County mulls noxious weed ordinance

Proposal designed to motivate landowners to combat noxious weeds

June 23, 2023

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Garfield County is considering a proposed ordinance that enforces the management of noxious weeds on real properties in unincorporated areas of the county. Garfield County Noxious Weed ordinance 2023-2 pinpoints non-compliant landowners with large infestations of weeds and gives Garfield County Vegetation Management another tool to try and mitigate the problem.

The ordinance allows staff to work with adjacent landowners to identify properties with infestations of noxious weeds that may be spreading across their boundaries. Current enforcement strategies in the county’s noxious weed management plan are adopted from the Colorado Noxious Weed Act and have been deemed ineffective by staff. The ordinance is designed to motivate landowners to be more proactive when combating noxious weeds.

“We’ve come up with this ordinance in response to some public input that we’re not doing enough with noxious weed enforcement,” said Garfield County Vegetation Manager Steve Anthony. “The way these issues are handled under the Colorado Noxious Weed Act would result in a forced entry and abatement. I think we’re all on the same page in seeing if we can find another way to proceed.”

Under 2023-2, if a complaint is filed by a member of the public or county staff, the allegedly offending property is viewed from a public right of way or the complainant’s property. If noxious weeds are seen, staff can then request an on-site inspection from the landowner. If this request isn’t answered in 10 days, the county may seek an inspection warrant to enter the property. If noxious weeds are found on the property, staff may prepare a notice of violation, which will be delivered to the landowner. The violating landowner then has 10 days to agree to abatement terms. The ordinance also allows the county to inspect the property of the complainant for noxious weeds to ensure they’re making abatement efforts as well if weeds are present.

The county then works with the property owner to develop a management plan. The landowner may also request a meeting before an arbitration panel to determine another way forward. Once a management plan is agreed to, routine inspections will take place to ensure the noxious weeds are being mitigated.

If no response is given for 10 days following the notice of violation, the Board of County Commissioners may assess fines of $100 per day or as much as $1,000 per violation, which can double for repeat offenses. All fees are paid into the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s noxious weed fund, which aids counties and municipalities with mitigation projects.

“We’re not telling them they need to have everything taken care of within 10 days, but they need to contact us,” said Sarah LaRose, Garfield County Vegetation Management program coordinator. “We need to have a discussion and set up a plausible weed-management plan that’s something both parties can agree on and set up an acceptable timeframe for management to occur.

“We have every intention of working with the landowner throughout the process and making sure they are managing the weeds within acceptable abatement measures as defined by the Colorado Department of Agriculture,” LaRose added.

The ordinance was passed on first reading by the Board of County Commissioners unanimously, 3-0. It now must be published, and a public hearing is being scheduled before a second reading takes place, at which time the ordinance could be approved.

“I think everybody is on board and this needs to be done,” said Commissioner Mike Samson. “We’ll try and work with people as we have in the past, but if there’s someone who is stubborn, we’ll have a motivational stick with which to help them do what is right for their neighbors and for the county.”