Tripping down the trail today I thought to myself, “Oh, hey, there’s one!” I had spotted an invasive purple thistle plant at the trail’s edge (see pic). I stooped to pull it out.
As volunteer trail stewards, our remit includes not only maintaining the trails, but also helping the City of Sonoma to maintain their property that the trails traverse. This includes removing invasive species such as broom, purple thistle, and yellow star thistle.
Purple thistle season begins in early Spring, which means we are already working to remove it. Later in the season the yellow star thistle will start to come in. Since we’ve been attacking the yellow star thistle for several years with vigor, we are seeing some real progress on eradicating it from the Overlook and Montini Preserve properties.
However, purple thistle is quite another story. Mostly due to years of cattle grazing, purple thistle has essentially already overrun the Montini Preserve. So at this point we only focus on yellow star thistle there. But on the Overlook, we think we have a chance to knock back the purple thistle so we are working on it as well. Since we only began our work on it last year, there is still quite a bit of it on the trail.
Today, as I stooped to pull the plant I had spotted I thought to myself, “Oh, wait, there’s five — no ten, crap, there’s a lot!”
I had momentarily forgotten that until the day when we reach the point of eradication — years, perhaps even decades from now (if ever), there’s never just one.
Each Spring we enter “removal season” on the Overlook and Montini properties. We begin with cutting back poison oak from the trail, as the runners begin encroaching as early as early February. So I was out today doing just that (see photo).
It was encouraging, though, as it seemed evident that previous years of cutting back the poison oak was reaping dividends. I was able to cover the bulk of the Overlook trail in one two-hour session.
After poison oak we will be on the lookout for Purple Thistle, as this non-native has been a scourge along the trail. We just started tackling this in earnest last year, so this year it will likely still be bad.
Following the Purple Thistle the Yellow Star Thistle will be coming in, by early March. That will likely keep us busy until early August. However, progress is being made on all these fronts and each year it becomes easier and easier, and some major patches are essentially already gone.
Once we get all these species under control, there are others we will need to tackle. Scotch Broom, for example, is one, although it isn’t as big a problem at the moment as the thistles.
If you want to help with this work, let me know! It basically takes a contractor bag (which I can supply you with) and gloves, although I frequently pull the Yellow Star Thistle gloveless.
For the last five years we have been trying to eradicate the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) from the Sonoma Overlook Trail. For the the last three years we’ve also been trying to do the same for the Montini Preserve. Today I ranged all over the SOT upper meadows and emerged with about half a bag of YST. This is a great improvement, and demonstrates that our campaign is making a difference. There is now so little on the Overlook that searching for it may almost be a waste of time, so now I will switch to the Montini, which is likely to still have serious infestations of YST.
This year we also started tackling the purple thistle, which has overrun the Montini but hasn’t yet done so on the Overlook. We focused on getting it off the sides of the trail, as that is a primary way that it spreads. Next year we will begin earlier in the year fighting the purple (YST comes on later in Spring than the purple).
If you want to help out, let me know. I have contractor bags and the only other things you need are a glove and persistence.
Faithful readers of this blog (all two of you, and one is my Mom) will know that we’ve been fighting the good fight against the invasive non-native Yellow Star Thistle on both the Overlook and Montini properties. The season for pulling it runs from mid-May to August. Now that we are in August, when the weed dries out and the seed heads drop off, we must quit.
But I’m here to tell you that we are winning the war. This is the second year that I can certify that all of the infestations on the main properties of both the Overlook and the Montini have been essentially cleared. Judging from the number and size of the plants we are pulling in most areas (see the small plants pictured), we are depleting the seed bank, which can be viable for up to five years.
We could not have reached this point without essential assistance from Rich Gibson, a biologist and a Sonoma Overlook Trail volunteer steward, and the Sonoma Ecology Center’s EnviroLeaders program. Twice, at least half-a-dozen teenagers from the EnviroLeaders Program came out and helped decimate the worst patches of Yellow Star Thistle on the Montini Preserve. Tony Passantino, the SEC’s EnviroLeader’s program manager, has been very willing to bring his team out to support our removal efforts whenever we called for help. And the teenagers who are a part of this program are willing hard workers and ready to learn about the environment and how to keep it great. We so appreciate their help.
Next season expect a call to go out for help in decimating this scourge. And if you see it, please consider helping. The situation gets better every year, but we are still years away from eradicating it completely. We can use your help to make YST only a memory on these properties.
Lately I’ve been too busy with a more important project to get my daily hike in on the Overlook and Montini trails. But yesterday I cleared some time and made my way there. I knew that we were well into the season of the invasive Yellow Star Thistle, so I took along a feed sack to pull what I could.
Those of you keeping score at home likely know that the Overlook Trail Stewards have been waging war against this pest, and that war has been stepped up in recent years. Last year we were successful in eradicating it from the main Overlook and Montini properties. We knew it would be back this year, but we also figured that given how we beat it back last year it likely wouldn’t be as bad.
Having inspected a couple locations where it was bad last year I’m happy to say that it isn’t nearly as bad this year. We are indeed making progress, but we also know that this is a multi-year war and that it will require us to be vigilant and relentless.
This war is led by volunteer Steward Rich Gibson, who has called work days for groups to get together and take out both Yellow Star Thistle and Scotch Broom – another non-native that has a tendency to take over the landscape. Without efforts such as these our landscape would look very different than what it should be, and has been for centuries.
Earlier I posted about starting the yearly battle with Yellow Star Thistle (YST). YST is an invasive non-native weed that left unchecked can take over entire meadows (it does not do well in shade). The University of California has this to say about it (in part): “Seed output can be as high at 30,000 seeds per square meter, with about 95% of the seed being viable soon after dispersal. Most seeds germinate within a year of dispersal, but some can remain viable in the soil for more than 3 years.” This is an opponent that is difficult to over-estimate.
Volunteers are trying to eradicate this plant all over California every summer, as we certainly do here at Jack London State Park (thank you Linda Felt and other volunteers!) and on the Sonoma Overlook and Montini Preserve properties. So we are now in the second year of a relentless 5-year campaign to completely eradicate this scourge.
Starting in mid-May, even before it was blooming, I began pulling it on my hikes on Overlook and Montini. Since then I’ve been putting in several hours every week pulling it up by its roots and hiking it out. When tackling a large patch I take a large plastic sack, but recently on the Overlook Trail I have been finding so little (see the picture of a recent haul) that I haven’t bothered to take a bag. Over the summer I’ve racked up at least 30 hours of pulling — not counting the time to get to the locations.
Before the battle.
Last year we did such a thorough job on the Overlook Trail that this year it took much less time to keep it in check. The Montini Preserve was another matter, as we hadn’t been checking it last year (it opened to the public in November). I found several significant patches and one really bad patch (see the “before” picture to the left, it covered the entire area pictured and beyond). I was able to get the smaller patches under control with some diligence, but the really bad patch has taken many hours of work spread out over weeks. Only today did I finish clearing this patch (see “after” picture). It’s sweaty work, and raised blisters on my hand even with a glove.
I can now report that as far as I can tell, YST has been effectively removed this season from the main parts of the Montini Preserve and the Sonoma Overlook Trail.
After, August 2nd.
One morning recently I arrived at the really bad patch on the Montini Preserve with three large plastic sacks that I intended to fill, as I had several times before. I surveyed the patch that I had been working on for weeks and saw everything that still remained. I thought about giving up. I had made a lot of progress and I thought we could get it all next year. Why not just quit? No one would know.
I took another look around.
Then I stooped down and began to pull.
Call it what it is — an obsession.