As you plan and prepare for some trail riding or horse camping adventures this spring and summer, make sure you have all of your bases covered. It would ruin your trip to arrive at a beautiful national park entrance only to be turned away because you've brought hay with you that doesn't pass muster. Those culprit bales may contain exotic, or non-native, weed seeds.
"Many publicly managed lands, national parks, and national forests now require horse owners who visit to feed their horses what's known as 'certified weed-free' or 'certified weed seed-free' forage," says Bonnie Davis, a respected lecturer on horse camping and trail management.
Weeds and their seeds are brought onto public lands in natural ways-by wildlife or birds that live within that environment, or by the wind-and unnatural ways-by hikers, bikers, loggers, miners, vehicles, and yes, by horses.
"As noxious weeds spread, federal managers try to control them through mechanical, biological, and chemical means," notes Davis, "But some attention has turned to preventing the arrival of non-native weeds."
Most weed-free regulations are based within the western states. California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming all have some kind of certified weed-free or certified baled feed program. One way to find out more about the specific regulations for each state is to contact the Department of Agriculture within each state. Davis also recommends contacting the public agency that manages the land on which you plan to camp and/or ride to find out individual restrictions. Davis warns, though: "Don't believe what you hear or read online; false stories, bad rumors, and outdated emails have kept a lot of horsemen from using public lands."
Do your research before you head out. "By becoming proactive instead of reactive, public lands will remain open to equestrian use," says Davis.