Habitat Improvement at Mission Valley Preserve

The San Diego River Park Foundation, a CNPS San Diego partner, has begun a project at the Mission Valley Preserve to improve the native riparian habitat.

Mission Valley Preserve is a 52-acre open space preserve in urban San Diego. This beautiful area is a shady spot to enjoy views of the San Diego River or stroll along interpretive trails. It is home to important native wildlife, including the endangered least Bell’s vireo.

Volunteers with the San Diego River Park Foundation and the Friends of Mission Valley Preserve, as well as City park rangers, have worked in the Preserve for more than 17 years; clearing trash, creating signage and trails, and removing invasive non-native plant species. As part of the current project, volunteers with the new Invasive Management, Plant Assessment, and Conservation Team (IMPACT) will remove 6 acres of invasive plant coverage by September 2020. This effort is funded by the San Diego River Conservancy.

Invasive plant species to be removed: Giant Reed (Arundo donax), Bridal Creeper (Asparagus asparagoides), Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus), Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensi), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globules), and many others.

Native plant species expected to re-establish: several native Willow (Salix)  species, Mule Fat (Baccharis salicifolia), San Diego Marsh Elder (Iva hayesiana), Buffalo Gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima), and others.

On Saturday, July 22, the San Diego River Park Foundation will be offering a tour of this special area and an update on the status of the project. To RSVP for the tour or get involved in IMPACT, email Steffani Clark-Jijon at steffani@sandiegoriver.org or call (619) 297-7380.

News from the World of Conservation

News from the World of Conservation

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

Halfway through the year, and no slowdown in sight. I don’t really have a theme this month, other than an update on where CNPSSD conservation is at the moment.

• Thank you to those who donated to the CNPSSD legal fund. I’m going to keep begging for donations because, as you’ll see below, they’re likely to be needed. I don’t like writing this any more than you like reading this, but this year is, in bulk, a concerted attempt by moneyed interests to roll back the environmental gains of the last 50 years. We can’t assume anything is safe. If you can’t donate, come to meetings and speak up. If you can’t come to meetings, donate what you can to CNPSSD and other environmental groups.

• Bundling of County General Plan Amendments hasn’t gone away, as I’d fondly hoped it might. As I write this, Lilac Hills Ranch is going to the Board of Supervisors, with only trivial alterations to what we voted down in 2016. The County Planning Commission passed it straight through, even though County Planning had counseled that they needed to hear more testimony. If you haven’t contacted your county supervisor about this, please do so. The script is in previous newsletters, or you can contact me at conservation@cnpssd.org.

• Newland Sierra is set to be heard by the County Planning Commission June 28 and 29. Presumably by the time you read this, it will be on its way to the County Supervisors, since the majority of the County Planning Board right now approves projects no matter what testimony they get. More than other projects, there is well-organized opposition to this one, but like the others, it is likely to end up in court. It has all the same problems of putting expensive homes in high fire danger areas, degrading wildlife movement corridors and human movement corridors alike (in this case, the human corridors are Deer Springs Road and I-15), and the developer is from out of town.

Prehistoric SD County, Part 3

Prehistoric SD County, Part 3

By Tom Oberbauer, Chapter President, CNPS-San Diego

The foothills and valleys in San Diego County would have exhibited even greater differences in vegetation from those of modern times. In addition to El Cajon, the major valleys, including Escondido and Ramona, would have supported low growing shrubs but also grassland due to increased precipitation and fine soils and the large numbers of herbivorous mammals.

Except for the big animals, the environment including the vegetation here would have modeled that of the inner mountain foothill slopes of the Monterey/Santa Cruz areas. Winter snow levels would have been repeatedly at 2,000 to 2,500 feet rather than the 3,500 feet that it is now. The foothill mountains, like Otay Mountain, Big Black Mountain, Mount Woodson, Viejas, Poser, Potrero and Tecate Peaks, were regularly snow- capped forested peaks following winter storms.

