Santa Cruz North Coast

Fire Safe Homes on Santa Cruz County’s North Coast

Expect Wildfires

Wildfire is a natural phenomenon on the North Coast of Santa Cruz County, and there are things we can do to be better prepared. The Lockheed Fire (2009) followed by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire (2020) illustrate the extreme danger of wildfire as well as the potential return interval. Wildfires can repeat over the same landscapes quite frequently. Until we figure out how to use prescribed fire across our landscape to reduce the chance of wildfire*, we should plan on big, catastrophic wildfires at least every 10 years, especially because global warming will most probably increase the frequency and intensity of wildfire in California. If our infrastructure is well built and well maintained, we will be happier and nature, the land around us, will be better stewarded. To this end, we have much to learn and much work to do.

Protecting Houses

For most of us, our most expensive burnable item is our home and its contents. What can we do to protect houses? Our State’s wildfire agency, CALFIRE, starts with a simple message: “Clear to 100 feet!” But, what does this mean?

The hundred foot clearance guideline is meant to provoke questions about how to create a fire-safe envelope that will help to protect houses and the firefighters whose help is needed while a wildfire is blazing. (more about what that work entails in another essay) “Clearance” doesn’t mean every bit of everything needs to be removed from a one hundred foot radius around your house: it means vegetation must be “managed” within that area. Too much of the wrong vegetation in the wrong patterns can create flames that will set fire to your roof or siding, or break your windows and light the inside of your building. But, mostly poorly managed vegetation endangers fire fighters. 100’ of vegetation management is not always enough, but it is the beginner’s guide to getting started.

There are diagrams with written descriptions and checklists as well as videos, about what 100’ of clearance means. Unless you’ve been trained to interpret those resources, it is almost certain you won’t be able to apply them to your landscape. Just as a person new to cooking is unlikely to have success from a written recipe for chicken cattitore, someone who hasn’t learned about vegetation management directly from professionals is unlikely to get it right. Even if you aren’t doing the work yourself, if you are hiring landscapers claiming to know what to do, it is best if you have a basic understanding of the science behind firescaping before you waste time and money going it on your own. Take a workshop, occasionally offered by the Bonny Doon Fire Safe Council, visit guided demonstration sites, and seek advice from knowledgeable people, especially anyone who is experienced and whose work has demonstrably saved other homes during wildfires. Count on at least 40 hours of training to develop the necessary basic understanding and a day of continuing education each year to keep up on the latest information.

Protecting Other Stuff

It is important to understand that the house itself is rarely your only infrastructure needing wildfire maintenance- there are normally a lot of other things that require similar attention. These include: fences, outbuildings, water systems, power systems, lawn furniture, gardens, etc. Everyone understands that wood burns, but so does plastic…even metal can get damaged by fire. All of these things are costly and preparation can save you money when wildfire happens. If all of this other stuff is within your zone of 100’ of clearance, your plans in that zone must account for those, even there. If they are outside that safety envelope, they will need special attention in those other locations.

If you live in the country, roads and driveways are important to think about in case of wildfire. If you are lucky enough to live in a forest, creating shaded fuel breaks along those transportation corridors will be relatively easy to maintain annually but can be costly at the outset. If you live in shrubby or grassy areas, you will have to work several times each year to reduce fuels- annually, these take much more time and effort than in forests. Take note: most roads have culverts under them to carry rain runoff; hopefully, those culverts are concrete or metal, but if they are plastic they will easily burn and are expensive to replace, so those will need fire maintenance plans, as well.

Next Steps

Using an aerial photograph, create a map of all of the critical stuff on your property – your house, power, roads/driveways, and water infrastructure. Make a separate map of the other “stuff.” When you get those maps right- clearly marked and easily read, keep a set with your ‘go’ bag– the bag you grab when you evacuate during a wildfire. Keep another set next to your front door to give to firefighters as orientation for your site. Over time, as you are working with others to develop a fire safe landscape, you can use a set of these maps for planning purposes. These maps are also good reminders about what you need to protect each year while working on vegetation management.

* footnote: Chuck Striplen’s research for this region provides strong evidence that Native Peoples applied fire based on their Traditional Ecological Knowledge every 4-6 years. The catastrophic nature of fire after 11 years provides evidence that they understood when to apply fire to avoid such conflagrations.

