Removing grass

Dr. Alice Yeates, stewardship coordinator at the South Slough National Estuarine Reserve, stands by clumps of tall pampas grasses during a removal effort on the reserve.

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Decorative grass in your yard could be impacting nearby natural areas.

Officials at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve say they removed over 5,000 different pampas grass plants from the reserve during a removal effort this year and are now asking residents to help prevent them from coming back.

“We’re asking people around the Oregon Coast to remove them from their yards, to help stop them from spreading into native areas,” said Alice Yeates, the reserve’s stewardship coordinator.

According to Yeates, the plants aren’t native and can disrupt natural environments like reserve and other public lands when they crowd out native species.

“They’re very big, so they outcompete native plants,” Yeates said.

Not only do the plants outcompete those around them, Yeats said the grasses harbor other troubles, too.

“This can be a place that mice hang out under, which can be a concern for people as well,” Yeates said.

What’s more, the grasses raise serious fire risks, particularly in parts of the reserve that are near homes or are further from easy firefighting access. That’s especially concerning giving the past year’s devastating fire season.

“There have been records of homes being impacted by this plant promoting fire,” Yeates said.

Fortunately, Yeates said the spring time is the ideal season for homeowners to remove the plants. South Slough officials had been aware of the growing infestation on the reserve for several years, but couldn’t successfully remove it until this year.

“The issue is during the summer months, the Earth is quite difficult to dig up,” Yeates said. “We realized that during the wet season, once the soil gets looser, you are able to dig it out of the ground, even if it is a lot of work.”

That also means it’s the idea time to replace the pampas grasses with more native species, Yeates said.

According to the Oregon Deepartment of Agriculture, the grass is native to northern Argentinia and the Andes of Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Ecuador, and was first cultivated as a decorative plant in France and Ireland.

Yeates said the type of pampas grass originally introduced to the region wasn’t supposed to spread — but once a few of the wrong types got into the mix, pollination and seeds spread by wind worked helped the grass proliferate.

That means plants in private front yards have the potential to spread seeds to public lands and forests elsewhere.

According to ODA, the escaped plant is most common in Southwestern Oregon, appearing in disturbed ditch banks, road cuts, cliff sides, logged areas and other areas to which vehicles and other carriers can spread it. And while it’s less common on the northern coast of Oregon, it’s highly invasive in Northern California.

“I really don’t want Oregon to turn into that,” Yeates said.

 The process to remove the plants can be labor intensive once they’ve taken over an area, Yeates said. The reserve coordinated with the Coos Forest Protective Association to remove the plants from its grounds, a process that took around 650 hours of work.

“I was really, really impressed with how (CFPA) got this done,” Yeates said. “This project, it was just too big, and there was a lot of physical effort that went into it.”

Now, Yeates said volunteers will continue monitoring the areas of the reserve cleared by the work for any plants which return or which may have been missed.

“There’s a chance that we missed small plants that are going to grow bigger in a few years,” Yeates said.

More information about noxious weeds in Oregon is available from ODA online at https://www.oregon.gov/oda/programs/Weeds/OregonNoxiousWeeds/Pages/AboutOregonWeeds.aspx.

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