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Workers battle giant reed

Eradication begins on destructive non-native plant

Posted: December 29, 2013 4:10 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2013 4:10 p.m.

A sign posted by Santa Clarita city workers details the city-contracted removal of arundo and tamarisk in the Santa Clara River wash. Signal photo by Jim Holt

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A small army of workers has launched its battle against one of the Santa Clarita Valley’s toughest adversaries.

Armed with chain saws, wood-chippers and a specially-manufactured, lethal herbicide, the workers went to war with arundo, an invasive giant reed that’s been spreading like cancer in the Santa Clara River, gobbling up habitat for protected species, stealing groundwater and creating a fire hazard.

The Santa Clarita City Council voted Sept. 24 to pay a contractor $295,155 in grant money to get rid of arundo — or at least try. Since at least 2006 the city has tried repeatedly to rip arundo out of the Upper Santa Clara River watershed.

Some of the more than half a dozen workers with Ventura-based R.A. Atmore & Sons Inc. used chain saws to cut through a wall of arundo in the Santa Clara River wash near the McBean Parkway bridge on Thursday.

Other workers hauled away bundles of the 20-foot-tall stalks of bamboo-like grass to a wood-chipper. There the arundo was turned into mulch — minced so finely that nothing of its “tenacious” root could take hold, whatever its destination.

Meantime, one of the removal workers — dressed in a protective white hazardous materials suit and head gear with a tank of chemicals strapped to his back — was the one guy company officials bank on to deliver the death knell to the plant.

The job of the chemical-administering worker is to daub each of the severed arundo stalks with a lethal dose of specially-manufactured herbicide, said Project Manager Anna Huber.

“With the daubing of the cutting on the remaining stem, we’re aiming to get the chemical into the rhizome — which is the root mass — and then, from there, disrupt plant physiology at the root level so that it doesn’t continue to grow,” Huber said.

To date, more than 100 acres of the city’s 297 acres of river property have been assessed for arundo and have been treated. The problem is that the destructive plant keeps growing back.

Workers burn it, cut it down with chain saws and wrap it with chains, then pull it out with tractors — only to see it pop back up because of a root system connected in a mat under the ground’s surface.

A member of the bamboo family, arundo grows nine to 18 feet tall, though it occasionally towers to 30 feet tall, with leaves 11 inches to two feet long and up to 2 1/2 inches wide.

It replaces other vegetation in riparian areas — those with a natural waterway — choking out other plants that provide food for native animals and eliminating shade from native plants that provide habitat for protected species such as the arroyo toad, red-legged frog, western pond turtle and unarmored three-spined stickleback.

It sucks up water from groundwater supplies, and its vegetation is highly flammable.

“Arundo is a giant grass,” Huber said. “It is not native to this area; therefore, it has other has no other biological controls” or natural enemies to keep it in check, she said during a tour of the work site Thursday.

The funds for arundo eradication comes from the city’s $333,231 share of $666,231 in grant money from Proposition 84. The rest of the Prop 84 grant money went to the Angeles National Forest invasive plant removal program.
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