Today was not a good day.
Nearly every day since mid-January, I have gotten out of bed, had breakfast, and headed out to either the Sonoma Overlook Trail or the Montini Preserve to pull Italian thistle. I did this even during shelter in place, as I had written permission to do trail and land maintenance activities. Today, since we had achieved our goal of pushing the thistle back away from all of the maintained trails on both properties, I decided it was time to see what the upper reaches of the Montini Preserve looked like. By “upper reaches” I specifically mean the area north of the Rattlesnake Cutoff and Valley View trails. I had already been north of Rattlesnake Cutoff, and had cleared those areas fairly well. So it was really the areas north of the Valley View trail that I wanted to explore.
So today I went off-trail up into the hills. At the very upper edge I came to a patch that I started pulling. At first it seemed rather small, but as I pulled it kept going and going until I realized I would have to come back to finish it. I moved on, following the fence line. I came to another small patch of maybe a couple-dozen plants, then walked another ten feet of so and found another. Then another. And another. I soon came to realize that the hillside was essentially covered with it, but in small, lightly covered patches.
As I came back down the hill a different way than I had gone up, I began to realize the extent of the problem. Although trails (animal as well as human) are one vector of spreading, these infestations proved that it spreads in a lot of ways. Basically every way imaginable. I began to understand that to truly rid the property of this scourge it will take walking almost the entire property multiple times in a season. I really started to finally see what we are up against, and it isn’t pretty.
I have good days and bad days. When I’m discouraged I have a custom of asking myself this question: “Did I make a difference today?” The answer has always been “Yes.” Until today. Today the answer was “I don’t know.”
The Sonoma County Health Officer is loosening park restrictions as of Wednesday, May 13, according to this new order. The key takeaway is that you can now drive to local parks, bathrooms may once again be open if the park you are visiting has such. You must continue the practices of social distancing and facial coverings when they are appropriate (for example, when coming close to others such as in parking areas or passing on the trails). Of course, if you have any symptoms of CoViD-19 you should stay home (these are listed in the order, see the link above).
Also, “If the potential Park visitor has had direct contact with a COVID-19 positive individual(s) in the past 14 days that person shall not enter a Park, and should contact their primary health care physician for further instructions.”
Please be smart out there, or else:
“In the event of crowding, widespread non-compliance with the limitations of this Order, or other evidence of activities presenting an unacceptable risk of spread of COVID-19 through Park use, any or all Parks may be closed again in their entirety or on a case-by-case-basis by the Health Officer, or by the individual Park owner, including but not limited to County Parks as determined by the Director of Regional Parks, as needed.”
Many of us deeply value our access to open areas. We’re trusting each other to do the right things.
At this point in the Italian thistle season, some of it is beginning to go to seed and you also start to see a particular phenomenon — tiny plants that are going straight to flower. It’s like they know that they only have a short window in which to go to seed before conditions become too dry, so they pop up and go to flower immediately. Of course we can’t ignore these, as their seeds have as much reseeding potential as seeds from a large plant, they just might not travel as far.
So that means being very watchful and careful to pull ALL the plants you see, rather than just the large, obvious ones. It might be annoying to have to bend over for these little guys, but if you don’t, next year will likely be worse. It comes with the territory.
This is also the time of year when we get out the cordless weed whacker and chop down large patches that we won’t have the time to pull by hand. Chopping the heads off before they seed is actually a last-ditch effort, as it isn’t as sure as pulling and carrying it out, and if it’s done too early the thistle can still put on new flowers. Some areas could need multiple sessions over time to prevent them from flowering.
As the Italian thistle season eventually winds to a close (although even after it goes to seed I might still carefully bag it), the Yellow Star thistle season begins, which will take us into August. Invasive species removal season really doesn’t have a season per se, as we could work on Scotch broom year-round, but I still consider January to August as being the main invasive species removal season, which means we are barely halfway through it.
According to an order by the County Health Officer, many (not all) parks in Sonoma County, including the Sonoma Overlook Trail and the Montini Preserve are open for hiking as of Wednesday, April 29th, under the following conditions:
- You must have NO CoViD-19 symptoms.
- You must be able to get there by walking or biking (no driving and parking).
- You must practice social distancing when within 6 feet of others (such as when passing on a trail).
- You must wear a facial covering.
Please be aware that if you don’t comply, the parks could be closed again.
From my experience, people have not gone off the trail in the past to provide social distance. So please do this. It is necessary.
I am very happy to announce that after years of work, and over three months of constant and focused effort this season, we have reached a major milestone in our fight against invasive species. For the first time ever, we have pushed the Italian thistle back away from all of the named trails on both the Sonoma Overlook Trail property and the Montini Preserve.
I am not making this declaration without first traversing all of the named trails (close to 5 miles of them) and inspecting them closely every step of the way. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t missed a plant or three, but it means that if I’ve missed something it wasn’t for a lack of trying. [To be clear, as of this writing the trails are closed, but I have official permission to only do maintenance work on the trails.]
This was our first goal for this season, and the fact that we were finally able to accomplish it is an indication that the situation along the trail is improving. Many areas (primarily on the Overlook, where much of our past efforts have focused) were much easier to clear this year than last year. But of course a great deal of work remains.
That continuing work will now focus on complete eradication in areas where it seems possible, preventing further spread, and tightening the noose on large infestations. We may also experiment with covering dense clumps with plastic and letting the sun do our job for us.
Those of you who would like some background on this decades-long battle can read our past posts “Why We Fight,” and “‘Don’t Look Up’ and Other Lessons from Invasive Species Removal.” Or perhaps you shouldn’t. Yeah, that’s the ticket, probably better to read a novel, now that I think about it. Or literally anything else.