Volunteer pulls plants in wetlands to save two other species

ENVIRONMENT: Student helps OSPIRG in Willow Creek area in lieu of writing a term paper

By Abe Estimada
Community Reporter

With his long, red hair tied back in a pony tail and armed with thick, yellow work gloves and a pair of garden clippers, OSPIRG volunteer Ty Vrudney is ready to do battle with the Scotch broom plants, which have infested the Willow Creek wetlands area.

Crawling on his hands and knees through the foot high grass, Vrudney spots a Scotch broom plant hidden in the field. He initially tugs on the plant, but it refuses to budge. Realizing that the Scotch broom will not surrender easily, he stands up and wraps the plant around his right arm to get a better grip.

He pulls with all of his might, and after struggling and twisting with the plant for a few minutes, the Scotch broom finally pops out of the ground -- with a foot long root in tow.

"That hurt. It really did," Vrudney said, shaking his arms and trying to get the feeling back in his hands. The process of pulling plants during a downpour or in the heat of the sun can be grueling.

With at least 10 acres of Willow Creek wetlands teeming with Scotch broom, OSPIRG volunteers said the work is sometimes overwhelming. And for three hours a day, four days a week and seven weeks out of the two month term, Scotch broom pulling can be downright monotonous, volunteers said.

But for each plant that is pulled from the ground, Vrudney and the other OSPIRG volunteers know that is one less Scotch broom that could threaten the existence of two endangered species.

"It's a great opportunity as a student to do your little part for the community," Vrudney said. "It makes your day a whole lot better knowing that you're helping out an endangered species. If this isn't done now, we lose two more species."

What's at stake is the survival of the Kincaid's lupine and Fenders' blue butterfly, which is native to the Pacific Northwest. The Scotch broom, an aggressive, wiry plant that can sometimes grow up to 10 feet tall if left unattended, chokes the life out of the lupine by overrunning its habitat. During the spring, thick patches of Scotch broom can be easily spotted by their bright yellow flowers.

But beneath the blooming spring scenery, the Scotch broom slowly saps the life out of the plants it shares space with. Once the lupine goes, the Fenders' blue butterfly that relies on the lupine's nectar for its sustenance also disappears.

Two person teams from OSPIRG's Streamwalk project venture into the wetlands along four designated paths and monitor the wetlands by reporting any inappropriate activities, such as fires or trash dumping to Ed Alverson, an ecologist for the Nature Conservancy group that owns the wetlands.

University and OSPIRG volunteers have been assisting Alverson for five years in monitoring and maintaining the environmental integrity of the 250 acre-Willow Creek area.

"I think it's a good case of thinking globally and acting locally," Alverson said. "The tropical rain forests get a lot of attention, and I don't mean to downgrade the importance of the rain forests. But right in our own backyard, we have those same kinds of issues going on. We can apply those global concerns here and make a contribution at home."

Some of the 40 OSPIRG volunteers are also part of professor John Baldwin's class, who are given a choice between doing volunteer work or writing a term paper for a better grade. University student Owen Smith, who is in Baldwin's class, chose to volunteer his time for OSPIRG.

"It's actually been fun," Smith said. "If it's going to give other species a chance to grow, it's worth it. I'm not used to the manual labor scene myself, but it's all worth it, if it makes a difference."

Vrudney is once again crawling on his hands and knees, ever watchful for even the tiniest Scotch broom sprouts. Ahead of him lie dark green sprouts, dotting the landscape and hidden in the light brown grass.

"Maybe if we do enough, we can make a dent through our small efforts," Vrudney said. "The big picture is helping two endangered species, which is something you don't do every day."