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War of the Weeds: Early identification can help prevent spread of invasive plants

KIMBERLY — Trays and pots inside Don Morishita’s greenhouse show a healthy growth of young seedlings. But rather than cultivating colorful flowers or green vegetables, Morishita’s collection contains nothing but weeds.

The University of Idaho professor of weed science, extension specialist and superintendent is helping an app developer collect photos of each seedling at various stages of growth. Eventually, users will be able to identify weeds from an early stage through the app’s photo identification.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Professor of Weed Science Don Morishita talks about different weeds and the best way to treat them Tuesday at the University of Idaho Kimberly Research and Extension Center.

This could be extremely useful for early detection and treatment of Idaho’s noxious — and ob-noxious — weeds, something which Twin Falls County Weed Superintendent Kali Sherrill highly recommends.

“Now is the time to start paying attention,” she said.

As temperatures rise over the next several weeks, many weeds can develop root systems several inches deep and become a big problem for property owners. And oftentimes, it’s going to be a constant battle to get rid of them.

The good news for homeowners: if you need help with early identification, Sherill’s office can help. Already, she’s been making visits around the county to areas where noxious weeds have been a problem. Twin Falls County residents can bring samples to her office at 1234 Highland Ave. or call 208-734-9000.

The University of Idaho research center in Kimberly can also help. Morishita can be reached at 208-423-6616.

Identifying fully grown weeds is even easier to do on your own. Morishita recommends a free app called Plant Net, which compares pictures to a database, similar to the app being developed for younger plants.

Morishita has spent the past 32 years working with weeds, studying their biology and ecology to develop better ways to control them.

And in some cases, that means helping them to grow. On Tuesday, he pointed out a tray with rows of hairy nightshade, a poisonous weed that’s a problem for bean growers in the area. The berries the weed produces stain the beans, ruining them for consumption.

“Once it starts to emerge around the first of May, it keeps coming up,” Morishita said.

He’s testing the use of gibberellic acid on the nightshade to see if it can regulate the growth of the weed to make them come up at the same time. If tests show positive results, farmers could try using the growth regulator so they can treat all their weeds at once.

Generally, annuals can be killed easily with a hoe or a shovel, Morishita said. Perennial weeds, on the other hand, will probably need to be treated with herbicides or bio-control (such as insects.)

These last two methods can be trickier. Bio-control is best done in areas where insects can thrive — away from people and animals, Sherrill said. And advice on what kinds of chemical products to use will vary based on where the plants are.

“Products are very specific as to where they can or cannot be used,” she said.

Sherrill can do an on-site inspection of your property to recommend a treatment method.

There are dozens of weeds on the state’s noxious weed list, and the county and cities also have their own rules for homeowners. Here are just a few of the common weeds in Twin Falls County, and what experts generally recommend for getting rid of them:

Thistles

Thistles thrived last summer after a wet winter regenerated their seeds, Sherrill said. Musk thistle is one noxious weed variety that has a two-year lifecycle. It can be killed off without difficulty before it reaches several feet tall.

“You could go in and hoe it, and it’ll kill the plant,” Morishita said.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS 

Scotch thistle is grown and tested Tuesday at the University of Idaho Kimberly Research and Extension Center.

Scotch thistles, however, are worse. They were initially introduced in Idaho as ornamentals to create a boundary for people’s yards, he said. Although they are also biennials, he recommends using a shovel to cut them out or tackle them with chemicals.

The shorter Canada thistle is also tricky because its roots can regenerate and extend 12 inches into the soil. Morishita recommends spraying in late summer or early fall when dropping temperatures cause the plants to store energy in their roots – taking the herbicides in with the carbohydrates.

For now, he recommends tilling or spraying the Canada thistles this spring to set them back. Repeat this several times throughout the summer.

Field bindweed

This perennial weed is in the same family as morning glory flowers, and it should be controlled as early as possible, Morishita said.

“Once it becomes established, it puts out a creeping root system,” he said.

The roots can go even deeper than the Canada thistle, and the plant’s seed can survive in the soil for 50 years. You should use an herbicide in the late summer or fall, but in the meantime, you’ll need to continually dig at it to set it back.

