County backs off of civil penalty for noxious weed ordinance

After taking public comment on the issue in July the Madison County Commissioners have taken no action in support of Ordinance 1-2012, which would establish a civil penalty for non-compliance to the county weed district’s noxious weed management program.

The proposed ordinance imposed a $100 per acre fine on landowners who failed to comply with the county’s weed ordinance and resisted cooperating with the county in working toward compliance with the ordinance. The concern among county residents, explained Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz, is that the parcel includes the entire contiguous parcel of land as determined by a state cadastral mapping system or assessor maps for the property.

According to Montana Code Annotated 7-22-2101(1), “it is unlawful for any person to permit any noxious weed to propagate or go to seed on the persons’ land, except that any person who adheres to the noxious weed management program of the person’s weed management district or who has entered into and is in compliance with a noxious weed management agreement is considered to be in compliance.”

Schulz understands the necessity of having a mechanism in place to help control noxious weeds, but it needs to be a simple one.

“Recognizing that we need to have some level of authority in accordance with that law to hold people accountable to this, in general I supported the idea and the ordinance,” Schulz said. “The confusion by some landowners is if a tract of land is 640 acres, or one section, and that person has five acres of weeds in the corner next to the county road, that person is being penalized for 640 acres instead of the five acres … When you’re charging somebody $100 on 640 acres, and you’re seriously interested in five, it didn’t make sense to me.”

Schulz said community members were also concerned by the lack of jurisdiction over land controlled by state and federal agencies.

While county weed office coordinator Margie Edsall was disappointed the commissioners did not support the ordinance, she agreed with Schulz as to the necessity of having a regulatory mechanism in place, and emphasized the threat posed by the spread of noxious weeds.

“It’s something that can’t be ignored,” said Edsall. ““Noxious weeds impact everything.”

Noxious weeds threaten multiple aspects of life across the state, Edsall continued, explaining that they are the highest priority in terms of a potential impact to the environment. Not only do weeds threaten range health and biodiversity of plant communities, they also threaten land values. They threaten water quality and quantity as well as recreational opportunities.

“I would hope in the future that it would be revisited,” Edsall said of the ordinance, adding that the county weed district would rely on input from the community to establish a reasonably penalty.

Schulz shared Edsall’s sentiments on the matter.

“What I didn’t like was penalizing someone for a minimal amount of weeds on a larger tract, because the $100 per acre would have been $64,000,” he said. “I support the need to have some tool to help people and help neighbors who are affected by another person’s weeds or weed seed spread.”

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