For several years now, staff at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge have been working hard, trying to return Luce Bayou Tract to its natural state. Once forested, this plot of land was converted into pastures for cattle before it was acquired by the refuge in 2015.
Over 150 acres of Luce Bayou Tract have been replanted with native hardwood tree species through generous grants from The Conservation Fund, NRG Energy Company, and Entergy Corporation. However, conservation work does not stop once the seedlings are placed in the ground.
Hired on as invasive species specialists this summer, interns spent the last three months working to return Luce Bayou Tract to its former glory. It was their job to help improve the land and protect the seedlings. Through the project, they came to realize just how much work goes into restoring an ecosystem once it has been knocked out of balance.
As Invasive Species Specialists, their primary project involved reducing three invasive species: Chinese tallow tree, trifoliate orange tree, and feral hogs. Invasive species are species which are not native to the area. For example, these three species originated in Asia. Invasive plants out-compete native plants by stealing the resources our native species need to survive. Invasive animals species, in this case, feral hogs, damage the seedlings by rooting them up and even eating them.
For the interns, it was incredibly fun getting to learn the ins and outs of invasive species management. Every morning, trying to beat the heat of the day, they methodically worked their way through the forests and fields, eliminating what “enemy species.” Through the heat of the summer, garbed in long sleeves and other protective gear, they worked to eliminate Chinese tallow and trifoliate orange from a large portion of Luce Bayou. Hiking around, selectively spraying target species, proved to be a rather enjoyable experience.
When they weren’t attempting to kill every invasive plant species in sight, they were working on other “enemy,” feral hogs. They spent a portion of each day dedicated to baiting and setting hog traps. Besides damaging seedlings, feral hogs can carry zoonotic diseases that can affect humans, our companion animals, and even our domestic/farm animal populations. These diseases include anthrax, pseudorabies, brucellosis, and leptospirosis. The captured hogs were used to monitor zoonotic diseases in Liberty County by the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Not only did they learn how to build and run hog traps, they also had the opportunity to learn to take biological tissue and blood samples for this research.
The other project we worked on involved counting seedling trees in pre-established tree plots. These native bare-root seedlings were planted to help reestablish forested land in the fields at Luce Bayou. By counting the tree seedlings in the plots, they were able to assess seedling survival rates throughout the field.
Out in the secluded section of the refuge, they were able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the wilderness. In the mornings, they enjoyed seeing deer wake up from the fields where they had bedded down for the night. By afternoon, the butterflies and bees would be actively pollinating the area’s many wildflowers.
As they worked, their eyes would scan nearby areas for the sorts of treasures that one can only find in the wilderness. The discovery of old hog skulls, turtle shells, and deer sheds would frequently brighten their days. On several occasions, they even found some of the forest’s quieter denizens coiled in bushes and under trees. While they gave a wide berth to the beautiful copperheads and cottonmouths they saw, other snake species quickly became the subject of closer examinations. It is amazing what a person can find while traipsing through the wilderness with a tank full of herbicide, baiting hog traps, and counting seedlings
As their time at the refuge ends, they say goodbye to the many trails and treasures which we have come to love here at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge. This has been a summer full of adventures and learning experiences for the interns.
A special thank you to Entergy, The Conservation Fund, and Friends of Trinity River Refuge for providing the funds for the restoration efforts at the Luce Bayou Tract and the incredible internship positions. If you would like to learn more about Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, please visit online at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/trinity_river/, call us at 936-336-9786, or stop by the refuge office at 601 FM 1011, Liberty, TX, across from the Sam Houston Regional Library.
By Devon Eldridge and Theresa Edwards, Invasive Species Specialists, Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge