Conservation News for the Fall

By Frank Landis, Conservation Committee Chair

The next eight months are going to be a bit of a rocky ride for everyone, as the political din of the 2020 election season drowns everything else out. Here’s a round-up of major events from the last two months and what to, erm, look forward to. And more importantly, what to act on.

First off, CNPS has joined Endangered Habitats League, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Chaparral Institute, and Preserve Wild Santee in suing to decertify the County’s 3-2 approval of the Otay Ranch Village 14 development, now renamed Adara. We’re specifically partnering with EHL on a suit. Along with Newland Sierra, that makes two cases our society is involved in.

Second: on August 5, the San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to approve The Preserve at Torrey Highlands, a 450,000 square foot office building on the eastern edge of Del Mar Mesa. I and two other CNPSers were there, along with 52 other environmentalist speakers. We are deeply disappointed with the result. Kudos to Councilmembers Gomez, Bry, and Montgomery for voting against it, and brickbats to Ward, Campbell, and Moreno for voting for it. Protect Our Preserves ( spearheaded the fight against The Preserve, and if you want to help them, go to their websiteand donate. I’ve been actively involved helping them. Since The Preserve property didn’t have any listed plant species onit, CNPS won’t litigate. That doesn’t mean the project won’t further trash Del Mar Mesa, which is why I’m personally fighting it, but state CNPS, the organization which actually sues, has fairly strong guidelines for when we do and do not get involved in cases. In any case, Protect Our Preserves needs your help.

Chapter Council, Conservation & Rare Plant Surveys

By Frank Landis, Chair Conservation Committee

If you’ve been to a chapter general meeting in, well, the last few years, you’ve probably heard me make a lame joke about wearing many hats in CNPSSD. Here I’ve got news for most of the hats. Rather than just writing about conservation, I’m going to write about all of them, to save some newsletter column space.

Chapter Council: State News

As not enough of you know, our parent society, CNPS, has a bicameral governance structure. On one hand,we’ve got the standard state board of directorsnecessary for any non-profit. On the other, because we have 35 chapters ranging from the redwoods of the North Coast to the chaparral of Baja California, we also have the Chapter Council, where representatives of each chapter get together to talk and hash out policy forthe organization. I’m San Diego’s representative to the Chapter Council.

So, here’s news from the Chapter Council.

Rare and Endangered

Questions and Answers with Frank Landis, CNPS-SD Conservation Chair & Fred Roberts, CNPS-SD Rare Plant Botanist

How did you take an interest in rare and endangered California plant species?

FRANK: That’s a hard question, because I’ve been an environmentalist for a long time. For me, it has become a philosophical issue. I follow James Carse’s notion in Finite and Infinite Games.  We all know what finite games are, because we play them, they end, and you find out who won.  Indeed, you can only determine who won by ending the game.  An infinite game never ends, so you have to play it for different reasons. Carse believes there is only one infinite game, and that the reason to play the infinite game of life is to keep the game going with as many players as possible.  

That’s the game I play. Unlike Carse, I believe that most of the players in the infinite game of life on Earth aren’t human, but that we should work to keep them in the game. That’s why I work to protect rare and endangered plant species, as well as common and uncommon ones.

FRED: That was a while back. I believe I first took a strong interest in rare, endangered, and sensitive plants in the mid 1980s while working in the herbarium at the Museum of Systematic Biology at UC, Irvine, mostly in association with my flora of Orange County project. Roxanne Bittman, working with the Nature Conservancy contacted me about conducting a status review of Laguna Beach Dudleya (Dudleya stolonifera). TNC was pleased with the result and asked me to conduct status reviews of several other rare species. Roxanne Bittman later was hired by the California Department Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) within the California Natural Diversity Data Base program and we have remained in contact to this day. I was hooked on analysis and reviewing rare species. I was volunteered to be the rare plant chair of the Orange Co. CNPS chapter a couple years previously, but it was not until the dudleya review that I began to really take interest in the CNPS position. 

Looking for More Volunteers

By Frank Landis, Conservation Committee Chair

Yes, it’s Fall, the busiest time of year for volunteering for CNPS-SD. In addition to volunteering to help with the Native Gardening workshop and the Fall Native Plant Sale, I’m going to ask for your help with conservation.

But first, the news. To no one’s surprise, on July 25 theBoard of Supervisors passed the first General Plan Amendment (GPA), approving in a single item of three projects: Valiano, Harmony Grove Village South, and Otay 250. Almost no one protested against Otay 250, but quite a few people protested against the Harmony Grove developments, as you might expect. The supervisors even spoke of a threat to litigate. Since CEQA lawsuits have to be filed within 30 days of when an EIR is certified, by the time you read this, we will know if anyone actually sued over it or not.

