Environment / Nature

Volunteers remove toxic, invasive hemlock from Nyland Property

They aim to restore native plants and make the property fire-safe.

The Harvey and Gladys Nyland Property, located on the south side of Hwy 156 in San Juan Bautista, is a sprawling 540 acres of grasslands, wetlands, and seasonal streams. The land also contains hemlock, an invasive species that not only prevents healthy plants from growing but can become a fire hazard if not removed. 

Jared Childress, program manager of Central Coast Prescribed Burn Association, along with about six association and San Benito Fire Safe Council volunteers met on Aug. 2 to remove hemlock from the property, which is owned by the Trust for Public Land. The removal aims to create space for the restoration of the land’s native plants. 

Dead hemlock flower head. Photo United States Department of Agriculture (Jan Samanek, State Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org).
Dead hemlock flower head. Photo United States Department of Agriculture (Jan Samanek, State Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org).

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hemlock, whose head resembles that of parsley, is a lethal plant “with toxins mostly concentrated in the seed, lower stem, and roots.” If ingested, there is a risk of respiratory paralysis, coma, and death if not treated within three hours. The USDA says hemlock also “reduces the availability of quality forage for cattle and horses, contaminates haying operations, degrades wildlife habitat, reduces flora and fauna species diversity, and decreases land value.”  

Hemlock has a flower head that “looks like umbrellas,” said Alex Michel, burn organizer for the Prescribed Burn Association. “When it grows it develops its stalk and kind of shades out other things and tends to clump together. The flowers are usually white.”

Live hemlock plant. Photo United States Department of Agriculture (Pedro Tenorio-Lezama, Bugwood.org).
Live hemlock plant. Photo United States Department of Agriculture (Pedro Tenorio-Lezama, Bugwood.org).

San Benito Fire Safe Council volunteer Liz Chandler said the head on the plant is where its many seeds are, which makes it even harder to remove from the land. 

“And it spreads because nothing’s going to eat it, so it kind of takes up space,” she said. “What we’re doing now is trying to clump it all together to prevent the seeds from spreading.” 

“Every one of those little seeds on the head becomes a new plant the next year, and then you have a thousand plants where you only had one before,” Jane Manning, an association volunteer said. “That’s one of the things that makes it an invasive species—its ability to reproduce very quickly on very little resources.”

Childress said that the association is only doing hemlock control on the property for now. However, there is a future possibility of doing a prescribed burn on the property. 

“Invasive species and invasive weeds are really huge fire propagating problems,” Manning said. “I do property inspections as part of the Fire Safe Council, and that’s one of the things that we always work with people on—trying to get them to clear those plants away from their houses, or at least clear it out from under their trees. When a fire gets up to the trees, it’s a lot more dangerous.” 

 

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Jenny Mendolla Arbizu

Jenny is a Hollister native who resides in her hometown with her husband and son. She is a San Benito High School graduate, and received her BA in Literature from UC Santa Cruz and her MA in Education from San Jose State University. Jenny has written for the Hollister Freelance, San Benito and South Valley magazines. She enjoys meeting new people in San Benito County, sharing breaking news with the community, and spotlighting the county’s events and businesses. When not writing, Jenny can be found performing with SBSC, singing with the Hollister VFW, or working out at Cold Storage CrossFit.