Passing the baton at the King County Noxious Weed Control Board (and a little history)

When Scott Moore decided to resign from the King County Noxious Weed Control Board at the end of 2017, it was bittersweet. Scott had served on the Board since 1998 and was Board Chair for many years, so there is no denying he had earned a break! However, during those 19 years, King County’s noxious weed program benefited hugely from Scott’s steady guidance, considerable expertise and great passion for the environment. All of us at the noxious weed program are very appreciative of Scott’s work helping to support our mission for so many years.

Scott_Moore

Scott Moore, Former King County Noxious Weed Control Board Member

Fortunately for us, Alaine Sommargren has been appointed and confirmed to replace Scott in representing Weed District 1. With Alaine, we have gained another highly experienced and enthusiastic supporter of noxious weed control on the Board.

Alaine is a Natural Resources Manager with the City of Mercer Island where mapping and treating noxious weed species is an integral part of her job managing public natural areas on Mercer Island. She has also served as a board member for the Society for Ecological Restoration Northwest Chapter and as an Instructor at Edmonds Community College designing coursework and teaching horticulture courses including weed identification and management. Previously, Alaine worked at several organic farms in Santa Cruz, California. Alaine received her Master of Science from the University of Washington in Ecological Restoration.

Alaine Sommargren, King County Noxious Weed Control Board Member

Alaine Sommargren, King County Noxious Weed Control Board Member

Alaine will be joining a Board composed of five voting members and one non-voting member from WSU Extension. Board members represent the five County weed board districts. The all-volunteer Board is appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by Council. Alaine will be representing Weed Board District 1, which is roughly the northwest part of the county.

Noxious Weed District Map for King County Noxious Weed Control Board

Noxious Weed District Map for King County Noxious Weed Control Board

Alaine’s fellow Board members are Becky Chaney from Weed Board District 2, first appointed on 3/14/2012, John Browne from District 3, first appointed on 9/10/2002, Grace Stiller from District 4, first appointed on 12/12/2007, Eldon Murray from District 5, appointed on 8/22/2014, and Jennifer Andreas who is the WSU Extension representative, and who also manages the biocontrol program for Washington. Together these amazing volunteers work to keep us on track toward educating King County’s residents and controlling noxious weeds effectively, efficiently and safely for the benefit of everyone in the county.

 

The job of the Board is to carry out the requirements of the Washington State Noxious Weed Law, RCW 17.10 in King County. The Board sets county noxious weed control priorities, annually adopts the county weed list, and oversees the operations of the King County Noxious Weed Control Program. The Board also provides education to the public, explaining why it is necessary to control noxious weeds, and providing information on appropriate and effective methods of eradication or control. In other words, these dedicated volunteers have been given the task of making sure we carry out our work in the best way possible!

A little history about the King County Noxious Weed Control Board

If you have read this far, you might be interested to learn a little history about the King County Weed Board.

Going way back, the first noxious weed law in Washington was passed in 1881, while Washington was still a territory. However, the current Noxious Weed Law called RCW 17.10 that establishes county noxious weed control boards to be in charge of implementing the state noxious weed control rules was first enacted in 1969. According to this law, counties could activate their county weed board if they chose to in order to require property owners to control certain noxious weeds. Or the county could be required to activate a weed board by the state if there were noxious weed problems that the residents, neighboring counties or state government were concerned about.

Canada thistle 1

Canada thistle was one of the main targets of the first noxious weed law in Washington passed in 1881.

In 1975, King County’s first weed board was activated and it remained active until about 1986. During that time, the all-volunteer board tracked down tansy ragwort and a few other weeds and requested that property owners and road managers controlled them. The Board members themselves controlled weeds where they could and did some releases of biological control insects on tansy ragwort infestations. However, they received very little funding and did not apparently have any staff.

 

Records are sparse about what happened, but it appears that since the Board wasn’t provided enough funding to really address the issues adequately, the Board members moved on to other things and all the Board positions became vacant.

However, around 1990 there was a citizen petition to the county requesting better control of noxious weeds in the county. In response, the King County Council passed a 1992 budget proviso requiring the Environmental Division to report back on how to address the noxious weed problem in the county.

The Environmental Division presented two main options: either the county could run a noxious weed program directly, or the Council could re-activate a separate noxious weed board as spelled out in the state noxious weed law, RCW 17.10. The Environmental Division recommended funding the noxious weed board through an assessment on property as soon as possible since that wouldn’t impact the general fund.

 

The Council passed an ordinance in the summer of 1992 re-activating the Weed Board, but without the assessment funding. From 1992 to 1995, the Board operated on a small annual budget but without staff or the ability to enforce under the state noxious weed law. One important task they started in those years was to begin to alert people to the dangers of giant hogweed. Some of those early records of hogweed were very helpful in locating the plant in later years.

Hogweed with Lake Union

Giant hogweed was one of the early targets of the King County Noxious Weed Board and the Environmental Division in the 1990’s, when the plant could still be found in prominent locations such as here in Seattle towering above I-5.

However, the funding available to the Board was very limited and the Washington State Department of Agriculture and several neighboring counties formally complained to the County Executive about the inadequate noxious weed control in King County. Out of that complaint and a threat of a lawsuit, the county began more fully funding a noxious weed control program in order to become in compliance with the state law.

That first year in 1996, a county staff person who also worked full time in the agriculture program was given the job of getting the program started up from scratch. She hired a team of temporary weed inspectors and sent them out to map noxious weeds with little more than legal pads and Thomas Guide map books.

Then in 1997, the County Weed Board was finally able to hire its first full-time program coordinator and a team of six seasonal noxious weed inspectors, who began trying in earnest to carry out the requirements of the state law. In those days, the program staff had four computers between them, a few loaner cars and access to the assessor’s paper property maps. And those same Thomas Guide map books of course. There were no GPS units or smart phones back then!

MercerSloughLoosestrifePull_1997_3

A 1997 purple loosestrife pull by Bellevue youth at Mercer Slough. Even in the beginning of the noxious weed program, education and partnerships were crucial to getting work done.

The King County Weed Board has continued since those early years to advocate effectively for a stronger and stronger noxious weed control program. In recent years, we have been fortunate to have both a very supportive Board and an increasingly supportive county government, who both recognize the value of reducing noxious weeds and invasive plant impacts in the county. These days we are fully staffed with laptops for everyone, a fleet of trucks, mobile data collection and more! We have come a long way since the 1970’s with just a volunteer board and a box of notecards!

2017-Noxious-Weed-Program-Team-Photo-reduced-size

King County Noxious Weed Control Program Staff in 2017

Read more about noxious weed control efforts and achievements in King County over the years in our Annual Reports. Or for more information, contact Sasha Shaw at sasha.shaw@kingcounty.gov or Program Manager Steve Burke, steven-j.burke@kingcounty.gov.  Learn more about noxious weeds on our website: https://kingcounty.gov/weeds.

 



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