Russian Olive - Friend Or Foe?
Invasive species have been a controversial topic among wildlife managers, outdoor enthusiasts, and hunters and fisherman for decades. Some feel that all non-native species should be removed from the landscape, no questions asked. Others feel it creates more harm during the treatment/eradication process than it does good. The battle with Russian olives is no different. Some farmers and ranchers have been led to believe that Russian olives are “stealing” all of the water from the water table, and leaving little for the grasses for their livestock to graze on. Many farmers and ranchers have taken action to attempt to eradicate this invasive plant where it’s taken over the banks of their riparian corridors. Others realize a different use, and utilize the Russian olives for wind breaks and crucial winter cover for livestock.
We’ve established that there are many differing view points concerning what, if anything, to do about invasive Russian olives. What about from a duck hunters stand point? Is the invasion of Russian olives along western riparian corridors creating a problem for waterfowl and/or waterfowl hunters? Or is it creating a hot spot for migrating waterfowl and a honey hole for intuitive hunters? In my experience it’s most definitely the latter. This creates yet another debate between hunters and wildlife managers. Russian olive – Friend or Foe?? Depends on who you ask.
Some research (USDA 2002) suggests that the fruit produced from R. olives does not have as much wildlife value as those provided by native species. My “field research” suggests otherwise. Now I was not personally around 100 years ago to know what wildlife populations were doing prior to introduction of R. olives, but I have spent a tremendous amount of time and effort in the last 10-15 years chasing critters, including ducks, geese, pheasants, doves, and deer, among others, across the western United States. My first hand experience tells me that Russian olive filled riparian corridors are some of the absolute best places to find all of the critters mentioned above…and then some!
Again, I’m not sure which is better…the native species that came before, or the exotic, invasive species Russian olive, but I do know with a great deal of certainty that wildlife species, both game and non-game, actively seek out R. olives and thrive, not only on the food/nutrition that it produces, but the dense cover that it provides as well.
Over the past decade or so of hunting in and around western rivers and riparian corridors, it’s become increasingly obvious that Russian olives provide a primary habitat for many game and non-game species. Now this is a waterfowl journal, so let’s get back to the right topic. How do Russian olives pertain to ducks and geese? Well, as I mentioned earlier, R. olives provide a great food source for many game and non-game species…ducks included!!
R. olives thrive along western rivers and creeks. Their dense branches overhang the banks, fighting for sunlight. Come fall/winter the branches are heavy with olives. Some hang on, others fall to the ground, or into the river. Ducks and geese know this better than you or I, no doubt! You’ll find them congregated near, or even on the banks of the rivers/streams, gorging themselves on ripe olives. I’ve even noticed that late season mallards will often feed primarily on the river where olives are readily available, as opposed to foraging in nearby agricultural fields as we’ve become so accustomed to them doing.
In stretches where the banks are lined with R. olives, you’ll find ducks using the river like a floating food train. They’ll spend the day casually floating the flow of the river, gobbling up the seemingly endless supply of olives that drop into the river from overhanging branches. Find one of these spots and you’ve got yourself a honey hole!! Don’t over shoot it though. The birds will quickly move to another R. olive hot spot ;) Give it at least a few days between shoots and you should have a consistent little duck hole!
It’s tough to say what’s best for all the wildlife species out there that may or may not benefit from this invasive plant, but I can certainly say that ducks are definitely not partial. They absolutely love Russian olives! Not only that, but a thick stand of Russian olive trees makes a great backdrop for a natural duck blind. Some clippers or a small saw, a couple t-posts, some wire, and a little bit of work and you’ll have one heck of a blind, right on the X. Keep that in the back of your arsenal when doing your pre-season scouting next year.