a violation of the law. Varley said funding for the spray comes from grants through the Idaho Department of Agriculture and is supplied to residents for specifically identified noxious weed eradication in specific areas. 

Varley did agree with Bruhn that residents were starting to slack off on their weed eradication legal responsibilities and just expecting the county to take care of it. Varley said that’s why he recently revamped the spray-days program. He has been reminding land owners of their legal responsibility for noxious weed removal and also making them aware of their options, one of which is to hire a local commercial spray contractor which he said is less expensive than having the county do it. If the property owner does not eradicate the weeds the county will, at a cost to the land owner. Varley said he has worked closely with local weed spray contractors keeping them informed of potential land owner spraying needs. He equated any alleged decrease in the number of weed spraying businesses to the attrition caused by retirement and relocation rather than competition. Varley said there are several private contractor programs available, for which Bruhn has never applied.

He said “The whole goal of the cooperative weed management area is to work without borders because weeds don’t pay attention to those.” There are four areas in the cooperative, the county, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the Continental Divide and the Barrier Zone. He said, “You’ve got to have a full integrated approach.” 

According to Varley the CWMA is not out there just spraying, it is using the most appropriate and best tools available for a given area. Treatments related to various areas may include; chemical, plant introductions, biological, legal/quarantine, mechanical or working by hand. Varley said the program tries to do everything possible towards the eradication of noxious weeds without creating more of a problem.

Bruhn accused the county of competing with private car wash businesses by way of its Weed Wash Station and hydro seeder. Varley stated the Weed Wash station was paid for and built by the Forest Service, the BLM, Formation Capital and a grant from the state. The county’s only participation was allowing the station to be built on county property. Varley said all entities involved realized vehicles are the chief form of transportation in the proliferation of weed seeds which is why it’s the undercarriage that is washed, not the whole vehicle. 

Varley said he wishes Bruhn had talked to him personally instead of spreading misinformation at the commissioners’ meeting. He said, “I think he really did himself a disservice and his business a disservice by doing that.” 

As of September 6 Varley will become the Section Manager for Noxious Weeds for the Idaho Department of Agriculture in Boise. He said the choice of accepting the state job and moving on to further his career was a bittersweet one, because Lemhi County has provided so much for him and his family. He has lived in Salmon for ten years and his wife Ashley was born and raised here. He said, “They say, once you wash your toes in the Salmon River you’ll be back. I’ve bathed in it more times than I can count. It’s a family. It’s home.” He guaranteed the Varley family will be making many return visits to Salmon.

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