For three years, a group of Benewah County, Idaho environmentalists has cultivated a patch of roadside plants to show herbicides are not the only way to control weeds.
But the 10-year project came to an abrupt end this summer. The Idaho Department of Transportation sprayed their plot with herbicide."It's just terrible," said Georgia Hoglund, a consultant who helped the group. "We could already see the process was beginning to work."
A Transportation Department spokesman said Monday the spraying was accidental, and, ironically, had been prompted by a complaint the group made to the state.
The dispute concerns a half-mile stretch along Idaho 6 near the small town of Santa, 16 miles northwest of St. Maries.
In 1986, the Santa-based Citizens for Environmental Quality began an assault on spotted knapweed, one of several weeds identified as noxious by state law. State and local road crews are required to control noxious weeds along their roads.
To begin, the group sprayed herbicide on the knapweed when it was beginning to grow, Hoglund said. Group members came back later to pull weeds that escaped the toxins.
Each year, they cultivated native trees, shrubs and flowers that shaded the ground, creating an environment inhospitable to knapweed. Hoglund said that by midsummer this year, the boundary between the demonstration plot and adjacent areas was clear.
In late July, the group complained to the state Department of Agriculture that the state was not fulfilling its legal obligation to control noxious weeds in the area. Hoglund said seeds from the adjoining areas were blowing into the test area.
Because state crews were working in the Coeur d'Alene area, a Benewah County weed control agent was sent to complete the job, said Bob Ewing, head of the state's highway maintenance in northern Idaho.
The worker sprayed herbicide along the entire stretch of road, including the group's test plot.
The spray killed nearly all of the plants in the plot, including the species that were helping suppress the knapweed, Hoglund said.
She conceded one of two signs designating the boundaries of the plot had been knocked down.