Removing exotics from Rattlesnake Creek

Cattle grazing along Rattlesnake Creek after tamarisk and Russian-olive removal.

Cattle grazing along Rattlesnake Creek after tamarisk and Russian-olive removal.

Ridding an area of non-native invasive vegetation once it has taken over is challenging and costly. Ducks Unlimited and partners cleared Russian-olive and tamarisk – also called salt cedar – from more than 6,700 acres along 30 stream miles of Rattlesnake Creek in Stafford County, Kan.

The process took three years and involved tree extraction, prescribed burns and plant herbicide application to eliminate new growth. 

Salt cedar increases soil salinity, outcompetes and displaces native plants, alters stream flow and landscape features, disconnects wetlands from the stream, degrades wildlife habitat and reduces livestock forage. 

"Once we got these invasive species under control the native plants quickly recovered along Rattlesnake Creek. Ranchers have commented they couldn’t believe how much grass was produced after removing the invasive trees," said Aron Flanders, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program biologist. 

Rattlesnake creek is the primary source of water for Little Salt Marsh and numerous managed wetlands on Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The project area is upstream from the refuge, and removal of invasive plants on neighboring land improves water resources for cattle and benefits waterfowl and endangered whooping cranes that use the area.

"One of the goals of this project was to remove the seed source that would bring salt cedar and Russian-olive onto the refuge," said Matt Hough, Ducks Unlimited manager of conservation programs in Kansas. "By working with landowners to remove the salt cedar and Russian olive trees we are helping them improve the grazing capacity on their lands and removing the potential for these exotics to spread onto Quivira NWR."

Grants from the Kansas Forest Service, Ducks Unlimited and Playa Lakes Joint Venture were the primary funding sources that put plans into action. These funds leveraged significant private landowner matching contributions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program coordinated the private land projects. The Tamarisk Coalition (RiversEdge West), Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas Alliance for Wetlands and Streams provided guidance to private landowners. Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism provided matching funds. Ducks Unlimited conducted site visits to provide technical guidance on wetland management and to promote program participation.

Additional partners included Kansas Prescribed Fire Council, Big Bend Groundwater Management District 5, Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition, USDA NRCS, Kansas Division of Water Resources and The Nature Conservancy.

"We strive to promote these voluntary private land projects. The Rattlesnake Creek project benefited recreational and working agricultural lands and surrounding communities by increasing livestock forage, improving water quantity, providing economic growth and recreational hunting opportunities and increasing wildlife and plant diversity," said Flanders.