ENTERPRISE — For a one-man weed-control crew, Andy Marcum has a lot to do.
As the manager of the Wallowa County Vegetation Department, Marcum’s department keeps track of approximately 200,000 acres in the county and actually applies chemicals to about 2,000 of those acres.
And right now, he’s at his peak season for eradicating noxious weeds.
“June is nuts,” Marcum said. “We had such a wet spring, everything is coming out now.’
Noxious and invasive weeds are a particular problem for farmers since they crowd out desirable species and take nutrients from the soil and water the desirables need. The Oregon Department of Agriculture has more than 130 species on its noxious weeds list.
There are eight noxious and invasive weeds that are of top priority for control in the county and in the state: leafy spurge, common bugloss, spotted knapweed, meadow hawkweed, yellow flag iris, whitetop, musk thistle and welted thistle.
“We are the home to the only population of welted thistle in the United States,” he said. “It was found by (rancher and county commissioner) Todd Nash three years ago. We hope to have it eradicated in the next five years.
A couple more weeds are not as prevalent, but they are present and Marcum wants to see they stay that way. He said there are only three sites in the Wallowa Valley where yellow starthistle are found. They’re in Joseph Canyon and apparently migrated there from Washington state, he said.
“I don’t want to see that spread,” Marcum said.
Another problem weed is Scotch thistle.
“That’s the really big nasty one that nobody likes having on their property,” Marcum said. “It’s everywhere.”
The most prevalent weeds he works to eradicate are meadow hawkweed and Scotch thistle. But they’re all a problem.
“It’s a huge economic hit to farmers, especially here in the valley where grain growers are,” Marcum said. “Spraying helps reduce the risk” to crops and of the weeds spreading.
Although Marcum is the sole staff member of the Vegetation Department, he’s not entirely alone in his efforts to control weeds. He has funding to hire five contractors who take on specific projects through August.
Marcum also gets assistance from Carl McFetridge, a maintenance worker with the Wallowa County Road Maintenance Department, who controls weeds at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds in Enterprise and along the sides of county roads. The two are the only county employees who are licensed for weed control.
McFetridge said in addition to spraying burr buttercup on the fairgrounds, he controls weeds along about 130 miles of county roads from Imnaha to Troy and about 400 gravel and paved roads throughout the county.
“It’s very time consuming,” McFetridge said. “We just want people to keep on the lookout for any of these noxious weeds and let someone know. It makes our job easier.”
It’s Marcum who is largely responsible for controlling weeds on private land, where he gets a large portion of his help. This is done through the Wallowa County Cost Share program.
“I strongly urge landowners to take advantage of the cost share,” he said.
Under the program, the county offers up to $500 a year to landowners who treat noxious weeds.
To apply for the cost share program, a landowner must fill out the form available at https://co.wallowa.or.us/public-works/vegetation/ and submit it along with any invoices for chemicals and work done.
Other weed-related information and resources are available at the website, Marcum said.
Funding for the cost share program and to hire contractors comes from the weed levy included in county property taxes. He said a portion of the 17 cents of every $1,000 in assessed property value goes to the weed levy and funds the department.
Marcum also applies for grants through the Oregon State Weed Board and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board that helps fund his weed-control efforts.
“That allows me to get more done,” he said.