Report on Jughandle Tour and Gorse Control Discussion
Vince Taylor, February 9, 2000

Participants: Bill Baxter, Floyd ?, and Jim Wood – all from CDF, Tina Fabula and Greg Picard from Parks, Clint Freeman, Bob Doyle, Cal Winslow, and Vince Taylor – all interested citizens.

This is a brief summary of my understanding of important points and positions that were made and taken during this tour.

The tour started at the parking lot at South Jughandle. The group walked out the main path to the intersection with the trail going south. Lots of 1-2 ft. gorse plants were scattered on the north side of the main path. Tina called this a low-level infestation. She said that this infestation was about the same as it had been for a number of years, despite annual manual pulling of the gorse. I believe that it is growing worse, but still relatively minor. Tina thought this might be treatable using cut & paint herbicide treatment.

The group stopped here for quite a while and talked about gorse control in general. Bill Baxter, who is a siviculturalist (an expert in growing forests for logs) for CDF has had considerable experience in battling gorse within Jackson State. He stated his views strongly. He emphasized the importance of dealing with the "seed bank", the storehouse of ungerminated gorse seeds that underlie all mature gorse patches. He said they can last for 60-80 years (this is the longest estimate I’ve heard; the standard estimate is 30 years – long enough!) and that if something is not done to make them all germinate, the gorse will just keep on coming back year after year. He favored "running a fire" over the area near where we were standing to activate the seeds, to deplete the seed bank. He would then spray the seedlings with a "weak" 1% solution of Garlon (chosen because it doesn’t kill grasses). He also gave his opinion of the best approach to dealing with large gorse in big patches:

"If this was my task, what I would do is use inmate crews to cut down all of mature gorse plants and lay them down over the gorse patch, let them dry during the winter, and burn the area the following year. The fire will activate 90-95% of all of the seeds. Thousands of these seeds will then germinate. The roots will also re-sprout. When the sprouts are six inches or so high, I would do a foliar spray using a weak 1% herbicide solutionI would prefer Garlon because it doesn’t kill the grasses." (This is my paraphrase of what Bill said, but I think it is reasonably accurate.)

When questioned about whether the herbicide spray would be effective against the sprouts from the roots, he was uncertain. Tina cited Walt Decker of CDF as saying that there needed to be a foot or so of new growth to get enough foliage area to transmit a fatal quantity of herbicide to the roots.

Considerable discussion ensued about the potential public outcry against spraying of herbicides. All of the professional people there clearly felt that the herbicides would pose no significant health threats but understood that their use could create serious political problems. There was a lot of frustration expressed. The feeling is that gorse is incredibly difficult to control, threatens to take over major areas of land within the forests as well as on the headlands, and that prohibiting herbicides was like tying one of their hands behind their back when were facing a brutal opponent.

I made the point that I thought that there was a significant, moderate element of the public that would accept some use of herbicides, as long as the people felt that Parks was doing all it could to minimize herbicide use in general and spray particularly.

Bill said that the long-range answer to the "huge problem of gorse and broom" is to develop effective biological controls. CDF is mustering support from different groups to go the federal government and ask for a 10-year bio-control development program funded at $100-$200,000 per year. Considerable skepticism about bio controls was expressed by several of the other members of the group. The two bio controls currently in use in Jughandle (seed weevil and web-spinning spider mites) seem to have had no significant effect. Bill argued that there has not been a serious, committed effort to develop biological controls. He is optimistic that a concerted development program would work. Others were quite skeptical, based on the limited success of the two biological controls that have been introduced, a seed weevil and a spider mite.

Everyone agreed that the absolute requirement for effective control was a long-term commitment to continuing control. This requires somehow establishing this as part of the on-going budget of the department, not susceptible to being cut during periods of budget stringency. The future costs of stopping control are huge and far outstrip and short-term savings from stopping control for a few years. The current state of Jughandle is testimony to this.

The group walked toward the southern boundary. As we walked the gorse got more widespread, bigger, and more solid. We had another stop and long talk. We stood in an area with lots of large clumps of gorse, threatening to engulf the whole area. Tina pointed out that inmate crews had worked in the area numbers of times. Gorse plants were sprouting out of piles of dead gorse.

Bill Baxter reiterated the advantages that he saw in burning. Others expressed reservations about burning, particularly if it required herbicide spraying of large areas as follow-up.

Greg Picard, local Superintendent of Parks expressed his preference for bushhogging the gorse. His main reason for preferring this approach was its low cost and the speed with which it could be done. He said, "We need to develop a method that lets us do on-going control at a cost that the legislature will fund. The $140,000 for 3 years that we got this time is unlikely to be repeated. Lots of hand work is not feasible. We aren’t getting inmate labor, and the cost of hired labor on the scale needed is too great." [Paraphrase] Reading between the lines, it seems apparent that bushhogging is appealing because it can quickly get rid of all those yellow flowers that are the visible sign that Parks is losing the gorse fight. It would take the pressure off Greg.

People questioned what would be done for follow-up, because bushhogging would not kill the plants and, by removing shade, encourage additional sprouting of gorse. Would it make the problem worse for the future? This is the key question. Clint Freeman, who has been cutting and rototilling gorse in Caspar for many years, suggested that rototilling is a good follow-up to bushhogging. Tina and I both expressed concern that rototilling was like preparing a perfect germination bed for gorse, and would make the problem worse. Clint said that you would then continue to mow the areas annually and that the infestations would weaken over time.

Bushhogging of the southern area this year is not possible, because the ground is too wet. Tina and I felt that this would be a good area for use of cut and paint.