The vegetation on the foothill mountains would have been pines with Pinus coulteri (Coulter pine), more Hesperocyparis forbesii (Tecate cypress), Hesperocyparis stephensonii (Cuyamaca cypress) Pseudotsuaga macrocarpa (Big-coned Douglas fir) mixed with Quercus chrysolepis (Canyon live oak), and Quercus kelloggii (California black oak). Average precipitation on Otay Mountain would have been close to 40 inches. Acer macrophyllum (Big leaf maple) andArbutus menziesii (Madrone) were also part of the forest vegetation community, the big leaves providing large yellow patches on the hillsides in the fall. However, Madrones were dark and grew with large shiny leaves and red bark. In the favorable locations with a bit more shade and rainfall, these trees would have also been mixed with Pinus lambertiana (Sugar pine), Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa pine), Abies concolor (White fir), and Calocedrus decurrens (Incense cedar). This was the same type of forest that currently occurs near the top of the Cuyamaca Mountains and Palomar Mountain. In the hilly areas, Saber tooth cats, Jaguars, and Short-faced and Grizzly bears were common, preying on the Elk, Mule deer, and Bighorn sheep. Mastodons and sloths were individual food processors pulling down low hanging tree branches and shrubs in the forested areas, feeding machines that were actively engaged in eating through much of the day. Shrub oxen browsed on the chaparral and sage scrub vegetation, feeding and chewing for hours at a time, moving in small clusters and tilting their heavy horned heads at unexpected sounds. A Scimitar cat watched them from a shadowy vantage point.

Bundling GPAs...And More to Do for Conservation

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

First, a huge Thank You!! to the Conner Family Foundation for a donation that grew the CNPSSD legal fund by about 50 percent. This was welcome income, as we may well have substantial legal expenses this year.

Hopefully, by the time you read this, you'll know all about GPA Bundling and that it was a kerfuffle. If not, here's my (perhaps belated) explanation.

GPA here isn't Grade Point Average, but General Plan Amendment. It turns out that California Government Code Section 65358 states that "no mandatory element of a general plan shall be amended more frequently than four times during any calendar year." What's the point of a General Plan if it can be amended to allow development at whim? Section 65358 then continues, "Subject to that limitation, an amendment may be made at any time, as determined by the legislative body. Each amendment may include more than one change to the general plan.(emphasis added)" This last sentence has come to be known as "bundling."

EarthLab Demo Garden Update

A report from Kay Stewart

Thanks to Chapter's Mini-Grants, Natives at EarthLab are Growing Beautifully

GroundWorks San Diego-Chollas Creek has brought awareness of our natural environment to community members in central San Diego through programs at EarthLab, a 2-acre plot right off Euclid Ave. and SR 94. Every year, hundreds of public school students learn about growing plants there. Over several years, grants supported staff and volunteers to grow thousands of native plants, to restore Chollas Creek. These projects teach students about wildlife as well as plants. Other projects are teaching students how to grow vegetables and fruit trees.

Most recently, GroundWorks improved 1/4 acre of EarthLab to become a water conserving Demonstration Garden. This area showcases low-water plants that homeowners can plant in their own yards. Mini-Grants from CNPSSD bought CA native plants for the Demo Garden between 2016 and 2018. GroundWorks grants are now funding homeowners to convert home landscapes to conserve water, using many of the plants growing at EarthLab. As the photos show, the native plants sponsored by CNPSSD are growing beautifully on a low-water irrigation schedule.

The Demo Garden is still evolving. It is a dynamic project, engaging community volunteers for various garden projects. With wise management, caring volunteers, and adequate funds, it can grow to be a beautiful community asset for residents of central San Diego. If you are interested, please get in contact to learn more.

The Pollinator Pathway–Providing Nature’s Finest Candy!


Composed of educational and experiential components, the Pollinator Pathway exhibit is designed to inform visitors about the beauty and importance of pollinators, and specific actions they can take to benefit pollinators, whether on your patio or in a backyard garden.

Why we focus on pollinators:
In the United States, pollinators are responsible for 75 percent of our food supply. That is one of every three bites of food we eat! Pollinators help produce some of nature’s finest sweets and baking ingredients: chocolate, pumpkins, blueberries and strawberries.

