FRLT Stewardship Director Gabe Miller

"It's an interesting personality that wants to hold brain space for all of this [information about weeds]."

FRLT Stewardship Director Gabe Miller laughs as he realizes he is that "interesting" sort of personality...

"You have to be kinda crazy and have a strong will, for a long time, to keep trying to eradicate and adapt with ever-adapting invasive plants. It's not for the weak hearted."

Fortunately for lands in the Feather River Country, we've got the right kind of crazy not only in Gabe, but in an incredible team of partners and community volunteers who are helping FRLT address the many challenges of weed infestation on conserved lands throughout the Feather River Watershed.

 

First, the challenge. What are we up against?

"I have a lot of respect for invasive plants. Their seed-banking is impressive! For instance, one Yellow Star Thistle can produce 60,000 seeds, and each seed can hang out in the soil for 3-4 years. Each type of plant has a different life cycle. On a property you may have 12 different kinds of invasives, and what helps control one plant can actually help another plant succeed, depending on timing with their life cycle. One weed, like Yellow Star Thistle might respond to methodical and consistent hand pulling at the right time, while another, like White Top, doesn't respond to hand-pulling or topping - it can actually make it worse."

What methods are you trying to control invasive weeds on FRLT's lands?

We're trying on all fronts: targeted grazing with goats and cattle, hand-pulling, tarping, strategically timed mowing experiments, underburning, and re-seeding.

Volunteer pulls Star Thistle on Heart K

We're working very closely with the Plumas Ag Department and Commisioner, the Plumas-Sierra Weeds Group, Master Gardeners, the local Resource Conservation Districts, our own science-based Land Stewardship Committee, and dedicated community members. 

The Thistle Brigade hand-pulls many plants to protect Heart K meadows
On the Heart K Ranch, where Yellow Star Thistle threatens native meadows, a brigade of incredibly dedicated community volunteers is helping us perfect the art of hand-pulling. They are methodical. I'd estimate that Heart K neighbor Dana Fenimore has pulled many thousands of plants just himself!

On the Leonhardt property, where we've got a variety of invasives, we're trying topping, timed mowing, targeted grazing, and students and teachers have taken on topping, hand pulling, and staking native willow.

You have to enlist the resources you have and we're willing to experiment. 

So Adaptive Management is the Key?

Targeted goat grazing can help control invasive weeds
In some ways, on each of these properties - Heart K, Leonhardt, and in Sierra Valley - we're starting with a some pretty good challenges as our baseline. We're working on lands that aren't pristine, so we can and need to experiment. We can trace what we're doing and see the effects.

It does take time. We're trying lots of methods. Managing land is an evolving process. We are trying to not rush too quickly into any one thing - there is no silver bullet - and each method can have unintended consequences over time. But we are also trying to implement as quickly as we can.

With changes due to climate change and drought, we don't know what it's going to look like in 10 years. Experimentation and adaptive management are key. We're building the history of experimentation and adaptation now. We did an underburn on Heart K last Spring. It's an experiment to see how fire relates to invasives and natives. It doesn't eradicate weeds, but it can help control the life cycle of the plant.

Each of these experiments we've been trying over the last five years are helping inform the long-term weeds plans we are developing for each property.

Hopefully we can do this on a scale that makes a difference on these landscapes. Plants are really here to stay. The question is how do we choose to adapt and live with them on our landscapes?

Thursday, November 20, 2014