Nature Notes: Experimenting in Southfork Meadows
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Nature Notes

Nature Notes: Experimenting in Southfork Meadows

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Southfork Meadows

A work crew stakes willows along the south fork of the Humboldt River.

The Meadows is a part of South Fork State Recreation Area upriver from the reservoir. I enjoy walking its three-mile looping trail called the Humboldt Trail.

Last year I wrote a column on the Meadows and the problem it had with weeds. A walk this fall showed an improvement and also showed the amount of work that has been done on the Meadows.

Gary Reese is a Resource Management Officer with the Nevada Department of Forestry, and is responsible for much of the work done to improve this part of the state park. The Meadows also offers a unique chance to experiment with rehabilitation techniques that can be used elsewhere. Nevada State Parks allows state parks to work with collaborators like NDF. As with any experiment, it does not always go right.

In 2018, 80% of the area was sprayed with herbicide for perennial pepperweed and various thistles. This 2018 work created patches of bare ground that helped prepare conditions for this spring. This year, 90% of the area needed to be sprayed.

A big impact on the Meadows, good and bad, was this last spring’s abundant water. The South Fork of the Humboldt River runs through the Meadows and it flooded six feet deep in areas. The walking trail from the parking lot to the river kiosk was under water.

One of the biggest visual improvements seen this year is Garrison creeping foxtail. This is a desirable grass that is spreading across the Meadow. During my walk this fall, tall, dry Garrison bordered the trail. It does best on wetlands and poorly drained soils. Its seeds seem to have moved down river with this spring’s flooding. It was first seen this spring poking out of the flood waters. It is tolerant of water and flooding, and a range of soil pH and is often used for land rehabilitation efforts. The bare ground from herbicide spraying probably helped it get started.

Basin wild rye grass is another nice addition. This desirable grass can have grass clumps three feet in diameter and grass heads 6-10 feet tall under ideal soil and climatic conditions. It has been established in the Meadows using mechanized seeding.

Gary had the Meadows soil tested and it was found to be low in zinc and microorganisms. A treatment of zinc was applied, along with organic nutrients, which allowed more growth of bacteria and fungus in the soil. These organisms fixed nitrogen in the soil, lowered its alkalinity, and helped the grasses to grow.

Russian thistle (tumbleweed) has been thick the last few years. The State Park and NDF sprayed herbicide this year, but with all this spring’s moisture, spraying was delayed. The weeds sprung up in waves throughout the summer, so spraying attacked the weeds as they were growing. Spraying was performed on 32 days this summer. As more grasses take root, they will out-compete the thistles and help reduce the weeds.

Willows have also been planted in an experimental fashion. Work crews cut lengths of live willow stem from living trees in other areas. As seen in the photo, these chunks of willow stem were placed in the river to absorb water. A water pump fed high pressure water to a nozzle that blasted holes in the soil of the river bank. Willow stems were then pushed into the hole. Often, these stems take root and grow a new willow. However, this spring’s floods uprooted 95% of the 5,000 planted.

Beaver dams are known to vastly improve riparian areas. Early last winter, cottonwood and aspen limbs were cut from other areas and left in piles along the river. NDF visits in late winter found paths where beavers had retrieved these limbs and dragged them to the river, where they used them in dam building. Unfortunately, the spring flooding washed out dams but NDF knows they were built because NDF could see stubs of dams along the shores.

Flood waters washed gullies across the ground near the parking lot. An experiment in erosion control was hay bales placed across the gullies. They were held down with rebar pounded into the ground. Unfortunately, over winter, cattle got into the Meadows and ate the hay, leaving only the rebar.

Russian olive and tamarisk trees are non-native and “drink” a lot of water. Crews have cut down these trees, removed them and treated the stumps with herbicide since the stumps often sprout new shoots.

John Wells is the park’s Maintenance Specialist. He has been working on trails in the park. The river washed out a section of the walking trail through the Meadows, and other sections lost their gravel cover. Next summer’s work will reroute the washed-out section and place more gravel.

The work done on the Meadow is ongoing. More work and more experiments will be performed in the future. Hopefully, mother nature will do her part and help out.

Spraying was performed on 32 days this summer. As more grasses take root, they will out-compete the thistles and help reduce the weeds.


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