The area's relatively warm winter and a rainy spring have provided near-perfect conditions this year for a particularly troublesome noxious weed the musk thistle.
And a good year for musk thistles is a bad year for state and local officials charged with controlling the spiny plants with the attractive pink flowers.
"We've had a late spring and more or less cool, rainy weather, which is what they thrive on," said Dave Leuty, noxious weed director for Douglas County.
"It's stunted the grass and let the weeds go to town," said Dale Mooney, who has been the county's vegetation superintendent for eight years. "This year is one of the worst years we've had since I've been here."
Mooney said the county's noxious weed department has had more than 80 complaints about musk thistles this spring.
"There's more that come in every day about three a day," Mooney said.
Samantha Sattler, Lawrence's weed inspector, said she's had about 40 complaints this year about musk thistles. Mostly complaints are about thistles growing in vacant lots of new subdivisions.
Sattler said after getting a complaint and following up with an inspection, she sends out notices to the lot's owner.
IF THE owner hasn't mowed the weeds within 10 days, she contracts a mower to take care of the problem.
The landowner gets the bill, which includes mowing, administrative fees and mailing fees. An average bill is about $70, she said. If the landowner refuses to pay the mowing bill, the charge is applied to their property taxes.
Sattler said she has had to hire mowers to mow 18 lots this spring.
Mooney and Leuty said they have had 100 percent cooperation so far this year for the warning notices they have sent out to landowners in the county.
"You take a lot of people out in the county, when they buy property they don't even know there's a noxious weed law," Leuty said. "They ask, `What is a musk thistle?'"
Leuty says the department explains that the thistle is a noxious weed and must be controlled by mowing or spraying.
"The thistle will choke out the grass," Mooney said. "Studies have been done where cattle won't even graze around the thistle."
"This is worse than other years," said Bill Scott, state weed specialist for the Kansas Board of Agriculture.
Scott said musk thistle is most prevalent in northcentral and northeast Kansas.
"WE MAY be dealing in some counties with as much as 50,000 acres of it," Scott said.
Leuty said when the county gets complaints, the landowner is sent an informational letter explaining the state has designated musk thistle as a noxious weed and gives them information how to deal with it.
Mooney said the letters explain that the county has sprayers that the rural landowners can rent and a supply of chemicals they can buy at below-cost to control the weeds.
About two weeks after the letters go out, the property is checked again to see if the landowner has taken care of the problem, Mooney said.
If not, the landowner is sent an official warning notice by registered mail, giving them 10 days to remedy the problem, Mooney said.
If the landowner hasn't complied within 10 days, the Douglas County district attorney's office then notifies the landowners that they can be fined between $50 and $500 for an offense. The fine also can be added to their property taxes.
Mooney said if the landowner doesn't comply, the county no longer sprays the land for them. That practice was discontinued because of liability problems of working on private property, he said.
"But we do have four rental sprayers that we rent," Leuty said.
Leuty said the county sells chemicals to control musk thistles at 75 percent of the cost. For example, the county buys Tordon 22K at $79 per gallon and sells it at $59 per gallon. One gallon will cover 16 acres.