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Moving Toward the Past
Bald Eagles
Natural areas protect bald eagle roosting sites

The City is restoring many of the lands acquired in its Natural Areas Program to native ecosystems. This is being done to...

  • re-establish the land's ability to provide adequate homes and travel routes for wildlife,
  • strengthen the land's natural water cleansing functions,
  • begin the process of healing erosion's scars,
  • offer recreational opportunities that blend well into the land's forms and functions,
  • return to Fort Collins' citizens and visitors the beauty of native wildflower fields.

This is a complex task. It can't be done by just taking a hands-off approach. Disturbed lands are hospitable to weeds and other opportunistic plants that decrease natural diversity and lessen habitat value. Years of disturbance have resulted in heavy weed infestations on many of the City's natural areas. Removing these invasive plants and reestablishing native ecosystems takes time, especially here in the arid west. Until restoration is well-established, weeds continue to enter the sites. They blow in from other properties, wash in along waterways, and sprout from seeds still in the soil. On properties open to recreation, weed seeds walk in on hikers' shoes, are carried in by horses, and travel on bicycle tires.

McMurray Natural Area
McMurry Natural Area

Weed control was an intensive activity in 2003. Removal takes many forms: prescribed fire, cover crops, hand-pulling, mechanical measures, and herbicide applications.

In January and May of 2003, prescribed fire was used in an attempt to reduce weeds on Kingfisher Point Natural Area. These fires prepared more than 35 acres for an initial restorative planting.

Planting of cover crops such as wheat, oats, and barley was used in 2003 to provide a vegetative cover to the soil while offering a growing season in which to conduct an all-out assault on weeds. Cover crops were used at Nix, Kingfisher Point, River's Edge, Prairie Dog Meadow, and Pelican Marsh natural areas.

Bald Eagles
Great Blue Heron

Herbicide application and mechanical measures of weed control (hand pulling, mowing, plowing/discing) are used in most natural areas. Some weeds are mowed before going to seed, reducing their ability to spread. When appropriate, weeds are pulled by hand, often with the help of volunteers. In other cases, plants are mulched by discing or buried by plowing them under. Together, these tools form the Natural Areas Program's integrated weed management system designed to aggressively tackle the weed problem while minimizing impacts on non-target resources.

Restoration is not limited to City-owned natural areas. The City's Natural Areas Certification Program encourages private landowners and non-City public landowners to protect, restore, and enhance native animal and plant communities. Limited funds are available from the City's Natural Areas Program to assist in enhancing or restoring Certified Natural Areas. Since 1995, over $118,000 has been awarded for these enhancement and restoration projects. In 2003, $15,000 was awarded for seven projects.