The Weed Warriors, part of the Friends of the El Moro Elfin Forest group, have reunited to care for the popular nature spot in Los Osos. Photo by R.D. Bowlus.
Signs of a very wet winter here on the North Coast are evident as spring approaches. The hills are green, the lakes are filled to levels not seen in years, and unwanted plants are abundant. Weeding was likely the chore everyone hated as a kid, but for one group of volunteers, it is time to put on the work gloves, grab some gardening tools and protect a local treasure.
After a two-year COVID hiatus the Weed Warriors are returning to their roots, so to speak, at the El Moro Elfin Forrest, a 90-acre natural area adjacent to the Morro Bay estuary belonging to San Luis Obispo County Parks. Weed Warriors is an informal nickname for a subset of the Friends of El Moro Elfin Forest (FEMEF) organization, which has about 400 member-households.
“The forest has fared better than expected in part due to the prolonged drought and in part due to the previous Weed Warrior events of more than twenty years,” Roger Carmody, FEMEF secretary and publicity chair, told Estero Bay News. “A major asset of the forest is its location on a bluff overlooking the bay and the estuary. The tranquility of the place and its diversity of habitats, from the Coastal Dune Scrub to the Maritime Chaparral to the Oak/Manzanita Complex give you, in this one small space, an opportunity to see and experience so much. Also, the Pygmy Oaks are unique to this area and are well represented in the forest.”
On Saturday, April 1, at 9 a.m. the public is invited to join the Weed Warriors at the Elfin Forest for a work party of weed abatement and removal of non-native flora. Meet at the 15th Street entrance in Los Osos.
During the event, a snail monitor will be on site to insure protection of the Morro shoulderband snail. Tools and bags will be provided, or you can bring your own. FEMEF members will be on hand to provide expertise. Cookies and water will be served at the end of the event to all participants. It is suggested that you dress for fog, wind and sun. Wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves; bring work gloves and sturdy closed-toe shoes. Rain cancels the event.
Why are weeds bad? They often reproduce quickly, adapt rapidly to new situations and compete with healthy, desirable grasses for air, water, nutrients, and sometimes sun.
“Our goal is to remove only the invasive and the non-native growth and then let the native plants take over,” Carmody said. “And it works well. The native plants and animals know better than we how to manage the environment.”
FEMEF is a non-profit public benefit corporation organized to preserve and maintain the natural area of the forest. It also aims to educate the estimated 5000 people a year who visit the location about the more than 200 species of plants, as well as over 100 kinds of birds, 22 species of mammals and 13 species of reptiles and amphibians.
“This is our chance to preserve an area that will let us, our children and grandchildren feel and understand the gift of nature,” said Carmody. “This is what Los Osos was like before the ranchlands and the grazing of cattle and the sprawl of development. It is a remnant of an earlier Morro Bay.”
Readers who have lived in the area for a while are likely to have heard tales of coyotes and wild pigs roaming about the area.
“They are there along with deer and raccoons, although you will probably not see them during the daytime hours,” Carmody said adding that poison oak is much more abundant. “As far as what you will see —the most beautiful views of the bay and the estuary, and a wonderful diversity of flora and fauna. Nature in all its glory.”
FEMEF, formerly known as the Small Wilderness Area Preservation (SWAP), changed its name to Friends of El Moro Elfin Forest in 2020. The preservation of the area dates back to the1980s when development in and around Los Osos caused some concern that the natural beauty was disappearing. In 1987, concerned citizens joined with state legislators to pass funding to purchase 50 acres along the northern edge of the forest as an addition to the Morro Bay State Park. In 1994 SWAP in collaboration with other state, county and local organizations raised funds to purchase the remaining 40 acres as an ecological reserve.
Weed Warrior activities reconvene on the first Saturday of the month at 9 a.m. at the northern end of 15th Street and generally last two to three hours. The First Saturday work parties meet most every month of the year (weather permitting): however, the weeding events happen mostly in the spring. In other parts of the year the focus may be on trail trimming, erosion control, boardwalk maintenance, or whatever is most needed.
For more fun, the third Saturday of the month is for guided walks and talks led by experts in various disciplines. They focus on different aspects of the forest — the plants, the animals, the surrounding geology, the history of the area. Additionally, FEMEF also sponsors sketch walks, school outings, and publishes a quarterly newsletter called Oakleaves.
To become a member, go to Elfin-Forest.org and scroll down the home page to Become a Friend of the Elfin Forest. There you can print out a membership form and/or connect with the organization.