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Autumn olive

Autumn olive bushes cover a hillside bordering a Pyramid State Park Lake. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is using herbicides to eradicate the invasive species.

When the Illinois Department of Natural Resources added thousands of acres of Arch Minerals Corporation land to its existing Pyramid State Park in 2001, much of the new land was covered by native grasses — big and little bluestem and switch grass.

In the intervening 18 years, autumn olive has infested much of the area. Autumn olive is native to east Asia and was brought to the United States in the 1830s. It became popular among land managers in the 1940s as erosion control, wildlife cover and food source.

Unfortunately, it tends to overrun its surroundings at the expense of native crops.

Now, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is undergoing an eradication process of autumn olive at Pyramid State Park. Another area of the park was treated with herbicides seven years ago. That section of the park remains free of autumn olive and the native grasses have regained dominance.

“Yeah, now we can burn through it,” said Pyramid State Park site superintendent Cha Hill. “If anything starts sprouting back there is enough fuel under it. When you get that autumn olive canopy, nothing grows under it. It’s a nightmare.”

Autumn olive creates thickets that can reach 20 feet in height. Herbicides will be sprayed from helicopters over 570 acres. The process will take about a day and a half. It is nearly impossible to eradicate through more conventional methods.

In sparse stands, birds will eat the seeds and deer will bed under the bushes. However, Hill said the plan becomes so thick that larger animals can’t use it.

Autumn olive

Autumn olive, an invasive species, is spread by birds eating the berries and depositing the seeds in the soil.

“You wouldn’t be able to do it (by conventional means), with the washouts and ditches,” he said. “We have three machines that grind it out. We found if you don’t treat the stump, 10 plants will sprout out. We grind a lot of it, but you better treat it or it's worse.”

It is believed the plant is spread through bird droppings.

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“That’s the way I understand it,” Hill said. “Those things produce a lot of berries. Birds eat it, drop it. They’re fertile seeds and they just take off. I wish everything else grew like that.

“In some places, it’s sparse, but we’re going to treat the sparse things and the places you can’t crawl through. We’re going to try to come back and do it next year. It will be an ongoing thing. We’ll have to stay on it. I think it will be something we’ll have to be done every couple of years.”

The plan, according to Hill, is to spray the autumn olive thicket. Theoretically, the plants will die and next year the remaining vegetative matter can be eradicated with controlled burns.

According to the Friends of Pyramid State Park, $103,000 has been pledged for the eradication program. That includes $27,000 from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, $7,000 from the Friends of Pyramid State Park; $9,250 from the IDNR’s Division of Natural Heritage; $20,000 from the IDNR’s Habitat Fund; $20,000 from the park budget and $20,000 from the IDNR’s Biology Division.

When the autumn olive is removed, the fields will be allowed to return to the native grasses.

“Just natural native grass fields,” Hill said. “That’s the reason we have so many field trials, we had so many open fields. We have to get them cleaned out again.”

Autumn olive

Autumn olive, an invasive species, has become a serious issue at Pyramid State Park. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is engaged in an eradication program at the park.

Photos: Wild Southern Illinois

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les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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