Weed killers try to expand elk feeding grounds

SEQUIM — Wayne Fitzwater wipes his brow with his forearm — his hands are wrapped in latex gloves soaked in herbicide — and sighs as he glances at his surroundings.

He is standing on Burnt Hill overlooking Sequim, where he and a few volunteers are spraying noxious weeds to improve grazing opportunities for elk herds.

“If you look around, most of the plants growing out here are exotic,” said Fitzwater, a land manager for the Department of Natural Resources, which owns this section of property.

One by one, Fitzwater points out patches of Canadian thistle, bull thistle, meadow knapweed and Silvertongue weed plants growing in the brushy expanse.

All of these spread rapidly and compete with grass and clover that elk feed on.

Fitzwater even spots a mature poison hemlock plant.

“If you eat it, you’ll die,” says Jesse McCullough, field inspector for the Clallam County Weed Board, who is standing nearby.

“So will any cattle or elk.”

On Wednesday, Fitzwater and four other volunteers sprayed herbicide on the noxious weeds along a 20-acre stretch of land, focusing primarily on the meadow knapweed and the two types of thistle.

Within a few hours of being sprayed with the blue-tinted herbicide designed to soak into the roots, the weeds lean over and eventually die.

Effort to help elk herds

The idea is to allow greater quantities of native grass and clovers to grow so local elk herds can graze on these lands longer, thus keeping them from heading to lower grounds and into contact with human development.

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