Pueblos turn to goats for fire management

Minesh Bacrania/High Country News

In early October, just north of Albuquerque on the Sandia Pueblo, the bleating of over 70 Boer and Spanish goats pierced the tranquility of the bosque forest, a gallery of towering cottonwoods and willows on the eastern bank of the Rio Grande that’s long been prized for its biodiversity. Under the shade of the native trees, the animals eagerly licked and chewed the bark and branches of knee-high invasive plants like young Siberian, or dwarf, elms and bright green tamarisk, or saltcedar.

Up until 1973, regular flooding on the Rio Grande helped keep the bosque ecosystem healthy and the invasive plants under control. The floodwaters spread tree seeds to higher ground and added nutrients to the soil, while clearing weeds away. But over the past half-century, after the Cochiti Dam and other infrastructure projects were built to manage the Rio Grande, the regular flooding ended. Now, invasive weeds and shrubs like tumbleweeds, Siberian elms, Russian olives, and tamarisk flourish up and down the bosque.

Without the floods, it’s hard to mitigate the fire risk and nourish native plants, said Michael “Scial” Scialdone, an energetic forest specialist who was hired by the tribe as the bosque project’s manager. Invasive species have slowly edged out the native cottonwoods and willows and contributed to devastating wildfires. The 2012 Romero Fire, for example, started west of the Sandia Pueblo’s border but ended up blasting through tribal grasslands and ravaging over 300 acres of the bosque.

The brown-and-white foragers, which are owned by Max Wade, a rancher in the neighboring town of Rio Rancho, were there to devour these non-native species, which cover the forest floor in flammable fuels. Working through the state’s forestry division, the tribe invited Wade’s goats onto the bosque in June to help mitigate the risk of wildfires. Since then, the herd has nibbled through 40 acres of brush.

We’re North of this Pueblo up in Santa Fe County. Used to be county law everything outside the city of Santa Fe was free range. That meant grazing cattle could be free to roam just about anywhere they pleased and that eventually got the regulation reversed. Which frankly, we and our neighbors pretty much welcomed. Every home’s lot in our subdivision is edged with a strong fence topped by barbed wire. Not to keep any critters in; but, to keep cows out.

Most of the Bosque through our patch is bordered by county or state roads on one side…and a fire road on thr other…kept clear for firefighting access [if needed] and also serves well as a fire break. I’d worry about goats straying out onto the county road. Which is where the odd cow was clobbered every now and then BITD.

Non-native species extend growing season in eastern US forests

Japanese stiltgrass in Maryland

Non-native plant species are extending the growing season in eastern US forests by an average of four weeks, a study has suggested. There was no difference in the start of growing during the spring, but the report found a noticeable difference between native and non-native species in the autumn.

This could have a profound impact on forest ecosystems, such as how soil nutrients are absorbed…

Prof Jason Fridley said that his experiment, carried out over three years and involving more than 70 species, actually revealed that there was not a signal of non-native species coming into leaf earlier than native species during the spring.

“It turns out that the real difference is in the autumn – nobody was expecting this – it turns out that our native species in the east of the United States really don’t do anything after October, but the invaders were still very active,” Prof Fridley told BBC News.

Whether the later finish to the growing season gave the non-native species an advantage was an area that requires further investigation…

Prof Fridley added that that holding on to the leaves for longer was likely to have an impact on the area’s ecosystems.

“The invaders are actually losing nice green leaves that fall to the forest floor, and those nutrients are feeding the microbes and feeding the nitrogen cycle,” he said. “So we do think they are having a pretty big impact on what is happening beneath the ground.”

This opens up a lot of interesting questions for the food chains, such as: are there insects or mammals that are taking advantage of the fact that there are more things to eat very late in the season?” he observed…

Prof Fridley said that the species that were displaying the later leafing behaviour were primarily from China, Japan and Korea, with a number from the UK and Europe…

“I have a sneaking suspicion that the plants coming from the Old World to the New are actually better adapted than New World species, and it could be that the New World experienced some pretty major disruptions over the past two million years during the last Ice Ages.”

Curiosity that got its start from forest walks – in this case. Curiosity that is the hallmark of science.

