Employing a different kind of weed killer against an invasive species - Titusville Herald: News

Employing a different kind of weed killer against an invasive species

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Posted: Saturday, August 31, 2019 5:00 am

For many gardeners, the battle against unwanted plants is a constant and difficult struggle. The workers at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge have a similar such conflict, only on a much larger scale and with a more pervasive foe.

The refuge is currently facing an infestation of multiflora roses, an invasive species that hails from eastern Asia. Capable of spreading quickly, and with no natural predator to combat its growth, the rose has choked out native plants in the refuge and created patches of earth shrouded in shadow so that nothing additional can grow there.

However, the refuge brought in a few key allies this summer, ones who have already proven very effective in their jobs. All they require in return is the chance to eat up any and all roses they find.

A team of eight goats, accompanied by a guard donkey, have been hard at work throughout the summer stemming the tide of multiflora roses spreading across the Erie National Wildlife Refuge. The animals are on loan from Allegheny GoatScape, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit that provides an alternative way to deal with unwanted plants besides herbicides.

According to Melissa Althouse, a wildlife biologist at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge, the idea to use goats came from a student attending Allegheny College in Meadville. The refuge does many partnership programs with the college, including having lab classes come out to the forest for presentations and research.

During one of these visits to the forest, a student interested in the multiflora rose epidemic pitched the idea of using goats to clear the forest of the plant. Intrigued, Althouse started researching the idea, as well as contacting another refuge who had also used goats.

While the jagged thorns of the multiflora rose keep most herbivores away, Althouse said that goats have harder skin in their mouths than other animals, allowing them to devour the plant just as easily as any other.

In fact, the roses’ own evolved traits work against themselves when it comes to the goats. Because the thorns normally protect the rose, the plant is able to have more sugar in its leaves for a better photosynthesis process. This makes the rose very tasty for anything capable of eating it, and thus a very desirable meal for the hardy-mouthed goats.

“For these goats, it’s like candy to them,” Althouse said.

The team of eight goats, each driven by their respective sweet tooth, have done a number on the multiflora rose population at the refuge.

“Even within just this grazing season, we’ve had about a 60 to 70% reduction in rose mass out in that particular region,” Althouse said, referring to the areas of the refuge most affected by the roses’ spread.

Based off of projections, the refuge staff believe the goats will only need four consecutive grazing seasons to completely get rid of the roses, or at least drop the plant’s numbers down to a point where it isn’t causing any damage.

Compared to humans, the goats are much faster and more efficient at clearing out the multiflora roses, according to Althouse. Over the course of the summer, the animals have cleared 4 acres of the forest from any sign of the roses. Comparatively, Althouse said it would take a lot of manpower and roughly equivalent time to clean out 1/2 acre using herbicides.

“This, so far, has been a much more efficient use of our resources, which unfortunately on this refuge is really limited,” she said.

Further, staff at the Erie National Wildlife Refuge are hesitant to use herbicides. The refuge is categorized as a “wet forest,” meaning that it’s very easy for chemicals to get carried off by precipitation or any bodies of water, which could lead to contamination by the herbicides in other areas.

As refuge leadership is hoping to perform a revitalization effort of the forest once the roses are gone, the use of potentially harmful chemicals is less than ideal.

The goats are also extremely low maintenance, according to Althouse, only requiring an intern to check on them once a day and brush their donkey guard.

The donkey that accompanies the goats is meant to ward off potential predators. While in the Pittsburgh area where the goats come from this mostly means coyotes, Althouse said there aren’t many wild canines in Crawford County. The only real potential threat are loose or feral dogs, none of which have been encountered.

“Thankfully, we haven’t had any problems,” Althouse said. “So, our donkey has had a very easy summer.”

Once the roses are out of the picture, the refuge staff is planning to cut down some of the older trees in the forest to open up more areas to sunlight. In place of these felled trunks, younger trees will be planted. According to Althouse, it is healthy for a forest to have trees from a variety of ages, something the Erie National Wildlife Refuge currently lacks.

“That forest is old,” she said. “It’s all one age.”

She compared it to having a town where everyone is over the age of 60 years old.

Ironically, the multiflora roses were themselves brought over initially as an improvement program for forests. Althouse said that biologists believed the roses would make for a great food source for birds. It turned out that the plants lacked enough nutrients to properly feed the animals, leading to their rapid spread as nothing ate them.

Nothing, that is, until now. Althouse said the refuge hopes to host the goats again next year, once they can find some grants or funding sources to pay for them. The team of eight goats costs $5,000 to rent for the 100 days the refuge has had them, which was paid through a grant. Althouse said she is open to suggestions for any funding sources.

For those wanting to learn more about the goats who have cleaned up Erie National Wildlife Refuge, a presentation will be held on Sept. 11 at the Woodcock Creek Nature Center, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Contact the Crawford County Conservation District, at (814) 763-5269, to register for the event.

Ray can be reached, by email, at sray@titusvilleherald.com.

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1 comment:

  • Jahoba posted at 6:43 pm on Thu, Sep 5, 2019.

    Jahoba Posts: 240

    I hope there is a stronger police presence than usual. Because of the drugs and maniacs.


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