It's time to talk about noxious weeds law

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Associate Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law Thursday, June 24th, 2021
Poison hemlock in field

Poison hemlock and Canada thistle are making unwelcome appearances across Ohio, and that raises the need to talk about Ohio’s noxious weeds law.  The law provides mechanisms for dealing with noxious weeds—those weeds that can cause harm to humans, animals, and ecosystems.  Location matters when we talk about noxious weeds.  That’s because Ohio law provides different procedures for dealing with noxious weeds depending upon where we find the weeds.  The law addresses the weeds on Ohio's noxious weeds list in these four locations:

  1. Along roadways and railroads
  2. Along partition fence rows
  3. On private land beyond the fence row
  4. On park lands

Along roadways and railroads.  The first window just closed for mandatory mowing of noxious weeds along county and township roads.  Ohio law requires counties, townships, and municipalities to destroy all noxious weeds, brush, briers, burrs, and vines growing along roads and streets.  There are two mandated time windows for doing so:  between June 1 and 20 and between August 1 and 20.  If necessary, a cutting must also occur between September 1 and 20, or at any other time when necessary to prevent or eliminate a safety hazard.  Railroad and toll road operators have the same legal duty, and if they fail to do so, a township may cause the removal and bring a civil action to recover for removal costs.

Along partition fence rows.  Landowners in unincorporated areas of the state have a duty to cut or destroy noxious weeds and brush within four feet of a partition fence, and the law allows a neighbor to request a clearing of the fence row if a landowner hasn’t done so.  If a landowner doesn’t clear the fence row within ten days of receiving a request to clear from the neighbor, the neighbor may present a complaint to the township trustees.  The trustees must visit the property and determine whether there is a need to remove noxious weeds and if so, may order the removal and charge removal costs against the landowner’s property tax bill.  

On private land beyond the fence row.  A written notice to the township trustees that noxious weeds are growing on private land beyond the fence row will trigger another township trustee process.  The trustees must notify the landowner to destroy the weeds or show why there is no reason to do so.  If the landowner doesn’t comply within five days of receiving the notice, the trustees may arrange for destruction of the weeds.  The township may assess the costs against the landowner’s property tax bill.

On park lands.  If the township receives notice that noxious weeds are growing on park land or land owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the trustees must notify the OSU Extension Educator in the county.  Within five days, the Educator must meet with a representative of the ODNR or park land, consider ways to deal with the noxious weed issue, and share findings and recommendations with the trustees.

Even with noxious laws in place, we recommend talking before taking legal action.   If you’re worried about a noxious weed problem in your area, have a talk with the responsible party first.  Maybe the party isn’t aware of the noxious weeds, will take steps to address the problem, or has already done so.  But if talking doesn’t work, Ohio law offers a way to ensure removal of the noxious weeds before they become a bigger problem.

We explain the noxious weed laws in more detail in our law bulletin, Ohio’s Noxious Weed Laws.  We’ve also recently illustrated the procedures in a new law bulletin, Legal Procedures for Dealing with Noxious Weeds in Ohio’s Rural Areas.  Also see the OSU Agronomy Team’s recent article about poison hemlock in the latest edition of C.O.R.N, available through this link.