The Narcissi-ists versus the Tenders of Native Bulbs

An essay about living in place using a recent example of ego-logical management of our common landscape

Opening

Every moment, we face personal choices to work against or with nature. Some of those choices have more, some have less, impact. In sum, those choices reflect how we see ourselves in the world. In this essay, I contrast two cultures from the North Coast of Santa Cruz: those who embrace the widespread planting of daffodils versus those who favor the wide ranging management for native species of bulbs. I illustrate how cultural norms of the former are indicative of a wider dis-ease of our species, which is dooming future generations to reduced standards of living and increased poverty of the spirit. And, I outline how a contrary world view can lead us to increased prosperity in a world with clean water, plentiful wildlife and happy, healthy children.

Transforming Nature or Transforming Ourselves

Some people feel most at home only after the landscape is transformed away from nature. Others are transforming themselves to settle comfortably into what is more natural. Managing our yards, our cities, our parks, our landscape against, or away from nature seems easier and its certainly more common. This process might even be called “normal.” Managing our yards, our driveways, our farms, our parks and our citiscapes to be in harmony with nature is unusual, harder, and is a Big Continuous Adventure- an opportunity for clearly unending work. And yet, transforming our landscapes away from Nature does not serve our interests over the long run. Managing WITH nature is the only hope for future generations. Which way will you go? Let’s walk together for a moment towards these two destinations and see what feels more right..

To avoid quibbles, I’ll first admit that we can’t help but transform nature whatever we do…but whether we choose to manage our lands with or against nature is more than a matter of degree. I see a philosophical division in these approaches, a way we choose to be, that is vastly different depending on what you intend to do. And yet, there are many paths, many vehicles, to work for or against nature when managing our land. The future is uncertain…. 

To illustrate the choice between the two approaches. I ask the simple question:

Are you in favor of widespread planting of daffodils? 

The Narcissi-ists Project

My community recently faced this question. And the debate became quite nasty. But, the words and ideas were very telling about how people living on the same mountain see our common landscape. There are diametrically opposed approaches to land stewardship at work simultaneously on Ben Lomond Mountain. I predict who will win: the culture that is managing against nature. And, I suspect how that dominant paradigm turns out: global warming, a world on fire, not enough food, not enough clean water, miserable people, extinct wildlife, air pollution…etc.

A little context and back story for the local situation is in order.

The CZU Lightning Complex Fire blackened our landscape last August and, in response, some people thought it would be nice to color that blackened landscape with splashes of cheerful color. This was their way of recovering from a traumatic disaster where people lost homes, pets, and their belongings. The green forests, lush shrublands, and moist stream corridors were transformed in the course of a week to crispy dry blacks, browns, and ashy grays. Wouldn’t it be nice, they thought, if daffodils would brighten this bleak landscape come spring? More than just art or gardening, to them this was building community and healing.

And thus, The Narcissi-ists Project was born. Bushels of daffodil bulbs (genus Narcissus, many cultivars; plural of the common name, Narcissus, is Narcissi) were purchased and people were urged to buy and plant them along roadsides and wherever visible to the public. Many people warmly welcomed this community project, proudly announcing their plantings on social media and urging their neighbors to participate.

To understand whether The Narcissi-ists Project was a choice towards the transformation away from Nature or towards Nature, one has to understand how daffodils might or might not ‘fit’ into the ecology of the area. So, here’s some natural history…

Daffodils in California? Nooooo!

Daffodils don’t belong in California, and they don’t fit in. They are toxic, their colors are strikingly foreign to the landscape, they compete with native plants, reduce pollinator communities, they present an increased fire hazard, and they are nearly impossible to remove once established…there’s no going back.

Narcissus species have the poison called lycorine, especially concentrated in the bulbs. Ingestion of the plants can cause seizures, abnormal heartbeat, pain, and/or convulsions. Apparently, pet dogs are routinely hospitalized for ingesting the species. Even exposure to dust from the dead bulbs or sap can cause problems. People say that adult dogs might be as smart as 5 year old humans. I wonder how many people would put daffodil bulbs where their two year old toddler might ingest them? Probably no one would wittingly do such a thing. And so, why would any kind person put these poisonous bulbs where baby wildlife might encounter them?

Aesthetically, daffodil bulbs stand out in our local landscape: nothing in nature looks anything like them. Those yellow trumpets add to the seas of non-native yellows created by French broom and Bermuda buttercup. The Big Yellow daffodil trumpets appear in early spring, visually shouting above any of the more subtle wildflowers that naturally occur at that time. At Daffodil Time, there are numerous subtle white-pink native wildflowers: manzanitas, madrone, milk maids, sorrel, and star lilies to name a few, more common species. How is the Narcissi-ists project transforming the aesthetic of our common landscape? What will this screaming yellow do for our children’s expectation of the spring landscape…will those yellow trumpets change their ability to engage with the more subtle and diverse native wildflowers? Will this New Color make them want to further transform and brighten the landscapes of their future, to make them even MORE COLORFUL?