Beware of letting this weed go even one year without treatment, Morishita said. Plan on fighting a four- to five-year war with the plant to keep it from re-establishing.

Houndstongue

This one starts coming up early in the season. Despite its velvety leaves, this weed will eventually turn into a brown burr.

“It’s most common in undisturbed areas,” Morishita said, so be careful not to bring it home from a hiking trip.

Because it’s a biennial, it can be dug up and killed with a shovel.

Other weed identification and destruction resources can be found at your county weed superintendent’s office or in the Western Society of Weed Science book, “Weeds of the West.”


National
AP
DNA brings arrest in sadistic crime spree from '70s and '80s

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A man once sworn to protect the public from crime was accused Wednesday of living a double life terrorizing suburban neighborhoods at night, becoming one of California's most feared serial killers and rapists in the 1970s and '80s before leaving a cold trail that baffled investigators for more than three decades.

Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested at his home after DNA linked him to crimes attributed to the so-called Golden State Killer and he initially was charged with eight counts of murder and could face dozens more charges, authorities said.

The culprit also known as the East Area Rapist, among other names, is suspected of at least 12 slayings and 50 rapes in 10 counties from Northern to Southern California. The armed and masked prowler sneaked in through windows at night and surprised sleeping victims who ranged in age from 13 to 41.

When encountering a couple, he was known to tie up the man and pile dishes on his back. He threatened to kill both victims if he heard plates crash to the floor while he raped the woman. He then ransacked the house, taking souvenirs, notably coins and jewelry before fleeing on foot or bicycle.

Despite an outpouring of thousands of tips over the years, DeAngelo's name had not been on the radar of law enforcement before last week, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said.

"We knew we were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we also knew that needle was there," she said. "It was right here in Sacramento."

A break in the case and the arrest came together in "light speed" during the past six days, Schubert said, though authorities refused to reveal what led to DeAngelo.

Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones said detectives with "dogged determination" were able to get a sample of DNA from something DeAngelo discarded, though he wouldn't say what the item was. The genetic material was not a match, but there were enough similarities for investigators to return for more and they said they were able to get a conclusive match.

After watching DeAngelo for several days, deputies took him by surprise Tuesday.

"It looked as though he might have been searching his mind to execute a particular plan he may have had," but never had time to act, Jones said.

DeAngelo was arrested on suspicion of committing double-killings in Sacramento and Ventura counties and later charged with four counts of murder in Orange County, officials said.

Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten said that before prosecutors decide whether to seek the death penalty, there will be a "solemn and formal death review process that typically takes many months before a decision is made."

DeAngelo, who served in the Navy, was a police officer in Exeter, in the San Joaquin Valley, from 1973 to 1976, at a time a burglar known as the Visalia Ransacker was active, Jones said.

He transferred to the force in Auburn in the Sierra foothills near where he grew up outside Sacramento. About 50 crimes, including two killings, were attributed to the East Area Rapist during the three years DeAngelo worked in Auburn, but Jones said it wasn't clear if any were committed while on duty.

DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn department in 1979 after being arrested for stealing a can of dog repellant and a hammer from a drug store, according to Auburn Journal articles from the time. He was convicted of the theft and fined $100.

Ten slayings occurred after he was fired and all took place in Southern California.

Although it's unusual for serial killers to stop, Jones said they have no reason to think DeAngelo continued to commit crimes after 1986, when the last rape and killing occurred in Orange County.

"We have no indication of any crimes with a similar or at least a close enough link to his MO and other things that he's done in the past to link him to anything from '86 on," Jones said. "We just have nothing at this point."

Jones said he always thought the rapist was alive, but might be in prison.

For the prosecutors and investigators, the arrest not only marked a significant professional achievement but also a personal one that had touched their formative years and early careers.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley was a college student volunteering at a rape crisis center and "sat with survivors who had been assaulted by this guy."

The wave of horrifying crimes had brought an end to a more innocent era in the Sacramento suburbs when children rode bicycles to school, played outside until dark and people didn't lock their doors, Schubert said.

"It all changed," said Schubert, who was 12 at the time. "For anyone that lived here in this community, in Sacramento, the memories are very vivid. You can ask anyone who grew up here. Everyone has a story."

