Weed & Pest
Project stumps Russian oliveWritten by Heather Hamilton
Big Horn Basin — Russian olives have encroached on riparian and grazing lands in many parts of the Big Horn Basin and reclamation of these areas is a top priority for the area’s natural resource managers and local landowners.
Four landscape projects in the Basin revolve around Russian olive and salt cedar removal. According to Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust (WWNRT) board member Mike Baker the projects have received or are applying for WWNRT funds to help complete their work.
The Shoshone-Clarks Fork is one of the four projects and has received a two-year $300,000, or 28 percent of the total cost, annual commitment from the WWNRT.
Assistant Supervisor of Park County Weed and Pest Josh Shorb comments that while this is the project’s second year, this is the first year it will receive WWNRT dollars and the additional funds are expected to generate more interest.
“Last year most funds came from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Weed and Pest and private landowners. I think receiving state money will result in a lot more people coming on board,” states Shorb, adding that at present 10 private landowners are involved.
Results of similar projects have increased the effectiveness of eliminating Russian olives, but according to Baker it is still a learning process.
“Certain chemicals work better in some areas. There are mechanical successes and failures. We want people to go forth and be successful and tell us about the successes and failures. There is a lot a variation,” he says.
“Almost all Russian olives in this project have been sheared and applied with chemical. There are a handful that have been treated with a chainsaw because the machines can’t get to them,” explains Shorb of the Shoshone-Clarks Fork project.
When a tree is sheared there is a 15-minute window to apply the Remedy Ultra and basal bark oil herbicide mixture for maximum effectiveness. Shorb notes the bark oil contains a blue pigment that aids in determining which stumps have been treated.
The 15-minute window is one of the techniques learned in past projects, according to rancher Keith Murray. He explains that stumps have a vacuum during that brief time period that sucks the chemical to the roots. If workers don’t apply the chemical, hundreds of shoots will emerge the following spring, not only negating project efforts but also compounding the problem.
Murray purchased an excavator with rubber tracks and a built-in sprayer that automatically treats stumps. Combining shearing and spraying saves a lot of time and energy. One person can do the entire job in a single pass and trees aren’t missed. It’s also safer for workers since they aren’t walking where machinery is running or where trees could potentially fall on them.
Murray explains that it takes a big machine because the shearer alone weighs one ton. Arms wrap around the top part of the tree and can maneuver it after it has been sheared. He adds that rubber tracks were chosen because of the Russian olive thorns and how fast they ruin tires. His options were rubber tracks, foaming rubber tires, or solid tires and tracks were the most logical choice for Murray based on terrain and tree density.
The NRCS requires landowners complete shearing and spraying between Dec. 1 and March 1, according to Murray. He adds that he won’t know until next summer how good the kill was, but regardless of the outcome he’s gotten rid of brush too thick to walk through.
“There are hundreds or thousands of acres where all you can see are Russian olives. They have moved in on riparian areas. We are trying to open that canopy to a more natural setting with more cottonwoods. Right now it is impenetrable with little or no forage value,” adds Baker.
While the opening of the canopy and access to riparian areas are immediately noticed, the project is expected to have several years of follow-up to prevent additional Russian olive encroachment.
“Several areas are finding that a single chemical treatment is not 100 percent successful. We know that it takes two to three years of follow-up and spot treatment,” says Baker.
“There will always be seeds that birds and water will transport. We will be fighting Russian olives until the end of days. Even after a big treatment in the winter with equipment you have to go back the next summer and you might have only killed 80 or 90 percent. You remove the canopy and all the berries receive sunlight and germinate. You have to exhaust the seed bank,” explains Shorb.
He adds that the goal of the Shoshone-Clarks Fork project is to return as much ground as possible to a usable state for both livestock and wildlife, and then maintain that functionality.
Landowners benefit through increased production of usable forages and increased water access for stock. Murray is currently working on pastures that are along the Shoshone River. He is clearing brush right to the water’s edge and says the improvements to both pasture and wildlife habitat are very beneficial to his operation.
Baker adds that the removal of Russian olives leads to a more balanced habitat, with increased creek flow, rejuvenation of springs and a more extended annual water flow. These are all positive results that have been witnessed in similar projects such as Gooseberry Creek.
While this is the beginning of a long-term project in the Basin, everyone is optimistically working towards Russian olive control. Shorb comments that it’s a simple process that requires a long-term commitment. He encourages anyone interested in starting a project or with questions to contact him and he will get them started.