Weed-free hay keeps federal wildlife habitat healthy

During the hunting seasons and other times of the year the BLM/Forest Service office in Meeker routinely answers questions about the requirement to use certified weed-free hay on public lands in Colorado. It’s a simple thing that can make a big difference in the quality of big game habitat.
Ask a wildlife biologist about what makes a healthy big game herd and they’ll say habitat, habitat, habitat. Good, abundant forage is an important component of big game habitat. And good habitat means more animals and healthier animals.
Noxious weeds are one of the major threats to wildlife habitat in this area and across the West. Left unchecked, they can cause serious, often permanent damage to wildlife habitat and overall rangeland health.
Many of the most problematic weeds can be introduced to a new area through stock and non-certified hay and forage. Plants like leafy spurge and spotted knapweed, among many others, can have a tremendous effect on wildlife habitat and rangeland because they are toxic and out-compete the high quality native forage used by wildlife and livestock.
Most of the non-native invasive plants that we manage today are from Europe or Asia, and arrived in America in the mid to late 1800s. A few of them were brought in intentionally because they reminded the new settlers of their old countries. Most were accidentally introduced as contaminants of seed and grain or in cargo or ballast of ships. Many of these species remained innocuous for many years as small populations on the sides of roads or trails and were not considered problems by most people. But now they are beginning to increase exponentially.
By following the requirement of weed-free hay, you are helping prevent further spread of these problem plants. In Colorado, certified weed-free hay, straw, mulch and pellets is required on all BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands, Rocky Mountain National Park and state wildlife areas, among other areas.
Weed-free hay is simply hay from fields that were certified free of noxious weeds and their seeds by a qualified inspector from the Colorado Department of Agriculture, who performs an on-the-ground inspection before the hay is harvested. The inspection is thorough and includes surrounding ditches, fence rows, roads, easements, right-of-way or buffer zones surrounding the outside edge of the field — all areas that could affect the weed-free status of the field.
Weed-free hay is available locally. It will be marked with colored twine or wire, and should be accompanied by a weed-free certificate. Keep the certificate with you when you’re traveling in areas with the weed-free requirement.
You can find producers of weed-free hay by logging onto the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Web site, or you can call the local BLM and Forest Service at (970) 878-3800.
Back in the 1990s Colorado was the first state to initiate a statewide weed-free hay program. Noxious weeds remain a major problem on public lands in Colorado, but the weed-free hay requirement is helping to reduce the rate and which these weeds spread. And in many areas, that gives us time to tackle the smaller weed infestations before they become unmanageable.
I appreciate the public efforts to help us manage noxious weeds and help ensure rangeland and wildlife habitat remain healthy.

Kent Walter has been the field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office in Meeker since 2001. The White River Field Office manages nearly 1.5 million acres of public lands in Rio Blanco, Moffat and Garfield counties.