SUN RIVER VALLEY — High school students from Great Falls and Simms spent Thursday in the Sun River Valley pulling up spotted knapweed, an invasive species, as part of an annual program with the school districts called “Pull Your Share."
Almost as soon as a group of students set out on a short hike to a patch of spotted knapweed high in the mountains, they were able to celebrate as one of their own spotted some of the weed and dug it up.
"We have brought up about 85 high school students and they're adopting a knapweed site, an invasive species site, that they're going to come to year after year to provide long-term sustained reduction of knapweed at their site,” explained Dan Wilkins, the Great Falls Public Schools “Pull Your Share” coordinator.
This was the fifth year Wilkins took students on a trip to help prevent spotted knapweed from getting into the Sun River Game Range.
He explained, "The plant puts a chemical in the soil called catechin. Catechin in the soil is toxic and it prevents other plants, especially forage plants, from growing in that area. So we could end up with a monoculture, this knapweed, say in this game range and the elk wouldn't be able to survive the winter because it doesn't have enough nutritional value for the elk.”
After their celebratory first pull, students placed a sign to mark their site and then hiked about 15 minutes to the bulk of the weeds and got busy pulling.
"Montana is a very popular tourist place as well as agriculture and I think invasive species like this threaten the agricultural economy as well as the tourism economy here,” said Luke Lee, a Simms sophomore.
"I really enjoyed coming up here. (It's a) good learning experience,” said fellow Simms sophomore Ezra Leach.
The day also included education about noxious weeds and how to reduce them.
Stephanie Criswell coordinates the Montana Invasive Species Council and says she's really appreciates the "Pull Your Share" program.
"What I really love about what Dan's done is he addresses it from all angles. One thing is a behavior change. To really address invasive species, peole need to understand how they impact not only our but our economy and our recreational opportunities,” Criswell said. “He also teaches the children about integrated weed management...The last piece of that is, he does monitoring."
If you’re interested in learning more about the “Pull Your Share” program, contact Wilkins at 406-750-4116 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.