June 15, 2011
We had a big day in store for us this morning. We took part in one of Charlie de la Rosa’s “Stop the Spread” expeditions and joined ranks with his expert crew of invasive plant exterminators. Charlie, Tony Summers, and the other ACE members have been working together in a joint effort to remove invasive species from the island. Today’s agenda was to get rid of Genista linifolia, more commonly known as flax broom. Genista is one of the most invasive shrubs on the Island. They have green fuzzy stems, woody branches, and thin, long, and hairy leaves. Genista can grow to heights of more than 2 meters and can be very dense, forming monocultures. They usually grow in Mediterranean climates and are natives to North Africa, southwestern Europe, and the Canary Islands. This invasive plant was introduced to the island in the 1920s, at the Saint Catherine’s Hotel in Avalon where it was used for landscaping. It later escaped the city limits and spread into the interior of Catalina and out competed native plant species. It is now our job to find them and pull them out.
While the more experienced members changed into jumpsuits and prepared herbicide equipment, Charlie briefed us in his office, showing us aerial maps and GIS polygons of areas where the genista is located. They recognized early on that this was an ongoing project, not something they could accomplish overnight or even a year; it will take many years of careful maintenance. Take fennel for instance, it’ll take about 3 years to see a significant difference and the initial year is usually the hardest. First, Charlie and Tony strategically decide which areas to attack, because you can’t tackle it all at once. Then they remove all of the invasive plant species they can see from the targeted area and mark it on the map. In the second year, they revisit the area and get rid of the saplings. Simultaneously, they start plant removal on other sections of the interior. By the third revisit, they remove whatever is left and usually it is not much. Continual monitoring and tracking are essential to complete erradication.
Today we were revisiting an area near Avalon that had been previously treated. As we arrived at the site, we broke up into groups of 3 or 4 people and spread out to different ridges. I went with Tony Summers and Miller. We were handed two tools, a weed wrench and a grubber (a device that pulls plants out from the base), as well as a map. Miller handled the weed wrench, I had the grubber, and Tony had a handsaw and herbicide equipment. Since we were not trained to use herbicide, we were not allowed to handle it. We started at the top of the ridge and had to make our way down, all the while looking for genista. It was steep, there was no trail, and some parts were rocky and filled with cactus. We had to follow game trails or make our own way through the dense vegetation blocking us. We followed Tony until we couldn’t catch up with him. I have no idea how he could hike down the ridge so effortlessly and gracefully as I stumbled around and tried my best to keep my balance. Miller struggled as well.
Once we sighted the first patch of genista, Tony split us up in three tracks: one person to the right, one down the middle, and the other person down to the right. This method is a landscape surveying technique called triangulation, and helps make sure to get an area covered from all sides. This was so new to me. As much as I was confused and a bit scared to wander off the ridge on my own, I was super excited. Once we spotted patches of genista, we began to clear. I didn’t realize how deeply rooted these shrubs were and I fully overestimated my strength. I pictured plant removal as easy as pulling grass from a field, but boy was I wrong. It was so much harder, especially since we were on a steep slope. While I was trying to pry these persistent plants out, I also had to try to keep my balance. Sometimes genista grew in a weird way which forced me to pull them out in an awkward position so I didn’t break the root at the surface of the soil. I wanted to dig deep to the root, especially since I wasn’t applying herbicide.
Tony saw my futile struggle and gave me a quick tip on the proper technique of pulling genista. He told me to not use my back, but rather to get into a position where I locked my back. Then grip the plant as close to bottom of the root and use the force from my legs to pull the plant. Continue to pull back and forth, like a jerking motion, until the genista popped out. This alleviated some of the stress on my back, but I still had a hard time. So I used the weed wrench, which in my opinion was the most effective tool. As long as it latched onto the root of the plant and I could lean into the lever, the entire genista plant would pop out. As we went along, we had to keep count of how many genistia we removed to help give an estimate of the population. As we reached the bottom of the basin, we took a short refreshing lunch break under the shade.
After lunch it was back to removing genista. Everything was going great until Miller and I met with a huge obstacle: Poison oak and a lot of it! The entire basin was filled with poison oak and let me just say, I wished I had worn a jump suit. We were supposed to go back up the ridge another way. But because of the poison oak, Miller and I ended up scaling the ridge back up. I thought I wouldn’t make it. It was super hot and climbing back up was about 1000 times harder than coming down. It was really steep and I definitely got the workout of my life. But we made it to top, somehow! This will definitely be a day I will remember.