Monday, August 6, 2012

Guest Article - Fermilab Natural Areas

Illinois is full of dedicated people and innovative ideas for addressing invasive species.  From time to time, this blog is going to host guest articles in which the stories about some of these people, projects, or ideas are told.  The next article in this series comes from Ryan Campbell from Fermilab Natural Areas.  For those of you not familiar with Fermilab, it is a research facility specializing in hihg-energy particle physics.  The scale of their huge particle accelerate, the Tevatron, means that Fermilab owns lots of land.  Much of this land is managed for natural systems and addressing invasive species is definitely a large part of that work.  This gues article focuses on these efforts.  All of the guest articles can be viewed HERE.

Fermilab Natural Areas
by Ryan Campbell


Hard-working volunteer crew
Thinking about controlling invasive, woody shrubs during the cold of winter might seem like an odd thought in the middle of summer.  But, it is somehow refreshing to imagine the frozen, snowy ground and the freshly cut stumps of buckthorn.  There is a certain magic in the winter air.  Over a thermos of coffee is when you meet newcomers and reconnect with devout brush-cutting volunteers.  We spend all winter working the edges of woodlands and clearing around witness trees with saws and loppers.  Our target invaders are buckthorn, bush honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, burning bush, autumn olive, oriental bittersweet, and European high-bush cranberry.  Every Monday afternoon we plug along; talk, laugh, work.  By the time spring arrives, we almost don’t want to quit.  The wildflowers are beautiful but there is still more to do.  Always, we are thinking, just one more buckthorn before we put the saws away.

Teasel control

With spring comes summer and summer brings chaos.  Our mission is to work as diligently as possible to prevent seeds from setting on a huge number of invasive weeds.  Often these species are overlapping in life cycles.  Often they require different methods of control.  Often the weather is hot, or humid, or full of mosquitoes.  More often, it is all of those things.  We hope that our late winter prescribed fires have killed many of the garlic mustard rosettes.  If not, recruiting volunteers for hand pulling is our only option.  The leaves of reed canary grass are a foot tall before you know it.  Chemical control helps this over-achiever die back so that a wide variety of native wetland plants may thrive.  At the same time we are spraying the rosettes of poison hemlock before they bolt and grow to be 8 foot tall plants.  Wild chervil and wild parsnip are next.  The former is a new invader that we keep a tight lid on with herbicide, while the parsnip is controlled by mowing.  Fortunately, we only have small populations of Japanese knotweed and hedge parsley so control can be quick and painless for us, but deadly for them.

Ryan in a stand of Phragmites

            As the summer continues we try to manage the large populations of crown vetch, birds-foot trefoil and sweet clover that have run rampant.  We are currently fighting an uphill battle, but we hope to be in a maintenance stage within 10 years.  Selective herbicides and seasonal timing may prove successful in controlling them.  As July turns to August, we turn our sights onto several old invaders.  These however are unlike the rampant crown vetch and sweet clover.  Teasel, purple loosestrife, spotted knapweed, and Phragmites are all on an annual maintenance schedule.  They have been controlled for a number of years and the efforts show.  The hardest part is taking the time to visit each known location throughout our 6,800 acres, usually multiple times. 

Teasel and loosestrife being removed

Restored savanna
In September, when the seasons really start shifting dramatically to winter, we ready our tools for woody stems.  Our FECON attachment for the bobcat gets hungry for invasive shrubs.  Any oriental bittersweet we have missed now has bright orange fruits hanging like flags.  Those will be the last fruits that vine produces.  Monocultures of reed canary grass are treated chemically, making this the only species with two real seasons for control.  And when the first few frosts defoliate the vines of poison ivy, we go back into the woods with tools in our hands and smiles on our faces.  Our commitment to controlling invasive species would not be possible without the efforts of summer students, volunteers, and our Fermilab grounds crew.

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