The Wichita Wildlife Refuge is home to American bison, Rocky Mountain elk, and White-tailed deer along with prairie dogs, longhorn cattle and more. The refuge includes 59,000 acreas with 20,000 of those acres made up of open mixed grass prairie. The rest is forest and rock outcroppings.
Saturday started out pleasantly cool and overcast, with volunteers chopping mullein down at soil level or pulling it out by the roots. The plants are left to die and are not removed. Because the refuge is federally protected, nothing can be removed from the habitat.
Control of invasives must, of course, be done manually as no poisonous chemicals or sprays are allowed to upset the delicate balance of nature there.
The hunt for mullein included low lying and higher elevation areas and involved climbing over rocks and around boulders. Mullein is a light, sage green color and has very soft leaves. Jones joked that it’s sometimes called Boy Scout toilet paper.
As the sun emerged and burned off the clouds, the day heated up. A break for lunch at the top of Cedar Mountain looked over a vast vista unmarked by humans.
Another group of the Norman volunteers foraged for mullein near Gamma Lake and Comanche Lake.
While the annual roundup is hard work, it’s also a chance to tread where human feet seldom go as the hunt focuses on special use areas not usually open to the public.
Scat — the droppings of wildlife — were common as were tracks. A few volunteers sighted an elk in the distance, briefly, but there were no close encounters with wildlife.
The volunteers ranged in age from unversity students to retired professionals, all who love hiking and the natural environment. All of the volunteers said the mullein removal provided a chance to give back while still enjoying the great outdoors.
Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.