Enhancement Projects Weed Out Invasives

Sandy dunes along the California coast often feature hardy European beachgrass and a succulent freeway iceplant that many assume is part of the native flora. However, these plants are invasive species that out-compete the native plants and the animals that live there.

“Gold Rush settlers introduced the invasive plants along the Pacific Coast to anchor blowing sand and dunes from moving onto nearby roads, railroads and land,” said Bruce Joab, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife Environmental Scientist. “Scientists determined that removing them would be the best way to restore the dunes and the ecosystem that depend on them.”

CDFW awarded $54,000 in Environmental Enhancement funds to the Point Reyes North Great Beach located in Marin County to restore the native sand dune plants on a 13-acre area in 2015. The fund committee selected the Point Reyes application because of the success of their previous dune restoration projects.

Over the years, the invasives took over the native Tidestrom lupine and beach layia placing them on the federally endangered list. The threatened snowy plover and the endangered Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly are dependent on native plants like these and are in jeopardy of disappearing from the area.

The endangered butterfly feeds on nectar of the native curly-leaved monardella flowers, which has been nearly replaced by the invasive iceplant. The threatened snowy plover also once nested on the dunes in greater numbers.

“Snowy plovers naturally select open areas to nest so that they can more easily spot predators,” said CDFW Environmental Scientist Laird Henkel. “The European beachgrass spreads quickly making the dunes less desirable as a place for these birds to nest.”

Point Reyes National Seashore staff oversaw the removal of the invasive plants on the dunes. Their contractors spray-treated the dunes with an herbicide and uprooted the invasives by hand, making sure weather conditions worked in their favor with low winds and no rain, protecting other natural plants, wildlife, nearby farms, and the public from overspray.

Point Reyes scientists monitored the treated area with an easy-to-use mapping tool. Visual surveys and the mapping program showed over time an only a one-to-three percent regrowth of the invasive plants, while previous restoration projects showed much more regrowth.

“The project area represents a vital link between earlier restoration efforts near Abbotts Lagoon and new restoration efforts at the AT&T cell tower area  enabling the park to move closer towards its goal of several miles of dune habitat not wiped out by invasive plants such as European beachgrass and iceplant,” said Point Reyes National Seashore Ecologist, Lorraine Parsons.

CDFW administers the annual grants for environmental projects that preserve, improve or acquire habitat and function of an ecosystem to benefit fish and wildlife. Selected projects also need to be located within or immediately adjacent to waterways in California. Organizations interested in environmental restoration or enhancement may qualify for the grant. A selected project must also have a measurable outcome within a set timeframe. Submitted projects do not have to be affected by an oil spill.

Collections from oil spill fines and penalties fund this grant program. OSPR’s Oil Spill Prevention Specialists routinely board ships and visit oil production facilities to verify information such as current phone numbers and required contacts in the event of an oil spill. When an organization cannot provide required information, OSPR conducts an investigation and issues monetary citations for all violations of state oil spill prevention laws.

These penalties, which are spent restoring habitats like the one in Point Reyes, are legally permitted under the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act.

“Any person responsible for intentionally or negligently releasing oil into state waters, or failing to follow applicable contingency plans, or the directions of an administrator in connection with an oil spill, is subject to civil penalties,” explained OSPR attorney Kathy Verue-Slater.

CDFW-OSPR and the Point Reyes staff consider the project’s first objective, eradicating invasive European beachgrass and ice plants, a success. The reappearance of native plants and wildlife is the second objective and the success of that will be determined over time.