The intensity of the last month is over. I'm a college graduate, with a bachelor's degree in Environmental, Population and Organismic Biology from CU. It hasn't really sunk in yet. After the whirlwind of activity last week (including a fantastic visit from my lovely girlfriend, finals, and graduation) I found myself feeling a little restless today, not knowing what to do with myself, as if I should be frantically working on a term project and worrying about an exam or two. When you've gotten used to it, it can be hard to stop being stressed out and just enjoy a little free time. I need to find a real job now, hopefully something related to biology/ecology/conservation, but maybe it can wait a day or two.
Today I looked at the male cones on our pines that are currently coating my car in a fine layer of yellowish pollen. I took a walk and did some amateur forestry. The cottonwoods are fully leafed out with beautiful fresh, shiny, broad, bright green leaves. They're heavy with developing seeds, which will soon be released to the wind on cottony sails. The prairie dogs are doing their thing, burrowing, foraging, and barking at passersby. I'm concerned about them now that, as I've worried for years, some have spread over the feeble boundary that was the stream bed, and they may begin to spread through the rest of the field. If they grow too numerous, someone will probably complain, and the city may have the lot of them exterminated.
The Russian olive trees are still proliferating. I removed one small sapling today. It isn't like me to kill a tree, but these are noxious weeds, endangering the native ecosystem. It's alarming, but at the rate they're popping up, all too easy to envision the little grassland/cattail marsh of the field being replaced with a Russian olive woodland. I fear the invaders may out-compete the beautiful cottonwoods, and for that, I despise them. As I was tearing out the sapling, it occurred to me that while I may not be able to remove larger trees altogether, I might be able to girdle them. This is something I learned about last summer in the mammal class, where I saw that the foresters in Boulder county had cut off a strip of bark all the way around the trunk of some trees in order to create standing dead trees for use by owls and so forth. While most of the tree's wood is composed of water-conducting xylem, sugar-conducting phloem exists only in a thin ring inside of the bark. Removing the bark all the way around a tree removes the phloem, which leaves the tree unable to transport sugars generated in the leaves down to the roots, and the tree dies. Surely cutting off a ring of bark would be easier than trying to cut down and remove a whole tree, and some more dead, standing trees might actually be a habitat improvement for birds in the field. I went home and grabbed a little saw.
However, Russian olives tend to branch in an almost bush like way very near the ground, and the limbs are covered in pointy 1-2 inch spines, which are probably designed to prevent just this sort of thing, so even reaching the main stem is difficult. Its nearness to the ground also makes the angle difficult for sawing. And the buggers are apt to send out new shoots from stumps anyway, so I'm not sure if this method can even kill them off. But I decided to try anyway, for science, to see if it would work. I wrestled with them and managed to cut a ring around several small trees. They fought back, scratching up my arms with their spines. One drew a nice line of blood on my elbow. Maybe it's fitting, since I drew theirs, but I survived the encounter; hopefully, they will not.