LAWTON — Norman resident Randy Jones said he enjoys the annual invasive species roundup at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge because it allows volunteers to see a part of the refuge not normally open to the public.
“There’s something missing here — trash,” Jones said, after a trek on Cedar Mountain lasting several hours while volunteers dug up invasive, non-native plants.
While limiting direct human contact from the refuge may have protected it from trash, it has not protected it from invasive plants that would crowd out native species, however. Those aggressive plants must be removed to keep them from taking over and changing the natural ecosystem.
Jones fell in love with the Wichita Wildlife Refuge about three years ago and joined Friends of the Wichitas. Part of loving the refuge is helping to care for it. Each year, the Friends coordinates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and gathers groups of volunteers to remove invasive plants.
Several volunteers gathered at Backwoods in Norman on Saturday and journeyed to the Wichita Mountains to assist in removing the emerging plants. At this stage in the season, the plants can be pulled up or chopped down at soil level. Once seed heads are on the plants, the process is more difficult.
Though many of the volunteers are experienced hikers, Saturday’s roundup was not about hiking — it was about searching out and removing common mullein. Mullein is an invasive species that is not native to the area. One plant can grow to six feet tall and produce as many as 100,000 seeds. Those seeds can lie dormant for up to 40 years.
“Right now, we have 53 invasive plant specieis on the wildlife refuge,” said Wildlife Biologist, Scott Johnson.
Not all invasive species are equal, however, Johnson said.
“We have the dirty dozen,” he said. “Those are very invasive. Others (less invasive species) are dealt with, but they are not as much of a threat to native habitat.”