The Game is Afoot

Picture of an Italian thistle plant.

A young Italian thistle.

I know what all five of you who read this blog are thinking: “Oh no, not again!” you’re groaning. And I don’t blame you.

Yet again I’m blogging about invasive species management on the Overlook and Montini properties, as I have for years. But as you might imagine, there’s a reason for that, and it’s because we’re in a decades-long fight that we may never win.  So buckle up, buttercup, here we go again!

I first sighted Italian thistle popping up in early November. Certainly by November 8, two days earlier than last year, I noticed more than one patch of it. Therefore, today I went out on the Montini Preserve and pulled not only the one pictured plant (the largest one I found today), but also many other, much smaller plants. The game is definitely already afoot, thanks to some early rains.

So far I’ve been unable to tell if our previous work has made much of an impact on the problem. My instinct is that we haven’t yet, that we still have a ways to go to seriously reduce the seed bank present in the soil. There seem to be plenty of plants along the trail on the Montini, which is where I’ve focused much of my attention, so there doesn’t seem to be much progress there. Yet.

But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that invasive species management is a long game. And few people know what the long game takes better than I do, I submit. So once again I saddle up, and enter the fray. I’ll see you out there.

The Wildflowers are Busting Out…Here’s How to Find ’em….

Walking the Overlook and Montini trails is a treasure hunt these days, with an artist’s palette of wildflowers making themselves seen early this year. Grab one of our newly updated Wildflower brochures at the kiosk, and take a gander at the new Wildlife Panel as well to get an overview of all of the flora and fauna.

“On March 9th, a beautiful new Nature Panel was installed in the Kiosk at the main trailhead of the Overlook Trail. Funded solely by donations from Trail Stewards, the new panel features all of the up-to-date common names of many of the wonderful birds, mammals, reptiles and plants that help make the Trail such a delightful place. To assist even the casual hiker with identification, several of the most frequently seen and most lovely wildflowers are depicted in greater detail in a special expanded section. Superb original artwork by Irene Guidici Ehret is now also joined by artist Don Boucher’s stunning portrait of the native Gray Fox. The Overlook Trail Stewards that assisted in the installation of the panel included Michael Studebaker, Kurt Teuber and Dan Noreen.”

Dan Noreen, Overlook Flora Specialist

And So it Begins…

IMG-1011Today I realized that the invasive species removal season had started — earlier than it ever has during my tenure. The earliest I had started removing Italian thistle from the Sonoma Overlook and Montini Preserve properties had been in December. But now, with our early rains this season, the thistle has already started coming in (see pic).  This essentially cuts my “down time” from four months to three, meaning the thistle removal season is going to be nine months long this year. Ouch!

One nice thing, though, is that I will have a three-week “vacation” in May, when I put in on the Colorado River rowing an 18-foot raft for 17 days. Since I just recently got off a 19-day trip doing the same thing, call me one lucky guy!

But mostly I’ll be out there, day in and day out, pulling these plants so that we can eventually eradicate them, as we almost have with the Yellow starthistle.

After the Fire, Life

AfterTheFireIt’s always interesting to me to see how quickly nature responds to fire scars. Where once there appeared to be, quite literally, “scorched earth,” plants begin to return the ecosystem to something more like “normal,” if that is a concept that even applies. In reality, fire is a part of “normal” as we seem to finally be discovering in this desert state of ours.

So I was happy to see that the fire scar on the Montini Preserve, about five acres, was already beginning to rebound with life (see picture). It’s possible that the tiny bit of rain that we received recently inspired some plants to send out new shoots. Whether that was the impetus or not is kind of beside the point, as whatever the reason it’s just nice to see the plants coming back.

As we endure bigger and worse fires due to the impacts of global warming, it wouldn’t hurt to remind ourselves that as much as we may be devastated by seeing our beautiful forests burned, there is still hope and renewal to be found. 

The Beginning of the End

We’ve been working well over a decade to get to this very day.

We’ve worked that long to control, and eventually eradicate, Yellow Starthistle. This year, for the first time ever, we’ve pulled every single plant we could find, no matter how small (see picture).

It’s frankly hard for me to describe what this means to me. It has been a long fight, and one, in recent years, that I’ve spent a great deal of time on during thistle season (January to August). The only thing thing in the last few years that has kept me from doing this activity, frankly, is hiking with friends and travel. If I don’t have a hike scheduled with my wife or a friend, or travel, I’m out there pulling either Italian thistle (the season which has ended), or Yellow Starthistle.

This year is no different in that regard, but it is very different in terms of what is left. We are, finally, reaching the end of life for Yellow Starthistle on the Sonoma Overlook Trail and Montini Preserve.

After going out to all the areas that used to have Yellow Starthistle, and repeatedly checking them, I can finally say, for the very first time, that it is completely gone this year — at least as completely gone as is humanly possible.

Let’s just say that when it comes to Yellow Starthistle this year, it’s the beginning of the end. Finally.