• Disking

    Disking_cattails 150x118

    Use of disking within the District is quite limited.  It is the most intense disturbance of wetland vegetation used in management.  Disking destroys both the erect stems as well as breaking up the extensive rhizome system that keeps plants alive during dry conditions.  Two types of disks are used.  A standard agricultural disk works in light stands of vegetation or in areas where the intent is to only knock down the vegetation.  On dense stands of river bulrush and cattail, a Whishek Industrial 12-foot disk is used.  It is able to penetrate deeper into the root zone.  The tractor used to pull the heavier disk is a tracked, model 8400 John Deere.

    Disking is best done in conjunction with some other treatment to reduce the amount of standing vegetation.  Prescribed burning is the preferred treatment, but livestock grazing and haying also help.  Disking, however, is not recommended in areas vulnerable to invasion by Canada thistle.

    Initial observations show that pintails, mallards, white-fronts, and Canada geese select managed wetlands where a significant amount of vegetation remains. Snow geese select managed wetlands (including disked areas) where the majority of the site is open water.  Hopefully, managing wetland complexes in this manner will allow separation of snow geese from other species to help reduce the spread of avian cholera and other diseases.

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  • Grazing/Intense Grazing

    Long Horn Cattle Grazing 150 X 118

    Grazing is a desirable management practice under the right conditions and objectives.  In general, grazing at the right time and amount can cause undesirable plants to decrease and preferred plants to increase.  The purpose for grazing wetlands is not for livestock production or revenue, but rather to economically manage the type and abundance of plants in WPAs.

    Grazing is a natural event associated with healthy grasslands and wetlands. It plays an important role in keeping grasslands in an early successional stage and sustains the nutrient cycle used by other wildlife. For example, a recent study of invertebrates was conducted in Rainwater Basin wetlands which found higher species richness and diversity of aquatic invertebrates in seasonal wetlands that were grazed than in those burned, hayed, disked, or left undisturbed.

    The grazing strategy used on WPAs differs between wetlands and uplands. To address each habitat type, temporary electric fences are built by the grazing cooperator to keep the livestock in the specific area being managed. A portion of the fee collected from grazing is used to control weeds, maintain fences and tree control.

    The effects of intense grazing on cattails can be reviewed in a study released in 2009.

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  • Haying

    Haying river bullrush on Massie WPA 7-24-02 09 150x118

    Haying, like burning, is a management tool that affects all plant species at the same moment in time.  In contrast, grazing impacts plant species at different intensities and time; depending on livestock preference for each plant species.  For this reason, haying is used to impact or manage plants where livestock refuse to graze (e.g. weed patches), or where fire is not a practical alternative (e.g. close proximity to homes or buildings).  It accomplishes several objectives, including killing invading tree seedlings, removing heavy thatch layers, and creating firebreaks for future prescribed burns. 

    Haying is generally delayed until after July 15 to reduce injury to nests and nesting birds.  Research has indicated that the majority of nesting by grassland nesting bird species has been completed by this date.  In a typical year, about 300 acres are hayed across the Wetland Management District, mostly for firebreaks.

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  • Prescribed Burning

    2005 Fire 150x118

    Prescribed burning is used to remove old vegetative growth, release nutrients back to the soil, decrease woody and other invasive and undesirable plant species, increase warm season grasses and forbs, and reduce the amount of organic matter (litter) on the soil surface.

    With less vegetation in the wetland itself, it requires less runoff or pumping to produce open water for migratory birds. As the water recedes on large open areas, dense stands of annual smartweed, bur reed, barnyard grass, and other desirable species grow back. Burning is also the best method for removing invading woody plants seedlings, such as cottonwoods and willows.

    Burning alone, has little long term effect on monotypic stands of reed canarygrass, river bulrush, or cattails. (Burning alone, actually increases the growth of canarygrass.) However, when burning is used in conjunction with other management practices, wetlands become more open with a greater diversity of plant species. The preferred management combination is a burn followed by grazing and then pumping.

    Most burns occur during the months of March and April. Upland burns at this time set back invading cool season plants, such as smooth brome and Kentucky bluegrass. Some summer wetland disking, followed by burns in August has been done in recent years. The results have been favorable for both plant diversity and waterfowl use, but the areas returned to monotypic stands in a few years. Each year about twenty-five separate burns are done throughout the Management District.

