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Prehistoric SD County, Part 4

Prehistoric SD County, Part 4

By Tom Oberbauer, President CNPS-San Diego

During the Pleistocene, the San Diego County deserts would have looked very different. The coniferous forest would have grown far down slope onto the leeward side of the mountains into the upper deserts. Acer macrophyllum (Big leaf maple) grew in stands on the upper slopes. Lower down, Pinus monophylla (Single leaf pinyon) grew down to the desert floor near Blair Valley and Oriflamme Canyon.

Granite Mtn and the Pinyon Mtns not far from Earthquake Valley (aka Shelter Valley) as well as the slopes of the San Ysidro Mountains, and the slopes of Rabbit Peak northeast of Borrego near the San Diego/Riverside County Line were covered with coniferous forest of Pinus jeffreyi (Jeffrey pines), maybe some Pinus coulteri (Coulter pines), Quercus chrysolepis (Canyon live oak) and Juniperus occidentalis (Western junipers). Pinus flexilis (Limber pine) grew on Rabbit Peak. They were predominantly coniferous forest but the deciduous tree Quercus kelloggii (California black oak) would have also been found on the western parts.

Juniper woodland grew in Borrego Palm Canyon with 14 inches of precipitation per season. The Junipers occurred in groves around the perimeter of Borrego Valley except for the very sandy areas and the bottom of the Borrego Sink, the low point of the basin in the valley, that held water during winter and spring. Clark Lake was also full of water most of the year and was surrounded by Juniper and Pinyons. South toward Ocotillo and east toward Ocotillo Wells, the vegetation gradually dried and thinned. The Junipers dropped out to the east of Borrego Valley and near what is now the east County Line, the vegetation was semi-desert scrub with Larrea tridentata (Creosote bush) and Fouqueria splendens (Ocotillo). This vegetation would have existed on the eastern and southern edges of the County where rainfall was roughly 5-6 inches a season. The snow would have occasionally reached the desert floor. However, during summer, monsoonal moisture still occurred on the floor of the desert, augmenting the winter/spring rainfall.

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.

Prehistoric San Diego County, Part 2

Prehistoric San Diego County, Part 2

By Tom Oberbauer, CNPS-SD President

Coast

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

Introduction

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.

HELP! (Your Conservation Activities for Native Plant Month)

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

Yes, it's really Native Plant WEEK, April 15-21, 2018, but we need a month of work this year. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are things you need to do to help CNPSSD conservation this month. I'm going to highlight some of the same things that Susan and Kay did in their article that follows this one. Unfortunately for nature, they are not the only things going on right now.

To be blunt, this is the busiest I've ever been as conservation committee chair. Here is what the conservation committee is dealing with, as of St. Patrick's Day

Holed is Beautiful

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee 

This was inspired by the opening plenary talk by Dr. Doug Tallamy at the 2018 CNPS Conservation Talk. If you were there, hopefully this will look vaguely familiar.

If you don't want to read this column, here's the gist: ecosystem ecology. If you like birds in your yard, most of our birds get their protein from invertebrates, which depend ultimately on plants.  Therefore, if you want more birds breeding successfully in your neighborhood, you need to grow more bird food, and that means...having more native plants in your yard. But it's not quite that simple. Here's why:

The basic biology may actually surprise people: many, perhaps most, birds need more protein than they get from plants. The adults may get by on seeds (at least when seeds are available), but their chicks need bugs to get the protein they need to reach maturity. Dr. Tallamy even had a heart-breaking picture of a failed chickadee nest with dead chicks surrounded by birdseed from nearby feeders. In the absence of bugs, the chickadee parents had tried in desperation to feed their chicks bird seed. It didn't work. 

Rocking Out on Lake Hodges: Garden Tour MPG (Multi-Purpose Garden)

Rocking Out on Lake Hodges: Garden Tour MPG (Multi-Purpose Garden)

An interview with owners Joe and Laurie Ferguson

Driving just a road snippet up from Lake Hodges, one doesn’t enter the tour garden, MPG (Multi-Purpose Garden) from a front yard. Instead a back street will open onto a separate property behind the house. The owners, Joe and Laurie Ferguson purchased a half-acre lot behind their house, a completely bare space, to create an area for their 3 small children with no playgrounds in the neighborhood. After doing some major grading with the soil to create a flat play area, they tried tropical plants and banana trees, but nothing really fit.

Then, Joe ran into Greg Rubin, the renowned California native plant landscaper in San Diego County. The Fergusons were about to put in the same 20 landscaping plants you see across San Diego but Greg persuaded them to try California natives. And thus 600 native plants were installed in 2001.

The Fergusons did and continue to do 95% of the work of planting, watering, and maintenance. For them “it is fun, a way to get away from the kids” they say, laughing. Laurie would point out areas in the garden that could become a design feature. She is the originator of many of the built-out garden features. As the ideas grew it became “Now let’s do this, now let’s do this.” Today, viewing the expansive landscape filled out with native plants and still including the flat play space, the hard work has paid off richly.

Scaling Mt. VTP Again

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee 

This month I wanted to go over my experience of the Board of Forestry's (BoF) Vegetation Treatment Program (VTP) Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR). It's the fourth time this PEIR has been sent out since 2013, the third time I've written and submitted a letter for CNPSSD.

Working on this document is always an exercise in repression, because it is impossible to read through it without becoming furious at something. For the third go-round in 2016, about half of us commenting on that version found from commiserating that we could only work on it for a few hours a day, due to either heartburn or stomachaches from holding it in.

But why? That's what I wanted to go through here. Some basic facts are not in dispute, but the fury-inducing question of Why! is something those of us who work on it continue to speculate on.

Botany in San Diego County before European Contact

Botany in San Diego County before European Contact

By Tom Oberbauer, President CNPS-San Diego

It is fascinating to contemplate the appearance and distribution of biological natural resources in San Diego County at the time of the first European contact. Because San Diego County is now one of the more populous counties in the U.S., it is sometimes difficult to imagine what it looked like a mere 500 years ago. All the land that is now covered by urbanization and agriculture was originally natural and inhabited by a wide array of plants and animals and what is more interesting is that our ever present Mediterranean weeds were not here. Just imagine land without Avena fatua (wild oats) and brome grasses (Bromus madritensis, B. hordeadeus and B. diandrus) and the ever present Red-stem filaree (Erodium cicutarium). Their absence means that other species already existed in the areas that they now inhabit. When considering the combination of land that is converted to urban and agricultural lands and the land that is inhabited by non-native weeds, a very large area of San Diego has very different land cover than what originally occurred here.