Caring for Kaweah

 

Many Three Rivers locals probably appreciate the colorful spring beauty of Spanish broom (Spartium junceum) blanketing the edge and creeping up the banks of the Kaweah River. Unfortunately, broom, which is native to Mediterranean-type climates, is invasive in our region because the insect pests and pathogens that would normally control its spread in its native range are not present here. 

Due to the lack of natural control, broom is rapidly becoming dominant in the river corridor: obscuring river views and cloaking white sand, gravel, and smooth granite boulders under dense scrubby thickets. Recognizing the plant’s capacity to considerably alter the enjoyment and ecology of our Kaweah goes a long way to temper appreciation of its flowers.  

Spanish broom, like other invasive species expanding into the river corridor, poses a significant threat to wildlands throughout California and is quickly becoming a thriving monoculture along the Kaweah. One needs only to glance at the river in spring to note the extent to which it has spread. 

Bushes up to 10 feet tall now block views along lengthy river stretches. As broom grows, its vast root system usurps precious water, trapping sediment, altering river flows, and obstructing river access to humans and animals alike. 

Unlike the native willow, sycamore, and alder it is displacing, broom provides little in terms of shade. Its alkaloid-containing leaves and seeds are of little value to wildlife. And in this land of continual drought, stands of broom pose a significant fire hazard.

The expansion of broom witnessed in recent years is cause for concern and has captured the attention of those who are now considering doing something about it. In fact, a growing list of local businesses, agencies, and organizations have begun planning the launch of “Caring for Kaweah,” a long-term project aimed at river stewardship. Those pledging to be involved include Buckeye Tree Lodge, Good Times Adventures, Sequoia Adventures, Affairs Real Estate, Gateway Restaurant, Southern California Edison, Sequoia Parks Conservancy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, California Native Plant Society, National Park Service, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. 

Projects that might fall under Caring for Kaweah would include protecting the river from the threat of broom and other invasive species and could also include community-organized trash removal or other projects. 

An initial broom removal project is being planned for National Public Lands Day on Saturday, Sept. 24. 

On NPLD, volunteers will cut, pull, and remove broom starting in Sequoia National Park and working downriver. Other publicly accessible sites will also be treated, though those sites have yet to be determined. 

In order to be successful in the long-term, Caring for Kaweah will require expertise, landowner partnerships, and community engagement, support, and dedication. While these things may be hard to come by in many communities, Three Rivers is not just any community. In our local resource agencies, we have numerous experts eager to participate and offering assistance in launching the project. 

A history of projects in Three Rivers include the removal of giant reed in the river corridor and a continued control of yellow star thistle, both of which exhibit a commitment to community stewardship. Caring for Kaweah will replicate the energy behind these previous community projects with the goal of keeping the Kaweah River running free, wild, and beautiful.

The Kaweah is the thread that connects this entire community. The economy revolves around it. 

We rely on it for water, recreation, relaxation, inspiration, and more. The Kaweah gives us so much, so let’s pull together and give back.

—Visit  plantright.org or ipc.org for more information on Spanish broom and other invasive species.

—Contact theresa_fiorino@nps.gov for more information or to get involved. 

Melanie Keeley is a resident of Three Rivers and current president of the Alta Peak Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

 

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