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lative Audit Division




State of Montana



Report to the Legislature



February 2003



Limited Scope Performance Audit



Noxious Weed Management on State
Lands



This report recommends:

► Montana Department of Agricuhure to improve biennial reports
prepared by weed districts and state agencies to provide
assessments of noxious weed management effectiveness on state
lands.

► Department of Natural Resources and Conservation:

• Review alternatives for establishing grazing lease incentives to
promote weed management.

• Identify noxious weed infestations and establish a process for
monitoring priorities.

• Establish weed management enforcement options.

• Identify weed management projects warranting DNRC
involvement.



02P-12



Direct comments/inquiries to:
Legislative Audit Division
Room 160, State Capitol
PO Box 201705
Helena MT 59620-1705



Help eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse in state government. Call the Fraud Hotline at 1 -800-222-4446
statewide or 444-4446 in Helena.



PERFORMANCE AUDITS



Performance audits conducted by the Legislative Audit Division are designed to assess state government
operations. From the audit work, a determination is made as to whether agencies and programs are
accomplishing their purposes, and whether they can do so with greater efficiency and economy. The
audit work is conducted in accordance with audit standards set forth by the United States General
Accounting Office.

Members of the performance audit staff hold degrees in disciplines appropriate to the audit process.
Areas of expertise include business and public administration, statistics, economics, political science,
criminal justice, logistics, computer science, and engineering.

Performance audits are performed at the request of the Legislative Audit Committee which is a bicameral
and bipartisan standing committee of the Montana Legislature. The committee consists of six members of
the Senate and six members of the House of Representatives.



MEMBERS OF THE LEGISLATIVE AUDIT COMMITTEE


Senator John Cobb


Representative


Joe Balyeat


Senator Jim Elliott


Representative


Dee Brown


Senator Dan Harrington


Representative


John Musgrove


Senator John Esp


Representative


Hal Jacobson


Senator Corey Stapleton


Representative


Jeff Pattison, Vice Chair


Senator Jon Tester, Chair


Representative


David Wanzenried



LEGISLATIVE AUDIT DIVISION



Scott A. Seacat, Legislative Auditor
John W. Northey, Legal Counsel




Deputy Legislative Auditors:

Jim Pellegrini, Performance Audit

Tori Hunthausen, IS Audit & Operations

James Gillett, Financial-Compliance Audit



February 2003



The Legislative Audit Committee
of the Montana State Legislature:

We conducted a performance audit of noxious weed management on state lands. Our audit work
included a review of weed control activities of the departments of Corrections, Fish, Wildlife and
Parks, Natural Resources and Conservation, and Transportation, as well as the University System.
According to Montana law, these agencies are required to establish written agreements with
county weed districts addressing noxious weed management on all state lands. This report
contains recommendations for improving state lands weed management effectiveness. Written
responses from the departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Conservation are
included at the end of the report.

We appreciate the cooperation of the various state agency staff and county weed district officials
who assisted with the audit.

Respectfully submitted,

(Signature on File)

Scott A. Seacat
Legislative Auditor



Room 160, State Capitol Building PO Box 201705 Helena, MT 59620-1705
Phone (406) 444-3122 FAX (406) 444-9784 E-Mail [email protected]



Legislative Audit Division



Performance Audit



Noxious Weed Management on
State Lands



Members of the audit staff involved in this audit were Lisa Blanford,
Tom Cooper, Angie Grove, Angus K. Maciver, Jim Nelson, Jim
Pellegrini, and Mike Wingard.



