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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes
CHICO: Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in the Sacramento Valley Leads the Fight Against Invasive Broom Along Big Chico Creek
Region 8, September 15, 2007
By Matt Hamman
Invasive species’ eradication can be a tough business.  Successful projects can be difficult because infestations are rarely contained within one property.  Many projects involve multiple landowners, often requiring a conglomeration of public agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private entities to work together.  Coordinating different funding cycles, project goals and methodologies can be tricky to say the least. 

Fortunately, when all partners are focused and committed to a common goal, non-natives don’t stand a chance.  One such project was recently completed along Big Chico Creek, a tributary to the Sacramento River, located eastern Butte County, California.   Project partners included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the California State University, Chico, Research Foundation and four private landowners who came together to eradicate invasive stands of Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum L.) and French Broom (Genista monspessulana)from a 16-mile stretch of creek.  The project was located along the upper stretch of Big Chico Creek beginning on the western edge of the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve -- a 4,000 acre property owned and managed by the CSU, Chico Research Foundation -- to a point upstream that included four neighboring privately-owned properties immediately below the town of Forest Ranch.

Initial project funding was provided by the USFWS Partner’s for Fish and Wildlife (PFW) Program and matched by the CSU, Chico Research Foundation and private landowners.  The Partner’s for Fish and Wildlife Program is a habitat restoration and enhancement program which provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Tribes who are willing to work with us and other partners. They agree to do so on a voluntary basis to meet the habitat needs of Federal Trust Species, including migratory birds; threatened and endangered species; inter-jurisdictional fish; marine mammals; and/or other declining species.  Each year, a portion of the PFW funding that comes to the California and Nevada Regional Office is set aside for invasive species control. Invasive species control is often the focus of many PFW Projects because infestation of invasive plants can result in negative impacts to Federal Trust Species. 

The goal of the Big Chico Creek project was to eradicate the invasive broom, which had colonized the sandbars and gravel bars along the creek banks.  The rapid growth of the broom had resulted in a monoculture of the non-native vegetation,  out competing native riparian vegetation and potentially impacting natural river geomorphology and functions.  Native riparian vegetation, such as willows and alders, provide shade for the stream that helps keep water temperatures low and contributes to large woody debris used by juvenile fish as cover.  Cool flows are critical to the survival of spring, fall and late-fall Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead, listed as Federally threatened species.  Additionally, neotropical migrant songbirds such as the willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii), a California state endangered species, use native riparian vegetation along streams in the foothills of California as stops along its annual north-south migration.

In addition to its wildlife impacts, another problem found with broom is the increased fire threat that goes along with it.  It burns much hotter, more easily and more frequently than native vegetation.  Broom plants frequently thrive with an active fire regime that can often degrade the quality of rangelands or forest stands found on private as well as public lands.  The importance of reducing this additional fire threat was evident to the adjoining landowners, who not only agreed to put up cost share money to leverage the federal funds used for the project, but also helped with the physical labor involved with removing the broom.  

A pilot project began in 2002 when several individual broom plants within the ecological reserve were treated with an herbicide to test the effectiveness of a chemical treatment.  Although the chemical treatments were successful, it was determined that the size of the broom infestation was too large and too close in proximity to the creek to be used. 

In 2004, Jeff Mott, Director of Reserves, solicited the help of the local PFW Program coordinator, Craig Isola, located in the private lands office at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  Mott and Isola were able to work together to develop a multi-phased project aimed at removing broom and all other non-native plants from the upper reaches of Big Chico Creek.  Phase I of the broom eradication efforts targeted an eight mile stretch of Big Chico Creek.  Removal practices were labor intensive and centered on hand pulling all broom seedlings, using rock bars and weed wrenches to remove all broom plants (<2” in diameter) and power winches were used to remove all large broom plants (>2” and above).  All broom plants were stockpiled and burned in safe location at a later date.  The PFW Program provided funds for equipment and much of the labor costs of this project.  These funds were matched by in-kind labor provided by CSU, Chico undergrad and graduate students, community volunteers, private landowners, and Reserve staff.

The initial area treated during Phase I of the project was deemed a success and in 2005,  Phase II was funded and the remaining untreated eight miles of creek were cleared of all broom.  A follow up treatment of the entire stretch was also part of the Phase II in order  to clean up any small plants that may have been missed or sprouted.  In all, 16-miles, or 109 acres, of riparian habitat were cleared of all broom plants. 

Since completing this project native vegetation has flourished.  Alders and willows have rebounded along the banks of the Big Chico Creek and salmon and steelhead can be seen swimming about in the cool shaded waters.   Good numbers of resident and neo-tropical migrant songbirds can be found using the newly restored riparian vegetation as shelter and feeding areas.  Additionally, to ensure that this stretch of creek continues to enjoy its broom-free status, research foundation staff will be conducting annual monitoring and remove new and adolescent broom plants that have sprouted from the initial seed bank.

The PFW project on the ecological reserve and adjacent private lands has lead the Forest Ranch community to pursue additional broom eradication.  The Forest Ranch community, under the leadership of Dulcy Schroeder (land owner and participant in the PFW project, and board member of the Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance) started a community group called Broom Education and Eradication Program (BEEP).  BEEP consists of volunteers that remove broom along Highway 32 and on private property in Forest Ranch.  Landowners contact BEEP and request a team of volunteers to come out and help remove broom.  This year BEEP has received a $10,000 grant from the local weed management area to buy equipment, such as weed wrenches, and support for team leaders.  The team leaders for BEEP are the same staff that worked for the ecological reserve under the PFW project.  In just two years BEEP has removed acres of broom and thousands of plants.  BEEP is now seeking additional funding to support their ongoing eradication efforts.

The PFW Program is a very flexible program which can be used on all tribal and private lands, including working farms and ranches, to aid in implementing wildlife friendly practices.  It can be used as seed money to leverage larger funding sources, or it can be used as the sole source of project funds.  Restrictions of the program are that PFW funds are limited to $25,000 per project each year, and require a 1-to-1 match of cash or in-kind services. It also requires a commitment from the landowner(s) to maintain the improvements of the project for a minimum of 10 years.  For more information about the PFW Program in your area go to http://www.fws.gov/capartners/ .

Contact Info: Scott Flaherty, , Scott_Flaherty@fws.gov