Harris Butte

Invasive gorse has moved up along Harris Butte inside Harris Beach State Park just north of Brookings.

Oregon State Parks Department officials will launch a gorse-removal project at oft-used Harris Beach State Park later this month in an effort to control the spread of the invasive plant.

Sherri Laier, an Oregon State Parks natural resource specialist for the south coast and Rogue Valley, said the plant was removed from about five acres north of the park day-use area in 2011. But since then, it has spread up Harris Butte, a popular hiking area above the beach.

That’s a challenging location, she said.

“We had no way to get to that plant along the butte," she said. "We could not spray herbicides from a helicopter or work from the top of the butte. But the Oregon Department of Transportation suggested we use rappellers, similar to what was done recently along U.S. Highway 101 in this area.”

The Pilot illustrated the Highway 101 project in an article published Aug. 21, which showed crews from Triptych Construction of Glide rappelling down the east side of the highway at Rainbow Rock to remove the gorse.

The invasive plant’s removal along Rainbow Rock was a pilot project through the Curry County Soil and Water Conservation District, ODOT and Triptych. It involved crews rappelling down the east slope of Highway 101, cutting the gorse with large knives and chainsaws, and spraying herbicides.

ODOT will coordinate the Harris Beach State Park project with Triptych, according to Laier, who said the day-use portion of the park will be closed weekdays, but open weekends, Sept. 30-Oct. 11.

“We have a narrow window of time where the contractors can apply herbicide on the stumps before the weather turns bad, which is why we chose to work during these times,” said Harris Beach State Park Manager Dani Padilla.

The closure also is designed to protect visitors.

“Shrubs and rocks will be falling to the ground, and we will have trucks going into and out of the area hauling the debris away,” Laier said. “So we will close the road to the day-use area, but beach access will remain open.”  

According to Laier, gorse is a highly flammable plant that displaces natural habitat, reduces property value and holds very little ecological value.

“This is a plant that was brought over from Ireland in the 1800s, with its epicenter in Bandon, and has since spread all the way down into California and up into Washington,” Laier said. “It is a prolific seed producer, with the seeds lasting for 30 years or more.”

Laier said park officials noticed that hummingbirds would nest in the gorse, and shortly thereafter the birds’ eggs would be eaten by other animals because the nests were at risk. “We call it an ecological trap,” she said.

The gorse-removal project at Harris Beach State Park is estimated to cost $40,000, said Laier.

She said the state parks department’s share of the cost is $15,000. Wild Rivers Coast Alliance is contributing $25,000, while ODOT is offering in-kind time and energy to help. “ODOT will accept all that debris and they are developing the contract with the rappellers,” she said.

Curry Soil and Water District and the Gorse Action Group also are partners the project.

Harris Beach State Park, just northwest of Brookings, is one of the most-visited state parks in Oregon, said Padilla. “In the month of August 2019, we recorded 105,868 visitors at our day-use area to the beach.”

For more information about gorse, visit http://gorseactiongroup.org/.

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