Table of Contents



List of Tables and Figures iii

Appointed and Administrative Officials iv

Report Summary S-1

Chapter I -Introduction 1

Introduction 1

Audit Objectives 1

Scope 2

Audit Methodologies 2

Compliance 3

Report Organization 4

Chapter II -Background 5

Introduction 5

State Lands 5

State Agency Comparison 6

DNRC 6

MDT 7

FWP 7

DOC 8

University System 8

Various Approaches to Agency Weed Management 8

Written Agreements and Six -Year Plans are Required 9

Conclusion: Agencies are in Compliance with Written

Agreement and Six-Year Plan Requirements 10

Communication and Coordination is Important 10

Chapter III - Assessing Noxious Weed Management Effectiveness 11

Introduction 11

Biennial Weed District Reports 11

Biennial Report Content 11

Reports are not Used 12

State Agency Statements or Summaries of Weed Actions 12

Agency Statement or Summary Content 13

Conclusion: Current Reports do not Assess Weed

Management Effectiveness 13

How Can the Reporting Process be Improved? 14

Montana Department of Agriculture Role for Achieving

Improvements 15

Chapter IV - Noxious Weed Control on Trust Lands 17

Introduction 17

Montana Law Outlines Trust Lands Responsibilities 17

Indications of Noxious Weeds on Trust Lands 17

Conclusion: Infestation on State Lands could be Higher than

9 Percent 19

Potential Impact of Noxious Weeds 19

Page i



Table of Contents



Basis of Audit Recommendations is Improving Trust

Revenue 20

Alternatives for Grazing Lease Incentive 21

Agricultural Leases 22

Grazing Leases 22

Does Weed Control Deduction Provide an Effective

Incentive? 23

Establish an Incentive for Noxious Weed Control 24

DNRC Concerned About Administrative Costs and Equity 26

Monitoring Weed Infestations 26

Current Process does not Assure Priorities are Identified or

Monitored 26

DNRC Should Establish a Weed Management Process 27

DNRC Supports the Need to Verify Compliance on the

Highest Priorities 28

Weed Management Enforcement 28

Weed District Enforcement is not Consistent 28

DNRC Enforcement Alternatives are Needed 29

Department Agrees with Need for Enforcement Alternatives 31

DNRC Responsibility for Weed Management 31

DNRC Trust Land Stewardship 31

Inventory and Mapping 32

DNRC Weed Project Involvement 32

DNRC Weed Management Funding 33

Improving and Developing State Lands 33

Noxious Weeds from Recreational Use 33

Forest Management Improvements 34

Staff Time Contributes to Weed Management 34

Other Resource Development 34

Weed Management Responsibility 34

Department Supports Need to Prioritize 36

Agency Responses A-1

Department of Agriculture A-3

Department of Natural Resources and Conservation A-5



Page ii



List of Figures and Tables



Tables

Table 1 State Agency Noxious Weed Control Expenditures 6

Table 2 Audit Assessment of Visible Noxious Weeds on State Lands 18

Table 3 Impact of a 10 Percent Noxious Weed Infestation Level

on School Trust Revenue 20



Page iii



Appointed and Administrative Officials



Montana Department of
Agriculture

Department of Corrections



Ralph Peck, Director

Greg Ames, Administrator, Agricultural Sciences Division

Bill Slaughter, Director

Bill Dabney, Prison Ranch Manager



Department of Fish, Wildlife
and Parks



Jeff Hagener, Director



Department of Natural
Resources and Conservation



Bud Clinch, Director

Tom Schultz, Administrator, Trust Land Management Division



Montana Department of
Transportation

University System



Dave Gait, Director

John Blacker, Administrator, Maintenance Division

Rod Sundsted, Associate Commissioner of Fiscal Affairs



Page iv



Report Summary



Introduction



At the request of the Legislative Audit Committee (LAC), the
Legislative Audit Division conducted a limited scope performance
audit of noxbus weed management activities on state lands. In May
2001, the LAC received a letter signed by over 100 Montana
legislators requesting the performance audit. The majority of state
lands are designated as school trust lands. Revenue generated from
leasing for grazing, agriculture, minerals and forest harvesting on
these state lands is used to support schools funding. We included
lands administered by five agencies in our review:



► Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC)

► Montana Department of Transportation (MDT)

► Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP)

► Department of Corrections (DOC)

► The University System

According to section 7-22-2151, MCA, noxious weed management
in Montana is administered through cooperative agreements between
state agencies and weed boards. These agreements should include:

► Six-year integrated noxious weed management plan.

► Noxious weed management goals statement.

► Plan of operations for the biennium, including budget.

► A biennial performance report from the weed board to the state
weed coordinator in the Montana department of Agriculture
(MDA).

Conclusion: Agencies are in compliance with Written Agreement
and Six -year Plan Requirements.