One bulb planted begets seeds and bulblets and yet more plants over time. The process is slow and site specific. Some dry, sandy soils are poorly suited for some Narcissus cultivars and those die out without additional ongoing care. Other, more moist ditches, meadows, seeps, cliffsides, or dunes are more conducive to daffodils. In those places, over time, the species is proving to be slowly invasive, edging out native plants and spreading from where they were introduced. A home site high up in the meadows of Wilder Ranch State Park has hundreds spreading from where they were once planted. A bulb field above 4 Mile Beach at Wilder Ranch has hundreds of daffodils clinging to rocky cliff edges and down into ravines adjacent to the fields they were once cultivated for cut flowers. There are escaped daffodils near Scott Creek Beach, perhaps from a memorial planting or from cultivated fields or homesites nearby. All of these populations are spreading and removing them would be impossible without concerted toxic herbicide work in difficult to reach places with follow up over many years. Meanwhile, those daffodils are doubtlessly causing wildlife poisoning. And, wherever they invade, daffodils displace native plants with their flowers that support pollinators, which we desperately need to conserve due to declining honey bee populations.

(Oh, and by the way, daffodils die back in the spring and leave a relatively large amount of papery, easy to ignite fuel, creating a fire hazard – be sure to rake that stuff up and dispose of it appropriately)

That was a lot of information about one type of landscape manipulation- one project of the Narcissi-ists in our area, taking steps to transform our landscape away from nature with all the concomitant repercussions.

The Other Way: Tending the Wild Bulbs

But, there is another way…to live with nature. For clarity of contrast, I use another bulb culture analogy. There is a burgeoning movement of people wanting to learn how to tend the wild. Our local naturalists, primitive skills practitioners, wildlife trackers, native plant gardeners, and weed warriors are exuberant about the relearning of the Amah Mutsun, gleaning lessons from them and other tribal peoples about how to live with the land here in California. We practice what we learn where we live, where our friends live, or where we can help conservation lands managers. We get to know the native geophytes, our native bulbs, some of which have been important native foods to the indigenous peoples. 

Many native bulbs respond very favorably to tending, even to fire. Star lilies bolt ten times as big after fire. Randy Morgan draws our attention to a narrowly endemic, endangered bee he captured pollinating the native star lily in the UCSC meadows. Native checkerlily and globe lily bound abundant when the forest understory is tended. There are many stories of people tending grasslands with digging sticks, harvesting and cultivating native bulbs for food.

(An aside- native bulb leaves are not very plentiful, are largely edible to wildlife and so do not accumulate as a fire hazard)

We steward native grasslands, woodlands, and redwood forests to tend our native bulbs. After fire, we must patrol for jubata grass invasion and control broom and ivy. With more light on the forest floor, bulbs will do better, but so might the weeds. 

Native bulb stewards work to figure out how to live on this fire adapted landscape so that we have native bulbs in the future. Scientists forecast more frequent, more intense fires and wind storms with increased global warming. In California with more frequent more intense fires, forests give way to shrublands and those to weedy grasslands…the bulbs disappear. And so, native bulb stewardship requires political action to end fossil fuel consumption and to transform agriculture and improve building and transportation efficiency. 

Of the two bulb cultures, which one do you want to join?

(and, its not about just bulbs)

Scaling Up: the Ego-Political Landscapes of Narcissi-ist Types Across our Common Planet

I wonder if those who would affiliate with the Narcissi-ists have similar notions about transforming Planet Earth in other ways. One suggested that they believe daffodils to be different than French broom, the latter being a problem but not the former. Here, we meet abandonment of the precautionary principle, which is inherent in managing with nature: how do we act so that no harm is irreparably done? This is why managing for nature is ongoing and full of observation. Those who think that the precautionary principle should only apply to human bodies and not the body of life that supports humans are being short sighted, they may be either faithful in technological solutions or believers in an inevitable apocalypse (which I have found is depressingly common). Would those types of people have us make swift uninformed decisions for relatively short-term and minor outcomes, in general?

Another of the Narcissi-ists has pointed to their own (inexpert) online research to show that daffodils are not invasive. This notion was presented despite local and very experienced experts testifying (in a signed letter) to the contrary. And so, those who would transform nature appear to not only abandon the precautionary principle but also to embrace a world where group expertise is rejected in favor of individual experience. Science denial writ large is just one step away from that approach. Dismissal of indigenous knowledge is another outcome of that way of thinking. In short, I wonder how the Narcissi-ist types are thinking life will thrive in seven generations, and who do they think should guide us towards the best outcome?

