When I retired my goal was to return the pastures on my land to native grasses and wild flowers and harvest those seeds and sell them as my retire-ability. Life happens after you retire with tractors in and out of service, brushhogging stalled because of weather for weeks on end and my spot on the big controlled burn list further delayed, not forgetting the years we experienced burn bans. All this to say some of my pastures now look as my dad used to say, "like a widow-woman lived there."
The panic attack came after driving through the fields and finding plants I had never seen before. I pulled some out of the ground and headed to the Oklahoma State University Extension Office in the Craig County Courthouse to inquire what on earth had invaded my land. The stuff was not easy to pull up. It was long, some 3 feet long, but though tough, it had a wonderfully velvety feel. The official at the Extension Office knew what it was, and what I heard was PANIC-something. Panicking was what I was feeling when I walked in there and certainly even more so when leaving.
Walter White, the Ag Agent for Craig County explained it was a type of Panicum, one of 450 varieties of the invasive species. He said I might have several types of it in a single field. Invasive species are commonly referred to as non-native, alien, and exotic species new to an ecosystem and likely to cause economic or environmental damage according to the National Parks Service.
What I learned didn't help me feel any better. According to the USDA, Panicum flowering occurs nearly year round and the fruits are small about 0.07 in. (1.8 mm). An article in the Smithsonian noted that since the beginning of the 20th century, the growing season in many areas of the lower 48 states has expanded by about two weeks. Frosts end earlier in the spring and begin later in the fall which helps invasive plants "annex" American soil because they are highly flexible and respond to unusual environments, being generalists and highly adaptable, taking advantage of change and disturbance.
One of the changes they take advantage of is change in the climate. Climate change refers to a significant long-term shift in weather variables and includes not only shifts in mean conditions (e.g., increasing mean annual temperature and sea level) but also changes in climate variability (e.g., more intense storms and flooding).
There are a lot of people who do not believe in climate change, but they must not be living in the country and seeing what I am seeing. My piney wood forest is dying. After planting over 50 and seeing them all reach the sky, they are being killed by the pine bark beetle, the same one that is killing the pines in the Black Hills, the Rocky Mountains and the forests throughout Canada, leaving dead wood to feed forest fires.
Walk across the yard, through the field and experience the gouging and great holes the armadillos are digging. I first saw one when a little girl outside Brownsville, Texas near the Mexican border, and now they are well established in northeast Oklahoma and beyond. Consider the honeysuckle invasion I discovered when looking for the old magical tree in the gully and finding it was like walking through unfinished baskets, the vines so entwined near it and the vines weighting down and changing the shape of young trees nearby.
My grandmother came to visit us when we lived in west Texas and saw we had a trumpet vine growing to produce shade on the porch and immediately said, "Get the ax." Remembering those words, I have been watchful all these years when first seeing trumpet vines on fence rows in the county. Just 2 weeks ago, I discovered the first blooms on the back fence and am going back with the chain saw, forget the ax!
There are also predictions of more ticks and more toxic poison ivy being made by the National Wildlife Federation due to the changes in temperatures. We are living in a climate of denial to not accept there is something big happening around us. This is also a topic we will all learn more about at the 19th National Environmental Conference at Tar Creek September 26 and 27 at NEO College.
According to NASA, scientists think we can do things to stop the climate from changing as much by using less energy and water and by planting trees. Another way to help is by learning about Earth. The more you know about Earth, the more you can help solve climate problems.
To deal with this piece of climate change on my land, we are going to isolate and burn the patches of panicum in the early spring and hope the native grasses will get ahead of it. Until then, I am going to brushhog a bit of it, then park the tractor and clean off every one of the tiny seeds and burn them before going back out to the pasture to do more. Yep. I am working through my panic attack.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim
Rebecca Jim is executive director of the LEAD Agency.