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YREKA FWO: Score One for the Woad Warriors
California-Nevada Offices , December 11, 2009
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Yreka FWO biologist Nadine Kanim (background) and Marla Knight of the Klamath National Forest check out the progress crews made in removing dyer's woad from the hills above Yreka, Calif.   Dyer's woad is a threat to the native Siskiyou mariposa lily, a candidate species for ESA protection.
Yreka FWO biologist Nadine Kanim (background) and Marla Knight of the Klamath National Forest check out the progress crews made in removing dyer's woad from the hills above Yreka, Calif. Dyer's woad is a threat to the native Siskiyou mariposa lily, a candidate species for ESA protection. - Photo Credit: n/a
Jodi Aceves of the Siskiyou County Department of Agriculture with the dreaded dyer's woad, a plant in the mustard family.   Aceves' department is an important partner of the Yreka FWO and Klamath Natoinal Forest to combat the weed because the weed threatens two native and exceedingly rare flowers, Yreka phlox and Siskiyou mariposa lily.
Jodi Aceves of the Siskiyou County Department of Agriculture with the dreaded dyer's woad, a plant in the mustard family. Aceves' department is an important partner of the Yreka FWO and Klamath Natoinal Forest to combat the weed because the weed threatens two native and exceedingly rare flowers, Yreka phlox and Siskiyou mariposa lily. - Photo Credit: n/a
The lovely and endangered Yreka Phlox.  One of the biggest threats to the flower is a weed known as Dyer's woad.  State, federal and local agencies have been coming to the flower's rescue the old fashioned way -- manually digging the weed one at a time.
The lovely and endangered Yreka Phlox. One of the biggest threats to the flower is a weed known as Dyer's woad. State, federal and local agencies have been coming to the flower's rescue the old fashioned way -- manually digging the weed one at a time. - Photo Credit: n/a
The Siskiyou mariposa lily is a candidate species for Endangered Species Act protection.  The lily is also classified as a sensitive species by the U.S. Forest Service because many of the lilies occur on Forest Service land. Therefore it receives special consideration and controlling dyer's woad on Forest Service land.  (Photo by Matt Baun/USFWS)
The Siskiyou mariposa lily is a candidate species for Endangered Species Act protection. The lily is also classified as a sensitive species by the U.S. Forest Service because many of the lilies occur on Forest Service land. Therefore it receives special consideration and controlling dyer's woad on Forest Service land. (Photo by Matt Baun/USFWS) - Photo Credit: n/a

"All the Britons, without exception, stain themselves with woad; this gives them a wild look in battle."   -- Julius Caesar, 54, B.C  

 

by Matt Baun, Yreka FWO
Siskiyou County, Calif. – Dyer’s woad, a plant in the mustard family, has been used historically as a coloring agent.  Its leaves, when fermented, produce a deep blue, or indigo, dye.  Dyer’s woad will also paint drab western landscapes with vibrant yellow blooms in spring and summer.   

 

To some observers the site of vast yellow hillsides in an otherwise drab western landscape is quite pleasing.  But for local conservationists, dyer’s woad has long been a scourge. 

 

The very mention of Dyer’s woad can raise hackles and evoke a certain disdain of even the most mild-mannered of individuals. 

 

“Evil, it’s an evil weed,” explains Nadine Kanim, a Fish and Wildlife biologist with the Yreka Fish and Wildlife Office (Yreka FWO). 

 

“Nasty! In all forms of the word, nasty,” concurs Jodi Aceves of the Siskiyou County Agriculture Department.

 

Kanim and Aceves, along with Sheri Hagwood, a Yreka FWO botanist, and Marla Knight, a Klamath National Forest botanist, are known in local circles as the woad warriors.   

 

For the Yreka FWO, the Klamath National Forest and the Siskiyou County Department of Agriculture, dyer’s woad is seen as a threat to two extremely rare flowers – Yreka phlox and Siskiyou mariposa lily.  

 

The Yreka phlox is found exclusively in Siskiyou County, near the town of Yreka, and the Siskiyou mariposa lily is found almost entirely in Siskiyou County, though there is one very small location in Oregon, just over the California border.

 

Each year, for the past several years, they get together to chart out a strategy on how best to control the weed to protect these flowers.  The Yreka FWO, through its Partner’s for Fish and Wildlife program, has funded restoration projects to rid portions of Siskiyou County of the dreaded plant. 

 

Dyer’s woad is native to Russia and found its way to England as a commercial crop in the 13th Century.   The weed first entered the New World by hitch-hiking across the ocean during colonial times.    

 

The weed’s introduction point in Northern California is believed to be the Scott Valley, located in Siskiyou County where it is thought to have arrived in the mid 1800s. According to local lore, the weed was a contaminant in packing material used to secure a piano that was shipped from the Eastern U.S.

 

Kanim is the Service’s lead biologist for the Yreka phlox recovery effort and understands how daunting this task is.  She is thankful for the hard work of various partners over the years, which include the USDA’s Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Siskiyou County Department of Agriculture, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the California Conservation Corps (CCC).

 

“Although the 2006 Recovery Plan for Yreka phlox identifies competition with exotic weeds as one of the threats to this species, the extent of the dyer’s woad infestation was not fully appreciated at that time,” said Kanim. 

 

A similar situation exists for the Siskiyou mariposa lily, which is a candidate species for Endangered Species Act protections.  The lily is also classified as a sensitive species by the U.S. Forest Service. This is critical because so many of the lilies occur on Forest Service land in Siskiyou County, and therefore it receives special consideration. 

 

“The goal with the Siskiyou mariposa lily is to maintain viable populations of the flower on Forest Service land,” said Klamath National Forest botanist Marla Knight.   “Therefore we need to manage lands where the flower occurs so we can prevent the flower from further jeopardy.  Clearly, one of the biggest threats to the lily is dyer’s woad and we need to work hard to manage and control the weed on Forest Service land.”

 

About the only way to control the weed when it occurs around Yreka phlox or Siskiyou Mariposa lily, is by hand, the old-fashioned way: one weed at a time – a tiresome and painstakingly slow process, to be sure. 

 

Several factors make dyer’s woad an especially notorious weed.  For one, the plant  produces a high number of seeds that can be easily spread -- wind, shoes, animals, the list can go on.    The fruits of dyer’s woad also contain a chemical that inhibits the germination of other nearby plants.  Dyer’s woad also forms dense mats of rosettes from which the flowering stalk, if removed, can re-sprout in the same growing season. 

 

The weed also has a two-layered rooting system that comes equipped with a deep tap-root so it can out-compete other species for scarce water and nutrients.  (Knight tells of a weed pulling contest that a local youth work crew held one summer to see who could dig the largest intact root system.  The winner dug a plant whose root was in excess of two feet long.)

 

The Service’s funding through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and a strong commitment by various partners from all levels of government is leading to some real signs of success and is helping both native flowers from further loss.   The volunteer crews who pull the weeds by hand have the toughest job and each of the woad warriors have pulled their fair share of weeds over the years. 

  

This past year saw a restoration project along a major highway in Siskiyou County where Heather Wood of the local NRCS office organized a volunteer effort to manually remove dyer’s woad from areas where chemical herbicides couldn’t be sprayed due to proximity of the protected Yreka phlox.  Wood said she hopes NRCS can continue to help in future weed control efforts.   

 

As for the four woad warriors, they may have just found another recruit.   


Contact Info: Matt Baun, 530-842-5763, matt_baun@fws.gov



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