Oil boom may be to blame for invasive weed in ND

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Booming oil activity in western North Dakota in recent years has boosted the state’s economy. But it might be to blame for the introduction of an invasive weed that can poison livestock and wildlife.

Halogeton has been found in most western U.S. states but had never been spotted in North Dakota until late last summer, when a federal official found it in the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Now, state and federal officials hope to raise awareness of the threat.

“Someone is going to have to make it an issue in order for it to not be an issue in the future,” said Carmen Waldo, a natural resources specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Dickinson. She plans to give a presentation on halogeton this week during a state weed convention in Bismarck.

Halogeton is a weed that grows about two feet high, has red stems, blue-green leaves and small yellow flowers. It produces seeds that can be spread various ways, including through wind, water and human activities.

Blake Schaan, a noxious weed specialist in the state Agriculture Department, said oil industry equipment coming from other states might be the source of the southwestern North Dakota infestation.

“A couple of weed officers in that region have been talking to oil companies there and making them aware of the problem,” he said. “We also right away started spraying it” with herbicides.

Spraying or pulling the weeds by hand are the only ways to get rid of it. There are no known biological methods, such as flea beetles that eat leafy spurge.

Waldo said oil companies are being cooperative but added, “Now that people know what to look for, we’re finding it in other places not connected to oil and gas activity.”

Schaan said at least 30 acres in Billings and Golden Valley counties are known to be infested. He and Waldo said the weed is being found in an increasingly larger area and the actual number of infested acres could be much higher.

Cattle, sheep and wildlife that feed on plants can die if they eat enough halogeton. “I have seen indications that it is being grazed, but there have not been any deaths that have been attributed to it that I’m aware of,” Waldo said.

She and Schaan said they still hope the weed can be eradicated, though Waldo said the chances depend on how long halogeton has actually been in North Dakota. She said it is possible that it went undetected for a long time.

“Literature says if you have a population (of a weed) in existence for two years or more you can’t eradicate it, you can only control it … but I’m an optimist,” she said.

Lee Manske, a range scientist at the North Dakota State University research center in Dickinson who positively identified halogeton when Waldo brought him a sample, said the weed could rapidly become a serious problem in North Dakota’s western rangelands if left unchecked. He said infested areas — even those that have been cleared of the weed — will need to be monitored for several years.

Kelly Uhing, state weed coordinator for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said North Dakota is doing the right thing by addressing the halogeton threat immediately. Colorado has been dealing with the weed for several years.

“Early detection, rapid response — outside of prevention (that) is the most cost-effective weed management method out there,” she said. “Once this stuff takes over, it costs so much time and money to get it back down to a controllable level.”