Weeding the Angeles National Forest, one plant at a time

On a sweltering morning deep in the San Gabriel Mountains, Katie VinZant donned work gloves and boots, hoisted a pickax and began bashing alien species.

The 31-year-old botanist enjoys a Sunday in the Angeles National Forest as much as the next person. But when it comes to weeds that have colonized and multiplied since the 2009 Station fire, she's a terminator.

Slender and trim in a T-shirt, grubby pants and tattered straw sombrero, VinZant swiped the sweat stinging her eyes. "I know it sounds crazy," she said, "but I plan to get rid of as many weeds as possible. They don't belong on the landscape."

One plant at a time, one weekend at a stretch, VinZant is helping to weed the 640,000-acre forest that is the playground and backdrop to Los Angeles.

This is weeding on a Herculean scale. But the U.S. Forest Service employee and pioneer in the Angeles National Forest's weed removal program is unstoppable. She leads a team that aims to map and remove entire populations of 48 nonnative plant species crowding out alders, cottonwoods, willows and chaparral.

With a dozen employees and volunteers she calls "my die-hards" on a stretch of the Santa Clara Divide Road, 16 miles northwest of Pasadena, with the temperature 100 degrees and tarantulas climbing up their pant legs, they dug and pried thickets of Spanish broom from the hard ground and granite crevices along a crumbling asphalt road on the burned slopes west of Mt. Gleason.

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