AP NEWS

Lancaster County ramps up weed control efforts

October 9, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Lancaster County weed control officials are ramping up efforts to fight Nebraska’s most noxious weed.

The fast-moving phragmites have reached nearly 700 sites in Lancaster County, compared to 72 sites a decade ago, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. The weeds are capable of choking wetlands, swallowing habitat, killing native vegetation and changing the course of rivers.

Weed control agencies have spent more than $5 million since 2007 spraying herbicide along the Platte River from Lake McConaughy to Columbus. Officers attack the weed annually with herbicide-spraying helicopters, ATVs and airboats.

“I’ve never seen a plant that is as aggressive as this plant,” said Brent Meyer, Lancaster County’s weed control superintendent. “It’s a never-ending battle.”

Meyer said a hired helicopter will soon spray the worst infestations around Lincoln, where 150 of the nearly 700 weed-infested county sites are located.

A group of federal, state and local agencies, including Lancaster County, is also buying a tank-like amphibious vehicle that can spray weeds on land and in water along the Lower Platte River.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Meyer said. “The thing will float.”

Scientists haven’t found a natural predator to keep the invasive phragmites in check. The weed, also known as the common reed, thrives in and near water.

“It starts from the shores and as it encroaches out in the stream bed, it will change and narrow the stream itself,” Meyer said. “If we don’t take it out and control it, the river won’t carry the water the way it is supposed to.”

The Nebraska Legislature pledged $1 million a year in 2016 to fight the weed, but budget cuts have reduced the figure to about $460,000.

“Our biggest concern now is funding,” said Marty Craig, weed superintendent for Gosper and Dawson counties. “If all this dries up, it’s going to start taking over again.”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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