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Flammable Weeds at Oregon Coast Reduced to Mulch

Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex - 2005

The first and most dramatic phase of a wildland urban interface project at the Coquille Point unit of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge was completed April 6th with the transformation of a three-acre mass of a noxious weed known as gorse, into four inches of mulch, almost instantly improving fire safety for residents of Bandon.

The Coquille Point project revolves around removing mature gorse infestations from refuge lands adjacent to residential areas within the Bandon city limits. The weed is highly flammable because of its natural oil content, and is alarmingly abundant throughout the Bandon area. It forms dense, impenetrable thickets that outgrow and crowd all other vegetation. The plants form a dry, dead center that makes it a further hazard. A fire burning in gorse could easily run up a cliff face to flat headland areas and threaten homes.

The gorse mowing contractor, All Terrain Brushing of Coquille, arrived with a John Deere 120 excavator, a lightweight machine that actually floats while it mows, reducing soil damage compared to rubber-wheeled tractors or mowers. The machine removed about an acre of gorse per day. The project area is a known archeological site and work was coordinated with the Coquille Indian Tribe to protect the site and to monitor for unearthing or signs of archeological materials during the project.

Gorse can quickly spread by seed or by vegetative growth from stumps after mowing, and can sprout from the crown in greater density unless herbicide is used on the plant, therefore the next phase of the gorse project is spraying to control regrowth. Once the regrowth and seedlings are under control, the area will be replanted with native vegetation.

This wildland urban interface project is a worthy addition to the process of restoring the Coquille Point unit, which was established in 1992. The top of the headland was restored in 1995 and since then public use facilities including trails, interpretive panels, stairs to the beach and a parking lot have been installed.

In 2005, with the removal of the largest infestation of gorse on the unit and planned restoration efforts, the refuge can continue to control this highly flammable plant for the protection of Oregon's wildlife and residents of the City of Bandon.

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