The city of Fort Worth is hiring a contractor to mow and mulch as much as 50 acres of privet at the 220-acre Tandy Hills Natural Area in February. Photo by Don Young.
Feb. 8, 2023
Fort Worth is stepping up efforts to save a city-owned natural area from a monster plant.
The popular shrub, commonly sold at local garden centers, consumes more than 2.5 million forest acres across the southern states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
For Tandy Hills Natural Area, a 220-acre prairie park surrounded by suburban Fort Worth, it’s a constant battle to keep the botanic interloper at bay.
That’s why the city of Fort Worth is launching a full-scale assault on the pesky plant this month.
Free from predators and diseases that help suppress them in their homeland, hearty invasives like privet outcompete native species, Amy Martin reported for GreenSourceDFW.org last year.
Over the years, the Fort Worth Park and Recreation Department has relied heavily on the Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, a nearly 20-year-old advocacy group, to beat back privet at the park with support from Park and Rec staff. The Friends group holds twice-yearly brush bashes and also pays professional crews to clear privet a few times a year.
Friends of Tandy Hills volunteers cut down privet during a "Prairie Posse" brush bash. Photo by Don Young.
Still the persistant plant has gained ground on the prairie remnant, home to roughly 1,800 species of flora and fauna.
“Some of these corridors are so filled with privet, you can't even go in them now,” said Don Young, co-founder of Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area.
SHOCK AND AWE APPROACH
To gain back areas lost to privet, a plan is in the works to mulch 30 to 50 acres across the hilly terrain in February.
The city is hiring a contractor, who will likely bring in heavy equipment, such as a forestry mulcher, to mow down five 10-acre patches within Tandy Hills Natural Area, a complex of contiguous parkland, which includes Stratford Natural Area and the recently acquired 50-acre Broadcast Hill property.
The total acreage to be clearcut of privet depends on cost estimates, which are still being evaluated.
Young said it’s been his passion to rid Tandy Hills of the noxious weed, as the USDA and the Texas Department of Agriculture have categorized the species.
“It’s really kind of dream project. It will drastically change the landscape.”
A map shows areas to be treated for privet removal. Map courtesy of city of Fort Worth.
The project is being funded by a $150,000 North Texas Community Foundation grant from its Conservation and Environment Fund, garnered last fall by the city. In addition to paying for the privet removal, the money will be used to hire a company to build more trails and create a new park map. There’s also money to recruit interns to help with community engagement and trail maintenance and add signage.
Michelle Villafranca, park operations and natural resource planner for the city of Fort Worth, is overseeing the privet project.
She hopes to have the privet mulching done by the end of February before the growing season.
In the fall, workers will come back and carefully apply a targeted herbicide — considered a necessary evil by both park managers and environmentalists to end the privet cycle.
“The herbicide is a big, major part of this,” said Young. “It will take at least two or three treatments of herbicide to hopefully put a stop to it or at least control it.”
Volunteers with Friends of Tandy Hills work at ridding the prairie remnant of privet. Photo by Don Young.
Villafranca cautions that this won’t be the last of the privet at Tandy Hills but this will accelerate the ongoing efforts.
“This is not going to be a perfect project. There will be [privet] seeds in the soil bank. You’re going to miss some. This needs to be a multiyear project.”
She said it's time for the city to ramp up support for the Friends group, which has put in an estimated 5,000 volunteer hours battling privet in the park over 13 years.
“It’s back breaking work,” she said. “And our staff is stretched really thin across an ever growing city. This grant has provided us the opportunity to do something really big.”
She’s hoping they will be able to budget a bit each year on invasive removal. They might even host a prescribed burn at Tandy Hills, someday, as some other nature venues like the Botanical Research Institute of Texas has done.
“I’m not holding my breath on that,” she joked. “It's a tool in the toolbox that could be used at some future date, though.”
Purple paintbrush bloom in the spring at Tandy Hills Natural Area. Photo by Don Young.
Meanwhile, Young said he is hoping the sight of workers mowing down large swaths of brush won’t alarm visitors or passersby.
He promises there will be a payoff in two or three years to the temporary environmental damage.
Eventually, Young says the clearing will give way to native wildflowers and grasses returning.
“Underneath all this privet is a seed bed of native plant seeds. This is a chance to recover some of these areas.”
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