Elk NetworkWildlife Reaps Benefits as Pierce Refuge Gains Ground on Noxious Weeds

General | November 29, 2023

Below is a news release from Skamania County, Washington.

At the Pierce National Wildlife Refuge in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, the Skamania County Noxious Weed Program has partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Gorge Refuge Stewards and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation on a large-scale, habitat enhancement project for all the wildlife that call the refuge home. Elk, deer, bear, bobcat, Western Pond turtle, purple martens, egrets, herons, chum salmon, and many others are benefiting from the improvements made by noxious weed removal.

Complaints about Canada thistle on the refuge fields from adjacent neighbors sparked the initiative to commence the task of improving forage conditions in the fields once managed for hay production when the land was operated as Pierce Ranch. Funding was sought and awarded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to remove noxious weeds that will improve forage opportunities and clear travel corridors for wildlife.

While forage conditions of the former hay fields are being improved with ongoing thistle control, hundreds of acres of invasive Himalayan blackberry have been removed. Seas of blackberry make it impossible for wildlife to travel and crowd out diverse native plant life needed for a healthy ecosystem. Though this plant offers a nectar source for bees when in bloom, the negative effects of a monocultural system outweigh any short-lived benefit. Gorge refuge volunteers spent hundreds of hours cutting back blackberries and controlling other weeds. Skamania County followed up with herbicide treatment in the fall to maintain that work and give native trees and shrubs room to grow. In these areas, the addition of 400+ native trees and shrubs enriched wildlife forage and habitat for all species.

After removing the blackberry in the oak woodland setting, common camas (Camassia quamash) were released as more sunlight hit the forest floor. The years immediately following release saw an abundant flush of this treasured iconic flower and native first food source that had been buried in the darkness of blackberry for so long.

Pierce NWR was established in 1983 to provide habitat for waterfowl, particularly Canada geese. The habitats of the refuge include wetlands, grasslands, oak woodland forests, and streams. It is the mission of USFWS staff to study, restore, and monitor these habitats and species to ensure long term success. The refuge offers larger species like Roosevelt elk, black bear and threatened and endangered species such as chum salmon and northwestern pond turtles a place to thrive and recover. Therefore, human disturbance is kept to a minimum with no visitor access to this refuge.

The Gorge Refuge Stewards are champions for conservation of the National Wildlife Refuges in the Columbia Gorge and invite the public to join their volunteer program. The Gorge Refuge Stewards volunteer program offers many opportunities on and off the refuges that connect people with nature  https://www.fws.gov/refuge/steigerwald-lake/get-involved. Skamania County Noxious Weed Program welcomes the opportunity to educate the public about the impact of noxious weeds and how best to control them. Please feel free to contact the SCNWP staff at 509-427-3940 or email weeds@co.skamania.wa.us.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)