In 1999, Orange County sheriff's homicide detectives were able to use DNA to link the Irvine slaying of Keith and Patrice Harrington to nine other slayings in in Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The genetic evidence was later used to connect the same suspect to dozens of rapes in Northern California.

Harrington's brother, Bruce, helped bankroll a successful 2004 ballot initiative campaign to take DNA from all convicted felons and some arrestees.

"To the victims, sleep better tonight, he isn't coming through the window," Bruce Harrington said at the news conference announcing the arrest.


Crime-and-courts
Authorities still searching for Burley arson suspect

BURLEY — Police are still looking for a suspect nearly three months after a Jan. 29 arson fire in downtown Burley.

The fire destroyed a building at 1222 Overland Ave. and an adjacent building at 1226 Overland Ave. was damaged by water.

While firefighters were fighting the blaze they discovered a pipe bomb at the front door of a new unopened restaurant across the street from the fire. The fuse had been lit on the bomb and had gone out.

“We have not arrested a suspect yet,” Cassia County Undersheriff George Warrell said. “But our investigators are still working on the case.”

Warrell said detectives are working with state and federal authorities.

“We have evidence that is still at labs,” Warrell said.

Warrell said they are still searching for the individual shown in the video and still photographs released by the office.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives partnered with the Idaho State Fire Marshal in March to offer a combined reward of $15,000 for the arrest and conviction of the responsible parties.

The two destroyed buildings are owned by Brian Tibbets. His business partner, Brek Pilling, owns the restaurant across the street.

The buildings, which were deemed unstable, were in the process of being demolished when the Environmental Protection Agency and Idaho Department of Environmental Quality staff stepped in and halted the removal saying tests needed to be performed for asbestos.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil. It is found in insulation, vinyl floor tiles, adhesives, shingles, textured paint and patching compounds and other materials. Asbestos fibers are released into the air during product use, demolition or repairs and when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged.

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS  

Burley Fire Chief Shannon Tolman at the scene of a fire Monday morning that gutted a downtown Burley building. An undetonated bomb was found across the street. 

Exposure to the fiber increases a person’s risk of developing lung disease, and the risk is made worse by smoking. In general, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater chance there is of developing harmful health effects and disease symptoms may take years to develop following exposure, the EPA website says.

The test results showed the presence of asbestos and the owners were instructed not to disturb the rubble until further notice from the EPA.

The owner installed a sprinkler at the site to control dust and put up a chain link fence as they were instructed by officials.

The EPA did not respond to requests for an update regarding the issue on Wednesday.


Govt-and-politics
Republican candidates in Minidoka County commissioner's race square off

RUPERT — Two Republican candidates for Minidoka County commissioner’s seat in District 1 will face off in the May 15 Primary Election.

Wayne Schenk is a businessman and has been a farmer for 36 years. He has a bachelor’s degree with a major in computer science and minor in accounting.

Carl Hanson is a retired hospital administrator and the former owner of a small business for 14 years. He has a master’s degree in administration with an emphasis in health services administration. As the former CEO of Minidoka Memorial Hospital, he was responsible for millions of dollars and hundreds of employees.

Hanson said if he’s elected he would like to see a larger taxable valuation that comes from businesses in the county rather than just residential housing.

“That comes through growth and development,” he said. Hanson would also support the use of urban renewal tools.

“It takes so much money to run a county and when the tax valuation just comes from homes it becomes a burden on residents,” Hanson said.

Schenk wants to make sure the county continues down a smooth path, and that there aren’t any major issues or costs that will cause discontent for county residents. He wants to see the county continue updating its comprehensive plan and zoning maps so the county’s cities can continue with growth goals. He will support cities seeking grants to upgrade infrastructure.

“I encourage responsible growth and the comprehensive plan and zoning maps are an important part of that,” Schenk said.

On the issue of supporting Burley’s move towards a shared airport, Schenk said the issue “will rise or fall on its own merits.” To continue growth in the community, an airport is needed, Schenk said.

“It will come down to the population making that decision if and when it is determined that it is needed,” Schenk said. “If we need it and we can’t afford it, it’s a done deal.”

