And the Two Became One: (BCWMD)


May 15, 2019

After considerable deliberation and discussion, the Blaine County Commissioners decided to consolidate the Blaine County Weed Department and the Mosquito Control Department into one: Blaine County Weed and Mosquito Department (BCWMD). The Commissioners named economics, efficiency, and accountability as key factors in the decision to merge the two departments. The merger officially took place on March 1, 2019.

Tim Conlan will be the supervisor of the newly formed Department and Shane Fox will serve as assistant supervisor. Their mission will be to help Blaine County residents manage pests like mosquitoes and weeds. While hoping for a mosquito-free summer might be asking for too much, the crews will be taking a proactive approach to mosquito abatement as well as working towards a weed-controlled environment.

According to Commissioner Miles Hutton, "This idea for a joint department will be a better utilization of resources and a wise use of equipment. We will be getting back to what is in the agreement about frequency of coverage for mosquito fogging, for example, and with better ideas for tracking coverage, we can be accountable to the public."

The spraying schedule in the towns of Harlem and Chinook is for fogging to occur five times in a two week period. Zurich will see spraying twice a week and other rural routes, once a week.

Although the two departments have combined, there are no plans for the two boards to combine. Each of the three-member boards will continue to oversee their respective districts.

At a meeting on May 7, Conlan told his two Boards, "We will do the very best job we can do every day. I can't ask any more from my crews. Weather and growing conditions limit our ability to conduct business, so we have to work with what we get. We also have to be realistic; mosquitos and weeds are never going to disappear; we simply want to get them in containment."

The supervisory position may be new to Conlan, but he worked for two years as a seasonal employee with the Weed Department and last year took over as Weed Coordinator. He is looking at the merger as a challenge.

"I'm generally a very organized person, so I'm not worried about any chaos. A portion of our season is about going to work, and I'm not afraid of the work. The most challenging element will be getting everything scheduled. Our employees work four, ten hour days to spray weeds, and most of the spraying for mosquitoes will take place in the early morning or late evening hours and will depend on weather conditions," Conlan stated.

Conlan asked for the public's patience as the transition takes place but he doesn't expect any gaps in services. "We've hired an exceptional group of people; all eight of the seasonal hires have past experience. For example, Gary Yeoman has nineteen years' experience with mosquito fogging in Chinook, and Jericho Peterson and Lyle Faulkinberry have around ten in Harlem. Their experience will not only make my job easier but will make the transition simpler. It won't be super smooth the first year; it'll take time, because change is a challenge, but our responsibility doesn't change."

Accountability to the taxpayer is a priority not only to the Commissioners but to Conlan, who expressed excitement about new equipment that will enable the BCWMD crews to perform their jobs. They are currently in the process of equipping a new pickup with a mosquito fogger. In addition, the BCWMD will be implementing computerized tablets that will use a global positioning system (GPS) to track where, when, and what crews have sprayed.

"Shane Fox has experience with computer systems, so he was instrumental in helping the department put together some great tools that we can use at an extremely reduced price. His knowledge-and the programming that the County already has-have made this possible. The taxpayers have invested a lot of money, and the Commissioners want accountability, so we plan to perform weekly downloads to our website so that the public can see what, when, and where spraying has taken place," Conlan said.

Although Blaine County uses a number of different techniques to help combat mosquitoes, the public is probably most familiar with spraying. Conlan explained that wind, humidity, and temperatures can all cause delays in the fogging schedule: "Our work to spray mosquitoes can be hindered at times, as certain weather conditions are required for spraying to be effective, and temperatures under 65 degrees or above 85 degrees aren't conducive to spraying."

"If you are planning a special event or you have special circumstances, we're willing to help in any way we can, within reason. Just contact us," he added.

This summer when the BCWMD monitors and sprays noxious weeds on county roads and property, they will target twelve weeds-the deadly dozen-with hopes for eradication and containment. Although the Weed Management Plan written in 2014 lists 33 weeds on Blaine County's noxious weed list that infest about 49,756 acres or 1.82% of the total acreage in Blaine County, the deadly dozen are the most damaging: Leafy Spurge, Russian Knapweed, Dalmatian Toadflax, Spotted Knapweed, Canada Thistle, Field Bindweed, Diffuse Knapweed, White Top, Baby's Breath, Saltcedar, Houndstongue, and Common Burdock. The first six on the list are the most prevalent.

"Blaine County remains relatively consistent with its weed population and varieties," Conlan reported. "So, that list has not changed. However, we received notice recently from the Extension Service that the state's noxious weed list may be growing by one. Ventenata, the newest invasive grass to Montana, will likely be added by this fall. Ventenata is an absolutely frightening new invasive grass, super aggressive in pastureland and very difficult to identify until late in its maturity. It has an incredible germination percentage, approximately 50% more germination than other species. There has not been an

official identification in Blaine County, but it is of great concern due to its aggressive nature. It can grow from one acre to ten acres in one year!"

Noxious weeds not only reduce economic productivity of crop and rangeland but violate the ecological integrity of Blaine County's lands and waters. The rate of introduction and spread of noxious weeds has increased dramatically over the past fifty years as human activities, trade, and commerce have increased.

To further manage these weeds, the County is contracted by Montana's Department of Transportation to survey and spray noxious weeds on all state highways within the county. The BCWMD not only sprays but also provides private landowners, who have noxious weeds, with the information and assistance needed to properly manage their weed infestations.

According to Conlan, the Weed Management Plan is updated every two years, in even years. "I updated the Plan in the fall of 2018 and I'm waiting for the Department of Agriculture to approve it. Then, it will be downloaded to Blaine County's website where people can access it," he said. "The Weed Management plan will again be updated during the fall of 2020."

Conlan explained that the individual at the state level who reviews the Weed Management Plans is a little behind because every county in the state is required to submit a Weed Management Plan. As soon as that document is reviewed, approved, and amended, it will be available for the public to read on the BCWMD website.

As he looks ahead, Conlan plans to develop some ideas for educating the public and raising awareness. One idea he shared involves joining the crop tours and performing noxious weed education. He has also considered a bi-weekly public information announcement targeting homeowners and landowners. Similar to the tips published in the Montana Extension Service's quarterly newsletter, he would publish notices in the newspaper, sharing ideas with homeowners and landowners for reducing pest populations around their property.

Anyone having questions about the merger is encouraged to call the Blaine County Commissioner's office at 357-3250.


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