Change on the Horizon

Change on the Horizon

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Invaders are here! An upcoming U.S. Fish and Wildlife-funded project will help eradicate invasive privet in certain areas of the Nature Center.
Aerial view of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge in 2020
Thick groundcover can be seen in this 2020 Google Earth image of the Nature Center. Image by Google Earth.

Change is inevitable. It can be either good or bad depending on the circumstances. The Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge is no exception in experiencing change. We embrace some change, but other change we attempt to rectify. Unfortunately, the habitat on the Refuge has suffered some undesirable change over the years due to inadequate management activities attributable to limited staffing and lack of proper equipment.

We live in a world where change can occur frequently, so we continually try to keep up. For most, the change is easy; for others, it’s a little more difficult; for some, it’s near impossible. The same could be said for many of our wildlife species. Those species unable to adapt run the risk of becoming extinct. The dictionary definition of adaptation is “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.” Many of our native species require a specific habitat type and are unable to adapt to a new environment. On the flip side, many of our non-native invasive species have adapted very well. Our job as good land stewards and conservationists is to identify the desired habitat types and directly manage for them.

The Cross Timbers ecoregion is losing quality native habitat at a rapid pace due to development and invasive species encroachment. At the Nature Center, we are trying to reverse the encroachment and actively combat invasive species, both native and non-native. In the coming months, you will see some significant changes to certain areas throughout the Refuge as we begin to specifically target our grand nemesis: privet. We are currently in an “out-of-the-box-thinking” mode, increasing herbicide applications and deploying different equipment to complete larger-scale projects. For the past 15 to 20 years, however, our approach has been to equip volunteers with weed wrenches to pull privet by the roots. We learned that if we focused on a small area (less than five acres), we could nearly eradicate the privet in that area —at the expense of the remaining 1,000 acres that had continuously spreading privet. As soon as we would move to another area, however, within a year or two, the privet would return through either dormant seed, re-sprout, or bird droppings to the area previously cleared.

Combined aerial photos from 2001 and 2020 of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
A photo can say a thousand words. These two photos show the extent of woody encroachment between 2001 and 2020. Imagery by Google Earth.

The Nature Center recently secured a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reclaim 75 acres of post oak savannah that has been consumed by privet and other woody plant species. Our plan is to use the majority of the funds to rent a mulching machine from a local vendor and remove all undesirable woody plant species less that 6 inches in diameter. After one growing season, staff would follow up with an herbicide treatment on all undesirable plant species. Once staff determined there was enough fuel and the site was ready, a dormant-season prescribed burn would be conducted within the project site. We are anticipating a burn within five years following the initial mulching. The project site would then be included in the Refuge’s management cycle for herbicide application and prescribed burning.

Map of the mulching project at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
Here’s a sneak peek of the 75-acre project site that will be cleared using U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds. Photo by FWNC&R Staff.

The battle against invasive species will never be won, just as attempting to prevent change can never be accomplished. As land managers, we must adapt to invasive species, but that doesn’t mean we must be consumed by them. We will continue to use technology to develop more efficient ways to control invasive species and document our efforts so we can educate others on what works and doesn’t work. We have been collecting data on the 75-acre project site and hope to have some amazing results to share in the future. Be patient with us as we work through some “ugly” techniques, knowing our native flora and fauna will thrive from the results.

By Daniel Price, Natural Resource Manager, Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge

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