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Eastern Montana/Dakotas District Office
Release Date: 01/18/12
Contacts: Mark Jacobsen 406-233-2831    

BLM Seeks Beetle Recipients for 2012 Weed Season

With the holidays over and more winter ahead, dealing with noxious weeds may be far from most folk’s minds, yet right now is a perfect time to plan for spring and the fresh crop of undesirable weeds that will surely accompany it.

Leafy spurge –a noxious foreign interloper—has a toe-hold locally and the BLM is seeking landowners interested in getting on a waiting list for flea beetles; a tiny speck of an insect with a taste for spurge.

In fact, while some landowners have put their spraying equipment in the shed for the season, others are continuing to treat their leafy spurge problems in spite of the dormancy period and falling temperatures.

Flea beetles feed on spurge as adults, but inflict the most damage on the noxious weed as larvae; eating holes in the roots and devouring the fine feeder roots used by the plant to absorb water and nutrients. This constant feeding stresses the plant and makes spurge more susceptible to herbicides and other control methods.

Larval feeding declines once soil temperatures drop below 45 degrees, according to information provided by a North Dakota State University paper on flea beetle spurge control.  However, it is possible that the recent mild temperatures this year have allowed larvae continue to apply stress to spurge plants beyond the typical seasonal activity period.

Flea beetles rely completely on spurge for their life cycle. They don’t switch to other plants and once the spurge colony dies out, the bugs do too.

Right now is a perfect time to get on the beetle list, said Brenda Witkowski, BLM weed control specialist at the Miles City Field Office.  

“They’re free and are a very useful tool we can use.  In past years we’ve distributed over a million,” said Witkowski. “More people could be receiving bugs, if we knew who wanted them.”

A waiting list for the hungry insects has been compiled, but more cooperators are needed to receive free beetles to fight infestations on public and private ground, said Witkowski.

The portability of the bugs and their ability to work below ground beyond the growing season has made them a prime candidate for areas where spurge colonies have taken over entire pastures; or remote, rugged locations where continual spraying is difficult.

The Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area (WSA) in Prairie County is an example of an area that has received beetles previously due to its difficult terrain. The WSA is scheduled for another dose of beetles this year to work in concert with the contracted efforts of Tongue River Weed Control which has a contract to spray around 145 acres in the WSA for noxious weeds, especially the Calypso Trail, access roads and infested drainages that threaten private lands.  

Since off-road motorized travel is prohibited in the WSA, spraying will be done via backpack and the beetles will work in conjunction with the chemical applications.

Regardless of treatment types used on infestations, the beetles remain a slow, yet steady bet and can keep the pressure on, until more aggressive measures like spraying or targeted grazing can be employed, said Witkowski.

“The bugs work really well in areas that are really hard to get into. It’s something that works continuously, instead of letting it go unchecked and untreated,” said Witkowski. “In years past we’ve even dropped them from a helicopter in really rough areas.”

On the average, 185 acres have been annually sprayed in the past and will continue to be treated on BLM-managed land within Prairie County. This takes place through an assistance agreement with the county, the BLM summer weed crew and permittees that have a current pesticide applicator’s license.

 The BLM also cooperates with licensed grazing permittees to treat identified infestations on grazing allotments.

“It helps us stretch our dollars further. Permittees know their ranches like the back of their hands.  They know where weed infestations are at on the public and private land,” said Witkowski.

For more information regarding flea beetles or weed control, contact Brenda Witkowski, Miles City Field Office at 233-2800.

For more BLM weed information go to: or visit the Montana Weed Control Association at:  For more information regarding spurge control using flea beetles, see the North Dakota State University Agriculture Extension Service at:

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

Eastern Montana/Dakotas District Office   111 Garryowen Road      Miles City, MT 59301  

Last updated: 06-28-2012