That GPA was an interesting legal situation. What theBoard of Supervisors voted on wasn’t eachdevelopment, it was a single project comprised of the three disparate developments. By law, every project (like a general plan amendment) is supposed to have a CEQA document analyzing its impacts. With the GPA the Supervisors approved, there was no CEQA document that covered the cumulative effects that the developments had on the County. Since two of the three are in Elfin Forest, and I do not recall that they analyzed the cumulative impacts they had on the area, that may be a problem, although the County assertsthat everything’s fine and proper.

Can San Diego Grow Up?

By Frank LandisConservation Chair

Yes, this is not the kind of remark that an ex-Angeleno like me should be making in this part of the world, even if it is intended as a lame pun, as here. I'm writing this as the Lilac Fire burns in the San Luis Rey watershed, which is an event you probably didn't want to remember, but this isn't another column about fire safety.

Here's the issue: if you believe what I promote for CNPSSD, the solution to many of San Diego's woes, including losing homes to fire, is that we're all supposed to put solar panels on our roofs, use public transit, and ride bikes everywhere but on our wildlands, because mountain bikes are tearing up ecological reserves. Most importantly, we are to stop building single family homes in high-fire areas; instead we are to build apartments, condominiums, and town-homes near transit lines. In other words, we're supposed to grow up, not out, hence the lame pun in the title.

Sounds wonderful, right? I'm sure everybody with a native garden wants to replace it with a multistory granny flat, as well as subdividing their multistory homes into apartments, as well as lobby hard for bike lanes and bus stops in their neighborhood. Doesn't that sound great to you?

Standard Story #1

By Frank Landis, Conservation Chair

The Cal Fire Vegetation Treatment Program PEIR (version 4) is out. Comments are due in January, and you are more than welcome to help. I'll be aggregating the comments for our chapter, so if you have any, send them to Since we have had issues with this, I should note that I follow CNPS state policies when I represent CNPSSD, so if you want to publish a comment that contradicts these policies, I'm not going to include it. You can submit such comments under your own name.

Here though, I'm going to talk about the aftermath of the Wine County fires, and the stories blaming chaparral for the fire's impacts. The prime example was High Country News publishing "Shrub-choked wildlands played a role in California fires" on October 24, 2017. This was particularly awkward, as there wasn't that much chaparral in the area of the Tubbs fire, and a variety of other vegetation burned too, especially close to homes.

Vegetation Communities and Climate Change

Vegetation Communities and Climate Change

By Frank Landis, Chairperson, Conservation Committee

Probably I should be writing an article about the virtues of planting large numbers of plants from the plant sale—which you should—but at the Chapter Council last Saturday, Greg Suba handed me a copy of “A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of California's Terrestrial Vegetation,” a document written in 2016 by James Thorne et al. of UC Davis for CDFW.  And, unfortunately for you, I've been reading this, rather than thinking about how to persuade you that gardens are one way for plants to migrate to avoid climate change. So, my apologies, you're going to get a semi-review of a document you're likely to never read. But it will be interesting nonetheless. I hope.

The Revolution Should Face the Sun

By Frank Landis, Chairperson Conservation Committee

As you read this, I'll be working on a comment letter for the Newland Sierra EIR. That project inspired this essay because one of the things they're doing is trying to make the Newland Sierra development carbon neutral. This is a wonderful aspiration, but I'm not so sure that it shows up in the project design, and that's the subject of this month's essay. Unfortunately, carbon neutral developments aren't as simple as writing a few pages in an EIR and specifying that it should be possible to mount solar panels on otherwise conventional tract houses in a conventional development.

Climate Change: Option C and Its Exploits

By Frank Landis, Chairperson Conservation Committee

On June 10, the state CNPS Chapter Council passed the following position statement:

"Climate is a significant factor effecting natural ecosystems, including California flora.

"CNPS recognizes that climate change is real and that the current rate of global warming is faster than nonhuman natural forces would produce. Based on overwhelming evidence and broad scientific consensus, we hold that human actions, including greenhouse gas emissions, are major contributors to local and global climate change. This recognition follows the work of world leading institutions and organizations, including the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United States National Academy of Sciences, and the American Geophysical Union. CNPS recognizes that climate change is a current and future stress on California's native flora, especially when added to other human activities, including habitat loss, introduction of non-native species, and blocking landscape linkages.

"CNPS supports science-based, rational policies and actions, on the local, state, national, and international levels, that lead to the reduction of greenhouse gases without endangering California's native flora. We urge all Californians and CNPS members to do their part to protect California's native plants.

Who Knew Climate Change and Policy Was So Complicated?

By Frank Landis, Chairperson Conservation Committee

We seem to be hearing that in all sorts of unexpected contexts right now (I'm writing this on May 1st), but I'm going to focus on climate change and policy again. The issue I'm struggling with is the North County Multiple Species Conservation Program (NCMSCP, because you need more acronyms). I'm on the steering committee, and the documents (hopefully) will be out this fall. We'll be dealing with it for a while, and I wanted to air the issues so that we can all start thinking about it, because it really is complicated.

