Colorado counties are in rough-and-tumble war against wiry weeds

March 18, 2014 Updated: March 18, 2014 at 7:56 pm
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photo - A van navigates around tumbleweeds that filled Drennan Road Tuesday, March 18, 2014. A National Weather Service warning for dust storms and high winds stayed in effect for the region until 6 p.m. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
A van navigates around tumbleweeds that filled Drennan Road Tuesday, March 18, 2014. A National Weather Service warning for dust storms and high winds stayed in effect for the region until 6 p.m. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Even as the cost to combat Colorado's explosion of tumbleweeds passes $1 million, those getting hit the hardest are a long way from giving up.

At a meeting Tuesday in Pueblo, more than 50 ranchers, residents and officials from southern Colorado had a freewheeling discussion during which they tried to figure out how they could make inroads in a war against the weeds that, so far, they are losing.

To make matters more difficult, the cash-strapped Colorado counties that are being inundated by the unruly tumbleweeds are not expecting to get any help from the state.

It was a perfect day for the conversation: High winds kicked in, and tumbleweeds were everywhere - on highways, piling up against fences and clogging county roads. Winds on Tuesday hit 75 mph near Yoder in El Paso County, according to the National Weather Service. Gusts of 59 mph were recorded in Pueblo and Otero counties. and wind speeds hit 60 mph in Baca County and 69 in Las Animas County.

"We've been keeping the roads open and we've been keeping it kinda under control so far, but we're not making any headway," said Alf Randall, acting director of the Pueblo County Department of Engineering and Public Works. "As we get further into the hot dry weather that is coming, it's going to turn from emergency to disaster if a big chunk of that area burns."

The biggest concern aside from the skyrocketing cost and lack of resources to fight tumbleweeds is fire, said Tobe Allumbaugh, a Crowley County commissioner.

Crowley County has forked over an estimated $110,000 clearing roads and fences so far, and that cost is expected to double in the coming months, he said.

"This is a problem that is not going to go away," Allumbaugh said.

Problems caused by the tumbleweeds include:

-- Roads closed by tumbleweed pileups.

-- Weeds against fences.

-- Weeds against farmers' and ranchers' houses and outbuildings.

-- Weeds in waterways and drainage ditches.

"We get a fire out here, we're done," Allumbaugh said.

Leading the battle is Action 22, a lobbying group that represents 22 southern Colorado counties.

So far, in meetings and conversations with state officials, it appears that there will be no money coming from state government, said Cathy Garcia, Action 22 president and CEO.

Garcia estimated that 10 southern Colorado counties have been hit by the tumbleweed explosion, a dangerous and unexpected byproduct of the state's prolonged drought.

Among ideas that were considered were buying and sharing equipment between counties to get rid of the tumbleweeds, controlled burns by fire departments, mitigation and applications for grant money.

The suggestions that seemed to get the most support were to form a task force to represent the counties and the declaration of tumbleweed-ridden areas as disasters by county commissioners, which could open up emergency funds.

"We have to work together to get rid of these tumbleweeds," Garcia said.

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