Taking a More Proactive Approach in the Battle Against Ticks (Part 2 of 2)

Outdoor Opportunities By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II

Two months from now, if you drive around on any backroad or interstate, you will notice how abundant multiflora rose (m. rose) is throughout our area and across PA. The dense bushes with numerous small, white flowers may look lush, green, and somewhat attractive; but don’t let its appearance fool you. This invasive species, which was brought over from Asia and deliberately planted to prevent soil erosion and serve as “living fences”, has exploded out of control in the past 40-years and now threatens to take over woodlands, fields, pastures, highways berms/median strips, and just about any other unmowed property. Primarily spread by birds eating m. rose hips and then defecating the seeds as they fl y around, m. rose out-competes with most native plant species and unfortunately serves as ideal habitat for black-legged (deer) ticks, the vector responsible for transmission of the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease.

Based on ongoing research, it turns out m. rose thickets provide ideal habitat for ticks, since its dense foliage offers an ideal microclimate that is well-shaded and humid. Drying out in sunshine and warm-dry air is fatal to ticks, so hiding in m. rose helps minimize the threat. Additionally, the height of m. rose bushes allows ticks to “quest” at an ideal height, which is the scientific term for perching and jumping onto a passing deer, dog, or human being in search of their next blood meal. The proliferation of m. rose across PA and the Eastern U.S. is closely tied to the spread of ticks. Alarmingly, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently released that from 2004-2016, the number of tick-borne illnesses reported annually more than doubled. In some areas, tick-borne illnesses have almost reached epidemic proportions and they are a very real threat to just about everyone who spends time outdoors, whether in the woods or even in their own backyard.

After learning about the multiflora rose – tick connection last year, I decided that early this year I was going to do something about it. Since mid-February, I have been actively engaged in m. rose eradication across our 16-acres of Penns Woods in a deliberate attempt to reduce the tick population we encounter. As time permits, I head out back with loppers and cut off every single m. rose bush I find, just above ground level. Now, prior to green-up, is the ideal time to tackle this project and typically working for two-hours at a time, I’ve literally cut off thousands of m. rose plants anywhere from pencil size, up to a whopping 2-inches in diameter. I make certain I’m dressed properly, since m. rose fights back with its abundant thorns ready to tear into exposed flesh. My standard attire includes: brush pants, canvas coat, leather gloves, hat, boots, and safety glasses. In spite of my efforts to protect myself, I have numerous scratches on my arms, legs, and even my face; since cutting off every stem involves getting in really close, sometimes requiring you cut your way through the tangled mass of thorny branches or possibly crawling on your knees to get to the base of the plant. Over the past 6-weeks, I’ve put in almost 20-hours in m. rose eradication and I’ve made my way through the densest 3-acres (which was completely overgrown with m. rose) and now have roughly 75% of the m. rose on our entire property cut off. I’ll have to keep an eye on how the remaining m. rose stumps and roots resprout this Spring and if that becomes an issue, spot spraying with a herbicide may be in order. I know manually eliminating m. rose is a lot of work, but I’m willing to make the effort to potentially reduce the tick population on our property and lessen the very real threat of contracting a tick-borne illness.

We have about another month until green-up, so you may want to consider eliminating some of the multiflora rose on your property, at least on the edges near where your children play or where you spend time in the backyard. Tick-borne illnesses are something we all need to be aware of and take precautions to prevent. Later this spring, I’ll be experimenting with tick traps and I’ll share details on my efforts in a future column. God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019

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