For those unfamiliar with wilderness areas, they protect and preserve some of the most pristine and intact ecosystems within our national forest and national park lands. They offer incredible opportunities for solitude and recreation, they serve as some of the only places where endangered and threatened species still exist, and they protect valuable drinking water resources for millions of people. The Lost Creek Wilderness covers 119,790-acres of the Pike NF and it is a popular backpacking destination on the Front Range of Colorado. Since this area gets high use, it is also highly threatened by invasive plant species that can be brought in by hikers.
The laws and regulations protecting these wilderness lands can also pose a challenge to those managing these areas. No motorized vehicle use is permitted in wilderness areas, which can make accessing remote invasive plant infestations time consuming and difficult. Carrying in large quantities of water for herbicide mixing may be unfeasible. Even though managing invasive plants in these areas of national forest is difficult, I believe they are some of the most important areas to protect from invasive species impacts. The Friends of Mount Evans and Lost Creek Wilderness (FOMELC) a non-profit volunteer organization feels the same way. This determined group of volunteers has been organizing and conducting trail maintenance, illegal campsite removal, and invasive plant treatments in these wilderness areas for several years now. I was able to join the group on one of their treatment days and it was a great experience. We treated some infestations of yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), and musk thistle (Carduus nutans). To treat these species, the FOMELC premixed herbicide mixtures before we hiked into the infestations, and then we used filtered water from the nearby creek to mix in our backpacks. It was a very streamlined system that worked well and prevented any spills.
Going out and spraying weeds with a backpack is not necessarily fun, but this group of volunteers and the stunning beauty of the granite cliffs overlooking the meadow we were working in made it enjoyable. When you work with invasive plants, especially on the landscape scale, it can feel like you are not making much progress at times. New invasives are constantly being introduced, and the ones that are already firmly established keep spreading so the task of managing them can feel overwhelming. The fact that these members of the public care enough to come out and do something to help preserve and protect their public lands really made me feel like the work I have dedicated my life to is worthwhile.
Agency: U.S Forest Service
Program: Resource Assistant Program (RAP)
Location: Rocky Mountain Regional Office