Biennial Performance
Reports



We found all agencies were generally in compliance with the
requirements of the law. Written agreements were in place. The six-
year plans included a goals statement and made reference to budget
requirements.

We noted the majority of the reports were generic and did not
provide an indication of specific weed control activities. There was

Page S-1



Report Summary



Noxious Weeds on Trust
Lands



no attempt to consolidate biennial reports or to generate a statewide
assessment. We do not believe the current contents of biennial
reports provide an assessment of effectiveness. As a result, the weed
district biennial reports are not used. A consolidated report
reflecting an assessment of weed management effectiveness on state
lands could be useful to the legislature and the executive branch.
Currently, legislators are not provided any statewide noxious weed
information. We recommend MDA:

A. Develop biennial report criteria and format to assess the status of
noxious weeds on state lands in each county.

B . Establish procedures for joint weed districts and state agency
report preparation, coordination, and submission.

C. Consolidate weed district biennial reports into a statewide state
lands noxious weed report for submission to the legislature and
governor.

The Montana Weed Management Plan indicates 9 percent of state
lands are infested with noxious weeds. Since "infested" was not
defined in the plan, we assumed infestation meant some level of
noxious weeds compared to total vegetation. To develop an
indicator of the infestation level, we accompanied weed coordinators
in 20 counties to 1 19 randomly selected parcels of leased trust lands.
We asked weed coordinators to rate the percent of noxious weeds
visible compared to total vegetation. Coordinators rated 43 percent
of the parcels as zero noxious weeds visible and 36 percent as 1 to 9
percent of the vegetation. In the remaining 21 percent of the parcels,
noxious weeds accounted for 10 to 100 percent of total vegetation.
Using this assessment indicator, we conclude noxious weed
infestation on state lands could be higher than the 9 percent figure
identified in the state management pla n.



According to section 77-1-106, MCA, lease rental rates and fees
should consider the best interests of the state with regard to the long-
term productivity of school trust lands, while optimizing the return to
the school trust. If the percent of infested parcels increases and/or
the level of infestation on parcels increases, then carrying capacity is
reduced and less revenue is available to the trust. If infested parcels



Page S-2



Report Summary



Alternatives for Grazing
Lease Incentive



Establish an Incentive for
Noxious Weed Control on
Grazing Lands



Monitoring Priority Weed
Infestations



Current Process Does Not
Assure Priorities are
Identified or Monitored



and/or the level of infestation decreases, canying capacity and trust
revenue can increase.

Historically, the department has relied on lessees for noxious weed
control. According to section 7-22-2149, MCA, if a weed district
conducts noxious weed control on leased state lands, the lessee is
responsible for the bill. In addition, section 36.25.132, ARM, states
the lessee shall keep the land free of noxious weeds at their own cost.
The conditions of the lease agreement also designate the lessee as
responsible for weed control. This contractual agreement is
important, because it not only designates the lessee responsible for
weed control, but also implies the department is responsible for
oversight.

The results of our state lands parcel assessment indicate noxious
weeds are a more significant problem on grazing lands than on
agricultural lands. We attribute this in part to the incentive provided
by the rental rate determination for agricultural lands, which is based
on production. The formula for grazing leases does not appear to
provide a similar incentive. We recommend DNRC:

A. Review alternatives for establishing a grazing lease incentive
for weed management.

B. Make recommendations to the State Board of Land
Commissioners and seek legislation as appropriate.

The Trust Land Management Division processes about 1 ,000 lease
renewals each year. Leases are renewed every five or ten years
depending on the term of the lease. Prior to renewal staff conduct
assessments, including a forage inventory. When the department
identifies a weed concern during renewal, staff can attach
stipulations to the lease agreement requiring supplemental weed
management. Stipulations and supplemental plans are used for five
percent of the leases renewed each year.

