A wildfire scorched Washington’s Hope Island — then nature took a surprising turn

A wildfire scorched Washington’s Hope Island — then nature took a surprising turn

04 June 2017

published by http://www.seattletimes.com

USA –  HOPE ISLAND, Skagit County — In the wake of an August fire on Deception Pass State Park’s Hope Island, park staff and volunteers weren’t sure if spring would bring an abundance of wildflowers or the return of invasive scotch broom.

“It will be a revelation,” volunteer Rick Machin while hiking to the island’s meadow. “I’m predicting an explosion of color.”

They found just that — a hillside bright with a variety of pink, yellow and white flowers buzzing with bees.

“It’s just an outstanding transition. This was all overgrown with scotch broom before,” Deception Pass State Park Manager Jack Hartt said. “This is just a wildflower garden of species we haven’t seen in a while.”

Last month marked the 11th spring Hartt has taken volunteers to the island to tackle the invasive scotch broom that threatens to crowd out the island’s native wildflowers and grasses.

Those wildflowers, including yellow monkey flowers, pink sea blush, cream-colored death camass and white field chickweed, could be seen throughout the meadow.

“I was not expecting this prolific abundance of wildflowers. It’s like someone sprinkled seeds around, which the fire essentially did,” Hartt said.

Yet among the flowers scotch broom was also making a comeback.

The troublesome plants were harder to spot because of the fire. They were only inches tall and without their recognizable mustard-yellow blooms.

Hartt and 15 volunteers pulled as many young scotch broom plants as they could during their two-hour visit to the island.

“We did a lot of work, but there’s a lot more to do,” Hartt said.

Beverly Dresen said the meadow looks different from the previous years she volunteered pulling scotch broom on the island.

“Before it was this tall and all flowering, so it was really easy,” she said, holding her hand at hip height.

Scotch broom is native to Europe, but it has cropped up throughout the Pacific Northwest. Its yellow flowers are easily spotted along the Interstate 5 corridor.

The state Noxious Weed Control Board deemed the plant an invasive species in 1988 because it spreads aggressively.

Hartt said volunteers have made progress getting rid of the plant on Hope Island over the years. Whether that work will be helped or hindered by the August fire that burned 7 acres, including 4 acres of the 5-acre meadow, is not known.

With the mix of wildflowers and new sprouts of scotch broom, it remains unclear which plants will get the upper hand.

Hartt said he plans to organize more than one volunteer trip a year to the island to help improve the odds for the wildflowers. “We have a better chance if we catch up on them (the scotch broom) while they’re small,” he said. “If we let them go they will get thicker.”

Hope Island, a natural preserve in Skagit Bay west of La Conner, is managed as part of Deception Pass State Park.

Hartt said about 95 percent of the 200-acre island has the state’s highest level of protection for natural areas. Primitive camping is allowed on the other 5 percent of the island.

A recreational fire got out of control Aug. 11, causing part of the island to burn, state Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Janet Pearce said.

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