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Farmers near Salton Sea refuge complain noxious weeds encroaching on their land

April 18, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

Farmers who have land next to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge voiced complaints to federal officials Wednesday night, saying the refuge is not being run properly and it's affecting their acreage.

One of the problems the farmers have is the refuge is growing nutgrass to feed geese but nutgrass is a noxious weed in California, farmer Al Kalin said.

Kalin and other farmers who own land adjacent to the refuge met with officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Imperial County Farm Bureau office because they are concerned nutgrass and other noxious weeds are spreading onto their land.

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The refuge serves as home to three endangered species: the Yuma clapper rail, the California brown pelican and the desert pupfish. Another species at the refuge, the gull-billed tern, is a candidate for the Endangered Species List.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials, who manage the refuge, said they are growing nutgrass to feed snow geese.

According to the University of California, Riverside, nutgrass causes serious economic losses. It is common to have reports of up to 50 percent yield losses in crops it infests.

Charlie Pelizza, senior wildlife biologist at the refuge, has studied what happens after the geese eat nutgrass. He inspected samples of the geese feces and found nothing viable that would grow more nutgrass and spread the weed.

Juan Guerrero, an area livestock adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension, said while Pelizza did not find anything viable in the feces, the feces would have to be planted to make sure geese could not spread nutgrass.

Kalin suggested the refuge form an advisory committee of farmers to help it manage its crops. He said many local farmers have decades of experience to help employees at the refuge, who have little or no experience.

Such advice from local farmers could have saved the refuge 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen last season when it put 150 pounds of nitrogen on its field at one time, Kalin said.

"Every farmer knows not to put more than 50 pounds of nitrogen down at one time," he said.

Sylvia Pelizza, project manager at the refuge, said cooperative farm efforts at the refuge are not working as hoped so employees have had to do the farming themselves.

Pelizza agreed with Kalin and suggested an informal meeting of farmers and refuge land managers, possibly as early as the last week of this month.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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