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A Texas native restores the land by eliminating invasive species and saving native plants

In the past, when ranch or farm land became overgrown with invasive species, landowners relied on chemicals and bulldozers to remove the unwanted plants. Thomas Spaniel, a native of Texas, is using new methods to get the job done in less time, and most importantly, with less damage to the land.

Spaniel began working on a ranch when he was 15 years old. “I’ve always had a connection to the land,” he says. He’s been a deputy in the local sheriff’s office for 27 years, has a concrete business and, in the past two years, has started helping landowners manage invasive species. And although he relies on his years of experience and knowledge of the land, he doesn’t use the land clearing methods of years past.

Spaniel eschews chemicals for several reasons. “What I’m seeing in the field is that chemical works through the vegetation above ground, you have a five-year-old tree, for instance, but really it has a 15-year-old root system you aren’t getting to.” What’s more, he says, the chemicals are limited to seasonal use; they have to be applied under certain conditions and temperatures.

Spaniel also doesn’t use a bulldozer because of the damage it does to the land. “A dozer clears off the entire top layer of soil, removing everything, including native plants,” Spaniel says. This method of clearing also doesn’t ensure the elimination of invasive species. “Clearing off the surface of the land doesn’t remove the root system,” Spaniel says. “In five years, the plants are back. It’s like having five-year plan to deal with a 15-year-old root system.”

Spaniel is able to conserve the land, while still removing unwanted plants by using his skid steer and a Vail X Series grubber attachment. “The grubber is ideal for getting rid of invasive species,” he says. “Unlike the dozer, it leaves the land rough and saves things like native grasses.”

The agility of the skid steers allows Spaniel to get into tight spaces, and the grubber allows him to be selective with what he removes. “You can focus on individual plants,” he says. “That way, you remove only the ones you want to, while leaving the rest undisturbed.”

Spaniel says this combination of agility and specificity has allowed him to be more productive and take on more specialized jobs, like landscaping. “With the grubber, I can remove underbrush around a mature tree so that the tree is now a focal point of the property.”

Spaniel is planning on retiring from the sheriff’s department soon and plans to do more land clearing and landscaping projects. “I’m happiest when I am out on the equipment, working on the land,” he says. “At the end of the day, you are taking land and restoring it to its intended purpose, and that feels good.”

In addition to the Grubber, Vail X Series offers the following land clearing attachments:

For a list of invasive species by state, refer to the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health at http://www.invasive.org/

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