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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Weed Warriors

Thursday, June 6, 2002

There are about 1,000 miles of roads in rural Buena Vista County - roads Norm Lund and Dave Wiley know well.

They're not out for a Sunday drive, though. As the county weed commissioners, they're out searching for noxious weeds.

Lund figures they drive all the county gravel and blacktop at least two and a half times every year.

"But there's two sides of a county road, so there's 5,000 miles," said Lund, who is the head weed commissioner. Wiley is the deputy weed commissioner.

Lund, a retired farmer, is in his 18th year as commissioner. He and Wiley follow state guidelines to search for and destroy noxious weeds.

Currently there are 23 weeds on the state's list, Lund said. The main reason for their destruction is economic.

"We need to keep weeds controlled so they don't spread into fields," Wiley said.

"The state legislature deems it necessary for an economic factor," Lund added. "If weeds get too bad, they cut yields. And if you get a lot of this Canadian thistle fluff, it can plug up air conditioners. There's a problem if there's too much.

"It's more of an economic factor than anything," Lund added. "Plus it'd be nice to see some natural prairie flowers, a lot nicer."

The two start checking the ditches around the end of April or early May. They work Monday through Friday and go until the first frost.

They have a deadline of July 1 to have all of the roads checked, but that doesn't mean their jobs are done. "We have to keep going so the weeds don't go to seed and spread," Lund said.

They don't spray on private property, but they do check complaints and inform property owners of problem areas they need to take care of on their land.

The state legislature determines the list of noxious weeds. The county board of supervisors can also add to the list, though it can't remove any weeds from it.

Lund and Wiley find thistles to be the biggest problem in the county. "That Canadian thistle needs to be controlled to keep it down," Wiley said.

Lund said the county's weed problems haven't been as bad this year. "It might be to do with a late spring, and farmers are doing a lot better in controlling weeds on their land," he said.

The two roam the county in a truck fitted with a custom-made hydraulic boom, never going faster than 15 miles per hour. They never have to leave the cab of the truck, with computer controls to operate the boom, which is designed with three sections to they can better control where they spray.

Lund said they only spray where it's needed.

"The biggest problem we face, is that people think we're broadcast spraying, but we don't," Lund said. "We only spot spray."

They keep precise records of where they spray, the amount they spray and even the wind speed when they're spraying.

Lund and Wiley also attend annual education classes on roadside vegetation management.

Wiley, who is retired from the county road shop, likes being able to keep busy.

"We get along and it's pretty good visiting," Wiley said, "and we see a lot of wildlife."

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