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Sierra Club Volunteers Wage War
on Weeds in Colorado

Photo of Sierra Club volunteers.
Members of a Sierra Club service project volunteer
their "vacation" time to pull weeds on BLM lands.
Here, they take a break near the Delores River in Colorado.

Armed with shovels and lots of enthusiasm, 10 Sierra Club volunteers joined forces with BLM staff from the Colorado Montrose District Office and San Juan and Uncompahgre Basin Resource Areas to control weeds along the Dolores and San Miguel River corridors in Southwest Colorado.

These folks put in a solid week of hard labor in what was essentially their "vacation." (Makes you wonder what they call "work!" )

The challenge of controlling weeds may seem overwhelming, but partnerships with organizations like the Sierra Club bring hope for preventing the spread of weeds into hard-to-reach areas before infestations become too large and expensive to control. This cooperative project, now in it's second year, is a good example in that it targeted the more inaccessible or heavily used sites along Dolores and San Miguel Rivers. Intensive labor and inaccessibility would have made this a very expensive project were it not for volunteer support.

During the first week of June, 1998, six rafts set out on the Dolores River at Gypsum Valley. The crew floated down to Bedrock, through the Dolores River Wilderness Study Area, working along the way. From here, these "weed warriors" headed for the nearby San Miguel River for more weed work, concentrating on the Specie Creek and Beaver Creek Recreation sites.

Along the way, they removed weeds from campgrounds, boat launches, and the shores of the river corridors. The group focused on popular boater put-in and take-out sites as well as camping areas. Canada, Russian, bull and musk thistle, Russian knapweed, lochia and burdock were removed, using little more than arm and back muscles, gloves, and shovels.
Photo of Volunteer and thistle.
A volunteer wrestles with a thistle.
These hardy plants take over where
the land has been disturbed, and their
seeds are often spread into new areas
by hikers and boaters. Hand pulling,
although labor intensive, offers the
best hope for removal in remote
wilderness areas.

The logistics for the week-long campaign were staggering. A mountain of food was required to feed the hungry weed diggers and river guides. Travel considerations were complex with volunteers coming from all parts of the country. Specialized boating equipment and staff skills were required. Sierra Club volunteers included a trip leader and cook, both returning for the second year. The BLM provided skilled river guides, rafts and specialized gear, and transportation between job sites.

Working side by side, members of the team dug weeds on an estimated 10-12 acres of public land. (That's a lot of hand pulling!). There was ample time for conversation and a chance to make new friends. The project provided an excellent opportunity for sharing of ideas, and gave local BLM staff a chance to meet and hear the views of people from other parts of the country.

This year, volunteers hailed from New Mexico, Oregon, California, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Joining the group was Sheila Grother, Manager of the San Miguel Basin Weed Board. Sierra Club participants were retired and/or vacationing citizens who wanted to "Make a Difference." A third trip is planned for early June, 1999.

Departure on the final day was marked by bear hugs and more than a few tearful eyes, and the promise to keep in touch. Everyone obtained a few blisters and bug bites as well as a much greater understanding of BLM's mission and a healthy respect for one of the most serious threats to the public lands of the Western United States -- non native invasive plants, or weeds.

Contact: Dave Kauffman, BLM Montrose District, 970-240-5340.

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Last Updated: February 6, 2001

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