Winds in the Wilderness

knapweed-roger-nichol“Noxious.”  “Obnoxious.”  “Easily killed.”  These are three tiers used in weed management to indicate levels of concern.  The words seem to suggest our personal feelings toward weedy plants.  They come in, without knocking, and completely make themselves at home, sometimes to the extent of kicking out the entire neighborhood.  Weed species can be defined as a non-native species displaced from their biological controls.  Biological controls are environmental pressures that set population levels and cycles, so population numbers remain tied to ecosystem regulation.  Without some set of “limiting factors,” these species grow and thrive unabated and quickly out-compete native species who have developed harmony in the ecosystem. The area becomes a mono-culture.

Losing biodiversity to mono-cultures often threatens the resilience of an ecosystem.  I recently attended a community yoga class in which we were instructed to take the asana of Virabhadrasana III, or “Warrior III.”  In this pose, the practitioner balances on one leg, bends his spine 90 degrees from the standing leg, and reaches his arms out in front of him and his back leg lifts out behind him, keeping them at 90 degrees from the standing leg.   Phew, not as easy as it looks.  Toward the end of the session he asked us to form two lines, trying the pose again, this time with our arms wrapped around each others’ shoulders. Tilting into balance, the support formed by the chain was instantly felt.  We are stronger working together.   So it is our ecosystem strength when all the parts are present and working, sharing the load of life on earth.  We still depend on plants and animals and bedrock, even as our technological society advances, for foods and medicines, water and shelter.  And when natural disasters do occur, diverse ecosystems are better suited for recovery, due to increased avenues for repair which may offer relief from the event’s more detrimental effects.  Without networking roots to embrace it, sand slips into wind and water.

So this month volunteers have been on the search for these weak spots. Like warriors on the battlefield, seeking to ensure ecological integrity within the wilderness, they’ve been mapping the occurrence of these domineering invaders on trails in the Lightening Creek drainage complex.  Knowing these areas’ locations is the first step in managing or eradicating their presence and subsequent impacts to local environments.

Fred Gaudet was our first volunteer to go out, and his mission did indeed exhibit hikingbravery:  crossing the East Fork of Lightening Creek is no small feat early on in the season, with its wide stream channel and high water velocity.  He even continued on to successfully navigate the confusing beginnings of the East Fork Peak reroute.  His trail followed an old road bed, and the increased disturbance inherent in road building has seemed to allow more openings for invasive species to come in.  The altitude of the trail increased; his need for mapping diminished as the weeds dropped away in the harsher climate.  This trail would likely benefit from restoration management.  Good work, Fred!

Dave Pietz and Phil Degens teamed up to take on the three miles of Morris Creek Trail.  Fortunately, their mission showed little disturbance from the enemy.  As it trends, the beginning openings at the trail head and road were most susceptible to weed invasion.  They walked the whole trail to be sure, and their experience took an unexpected turn when a canister of bear deterrent accidentally deployed.  Now there are many types of deterrent manufacturers, and they are not all equal in safety and product quality.  The model that this crew was carrying had been outfitted with a poor locking mechanism.  One unnoticed rub in the necessary direction opened the trigger, so that the next knock that came by actually released the spray, directly onto Dave’s hand, with the fumes traveling to Phil walking unaware behind him.  They discovered the best first aid for the situation was continued rinsing with cold water.  Although the incident was an unfortunate annoyance to the day, there is definitely something to be learned here!  There are new hazards to remember to be aware of when hiking on rocktraveling through the woods, such as bringing unfamiliar gear and tools out into the wilderness, and it is important to learn these in order to stay safe and comfortable in an all-day field event.  FSPW has been working on introducing communications for risk mitigation and safety for our stewardship crews.  We hope discussions such as this help share awareness of the need for dialogue about what it means to be safe in the wilderness.  A note to the rest of the stewardship crews in the future, FSPW recommends crews to consider checking out high quality bear deterrent from our downtown office.

It is a lot of fun to hear our volunteers tell their tales of the surveys!  More volunteer stories to come soon, as the warm days have us scampering throughout the peaks and basins…













weed warriors in the spotlight!


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  1. Nowicki. You are a great writer. Thanks for this.

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