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.

• This morning I just read Tim Draper’s initiative to split California into three states. While I think it’s a bad idea, we do have to take this more seriously than most of us took the candidacy of the current President or the British establishment took the Brexit initiative. There’s a lot of discontent out there, and powerful people (Draper’s reportedly a billionaire) are tapping into that discontent for their own ends.

The fundamental problem with Draper’s initiative is that it takes one extremely powerful state and breaks it into three weaker states. Good for those who want power (such as billionaires), bad for those who need strong, lawful governments to protect them. In San Diego’s case, we’d be the biggest city in “Southern California” which would consist of us, Orange County, and all the desert and San Joaquin Valley counties. Since we’re the most liberal county in the bunch, I suspect that, were the split to happen, CEQA, the California Endangered Species Act, and the California Coast Act would likely be thrown out in “Southern California” and we’d see LA style sprawl, powered by a few wealthy landowners, much as we see in the Central Valley today. So, this initiative is likely NOT good news for us conservationists.

Poor little snowflakes, the secessionists might crow, but I’ll point out the more interesting problem that they might care about. The initiative (which you can read online) only specifies which counties are to go to which state—Northern California, California, or Southern California. The state named “California” would consist of “the territory represented by the following six (6) counties: Los Angeles, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.” (from the initiative). The problem with this is two words: water rights.

By my reading, the new capital of California would be Los Angeles, and all the water regulations, interstate agreements, and water rights issues would devolve to— Los Angeles, as the biggest city in the newly shrunk state of California. Yes, all the aqueducts that feed LA would traverse “Southern California,” but it’s not clear if our new state would retain any right to the water in those canals. I predict a long, messy fight over who gets what to drink, made longer and messier because all the other states in the Colorado River Basin would fight to get more water out of the river, leveraging the mess that the senior-most partner (current California) had devolved into. I’m not a water expert, but it’s even possible that little “Southern California” would become the junior-most partner when it comes to getting water from the Colorado River, and we’d also have to fight “Northern California” to get enough water from them. Or we could just send our thirsty surplus people north to settle in the Sacramento Valley.

So if you know anyone who is for this misguided initiative, ask them how they feel about LA running the water system of the tri-state area, with San Diego county at the back of the line. This initiative isn’t a good change, it’s something cooked up by some very powerful people, and it’s worth asking whether it’s to our benefit or only to their benefit.

And yes, take this seriously enough to vote against it in the fall, if it makes it to the ballot.

• To close out the news, I’ll turn from the world of local and state politics to the world of fashion, specifically, dudleya poaching. You may have heard of the case of two Koreans and a Chinese man who were convicted of poaching thousands of Dudleya farinosa from a park in Humboldt County, or of the Korean team who was caught poaching Dudleya pachyphytum off the sea cliffs of Cedros Island using a helicopter.

What’s going on is that there’s a current fad for succulents among the hipsters of South Korea and Japan, and it’s catching on in China. The fad reportedly started among U.S. hipsters (succulents being easy plants to care for in swanky apartments) and it has caught on in South Korea. Since Korea’s the fashion leader in the region, it’s also catching on in China and Japan.

The problem is that dudleyas are worth $50-$1,000 per rosette in South Korea, so people are harvesting and smuggling them. Yes, Korean summers are hot and muggy, so I have no idea how well dudleyas actually will do there (they prefer hot and dry) or how long they’ll survive there. Yes, dudleyas are easy to germinate and grow in the right conditions, although they take a couple of years to bloom. And that’s the problem, really. It’s a fad, and fads boom and bust. Presumably succulent growers already have trays of dudleya seedlings sprouting in their greenhouses for the market, but who knows if the fad is going to be around when the plants hit maturity?

So that’s the long-term strategy to get rid of the poachers: flood the market with cheap, captive-grown plants. In the meantime, poachers are waking up to the possibility of making easy money by harvesting succulents and airmailing them overseas. All species of Dudleya are at risk, and we’re going to have to do something about it if we want these little cuties around.

What you can do. First, if you know a patch of dudleyas, even something as common as Dudleya pulverulenta but particularly the rarer species, keep a regular eye on it. If you see someone harvesting illegally, get pictures of them in action, their car, and their car license plate. Send that information to CDFW’s CalTIP: 1-888-334- CalTIP (888-334-2258) or https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Enforcement/CalTIP. Poaching is theft and often trespassing, and people are getting prosecuted successfully when they’re caught. If you’re a succulent expert, feel free to add in your two cents about how well dudleyas will grow in the hot, humid summers on the Korean peninsula, and encourage people to start propagating dudleyas for the Asian market to make poaching less profitable.

Banner photo: Photo:"Mike" Michael L. Baird, https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/5968511016