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The 1999 San Francisco Peninsula - South Bay Restoration Workshop

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Late Winter 1999

The 1999 San Francisco Peninsula - South Bay Restoration Workshop

by Geoffrey Skinner

If you have spent any time in California wildlands, you have undoubtedly run into yellow star thistle, pampas grass, broom, or any of a host of invasive non-native plants. These plants tend to displace native plant species, changing the structure and function of our local ecosystems, and resulting in a loss of genetic diversity or a decline in other "ecosystem services" upon which we and the animals that inhabit the ecosystems depend. On a more immediate level, a number of these invaders, including yellow star thistle and bristly ox tongue, tend to be prickly to walk through. The SF Chronicle ran a front-page article on the yellow star thistle invasion in mid-January and an article or two have appeared in the Trail Companion in the recent past. Statistics show that over a thousand exotic species of plants have been introduced to California since the first visits by Europeans, with the number increasing exponentially over most of that time, though records of the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture suggest that the increase is beginning to slow (Fremontia, v. 26, no. 4 (Oct. 1998), p. 4). Some species were introduced intentionally, others arrived accidentally-perhaps on horses hooves or in feed bags. Human activity has encouraged exotic species to spread throughout the state. For some of the invaders, El Niño and other naturally-occurring disturbances (perhaps exacerbated by human-caused global climate change) boosted their numbers tremendously. Even on our trail projects, we have noted that any disturbance-particularly in grasslands-will result in an explosion of weeds. Next time you walk down a grassland trail, notice the plants growing along the trail. Often these are the first places that yellow star thistle and other invasive plants will appear. The human impact on the ecosystem extends further than weeds, of course, with a tremendous loss of habitat as we have built our cities and roads. The weed population is not the only one to increase exponentially.
      Peninsula and South Bay land managers and restoration professionals and volunteers gathered at Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve on Jan. 29th for the 1999 San Francisco Peninsula - South Bay Restoration Workshop. The workshop, sponsored by Bay Area Action, California Native Plant Society, Magic, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, and Native Habitats, marked the first time the participants had gathered with a regional focus, although many had met in other settings. The organizers saw that many of the problems facing land managers aren't confined to a single jurisdiction whether the issue is invasion of yellow star thistle, Harding grass, and other weeds, or siltation threatening aquatic fauna. These problems tend to be regional in scope; eradicating Italian thistle in a state park won't be possible if the open space preserve next door is full of more thistle.
      While future meetings may focus on technical aspects of restoration, this first meeting addressed issues of a general nature, with the keynote address by Jake Sigg, State President of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), Chair of the CNPS Exotics Committee, and past president of the CNPS Yerba Buena Chapter, who spoke on his personal odyssey of going from an indiscriminate gardener to a passionate restorationist of native plants. Sigg stressed that restoration work is as much or more about restoring ourselves as about restoring the land. Environmental degradation mirrors exactly the degradation of our society. Other speakers were Ken Himes of the CNPS and Friends of Edgewood Park, who spoke on the plant communities of the Santa Cruz Mountains and South Bay and CNPS restoration efforts, and Alan Launer of the Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University, who spoke on rare, threatened, and endangered animals of the bioregion.
      After the presentations, participants broke into smaller groups to discuss successful restoration strategies and misfires; finding, managing and training volunteers; and communicating the values of restoration to the public. Georgia Stigall of Native Habitats and the CNPS, one of the organizers, has posted highlights from each group discussion on the Arastradero Preserve website ( Jodi Isaacs, Resource Management Specialist with MROSD, and Paul Kephardt, of Rana Creek Habitat Restoration, led a field trip to Russian Ridge Open Space preserve to examine three techniques used to manage grasslands: mowing, grazing with goats and sheep, and burning. Isaacs also discussed biological controls and spot application of herbicides. MROSD is in its second year of grassland management on Russian Ridge, with control of yellow star thistle the main target and Harding grass a secondary target. A seed drilling program using a variety of native species following a burn looks promising, but Isaacs warned that it is too early to draw firm conclusions. Preliminary findings indicate that no one method alone will accomplish their goals.

      If you are interested in learning more about local or statewide restoration work, you may wish to visit the Native Habitat website (, which links to many groups involved in restoration work. Our own activity schedule also lists a few of the local restoration events, but is not comprehensive. In addition, the Trail Companion will continue to report on restoration issues, particularly as they relate to trail projects. Of particular interest may be the restoration workdays at Arastradero Preserve sponsored by Bay Area Action on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month (see the Arastradero website for details); we expect to work with BAA for California Trail Days on April 26th for a reroute of the Acorn Trail.

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