Rod Litzel retires as district supervisor with Johnson County Weed and Pest
The Wyoming Weed and Pest Council (WWPC) wouldn’t be what it is today without great members who continuously work hard to manage invasive species.
Since 1973, supervisors and staff with districts across the state have provided years of dedicated service to keep Wyoming wild and beautiful.
This is especially true of Rod Litzel, who recently retired as district supervisor with the Johnson County Weed and Pest after working there for 34 years.
Litzel grew up in Buffalo and studied at Casper College. To help pay for college, he successfully participated on the livestock judging team, which led to recruitment from Texas A&M University to compete on their team.
During his senior year of college, Litzel interviewed for the district supervisor position at Johnson County and got the job.
“After spending two years in Texas, I started appreciating Buffalo and Wyoming,” Litzel stated. “In particular, trying to get out of the heat and back into four seasons, hunting and doing all the stuff I enjoyed. It was a great experience, but I was ready to come home.”
Leafy spurge program
In the summer of 1988, Litzel began his career as district supervisor. Throughout his career, two programs stood out – the leafy spurge and saltcedar programs.
The leafy spurge program was already in place when he arrived, but over time he realized he needed to make some changes.
“In terms of changing our philosophy so we weren’t just throwing money at spraying something, we wanted to have some intent and purpose, a plan with landowners,” Litzel said.
In 2000, instead of using heavy amounts of herbicides every two to three years on little infestations of leafy spurge, Litzel wanted to attack the heart of the beast.
The program turned to using a smaller amount of herbicides on the invasive weed but applying it every year. Now what used to be a sea of yellow is healthy, native grass.
He turned the program around by listening to the landowners, and in turn, the landowners committed to his ideas.
“It took me eight or 10 years to realize the landowners were what I was here for,” Litzel said. “Not for my own ambition, but to help them. I realized I really enjoyed being able to help them.”
The other program Litzel is most proud of is the saltcedar initiative. In his first years at Johnson County Weed and Pest, he mentioned a local landowner who would come in quite often and prod him to do things.
“She had been hounding me for probably five years about the saltcedar on her place on the Powder River,” Litzel. “So, in 2007, we started on her place with not much of a plan – we just started trying different things.”
Litzel and the landowner’s husband took two chainsaws to the saltcedar. Litzel would cut the invasive species until the chain would slip off. The husband would put it back together and sharpen it, while Litzel kept going with the second chainsaw.
Today, the program has been incredibly successful and has little to no saltcedar along the Powder River. In 2017, the district board elected to remove saltcedar from the special management program because of how much the invasive weed had been reduced.
“The biggest reward out of this whole thing was having those good board members,” Litzel said. “And then, pure and simple, good landowners to work with. It takes both in order to make it go.”
When asked what he wanted others to know about fighting invasive species, Litzel said it’s a commitment.
“I think too often, there’s the desire to have a silver bullet,” Litzel stated. “We’ve got to have a plan in the works, and we’ve got to stay committed or it’s not going to work.”
Other organization involvement
Not only did Litzel work in the field for Johnson County, he also helped WWPC in numerous ways, such as working on the state allocations committee, assisting in federal legislation and building best management practices.
“He had a vast knowledge of how things work, how things should work and experiences I drew on very heavily when I took the job,” said Slade Franklin, former Weed and Pest coordinator with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “It’s not only the professional relationship I appreciate, he is also a good friend. I think everyone could learn from Rod.”
Now that Litzel is retired, he’s looking forward to working part-time in the field with his son and going on long weekend trips with his wife. He’s grateful for his time with Johnson County Weed and Pest and WWPC and looks back on it fondly.
“I am honored to have been part of an organization with dedication, passion, professionalism, camaraderie and friendship at the heart of it,” Litzel said. “I am going to miss that and the good people who are also a part of it.”
WWPC originally published this article on Jan. 31. To learn more about WWPC, visit wyoweed.org.