MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - After each recent rain, I have been up to my knees in our wetland, cutting cattails. I have been told that cutting below the waterline provides a good non-chemical control. A few cattails are great for wildlife, but if not burned, cut, or flooded, a small stand can quickly spread into a monoculture, sucking up available water and pushing out all other wetland vegetation.
Once I got over my fear of being sucked down into the muck and never heard from again, I enjoyed my task. I had a great pair of shears that allowed me to reach the base of the plants without too much stooping. I learned to use a mat of fallen cattails as a raft to stand on, like a wetland version of snowshoes. However, these "shoes" could suddenly tip, and then locomotion became a challenge -- a matter of extracting one foot from deep muck before the other foot lost its balance. Several times I had to hang onto uncut cattails to keep from falling; I did feel guilty when a few minutes later I cut down those very plants. Atonement (is it ever complete?) came in the form of a surge in biodiversity, with arrowhead, spike rush and smartweed taking hold in the cleared space, and frogs, snakes, and dragonflies moving in to fill the gaps.