At first Janet Gilbert thought the tansy ragwort attractive.

It didn't take long for a neighbor to point out that the perennial with its cluster of yellow daisy-like flowers was poisonous to the three horses she brought with her to Del Norte County.

That was 10 years ago. Now, Gilbert, who has participated in European beachgrass pulls and Scotch broom bashes, will turn the eradication of tansy ragwort into a competition with cash and raffle prizes.

"I see it spreading in the county," she said. "I've found it at Tolowa Dunes State Park, up the South Fork of the Smith. We've found it on South Beach and we see it along Highway 101. A lot of people don't know about how dangerous it is. I don't think people understand what invasive plants do when they invade the wilderness."

The Tansy Games begin Saturday. Though residents can dispose of the noxious weed at the Del Norte Transfer Station for free, individuals, teams, schools and families can win prizes for bringing in the most tansy ragwort through July 22. The Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority will promote the competition and keep track of the total amount people bring in, Gilbert said.

People need to dispose of a minimum of 40 pounds of tansy ragwort to enter the contest, Gilbert said. The top winners will receive cash prizes and others will receive raffle prizes at the Del Norte County Fair in August. People can even donate their winnings to a school of their choice, she said.

"Forty pounds is not a huge amount of tansy," Gilbert said. "It's about a livestock feedbag."

According to Gilbert, tansy ragwort can cause horses, cattle, elk and deer to die of liver toxicity. The plant causes scarring in the liver, inhibiting its ability to heal and regenerate itself, she said.

Most animals choose not to eat tansy ragwort, Gilbert said, but some develop a taste for it. Livestock will consume the plant if no other food source is available, she said. If it's part of a field that's been mowed, the weed could also wind up in their feed, Gilbert said.

Though Del Norte has a plethora of invasive plants, including English ivy, Pampas grass and Himalayan blackberry, tansy ragwort is the only weed targeted by a county ordinance. Approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1977, the Tansy Control Ordinance requires landowners to control tansy ragwort within 150 feet of adjacent properties, according to County Agriculture Commissioner Justin Riggs.

But, Riggs said, it's difficult for his office to enforce the ordinance. He said someone will often report seeing the plant, which has wind-blown seeds similar to dandelions, on a neighboring pasture and his staff will ask them to "take care of it."

Riggs said seasonal staff works to pull tansy ragwort growing along county roads and investigate people's complaints.

"Tansy is quite widespread in Del Norte County," Riggs said. "There's no way our little department could ever eradicate it. There'd have to be an increase in funding and staff for us to have a chance."

Riggs said enforcing the Tansy Control Ordinance is part of the nuisance abatement ordinances the Board of Supervisors is slated to review soon. Though he couldn't say what the outcome of those revisions will be, Riggs said the ordinance will likely change.

According to Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority Director Tedd Ward, because property owners are required to control tansy ragwort it's the only weed accepted for free at the Del Norte Transfer Station.

"We actually pay Hambro WSG to manage the material as trash," he said. "And Janet, as a member of the Tolowa Dunes Stewards, has been actively engaged in removing invasive species and saw this as an opportunity to encourage people to comply with the law in a fun way."

Compared to European beachgrass, which has to be pulled multiple times to eradicate it, or Himalayan blackberry, which grows in tangled brambles, removing tansy ragwort is relatively easy, Gilbert said. People can pry up tansy ragwort with a shovel, shake the soil off the roots and put the plant into the bag head first. There are no spiky things, she says, and you can get into a rhythm.

Tansy Game participants should ask owners' permission to gather tansy ragwort on private property, Gilbert said. State and National Park lands and Pacific Shores are off limits.

For more information and to sign up for the competition, visit www.recycledelnorte.ca.gov .

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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