Juneau under attack

Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Juneau is under attack, and the city government isn't doing anything about it. The employment of two or three men on a steady schedule would go a long way to eradicate the threat.

The danger is all around us. In July, travel over on Fourth Street to the Bergman Hotel, and look up at the hillside. It will be covered with a thick green canopy of leaves, buoyed up by bamboo like stalks. It is called Japanese knotweed.

It destroys all vegetation under it, resulting in a desiccated layer of debris and dark crumbly soil. There are other invasive species such as garlic mustard on Juneau streets and alleyways. These are not friendly additions to our native environment. They are totally ruinous and may even present a danger in future generations to the Tongass Forest.

A few years ago, I had an outbreak of Japanese knotweed in my yard and on a neighboring city sidewalk. For about three years, I pulled up the green shoots whenever they re-appeared and got as much of the root as possible, but not all. The infestation disappeared, I believe, because the plant needed at least some revitalization by the greening process and could not survive indefinitely on the buried root alone.

The city could conduct a similar program. Spring is the best time to begin, when the first green buds erupt from the dormant stalk. A critic might object that this is work better left to the individual citizen, but, often, as on the slope of Star Hill, some of the land is city owned and many different neighbors share the rest.

It is also not enough to just go in and bushwhack the growing stalks. They will grow back vigorously. You need a two- or three-year program to pull up the plant as it greens and as much of the root as possible with a strong grab by your hand and arm. You cannot expect to dig it out with a shovel because the root system may be too extensive.

You can't take the refuse to the dump, either, where it may re-generate. You have to burn it.

In the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Tammy Davis is the biologist leading the invasive species program. Any questions can be directed toward her.

Otherwise, call the mayor and our elected local officials and the city manager and anyone else at City Hall who will pick up the phone.

As Thomas Paine said of our national birthing, "These are the times that try men's souls." Less auspicious but still mind wrenching is the worry about the cost of electricity and oil, and water and sewer bills, and property taxes, and sales tax piled on top of them all. And now, the spread of strange invasive creatures.

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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