The doom of broom

If enough people get involved in broom eradication it’s possible to knock it back as far south as Nanaimo

Joanne Sales never planned to be a crusader against invasive Scotch broom.

Joanne Sales never planned to be a crusader against invasive Scotch broom.

Joanne Sales doesn’t hold a grudge against Captain Grant, but she does have a beef with Mrs. Muir.

Sales, the founder of Broom Busters, said she’s aware that Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant planted the first broom seeds on Vancouver Island in 1851, but she’s confident he didn’t know what he was doing.

Anna Muir was the wife of the person who owned Grant’s property after he moved on and when her husband saw how quickly the broom plants were spreading, he began plans to eradicate it. He never did though, because Anna said the yellow blooms reminded her of Scotland.

In the 150 years since then, the highly invasive plant has spread unchecked from Sooke to cover vast areas of cleared land the length of Vancouver Island.

That’s a problem — a big one — because broom quickly takes over any open areas, crowding out native plants that are used for forage for the local wildlife.

It wasn’t until 2006 that Sales, a blueberry farmer on Grafton Road in Errington, decided to do something about it.

“I started cutting broom because I’m a farmer and it was growing way out of control on the farms on either side of us,” she said. “I asked if I could cut the broom and they said yes, so that’s how I started. I never planned to do this. It just happened because there were so many people who felt so strongly about broom.”

Cutting the bright yellow broom can be addictive, she said.

“You start going down the road and you say, ‘oh my, look at all that broom. Somebody should cut it down.'”

Thanks to a tip from an unnamed railway employee, Sales learned that broom is likely to die if you cut it close to the ground when it’s in full bloom.

Sales put an ad in the newspaper and soon found there was an appetite to tackle the growing infestation.

Sales went to then-councillor Wendy Maurer in Qualicum Beach and with her aid got the support of the municipality.

“They were really supportive,” she said. “They said if we wanted to cut broom we should just cut it and they would pick it up.”

With just three companions, Sales got to work, attacking broom patches in the core of Qualicum Beach.

“People don’t remember, but there was huge broom on Memorial Avenue,” Sales said. “There’s no sign of it now. It was the same on Rupert and Village Way. We had to use a chainsaw because it was all so big.”

With such noticeable results, broom busting started to catch on and more people began to get involved.

Many of them joined Broom Busters, the group Sales formed to organize community broom cuts on evenings and weekends during the time  the plant is blooming — and therefore vulnerable.

“People are really starting to take action,”  Sales said. “I’m seeing more and more people out cutting broom. Imagine if everyone did that.”

Gord Almond and David James are two such volunteers. Calling themselves the Doom of Broom, the pair tackle the Scots invader wherever they find it.

“It’s instant gratification,” Almond said. “You find a patch, you clear it out and it makes a difference. It’s also fresh air and exercise.”

Sales said it’s gratifying to drive down a road to find previously bright yellow areas suddenly back to its original green — and piles of dead broom to show what happened.

“We call them broom brownies,” she said, laughing. “That’s when you drive by where someone has been cutting  broom and you don’t know who did it.”

Although it’s gratifying to see such a wide public buy-in to the broom eradication idea, it has become almost too popular. The Ministry of Transportation, which picks up broom piles outside town boundaries, is overwhelmed.

“The Ministry of Transportation’s issue is that because of the spread of broom busting, they’ve been getting calls from here, there and everywhere, saying to come and pick up broom,” Sales said. “Now, pickup has to be pre-arranged ahead of time.”

The campaign has spread, much like the broom, with groups popping up in Port Alberni, Comox,  Lantzville and Parksville.

Sales said her focus this season will be at the Parksville interchange at the weigh scales, as well as Alberni Highway.

The next community broom cut is slated for Saturday at exit 51.

“We made huge progress last year, and we want to complete our work,” she said.

For more information about Broom Busters, visit the website at www.broombusters.org or call Sales at 250-752-4816.