To Herb or Not to Herb

on May 27, 2016

The fully amphibious tracked marsh buggy with an elevated spray boom was able to traverse the rugged wetlands of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

When AES field services technician Dustin Wire first fired up the Marsh Master, he was heading into a two-week herbicide battle against a 60-acre invasion of cattails. The aggressors were choking out the native plants in the wetlands at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Wire’s weapon of choice – the Marsh Master – looked like a WW II military tank without a turret. And his ammo was an herbicide – glyphosate – rated for use in aquatic environments.

Working as a subcontractor to BioHabitats, Inc., for the National Park Service, AES’ Contracting crew was authorized to broadcast spray the cattails using the innovative vehicle. The amphibious Marsh Master, trucked up to the Midwest from Louisiana, was key to getting the job done for three reasons:

  1. The project size (60+ acres) was simply too large for spot-spraying or wick application by field crews on foot (though some small areas were treated in this way).
  2. Because of the rough terrain with hundreds of downed trees lying in the muck beneath the cattails, Argo ATVs often used for such projects were not rugged enough.
  3. The National Park Service didn’t want to use a helicopter for broadcast spraying due to potential drift into high quality areas within this rare natural landscape of global significance.

Due to potential drift beyond the intended target, and for other reasons such as concern about toxicity to fauna, there are negative opinions about the broadcast spraying of herbicides, and this practice is sometimes considered controversial.

Although invasive plants can be removed without the use of herbicides, in many cases the cost is prohibitive. In some situations, herbicide use is essential, and this was the case at the Dunes.

In addition to cost-efficiency, timing was also an issue. Wire and AES crews initiated the project in mid-September and needed to complete the treatment before the cattails went dormant, at which time the herbicide would have been ineffective.

The Marsh Master allowed the job to be completed within a two-week window which simply would have been impossible with any application method other than by helicopter.

“We had never used this marsh buggy technology, although it’s a proven workhorse in the swamplands of the deep South,” said AES Contracting Project Manager Aaron Kubichka. “The track system, as opposed to wheels, gave us the maneuverability we needed in this incredibly rough landscape.

“The spray tank held 100 gallons of herbicide so we weren’t constantly driving back and forth through the muck to fill up.  And since the entire vehicle was made from lightweight aluminum, its soil compaction footprint was actually lighter per square inch than that of an average size person standing on the ground.”

The fight against invasive species in the upper Midwest wetlands, and throughout the country, has been escalating in the past couple decades, and AES expects the marsh buggy technology to be an important breakthrough in helping to restore ecological health to marshlands overtaken by species such as phragmites, cattail and reed canary grass.

“We were able to spray off around 10 acres a day with the Marsh Master, which would probably have taken a field crew weeks with backpack sprayers and wick applicators,” said Wire. “Plus, just walking through the muck in a marsh like that would have taken a Herculean effort. And it would have cost a fortune.

“I can see that we’ll be able to restore very large tracts of invasive habitat with a marsh buggy. Without such a vehicle, most likely, the phragmites and cattails are going to win.”

Share this post:
appliedecoTo Herb or Not to Herb