Byrne Brigade clears the way for native plants

Members of the Byrne Brigade have gathered weekly since the end of June to clear non-native plants and excess brush from the Los Altos Hills preserve. Acterra, which has a contract with the town to rid the area of invasive plant species, coordinates the volunteers. Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier

The proliferation of mustard weeds and star thistles in local open spaces may soon be on the decline, thanks in part to the efforts of Acterra and the Byrne Brigade.

Since the end of June, the group of local volunteers has gathered weekly at Los Altos Hills’ Byrne Preserve to clear non-native plants and excess brush.

“Many local residents participate because they want to help care for the natural spaces that are near and dear to them,” said Talia Kirschner, Acterra’s project director of stewardship programs. “We also have worked with many high school volunteers. … They seem to enjoy doing their service outdoors and they also get to learn about plants, animals and local ecology while they work.”

According to Open Space Committee Chairman Peter Evans, 160 people participated in the first nine workdays, including five Byrne Brigade gatherings. Meeting 9:30 a.m. to noon Thursdays through Aug. 28, the Byrne Brigade is removing “massive amounts of the most noxious invasive weeds that degrade the ecological health and recreational value of the grassland,” Acterra’s website states.

Kirschner noted that Acterra hosted its first workday at Byrne Preserve in April and plans to host more weekend workdays and group workdays for corporate, school and faith-based groups. Acterra will also offer educational field trips and nature walks at open spaces in Los Altos Hills during the coming months.

“In the winter, we will be focused on planting beneficial native species at our workdays, as well as continuing with invasive plant removal,” she said.

Although habitat restoration is the program’s primary objective, reducing the prevalence of plants like fuller’s teasel and purple star thistle has the secondary impact of removing hazardous brush that could fuel a wildfire.

Acterra signed a one-year contract with the town of Los Altos Hills in April as part of a $50,000 grant to organize stewardship activities and reduce invasive species at the Byrne, Juan Prado Mesa and O’Keefe Lane preserves.

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Byrne Brigade abolishes invasive weeds - Photos by Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

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