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  • Dylan Anderson

Summer is here. That means the grasshoppers are coming too.

Grasshoppers were shielded from the cold by strong snowpack and spring weather hasn't done much to deter them. Based on last year's counts, this summer could see a lot of them.

The grasshoppers are coming.


Routt County has long been in the crosshairs for significant grasshopper infestations in Colorado, but recent years have seen larger and larger swarms of the pests that can rival cattle for how much forage they eat. In one day, about 30 pounds worth of grasshoppers can eat as much as a 600-pound steer.


This winter’s strong snowpack likely helped the grasshoppers, which laid eggs by the thousands in dry, untilled pasture and rangeland last fall. That snow cover protected eggs from dying due to extreme cold.


The next best chance to avoid a significant infestation was getting a cold snap after they have hatched. While there have been some colder moments this spring, for the most part, the hoppers hadn’t hatched yet. The summer-like weather of the last week now has the hoppers emerging.


“I’ve gotten a number of calls from people saying, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re coming,’” said Todd Hagenbuch, director and agricultural agent for the Routt County Colorado State University Extension Office. “There’s several grasshopper calls — calls out north and west of town.”


The grasshopper problem has been compounding in recent years, as the larger the population is one summer, the more eggs waiting in the ground to hatch the following year. Based on the populations observed last year, Routt County is the hotbed for Colorado, and unless curbed, could further damage rangeland that needs to use the strong moisture to recover from recent dry years.


“Our pastures, hay meadows and rangelands have not had the easiest last couple of years,” Hagenbuch said. “We’ve had a great spring. We have an opportunity to rebuild some of that forage in terms of great production this year and grasshoppers consume a lot.”

This map shows grasshopper populations from last summer, with much of Routt County seeing some of the highest numbers in the state. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Courtesy)


Not only is that forage important to ranches throughout the county, but for wildlife that has been battered by a rough winter.


The hoppers are also a quality of life issue, as they can become a real nuisance for bikers trying to enjoy some of Routt County’s heralded gravel roads and even drivers who travel through swarms that can make the gravel look like it is moving.


Hagenbuch said the next two weeks will be revealing as to how bad grasshopper swarms may get this summer. If the weather stays warm and dry for a week or so and then a cold storm with heavy rain, hail or even some snow were to blow in, it could put a huge dent in the population.

That’s what may have happened in recent weeks, with some landowners south of Steamboat observing grasshoppers starting to hatch but still being in a vulnerable stage when several strong waves of rain fell over the Yampa Valley.

There are less natural ways to deal with grasshoppers as well, and Hagenbuch is encouraging landowners in hopper hot spots to work together to spray for the bounding bugs.


Again this year, Routt County is employing funding from the Taylor Grazing Act to help soften the financial burden for landowners. The program is the same as it was last year, with the county reimbursing landowners $2 an acre for control efforts that encompass at least 35 acres. Last year 18 different properties utilized the funding to treat nearly 3,000 acres.


If a landowner doesn’t have a full 35 acres but wants to spray, Hagenbuch encourages them to band together with neighbors to do the pest mitigation and they can apply for reimbursement together.


The spraying needs to happen after the hoppers have hatched but before they develop their wings. Once they can fly, there is little that can be done to remove them short of running them over as they sit on county roads.


“Once they’ve hit the fifth instar, which is really adult stage and they have wings, control efforts become exceptionally difficult because they’re mobile,” Hagenbuch said. “You’ve really got to hit them while they’re young.”


Not only is spraying important for this summer, but next as well. The more hoppers that survive means more eggs waiting to hatch in the future.


“Given the numbers [of grasshoppers] we had last year, even with great control efforts that people took last year and reduced numbers we still have a lot,” Hagenbuch said. “And they all lay a lot of eggs.”


Anyone looking to treat for grasshoppers should contact Routt County’s Extension Office for tips and the reimbursement application at 970-879-0825 or rcextension@co.routt.co.us.


Top Photo Caption: Routt County sees more grasshoppers than any other part of Colorado. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Courtesy)

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