Broombuster volunteers battle invasive species, fire threat

Broombuster volunteers battle invasive species, fire threat

It’s a gargantuan task, but invasive Scotch Broom is disappearing by the armful here along Highway 4A in Coombs.

“We come by here all the time and it drives me crazy so I need to do something,” said Colleen Kennell.

Kennell has been “broombusting” as they call it for four years and her husband Trevor is on the same mission to rid the Island of the invasive plant.

“It takes a lot of work and a lot of cleaning up and a lot of coming back, but you can’t give up,” he said.

A single plant was brought to Sooke in the 1850s and it’s been spreading ever since.

It can be found blooming a bright yellow across Vancouver Island each spring and is spreading across BC.

Joanne Sales started BroomBusters in Coombs in 2006.

“Yes it’s got pretty flowers, there’s no question it’s got pretty flowers and you get that for about five weeks of the year and then it’s a pretty ugly plant to tell you the truth,” Sales said.

Ugly in more ways than one causing all sorts of problems.

“A study in 2021 concluded that broom is the invasive species doing the greatest harm to species at risk, in other words it’s the top offender of biodiversity in BC,” added Sales.

It’s causing other serious problems as well.

“It stops forests from growing because it’s not a tree it’s a woody weed so it grows faster and it smothers the trees. And it’s an extreme fire hazard,” said Sales.

“The plants have high oil content and very dry branches in the summer,” she added.

And fire services have been taking notice.

The presence of Scotch Broom will increase a wildfire’s fuel potential and escalate its intensity. Test burns of this invasive noxious weed have proven to be highly flammable in large concentrations making a wildfire more volatile and difficult to extinguish,” said Powell River Fire Chief and head of Emergency Services Terry Peters.

It’s why volunteers are out doing their best for a few weeks each spring, even though it might seem like a losing battle.

“I don’t think it’s a losing battle but if you don’t fight the fight then you just give up so you got to grab on to something and hold on,” said Don Standing who has been broombusting for about a decade.

He leads a team of volunteers in Parksville that has made noticeable progress.

“Most of the broom in Parksville is gone except on private properties,” he said.

Each mature plant can have 18,000 seeds that can live underground for 30 years.

They can always use more volunteers and urge people to “clear broom when it’s in bloom” from their own property.

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Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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