Japanese knotweed invasion destroying couple’s dream house

Invading a truck in Massachusetts

The price of a couple’s Hertfordshire house has dropped by more than £250,000 because Japanese knotweed has invaded it, according to an independent surveyor.

With its value falling from an estimated £305,000 to £50,000, experts have told owners Matthew Jones and Sue Banks from Broxbourne that, unless action is taken, it will be impossible to sell.

They have been told 10ft of soil needs to be removed from beneath the foundations to remove the plant.

The invasive weed was discovered in the garden of their new-build house in April 2009 after they had been living there for about a month.

A couple of months later it was found growing in the dining room…

Mr Jones, 38, explained that he first discovered the climbing plant outside one evening after it had made its way from a nearby field over the garden fence.

“I was out in the garden and I noticed some stems coming through the lawn,” he said.

“They were like asparagus tips but they had a reddish tinge to them. I had never seen anything like that before so I didn’t touch it, I went to bed and in the morning it had grown a couple of inches.”

Broxbourne Borough Council sent an environmental specialist along who identified Japanese knotweed straight away and advised the couple to contact a solicitor immediately.

Just two months later it had forced its way into the house through the flooring and skirting boards.

Experts have advised that demolishing the house and removing the soil will provide a permanent eradication.

Right now, they’re stuck in the middle of negotiations with the homebuilder over warranties that supposedly are standard in the UK – but, you can guess happy the contractor is about sorting out a problem of this magnitude.

Asian hornet invasion claims first victims in France

The death of a man stung by an Asian hornet has exacerbated fears over the invasive species that has taken France by storm and could reach Britain within three years.

Patrice Verry, 38, was stung by one of the predators on Saturday after trying to wave it away with a kitchen towel at a barbecue in Lherm, in the Haute-Garonne region of southwestern France.

He collapsed minutes later and never regained consciousness, police said. In June another man died in the Médoc region after receiving several stings.

The local mayor said the number of hornet nests had “exploded” in the area. “Our villages are powerless,” said Jean Aycaguer…

The bee-eating invaders, unmistakable due to their dark hue and yellow feet, first settled in the forests of Aquitaine, but quickly spread to surrounding areas along waterways, thriving due to a total lack of indigenous predators.

There are now thought to be 2,000 nests and the voracious insects’ battlefront has reached the shores of northern Brittany. Two nests were recently found in Spain…

“We have modelled its potential spread by cross-checking data from France and Asia, and concluded it is capable of living anywhere in Europe and certainly in Britain,” said Mr Muller.

Its widespread presence means it is now impossible to eradicate. “This species is now part of French fauna. We’ll just have to get used to living with it,” said Claire Villemant of the Museum of National History.

I know you can’t get it right every time; but, don’t the French inspect shipping containers for non-native flora and fauna? Back in the day I recall being notified by the Department of Agriculture that a non-native species of termite was discovered in wooden packing crates from Japan. We were required to provide several samples of crates from our warehouses for testing by the USDA – and then destroy all the crates by burning them.

That happened more than once. Incoming traffic might not be caught on the spot; but, within a reasonable period of time, everything was checked.

For all I know, we may not be doing that anymore in the US either.

Finally, Georgia gets a kudzu-eating bug. Unfortunately, however…

A kudzu-eating pest never before seen in the Western Hemisphere has arrived in northeast Georgia, but it’s not all good news.

The bug feasts on soybean crops and releases a stinky chemical when threatened.

Researchers from UGA and Dow AgroSciences identified the bug, which is native to India and China, last month. It’s been spotted in Gwinnett, Hall, Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Greene, Clarke, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties.

Commonly called the lablab bug or globular stink bug, it’s pea-sized and brownish with a wide posterior. The bug waddles when it walks but flies well.

“At one home in Hoschton, we found the bugs all over the side of a lady’s house,” said Dan Suiter, a UGA entomologist. “There is a kudzu patch behind her home that provides food, and they were attracted to the light color of the siding.”…

“We have no idea what the long-term impact on kudzu will be, but we also have to consider the fact that it feeds on crops too,” he added.

Related Link: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension
Homeowners finding the critter are asked to call 1-800-ASK-UGA1