Coyotes on the American River Parkway: Things to Know

Coyotes are common along the full 23-mile stretch of the American River Parkway. Here are a few things you need to know when it comes to interacting with them:

  • Though you may see a coyote at any time of the day, they are most active at dawn and dusk. If you do see one, do not approach it and enjoy it from a distance.
  • Coyotes are naturally curious and may follow or observe you from a distance. If a coyote gets too close, DO NOT RUN. Face the coyote and maintain eye contact. If a coyote gets aggressive, make loud noises and wave your arms. If this doesn’t work, throw rocks or sticks.
  • Most encounters with coyotes result from the presence of a pet dog. This can be because the coyote sees the dog as potential competition, or – in the case of smaller dogs – as a food source. This is one reason why it is important to keep your dog on a leash at all times while on the Parkway.
  • Keep small children and pets close if you see a coyote and do not leave them unattended while in coyote territory.
  • January through March is coyote mating season. You may see coyotes exhibit more territorial behavior during this time.
  • A coyote may “escort” your dog away from den/territory, food or pups during pup rearing season (Spring and Summer). It may also bluff charge your dog if it gets too close.
  • If a coyote is aggressive, report the incident to Park Rangers by calling 3-1-1.

Learn more about coyotes and how you can help keep them wild from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Rattlesnake Encounters on the American River Parkway: How to Avoid Them and What to Do in the Event of a Bite

Rattlesnakes are found on the American River Parkway. As the weather heats up, they will become more active, including at night when they may be hard to see.

Fortunately, rattlesnake bites are rare and mostly occur during improper handling of a snake or when they’re brushed against by someone walking or climbing.

Here are some tips from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on how you can avoid a rattlesnake bite:

  • Stay alert when outdoors.
  • Wear sturdy boots and loose-fitting long pants. DO NOT wear sandals or flip-flops in brushy areas.
  • Stay on well-used trails. Avoid tall grass, weeds, and heavy underbrush.
  • Check rocks, stumps or logs before sitting down.
  • Shake out sleeping bag and tent before use.
  • Let others know where you are going, when you plan to return, and carry a cell phone. Hike with a companion when possible.
  • DO NOT grab “sticks” in water. Rattlesnakes can swim.
  • DO NOT let dogs off leash. Dogs are at increased risk when sniffing the ground near brushy areas.
  • DO NOT try to touch or handle a snake, dead or alive. Dead rattlers may still inject venom shortly after death.
  • Give live rattlesnakes enough space. They will usually escape before striking.

In the event of a rattlesnake bite, here is what you should do:

  • Stay calm – but act quickly!
  • Remove items which may constrict swelling (e.g., watches, rings, shoes).
  • Transport victim to the nearest medical facility.
    • Do NOT apply a tourniquet.
    • Do NOT pack the bite area in ice.
    • Do NOT cut the wound with a knife or razor.
    • Do NOT use your mouth to suck out the venom.
  • If a pet is bitten – Speak to your veterinarian about canine rattlesnake vaccine options.

Learn more about rattlesnakes, the importance of their conservation and how they behave at California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

 

volunteers pulling and bagging stinkwort

Stopping the Stinkwort Invasion

Despite its dainty foliage, stinkwort (Dittrichia graveolens) spells big trouble on the American River Parkway.

Native to southern Europe, stinkwort was first observed in the Sacramento region in 2002, thought to have been introduced by seeds in landfill soil. This spunky plant thrives in hot, dry weather and soils that are gravelly, saline, or even contaminated with heavy metal. The fast-growing annual can be found in grasslands, but also performs well in areas where the ground is disturbed or nearly bare, such as fire breaks and along the edges of highways, roads, and trails.

Stinkwort gets its name from the camphor-like smell of its sticky, resinous foliage. The annual plant germinates in the winter, remaining small until spring when it grows rapidly into a three-foot tall, upright shrub.

