Dandelions threaten other flowers in Exit Glacier area

Posted: Monday, November 18, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- While some ecologists in Alaska worry about toothy invaders such as northern pike gobbling up native salmon and trout, others focus on the dangers posed by little yellow dandelions.

Those and other nonnative weeds are making a run up Exit Glacier Road outside Seward. They threaten delicate flora struggling for a toehold in the gravelly moraines near the retreating glacier.

''They're wicked. They're so hard to get rid of,'' said Elizabeth Bella of the Seward and Glacier ranger districts of the Chugach National Forest.

Bella is working on a plan to stop the intrusive weeds in their tracks next summer along a three-mile stretch of Exit Glacier Road close to the park entrance. The plan of attack may involve mild herbicides, spot burning or crews of volunteers doing old-fashioned weed pulling.

Both burning and herbicide use can be touchy subjects and may not be publicly acceptable. Bella said she is still gathering information.

Exit Glacier Road isn't the only problem area. Invasive flora such as clover, common plaintain, butter-and-eggs, and pineapple weed are creeping into Alaska's backcountry and threatening to choke off fragile native wildflowers, she said.

But with a budget of $5,500 this year and next, Bella is focusing on the immediate goal of protecting the glacier, a popular visitor destination.

''If weeds get in there, they'll take the place of the natural wildflowers,'' she said. ''A lot of people go there to see the undisturbed beauty.''

The money is enough to pay for shovels, bags, maybe some herbicides and staff time. Bella also wants to scout for other hot spots. Her work is being done in cooperation with Kenai Fjords National Park, which manages the Exit Glacier destination.

Maybe when people become aware of the problem, she said, it will spur similar projects at trail heads, roadways, bridges and trails -- places where non-Alaska weeds take root. Denali National Park and Preserve has had a dandelion removal program for several years.

Seeds for the aggressive plants can be tracked in on car tires, on boot soles and in horse feed, she said.

Some weeds are escapees. Attractive plants like the butter-and-eggs are bought from nurseries and seed catalogs but soon spread out of backyard gardens.

Exit Glacier Road's weed troubles are relatively recent. They cropped up a couple of years ago after part of the road was repaved and its embankment was reseeded, she said. White clover and white sweet clover piggybacked in with the grass seed.

Alaska is fortunate in that it hasn't been completely invaded by weeds, as have some areas of the Lower 48, she said. ''But they are present and have shown an ability to grow in high elevations and cold climates.''

Some weed pulling was done last spring near Exit Glacier Road. Bella said she planned to hit the weeds early next spring, before the dandelions go to seed.

''This has to be a repeatable effort every year. We have to get out there and pull these things,'' she said. ''A few days of pulling in the spring, with a good work force, you can get a lot of it done.''

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