Ambassadors can help weed out invasive plants

Progams stem from the Garlic Mustard Games

For information about Ecology Bridge and the Summit County Weed Management Area, visit and

New programs instigated by Ecology Bridge and the Summit Cooperative Weed Management Area will give the public opportunities to help control invasive weeds such as these thistles in Round Valley.
David Jackson/Park Record

Ecology Bridge, a local business that assists private landowners and public land managers in protecting the value of their lands, has added two new programs that will help the Summit Cooperative Weed Management Area control invasive weeds.

Noxious Weed Ambassadors and Hounds Against Houndstongue will join the Garlic Mustard Games on its mission of recruiting volunteers to help pull plants that have been deemed harmful to the local ecology, said Sara Jo Dickens, owner and operator of Ecology Bridge, and project manager for the Summit CWMA.

“For the Noxious Weed Ambassadors program, we will set out boxes that will contain bags, gloves, baggies and some hand shovels, tools that we can safely provide, along with signs that describes the program and shows weed images in stations along trails (where) we know these weeds are common,” she said. “Anyone interested in participating can take these tools and pull or dig up some of the weeds while they are hiking.”

Ecology Bridge partnered with Recycle Utah to create the boxes, Dickens said.

These weeds also have a lot of impacts to our native habitats, including reducing forage for our wildlife that includes elk and moose.” Sara Jo Dickens, Ecology Bridge owner and operator

“All of our boxes for the volunteer stations have been made out of recycled wood and what hardware we could salvage,” she said. 

Once these impromptu volunteers are done hiking, they can bring the bags back to the stations, take photos and scan a QR Code to report their work, according to Dickens.

“Every two weeks we will do a drawing for the Ambassador of the Fortnight, who will get to choose one of our prizes,” she said. “Although the QR code is part of the competition, it’s also a way for us to track the impact this program has.”

Prizes include a hand-prepared dinner for four by Savory Kitchen, passes to the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District‘s recreation center, Pokemon cards and other fun items, Dickens said.

“At the end of the season, we’ll also announce the Ambassador of the Year, based on who has removed the most weeds,” she said.

The Noxious Weed Ambassadors program is inspired by the Garlic Mustard Games, an annual county-wide competition funded by the UServeUtah grant and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food’s Invasive Species Mitigation Grant, where teams work to gather as much garlic mustard as they can in different swaths of lands on certain days throughout the summer, Dickens said.

“Last year was the second year of the Garlic Mustard Games, and we were able to get 11,000 pounds of the plant,” she said. “Almost half are pulled by our partner contractors, so it was so great that our volunteer pullers matched what they did. I mean, these are people who just walk the trail and decide to grab a bag and do something.”

The “Hounds Against Houndstongue” program is a partnership with the Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District, more commonly known as Basin Recreation, Dickens said.

Seeds from houndstongue, a noxious weed, uses its tiny hooks to easily hitch rides on pet fur and clothing. “Hounds for Houndstongue,” a new program from Ecology Bridge and Summit Cooperative Weed Management Area, will help raise awareness of houndstongue and make dogs agents of invasive weed control.
Scott Iwasaki/Park Record

“This piggybacks off of one of Basin Rec’s seasonal dog-poop clean ups at Run-A-Muck dog park,” she said. “Although the day, which will be in late October, hasn’t been confirmed, yet, we will join them that day and educate participants about how we and our furry friends spread weed seeds.” 

The idea of “Hounds Against Houndstongue” is to educate dog owners about how their furry friends spread invasive weeds, Dickens said.

“How many people go on a trail and then afterwards pick these awful little burrs off of their dogs?” she said. “Sometimes the dog owners don’t know that when they throw them on the ground, they are introducing the seeds to a new area. So, with this program, we want to help make their dogs agents of control, instead of weed spreaders.”

Dickens and her staff will arrive at the event with canine combs and brushes that will be used to comb out the burrs.

“We’ll count them and pay five cents for each houndstongue seed removed from the clothing and dog fur,” she said. “That might not seem like a huge amount, but it is very easy to collect lots of seeds just by casually brushing against these plants.”

The main reason why Ecology Bridge and the Summit Cooperative Weed Management Area have started these programs is because noxious weeds are everywhere, Dickens said.

“These weeds also have a lot of impacts to our native habitats, including reducing forage for our wildlife that includes elk and moose,” she said. “They also reduce our native pollinator plants that are so important to our native pollinator species from bees to butterflies to hummingbirds. And some weeds increase the chance for wildfire through the impact of adding additional stress to our conifer forests.”

Unfortunately, there are more weeds than there is money to fund invasive weed control, so that’s why Dickens has started these community-wide volunteer programs.

“The State of Utah commits somewhere between $1.5 million to $2 million a year in grant funding to help people control noxious weeds, but Park City has about 9,000 acres of open space … it is near impossible to stay on top of all of that,” she said. “So volunteers can really help.”

Invasive weeds like thistles, shown, reduces wildlife forage, reduce plants for pollinators and increase the chance for wildfire, says Sara Jo Dickens, Ecology Bridge owner and operator.
David Jackson/Park Record

The programs also teach volunteers more about the natural world around them, Dickens said.

“They can learn about cool things in nature that they usually walk by and never see,” she said.

One of the last reasons these programs are important is because they can help reduce herbicide use, according to Dickens.

“We use it mostly as a last-ditch effort because we have too much ground to cover,” she said. “Perennial weeds have deep, deep root systems. It may seem like you got the plant when you pull Canada thistle, but they are just like aspen. There is a whole forest underground, and we’re only getting a branch.”

Dickens feels that invasive weed control is a thankless job, so it makes her happy when she sees people supporting these programs.

“It brings tears to my eyes to see the community get behind what we do,” she said. “If we can show the state that we can make that impact through these types of programs, they may be more willing to fund the CWMA and partners to get crews in to do some additional hand removal.”

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