What’s the Deal with Gorse?
By Kate Iaquinto
I was recently at a meeting in town and the topic of invasive species came up. A person in the audience commented that the Gorse Action Group in town was in her words, “a total snooze fest,” and wasn’t doing anything to address gorse on private property. It really got me thinking. I’m part of the Gorse Action Group! I think we are doing good work! Maybe the public just doesn’t understand! So I decided to write this blog. Let’s start from the beginning….
What is gorse and how did it get here?
Bandon is known as being ground zero for gorse in Oregon. It was first brought here by a man named “Lord” George Bennett. If you haven’t heard the stories, basically the tale is this. Lord Bennet and his family arrived in America, settling near the mouth of the Coquille River in the 1870s. He was an Irish immigrant and he decided that his new home needed a little bit of beauty from his home in Cork County Ireland. He transplanted several furze plants (known as gorse in the US) at the end of the driveway to his estate. Of course, Lord Bennett didn’t understand the concept of plants becoming invasive, and neither did anyone for that matter. While gorse co-evolved in Ireland with weevils, thrips, mites and moths, those species were not present here in North America, which gave gorse the advantage to take over land and spread with abandon.
As with many noxious weeds, it spread like wildfire, pun intended. In Ireland, furze was a considered a beautiful plant with several functional uses. It was used as kindling to start fires due to its high flammability, it was often used as hedgerows due to its denseness and it was used to make chimney cleaning tools due to its extremely tough spines. All of the qualities that make it useful in Ireland, actually make it quite harmful here in Oregon.
The fact that gorse is extremely thick and spiny, make it an undesirable plant to work with and many people have difficulty removing it for this basic fact. Since it is highly flammable and grows with almost no bounds here in Oregon, it is a very dangerous plant to have around. In 1936 when a fire started in Old Town Bandon, it has been said that the gorse is what kept it going and ensured that the “whole dang town burned down.” In addition to these qualities, it releases large amounts of seeds annually that form a seed bank that can last for decades.
Why do we need the Gorse Action Group (GAG)?
For decades, we have known that gorse is a problem, but that problem has continued to grow and spread and become more of a hazard for our town. With the increasingly dry summers as a result of climate change, gorse is only going to become a more dangerous part of our noxious weed community. According to the Gorse Action Group website, the plant is now rated as one of the top 100 worst invasive species worldwide (World Conservation Union), and the #1 most invasive species on the south coast of Oregon (Oregon State Parks). The other organizations addressing noxious weed issues in southwest Oregon could not handle their typical workload and the massive problem of gorse, so the GAG was formed.
The objectives of the Gorse Action Group are to improve public perception about the problem, improve the regional and local economy through gorse removal, and to increase public safety through gorse eradication. These are some pretty lofty goals but the group is actually making huge strides and getting a lot accomplished. You might not think so, given the sea of gorse that envelopes Bandon, but there are many successes and many more to come.
First, and most importantly to many of you reading this blog, the group collaborated to remove gorse from Coquille Point, a public headland that is part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. People said it couldn’t be done, but it was done and done successfully. Each spring and fall the headland at Coquille point is treated with a smaller and smaller amount of herbicide. While some non-natives have filled in behind the gorse, these are not a fire risk! In addition, one of the problems feared with removal of gorse from the headland has been proven wrong. It does not destabilize the slope! The gorse has been gone for several years now and no new slides have occurred.
The GAG has also initiated an experiment to test different gorse removals methods. Several methods are being tested at the gorse removal demonstration plots on the east side of highway 101 just south of Bandon. The methods being tested are a combination of removal methods including cutting, grinding, or digging up the gorse, and treatment methods including applying herbicide, landscape fabric, and replacing gorse with native plants or seed. The goal of this project is to determine which methods are the most effective in removing gorse so that the GAG can help people to decide the best course of action to remove gorse from their property.
In addition to the two projects mentioned above, GAG has been integral in the work to remove gorse from Harris State Beach in Brookings, the Bullards Bridge north of Bandon, and is now working to find funds for addressing gorse in the “donut hole.” If you didn’t know, GAG now has a part-time program coordinator named Rushal Sedlemeyer and she is working hard to help us eradicate gorse! There are also many other nonprofits and agencies that are working to eradicate gorse in southern Oregon including the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State Parks and Recreation, the Coos Watershed Association, the South Coast Cooperative Weed Management Area group, the Town of Bandon, and others, including concerned citizens like yourselves.
So, Bandon has been dealing with a gorse problem for roughly 100 years. GAG isn’t doing everything and they can’t, but you, the person living in southwest Oregon, the person concerned about noxious weeds and fire safety, the one who drives by fields of gorse and hates those beautiful yellow flowers, you can do something! You can start by controlling gorse on your property, but then what? Help others! Join the GAG! Educate your neighbors! Volunteer on public lands like Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to help out with control (had to throw a little plug in there). Great work is happening all around you and we can use your help! Please feel free to reach out to me or contact GAG directly if you’re interested in finding out more!