Crews whack weeds on San Bruno Mtn.: Invasive gorse a fire hazard to nearby homes

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Mary Albert

BRISBANE -- For Brisbane's Carolyn Parker, it is a relief to hear that work crews are taking a different approach this year to eradicating some of the highly flammable "gorse" weeds on San Bruno Mountain.

Parker's home in the Altamar on the Ridge estate development sat precariously close to a controlled burn that went out of control in July 2003.

Flames licked so close to her home that "I didn't know if I was going to have a house or not," said Parker, who evacuated her three pets when she started to smell smoke.

Now she is delighted to hear that work crews are tackling the invasive species near a residential area of Daly City with heavy-duty weed whackers and "brontosaurus" trucks.

"I think it is fabulous," said Parker.

Paid for with about $325,000 in Proposition 12 bond funds, crews launched a four-year project Oct. 4 and are about halfway done with their goal for the year, said Jen Zarnoch of May & Associates, Inc., which was hired by the San Mateo County Parks and Recreation to hack 31 acres of prickly weeds located on parklands above Daly City's Carter Street.

Their goal was to eradicate the area's mature gorse, seedlings and re-sprouts by 2006, and then re-vegetate the land with native species such as willow, elderberry and dogwood.

The crews will also begin restoring a small wetlands zone next summer, Zarnoch said.

In groups of about four, contractors from May & Associates have been hacking away at the weeds that not only pose a fire danger to the homes nearby, but are also strangling native plants that house the mountain's endangered Mission blue, Callippe silverspot and elfin butterflies.

Then, because the species of weed is so hearty and can grow back within months, crews are attacking the stumps with powerful herbicides.

"This is nasty stuff," said Sam Herzberg of the San Mateo County Parks and Recreation.

Friends of San Bruno Mountain's Doug Allshouse echoed Herzberg's comments, explaining that gorse is nicknamed "greasewood" because of the number of volatile oils within it.

In years past, California's Department of Forestry has conducted controlled burns to combat the species. One was scheduled for July in a different part of San Bruno Mountain near Juncus Ravine, but was postponed due to weather conditions.