No, I won’t fa-la-la-la-la you into a bad, natural management version of a Christmas season classic, but this is truly the season, now post holidays, to be treating a few of the most noxious of invasive trees and shrubs in our special natural areas.
Winter might not provide the best working conditions, as we found out two weeks ago, in finger, toe, and nose numbing sub-zero temperatures, but they are good conditions to get a jump on getting rid of unwanted plants before the next growing season. While trees and shrubs are dormant, with vital juices waiting down deep for a spring resurgence, we are able to cut the stems and trunks as close to the earth as possible, and dob on a coat of herbicide to stop the juices in their tracks and bring demise to the dastardly invaders. Sounds simple, and the technique really is, but the work is somewhat labor intensive. We cut the stems with a hand-held brush cutter featuring a whirling saw-like blade. It is suspended from our body by a hook on a special harness worn like a backpack. It is guided by two handles, one hand operating the throttle and the other somehow guiding the handle while also holding a wand-like herbicide applicator.
The applicator is a homemade, three-foot, PVC pipe embellished with a couple of caps, an elbow and shut off valve. The pipe is filled with herbicide and when the valve is open, soaks a chunk of sponge at the bottom. This is then dabbed on the cut stem to distribute the herbicide. Some of us are old enough to remember those shoe polish applicators that operated in a similar fashion. The plastic bottle got tipped and you’d sponge the polish onto your shoe (they don’t still make those, do they?…)
The application is as environmentally friendly as any application can be. The herbicide is applied right to the target only with no chance for spilling or non-target touching. Actually on the bigger stumps only the outer edge needs a dabbing, as that;s where the veins are that send the juices up and down between branches and roots.
Our region has five main invasive, non-native shrubs: autumn olive, bush honeysuckle, multiflora rose, privet, and Japanese barberry. We’ve been hitting them all in several of our project areas these first few weeks of the new year.
Two of our projects are part of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant program. NAWCA is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. It provides matching one-to-one grants with partnering agencies on projects to improve wetland habitats. Blue Heron Ministries has partnered with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Nature Preserves, to conduct work through NAWCA on two state properties.
At Pokagon State Park, north of Angola, the Indiana DNP has identified a very high quality wetland fen on the northern edge of the park and Potawatomi Nature Preserve. The Snow Lake Fen is surrounded by upland, some of which is choking with all five of the invasive shrubs listed above. Several days were spent following up on previous year’s work, this year cutting and treating invasives in the immediate uplands bordering the fen. Hikers on Trail Seven this growing season will now enjoy the view out over the fen, which was once a wall of invasive shrubs. Gone will be the seed bank of these nasties, and hopefully a drastic stall in their march and invasion of the fen.
A second NAWCA site is in the Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area near Mongo, Indiana. The Spike Rush through which the Pigeon lazily flows, fed by active Flowing fingers of fen rivulets is a natural gem. Sadly it;s also home for the non-native, highly invasive, European Alder. BHM spent several days there cutting the Alder and a few representatives of the other nasty five.
A third area was a quick one day job of removing autumn olive from a natural area north of downtown Mongo. The Notestine Prairie is a 10-acre open area of mostly little blue stem grass brought to our attention by former Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area manager, Mike Holcomb. So pure and of high quality, this prairie provides a perfect seed-collecting site for BHM, as we look to restore other natural areas with locally-harvested seed.
We’ve worked in cold clear days, cold snowy days, and this past week dodging a misty rain. All conditions aside, it is rewarding to look back over the worksites and see openness and leaving behind just branches that deteriorate, or will be consumed by a future prescribed fire. Someday even the blue-green dye used to indicate a stump has been treated will fade, the stump will decay, and sun-loving native plants will remain.