The sun was barely up, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees were briefing Mike Rowe on the day they had planned for him: He would head deep into the Florida Everglades on an airboat and wade into the waist-deep water, finding his footing on treacherous, slippery ground while swinging a sharpened machete and chopping down vegetation. Later he would literally be shooting fire. In addition, it was alligator mating season, which meant the gators could get a bit more aggressive than usual.
“Sounds wretched,” Rowe deadpanned. “Can’t wait.”
That’s practically the mantra of “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe,” Discovery Channel’s popular series that’s back with new fall episodes. On Oct. 26 at 9 p.m., “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe” premieres “Wetland Warrior,” an episode shot in April in which Rowe and his crew visited the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge near Boynton Beach, Fla.
“Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe” frequently ranks at or near the top spot of all series on prime time cable, according to A.C. Nielsen ratings. On the show, Rowe serves as apprentice to the hard-working men and women who make civilized life possible for the rest of us. Rowe seeks out the nastiest, strangest and most difficult jobs he can find, including collecting maggot eggs, ridding a home of a cockroach infestation and spreading tar to repair a church roof. He has performed more than 250 jobs on the series so far, and has become a cult figure known for his low-key approach, dry sense of humor and willingness to do almost anything.
Rowe and his “Dirty Jobs” crew came to Florida’s Loxahatchee refuge to see what it’s like to get rid of melaleuca, a non-native plant that grows wild in the Everglades and threatens to drive out the native plants, upsetting the area’s delicate ecosystem. Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded a $1.25 million contract in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds — popularly known as stimulus funds — to a private company, Aquatic Vegetation Control Inc., (AVC) to remove melaleuca from about 90,000 acres at the refuge.
AVC employees pull some of the melaleuca out by hand, and chop some of it down with machetes. They “girdle” larger plants by chopping around the stalks. When the plants are dead, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service firefighters set fire to them using prescribed burn techniques.
Rowe got to do a little of everything on his day in the swamp. “We have poisons, we have knives, we have flames!” he joyfully proclaimed to the cameras.
For the cutting portion of the job, Rowe joined a crew of four AVC workers: Bobby Bishop, Jovany Garces, Carlos Rodriguez and Luis Sanchez. For the prescribed burn portion, he worked closely with Jon Wallace, prescribed fire specialist for Loxahatchee and Keys Refuges.
“Even before I heard they were coming out, I thought this job would be a good candidate for ‘Dirty Jobs,’” said Bishop.
“When a new guy comes in, the first problem they have is walking,” said Geovany Esteban, an AVC crew supervisor. “You don’t know the terrain, and you think everything is solid. You’ll just fall right in a hole.”
Sure enough, when Rowe got off his airboat and waded into an island of melaleuca, he had trouble getting his footing. But as always on the show, he persevered. “I could have spent a couple more hours in there, to tell you the truth,” Rowe said.
RELATED LINK: See photos of Rowe's day at Loxahatchee