Friday, 01 September 2017

Labor Day Resolution: Work Smarter, Not Harder

As Labor Day weekend approaches, my father’s admonition to “work smarter, not harder” comes back to me. I was talking with a friend last week and he mentioned that they had begun pulling buckthorn on their newly acquired property in Columbia County.

There is no other way to say it; pulling buckthorn is hard work. In the following days, I thought about the many buckthorn projects that dot my past twenty years of conservation work in Wisconsin. Along with the blisters and sore muscles came hard earned experience that changed the way I look at habitat restoration in general and buckthorn clearing in particular. First is to avoid the “activity trap.” We see a problem and want to tackle it head on.

More to the point, we see the most obvious problem and take it on with the first or only tool we know. Years ago I learned that being successful means doing right things right. That means before doing anything, it is important to know that you are doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing can only happen once you have looked at the situation strategically. Why do you own a substantial piece of property? Usually there are several reasons, such as: having access to productive hunting land, getting away from urban life, giving your children an opportunity to learn about nature, or secure long-term income from forest crops.

If one of those reasons is that you want to preserve the natural heritage of your property, then protecting native plants and getting rid of invasive weeds and brush are important goals.

It might not jump out at you right away, but the best way to achieve those goals is to preserve and protect the good stuff first. None of us has enough money to do everything at right now. Once you ensure the best pieces of your land stay in good shape, you can take on the lower quality sections. Using this strategy makes sure the whole property stays at least as good next year as it was last year and hopefully a little better.

With a prioritized list of tasks, you will know you are doing the right things … and in the right order.

Then you are ready to decide whether you are doing things the right way. If there ever was an case of, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” pulling buckthorn is it. There are a range of methods for removing buckthorn, pulling is the most tedious and labor intensive.

Buckthorn produces both male and female trees. Once they are mature, male trees produce pollen while the female trees produce fruit with seeds. So, when it is time to tackle that big stand of buckthorn, the first targets should be the mature female trees.

A wise man told me that, “when you dug yourself a hole up to your neck, for heaven’s sake put down the shovel.” Buckthorn seed is viable for more than seven years; so the sooner you eliminate the seed producer trees, the sooner you will start running out the clock on that seed bank.

Clearly, mature buckthorn trees are too big to pull with anything but a bulldozer, so we are talking chainsaw work. Cut trees as close to the ground. This will prevent tripping hazards and damage to equipment once the grasses and wildflowers grow up. Treat stumps with Triclopry at the cut stump rate on the label. Add dye to the solution so you can see where you spray. Use a small hand sprayer and only apply the herbicide to the outer ring of the stump where the sapwood is found. This will save you a lot of chemical and limit collateral damage.

If you are cutting this fall, haul and stack the trees in the tightest brush piles you can manage. Run your chainsaw through the brush pile to reduce the size because this will make the piles burn much easier. Burn the brush piles once there is snow on the ground. The wood will have had time to dry out and snow will prevent embers from starting a wildfire.

After the first snow is also a good time to spread seed for next spring. Once you open up the soil by removing the buckthorn, you will be amazed at how quickly things pop there next year. Chief among the spouts will be baby buckthorn seeds. If you do not get native seeds started, you will end up with a stand of new buckthorn even more dense than what was there before.

Because there will be buckthorn seedlings sprouting up next year, consider doing a controlled burn of that section of property in the following fall after the summer grasses and wildflowers go dormant. Fire will kill the new buckthorn seedlings which will still be green but will not harm the native plants that will already be sleeping for the winter.

To my friends getting started on their new property; best of luck and enjoy the journey. Hope these insights will help you see more success sooner. Stepping back and getting to know your land and playing out your plans into the future will allow you to make better decisions and achieve your goals.

June 2017

Thursday, 01 June 2017

June is Invasive Species Awareness Month

What do you think of when you hear invasive species? Some folks see in their minds garlic mustard and buckthorn choking their woods. Others conjure up images of lakes clogged with Eurasian milfoil. Still others may imagine gypsy moths or emerald ash borers attacking their trees. All these threats and more face landowners and those who spend time in the outdoors.

As a landowner, invasive plants tend to present the most common issues for land management. Some problems have been around for many years, like honeysuckle while others like Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) and Lesser calandine (Ranunculus ficaria) are just beginning to show up on the landscape.

Regardless of the threat, prevention is the best strategy for protecting your land. The Wisconsin DNR recommends, “Be careful of materials brought onto your land, especially soil, mulch, compost and plants. They may come with unseen roots, seeds or invasive earthworms.”

