Rocky Mountain Conservancy tackles exotic plants with volunteers, park service
Rocky Mountain National Park is a place of pristine beauty where citizens can take a proverbial step back in time to view natural wonders in their native environments.
Keeping the park’s rocky slopes and pine filled valleys natural is no easy task, and it requires an army of employees and citizen volunteers working on projects throughout the year.
One such project will get underway in the Kawuneeche Valley next week as park employees and officials from Rocky Mountain Conservancy come together with local volunteers to tackle a exotic plant mitigation project within the park.
“As part of the Park Service’s exotic plan management plan, we will be working to manage the invasive species that exist within the park that can have a detrimental impact on natural ecosystems,” explained Geoff Elliot, director of conservation with Rocky Mountain Conservancy.
He said the project will focus on an area toward the park’s Grand Lake entrance and noted that all of the work work will likely be done within walking distance of that facility.
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The work will be led by park staff and focus on specific areas, especially those with higher use by visitors. Elliot said that many of the plants that are considered invasive within the park tend to establish themselves in soils that have been recently disturbed.
“(That is) often when they move in and can be more successful than native plants,” he said. “But native plants are integral in the Park Service’s mission to preserve the natural resources here.”
The issue with invasive species is not a new one for Rocky. The park regularly deals with invasive species, including plants and animals, both of which can drastically alter landscapes and wildlife habits and habitat. Elliott noted that volunteer work projects such as this are a major factor in the park’s strategy for combating invasive plants. The reason is unsurprising.
Much like someone’s garden at home, there are few efficient strategies for combating invasive plant species. Park officials have the option of spraying herbicides, but Elliot said that strategy is “much more aggressive” than other measures.
A less aggressive tactic that requires the marshaling of significant labor is to remove exotic plants through what Elliot euphemistically referred to as “mechanical removal.”
When volunteers mechanically remove invasive plants from the park, they accomplish either pull the plants out root and stem or cut the seed heads on the plant. In essence, it’s like pulling weeds. Elliot said the specific strategy often varies depending on the plant.
According to Elliot, the specific plants that that will be dealt with this week will be determined by park staff. Elliot noted this is the second year Rocky Mountain Conservancy has helped lead the charge for volunteers for an exotic plant mitigation project near Grand Lake.
“In the past when we have done this project, we have targeted scentless chamomile,” Elliot said.
Elliot said the group’s role within the project is simply logistical and means helping gather volunteers for the work.
“As the conservancy, our mission is to promote stewardship of public lands,” he said. “We see engaging volunteers with this park service mission as hitting both marks.”
The service project will get underway at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The work is expected to last until roughly 1 p.m.
To register to volunteer on the project, go to http://www.rmconservancy.org/work-with-us/volunteer/ where you will find a full list of the Conservancy’s upcoming volunteer projects.
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