COVID-19 has put a real crimp in volunteer restoration activities. You may have noticed that Greens at Work hasn’t had an official work party since March. Nevertheless, we have been at Point Isabel and the marshes along the Bay Trail in Richmond almost every day since the Shelter in Place (SIP) orders came down.
What have we been doing out there, you may ask. Well, we’re glad you did.
Back in August of 2019, we learned that the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) had received grant funding to hire a contractor to apply herbicides to an aggressive non-native plant called Algerian sea lavender (Limonium ramosissimum or LIRA) that has acquired a foothold around the San Francisco Bay. In researching the outcomes of the program in the contractor’s reports, we learned they had to make more than one application of herbicides to assure some form of “control” of the invasive plant. The justification for spraying was that LIRA was limiting the expansion of native Pacific cordgrass (Spartina foliosa), which is important habitat for the federally endangered Ridgway’s Rail (Rallus obsoletus). LIRA also outcompetes other native marsh plants, including California sea lavender (Limonium californicum or LICA), pickleweed (Salicornia pacifica), coastal gumweed (Grindelia stricta), alkali heath (Frankenia salina), marsh jaumea (Jaumea carnosa), and salt grass (Distichlis spicata).
When we visited one of the main treatment sites, the south shore of Point Isabel across from Costco, we found that not only had many of the larger LIRA plants been sprayed, but many native shoreline plants were dead or damaged as well. The treatment area is within the intertidal zone and next to bird-refuge shell islands built by Caltrans as mitigation for a highway expansion.
We reached out to Cal-IPC and notified them that we would organize volunteers to remove the LIRA manually. Our volunteer efforts were intended to limit the possibility that contractors would return to spray again.
Cal-IPC and its contractor provided a number of additional potential herbicide target areas. Those areas included Hoffman Marsh, adjacent to I-580 north of Central Avenue, as well as East and West Stege Marsh, half a mile further north along the Bay Trail. Friends of Five Creeks alerted us to a fifth site at Marina Bay, apparently the most northern site in the Bay for this plant invasion.
As of July 23, we have removed close to half a million LIRA plants and seedlings from these five sites. In keeping with SIP rules, we have on numerous occasions undertaken this task with a maximum of three friends who work six to ten feet away from each other. Many thanks to Mi-Yung, Jean, Nancy, Lou, Rob, Lewis, Juri, Ian, Kumail, and Satoko for their terrific help with LIRA at the various marshes. The crew has also picked up 82 large garbage bags full of trash, six mattresses, and piles of plywood sheets that covered the marsh surface and prevented anything from growing under it. We have weed-wrenched French broom (Genista monspessulana) and pulled out alkali Russian thistle (Salsola soda) and swaths of ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis) at these sites as well.
Here’s the current tally of LIRA plants and seedlings we have removed at each site and in total:
|153,345||South Shore Point Isabel|
|8,395||East Stege Marsh|
|72,250||West Stege Marsh|
It is easy to remove LIRA because it grows in moist soils, and it is always a delight to be at a marsh in the company of pelicans, egrets, Great Blue Herons, American Avocets, Ridgway’s Rails, and more. We can see the progress, in part by the expansion of native plants into the areas where the LIRA has been removed. While there is still more work to do in all locations, it is becoming clear that in the areas where we are working the LIRA is under control. In the next few weeks we will be exploring ways to reach several infestations in areas cut off by the tides. We hope to be able to report on that adventure in a future newsletter.
Special thanks go to Hugo Mendoza and his abatement team at the City of Richmond. They have been incredibly responsive to our requests to haul away trash and debris we gather as we work to improve the habitat quality of the marshes.
— Jane and Tom Kelly