Why does Cowlitz County have a noxious weed program and what are noxious weeds?

A state law passed in 1969 allows all counties to have a program to combat noxious weeds.

Noxious weeds are non-native plants that are highly destructive, competitive and difficult to control or eliminate. They have been introduced accidentally or as ornamental plants in peoples' gardens. Some are poisonous to humans and livestock and most grow rapidly and overwhelm desirable vegetation. They can reduce crop yields, destroy beneficial native habitat, damage recreational opportunities, clog waterways, and diminish land values.

What is the noxious weed assessment that appears on my tax bill?

Beginning in 2007, the Cowlitz County Noxious Weed Control Board asked the Board of County Commissioners to put a special assessment on each property tax bill to fund the weed control program. Currently, the assessment is $8.00 a year, per parcel with an additional $0.30 per acre owned for property not classified as forest land. Property classified as forest land, as defined in RCW 84.33.035, which is used solely for the planting, growing or harvesting of trees and which is typified by canopies so dense as to prohibit the growth of an understory, are assessed at the rate of $0.80 cents per parcel plus $0.030 cents per acre. As authorized by state law RCW 17.10, many Washington counties now have noxious weed assessments on their property tax bills so that weed programs can have a dedicated source of funding.

What is the Noxious Weed Control Board and what does it do?

The Cowlitz County Noxious Weed Control Board was established to direct the state mandated program as required by law. The board consists of five unpaid citizen volunteers who represent five areas that cover the entire county. The board meets monthly and provides vision and direction to the weed control program. The program's staff are hired, directed and supervised by the citizen board.

What is the Noxious Weed Control Program?

The Cowlitz County Noxious Weed Control Program focuses on education, prevention, technical assistance and control of noxious weeds primarily through voluntary compliance. Preventing the spread of weeds is very effective and less costly than waiting until the weeds are out of control.

The program employs field staff to survey public and privately owned lands in Cowlitz County for noxious weeds and to work with landowners to achieve weed control. A lot of our work starts with citizens reporting infestations and asking for information and assistance in getting rid of noxious weeds on their property. Field staff finds additional infestations as they travel throughout the county.

How is weed control enforced?

Once an infestation is identified, the landowner is given a variety of options, including hand pulling, mowing or cutting; advice on better pasture management; and using the most effective and least harmful methods of applying herbicides. The Cowlitz County Noxious Weed Control Board requires people to use all means possible including herbicides to control weeds. The majority of weed infestations are controlled voluntarily by landowners. Less than 1% of the known weed infestations are controlled by the weed program and, as authorized by state law, the landowners can be billed for that work. Non-compliant landowners can face fines as a last resort.

Why should people who don't have noxious weeds have to pay the $8.00 per year noxious weed assessment?

Weeds are everyone's problem. Even landowners who don't currently have weeds can be harmed by weeds that spread from adjacent lands. Seeds are carried by wind and cars and the invasive nature of these plants means that no land is immune to their spread. Prevention of new infestations and introductions is a top priority of the Cowlitz County Noxious Weed Control Program.

Why don't you just fine the people with weeds and use the money to pay for the program?

When the state passed the law mandating that counties control noxious weeds, it gave counties only two ways to fund the work. Counties can either use general fund money, for which there is a lot of competition, or they can assess a special dedicated fee on property. It is not a tax, it is a regulatory fee for a service that is available to all landowners and it cannot be imposed selectively. The county has limited authority to fine people who have weeds. Everyone benefits when we control and prevent the spread of noxious weeds.

How is a plant designated as a noxious weeds?

The State Noxious Weed Control Board, a group of citizen volunteers' representing all areas of the state, annually adopt and publishes a list of weeds to be controlled or eradicated based on public comment and input from county weed boards. The Cowlitz County Weed Board puts out a customized list of Cowlitz County's priority weeds that are required by law to be controlled by the property owner. The Cowlitz County Noxious Weed Control Program, which can be reached at (360) 577-3117, has staff with scientific knowledge of weeds and can provide color photos and descriptions of noxious weeds and control methods to help citizens identify and eliminate noxious weed infestations.

Why does Cowlitz County require landowners to control noxious weeds yet not maintain noxious weeds on Cowlitz County property?

Cowlitz County agencies and departments (such as Parks, Roads, Diking Districts, etc.) are notified of and are required to control noxious weed infestations, much the same way private landowners are notified. The perception that Cowlitz County is not controlling weeds on County property is a frequently heard and inaccurate one. Our records indicate that there are as many noxious weeds on private property as there are on County lands. The public is much more likely to see weeds on public lands, and it is easier to notice where the weeds are, rather than where they are not or where they have been controlled. The noxious weed program staff can provide records of where noxious weeds have been found and controlled on County lands and report annually about the level of control achieved on County owned and managed lands. The staff also seeks out information from the public on where they see noxious weeds on County lands and roadsides so they can notify the appropriate agency and make sure effective weed control is achieved in a timely manner.

What noxious weeds are found in Cowlitz County and where do they occur?

Noxious weeds are found everywhere in Cowlitz County—in urban, suburban and rural areas; on developed and undeveloped land, farmland, forests and other natural open spaces as well as in lakes, rivers, and streams. For more information on what noxious weeds are found in Cowlitz County, read the Annual Reports of the Cowlitz County Noxious Weed Control Board. These reports can be found on our website tab Documents. 

What are some of the costs associated with noxious weeds and why should I be concerned?

  • Non-native invasive weeds across the US cost an estimated $26.4 billion per year in agricultural economic losses.
  • Approximately 420,000 acres of grassland and national forests in the Pacific Northwest are reported to have been degraded by invasive weeds.
  • Noxious weeds are a leading contributing cause of species endangerment.
  • Purple loosestrife, which chokes out wildlife habitat, now invades wetlands in 48 states at an estimated cost of $45 million a year for control and lost land use.
  • Other noxious weeds can significantly reduce the recreational value of public open space and aquatic areas. For example, the aquatic weeds Brazilian elodea and hydrilla can clog waterways, seriously disrupting diking functions, boating and swimming activities.

What services, duties are accomplished by the Noxious Weed Control Program?

  • Detecting and responding quickly to new weed infestations and introductions.
  • Surveying/mapping noxious weed infestations in locations countywide.
  • Offering landowners technical expertise to achieve high rates of weed control and voluntary compliance with the state weed law.
  • Providing educational services to the public through informational workshops and publications.
  • Conducting research on the best methods for weed control and eradication in Cowlitz County.
  • Assisting other agencies and non-profit groups with weed identification, control and eradication.
  • Coordinating weed management efforts by working with volunteer and community groups.