Back to California’s ROOTS

Jul 12, 2010 by Lindsay Pullin

If you’ve been feeling a little lazy lately, or have guilt hanging heavy on your conscious about the oil spill in the Gulf, why not try giving something back to our own beloved coastline?

On June 26th, I participated in a "ROOTS" event, sponsored by the Community-Based Restoration and Education Program in the Upper Newport Bay. It’s program began in 2002 due to the California Coastal Commission’s desire for additional public involvement protecting our ocean and open spaces.

Focus is given to the Upper Newport Bay because it’s one of the region’s largest wetlands and according to their website, it’s "Internationally significant and renowned as the best birding site in North America."

I showed up around 9am, after parking in the lot for the Muth Interpretative Center, located across the street from UC Irvine. After a walk around and to the wetlands, I arrived at the official ROOTS table and signed a waiver to participate.  Volunteer leaders were there for us to show which plants to pull up, and which to leave alone, and to direct me to a large bucket of gloves. Then, it was time to work.

There was a big group of volunteers that Saturday morning including many repeat attendees (I heard banter of “How long has it been, seven years already?"  Everyone was busy kneeling, ripping out prickly tocalote and wild mustard shrubs and weeds (the gloves were necessary as the prickles found their way into my socks and my gloves), and shoving the plants into giant garbage bags.

The lead volunteers were scattered about, prepared to answer questions (for instance: "Is this tocalote?" Answer: "Yes." or "Should I pull this one out?" Response: "None of the plants with little red flags next to them!").

There’s something extremely satisfying about spending the day outside, ripping out invasive non-native plants and because we started at 9 and were finished by 12, the heat of the day hadn’t settled in.

Not only was it a rewarding Saturday, but also an educational one. I didn’t know that wild mustard was a non-native invasive plant that was choking out our native plants including the California buckwheat, and the Coast’s prickly pear.

Once we finished our work, it looked like a herd of grazing animals had passed through. There were large patches of land that are now barren. But the new found openness provides the opportunity for our native plants to thrive. Like most things in life, it’s a long haul and constant vigilance is needed to keep ripping out the mustard and prickly pear plants.

The invasive plants always need to be steadily removed, as unfortunately they’ve been growing unhampered for years if not decades, and because they’re not native, they tend to be much more aggressive than most of our native plants. Another component to removing the invasive plants is that there has to be a follow-up, as the many plants we removed that morning still left intact seeds that have to be removed in the future–not to mention the acres of area that hasn’t even been tended to.

This is a process that will take years of growth and plant warfare.

The Upper Newport Bay has volunteer ROOTS activities every 4th Saturday of the month. If you plan on volunteering, be sure to wear long pants, closed toe shoes, and sun tan lotion (I missed the spot on my lower back– don’t forget that you’re bent over the entire time). Gloves are provided, as is a station to refill your reusable water bottle (because we’re being ecologically friendly).

In three hours, all the volunteers had removed approximately 200 pounds of mustard and tocalote, and this was only a small percentage of the total 96,000 pounds of bad and invasive foliage that’s been removed since 2002.

If you’re interested in dedicating a Saturday morning to reclaiming the California coast for California natives (and you don’t even have to be born here!), the next ROOTS event is Saturday July 24th. Check their website) for more details about what you can do to help.

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