NNIS Knockout

As two of four certified pesticide applicators on the Monongahela National Forest, my cointern, Abbie, and I have become an important part of boots-on-the-ground action against non-native invasive species (NNIS). 

In July, we started conducting trailhead surveys as a part of a forest-wide NNIS management project. There are sixty trails that Abbie and I are responsible for traveling to and checking for NNIS. To conduct these surveys, we look around the parking area/trailhead and walk a half mile into the trail, looking for high-priority invasives. When we find one, we double check our identification then take down information on both an iPad and paper data sheets about where it is, how extensive it is, and more. 

I love trailhead surveys because it gives us the opportunity to explore parts of the forest we likely wouldn’t have time to get up to normally- almost like we get a sneak preview of trails we might want to come back to in our free time! Check out the pictures below to see the beautiful places we find ourselves. 

One of my favorite places to survey was Dolly Sods. Dolly Sods is a broad plateau with an ecosystem I’ve never seen before- subalpine heathlands. It has a bunch of cool trails, and an even cooler history. In World War II, this area was deemed “The West Virginia Maneuver Area” and was used to prepare soldiers for the mountains of northern Italy. Mortar and artillery trailing occurred here between 1943-44, so there are signs everywhere to warn you about unexploded munitions you might find!
A colorful display of the variety of plants just in one tiny area at Dolly Sods. I can’t wait to come back in autumn for even more vivid colors.
Another unique part of the geography at Dolly Sods, rock rivers.
A stunning view of High Falls. This was an eight-mile trail that takes you through fields, old-growth forest, a railroad track, and more! I hiked this trail in my free time and was stoked to learn I’d be going back to survey for NNIS (as if I wasn’t already on the lookout the entire hike- a curse of knowing NNIS identification like the back of your hand).
Sometimes Abbie and I have to drive a couple of hours to get to our survey sites. Its worth it when you end up at the highest point in West Virginia- Spruce Knob, 4,863 ft.
No two trails are alike in the Monongahela National Forest. This trail in Otter Creek Wilderness had a suspension bridge spanning across a wide river.

Information from these surveys will help us know which areas to prioritize the removal and treatment of invasives on the forest. Speaking of removal and treatment, see the photos below for a glimpse at the hard work Abbie and I have been doing!

Abbie was a natural when we learned the “hack-and-squirt” or bark injection method. In efforts to give existing red spruce a chance to thrive, we do spruce releases where we inject herbicide into surrounding canopy trees or smaller trees that may grow to shade the spruce. The spruce we release are carefully chosen, then we use a hatchet to make angled cuts into the trunk. We carefully squirt herbicide into the cuts we made. It took me MANY tries to successfully hack at the correct angle, and I definitely had a sore arm the next day, but I felt so accomplished knowing the native spruce will have a better chance at survival because of my work!
Can you spot the spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa)? I’ll give you a hint- they’re in the trash bags! Abbie and I pulled several trash bags and several hours worth of invasive spotted knapweed on this hillside. They were already in seed, so we had to be extra careful not to spread the seed as we wrestled them out of the ground.
Is that another photo of Spruce Knob? Nope, just a giant pile of invasives! Off of the Highland Scenic Highway, there is a fishing pier that had been completely taken over by bush honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.). Before we worked on this area, you couldn’t even see the Williams River. Abbie and I joined forces with some coworkers including our Youth Conservation Corps crew to cut and haul all of this honeysuckle out of the area. Its looking exceedingly better now and locals have told us how much they appreciate it- a great feeling.

Summer has flown by, filled with rewarding work and fun adventures. I’m excited to see what autumn in West Virginia will bring! 

Signing off,

Tara McElhinney

Marlinton District Ranger Station


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