A Day in the Life

                                             By Dylan Kellogg

Our summer started out with a shovel and an empty “garbage” pile, eagerly awaiting our countless pickup loads of Houndstongue.  For Mike and I this would take place at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge (LMNWR). For the better part of the summer our job immersed us in weed work.

Invasive species are a worldwide issue and the Refuge is no exception.  An invasive species is a species that invades native areas and often, over time, creates monocultures because it has no natural enemy to keep it in check.  This chokes out biodiversity of plants that create important habitat and food sources for lots of animals from ants to Pileated Woodpeckers. The prime invaders at LMNWR are: Cheatgrass, Houndstongue,  Musk and Canada Thistle, Mullein, and Yellow Toadflax. Day in and day out for the first month or so, we would hack at Houndstongue with dull shovels, in hopes to kill the plant and prevent its seeds from creating the next generation of super plants. If the seeds on the plants were mature enough, we had to haul them out, which meant getting covered in sticky seeds that always seemed to end up in my hair. We would grid large open fields, some spanning over 50 acres, a daunting task because big patches lurked around every corner. The places we prioritized were places that are important for wildlife and plants. We would take our time in those areas because we knew they were good places for nesting birds, white-tailed fawns, or had high biodiversity of plants. Once the summer got rolling, we faced more challenges as more and more species started to emerge. And with more species comes a need for integrated management.

July greeted us with intense heat and a plethora of invasive species to deal with. We needed to switch tactics so we chose to start spraying herbicide. Herbicide has many pros and cons, one of the cons being you look like the Michelin Man wearing the plastic protective jacket. If herbicide is used right, it becomes a great tool to control large patches that would otherwise be impossible to control by other means. Also, some plants don’t respond well to being pulled or chopped so herbicide would be the best option. Personal safety was always a priority as well as paying close attention to what we were spraying. The benefit of spraying out of a backpack is you can target a single plant and nothing else gets caught in the crossfire. We sprayed out of backpacks which hold 32 pounds of liquid! Lugging backpacks full of chemical around in a mosquito ridden field is what bad dreams are made of. We always looked forward to the afternoon, when it would be too hot to wear our plastic jackets anymore and we could finally air out our sweat soaked t-shirts.  A few areas were so infested that we had to mow them down. That bought us more time to get spray on the plants and we found that this management technique was exceptional. 

The day to day grind was always interspersed with amazing wildlife viewing opportunities. Working on the refuge enabled us to go places very few people have ever been. We found ourselves in the wildest parts of the refuge observing white-tailed fawns, black-headed grosbeaks, sandhill cranes, a cow elk and her calf, Lewis’s woodpeckers, and wood ducks, just to name a few.   These unique viewing opportunities motivated us on a daily basis to protect and provide habitat for these amazing creatures that call Lee Metcalf their home. We hope that the weed management teams in the future will realize what a beautiful place Lee Metcalf Nat’l Wildlife Refuge is and help to protect the biodiversity for the future. It takes the effort and collaboration of everyone to make this work. Do your part.