Yellowstone County Weed Coordinator Joe Lockwood

Yellowstone County Weed Coordinator Joe Lockwood points out a photo of Russian Knapweed, one of the noxious weeds whose population is increasing in the Billings area.

HANNAH POTES, Gazette Staff

The Shepard and Laurel-area landowners are battling the noxious Russian Knapweed.

In 2014, Yellowstone County issued 30 notifications to landowners regarding noxious weeds on their property. By 2016 that number had increased to 170 notifications, Yellowstone County Weed District Coordinator Joe Lockwood said. Lockwood became the coordinator for the office in 2014. 

Of the 170 non-compliance notifications in 2016, three were summoned to court for not dealing with their weed infestation, according to court documents. Those complaints are expected to be dismissed, Lockwood said. At least two of the property owners have already dealt with their noxious weed problem and the third has gotten in contact with the weed district. 

If the county is forced to clean up the problem on private property, the landowner can be charged, in addition to a penalty, which can be up to 25 percent of the clean-up costs, according to court documents.

Russian Knapweed spreads through seeds and by underground roots, Lockwood said. Sooner or later the weed chokes out any natural vegetation, including grass. 

In addition to Russian knapweed, the weed district has seen an increase in leafy spurge east of Billings into the Huntley area and a general increase in Scotch thistle, Lockwood said. 

Getting rid of the weed once it has taken hold can require multiple years of work, Lockwood said. A Havre landowner, Lockwood said he'd battled spurge for over 25 years and was just getting a handle on it.

Landowners should walk through their property in the spring and see what is starting to grow. If they have a weed problem and see plants they don't recognize, they should try to identify the weed or call the weed district offices. The weed district has a cost-share program for landowners and will reimburse a landowner for up to $500 they spend on herbicides each year, Lockwood said. 

Milestone herbicide was recommended by Lockwood for getting rid of Russian knapweed. The herbicide costs about $100 a quart and the price of a professional spraying is about $85 an hour, but all those costs can vary. 

Yellowstone County Weed District Crew Foreman Lyle Scott educates people about the dangers of noxious weeds by going to schools and different events throughout the year.

Noxious weeds can destroy an ecosystem and make it impossible for native species to inhabit, but it can also cause more direct harm to humans. Leafy spurge, for instance, oozes a white sap that can burn children's skin and cause blindness if it gets into the eye, Scott said. 

Weed seeds can spread through the air, but can also travel from ranch to ranch on farm equipment, Scott said.

The weed district office at 3319 King Ave. E. offers weed identification books for purchase and pamphlets at the office. The office can be reached by phone at 406-256-2708. 

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Justice reporter for The Billings Gazette.