By Bill Kleiman
Most natural areas have brush work to do. Repeated use of prescribed fire keeps brush in check, but often a tract is purchased which has not had fire in a long time and the build up of brush and trees can be a challenge.
Have you ever been thinning brush, and at the end of a tired day exclaimed, “We need a bigger tool!”?
The Middle Rock Conservation Partners recently purchased, with a loan, a Fecon FTX200 brush mower.
This is a steel tracked, 200 horse-power steroid version of a skid loader with a brush attachment.
This was an audacious move for an all-volunteer group. This land trust also recently purchased its first tract of land, 90-acres of heavily brush encroached former savanna and former prairie. Fire breaks don’t exist. The brush seems endless. I wrote about this tract of land a while back.
Owning land and managing land can lead to bold steps. MRCP hopes this tool will help lots of natural areas in the Middle Rock area.
Above photo shows the service truck for the mower. The service truck is an old dump-truck that we cut off the sides and back, and loaded the flat bed with a large diesel transfer tank, and equipment cabinets to hold various things to keep the mower going. The service truck proves to be important.
This is Damian Considine on the right, installing a fence brace with Mike Saxton. Damian is the key operator of the MRCP brush mower. He is a volunteer who has adopted this machine and its purpose. Damian loves habitat and has cut enough brush by hand to appreciate a big tool and where to use it.
Here is a link to the Middle Rock Conservation Partners https://www.middlerockconservationpartners.org/
And a link about the forestry mower https://www.middlerockconservationpartners.org/forestry-mower.html
I think they are a good tool sometimes. There are drawbacks. For highly degraded sites they make a lot of sense. One drawback is that in a machine like that one does not have the agility to pick out what is good or bad when vegetation is small. I mean can the driver of that machine see a small bur oak? Another drawback is the machine’s ability to work on steep hills. I live in the driftless area of Wisconsin. It has very steep hills. Most forestry mowers can not work these hills. Another drawback is that you need to go back during the growing season and foliar spray everything that was cut. Lastly what is the expense of maintenance for a machine like that? I am sure they hit a lot of rocks. What does that do to its blade over time?
Sure. A forestry mower is a tool that has a range of uses, but it can’t kill brush. It can’t mow rocks. Steep hills are out. Brush is typically not mowed in quality sites, it is mowed in degraded sites by default. The sites are degraded because of the brush. Mild amounts of brush can be mowed by a smaller rubber tracked machine, or skip mowing and basal bark the brush. To avoid bur oak they can be marked with tree paint. I also agree that mowing shrubs and trees does not typically kill them. We need to treat the brush with a herbicide. But, mowing the brush down first makes that task of treatment much easier. Re-sprouts can be treated with basal bark solution or foliar sprayed as they emerge in the spring.
If you want a truly landscape scale way to selectively kill dense swaths of susceptible woody species, then you could follow up brush mowing with tractor pulled flaming. If the tractor pulled flaming was done when snow cover was present, then it would kill a many of the smaller woody invasive species without harming herbaceous species.
Around 80 %, or more, of honeysuckle were killed when treated twice with a flame for 50 seconds in the following study. I think only one treatment is necessary if the duration is long enough.
In my experience, if you really cook large buckthorn then 80 % will be killed outright with only feeble sprouting on the survivors. The above study’s lower reported control rate is probably because buckthorn tends to get larger than honeysuckle. Since buckthorn tend to get larger, a higher proportion of stems would require a longer period of heat to get enough hot sap to run down into the roots to make the treatment successful.
After larger invasive species were treated with herbicide and the dead stems were mowed, a tractor pulled flamer could be used to kill a high percentage of the flush that emerges from the seed bank. This would reduce the amount of time required to do follow-up herbicide applications.
As someone who attends workdays where herbicide is applied, I have some concerns about brush mowing. If the mowing is done after herbicide has been applied to brush and the brush is mostly all dead, then this concern is irrelevant. However, if the mowing is done before herbicide is applied then the cut stumps typically sprout between fifteen to twenty-five stems. It takes a lot more time to treat all these stems when applying herbicide to the basal bark rather than the one, or few, stems that were present before mowing or cutting had occurred. Also, it can be hard to get enough herbicide on the thinner new stems to kill the comparatively large root of invasive woody species. In my experience, a much longer length of the thinner stems needs to be covered than the length necessary when treating a thicker uncut stem to get results.
Typically, few of the stumps that are treated after mowing dense invasive brush are killed. People tend to not apply enough herbicide to the stumps or miss treating them completely. If you mow in winter, then it will not be until the next winter that people will be applying herbicide to the basal bark of all the sprouts. The invasive brush will grow three to four feet in one season. By next winter, the dense sprouting stems are more difficult to get through than they were before mowing. Spot spraying could be used early in the growing season, but then more off target damage tends to occur. These are the kinds of things people who apply herbicide worry about.
A few years ago I mowed an area of dormant season live honeysuckle of various sizes. I then used a backpack and sprayed 17% garlon 4 basal bark herbicide on the shredded stems. I did this when the shrubs were sending up a few leaves which made it obvious where they were and that they were alive. I painted 50 plants with blue tree paint to mark them. By Fall all of them were dead. It was easy and effective.
I have no doubt that you can get it to work. I could also probably do a decent job. However, my observations are that most people fail miserably and just end up making the problem worse. I’ve seen this a lot of times.
I want to add a caveat to my above comment. If it is a low-quality area infested with multiflora rose, then I would mow it. After spending a few hours today cutting my way through dense thickets of multiflora rose, I have lost my patience with this species. Treating bush honeysucke is no problem. Buckthorn I can handle. Multiflora rose is pure evil.