Problem one is climate change. According to a recent National Geographic article, half of 4,000 species surveyed are moving towards the poles, about one mile per year on land on average ( -change-species-migration-disease/ ). We'll argue endlessly about whether this is true for all land species, but the point is that the climate is changing, it will continue to change, species are responding to it, and what we're fighting right now is massive societal inertia to determine how fast and how far the climate swings from 20th Century normal. The nasty part of even extreme climate change isn't the quasi-stable end state (basically like the Miocene), it's how extreme the peak heat is between now and then (a few centuries of something possibly like the end Permian Great Dying, or more likely, the end Paleocene). That peak heat is the extinction-maker we want to avoid if at all possible. That aside, the point is that the world is already changing, it will continue to change, and we're talking about what will suffer, not how to stop the change.

CALL OR WRITE your district Senator in favor of SB 249 BEFORE MAY 24!: Protect Our California Natural Areas from Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation

All forms of outdoor recreation have environmental impact, but not all forms have the same impact. As Californians, we face a continuous challenge to individually and collectively ‘do no harm’ to our common resources, so others - today and in the future - are able to enjoy them. While some forms of recreation (hiking, kayaking) demand little because the impacts are little, off-highway vehicle recreation demands a lot because the environmental damage is great. It is the nature of OHMVR activities that this environmental degradation is continuous and ongoing.

Contribute Today to Southern California Conservation: The Elizabeth C. Schwartz Fund

California has a long history of protecting our natural resources, and now more than ever, we must stand strong to protect our wild spaces. Today, the California Native Plant Society has a unique opportunity to do our part. 

Thanks to the generous bequest of Elizabeth C. Schwartz, CNPS now has the seed money to fund a Southern California Conservation position. The rest is up to you! Please help us double the impact of Elizabeth's contribution, so we can cover this much-needed role for years to come!

Elizabeth C. Schwartz - A Conservation Legacy

Elizabeth Schwartz was a Southern California native plant legend. After practicing law for 15 years, she fell in love with native plants and became a certified horticulturist. In this second career, she engaged thousands of plant lovers as executive director of the Theodore Payne Foundation, board president of the Southern California Horticultural Society, staff of the Botanical Garden at UCLA, and via numerous lectures and articles on native plants. Liz died suddenly on August 12, 2015 while hiking in Arizona. She was 66. 

Liz named CNPS as a beneficiary of her IRA retirement account. After talking with her husband, UCLA  astronomer Ben Schwartz, it was decided to apply a portion of Liz's gift to create a fund that would honor her memory and dramatically increase CNPS Conservation work in Southern California.

Busy Spring: Del Mar Mesa Development 1 and Mission Trails Revamp

Busy Spring: Del Mar Mesa  Development 1 and Mission Trails Revamp

By Frank Landis, Chairperson Conservation Committee

Wow, what a busy winter. As I write this, I'm checking the news periodically to see whether the Oroville Dam fails, or whether the engineers keep the Sacramento Valley from trying to turn back into the "Inland Sea" it was before the 1920s. This is hopefully irrelevant, but I have my doubts, because I'm reading the EIR for Merge 56, the first development slated for the eastern edge of Del Mar Mesa. The problem isn't particularly a CNPS concern. Their design, as I feared, has Deer Creek routed through a basin and storm drain through a pile of fill, and because the channel at that point makes a "Z," the culvert turns at a sharp angle from the upstream and downstream flows. Atop that fill is the southward extension of Camino Del Sur. I've protested this design for years, because most of the watershed above Deer Creek is paved over by Rancho Peñasquitos. As a result, we don't really know how high that creek can flood. While we can make some guesses based on 100 year floods and so forth, I keep wondering how it will handle a tropical storm or hurricane, or even a big atmospheric river getting weepy. Presumably their system will clog and the water will start chewing through the fill holding up Camino Del Sur. If the road/dam breaches, all the crap goes down canyon, chewing up those Nuttall's scrub oaks I've been trying to protect for years. Nothing big like Oroville, but as with the Oroville Dam's problems, which were predicted by environmental groups in 2005 (and ignored), it's a fairly predictable disaster.

So the County got sued again, and...

So the County got sued again, and...

By Frank Landis, Chairperson Conservation Committee

Despite what some may think, I'm not anything like an inside player in local politics. As the latest example, I found out that the Sierra Club and the Cleveland National Forest Foundation are each suing San Diego County again by reading about it online at the UT San Diego. CNPSSD is not involved in either lawsuit, of course--you would have heard about it otherwise. Still, these two suits are part of the difficult struggle we're all facing as San Diego grapples with diverging pressures to decarbonize, to grow, to build huge numbers of affordable homes, and to not destroy what's left of our environment. While I don't know much more about the suits than what is in the newspaper article, I do know a bit about the surrounding conditions, and that's the topic of this essay.