Pollinators are critical to our food supply and the plant diversity we find in nature, yet across the nation, they are disappearing. 

At the Pollinator Pathway exhibit, you will learn more about bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and how to help them thrive.

Exhibit highlights:

  • Native gardens-walk through our native pollinator garden and learn how to transform your home landscape into a pollinator-friendly oasis.
  • The butterfly house-hang out in our butterfly house for a face-to-face experience with live butterflies.
  • Live honeybees-observe our live honeybee exhibit to get a glimpse of what life is like inside a honeybee hive. 
  • Photo op-take a photo with our giant set of rainbow butterfly wings to share with your friends and spread the word about butterflies and pollinators.

Where to find us:

The Pollinator Pathway is located at the Farm (the infield of the track at the fairgrounds). We are open every day that the fair is open, from June 1 to July 4, 2018.

County Fair address: 2260 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Del Mar, CA

Speakers and demonstration schedule:
On Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 PM and 4:30 PM, we will offer a variety of talks and demonstrations. Topics include monarch butterflies, native bees, creating pollinator gardens and butterfly releases. See the Fair calendar for more information.

The Pollinator Pathway is jointly presented by:
The Butterfly Farms
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Sky Mountain Permaculture Institute
San Diego County Fair
Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County
California Native Plant Society - San Diego Chapter
U.S. Department of Agriculture - Natural Resource Conservation Service

For more information about the exhibit, visit: http://www.rcdsandiego.org/san_diego_county_fair_pollinator_garden.aspx

Prehistoric San Diego County, Part 2

Prehistoric San Diego County, Part 2

By Tom Oberbauer, CNPS-SD President


The cool west wind blew across the broad mesa several miles west of the dark pine covered ridge of what is now Point Loma. The vegetation was a mix of Artemisia californica (California sagebrush), Eriogonum fasciculatum (California buckwheat) and Eriogonum giganteum (Island buckwheat) and Ceanothus (wild lilac) shrubs, and prairie habitat. The grass was dominated by Stipa species but was blended with a lot of wildflowers, including butter yellow Layia platyglossa (Tidy tips), purple Castilleja spp. (Owl’s clover), blue and white Lupinus spp. (lupines) and the bright orange Eschscholzia californica (California poppy). The color of the flowers was brilliant under the hazy sun.  A herd of North American Stilt-legged llama grazed in the midst of the color, bending their long necks to feed on the grasses. They were more slender than modern Llamas in South America and built for speed. The afternoon breeze fluffed the fur of these animals as a couple of them stood holding their heads high, watching for predators.  Down the bluff below, the ocean swell created a dull roar and foamy spray.  

Why Container Gardening Matters for Conservation

Why Container Gardening Matters for Conservation

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

It was good to see so many people at the garden tour and at the April general meeting. Being the contrarian that I am, I wanted to flag something we don't do enough of, and argue that it's important. What we don't do is to help people set up container gardens for native plants. Most of our work focuses on in-the-ground gardening, and for good reason. But there's this problem. It's typically a few years out of college, happy to finally at least have a balcony on the apartment or a yard bigger than a surfboard. This problem thinks that native gardening might be cool, buys a white sage at a garden sale, puts it in a pot, watches it die, decides they can't grow native plants, and goes onto some other hobby.

Does this story seem familiar? I've not only heard it, I've lived it, and while I never grew white sage in a pot (mostly because it grows in my mom's yard), I've heard quite a few variations on it over the years.

There are numerous reasons why this is a conservation problem. First and foremost, CNPS members tend to be older, wealthier, and whiter than the population of California as a whole. What we think of as "normal"—having a garden to landscape, being able to take long vacations, comfortably hiking in the back country, are privileges that many people simply don't have. Some things we can do, like leading more field trips and targeting our advertisements where people outside our normal demographics look for fun. Others, like giving everybody a big back yard to garden in, are less possible every passing year. This isn't just about the housing crisis, it's about the sprawl crisis, and it's something I have to deal with in conservation all the time.

