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.

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.

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.

Coming in Hot

You guessed it, yet another invasive species post. You can check out right now if this doesn’t appeal. I would be the last person to fault you for it. For those of us who do it, we recognize it as the obsession that it is. We don’t expect anyone else to be so afflicted Like, EVER.

If you’re still here, this is what’s happening. I’m laser-focused on pulling all of the Yellow Starthistle I can possibly find, as it is blooming now, and racing into seed. And yet we have a window of opportunity to make a serious dent in it this season. We are down to just some areas along Norrbom Road, and after hitting it hard last year, the impact is very evident. I’m finding much less than last year in these areas. 

This affords us the opportunity, for the first time ever, of potentially pulling every single plant we see

That’s why I’m fired up, and going out there every day I can, and pulling every single plant that I can, no matter how small. Because that’s how you reach your goal. Because that’s what it takes to completely eradicate an invasive species from 200 acres of public lands.

If you can’t do what’s required to come in hot, then you have no business taking this on in the first place. Just trust me on that.

Sending in the Child Soldiers

Child soldiers, sent into the breach.

The season for eradicating Italian thistle can begin as early as December, or as late as early or even mid-January. For at least four months after that, we essentially pull and drop it, as it isn’t yet going to flower, let alone seed. But now it is flowering, and some is even going to seed, so we must bag it up and carry it out. We use contractor debris bags from Friedman’s, which last for multiple years.

The contents of the bag are emptied into a pile beside a dumpster in Mountain Cemetery, and eventually the City of Sonoma hauls it all away.

In this period of the thistle pulling season we pull out other tools, such as weed whackers, in our desperate attempt to keep the thistle from fully going to seed. Let’s just say it’s an act of total desperation, as the thistle can still put on blooms, which means we need to weed-whack it again later.

It’s also the season when Italian thistle ups its game, and sends its child soldiers into the battle, just like Nazi Germany went both up and down the age range of males to send into battle toward the end, to try to win the war, in a total act of desperation.

These are truly tiny plants (see picture), which barely clear the soil and go directly to bloom, which of course makes them hard to see, challenging to pull, and frustratingly difficult to eradicate. This is part of what makes Italian thistle the hardest invasive species I’ve yet battled — far harder than Yellow Star thistle, which is all but eradicated except along Norrbom Road.

The only good angle on this is that since they are so low to the ground, it’s not all that likely that they will spread their seeds a long way. At least unless there is a strong wind. Oh, right, we’ve never had a strong wind in Sonoma Valley. 😦