Some folks are really deep into controlling invasive species. Each year the Wisconsin Invasive Species Council recognizes individuals and groups that make significant contributions to finding and getting rid of these problems. The Invader Crusader Awards honor professionals, volunteers and organizations that have made a difference across our state. Find out who is making a difference.

To learn more about invasive species in Wisconsin and what you can do to protect your land, keep up regularly with our blog posts, make the Conservation Digest website for conservation management information and check out this article in the Prioritizing Invasive Plants in the current issue of the WDNR Natural Heritage niche magazine.

April 2017

Monday, 17 April 2017

Get Plugged Into the Invasive Species Network

Healthy land includes plenty of diversity of both plants and wildlife. Invasive species crowd out native animals and plants; making for property that is both boring and much more susceptible to erosion. Invasive aquatic plants and animals pollute our lakes and streams and reduce habitat for fish. The best strategy for dealing with invasive species to prevent them from getting a foothold in the first place.

Find out what you can do by logging joining a Taking Action webinar on Aril 21st at noon, sponsored by the Wisconsin First Detection Network.  Learn about GLEDN, a great website and mobile phone app that lets anybody report invasive species throughout the Great Lakes, including Wisconsin.

In addition to learning how to use the GLEDN app to report invasive species, we’ll learn about statewide Phragmites efforts from Jason Granberg (DNR) and purple loosestrife efforts in Washington County from Bradley Steckart (Washington Co. Land & Water Conservation Div.).

The Wisconsin First Detection Network is made up of landowners, land managers, scientists, consultants and volunteers who work to protect Wisconsin from new invasive animals, plants and diseases that can take over our land, lakes and streams.

For more information about WFDN and this, the third in a four part webinar series this spring, contact Ann Pearce at the UW Extension.

Thursday, 06 April 2017

Getting Ahead of Gypsy Moths

Picture of gypsy moth egg masses on maple tree.

There are only a couple weeks left until gypsy moth caterpillars emerge from their egg masses to start eating their way through your trees. You can stack the deck in your favor by taking action now.

Start by learning to identify gypsy moth egg masses. They are typically 1-2 inches long, often appearing like a light tan teardrop shape.

Picture of gypsy moth egg mass black locust tree.

Remove the egg masses before the caterpillars crawl out in mid-April. Wear gloves when removing the egg masses as the small hairs in the egg masses can cause a skin rash.

You can scape the egg masses into a jar and microwave them for two minutes. Another way to kill the eggs is to cover the egg masses in the jar with soapy water and leave them covered for two days.

There is an insecticidal spray called Golden Pest Spray Oil, by Stoller Enterprises, Inc. (800-777-2486) that works by coating the eggs and suffocating the larval embryo inside. The active ingredient is soybean oil which is coupled with adjutants that allow the soybean oil to penetrate the hairy egg masses. Thoroughly soak each egg mass to ensure adequate coverage.

March 2017

Friday, 17 March 2017

Let’s Get Cutting

Volunteer using chainsaw to cut up a boxelder tree.

Southern Wisconsin Trout Unlimited volunteer cuts up boxelder as part of Sugar River work day last December.

If you have been waiting for the right time to cut wood invasive trees, shrubs and vines; now is the time. Snow is off the ground so it is easy to find and cut buckthorn, honey suckle and oriental bittersweet.

Stack the cut branches into a tight brush pile. I like to point the branches all in the same direction to get a tighter pack. Try pushing the pile down and even climbing on it to crush the branches. I even use my chainsaw to slice through the pile to compact it even more. A dense brush pile will light easier and burn hotter because the wood is packed closer together, making it easier to get the fuel to its ignition temperature.

Remember to cut close to the ground and immediately treat stumps with herbicide (e.g., Garlon 4 or Roundup). Read and follow label direction for the correct dilution. For those larger trees like boxelder and bigger buckthorn, you only need to treat the outside sap ring because the inner heartwood is not living and will not transport herbicide.

Time is running out, so don’t delay. Once the buds begin to swell and break the sap will be running from he roots up into the leaves. When that happens, the tree will not only stop pulling the herbicide down into the roots, but it may actively push the herbicide back out of the stump. Once the sap starts running, wait several months until the leaves have fully opened. At that point the shrub or tree will again start pulling nutrients down into the roots and along with those nutrients your herbicide.

Thursday, 02 March 2017