Ranchers need to use caution during pricklypear control

Ranchers in Central and West Texas have been fighting pricklypear for many years. Thick pear not only causes animal heath problems, but reduces the amount of land and forage that is accessible to livestock. One popular and effective control method is the aerial application of the herbicide picloram. In the days when livestock grazing was very profitable and wildlife did not generate much income, the control of pricklypear was widely recommended and considered to be a wise investment. In more recent years as wildlife and hunting generates as much or more income than livestock, pricklypear control must be viewed with greater caution. The herbicide picloram will kill or injure a number of very desirable wildlife plants in addition to pricklypear. Picloram is especially harmful to hackberry and littleleaf sumac, two of the best deer, turkey and quail plants. The herbicide also kills or injures desirable forbs that are essential for good wildlife habitat. In some cases, desirable forbs have not recovered five to eight years after spraying of pricklypear. The removal of pricklypear could also have a detrimental effect on quail populations. Studies have demonstrated that quail often choose to nest in the grasses that grow among pricklypear. Often, this is the only place where larger clumps of grass needed by quail can persist. There are several ways to reduce the damage that can occur when pricklypear is sprayed. On smaller acreage and lighter infestations, pricklypear can be sprayed by hand or from a four wheeler. Call the local NRCS office or County Agent for details on the proper use of this method. Damage to desirable shrubs is eliminated and damage to desirable forbs is decreased. For large acreage and thicker infestations a combination of prescribed burning followed by lighter rates of herbicide are effective. There will still be some damage to desirable plants, but the damage will be reduced. For the person who wants to maximize wildlife habitat and do no harm to desirable plants, the use of prescribed burning without herbicides is the best choice. A single fire will reduce pricklypear canopy significantly and insects will then begin to damage living pads. A second fire two or three years after the first will further thin and damage the pear. This procedure will not eradicate pricklypear, but will usually reduce it to a tolerable density. Too much pricklypear is not good, but a moderate scattered amount can be considered desirable. Deer, turkey and livestock eat the pear apples especially in drought and quail peck the fruits to get the fleshy pulp. The nest cover and escape cover provided by pricklypear can improve quail habitat.

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