Boots On the Ground: Managing Invasive Plants in the Nation's Largest County-Owned Park

by celestine duncan, techline editor

by celestine duncan, techline editor

Beaver Creek Park lies in north-central Montana where the prairie meets the Bear Paw Mountains. Within this 10,000-acre natural area are riparian meadows, rolling grasslands, pine forests, aspen and cottonwood groves, rocky cliffs and cascading waterfalls. This interface of prairie and mountains supports a diverse mix of geology, wildlife and vegetation that remains as unique today as it was centuries ago (Sidebar 1).

Fig. 1: Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale) is well established throughout Beaver Creek Park. Photo by C. Duncan

Fig. 1: Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale) is well established throughout Beaver Creek Park.
Photo by C. Duncan

Chad Edgar, Park Superintendent, and Terry Turner, Hill County Weed Coordinator are tasked with protecting and managing natural resources within park boundaries. Although Hill County has exclusively owned and managed the park for recreational use since 1948, resources then were limited and introduced invasive plants quickly spread across the diverse landscape. Weeds like houndstongue, spotted knapweed, Canada thistle, hawkweed, oxeye daisy and burdock currently threaten biological diversity and multiple use within the park (Figure 1).

Turner explains, “The funding we had wasn’t adequate to effectively address weeds in Beaver Creek Park, and we realized that we had to make a change if we wanted to contain and control infestations.” Turner worked with civic leaders, organizations, landowners and the public in Hill County to voice his concern about protecting the park and surrounding lands from invasive plants. In May, 2017, citizens of Hill County approved an additional four-mill weed tax levy. “The levy almost doubles the weed district budget and allows us to dedicate about $50,000 a year to the park,” says Turner.

Managing a park this large with limited resources requires sound vegetation management practices.   Turner and local partners proposed an integrated vegetation management program, which includes prevention, inventory, monitoring, and early detection and treatment of newly invading non-native plants. It also integrates herbicides, livestock grazing, mowing, biological control agents and hand removal to contain and reduce existing infestations. Employees with state and federal agencies, the university, park employees and Hill County, along with local volunteers, are working together to implement various parts of the integrated program.

Additional history on the park is available at: issuu.com/havrenews/docs/beaver_creek_park_2016_100_yr

Additional history on the park is available at: issuu.com/havrenews/docs/beaver_creek_park_2016_100_yr


Inventory and Monitoring

Rangeland management specialist Lou Hagener, along with other members of Hill County Park Board’s Grazing Committee, are working with Montana State University-Northern (MSU), Hill County Weed District, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service to develop and implement long-term monitoring protocols.

Fig. 2: Lou Hagener, Chad Edgar, park staff, Grazing Committee members, and employees with the Natural Resource Conservation Service establish permanent monitoring plots in the park. Photo by Kailee Calnan, NRCS

Fig. 2: Lou Hagener, Chad Edgar, park staff, Grazing Committee members, and employees with the Natural Resource Conservation Service establish permanent monitoring plots in the park.
Photo by Kailee Calnan, NRCS

 “Monitoring in the park has been sporadic since the early 1990’s, so we have limited long-term data,” explains Hagener. New protocols that more accurately measure natural resource health—including water, soil, and vegetation (native and invasive)—are currently being developed. The goal is to engage MSU students in Botany, Water Quality, and Agricultural Technology Departments in long-term monitoring and inventory.  Data they collect will be used to guide management decisions for invasive plants, grazing, recreation and other multiple-use components in the park (Figure 2).

Fig. 3: Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is a new invader, located mainly on cabin sites in the park. Photo by Terry Turner

Fig. 3: Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is a new invader, located mainly on cabin sites in the park.
Photo by Terry Turner

“We are working toward having a university course that uses GIS and ground methods as part of an on-going weed inventory in the park,” says Hagener. “It is the beginning stages of a very long-term commitment to monitoring and inventory.”

Hill County Weed District recently conducted park-wide inventories of newly introduced weeds, including orange hawkweed, oxeye daisy, Dalmatian toadflax and spotted knapweed (Figure 3). Maps indicate that new invaders currently infest about 325 acres within the park.


