Whacking Weeds for Wilderness 50th


photo of whole plant photo of weeh flower photo of weed seed

In celebration of the Wilderness 50th- Volunteers whack weeds to benefit Rocky Mountain Elk habitat

The Raggeds Wilderness, near Paonia, Colorado is prime elk habitat with herd numbers in the hundreds.  Acres of undisturbed coniferous forests are interspersed with open slopes of wet meadows thick with grasses and sedges- a nutritious diet for elk needing to fatten up for the winter.    Elk like deer, need large amounts of energy to survive the winter and rely on fat reserves when forage is not readily available.

Ensuring healthy habitat for elk and other wildlife is the mission for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF). The North Fork Chapter of this conservation organization partnered with the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest Service to host “Whacking the Weeds” – a weed eradication and wilderness stewardship project to benefit elk and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

Chapter members, volunteers and Forest Service employees located and removed the target weed for the day -  houndstongue.    Native to Asia and Europe,  this plant is known by a number of common names – beggar’s lice, dog’s tongue, sheep bur, dog bur, sheep lice, gloverwort and woolmat- all suggesting  the problematic nature of its barbed seeds that stick to fur, fleece, and clothing.  Houndstongue foliage has the potential to cause organ failure in grazing animals like elk and cattle if eaten in sufficient quantities.  Dense infestations of this weed decreases forage quality and quantity for all grazing animals.

“Weed control for your own lawn is a fairly manageable activity but in the expanses of these mountains, it is much harder, and certain types of weeds like houndstongue  can be a life or death matter for various animals who feed on them,” said Dan Gray, RMEF member and Forest Service Natural  Resource Specialist . “We educate our members and volunteers about the importance of weed control to provide better forage so elk may thrive in this area,” he said.

A few miles into the Wilderness, groups of kids, teens, and adults chopped weeds and bundled them in piles.   After several hours of digging and loading trash bags, all the hounstongue was removed from a large meadow. The Rocky Mountain Regional mule pack string arrived at the site, to pack out the bundles at the days’ end.   With fully loaded paniers, each mule hauled about 300 pounds of weeds from the wilderness.  

“The pack string is always a hit with the public” says Albert Borkowski, Forest Service Recreation Specialist. “The mules are a great example of how animals were used in early Colorado history to explore and access remote, rugged areas- much of which are still protected as wilderness today,” Borkowski  added. 

More areas in need of weed eradication await these eager volunteers for next year. These citizen stewards put some of the “wild” back into the Raggeds Wilderness, by ensuring more quality forage to give elk a winter survival boost. 

photo of volunteers pulling weeds

Armed with shovels and picks, volunteers remove Houndstongue, from a meadow in the Raggeds Wilderness.

photo of a pile of black bags loaded with weeds

Bags filled with houndstongue, ready to be loaded onto the mules and removed from the Wilderness.

photo of packstring in a line with handler, mountain backdrop

The Rocky Mountain Packstring arrive at the meadow to haul the bags of weeds out.