We later walked to Pacifica to view three private lots that have been bushhogged for a number of years. Along the way, we passed a strip in the "Tregoning Triangle" that had been bushhogged (along with the rest of the triangle) about five years ago, then rototilled the following year, and mowed annually since then. The strip had a lot of fresh grass growing and only a few, isolated gorse plants. This is one of the most successful gorse reduction efforts that I’ve seen. The strip was in sharp contrast to the rest of the triangle, which is solidly covered with 5 ft.+ gorse plants.

We looked at the Pacifica lot of Doug Desmond. Over 10 years ago, the gorse was pulled out and the lot rototilled. Since then it has been mowed at least annually. There were areas of small, flowering gorse plants, but these were restricted to a minority of the lot. Much of the lot was free of gorse. The gorse plants in the patches were relatively small, but were flowering indicating that they were old plants not seedlings.

Clint Freeman, who maintains this lot says that bushhogging followed by regular mowing will kill the pre-existing large plants (apparently because they can’t produce enough food to maintain the large root structure).

What is interesting is that in spite of the flowering plants in the gorse patches, the gorse is not spreading. I’ve live across the street for 10 years, and my impression is that the patches are shrinking. Clint said that was true.

The next lot west is one I bought about 3 years ago and started having Clint mow annually (except that it went for 18 months until cut this spring; then I had it cut again this fall). The amount and vigor or the gorse has definitely decreased. There are also open areas around the gorse patches. The open areas are smaller, but I believe that this is because the lot was not consistently mowed under the former owner.

Further west is a third lot on same type of level ground. This lot has not been mowed for three years and has 3-4 ft. gorse plants covering it almost completely. We looked at the plants to see whether they might lend themselves to cut and paint treatment. The few we looked at had very many pencil-sized stems, rather than a few main stems. This would make cut & paint difficult and time consuming.


Based on this small sample, it appears that bushhogging gorse patches will effectively rule out cut & paint as a follow-on treatment method. Because the remaining plants have small tops and probably extensive, intertwined root structures, hand removal will also be impractical.

Based on what we’ve seen to date, there are two treatment regimes that hold out promise for reducing bushhogged gorse stands to small numbers of plants:

    1. Rototilling the plots and following up with regular mowing, perhaps twice a year.
    2. Following up the plots with regular mowing, perhaps twice a year, without rototilling.

The disadvantages of rototilling are that the earth is disturbed and the present ground cover is destroyed. Rototilling prepares a perfect bed for the germination of the gorse seeds in the seed bank and of other exotics. Maintaining the current ground cover provides competition for gorse seedlings and exotics. Interestingly, the strip off Caspar road that had very few gorse plants also had flourishing, green grass growing (in contrast to most areas that have dormant grass at this time of year).

My own feeling is that if bushhogging is used as a major control method, it should not be followed immediately by rototilling. Rather, follow-up mowing should be used for several years to see whether it reduces the gorse to a level where it would be reasonable to treat the remaining gorse with a foliar pesticide spray. If successful, this would cut down the gorse to a manageable degree without disturbing the ground and creating conditions for further spread of exotics.

By this time it was 1:00 P.M., and Gregg, Floyd, and Jim departed. The remainder went to look at the situation north of Jughandle Creek. As I’ve described previously, there is a huge area of nearly solid gorse interspersed with numbers of pines that have grown up. Bill and Tina discussed the "natural" state of this area. Tina said that studies of pollen in the earth indicate that originally, before settlement, this was a combination of pine stands and open grasslands (a savannah). As it is a Reserve, this is what Parks would like to have restored.

CDF wants to burn gorse in Jughandle as a primary control measure, and this area north the creek is a prime candidate. Tina expressed concern over killing of the pines that have become established in the last ten years. Bill Baxter said that this land developed with natural fires and the pines would re-establish themselves. Both Tina and I are reluctant to see this area burned, because it is sure to leave stumps and charred gorse skeletons. And, it will create a major area with very thick sprouts of gorse. Is it acceptable to spray such a large area? If not, then burning it is a bad idea. If it is financially impractical to do cut and paint on this large area, then bushhogging and follow-up mowing seems preferable.

We looked at gorse in a gully and growing down the cliffs. Again, Bill favored burning the gorse in the gully. He felt that the natives growing there would not be harmed. I suggested cut and paint. At this point, Bill mentioned an important possible drawback to burning: He cited the experience at Point Reyes after the big fire there. After the area was burned, Pampas grass and Scotch Broom took advantage of the lack of competition to establish themselves in large numbers. With bushhogging, the shredded gorse acts as a mulch, and grass generally comes in quite strongly soon after mowing.

Bill then left and Tina and I discussed what to do with the numerous outlying small and large gorse clumps. Tina really didn’t know what to do. I recommended that the large clumps be cut and painted and that she recommend foliar spray for the smaller individual plants. I did this because I’d like to establish the acceptability of using herbicides to control the smaller plants that are certain to keep appearing no matter how vigorously the gorse problem is attacked.

The advantages of foliar spraying over manual removal are two-fold: It does not disturb the earth (which ensures germination of more seeds), and it much quicker and cheaper. All of the available evidence says that Roundup and Garlon pose extremely low health risks, much less than many of the chemicals commonly used in households, and are widely used by individuals in the area to control weeds on their property. I feel strongly that we should not tie the hands of Parks in the almost impossible fight against gorse. Conversely, I feel that Parks should try to use other methods than foliar sprays whenever they represent an effective, economic alternative. Therefore, I would be opposed to spraying large gorse stands. We need to find the middle ground that can be acceptable to most people and that will allow an effective control effort to be mounted.