County-wide partnership on its way to eradicating Wild Parsnip
Updated: May 16
Next time you’re driving down a county road or highway, take a glance at the ditches as you pass. If they look a little different then you last remember them, it is because for the last two years, noxious weed removal has been underway.
Noxious weeds, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), are plants that are detrimental to human health, animal health, the environment, public roads, or other property.
These weeds make themselves known every year, but luckily, the Scott Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has partnered with the Scott County Parks Department, the Scott County Roads and Transportation Department, and townships to help tackle this issue.
Meghan Darley, Natural Resource Specialist with the Scott SWCD, recounts the story from its beginnings, to the hopeful future.
The Partnership Formation
Back in 2014, Darley explains, Patti Freeman from the Scott County Parks Department approached Scott SWCD District Director Troy Kuphal after she noticed an increasing number of weeds encroaching into city parks. They begin partnership talks to tackle the County’s growing weed concerns. Freeman knew something had to be done before it got unmanageable. Freeman and Kuphal, along with Darley, contacted Pete Shutrop from the Highway Department and together the team began discussions that would go on to form the Scott Cooperative Weed Management Area (SCWMA).
CWMA’s are seen throughout the country. They are ways for local government departments to gather and manage weeds locally and specifically.
Additional partnership agreements were received from the townships of Belle Plaine, Blakeley, Credit River, Helena, New Market, and Sand Creek. The SCWMA received grants from the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) and the MDA that allowed them to move forward with the program.
The SCWMA team enacted their strategic plan with a mission to enhance and preserve the economic, aesthetic, wildlife, and recreational value of open space in Scott County by controlling the establishment and spread of noxious and invasive species.
“From early on, we've had great partners who are passionate and dedicated. They put in the time to stop things before they got out of control. We knew we wanted to focus on monitoring the noxious weeds on the MDA ‘Prohibited’ list,” Meghan Darley quotes. “That meant targeting things like wild parsnip first.”
Putting the Plan into Action
The first step in the SCWMA’s plan was to locate all wild parsnip and other invasive species sightings along county roads and highways. Parsnip is on the MDA’s prohibited weeds list due to its aggressive spread and its toxic sap that causes skin burns when in contact with sunlight.
A program was developed by the county GIS team to allow for personalized detection of weeds and their spread along roads. The Scott SWCD then hired a summer intern in 2017 and 2018 from the Conservation Corps of Minnesota (CCM) who’s primary job was to document invasive and noxious weeds. After the data was synthesized, over 100 miles of weeds, 12 different weed species, and 30 miles of wild parsnip were identified along public roads.
That was the easy part. Next, the SCWMA team came up with a plan for eradication. Unfortunately, noxious weeds like wild parsnip and thistle do not make that job easy given their complicated lifespans.
“Parsnip is a tricky plant. It takes about two-to-three years to effectively remove it from an established site,” Darley explains.
The first year, herbicide was sprayed by a hired team from the CCM during the plant’s rosette stage. The team was able to spray and mow all county highways and township roads that had parsnip sightings. Spraying was also done in 2020 by local contractors.
With two years of effort, the SCWMA has successfully treated 30 miles of wild parsnip from county roads. “That number is a massive success. We were able to get ahead of the parsnip problem before it got too bad, and that speaks to a lot of hard work from our office and our partners,” Darley says.
In addition to the success of Wild Parsnip removal, the program has also provided public outreach and education to Scott County residents. The Scott SWCD hosts several educational workshops every year, and information on weed management is provided.
While the SCWMA program has seen massive success, the program at this time does not receive stable, annual funding. The continuation of the program relies on the Scott SWCD applying for and receiving annual grants to keep all efforts funded. If the program is not funded for even one year, significant setbacks could take place, Darley cautions.
“We have a good grip on the weeds right now. But we need to keep being proactive if we don’t want to see all our progress go to waste. We did the foundational work already. And future maintenance will be easy, but necessary,” Darley explains.
The SCWMA is currently looking to secure steady, annual funding from its partners.
Citizen Monitoring for Parsnip
The Scott SWCD wants to help in your weed removal process. Identification and management assistance is free, and resources may be available to help remove noxious weeds on your property. With the work of the SCWMA, all public roads and parks have been documented, but private land sightings remain unmonitored. The SCWMA is looking for all residents of Scott County to report sightings and help remove these noxious, invasive weeds for good.
If you think you have noxious weeds on your property, or if you have any questions about other weeds or invasive species, visit mda.state.mn.us/plants or give the Scott SWCD office a call at 952-492-5425.