Transition Whatcom

I wear so many hats, and one of them is as a contractor for a few humble projects along Whatcom County streams where the goal is to eliminate noxious weeds and replace them with large conifers. A worthy goal, you say? A reality check is forthcoming....read on.....

I constantly battle with my use of fossil fuels. Being in this battle, I analyze all my endeavors, as I'm sure you do too at times, for their impact on my own contribution to global warming. I mean, if I was totally THERE, where I may be soon, or even might be NOW, whether I am joyfully or painfully realizing it, I would be transporting my tools by bike, using hand tools, and never, EVER, touch the tools of multinational corporations that enslave and confuse us endlessly. But the specifications of the wise government officials I contract with say I must use herbicides to get rid of noxious weeds. And I understand this to a certain extent..that's another story...but what I want to tell you about is the experience I had today.

For weeks I have been dreading my maintenance contracts on these very beautiful streamside areas where I have installed (with the help of David Waugh) a couple of thousand trees and shrubs. Why dread? The herbicide use for one, as well as the very particular conditions under which it must be used to be both effective and ecologically responsible (a possible oxymoron).

But today I had a breakthrough. I went to one of the maintenance contract areas - wearing clothes from an office job, and brought my scythe along -- just to try it out on the sea of reed canary grass I am supposed to eliminate - a grass so unpalatable and full of silica that it is rejected by livestock past the tender green stage, but still has managed to dominate our streamside areas in a huge part of the northern US. From the Missouri Dept. of Conservation, an apt description of its effect on valuable streamside habitat, and why it has been targeted for control: It is a major threat to marshes and natural wetlands because of its hardiness, aggressive nature, and rapid growth. Native wetland and wet prairie species are replaced after several years of reed canary grass presence. It is of particular concern because of the difficulty of selective control.

The typical situation for maintenance is to use loud weedeaters, with heavy strings or blades, and to expend lots of effort cutting amazingly thick grass, wearing ear protection, face protection, and breathing unknown carcinogenic volumes of fumes, even from the most efficient 4 cycle motor I could purchase for the purpose. Then after leaving the grass to a period of regrowth, the new sprouts are sprayed with herbicide while still tender. The cool fall weather sends a signal for the energy of the plant to concentrate into the roots, where supposably, this will kill the bad bad noxious weed. This hasn't worked...so I started thinking about the definition of stupidity that goes something like "expecting a different result from doing the same thing over and over again" and what the heck I'm doing in this situation. There's the reality check for you.

The scythe proved itself. It IS a miraculous tool. Quiet. It works. It's simple. It's energizing. Now that's the realization. I am energized, not from my gnarly tough girl management of power tools -- which often happens probably because of childhood issues I've yet to fully resolve-- but from the quiet simplicity of what I was doing. I will take photos and post them so that you can see what I'm talking about here. Soon...

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Comment by Juliet Thompson on January 31, 2011 at 10:50pm

You covered it there, Walter. I even doubted the goats would eat the RCG, and was glad to hear an expert talk about it at the Cattleman's Winterschool last weekend. He said that one only has a few days before the RCG has grown up so high that the goats won't eat it anymore. And they'll only eat if there's nothing else available.

It's as much the aesthetics of the experience that help to determine the value of using a scythe, which you never see figured into the equation. I think it takes a bit longer to use - but not as much as one might think with the proper sizing, and with the ability to peen in the field, and with a sharpening tool in hand.

 I wish we could more easily figure the costs of using the scythe vs. the weedeater -- but so few of us have that kind of longevity or ability to actually try something innovative long enough to figure out the true long term costs. I don't really know how long it would be until I'd have to replace a blade, and the blade is the part that is the most susceptible to wear and damage, and each blade costs in the realm of $100. In the field peening is another issue - it's something one could get quite fast at, but starting out, it takes awhile to get good at. Peening is something you do to the blade after you've sharpened it a few times - - the thinnest part of the blade wears away after a few hours of continuous use and sharpening. You use the peen to thin the metal at the edge of the blade, then you sharpen the edge.

While I was doing restoration work, I could hardly afford to pay anyone to help me. I would very much like to work with a team of  mobile munching goats, but it seems that one would have to get them used to being transported. Plus, they need an electric fence...They don't take to being transported in vehicles...maybe they're aware of the accident statistics...

Comment by Juliet Thompson on September 25, 2010 at 1:47am
Hi there,
Where there are voles, I think trees should be clear around the base. Reed canary grass supports small varmints like voles, and that's the only wildlife I've seen so far, with one huge exception, the amazing and gorgeously innocent Pacific tree frog, which I've observed within twenty feet from the stream. Beyond that distance I've seen only voles.
Comment by Heather K on September 24, 2010 at 1:50am
Yes Juliet!
"The scythe proved itself" !
Now if someone could just write a grant to do research comparing the effects of the health of trees planted & mulched with reed canary grass compared to trees that inhale toxic gas fumes and herbices.

Share more when you have a chance! We're listening...and cheering for you!

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