Important information regarding how much it will cost Minidoka County citizens is still missing, he said.

“I think we need an airport,” Hanson said.

Hanson said some of the reasons an airport is needed include keeping the air medivac service in the comm unit, and Civil Air Patrol, which is based at the airport. Other reasons include the agricultural services it provides.

“But, I think a good job has not been done communicating to taxpayers how much it will cost,” Hanson said.

Hanson said he’s the best candidate for the seat because of his experience in the business world.

“I believe someone with a broad business background will benefit the county,” Hanson said. “I was the CEO at a hospital and I’ve had a small business. I bring knowledge from both worlds.”

Schenk said he’s the best candidate because he’s served the community in many facets including on boards for Health and Welfare, schools, planning and zoning and representing the farm community.

He has been attending commissioner meetings for a year in Minidoka County and Cassia County.

“I have a feel for what’s involved and I will get up to speed quicker,” Schenk said.

Schenk said it is important to keep an agricultural representative on the board.

“People in the county know me. They have been around me my entire life,” he said.


State
AP
Officials say radioactive sludge barrel ruptures now total 4

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A total of four barrels containing radioactive sludge at an eastern Idaho nuclear site were found to have ruptured, officials said Wednesday, after initially saying earlier this month that one barrel was leaking.

Officials said there were no injuries and no threat to the public, and workers in protective gear have installed a closed-circuit video camera to monitor the situation.

Erik Simpson, a spokesman for U.S. Department of Energy contractor Fluor Idaho, said it appears all four 55-gallon (208-liter) barrels ruptured the same day they had been packed. An alarm on April 11 alerted officials that one barrel ruptured at the 890-square-mile federal site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory.

Simpson said three Idaho National Laboratory firefighters that entered the earthen-floored structure on April 11 to extinguish a smoldering barrel reported other possible breaches, and crews outside heard some of the barrels rupture.

A three-person crew last week entered the structure and confirmed the additional ruptures, Fluor Idaho said.

Simpson said the ruptured barrels contained material sent in other barrels to Idaho in the 1960s. He said those 1960s barrels likely contained fluids and solvents from nuclear weapons production at the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver. He said it’s possible the barrels might have originated elsewhere and been shipped to Denver before eventually being sent to Idaho.

The barrels were initially buried in unlined pits in Idaho, but were unearthed as part of a cleanup process at the site. Simpson said a high-tech examination of the unopened barrels found they had unopened containers, and were moved to the earthen-floor structure that’s 380 feet (116 meters) long and 165 feet (50 meters) wide.

He said the barrels were emptied, the contents examined, and then repackaged in new barrels on April 11. At least one and possibly all of those newly-packed barrels ruptured later that same day, he said.

He said the facility had successfully processed about 9,500 barrels before the ruptures occurred.

“This had not happened before, and we want to get to the bottom of why this waste was reactive,” he said. “We’re using a very deliberative process to get to the reason of why this happened.”

Whatever was in the barrels reacted in such a way to increase pressure inside the barrels to the point of causing the ruptures. Simpson said there are no immediate theories, but everything from the contents to the process of repackaging will be examined.

The barrels were eventually going to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, but hadn’t yet gone through a certification process to allow that to occur, Simpson said.

At the underground repository in 2014, a barrel of radioactive waste ruptured after being inappropriately packed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The waste had been mixed with organic cat litter to absorb moisture, resulting in a chemical reaction.

The incident resulted in a radiation release that forced the closure of the repository for nearly three years and prompted an expensive recovery effort and a major policy overhaul for handling Cold War-era waste.

Simpson said shipments of waste from Idaho that has gone through the certification process have resumed, with loads of about 16 barrels heading to New Mexico four to six times a week.

The sprawling Idaho site in high-desert sagebrush steppe sits atop the giant Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer that’s used by cities for drinking water and farmers for irrigation.

The site has been used for nuclear waste disposal and storage beginning in the 1950s. The federal government has been cleaning it up following court battles and several agreements with Idaho in the 1990s amid concerns by state officials that Idaho was becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dump.

The Energy Department has already missed several deadlines under those agreements involving moving nuclear waste out of Idaho and has paid about $3.5 million in fines.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on Wednesday declined to comment.