Veterans Trained to Manage Invasive Plants in Rugged San Juan Mountains

The San Juan Mountains Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) in southwest Colorado joins nine counties and multiple agency partners in an effort to control the spread of noxious weeds.

 “The CWMA encompasses about 5.5 million acres,” explains Rod Cook, La Plata County Weed Manager. “One of our biggest issues in this large area is that there aren’t enough commercial applicators to meet our needs for surveying and controlling invasive plants.”

In 2015, the CWMA partners secured a $40,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Agriculture to work on oxeye daisy and other noxious weeds in the San Juan Mountains. One of the parameters of the grant was to train military veterans for a new career as professional commercial applicators.

Two veterans Alex Rea (former US Coast Guard) and Glen Sheridan (former US Airforce) were hired by the CWMA in 2015. These two individuals received training on native and invasive plant identification and how to inventory plants using Trimble Geo XH units. In addition, both veterans were trained as applicators to mix, load and apply herbicides.

The veterans worked primarily on oxeye daisy, which is rapidly invading high elevation meadows and roadsides in the San Juan Mountains up to about 12,000 feet. They recorded treatment and inventory data, which was submitted to the US Forest Service for inclusion in the invasive plant database for the CWMA.

“These two veterans did a great job managing weeds in our project area and were a real asset to the CWMA,” explains Cook. “We could not have made the progress we have this year without their hard work and dedication.”

Oxeye daisy, yellow toadflax, and other noxious weeds reduce the quality of habitat for wildlife and the weeds also complete with native grasses and wildflowers. In the San Juan Mountains, native plants such as Colorado blue columbine, scarlet gilia, and Rocky Mountain penstemon are threatened by oxeye daisy especially in higher elevation meadows.

 “These weeds have the potential to change the San Juan Mountains forever,” explains Cook. “We could never get back the diversity of native plants and wildlife if we don’t protect these areas from invasive plants.”

Partnerships formed through the CWMA and expanding invasive plant management efforts by training and engaging veterans are keystones to protecting native plant communities in the San Juan Mountains.

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Glen Sheridan (us airforce veteran - in truck) marks a GPS point while Alex Rea (US Coast guard veteran) treats an infestation of oxeye daisy at 11,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Blue marker dye was utilized for training and coverage purposes. Photo by Rod Cook

Alex Rea (US Coast Guard Veteran-left) and Glen Sheridan (US Airforce Veteran-right) standing in front of the truck used by the San Juan Mountain CWMA. Photo by Rod Cook

oxeye daisy. photo source: La Plata County, colorado