Friday, September 29, 2006

Summer project

Our project this summer was spraying noxious weeds - Carduus nutans - in upper Joe's Valley on the Manti La Sal National Forest.

The experience was an interesting illustration of the mixture of earthly corruption and transcending beauty. The great mountain peaks surround this high valley, wreathing the area in thunderheads and frequent rain showers. Up here the rainfall is up to thirty times more than the average in the lower valleys. Also the temperatures are consistently much cooler. It makes for a unique and beautiful ecology. And interesting parallel to a common characterization of the temporal world, where thorns and thistles abound to afflict and torment us.

At lower elevations and drier areas, the preponderance of vegetation is dryland species like sagebrush, juniper, and pinyon pines. In wetter areas this phases into aspens, and in cooler and wetter exposures it transitions into spruces and firs. At the highest rocky peaks there are a few bristlecone pines. Throughout this entire spectrum there are certain opportunistic weed species that can colonize and take over an area at a fantastic rate.

Most of our work was searching out areas that are infested with invasive species of thistle. These thistles were introduced from other areas. (Some of you will be interested to know that one of the worst pests is commonly known as "Canada Thistle"! Any suspicion of a conspiracy in this? ;-)

Due to certain usage and traffic patterns in this area of the forest, these foreign species proliferate at an unnatural rate. They crowd out the native plants and make an environment that is unattractive to humans and other animals that use the land. So we have been blasting them with chemical pesticides, to help reduce the invading population.

We spent most of the past six weeks camping out in the forest, hiking through the woods and up and down the mountains, admiring the wonders of nature. And, getting well paid for it!

We met some US Forest Service employees that are great people to know and to work with. Working with fine people makes the job so much more enjoyable. It was a learning experience for all of us, and turned out to be really a lot of fun, which is gratifying in so many ways.

Anyway, next summer we will return to the same forest area, to continue waging war against the encroaching thistles. Striving to restore paradisical glory to this earth, one weed at a time.

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