SHERIDAN — After experiencing a wet winter and spring, local law enforcement offices have stayed busy enforcing city code ordinances relating to overgrown landscapes.
“As a CSO, you deal with code enforcement and animal control,” said Sheridan Police Department Community Service Officer Ed Boone. “We’ve looked at the cases and about 60 to 70 percent is animal control. The rest is code enforcement.”
Even though weed ordinances remain a smaller percentage of calls for SPD, they contribute to city safety. Requests for overgrown weeds come to SPD through calls or CityWorks, the city of Sheridan’s service request program.
Sheridan municipal code chapter 26 details code enforcement for trees, plants and shrubs. Property owners must maintain and care for all trees, shrubs, hedges or vines located upon or affecting areas abutting any public street, alley, sidewalk, rights-of-way, boulevards or other public places, according to the ordinance. Boone said weeds must be kept to a maximum height of 1 foot and no taller.
Most of the time, a neighbor or person on the street or block will call in requests to address overgrown weeds. The CSOs will then check the property and contact property owners regarding overgrown weeds. If the property owners live in town, officers give them a week to respond. Out-of-town property owners receive two weeks to respond before officers move forward with the abatement process.
“We exhaust all avenues for trying to contact the property owner,” Boone said.
“As a city, we go ahead and send out bids to lawn care companies and they bid on the properties,” Boone said. “We get those bids returned back to us, we go with the lowest bid and we have that person come and cut that property.”
The city then places a lien for the amount of the work done against the property owner.
Code enforcement from the perspective of law enforcement focuses primarily on safety.
“It’s not so bad this time of year, but when it gets to August and everything dries up and you start smelling smoke from wildfires, that’s what we really want to make sure that everything’s cut and trimmed,” Boone said.
Sheridan Fire-Rescue Capt. Gary Harnish said the department cannot always track whether fires originate directly from overgrown weeds, but overgrown weeds certainly contribute to fires.
“We have several per year, grass fires per say, within the city limits,” Harnish said. “Those typically do not occur on a mowed, cared for lawn.”
Harnish said unkempt landscapes can be anywhere, whether it’s an alleyway, hill in the park or between railroad ties.
Andy Brown, owner of Sheridan Lawn and Landscaping, used to perform services for the city of Sheridan. Now, he mainly serves individual property owners and businesses. While working on landscapes for the city, Brown heard complaints from citizens regarding care in specific places.
“The boulevards, the grass between the sidewalks and the streets, they don’t own the land but homeowners have to water and maintain it,” Brown said.
He said the complaint is similar to those regarding having to shovel sidewalks during winter months.
“That’s the one thing I hear all the time,” Brown said.
The city ordinance opens with the purpose of the trees, plants and shrubs code.
“This chapter provides for the care of trees, plants and shrubs on city property and aids in the creation of a landscape program to enhance the beauty of the city of Sheridan,” the ordinance reads.
Fire Adapted Community guidelines of which the U.S. Forest Service remains a coalition member, say neighbors are linked by their wildfire risk.
“If one home is inadequately prepared, the risk level to the entire neighborhood increases, and everyone’s safety is impacted,” the website reads. “Work with your neighbors to make a difference.”
The coalition urges neighbors to start employing firewise principles in the community. Harnish said it applies more to communities like Story that sit in the heart of the forest, but still has useful tips on fire safety for Sheridan citizens.
In addition to fire hazards, weeds can be categorized as noxious or obnoxious and may take over if not cared for properly.
“Weed controls, it’s not ever weed elimination, has to be an objective of the community because if they go untreated or unmowed or able to go to seed, it just compounds problems,” said the city’s weed and pest technician, Chad Franklin.
Franklin said property boundaries are tough when you have a meticulous landscaper and others that are more relaxed.
“If everyone does their part and keeps them from regerminating and them going to seed makes a big difference,” Franklin said.
Chemical treatments aren’t the only way to remove weeds. Even simple mowing or hand picking can do the trick. The Wyoming Weed and Pest Council website has a list of noxious weeds, or non-native plants that have been introduced into an environment likely to cause harm.
Franklin said he’s been in thick landscapes this year and hasn’t received a tick, even though sources reported a heavy tick year for the area.
“I don’t think weeds are a problem for ticks,” Franklin said.
Franklin also said that he doesn’t believe weeds to be a large problem in blocking sight of traffic within city limits, but poses more of a problem for native plants that will be overtaken by noxious weeds if not cared for properly. Trees and bushes that have not been pruned cause more sight of traffic issues.
Unkempt landscapes can be reported to SPD at 672-2413 or through the city of Sheridan’s app, Connect Sheridan or by calling customer service at 674-6483.