This project began as a small area project that could be used for video recording of heavy equipment and chainsaw tree removal work and chemical treatment of stumps. The video was to be used in conjunction with narrative and interviews, to create radio and TV Public Service Announcements and a 5-7 minute video that would be placed on the YRCDC website and made available in DVD format for presentation at appropriate public meetings.
The purpose of the video was to raise awareness of landowners and the general public about the growing problem with Russian olive in riparian areas and the need for aggressive and early treatment.
In searching for an area that could be used, we contacted the Yellowstone Weed Coordinator who suggested Two Moon Park as an area that would be highly visible to the public and serve as a demonstration area as well as a good site for the video production work. Two Moon is an undeveloped county park of about 120 acres adjacent to the Yellowstone River on the east edge of the city of Billings. It is heavily used by walkers, birdwatchers, fishermen, dog exercisers and others seeking an outdoor experience. It is heavily infested by Russian olive trees and much of the area is inaccessible and unusable due to these thickets. Incidentally, the thickets also provide concealment for a population of homeless persons, a situation that causes some safety concerns for local law enforcement.
Our budget allowed for treatment of only 1-3 acres and as we discussed the project with the County they suggested that they would add enough funding for an additional 15 acres. The county's long term plan is to treat the entire area for Russian olive as well as other weed species that are currently inaccessible to spray programs because of the difficulty of moving through the thickets.
YRCDC contracted with a tree removal company for a 2.8 acre area and the County contracted with the same company for the remaining area. YRCDC also hired a video production company for the PSAs and video and we designed, purchased and installed an interpretive sign at the park entrance. The field work was completed in mid-April. The video work is scheduled for completion in June, 2012.
A tracked skid-steer tractor with a "hot-saw" was used for some of the larger trees and a tree shear mounted on a skid-steer was used for the remaining area that was accessible to tractors. A chainsaw was used on very-large trees and on slopes too steep for tractors and wet areas where tractors would cause excessive soil disturbance. Some trees had to be skidded with cables out of areas that were tractor inaccessible.
A skid steer mounted brush rake was used to make large piles suitable for later burning . The plan is to let the piles dry for at least one year before burning. Where accessible, some of the larger butt logs were left out of the piles so that they could be used by the public for firewood.
Upon observation of the number and size of the piles, County Park officials are now considering hauling some of the piles to the County Landfill were they will be shredded for compost material.
The herbicide Remedy along with a red or purple dye for ensuring good coverage was sprayed on all stumps immediately following cutting. While the hot saw has a built-in herbicide applicator it was not used because when cutting very large trees the herbicide can be over-applied. Yellowstone County weed professionals applied the chemicals for most of the area using a backpack sprayer. The tree cutting contractor applied some also.
Rehabilitation & Monitoring
Yellowstone County intends to immediately broadcast seed the disturbed areas with a native grass seed to begin some vegetative regrowth. The purpose of this seeding is to stabilize the area, preventing erosion, and to allay public concern about the amount of disturbance. The County will monitor the area for natural regrowth of indigenous plants, which is expected. If woody plants are not apparent in the first growing season, key areas will be replanted with species such as willows and cottonwood that are available from the NRCS Plant Center in Bridger. Preliminary thought is to invite volunteer groups to do this work with the idea of using this opportunity for more outreach and education. The County weed coordinator will monitor Russian olive stumps for resprouting and if observed they will be retreated. The County weed coordinator will also begin an aggressive weed spray program to treat the infestation of houndstongue, leafy spurge, knapweed and other weed species.
Public Perception, Lessons Learned, Etc.
As the project began, a significant amount of public concern was heard about "our park" being "destroyed" ; loss of bird habitat, particularly Russian olive for wintering robins was of special concern, also of concern was exclusion of the public from the park during equipment operations. As the project progressed and more people understood the effort, much more expression of support was heard. Many visitors to the park are now asking when we will be continuing work on the rest of the area. The project was conceived and begun in December when the ground was frozen and public use of the area was minimal. Because of delays in the procurement process and because of an early warmup, by the time actual work was begun the ground had thawed and many people were using the area. If field work could have been finished in winter much conflict could have been avoided and equipment could have moved around the area much easier.
Yellowstone River Conservation District Council
Montana Department of Natural Resources
Yellowstone County Weed Board
Yellowstone County Parks Department
Yellowstone River Parks Association
NRCS-Bridger Plant Center