Invasive species - Russian olive removal begins at Dave Johnston Power PlantWritten by Natasha Wheeler
The Upper North Platte River Weed Management Area (UNPRWMA) met on Feb. 27 to discuss the progress of the Russian olive removal project along the North Platte River, taking place at the Dave Johnston walk-in area.
“The meeting was made up of a group of people along the North Platte River and projects are happening in other counties, as well,” notes Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wildlife Biologist Willow Hibbs.
At the power plant, the Russian olive removal project is supported by the UNPRWMA, Converse County Weed and Pest Control District, Converse County Conservation District, National Wild Turkey Federation, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, PacifiCorp and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“Russian olive is a very aggressive plant, so these types of projects require several years of work and planning,” notes Hibbs in a later discussion.
Removal of the noxious weed will take place this winter at the walk-in area, and habitat restoration will occur in the spring and fall of 2016-17.
“We are concerned about the Russian olive because it displaces native plants,” she comments.
Native riparian vegetation, such as cottonwood, boxelder, willow and buffaloberry, are forced out by the invasive plants.
“They compete for water resources, as well as nutrient resources. They crowd out native vegetation and create a situation where there is not adequate lighting. They grow so densely that it’s difficult for other plants to come in,” she explains.
Native plants provide a higher quality cover and food source for wildlife in riparian areas.
“If we can remove the Russian olives now, we won’t have to replant native species, and the system has a chance to rebound,” she says.
The Dave Johnston walk-in area was chosen as a priority project area because of the high concentration of Russian olives and its access to the river.
“The power plant allows sportsmen to come in, and it is an area that we would like to have good quality habitat available,” she explains.
A good abundance and density of wildlife are preferred in an area where hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports are popular.
“Removal is very expensive,” notes Hibbs. “We have had to get as many partnerships and supported funding as we could to get this project up and going.”
The UNPRWMA was formed as a partnership to manage and control invasive weeds and institute habitat restoration. Its purpose is to form cooperative partnerships with local landowners, non-governmental organizations and local, state and federal agencies to effectively manage and control Russian olive, salt cedar and other invasive weeds along the North Platte River.
“We started removal at the beginning of the year, and a five-year plan is in place to monitor the area,” she says.
By next year, all of the leftover stumps will have re-sprouts that also need to be managed.
“They will have to be sprayed with chemicals in the following years,” she adds.
Until they were identified as noxious weeds, Russian olives were available as ornamental plants and could be purchased for homes or properties.
“They are a popular windbreak species because they can grow in Wyoming without too much water,” explains Hibbs.
The trees were planted to hold soil, act as windbreaks and provide shade for livestock.
“There are some benefits for these plants on rangelands,” she comments.
Cases have also been noted on rangelands, however, where Russian olives replace the native herbaceous species, which provide better quality forage for livestock.
“We are more than willing to discuss removal with landowners and determine if it is beneficial to them,” she adds.
Efforts are concentrated on riparian areas along the rivers.
“We are not too concerned about any properties that are away from water sources,” she explains. “If private landowners are along the river, our agencies are working with them to remove Russian olive if the owners so choose.”
Other counties in the state have been working to remove the invasive plant, as well.
“We have a good network,” says Hibbs, mentioning work that has been done in other areas along the North Platte and other riparian areas in Wyoming.
“We see a lot of Russian olive problems throughout the Mountain West,” she says.
Along the Bighorn River, Russian olives have grown in so densely that biologists do not believe that the areas will be able to recover with native species without targeted replanting and management.
“We have done smaller projects in the town of Douglas that have been very successful on a smaller scale,” Hibbs comments.
It is too soon to gauge the effectiveness of the Dave Johnston walk-in removal project, but agencies are optimistic.
“We are very hopeful that we will be successful at the power plant, but it will take several years,” she explains.
The partners of the UNPRWA are striving to implement management practices to provide a healthy, diverse and sustainable habitat for agriculture, livestock, wildlife and recreation, while protecting water quality and quantity for these uses.