Notorious weed coming under control

“The wicked weed of the West” is on the wane. Spotted knapweed, an invasive weed that has claimed millions of acres, is on the run, according to recent findings from the University of Colorado.

A native of Eastern Europe, spotted knapweed has developed quite a reputation since it was accidentally introduced in North America in the 1800s. The plant has been dubbed a “weed of mass destruction,” “national menace” and the “wicked weed of the West” in recent years. However, the plant known for producing its own poison to squeeze out native species and take over farmland now has its own adversary.

Tim Seastedt, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder, has spent about 14 years studying the spread and control of knapweeds. He recently concluded that weed-eating bugs such as certain flies and weevils – knapweed’s natural predators – are keeping the noxious weed under control.

In 1996, Boulder County began using helicopters to spray herbicides on diffuse knapweed, a close relative of spotted knapweed. In 1997, Seastedt told the county commissioners that spraying made little sense and received permission to start biological controls on public lands.

“We started with about 50 insects against about a million plants in 1997,” Seastedt said.

By 2001, knapweed density had dropped about 80 percent and fell even more in the following two years and eventually approached near zero in 2006.

Around the same time, a group of landowners from just outside Boulder tired of treating knapweed with herbicide and asked Seastedt’s group for help. The CU team introduced the seedhead weevil – which attacks the plant’s seeds at the top of the plant – and the knapweed root weevil – which goes underground and attacks the plant’s roots – onto the properties.

The results have been promising. Last year, Seastedt and CU researcher David Knochel reported that by using only these biological controls the lands have seen an 80 percent decline in knapweed densities. In several recent studies funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Seastedt and Knochel have replicated these results.

The introduction of knapweed’s natural predators was part of the reason for the decline. Another was that as knapweed populations struggled, other species bounced back. “We demonstrated that plant competition mattered,” Seastedt notes. “The invaders didn’t really do well if competing plant species were present.”

Quiznos Pro Challenge rebrands

Colorado’s new cycling stage race has gotten a facelift, just months before the starting gun. Last week, organizers of the race announced a name change for the Quiznos Pro Challenge. The race will now be known as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge to “better communicate the scale of the event and its audience,” according to Rick Schaden, the race’s owner and co-chairman.

The race came into being last August with an announcement from cycling legend Lance Armstrong and then Gov. Bill Ritter. The pair had been working for more than a year to resurrect the legacy of the Coors International Bicycle Classic – a preeminent cycling race from 1979-88 – and bring world class cycling competition back to Colorado. At the time, the race was dubbed the Quiznos Pro Challenge in honor of its main sponsor, the Denver-based sandwich chain.

While Quiznos is still a primary race sponsor, the stage race has a new name.

“As the race continues to build momentum with teams and sponsors from across the globe, and as we significantly increase media coverage nationally and internationally, our new logo will brand the event in a way that better communicates the scale of the event and its audience,” said Schaden. “Our goal is to help raise the profile of professional cycling in the United States by hosting an epic race in Colorado that draws the top cyclists in the world and mirrors the excitement of the Tour de France.”

At the same conference, Schaden announced a major broadcast deal with NBC Sports to televise 25 hours of race coverage over seven days. NBC will produce 3.5 hour broadcasts each day from Aug. 22-28, and Paul Sherwen, one of the voices of the Tour de France, has been recruited to provide commentary for the race.

The USA Pro Cycling Challenge begins with the prologue through the outskirts of Colorado Springs. Stage 1 will take riders from Salida over Cottonwood Pass to Crested Butte. The following day they’ll ride from Gunnison to Aspen before ending up in Vail for the Stage 3 time trial. Stage 4 runs from Avon to Steamboat Springs, and Stage 5 will take teams from Steamboat back to Breckenridge. The final stage begins in Golden and will run to the finish in Denver.

Durango partnered with Telluride and submitted a bid to host a stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, but was unsuccessful.

County comp plan out for final review

Locals have one final opportunity to craft the guidelines for La Plata County. An open house is set for April 16 at the Durango Recreation Center to allow residents to review the final draft of the Comprehensive Community Plan. Community members can stop by any time from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

The plan will dictate community development policy for La Plata County and update the county’s land-use development code. During the open house, planning staff and consultants will be available to discuss the plan and take public comment. This will be the final opportunity for community members to ask questions and provide suggestions prior to the plan going to the planning commission for adoption in May.  

“We have tried to balance the diversity of community voices to create a fair and predictable community land use plan that will maintain our high-quality life, protect our natural resources, maintain our ranching heritage, and create a vibrant economy”, says Jason Meininger, the county’s Senior Long Range Planner. “We have worked very hard to develop a plan that would meet the desires of the majority of the community and send us in a better direction.”

The plan is available for review at  

– Will Sands