by Mike Thompson,
wildlife biologist FW&P
Game Range Ramblings column
June 24, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
My dog, Jake, is teaching me a lot about weed control.
Like the rest of us, Jake juggles multiple priorities. But, he recognizes that while all the others are important, his food is fundamentally critical.
So, Jake vigilantly guards his food against all who would take it from him. These primarily include, but are by no means limited to, cats and magpies.
One experience is particularly illustrative of Jake's trials and tribulations when juggling multiple priorities while remaining vigilant against persistent intrusions by invading species.
In this instance, Sharon and I were the priorities that stretched Jake's resources to their limits. As we entered the backyard, Jake immediately greeted us and felt the need to stay close, if not to guard us from harm, then to guard our Sunday brunch from intruders until a few stray crumbs could find their way into his mouth. Unfortunately for Jake, we seated ourselves quite a distance from his food bowl, and we left the backdoor cracked open for the cats to come join us.
When Gracer and Purry stepped out of the house, squinting in the sunlight and stretching out the kinks from their long naps, Jake hastened over to greet them with a little huff and puff on the subject of his food bowl. Gracer, the less facile of the two felines, responded by moving directly toward the food bowl as soon as Jake turned his back, prompting a more forceful warning from the dog in proportion to this somewhat increased level of threat. Gracer appeared to get the message this time, but saved face by retreating at his own leisurely pace. Jake trotted back to his position beside us, triumphant.
Sharon and I proceeded to eat our food and enjoy some conversation, while Jake stole an opportunity to rest. Absentmindedly, I glanced over to the dog dish, and found it thoroughly obscured by two cat butts dangling over the rim. From my limited viewing angle, I could only imagine the carnage occurring inside the bowl, with heads immersed to their ears in Alpo.
At about the same time, Jake obtained his first awareness of this disturbing turn of events. He hesitated at first, probably in total disbelief, then made a woofing charge to his bowl.
The cats, no doubt already sated by this time, scooted out of the way enough to give the dog access to his bowl, seeming to mutter, "What? What?" as they gathered themselves and commensed cleaning.
Ever the professional, I noted the parallels between Jake's land management challenges and those facing Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) on the Game Range. The fundamental resources that FWP must protect on the Game Range are soil and native vegetation, from whence come the wildlife. The primary threats to these are exotic weeds.
Like Jake, it seems that every time we turn our backs, we return to find that the invaders have snatched another bite. But, we keep up the fight because we know that even though we lose some ground in some place every year, we can protect a lot more native habitat through our persistent efforts in key locations than by throwing up our hands altogether and giving up. The secret of success, FWP believes, is to direct our efforts toward the most important habitats that present us with practical weed control options, and then commit to a high standard of excellence in these locations.
Just a few days ago, FWP completed another installment in its ongoing weed control program on the Game Range by directing the treatment of 180 acres of spotted knapweed. This year, treatments were concentrated on FWP deeded property along Woodworth Road (south of the Game Range headquarters) and around the helicopter pad off Highway 200. As usual, we contracted with Ron Gipe to spray Tordon herbicide at a rate of 1 pint per acre.
I was sure Ron's schedule would bring him to the Game Range on June 12th, when FWP had a few other priorities to juggle at the same time. But we got a reprieve until the following Thursday, which turned out to be a perfect morning for herbicide application. You can view the early results yourself by taking a drive to the Game Range headquarters and observing the knapweed plants along the driveway between Woodworth Road and the buildings.
Then, drive on past the buildings and across the Game Range to the old elk trap and the bunchgrass meadows where most of the elk spend winter. (If you've taken the right road, you'll come out at mile marker 3 on Highway 83.) The expansive grasslands you'll drive through on that trip will demonstrate the residual effects of a similar herbicide treatment that occurred in May 1998. Virtually the entire bunchgrass rangeland that you will drive through was sprayed by helicopter last spring.
Whatever your views on herbicide spraying, I can offer one conclusion with complete confidence. Those Game Range grasslands would not look or function ecologically as they do today without a careful and effective program of weed prevention and control.
And vigilance. Even vigilance requires rest and renewal, so Sharon and I have decided to give Jake a vacation from cats and magpies. Of course, we'll have to tag along to provide proper care. It's a personal sacrifice that will involve a couple weeks' interruption in the production of Game Range Ramblings. I'll see you after the Fourth!