The current process allows for identification of noxious weed
concerns on trust lands every five or ten years. According to district
weed coordinators, infestations of existing or new noxious weeds can



Page S-3



Report Summary



become well-established within five years. While the use of a
standard lease weed clause, stipulations, and supplemental weed
plans indicates DNRC recognizes the need for weed management,
department officials do not have assurance they are managing the
highest priority noxious weed concerns. To optimize the return to
the school trust by reducing noxious weeds, we recommend DNRC:



Enforcement Alternatives



A. Identify significant noxious weed infestations on state lands.

B. Monitor priority noxious weed infestations and weed
management compliance.

We noted a reliance on weed districts for enforcement of weed
management requirements. If the lessee remains uncooperative, the
expectation is the weed district will use its enforcement authority to
resolve the problem. Currently, if a lessee does not manage weeds,
the only alternative to weed district enforcement is to invoke the
lease cancellation clause. Staff expressed reluctance to use the lease
cancellation authority, because many state parcels are inaccessible,
except through the current lessee's property. Lease cancellation can
make access for weed control by DNRC staff or a new lessee
difficult.



Department Enforcement
Alternatives are Needed



DNRC Responsibility for
Weed Management



The state is responsible for optimizing the trust. Therefore,
monitoring weed management compliance, which impacts trust
revenue, should not be left to weed districts. To improve noxious
weed control and optimize return to the trust, we recommend DNRC:

A. Verify weed management compliance on leased parcels.

B. Evaluate alternatives for enforcement of noxious weed
management requirements.

C. Make proposals to the State Board of Land Commissioners as
appropriate.

Officials indicated the approach to stewardship is based on two
principles. First, if the cause of degradation of state lands (not
limited to weeds) is other than the current lessee, then the agency
attempts to assist with corrective action. Second, because the



Page S4



Report Summary



Weed Project Involvement



formula includes a deduction for weed control, DNRC is reluctant to
provide assistance.

Some district weed coordinator comments acknowledged DNRC
involvement in weed control projects on leased lands and department
contributions to local cooperative projects. Most however, reflected
minimal DNRC involvement. In our survey of lessees, we asked
lessees to describe DNRC involvement in weed management on
leased trust lands. Respondents indicated DNRC:



DNRC Weed Management
Funding



Department Weed
Management Priorities



► Assists with inventory/mapping — 14 percent

► Assists with weed management plan — 3 percent

► Assists with weed control — 9 percent

► Does not provide assistance — 74 percent

Department noxious weed management funding for fiscal
year 2002 included:

► $31,000 from the resource development account to be
used by the DNRC's Trust Land Management Division.

► $5,000 designated for weed management from the
recreational use account.

► Approximately $90,000 expended by the Forest
Management Bureau for noxious weed management on
timber lands.

► A portion of staff time (5 to 15 percent) at land/field
offices used for noxious weed management (assessment,
spraying herbicides, bio-controls, etc).

The DNRC approach does not necessarily identify weed
priorities for trust lands, whether leased, un-leased,
agriculture, grazing, or timber. The approach relies on
lessees for weed management. Therefore, DNRC does not
request weed management funding based on state -wide
priorities. Officials use the amount approved in previous
years as the basis for succeeding budget requests. The
department should establish a more formal process

Page S-5



Report Summary



recognizing a level of responsibility for participation in weed
management on trust lands. We recommend DNRC:

A. Identify land/unit office weed management projects
warranting involvement by the department.

B. Consolidate DNRC weed management projects and
develop budget proposals for executive and legislative
consideration.



Page S-6



Chapter I - Introduction



Introduction



At the request of the Legislative Audit Committee (LAC), the
Legislative Audit Division conducted a limited scope performance
audit of noxious weed management activities on state lands. In May
2001, the LAC received a letter signed by over 100 Montana
legislators requesting the performance audit. This letter also
requested an "on- the -ground" evaluation of tracts of trust lands and a
comparison of the weed control activities of the Department of
Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) to other state agencies.



Audit Objectives



In June 1997, we issued a performance audit report about the state's
Noxious Weed Program (96P-13). The audit addressed:

► Noxious Weed Trust Fund administration by the Montana
Department of Agriculture (MDA).

► Right-of-way weed control funding for the Montana Department
of Transportation (MDT).

► County weed management practices.

During the 1997 audit, we did not examine the implementation of
section 7-22-2151, MCA, enacted by HB 395 during the 1995
legislative session. Since the law was recently enacted, there was
little activity. This statute requires state agencies administering land
within a weed district (county) to enter into agreements with district
weed boards to specify mutual responsibilities for noxious weed
control on state lands. Five state agencies are identified in the law:

► Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

► Montana Department of Transportation.

► Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP).

► Department of Corrections (DOC).

► The University System.

We developed four audit objectives:

► Determine if state agencies are in compliance with section 7-22-
2151, MCA.



Page 1



Chapter I - Introduction



► Determine if biennial reporting includes an assessment of state
agency noxious weed management effectiveness.

► Determine how DNRC noxious weed management compares to
other state agencies.

► Assess noxious weeds on trust lands and identify DNRC weed
management responsibilities.



Scope We examined noxious weed management activities in five state

agencies focusing on weed control conducted in the last two years.
The primary agencies are DNRC, MDT, and FWP. DOC and
University System lands, although limited in terms of total state
lands acreage, were also reviewed. In addition, we included the
following:

► Assessment of noxious weeds on a sample of state lands parcels.

► Survey of lessees regarding weed control on leased state lands.

► County weed coordinator comments regarding compliance with
weed control requirements related to state agencies.



Audit Methodologies We reviewed applicable Montana laws; Administrative Rules of

Montana; available budget, funding, and expenditure documentation;
and the Montana Weed Management Plan to obtain an understanding
of weed management requirements and accomplishments.

We interviewed:

► State agency central office and regional/district/field points of
contact from DNRC, FWP, MDT, DOC, and the University
System to discuss compliance with section 7-22-2151, MCA,
pertaining to written agreements between counties and state
agencies, six-year noxious weed control plans, and biennial
noxious weed reports.

► The MDA state weed coordinator to determine availability of
six-year weed control plans, cooperative agreements, and
biennial reports. We also discussed the use of biennial reports
and the intent of the statutory requirement for reporting.



Page 2



Chapter I - Introduction



► A sample of 25 district (county) weed coordinators to evaluate
compliance with the law regarding six-year noxious weed
control plans, cooperative agreements with state agencies, and
biennial reports.

We also interviewed DNRC officials to:

► Examine the effect of noxious weeds on the process used by
DNRC to determine lease rates for agricultural and grazing
lands.

► Determine how the department assesses and monitors noxious
weed infestations on both leased and non-leased state trust
lands.

► Determine how the department verifies lessee compliance with
noxious weed control requirements.

► Identify current availability and uses of noxious weed control
funding.

We solicited written comments from seven public lands -related
organizations to provide additional perspective of state lands users
regarding noxious weed control. We arranged for county weed
coordinators to help us assess a random sample of 119 parcels of
trust lands in 20 counties across the state to rate the percent of total
vegetation attributed to noxious weeds. We surveyed a random
sample of 154 state trust lands lessees selected from the most recent
fiscal year listing of lease renewals to determine leaseholder views
regarding noxious weeds on state lands and DNRC weed control
activities.

Compliance We examined state agency compliance with section 7-22-2151,

MCA, requiring written agreements. We found the five state
agencies identified in the law were generally in compliance with
these regulatory requirements. However, we found the biennial
reports submitted to MDA did not assess weed management success
as required by the law. This issue is discussed in chapter III.



Page 3



Chapter I - Introduction



Report Organization The remainder of this report is organized as follows:

► Chapter II, Background . Provides information about state
agency weed management activities and section 7-22-2151,
MCA, regarding written agreements between state agencies and
weed districts.



Page 4







Chapter IE, Assessing Noxious Weed Management
Effectiveness . Provides a recommendation to improve the
biennial reporting process by developing a consolidated report
for assessing weed management effectiveness.

► Chapter IV, Noxious Weed Control on Trust Lands . Provides
recommendations to DNRC regarding improvements for noxious
weed control, including rental incentives, infestation monitoring,
enforcement options, and prioritization.



Chapter II - Background



Introduction



Section 7-22-2109, MCA, requires county weed boards to establish
criteria for the management of noxious weeds on all land within the
weed district. Section 7-22-2151, MCA, requires written agreements
between county weed districts and state agencies to specify mutual
responsibilities for noxious weed control on state lands. The
majority of state lands are designated as school trust lands. Revenue


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Online LibraryMontana.Dept. of Labor and Industry.Research and AExperience wanted : an employment guide for Montana seniors (Volume 2005) → online text (page 1 of 4)