Invading Spaces

stinkwort weed growing along roadway, person pulling plant

removing stinkwort along a roadway

An invasive plant like stinkwort can dominate an ecosystem by out-competing native food plants. Being non-native, it provides no benefit to Parkway animals and insects and lacks natural limitations on its growth. It crowds out native plant species by overtaking resources, such as sunlight, nutrients, and water, disrupting an already fragile habitat.

Stinkwort also contains  phytotoxins that inhibit the growth of surrounding vegetation, giving it a greater advantage over other plants.

Parkway wildlife species are dependent upon native plants for food and shelters, and some plant-eaters create important food sources for other species. For instance, insects that feed on a specific native plant may be an essential protein source for frogs, lizards, and birds. The decline of the native plant harms the insects, and the decline of the insects then harms the other animals, rippling throughout the food chain.

 

 

A Seedy Battle

stinkwort seeds

stinkwort seeds, photo credit: Country Mouse

A member of the sunflower family, stinkwort blooms in September, when other plants are already dormant or have gone to seed. Its small, yellow flowers produce highly transportable, dandelion-like seeds that are easily moved by water and wind. They also travel by gripping a variety of surfaces, including animal fur, human clothing, and vehicle or bicycle tires.

According to USDA reports, a single stinkwort plant can produce an estimated 70,000 tiny, highly transportable seeds known to move over 200 meters in the air — about two football-field lengths. This means that removal efforts must be diligently repeated until the bank of fallen seeds around the original plant has been depleted, and surrounding land must be regularly monitored for new areas of growth.

Fortunately, stinkwort seeds have a short life in soil, remaining viable for only two to three years.

 

Easy to Pull, Difficult to Contain

removing stinkwort with hand trowel

removing stinkwort with hand trowel

Stinkwort is known to defy most control methods, even returning rapidly after wildfire. Hand-pulling has proven to be the most reliable way to remove the weed. It has a relatively short root system, making it easy to pull out, especially after a rain.

However, if part of the plant remains, it can quickly regrow. Yet another challenge is that stinkwort seeds can ripen on pulled or cut plants if they have already flowered. Extracted plants must be securely bagged if they have any flowers or buds to avoid spreading seeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricky to Identify

stinkwort with small yellow flower

stinkwort with flower buds

Removing stinkwort from the Parkway habitat begins with accurately identifying the plants, which isn’t as simple as it may sound. Our Invasive Plant Management Program (IPMP) volunteers are trained to distinguish this invasive plant from important native plants that look incredibly similar.

 

 

 

 

tarweed yellow flowers

tarweed flowers, photo credit: The Amateur Anthecologist

One such beneficial plant is tarweed (Madia elegans). Like stinkwort, tarweed is also an annual shrub with sticky, aromatic foliage, small yellow flowers, and tiny seeds that easily parachute. It is also a late-bloomer and thrives in full sun, low water conditions, and the unwelcoming, hard-packed soil along roadsides.

Unlike stinkwort, tarweed is a native plant. The seeds of tarweed are eaten by many birds and small mammals, such as mourning doves, quail, mice, and ground squirrels. Blooming through the fall, tarweed is an important late-season nectar source for butterflies and pollen source for bees.

 

 

 

 

Dangerous Encounters

pulled stinkwort plant

pulled stinkwort plant

The hazards of stinkwort warrant special handling by volunteers and extend beyond the Parkway ecosystem. The plants also are known to cause allergic reactions and severe dermatitis in some people who come in contact with the sticky resin, so we provide our volunteers with protective gloves to wear while pulling and bagging the weeds.

Dogs that walk through dense patches of stinkwort have been known to vomit, reportedly from ingesting or inhaling the bristles, according to some studies.

Oils in the plant have been known to taint the flavor of meat and milk of animals that have consumed the plants. Sadly, stinkwort seeds can kill grazing livestock, such as sheep and horses. Barbs on the fluffy-tipped seeds reportedly damage the animals’ digestive systems. 

 

 

 

 

Join the Effort

Because stinkwort is relatively new to the region, we may still have time to effectively eradicate it from the Parkway with vigilant efforts.

