Whitetop wipeout

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

We're sticklers for private property rights.

If a person wants to landscape his place with rusted riding lawnmowers instead of well-tended sod, well, so be it.

But our defense of this right stops, as it were, at the property boundary.

When one owner's neglect leads directly and definitively to somebody else's land being messed up, then some sort of grievance process ought to be available either to the affected landowner or to the government on his behalf.

This can get tricky, of course.

Defining "messed up," for instance, is obviously a subjective matter.

But we're not talking about such amorphous notions as a neighbor's collection of old cars diminishing your home's value.

We're talking about noxious weeds spreading from your neighbor's property to yours, or to public land that belongs to all of us.

And that happens all too often in Baker County.

Whitetop is perhaps the most widespread noxious weed around here, a

pest so prevalent that we've heard it described, in gallows humor, as

Baker County's official flower.

But whitetop is no flower.

It's an aggressive invader that spreads rapidly and crowds out native

grasses and other vegetation that are vital forage for wild animals as

well as domestic livestock.

Property owners who allow whitetop to spread are as negligent as those

who start a fire on their land and then watch while the flames burn a

neighbor's barn.

Landowners in some parts of the county are required, by law, to try to eradicate whitetop on their property.

The county's weed district board wants to expand that zone.

Earlier this month the County commissioners tentatively agreed to do

so, contingent on comments they receive from the public during meetings

that will be scheduled this spring.

We recommend the commissioners grant the weed board's request.

A particularly compelling argument in favor of the expansion is that dealing with whitetop is easier, and cheaper, than ever.

The price of the preferred herbicide has dropped by 90 percent.

And the weed district has money available to help defray the cost for landowners by as much as half.

Lest anyone accuse the county of using draconian tactics in its

anti-whitetop campaign, Arnie Grammon, the weed supervisor, points out

that although he has the legal authority to have weeds sprayed and then

bill the landowner, he has used that power "a very few times. I try to

work with people," Grammon told commissioners.

As an example, he will help landowners ensure they properly apply

herbicide so that it's effective, and so they don't waste time and

money.

The bottom line is that the county weed district has acted reasonably

in trying to cajole property owners into doing what a responsible owner

would do independently - get rid of a bad weed before it slinks onto

somebody else's land.

By widening that effort to thousands more acres, the county will

improve the chances that responsible landowners' toil won't go for

naught.

As Elmer Hill, who lives near North Powder, told commissioners

recently: "It's a slap in the face when we fight our weeds and (other

landowners) make no effort."

Hill's point is well made.

The county, as Grammon noted, is more inclined to give landowners a gentle nudge than a slap.

It's time for the county to extend its reach a bit farther, in any case.

If enough landowners are diligent, perhaps we can hold our ground until

the whitetop-eating weevil that Grammon anticipates actually arrives.

If the little bug gets its mandibles going, the need for weed control boundaries might go the way of the Berlin Wall.

13109574
The Baker City Herald
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