Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oh say, can you see Lysichiton americanum?

No, not the buffalo. The dried out, leafy plants in the middle of this field are Lysichiton americanum, more commonly known as skunk-cabbage. This plant is classified by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as a wetland obligate species, meaning 99% of the time, it lives in wetlands. A herd of buffalo are pastured in this wetland. All the little piles are buffalo poop. This first photo was taken last summer. Notice the general lack of vegetation, and abundance of poop.

The second photo was taken a couple of days ago. Notice the water flowing. During wet months, the pasture is full of poop and mud. Since there are almost no plants (the skunk-cabbages are dormant now), nothing filters or slows down the poop, so it flows into adjacent roadside ditches, and into Schell Creek.

  • Ok, I admit to being an unabashed admirer of skunk-cabbage. While they are not everybody's idea of springtime wonderment, here are a few things to consider that may increase your interest in this plant, or make you hate it even more:

Under ideal conditions, skunk-cabbage can have a lifespan of 100 years, or longer. In winter, skunk-cabbage roots store so much energy that the plant is capable of melting snow and ice on the ground around it. Their leaves can grow to be 3-4 feet long, and almost as wide. Skunk-cabbage roots have the ability to contract, drawing the plant deeper into the ground. This downward pull keeps the leaves and stems close to the ground, making them even more difficult to remove. And lastly, they smell and taste bad to livestock.

So, what is the point of this ramble? Streams and wetlands are supposed to be protected from this kind of impact by our Critical Areas Ordinance (WCC16.16) but farmed wetlands can be used for ongoing agriculture IF the farmer adopts a farm plan. Farm plans include a set of best management practices that protect our water resources from poop and other impacts. Farm plans are enthusiastically provided by our local Whatcom Conservation District, and are free. This property does not have a farm plan, despite offers from the District.

We have brought this matter to the attention of our local regulatory agencies, and nothing has changed. All we can see is more poop flowing down this field, and into Schell Creek.

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