Invasive plant management is an essential part of conserving and nurturing the American River Parkway. Stinkwort is one of several invasive plant varieties that compromise the Parkway ecosystem and are managed by ARPF and our team of trained volunteers.

You can get involved by signing up for volunteer training or by making a donation to our Invasive Plant Management Program.

close up of yellow Spanish Broom flowers, blue sky in background

Putting the Squeeze on Spanish Broom

Spanish broom (Spartium juniceum) is a beautiful, hearty shrub with elegant yellow flowers.  It is a fast-growing  variety of the pea family, growing up to 10-15 feet tall in just a few years with roots that can extend several feet below the surface, even through rocky soil conditions.

It was introduced to California in 1848 as durable landscape ornamental because of its draught-tolerant properties and ability to root in less than ideal soil. By the late 1930s, Spanish broom was planted along mountain highways to prevent erosion.

So, why the fuss over such a pretty, practical plant?

Originating in the southern Mediterranean region of Europe, Spanish broom is an invasive, non-native plant that has no natural local predators and provides no benefit to native insects and animals. With nothing to keep it in check, Spanish broom quickly overtakes resources — sunlight, nutrients, and water — needed by native plants, which are needed  by area wildlife.

Because it can grow in tall, dense patches and produce substantial dry matter, Spanish broom can also create a serious fire hazard during the dry season.

How is Spanish broom removed?

Removing Spanish broom isn’t easy, and must include pulling out the entire root system to deter it growing back stronger. It also involves specific training and diligent repetition.

Even if the whole plant and root system are removed, seeds are a factor. One plant can produce 7,000 to 10,000 seeds in one season, and the seeds can remain viable for decades. A large seed bank is likely present in the soil around any mature Spanish broom plant. Seeds can also be moved to new locations by erosion, rain wash, and possibly ants.

Parkway areas where Spanish broom has been removed in the past are likely to have new plants sprout for years to come, and the plant can also establish itself in new locations. Restoring the natural habitat is a slow process that requires regular monitoring and proper removal of Spanish broom on an ongoing basis.

Identification
Spanish broom twig with orange ribbon tag

Spanish broom plant identified and tagged.

The first step with Spanish broom removal is accurately identifying the plants. When in bloom, the plants are more visible with their bright yellow flowers. However, after the plants have dropped their leaves, this becomes more difficult. Trained volunteers may need to scout and tag the shrubs for later removal during an Invasive Plant Management Program (IPMP) group event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equipment
two orange weed wrench tools

Weed wrench tools.

Because the root system is strong and must be removed completely, Spanish broom extraction requires special equipment, including a weed wrench designed to grip the base of the plant and gradually employ leverage to lift it out. This industrial tool costs about $250 each.

Other useful tools are trowels and pickaxes to help loosen surrounding soil and dislodge rocks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extraction Process
pulled Spanish broom root

Spanish broom root system.

Ideally, the weed wrench removes the whole plant, roots and all. Extraction tends to be more difficult during a draught season and easier after a good rain. According to long-term ARPF IPMP volunteer Dennis Eckhart, an established Spanish broom plant in challenging conditions can take as long as 30 minutes to remove properly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

weed wrench close up with plant

Weed wrench in action.

In reality, this process is not only labor-intensive, it requires finesse to avoid breaking or shredding the plant stem. When seed pods are present, they must be collected before extracting the plant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

broken Spanish broom stem

Broken Spanish broom stem

If the plant stem does break, creative problem-solving is important. Broken root systems can grow back even stronger than before, making it more difficult to remove them next year. Volunteers must dig down around the root, remove rocks, twigs, and vines, and attempt new approach angles — all while trying to minimize disruption to the surrounding natural habitat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Invasive plant management is an essential part of conserving and nurturing the American River Parkway. Spanish broom is one of several invasive plant varieties that compromise the Parkway ecosystem and are managed by the American River Parkway Foundation and our team of trained volunteers.