Prehistoric San Diego County, Part 1

Prehistoric San Diego County, Part 1

By Tom Oberbauer, CNPS-SD President


Much evidence exists that during the Pleistocene the vegetation in the Southwest of North America was composed of trees and shrubs that require much more precipitation than currently falls here. Some of the evidence is based on the patterns of existing vegetation including isolated and disjunct populations and consideration of prehistoric distribution of plants influenced them. Other evidence is based on fossil woodrat middens which contain plant parts that can be identified as representing the vegetation from thousands of years ago. Fossil evidence also exists for times ranging from the past few million years when the climate was wet enough to provide for native members of the genus Persea (Avocado) with Pinus torreyana (Torrey pine) and Pinus radiata (Monterey pine) and Palms growing with them (Axelrod and Deméré 1984) to closer to 10,000 years ago when forests existed in coastal Southern California (Axelrod and Govean 1996). Fossil evidence also exists that indicates an extremely diverse fauna of large animals that fed on the vegetation supported by greater levels of precipitation.

Best tips from experienced CA native plant gardener Joan Bockman

Joan, what are your 3 best tips for planting native plants?

  • I always start by telling people to take a hike. Literally. You need to find that place you love. For me it was Torrey Pines Reserve because my native San Diegan husband had no idea what was native. So we started hiking and learned about Coastal Sage Scrub. I've been planting that habitat ever since in coastal Oceanside. A great view is from the Coaster south of Sorrento Valley. You come into Rose Canyon and it is exactly the way San Diego mesas and the creek valley should be.
  • Dig a hole exactly the size of the pot. Fill it with water and let it drain before planting. While working with a group at the Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center, we had a debate about how much water to put in the planting hole. The best way to describe it was to have chocolate icing in the bottom of the hole but not chocolate pudding.
  • Plant stuff and see how it does. You are starting on a journey, not finishing a job. You will learn more and wonder why you did some things early on. I have never used fertilizer in old yards or forgotten places. Some of my coyote bush ground cover is pruned by cars running over it on a corner.

Protect Rural Lands to Protect Nature and people: Support “SOS”

By Kay Stewart and Susan Lewitt

As Earth Day approaches, please keep in mind the ripple effect: everything you do affects the planet, from wild plant and animal biodiversity, to our own health. The more we change our planet, the harder it is for most wild species of plants and animals to survive.

One of our biggest impacts is when farms and ranches are converted to housing, and the co-existing plants andwildlife are wiped out. San Diego’s rural land issupposed to be protected from subdividing into small home lots by the County General Plan that allows adding up to 50,000 new homes by expanding theseveral dozen rural “villages”, not by dividing large ruralparcels that are far from major roads. The villages already have services that homeowners need: water, utilities, fire protection, larger roads, and schools. And the impact on wild animals and plants is reduced to the boundaries of the villages, rather than converting intact rural lands that frequently include native habitat.

But land speculators can make huge profits converting those distant rural lands. They mislead people by sayingthat “we need housing.” They don’t want people torealize that the County General Plan allows newhousing. Please read this April issue’s Conservation News about one speculator’s plan that threatens a large rural area. If you act by April 9, you could help prevent it from happening.

The public shouldn’t have to leap into action every timea new speculator wants to violate the General Plan. So a huge alliance of over 20 San Diego area groups areworking to get an initiative called “SOS – Save Our SanDiego Countryside” on the Fall ballot. This initiativewould require every proposed General Plan amendment to automatically go to a public County- wide vote.

The petitions to put the initiative on the ballot must be turned in by May 1. If you have not signed a petitionalready, and you’d like to, or want to help gathersignatures, send a note to conservation@cnpssd.org. If“SOS” gets on the ballot and passes, it may be able to stop sprawl. The benefit to San Diegans includes reduced greenhouse gas output from excessive commuting, reduced fire risks by reducing long strands of powerlines over wildlands, and reduced direct destruction of San Diego’s native animals and plants. CNPS cares.