Mille Lacs to launch new assault on weeds

Mille Lacs County public works will begin mowing ditches earlier than normal this spring in the southern part of Mille Lacs because of a new program to control leafy spurge, a noxious weed. The plan is also to use less chemical spraying.

Leafy spurge is a difficult-to-eradicate perennial that has a bitter taste and is toxic to livestock. Its spread poses an economic threat to hay crops and cattle grazing in the county, according to Mille Lacs Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) Director Susan Shaw. She explained all that during her request for approval of the new noxious and invasive weed control plan at the Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners March 6 meeting. After about a nearly half-hour discussion the board approved her request.

The SWCD lists leafy spurge as its highest priority noxious weed to go after.

The new approach of earlier mowing, Shaw noted, is to cut the leafy spurge before it can go to seed. The SWCD had been doing spot spraying on patches of leafy spurge in the past and will continue to do some of that but with the goal of doing much less. This new tact is in response to the public’s increased concern over chemical sprays in the environment, said Shaw last week.

Mille Lacs Commissioner Dan Whitcomb, who has a fruit and produce farm in rural Princeton and who promotes using as little chemical spraying as possible in his business, responded to Shaw. He said that chemicals will have to be used in some places to deal with leafy spurge because of the impracticality of getting mowers onto certain terrain.

Shaw did not disagree.

The SWCD, besides having used spot chemical spraying as a means of attack, has also been trying a biotech method.

Chemical sprays will now be the last plan of attack, Shaw said in an interview after the county board meeting.

Mille Lacs Public Works Director Bruce Cochran has traditionally been having his crew make one mower pass through each county ditch from about June 1 into early August. He will still be doing that with many county ditches, especially in the northern part of the county.

The county’s township with the most leafy spurge, according to Shaw, is Greenbush Township, with Princeton Township the second highest. Shaw said the early ditch mowing will take place in those townships and also Milo and Bogus Brook, located north of Princeton and Greenbush.

Shaw mentioned that wild parsnip is the second highest weed on the SWCD’s hit list. According to a poster put out by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the wild parsnip is an invasive plant that is populating roadsides and open areas in ever-increasing numbers.

The juice of the wild parsnip will cause blistering burns on skin once that skin has been exposed to ultraviolet light.

Shaw told the county board that she also expects that the SWCD will be going after Canadian thistle this summer because of feedback from the public about noxious and invasive weeds.