The End of Invasive Broom

One small portion of where the action happened.

Sorry, the title is a bit over the top, but titles should be dramatic, or at least evocative, I assert. In reality, it is the end of invasive broom this season. We will likely need to return to the big patch I removed recently in subsequent years, with vigilance and due diligence. But at least, for now, it’s gone. This is the first time this has happened on the Sonoma Overlook Trail property.  The Montini Preserve has never had broom, as far as we can determine.

Accomplishing this took several weeks of effort, an hour almost every day. I even began to get a repetitive stress injury from pulling too much with my right arm, and had to back off a bit. Pulling broom is harder than pulling thistle — so much harder that I had to buy a special tool to pull the largest plants. Called the “Weed Wrench” (see photo to the left), it is a rather imposing chunk of metal that mechanically allows you to grip the broom at its base and lever it from the ground. Although they call the one I bought their “light” version, I think it could be designed to be a lot lighter than it is. But whatever, at least it works.

One day, when doing this work, I returned to my car to discover I was without my keys — they had fallen from my pocket as I was pulling. I had to go  retrace my steps at least three times, from my car to the patch, around the patch and back, before I finally saw a sparkle in the forest duff from the tiny, bright green flashlight on my keychain. I was grateful.

I’m also grateful that we are making significant progress on fighting invasive species on these properties. We are winning, as every year it gets better. We are still far from the end, but I think I’m beginning to at least see that it’s possible to win. For a number of years, I had to take it only on faith. Now I have experience and a sense of surety. We can do this. I know we can.

A New Steward with the Right Stuff

Yesterday I welcomed a new steward to the group: Jessica Misuraca. She can frequently be seen out on the trail, and she has for years picked up trash on the trail and performed similar tasks to help maintain our trails, so this is kind of like making official what has been reality for quite some time. When I met her at the trail this morning, she had already carried out a rusty bedspring that had somehow been deposited near the trail between the trailhead and the Rattlesnake Cutoff junction.

She had also just this week reported a big rock in the middle of the SOT just before the junction with Rattlesnake Cutoff (see picture). She reported it as being very heavy, and said that she couldn’t budge it. I said that I had a plan, and she asked to accompany me to deal with it. I’m glad she did, as I needed all the help I could get on this one.

I knew we needed to have some serious mechanical advantage, and I knew just how to get it from my commercial whitewater rafting days. When you have to pull a rubber raft off a rock that it’s wrapped around, you also need some serious mechanical advantage and I had the necessary gear to do it.

Using a long static (non-stretching) line, three pulleys, two prusiks, various lengths of one-inch webbing tied permanently into circles (these we wrapped around the rock), and plenty of locking carabiners, we set up a 5:1 z-rig system. That allowed us to first tip the rock over to the edge of the trail. We then changed anchor points (trees) to pull the rock in a different direction off the trail, as we had to avoid a tree.

It was a close thing. I was just about ready to call it when the rock started to tip the second time. Encouraged, we buckled down and finally it fell over off the trail (see picture of Jessica with her foot on our vanquished opponent).

Even if Jessica doesn’t pick up another tissue from the trail, she has earned her steward name tag. She definitely has the right stuff.

The Beginning of Scotch Broom Season

Scotch broom: vanquished foes in the foreground, those yet to be pulled in the background.

This year I’ve decided to make our invasive species removal program extend all year. Thistle season can begin as early as late January and extend into August, until it can no longer be usefully pulled. But you can pull Scotch broom virtually any time of year, so I am turning to it now at the end of thistle season.

We have a large patch of it on the Overlook Trail property, at the edge of the cemetery. I will work on this patch until it is completely gone, then look for other infestations. Although most of it can be pulled by hand (some small enough that you can pull multiple plants at once), while others have gotten big enough that I need to use the special tool I bought to lever them out. Since they aren’t going to seed now, I can just drop them and let them die in place.

Let me know if you want to join me, since misery loves company!

The End of the 8-Month 2020 Thistle Removal Season

Thistle’s worst nightmare: my right hand. Thistle’s second worst nightmare? My left.

I’m calling it. Recently I finished clearing one of the last two meadows left with Yellow Star thistle (along Norrbom Road), and since it is drying out and becoming difficult to remove completely, I’m giving it up for this year. We started in mid-January. That means I’ve spent over 8 months going out nearly every day for an hour each day to clear first Italian thistle, then Yellow Star, except for the few “vacations” we’ve had in this time of shelter in place (to be clear, I was going out to pull thistle even during the shutdown of public properties, as I had permission to do so).

The good news is that we are winning. I’ve never cleared this particular meadow before, which means that other sites had been cleared so that now I can turn my attention to the two remaining meadows that still have Yellow Star thistle. Only one of them remains uncleared this season. I fully expect that within three years we will be able to state that there is no Yellow Star thistle to be found from Schocken Hill in the east (Sonoma Overlook Trail’s eastern border) to 4th St. East (the Montini Preserve’s western border). If you have recently visited other public lands in this valley perhaps you can appreciate the import of that statement.

Italian thistle remains a different matter, especially on the Montini Preserve, where it remains prevalent. We had our hands full simply pushing it back from the trail this year. Also, Italian thistle seems to be coming in where we have been clearing Yellow Star thistle, so we need to be vigilant in those areas. The essential problem is that Italian thistle will grow anywhere, whereas Yellow Star thistle prefers open meadows, which limits its coverage.

As I close out the thistle season, I will move to Scotch broom. I even bought a special tool to help pull the largest, most established broom plants. There is one rather bad patch of it on the Sonoma Overlook Trail property, but that seems to be about all of it except for the adjoining Sonoma Cemetery. The issue is that it adjoins the Overlook Trail property, so it should also be removed to protect the trail property.

One other species deserves mention, as there has been a patch of Bellardia strung out along the very top of the Overlook Trail that Richard Dale, Executive Director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, cleared out this year. These are by no means all of the invasive species, but they are some of the most problematic, and certainly those that present an existential threat to these properties if left unchecked.

Later I will provide a final report on the 2020 invasive species removal season, but I thought that the end of “thistle season,” which has so far comprised the bulk of our efforts, was worth noting.

New Permanent Trail Signs

Lynn with one of the new signs.

Today Lynn Clary and I installed several of the new permanent trail signs on the Sonoma Overlook Trail, and tomorrow we will install the rest. This is the result of a few years of collective work led by Lynn Clary, from designing the signs and the wording, to creating drafts to put on the trail for testing and getting feedback, to working with a designer and production company, to having the signs produced after a COVID-19 delay, to working with our design company to create a new logo for the trail, and finally getting the signs produced, delivered, and installed. We hope you like them. We do.

We take sign design seriously, and we spent quite a bit of time laboring over every word and symbol. Is it clear, we would ask ourselves? Would it cause confusion? Did each word add something, or was it superfluous? Should the signs have the City of Sonoma seal or just the trail logo? Everything was questioned along the way.

Lynn Clary deserves the bulk of the credit for this accomplishment. He began the process, carried it forward, and has now finished it, despite leaving the Stewards group a while ago. His love for, and commitment to, the trail remains, and we frequently meet on the trail as we both spend a lot of time there.

We hope you do too, and that you find the signs helpful, or at the very least not confusing.