Boots on the Ground: Volunteers Unite to Protect Greater Yellowstone Area


By Wes Smalling, Information Officer, Park County Weed and Pest; and Celestine Duncan, TechLine editor

More than 70 invasive plant managers representing a dozen agencies from three states gathered in early August to protect the Greater Yellowstone Area from noxious weeds. These volunteers forged rivers, climbed steep embankments along highway and power line routes, and hiked snowmobile trails and old logging roads to find and treat invasive plants in the Beartooth Mountains northeast of Yellowstone National Park.

“The project far exceeded our expectations,” explained Josh Shorb, Supervisor of Park County Wyoming Weed and Pest, the agency that hosted this year’s Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee's (GYCC) Terrestrial Invasive Species Work Day. “These volunteers are well trained invasive plant managers, and they surveyed and treated weeds on far more acres than we expected. They also found new weed species and weed infestations we didn’t know were here.”

THE GREATER YELLOWSTONE AREA (GYA) is comprised of 14 million acres of public lands and 10 million acres of private lands. The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee (GYCC) Noxious Weed Subcommittee is made up of three states, 21 counties and seven federal agencies. This group strives to address noxious weed management at a landscape scale, identify management priorities for the GYA, coordinate management efforts between federal, state, local, and private entities, minimize duplication efforts, and learn and benefit from each other’s efforts and expertise. Map from

The project area was located near the northeast gateway to Yellowstone National Park, from Crazy Creek to the Wyoming-Montana state line. “We chose this area because it was close to Yellowstone National Park, has very high natural resource value, and is perfect for early detection and control of invaders like spotted knapweed and oxeye daisy,” explained Shorb.

The staging area for the project was the Fox Creek Campground located about five miles from Cooke City—complete with showers, cut fire wood, and camp sites for volunteers. A large circus-type tent served as a general meeting and planning area.

In the days leading up to the event, crews with Park County Weed and Pest mapped and treated areas south of the volunteer work area, linking treatments along the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway corridor to the Beartooth Highway corridor up to Crazy Creek. The same crew members also served as guides for each of six volunteer work groups.

The first evening, volunteers gathered at the campground near Cooke City, Montana, for a barbecue, bear safety training, and planning meeting. Six teams were assigned to survey and treat weeds within three different management areas, each divided into north and south sections: the highway corridor, the power line corridor, and the floodplain of the Upper Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River. Two Park County Weed and Pest crew members accompanied each of the teams.

Teams also worked in and around the mountain communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate near the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The Cooke City Area Council provided guides and gathered permission from private landowners for weed removal and treatment within the communities.

Days two and three were “boots-on-the-ground” as volunteers covered hundreds of acres on foot. Truck and all-terrain vehicles served as nurse tanks for refilling backpack sprayers. Weed infestations were marked with global positioning system (GPS) units and were treated with herbicide, removed by hand or identified as candidates for biological control release sites. GPS data collected on the project were sent to Kim Johnson, Fremont County, Wyoming Weed and Pest Control District for compilation.

Tasha Mohler, ‘Max’, and Jeffery Pettingill of Bonneville County Weed District, Idaho hike up logging roads with back pack sprayers to treat oxeye daisy. Pettingill’s dog, Max, is an important member of the team carrying extra water and insect repellent for crew members. Photo by Celestine Duncan.

PILOT PEAK LOOMS HIGH in the distance over Park County Weed and Pest Control District employees Emmett Phelan and David States as they cross the Upper Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River alongside a crew of volunteers from the Teton County Weed and Pest Control District. Photo by Wes Smalling.

Not only were crews mapping and treating weeds, they were also educating residents of Cooke City and Silver Gate on the threat of invasive species such as oxeye daisy, which can take over a landscape. “It's hard to convince everyone of that, especially since some people think they're pretty flowers,” said Mickey Pierce of the National Park Service's Northern Rocky Mountain Exotic Pest Management Team, which worked in the Silver Gate area.

Volunteers enjoyed a lot of camaraderie and information sharing about invasive plants during evening catered meals and around campfires. “It is so beneficial for crews from different states and counties to share new ideas for controlling weeds, what is working in their counties or forest and new ideas for solving problems,” said Jacob Jarrett, Assistant Supervisor, Park County Weed and Pest.

VOLUNTEER CREWS gather for breakfast before heading out to the field. Photo by Celestine Duncan.

Tasha Mohler with Bonneville County Weed District, Idaho Falls, Idaho adds Milestone® herbicide to a backpack sprayer. Photo by Celestine Duncan.

Along with treating scattered infestations of spotted knapweed and oxeye daisy, the project area also yielded:

  • The discovery of the first roadside infestation of common tansy -- a single plant found alongside the Beartooth Highway.

  • The first detection of spotted knapweed along the Upper Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River -- a small group of plants along the stream banks.

  • The first known occurrence of tall buttercup in the Cooke City area of Montana.

  • A previously undocumented infestation of oxeye daisy found snaking along the snowmobile trails and old logging roads of the Pilot Creek area.

IT WAS FIRE, specifically the aftermath of the 1988 Yellowstone Fires, that inspired the formation of the Terrestrial Invasive Subcommittee of the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee -- the cornerstone agency and main funding source of the annual collaborative event. Park County Weed and Pest Control District and Shoshone National Forest provided additional funding for the project. Photo by Jeff Henry,

“It's important to find infestations early like this so we can stop them. Because of these early detections and treatment, we have eradicated some of the new populations of invasive plants, and identified other areas that will need treatment and monitoring in future years,” Shorb said.

By the end of the massive work project, the volunteers had covered all planned work areas plus several miles more: an estimated total of nearly 10 miles of river banks, 10 miles of power line routes and about 5 miles of forest trails and roads. Overall about 30,000 acres were protected from invasive plants as a result of this project.

“The volunteer labor the agencies donated to the Beartooth project is great for Park County and the Shoshone National Forest, which are important gateways into Yellowstone National Park,” said Shoshone National Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander.

“It's always exciting to see the passion when you get so many talented, inspired people together,” Alexander said, adding that noxious weeds can be so much more damaging than a forest fire. “Fire is a normal process in the ecosystem and the land tends to recover. With invasive weeds they come in and take over and we may never see native vegetation again in those places, not in our lifetimes.”

Jarrett summed up sentiments of a lot of volunteers on the last work day. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more dedicated, professional group of folks than the ones that volunteered to help with this project. This is collaboration at its finest.”

“I'd like to sincerely thank all the volunteers and agencies who participated in this project,” said Shorb, Park County Weed and Pest Supervisor. “It was an amazing effort from everybody.”

  • Bonneville County Weed District, ID

  • Cook City Area Council, MT

  • Grand Teton National Park, WY

  • National Elk Refuge, WY

  • National Park Service-Northern Rockies Exotic Plant Management Team

  • Park County Weed and Pest, WY

  • Teton County Weed and Pest, WY

  • USFS, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest/Madison Ranger District, MT

  • USFS, Bridger-Teton National Forest, WY

  • USFS, Shoshone National Forest, WY

  • USFS, Gallatin National Forest, MT

  • Yellowstone National Park North District

ORGANIZERS AND HOSTS of the Second Annual Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee’s Terrestrial Invasive Species Work Days; pictured left to right are Park County Weed and Pest Supervisor Josh Shorb, Park County Weed and Pest Supervisor Emeritus Bob Parsons and Park County Weed and Pest Assistant Supervisor Jacob Jarrett. Photo by Wes Smalling.


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