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  • Pumping

    Pumping 150x118

    In the Rainwater Basin, nearly all wetlands have been altered from their historical condition. Surrounding uplands has been leveled, wetlands have been filled in with soil and drained, roads have been built, and pits have been dug. Each practice drained, diverted, or concentrated runoff water that once spread out over the shallow wetlands. The loss of surface water in wetlands forces millions of birds to concentrate on smaller and fewer areas. High bird concentrations stress the birds and increase the risk of disease outbreaks. Avian cholera occurs annually in Rainwater Basin, the record high was as many as 100,000 birds during spring migration. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pumps water to numerous wetlands to ensure habitat is available and to reduce the outbreak of disease. 

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  • Reseeding

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    The term high diversity seeding includes harvesting, processing and sowing large numbers of native species in an attempt to return the plant community as close as possible to its pre-cultivation condition. The term restoration has often been used to describe this same process, but restoring a grassland is not as simple as planting a few native plants.  

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  • Shredding

    Shredding Massie WPA 150x118

    Shredding of dense stands of river bulrush and cattail are done to create small open water areas in wetlands.  Equipment used in the past was a tracked, skid steer machine with shredder.  The tracked skid steer has low ground pressure which allows operation on wet soils.  Shredding is done to accomplish a couple of objectives: open up small areas for waterfowl and sever the aerial stems from the underground rhizomes.  Without the erect stem to provide oxygen to the rhizomes, the plants "drown", leaving open areas for annual plants to grow.  

    Shredding is limited due to the high operating costs.  Our goal is to apply enough grazing and prescribed burning to reduce the dense stands of wetland vegetation.  Grazing livestock on shredded areas provide access for cattle to graze, increasing the size of open areas and decreasing the perennial plants. 

    Currently, shredding is done with a large rotary mower pulled behind a track-tractor.  This equipment allows us to cut down dense stands of new tree seedlings.  It is not a preferred management action because it does not kill the seedling and it leaves sharp tree stems that can puncture tires.  We are forced to use it to retard tree growth until a prescribed fire can be done.  Each year, we have more need for fire than we are able to accomplish.

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  • Tree Removal

    Eckhardt 10-26-09 Tree Removal1 MarshallTreeSaw 150x118

    "If WPAs are for wildlife, why do you cut down the trees?"  This is a common question we are asked.  

    Historically, Rainwater Basin wetlands were located in a treeless, grassland ecosystem.  Fire, bison, and a lack of seed source kept trees from becoming established.  In modern times, conditions are very favorable for volunteer trees if land is left idle for a few years.  The moist, bare hydric soils along the edge of wetlands are ideal for seed germination.  Frequent flooding can keep trees from invading into the center of wetlands, but trees will eventually ring the wetland and cover the uplands.  

    Grassland birds have experienced dramatic declines because of the loss of grasslands. The North American Breeding Bird Survey reports that 70% of the 29 species characteristic of North American prairies have experienced a decline in population. A portion of that decline is attributed to the small acreage of remaining grassland parcels and the increasing number of trees found within the grasslands (Bakker 2003). Cowbird parasitism is especially concerning in the region due to planted shelterbelts and scattered volunteer trees that are numerous at the WPAs. 

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  • Weed Control

    Weeds Control Funk Ruddy after RX burn 150x118

    Control of invasive and noxious weeds is taken serious by the Wetland Management District.  Each Waterfowl Production Area is visited at least twice during the weed season.  Noxious weeds are sprayed and mapped.  Spot spraying is done on individual plants and small patches.  Spot spraying is the most cost effective, applies the least amount of chemical, and causes the least harm to native plants. Mapping helps us monitor our control efforts and marks those areas for closer attention in future years.

    Control of invasive trees is becoming more aggressive as well.  We have begun using herbicide to kill small trees.  This is beneficial, especially in areas we are not able to apply a prescribed burn.  On areas where dense stands of trees were shredded, the soil is sprayed with a herbicide which translocates into root remnants, killing them.  Our District is also testing the effectiveness of a new herbicide on controlling reed canarygrass.  That herbicide causes reed canarygrass to prematurely senesce and die without harming nearby sedges or forbs.