Other Voices: Help prevent wildfire – take the Scotch Broom Challenge | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Help prevent wildfire – take the Scotch Broom Challenge

To a growing number of people in our community, the rainy season means Scotch broom removal season. Yes, broom is that beautiful yellow flower that blankets our county in the early spring and fills the air with its sweet aroma. There are reasons to like this plant, but many more reasons to dislike it.

The reason we choose to remove it is simple – it is a major fire hazard. It is filled with oils that ignite easily, which especially risky along our roadways. The sale of the plant has been banned in Nevada County by the Ag Commissioner Jeff Pylman.

Each year at this time, the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County and Resource Conservation District sponsor the Scotch Broom Challenge, bringing community partners together to help stop the spread of this extremely invasive weed.

This effort first started three years ago with six community group partners and four locations. Every year since it has grown and this year, 11 groups are participating with eight locations.

Community groups include Penn Valley Rotary, CA Native Plant Society, Wolf Creek Alliance, Twin Cities Church, Nevada County Land Trust, several homeowners associations, and other concerned citizens. The groups are asked to make a five-year commitment to the areas they are clearing to be sure the broom does not return.

Every year or two, the group revisits the area to remove any broom that has sprouted – but it is never as big as the first removal, which is an indication of our success to control it.

A big thank-you to Nevada Irrigation District for sponsoring the challenge this year and providing funding for safety supplies for our volunteers.

According to master gardener Lynn Lorensen, there are three types of broom in this county: Scotch, Spanish and French. They are all upright (3-12 feet tall) woody perennial shrubs in the pea family (Fabaceae). Blooming season is April through June with small bright yellow flowers growing along the entire stem. Seed pods are smooth and pea-like with hair along margins and contain several beanlike seeds. Small slender leaves are mostly three-leaved with half-inch long alfalfa-like leaflets.

Broom infestations can be controlled using a combination of methods. Just remember, timing is everything! The best time to control broom is before it flowers. Smaller plants can be removed by hand pulling during the early spring when the soil is wet. A weed wrench will uproot broom with minimal soil disturbance. If loppers are used, it must be cut below the last branching stem, as close to the soil surface as possible. Lop during the dry season, or else the broom can re-sprout.

My neighborhood association, Greater Champion, first took on the challenge two years ago. If you walk the Champion NID ditch trail, you may have noticed that there is less broom along the trail nearest Morningstar Lane. It is beginning to return now, but it’s nothing like it was and it is now manageable.

The removal events are lots of fun. The Fire Safe Council and Resource Conservation District furnish everything needed, including expert advice. Some people pull, while others haul, and others load the pickups or serve refreshments.

We removed four to five pickup truck loads each year. We pass the jobs and the tools around so no one gets overloaded or over-worked. The weed wrenches make removing even large bushes a cinch. Fit the tool snugly against the base of the plant, lean into the handle and the roots come right up. It does not take a lot of muscle power since the tool does most all the work. The gratification is immediate when you see that huge pile of broom. Then, before you know it, someone shows up with sandwiches or pizza and it’s a party!

If you think this group of ragtag broom pullers will wipe broom from this county any time soon, you have another thing coming. But we can clear our own access roads, entrances, and trails. You can join us and make your home and your neighborhood a little more fire safe, have fun doing it and meet some very nice people while you’re at it.

Project pull dates are from March 13-April 24 in various locations throughout the county.

For more information contact Joanne Drummand at the Fire Safe Council at (530) 272-1122 or Jan Blake at the Resource Conservation District at (530) 272-3417 x 103.

Frances Jorgensen lives in Nevada City.

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