How’s this for a job?
December 2, 2008
So, you think you’ve got a big job, keeping down the weeds in your yard? Meet Mike Berry of Whitewater, Colo., who operates Remote Weeds, a weed spraying business that takes him into the far reaches of the remote wilderness on almost a daily basis throughout the summer months. At the beckoned call of the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Park Service, oil companies, and private landowners, Berry has covered thousands of acres in Colorado and surrounding states in an effort to wipe out the plague of noxious weeds invading the West. He’s worked as far north as the Tetons, west into Utah, and was leaving to work the site of the Hayman fire over by Woodland Park, when he hung around long enough to be interviewed. Although he sometimes carries out his duties on a 4-wheeler or with a truck-mounted sprayer, he prefers to be horseback, even though it’s more work, and most jobs find him mounted on his trusty saddle horse, Red, and leading a molly mule by the name of – you guessed it – Molly! This outfit takes the place of five or six people with backpack sprayers, and it’s quicker and more economical for the agency or person footing the bill.
Molly’s Decker pack saddle is loaded with four spray tanks, each holding five gallons of chemical containing a water-soluble blue dye, which allows Berry to see where he’s been and not miss any places and not waste time or chemical by overlapping his 30-foot swaths. Also in the mule’s pack is a 12-volt battery.
Attached to his wrist Berry wears a small remote control that operates the spray nozzle, so he can turn it off and on at will. One advantage of the battery-powered remote control is that the spray is not under pressure, as it might be with a CO2 system, which some folks use. In Berry’s estimation, this is much better in case of a “wreck,” – you don’t have hissing hoses snaking around scaring your animals – and anybody who’s ever packed in can attest to the possibility of a wreck occurring.
A metal pipe with the spray nozzle attached to the end (called a boom sprayer) extends from the tanks down the mule’s backbone and out past its tail, keeping the spray behind the two animals, so they do not breathe it in. Of course, wind is always a factor, and it must be taken into consideration at all times. The other determining factor is the availability of a water source, since the chemical used must be diluted with water. Treks to and from the closest lake or stream can take up valuable time, but Berry does what he has to do according to the situation. One 20-gallon load is usually enough to cover one acre. On a good day the trio can spray 11 acres, but sometimes, the terrain is too rugged to achieve anywhere near that number.
Like all professional weed sprayers, Berry is licensed by the Colorado Department of Agriculture; it is illegal to do this work without a license. Insurance is mandatory in case of an accidental chemical spill or other environmental damage in the performance of the job, so he carries a $2M policy, which he deems not nearly enough. He is very conscientious in the work he does, and fortunately has never had an accident.
In prior years Berry has been employed as everything from a merchant seaman to a working cowboy, but he finds this job, which he’s been doing for eight years, the most satisfying. “I saw all the weeds in the backcountry and decided to try to do something about them,” he says. It’s a lot of work, but his “office” is the great outdoors, and he gets to view it the best way possible – from on top of a horse.