The 2019 Invasive Thistle Removal Season is Over

The weapon of choice: the glove that pulled thousands of thistles.

I’m calling it. Today was the first day I was out on the Montini Preserve and Overlook Trail properties and was unable to spot a single Yellow Star Thistle plant. So I consider this year’s invasive thistle removal season officially over. And what a long road it’s been.

I started pulling Italian thistle at the end of December, when I could pull it and discard it. Later, when blooms began to form we had to bag it in large contractor debris bags and carry it out. We dumped it beside a dumpster in the cemetery, as requested by City staff. As the season progressed, we moved to Yellow Star thistle while the Italian thistle that we couldn’t get to sadly went to seed.

For our next Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards meeting I will be giving a more formal and complete report, but here it is in a nutshell:

  • Yellow Star Thistle: Although we are clearly making progress, we may be 2-3 years away from complete eradication, except for along Norrbom Road, which has been completely unassailed so far. However, we have reduced the YST so far that we have now given it a setting of “zero tolerance,” which essentially means we are morally obligated to pull everything we see.
  • Italian Thistle: We only recently started to seriously address Italian thistle, and there is a long, long way to go. The Montini Preserve is all but overwhelmed with it, and removal operations were performed mostly along portions of the trail, largely for hiker comfort. On the Overlook, it was successfully removed from the entire trail, back at least 3-6 feet or more. It remains a substantial problem off-trail, although not as bad as the Montini Preserve. We have assigned a status of “calculated and opportunistic,” which means focusing on minimizing its spread by pushing it away from the trail and attacking isolated pockets elsewhere.
  • Scotch/French Broom: There is a bad section of broom near the cemetery that was unaddressed this year, and it is also encroaching on the Toyon Trailhead from the cemetery. Current status: unaddressed.
  • Tocalote: Tocalote is found in scattered areas across the property, but it’s extent is unknown and it remained unaddressed this year.
  • Bellardia: This is also un-assessed and unaddressed but doesn’t seem to be a major problem yet.
  • Others: un-assessed and unaddressed.

We still need to perform a systematic review of invasive species on these properties, but so far our efforts have been focused on removal of those that pose an existential threat to the existence of a diverse ecosystem. And so far we have our hands more than full simply trying to stem the tide.

Chasing the Star

Long-time sufferers of reading this blog know that we have been fighting a battle against invasive species. Not really a battle, actually, but a war of attrition. We just hope we can outlast them.

This season I made a rookie mistake of judging the extent of the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) too soon in the season. Seeing very little, I allowed myself to drift into a feeling of complacency and accomplishment. Then I went away on vacation for three weeks in July, just returning earlier this week. And wow, what a difference a few weeks made. We are far from out of the woods with Yellow Star Thistle. Yesterday I even had to do the unthinkable — leave some behind. My large contractor’s bag was simply too full. Today I returned and got that patch as well as many others. And that’s why this post.

I know we’re in a long game, and I know how it’s played — perhaps better than most. But anytime you set yourself a big audacious goal you’re running the risk of having periods of disappointment and depression. I’m having one of those now. Don’t worry, I’m not asking for sympathy or encouragement. I know what we’re in for, and I also know I’m good for it, and that this moment will pass, as it always has. But I want to take a moment to acknowledge that when you play the long game you’re going to have these periods of disillusionment, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up. On the contrary, they are to be expected and weathered just like the periods of euphoria and accomplishment.

Also, I know that the years of work are having results, just not as rapidly and thoroughly as I want. But I’ll be back out there tomorrow and the day after that. And YST: I’ll see you next year too, and the year after that. Don’t be late. I won’t.