11 January 2009

Arundo Treatment in Carbon Canyon Forthcoming?

At a December public meeting at a Brea City Council meeting concerning the proposed Canyon Crest housing development, a recommendation was made by Claire Schlotterbeck of Hills For Everyone, a major opponent to the project, that the aftermath of November's Freeway Complex Fire, which burned most of the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon, provided a golden opportunity to deal with the highly invasive arundo donax (the above photo from 26 November 2008 shows some burned areas of arundo and a few small sprouts of new growth only a week after the fire.)

The plant, a perennial reed, seems to have originated in the Mediterranean and spread east through the Middle East to India. It has evidently been in California since the 1820s and was brought for roofing material and erosion control in drainage canals, but it has also proved to be very problematic in crowding out other plans and organisms in environments such as Carbon [Canyon] Creek. Morevoer, it is a highly flammable material (the November fires amply demonstrated this.)

One of the difficulties in eradicating the plant, in addition to its durability, is its incredible growth rate, deep roots and ease of spreading. It can grow by several inches per day and reach twenty-five feet in height, making it one of the fastest-growing terrestrial plants.

Interestingly, arundo has been cultivated for many useful purposes, including fishing rods, walking sticks, paper, and a base material for woodwind musical instruments. There has even been talk of its adaptability for biomass and biofuel, because of its extremely rapid growth and yields, at twenty-five tons per acre twice annually, and the fact that it doesn't need to be replanted for some quarter of a century or treated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Samoa Pacific, a lumber company in Humboldt County in northwestern California, even considered growing it for paper several years ago.

The problem in treating arundo for removal is that the plant's prodigal toughness, height, density and rapid spread and growth mean a very rigorous program of treatment over several years is required. Because of the fires, however, most of the above-ground portions of the plant have largely been burnt off, although there is quick regrowth going on. A considerable amount of time and money will be saved if treatment with chemical spraying and physical removal can begin soon.

At the December meeting, council instructed staff to investigate the arundo removal process and it appears that there has been some action, to the extent that initial spraying could begin in late February when the new growth is extensive enough in height, but not density, so that leaves will absorb the herbicide, which then migrates to the roots. There is about a twenty-five acre area involved, but the area needs to be monitored for five years. At the moment, there needs to be a lead agency to direct the process.

Even though the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has overarching jurisdiction over the creek because of its role in the flood control system run by the Corps involving Carbon Canyon Dam, it is unclear whether the agency will assume that lead position.

So, let's hope that there can be some meaningful, and sustained, progress against this infestation, which has been getting very close to the Chino Hills portions of the creek in recent years.

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