The economic cost of noxious weeds on Montana grazing lands.
We distributed a 16-question survey concerning noxious weed abundance, impacts, and management to livestock producers grazing on privately owned or leased grazing lands in Montana. The noxious weeds most commonly reported as being present on respondents' grazing units were Canada thistle [Cirsium arvense (L.) Scop.] (64% of grazing units) and leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula L.) (45% of grazing units), and these species also reportedly caused the greatest reductions in livestock forage. Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale L.) was more prevalent than either spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe L.) or diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa Lam.) (39% vs. 32% and 10%, respectively, of grazing units), but collectively C. stoebe and C. diffusa were reported to cause greater forage reductions than C. officinale. The top three strategies used to manage noxious weeds were chemical control, grazing, and biological control. Combining survey responses with forage-loss models derived from field data for C. stoebe and E. esula, we estimated the combined cost of noxious weed management and forage losses on privately owned rangeland to be $3.54 ha-1 yr-1, or $7,243 annually for an average size grazing unit (i.e., 2,046 ha [5,055 ac]). Our estimates of economic losses are lower than many estimates from previous studies, possibly because we focused only on direct costs related to private grazing land, while other studies often consider indirect impacts. Nonetheless, our estimates are substantial; for example, our estimated loss equates to 24% of the average per-hectare lease rate for Montana grazing land.