County students show their plant power

Submitted story and photos
Students from Sisson School collect Douglas spirea for planting.

This article was published in the Nov. 6 editions of Mount Shasta Area Newspapers

Students throughout Siskiyou County have been busy outside this fall, getting dirty as they improve local landscapes by encouraging native plants to grow and preventing noxious weeds from overtaking public places.

Eighteen classrooms representing 12 participating schools from Dunsmuir to Happy Camp are focusing on plants, first in the classroom then applying their new knowledge in the field.

Program coordinator Rebeca Franco said, "Students study about Siskiyou County's common native plants and noxious weeds of utmost concern, and share their knowledge by presenting information to classmates. All these plants come alive as they take the classroom outside to continue learning during the field trips."

She said students focus on native plants in the fall by collecting seeds from the same areas they will also sow. They gather seeds from common plants such as Douglas spirea, mugwort, goldenrod and yarrow; rake an area, spread the seeds, and do the "plant dance," ensuring that seeds make contact with the soil.

Acorns are individually planted in a shallow hole. Oak seedlings are beginning to appear from being planted a year ago.

Noxious weeds like Scotch broom, Dyer's woad, and sweet pea treated in the spring are pulled again in the fall to a lesser degree.

"It's important for kids to be involved with service learning," said Dunsmuir Elementary School math and science teacher Spencer Adkisson. "They learn about their immediate environment and human impact, learn about plant adaptations, and plant physiology. Nature is the ultimate rule maker. It's not an adult telling them how it is, it's nature showing them how it is. Service learning gives students the chance to be seen as responsible and productive members of the community."

Between the spring and the fall field trips, DES has treated at least half an acre of Scotch broom from their school grounds.

DES and Dunsmuir High School adopted Tauhidauli Park since it officially became a park in 2005. They have been seeding and treating weeds in the park from the start and have almost eliminated Dyer's woad and Scotch broom.

Last week they planted Oregon grape, mugwort, woods rose, rabbit brush, and Douglas spirea; and treated sweet pea and yellow star thistle.

Sisson School sixth graders have been out in Sisson Meadow all seasons studying flora and fauna and improving the site.

"We've spent about 150 hours in the meadow," said teacher Stacey Laub.

Through the Weeds to Native Plants program, they have planted nine bark, mugwort and Douglas spirea. Because of their diligence, most of the Dyer's woad is gone and they are still treating Scotch broom and sweet pea.

Jefferson High School students have been targeting Dyer's woad and yellow star thistle from Lake Siskiyou's north shore and planting golden rod, black and live oak, woods rose and mugwort. During their recent field trip, a bald eagle made an appearance circling nearby.

In the past, McCloud Elementary School has traveled to Lake Siskiyou, Lake McCloud boat ramp, and to the Gateway Trail where they put seedlings in the ground for the US Forest Service.

They collected native plant seeds like choke cherries and black oak and treated musk thistle, Dyer's woad, and sweet pea from those sites and Scotch broom from their school grounds. These hardy students have braved the cold and wet and did not retreat until their goal was reached.

"We don't receive much funding for weed treatment, so it's great when schools adopt an area to plant and weed," said Erin Renz, botanist from the USDA Forest Service Happy Camp Ranger District.

Like McCloud Elementary, Butteville Elementary has broadened their influence to Lake Siskiyou's parking area across from the tennis courts on WA Barr Road and Cable Beach on South Fork Road.

The WA Barr Road site was full of Dyer's woad when they started two years ago. It has obviously changed and some of the native seeds like naked eriogonum have sprouted. There will be black oak, woods rose, bitter cherry, and dogbane seedlings emerging at the Cable Beach parking area.

On every field trip, students win prizes. Throughout the day there is a natural history lesson about the local plants they are experiencing. They can win prizes by showing what they know during a verbal quiz at the end of the day. Prizes are given for dedication and hard work too.

Other prize categories include having the noxious weed with the longest root, the most stems, the greatest length, the smallest plant, the most unique feature, and the thickest root.

Sometimes, it takes three students to remove a weed like Scotch broom. One removed by a DES team measured to be more than 10 feet high.

All participating schools receive a set of tools and gloves to be used for the process of encouraging native plants to survive and thrive in their communities.

High school students attending the field trips become eligible for a Klamath River rafting trip down an active Class III section, where weeds such as leafy spurge and Scotch broom are spreading.

The goal of the Weeds to Native Plants Program, sponsored by the Mt. Shasta Area Audubon, is to help communities of Siskiyou County positively improve local landscapes through education and student actions.

Program funding and support are through the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Siskiyou County Resource Advisory Committee, and the USDA Forest Service.

Other partners include the city of Yreka, Siskiyou County Departments of General Services and Agriculture, Siskiyou Garden, Parks and Greenway Association, Dunsmuir Public Works, and the California Department of Transportation.

For more information about the program or to volunteer, contact Franco at 530-605-9148.