Thursday, March 26, 2009

At war with weeds

by Jocelyn Gretz, Community Programs Manager

Weeds are plants where you don’t want them – plain and simple. And although these weeds are often beautiful, restoration ecologists refer to them as invasive species. As we gear up for our spring and summer weeding season, I have been recalling the hundreds of hours I’ve spent pulling weeds – sometimes in outrageous situations – and contemplating the huge effort needed to maintain our native ecosystems.

In college, instead of serving cocktails like my peers, I spent summer days restoring tall grass prairies in Wisconsin. Even in the seemingly 150% humidity, we were fully clothed in long sleeves and pants while ripping out non-native wild parsnip, hoping it wouldn’t lash back and give us a chemical burn that blistered the skin. Talk about invasive!

I have also duck-taped my shoes around my ankles to prevent them from falling off as I plunged through a sedge mat on a mosquito-y bog, all to rip out the robust purple loosestrife.

One of my more “painful” restoration tasks was when I wielded a chainsaw to cut down native cottonwood trees. I thought, "But I like trees." I had to be reminded that even though invasive plants can be pretty, they out-compete our natives and need to be removed for a natural environment to thrive.

Certainly on a given day’s work, tactics can be frustrating. In a sea of weeds with seeds that are viable for five or more years, one can easily get discouraged. However, after several seasons working to protect San Francisco Bay, I have witnessed progress–we have significantly reduced invasive weeds like iceplant in our wetlands.

And that is where you come in. Save The Bay's Community-based Restoration program works with thousands of volunteers each year to help us improve habitat and we rely on a continual flow of volunteer groups and individuals to help us restore wetlands at six sites around the Bay.

As we head into spring and summer, we are in particular need of "weed warriors" to help clear away the invasive species that degrade habitat for birds, fish and other Bay wildlife. It's a great way to get outside and give back to the environment and your community. If you're interested in a fun day on the Bay, contact me to set up a project for your community group or employee team or sign yourself up for one of our public restoration events.

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