Clearing Noxious Weeds at Crockett Lake
Habitat Restoration Underway
Jessica Larson shook her head in wonder the first time she saw the MarshMaster in action near Crockett Lake. In just a couple of passes, the vehicle effortlessly sheared an intimidating jungle of thick blackberry bushes, bringing the first daylight to the underlying ground in a long time.
“Amazing,” said Larson, the Land Trust’s land steward. “That’s a two-hour volunteer work party done in 10 seconds.”
Clearing the invasive blackberries is part of our habitat restoration plan at the Crockett Lake Preserve on Central Whidbey. For the past 12 years, we’ve worked with willing landowners to create the preserve, forever protecting 493 acres in a treasured natural area known nationally for its spectacular birding. State Parks protects an adjacent 345 acres, totaling 838 protected acres.
The first big step to enhance and restore the vital wildlife habitat is tackling invasive weeds that are literally choking out native vegetation. More than 100 acres of the Crockett Lake Preserve are covered by a noxious weed known as hairy willow-herb, the largest single infestation of the species in Washington state.
The tall, fuzzy weed with pink flowers is an introduced species that spreads rapidly through both windblown seeds and underground roots. Island County laws require landowners to remove the plant from their properties because it’s so invasive and harmful.
Along with hairy willow-herb, other targeted weeds include Himalayan blackberry, poison hemlock, and Canada thistle.
Trained crews from the Washington Department of Fish Wildlife have been operating the MarshMaster, an amphibious tracked vehicle that travels across wetlands while limiting soil disturbance. The MarshMaster cuts invasive weeds and applies safe, state-approved herbicides.
Crews began spraying the hairy willow-herb in June before its flowers bloomed to avoid impacting bees and butterflies.
With funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, the Land Trust will complete the first phase of weed removal by the end of this summer.
Additional funding is needed to repeat the weed eradication process in 2018. The final phase will be a major planting of native plants the following year to add more plant diversity and provide new food and nesting areas for wildlife.
“One of the important factors in all of our restoration plantings is to have the plants serve a variety of different purposes, whether it’s perching habitat for large raptors, nest breeding habitat for small birds, or food in the form of berries and pollen,” Larson said.
Crockett Lake is already designated an Audubon Important Bird Area where more than 230 bird species have been recorded, so Larson’s imagination runs wild at the possibilities of what improved habitat might bring.