Every spring, all across the United States, ranchers and environmentalists join forces to combat a common enemy – the noxious weed. Depending on the state that you live in, the weeds officially listed as noxious varies. Even in the arid northern plains and Rocky Mountain west, noxious weeds are threatening the integrity of our scenic and productive agricultural and wild lands. While some may be beautiful to look at, all of them are an economic and environmental liability.
Introduced to the United States in a variety of ways including seeds being imported from foreign countries or intentional planting before agronomists and horticulturalists knew how invasive the plant could be, noxious weeds are everywhere. Small community groups are emerging in both rural and urban areas to combat weeds either with chemical application or by mechanical removal (often pulling by hand to prevent disturbance to the desirable native species). One town in western Montana is the essence of community cooperation and they have a variety of activities throughout the year aimed at removing noxious weeds and restoring the prairie and forests to their native composition.
That town is Missoula, Montana, an eclectic small city where you’re as likely to find a cowboy or a hippie (oftentimes both) at the local watering hole. It is a university town and as such tends to be progressive and encourage community action. The town is surrounded by mountains and filled with parks to explore. That, in and of itself, should make you want to visit. And if you’re looking to get in on the activism and enjoy the outdoors all at the same time, participating in a weed pull (as mundane as that sounds) can offer some beautiful vistas from Mount Sentinel and some good camaraderie with neighbors you wouldn’t otherwise know. If you’re from out of town, it will help you to get a good feel for the attitude that makes Missoula unique.
The Prairie Keepers, Blackfoot Challenge, Native Forest Network, Missoula County Weed District, and the Environmental Studies department at the University of Montana can all give you some idea of when the next weed pulls will happen. The terrain can vary with weed pulls occurring on the famed Blackfoot River corridor, the high grassy slopes of Mount Sentinel, local parks with nature trails, or a backwoods hiking trail near the Rattlesnake Wilderness. And don’t worry – all weed pulls come with good instruction to keep you from pulling the desirable native species.
So you’re from out of town and don’t want to travel to Missoula to pull weeds? Do yourself a favor and contact your local weed district or extension agent. They will likely put you in touch with organizations that organize these events. Participating in a weed pull is a great way to meet other like-minded individuals, explore the beautiful terrain surrounding your town, learn about the native vegetative species, and most importantly spend some time outside with your family. It is a feel good project that promises to reward you now and well into the future as you watch native species flourish and recognize all the beautiful benefits that come from their presence.