Fig. 4: Livestock and recreationists can move weeds such as houndstongue from the park to private lands. Photo by Lou Hagener.

Fig. 4: Livestock and recreationists can move weeds such as houndstongue from the park to private lands.
Photo by Lou Hagener.

Management

Road and trail rights-of-ways, cabin sites, haying and livestock grazing all provide avenues for introduction and spread of invasive plants. “One of the biggest concerns we have is that recreational use, and livestock grazing in fall and early winter, will transport weeds like burdock, houndstongue and knapweed from the park to private lands,” explains Chad Edgar (Figure 4). “That’s why it’s so important to control current infestations and prevent any new weeds from establishing.”

Fig. 5: Terry Turner observes one of several Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) in the park controlled with a basal bark treatment of Garlon® 4 Ultra. Houndstongue (inset) is controlled with Opensight® specialty herbicide in combination with 2,4-D.  Photo by C. Duncan.

Fig. 5: Terry Turner observes one of several Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) in the park controlled with a basal bark treatment of Garlon® 4 Ultra. Houndstongue (inset) is controlled with Opensight® specialty herbicide in combination with 2,4-D. 
Photo by C. Duncan.

With the increased budget, weed district employees are dedicating more time to managing infestations in the park. This includes selective herbicide treatments and coordinating volunteer hand-pulling efforts. “Houndstongue is widespread in the park, so we needed one herbicide treatment that would control it along with thistles, knapweed, daisy and other broadleaf weeds,” says Turner. Opensight® specialty herbicide (1) at 3.3 ounces of product per acre is currently applied alone or in combination with 2,4-D as a spot treatment to control the complex of weeds (Figure 5, 6; Sidebar 2)

Fig. 6: Burdock (Arctium minus) infestation shown in fall, 1976, in Beaver Creek Park (left) compared to the same site today, following effective management (right). Photos by Terry Turner.

Fig. 6: Burdock (Arctium minus) infestation shown in fall, 1976, in Beaver Creek Park (left) compared to the same site today, following effective management (right).
Photos by Terry Turner.

Livestock grazing and mowing (hay) are an integral component of vegetation management in the park, and generate income to support the park’s mission.  The Grazing Board is currently looking at ways to refine livestock grazing, including the use of targeted grazing, to improve land health by suppressing invasive plants, reducing wildfire danger, and facilitating recovery of preferred native species.

Fig. 7: The annual “Burdock Dig” with fifth-graders from Sunnyside School includes more than 180 students and parents each year. Photo by Terry Turner.

Fig. 7: The annual “Burdock Dig” with fifth-graders from Sunnyside School includes more than 180 students and parents each year.
Photo by Terry Turner.

Volunteers are a key component of the management effort. The annual “Burdock Dig” with fifth graders from the Havre School District helps educate students and control infestations of burdock and houndstongue (Figure 7). A spray day is also held each year with local ranchers volunteering their time and Hill County providing the herbicide and equipment needed to treat weeds. “The cooperative spray days and hand-pulling efforts really help stretch our funding and increases the acres of weeds we can manage in the Park,” says Turner.

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[1] Opensight® specialty herbicide combines aminopyralid and metsulfuron-methyl in a dry, water dispersible granule formulation.

Details on this research are available at www.cabi.org/projects/project/56272.

Details on this research are available at www.cabi.org/projects/project/56272.


Future

Edgar and Turner agree that future management of invasive plants in the park is much more positive with strong support from county residents. “Maintaining and strengthening our partnerships and increasing resources to control weeds are important for protecting the park and surrounding private land from noxious weed invasion,” says Turner. “Generations of people have spent their entire lives camping, fishing and enjoying the unique beauty of Beaver Creek, and with their help and expertise, we can protect this area that we all care deeply about.”


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Milestone and Opensight are not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. When treating areas in and around roadside or utility rights-of-way that are or will be grazed, hayed or planted to forage, important label precautions apply regarding harvesting hay from treated sites, using manure from animals grazing on treated areas or rotating the treated area to sensitive crops. See the product label for details.

State restrictions on the sale and use of Garlon 4 Ultra, Milestone and Opensight apply. Consult the label before purchase or use for full details. Always read and follow label directions.