With four canisters loaded onto his pack mule, Forest Service ranger Hal Pearce looks like he’s packing Pepsi into the backcountry. But actually, he’s hauling herbicide to spray noxious weeds in areas of the backcountry where ATV-mounted sprayers aren’t allowed. Pearce and fellow ranger Tom McClure co-invented the Saddle-Light, a secret weapon int he war on weeds.
“Fighting weeds in the backcountry is time- and labor-intensive,” Pearce says. “The Saddle-Light is a horse-mounted weed sprayer that enables you to pack n more herbicide and treat larger areas.”
Previously, hikers carried backpack sprayers that treated a mere .06 acres of weeds before requiring a refill. It was exhausting work, and the only weeds that were sprayed were those within reach of a half-day hike. Backcountry mountains that had turned golden from the spread of yellow toadflax, a rampant noxious weed in Colorado, were beyond reach. But Pearce and McClure, rangers in the White River National Forest, knew there had to be a better way.
“Tom had met Harley Bauer, a county weed supervisor in Montana, who lash-roped soda canisters to a pack saddle and sprayed weeds from horseback,”: Pearce says. “He was covering a quarter-acre per trip, four times the [acreage] of a backpacker. Tom asked Harley if we could borrow the design and improve upon it.”
In the interest of combating weeds, Bauer agreed. Of course, Bauer was an expert packer for whom lash-roping canisters to a Decker pack saddle was a piece of cake. Pearce and McClure needed to create a unit that could be used by everyday horsemen. They switched to the more user-friendly sawbuck pack saddle and hanging pannier system. Champion Box Company of Rifle, Colorado, manufactured a pannier prototype out of corrugated plastic, a lightweight but durable material. Many test miles int he field and three revisions later, the Saddle-Light was brought to market. Noxious weeds int he backcountry have been shriveling ever since. Pearce says they’ve sold 125 unites in 12 states.
But the Saddle-Light’s greatest testimony is in the Colorado Rockies, where it’s dealt noxious weeds a heavy blow. Even members of the publec are purchasing Saddle-Light units to join in teh fight.
“Weeds affect everything from livestock grazing, to recreation, to wildlife. Ranchers and outfitters understand that helping combat weeds is in their best interests because it helps to protect their investment-public lands,”Pearce says. “It gives you instant gratification to find a patch of weeds int he backcountry, spray it with herbicide, and knock it out.”
Be afraid, yellow toadflax. Be very afraid.
For Saddle-Light ordering information, contact Kelly Osborn, White River Conservation District (970-878-5628, ext. 101, or Kelly.Carpenter@co.nacdnet.net
Western Horseman, December 2009