You can get involved by signing up for volunteer training or making a donation to our Invasive Plant Management Program.

ARPF Welcomes Students Back to the River Bend Science Center

Students participate in hands-on learning at the River Bend Science Center.

Students attend class at the at the River Bend Science Center amphitheater.

Commencing with the 2021/22 school year, area students will return to in-person educational classes at River Bend Science Center in October.

What is the River Bend Science Center?

River Bend Science Center is a unique outdoor educational venue that features an amphitheater, group-learning areas with shade structures, and small team “nests,” each with a table and bench, interspersed along ten acres of American River shoreline.

The area was previously a dilapidated Campfire site that was reclaimed by Sacramento County. In 2012, the District Rotary 5180 and ARPF partnered with the community to make over $750,000 in improvements to revitalize this resource and make it available for educational programs.

River Bend Science Center is used for youth science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education classes. This hands-on, outdoor STEM program focuses on students from grades four through seven from the school districts of Elk Grove, Folsom Cordova, Galt, Golden Trails Natomas, Sacramento City, San Juan, Twin Rivers, and Center Unified.

The River Bend Science Center education program offers a multi-session course that includes:

  • • Nature Hike: Students learn about wildlife and plant species native to the Parkway, fostering awareness and appreciation for the natural environment.
    • Water Ferry Engineering Design: Student teams build small rafts using natural materials found on the Parkway and then float their rafts across a stream table to simulate historical transportation and travel challenges.
    • Macro Aquatic Invertebrates: Students observe invertebrates found in the river, record observations, and discuss how these organisms are part of a larger, complex food web.
    • Living vs. Non-Living Identification: Students observe and identify living and non-living organisms along the Parkway. This session replaces Macro Aquatic Invertebrates when river levels are too high for safe access.
Group of students along bank of the American River participating in a River Bend Science Center class.

Sacramento-area students engaged in hands-on science education at the American River.

ARPF manages the River Bend Science Center education program and facility with instruction provided by the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE).

Since its inception in 2015, this innovative educational program has served 76 Sacramento-area schools and nearly 8,000 students, over 80 percent of whom were from socio-economic disadvantaged households. These kids would not have the opportunity to come experience the Parkway without the extraordinary outreach efforts and talents of SCOE and the financial and organizational support of ARPF.

Sixty-six percent of students in Sacramento County attend schools with Title 1 funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the oldest and largest federally funded education program intended to help underprivileged students.

How I help more students learn about natural resources?

River Bend Science Center classes represent one of the first exposures to nature for 90 percent of our participating students. Hands-on outdoor education is a powerful experience that brings environmental awareness to life and fosters the next generation of stewardship of the Parkway.

In 2020, ARPF and SCOE developed virtual field trips for use by teachers and parents. Now that in-person instruction is accessible again, ARPF hopes to expand the River Bend Science Center program to introduce even more young people to nature appreciation and education.

Our goal for the 2021/22 school year is to serve an additional 1,500 students. To do this, we need to raise over $40,000 to cover the cost of attendance for at least 25 field trip classes. About 60 students attend each class session. With your support, we can achieve that goal and enhance the educational experiences of Sacramento County children.

Each $25 donation gives one more student the opportunity to participate!

What’s Next for River Bend Science Center?

Plans are in the works for a much-needed public restroom facility at the River Bend Science Center.

The proposed restroom building will be constructed near the northern end of River Bend Park, on the west side of the existing asphalt walking trail leading up to the amphitheater. The solar-powered bathroom will feature drinking fountains and a concrete walkway for pedestrian access from the asphalt walking trail. The trail, walkway, and bathrooms are ADA-accessible, as are the majority of the educational structures.

Not only will the proposed restroom facility improve the learning experience and comfort for students of the River Bend Science Center, it will aid in better access for all River Bend Park visitors. By adding bathrooms, overnight camping events will also be possible. for both educational groups and scout troops!  The project will cost $160,000 and take about three months to complete once ground has been broken.

Your donation helps launch this essential restroom project!