Lessons from a Sad History of a Santa Cruz Park

This is a story illustrating how nature is damaged by recreation focused parks managers, and how that focus creates unfortunate adversarial situations with their fellow citizen park stewards. Soon the managers are lashing out at the very conservationists who brought them this beautiful piece of nature to protect in the public commons.

This particular tale starts out typically—environmentalists successfully saving land threatened by development and establishing a public park. This victory evolved into a barely legal and cursory process to open the park to recreation and to expand recreational access to the maximum extent feasible. Opportunities for a more balanced approach to protect wildlife habitat while providing public access were missed. Organized opposition to this unbalanced approach led to a series of unpleasant altercations, minimal mitigation requirements, and, eventually, abandonment of most environmental protections. In sum, there was inadequate resolution of disputes between parks managers and conservationists, resulting in recreationists winning and wildlife losing. Many elements of this story are evident in most other parks in Santa Cruz County, but there is hope: working together, we can improve these situations. Perhaps you can help. Please read on.

The recent conservation history of the Gray Whale Ranch began in the early 1990s when a land developer purchased a working ranch, proposing a housing development. The developer’s plans envisioned an extensive housing subdivision: a private, gated paradise. Conservationists organized and created the group “Save the Gray Whale Parklands” to oppose the proposal. Behind the public battle, others organized politically to find funding to purchase the property. Negotiations and pressure eventually succeeded, and the California Department of Parks and Recreation added Gray Whale Ranch to Wilder Ranch State Park.

Conservation purchase of a property is like a wedding, where the real work comes afterwards…. The years that followed the purchase of Gray Whale Ranch have been at times tense and rife with unfortunate surprises. Directly after the celebration of park acquisition, there was pressure to open the park for recreation. To open the park to visitors, State Parks created an Interim Use Plan to adhere to legally required public and environmental review regulations. Park management policy requires managers to thoroughly inventory natural resources, identifying sensitive areas for protection from any potential recreational development—including the extensive trails, roads, and the parking lot envisioned for this particular new park. Instead, parks planners favored a streamlined approach that ignored the locations of sensitive natural resources, expediting recreational access on the “‘existing trails” of the former ranch. Surely, they proffered, using existing ranch roads would be better than creating new trails. Similarly, State Parks’ proposed parking lot was to be situated in a purportedly degraded site, where planners suggested previous use had destroyed any sensitive natural resources. However, these claims were not supported by rigorous analysis and seemed contrary to conditions observed in the field, so once again conservationists had to organize to protect the park from this new set of threats.

It became clear that State Parks’ streamlined planning process in effect ignored input, and that the agency would proceed apace with opening the park for recreation. Even so, opposition had gained some ground on stopping the new vehicular entrance and parking lot proposal since State Parks had suggested they be located in what was clearly sensitive habitat.

After failing to improve the Interim Use Plan through the initial public and environmental review process, the conservation community had four remaining avenues to pursue: political pressure, action by either the California Coastal Commission or California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), or perhaps a lawsuit. They dismissed the last option as infeasibly expensive and unpopular, turning their attention to the other possibilities. But first, more research was needed.

With the park now open to the public and with the blessing of State Parks ecologists, conservationists organized a more careful examination of the entrance and proposed parking lot location. They collected data on locations of mima mound-associated wetlands, mapped the state-listed endangered San Francisco popcorn flower, and inventoried locations of the federally endangered Ohlone tiger beetle (OTB). All of these sensitive natural resources would be impacted by the proposed developments.

Armed with this information, conservationists first met with Assemblyman Fred Keeley, who was able to extract verbal assurances from State Parks that they would not impact rare mima mound habitat. To address concerns about enforcing resource protections, Keeley was also able to secure funding for an additional park ranger as well as establish a Gray Whale Advisory Committee to explore expanded public access while addressing resource protection. At the same time, conservationists were working with the Coastal Commission, resulting in direction that State Parks desist from developing the parking lot in sensitive habitat and instead explore other, less sensitive locations. The Coastal Commission also directed State Parks to develop an Ohlone Tiger Beetle Management Plan. Finally, upon notification of the parking lot location’s threats to the endangered popcorn flower, the California Department of Fish Game issued a letter notifying State Parks of a state law violation if they commenced with the proposed parking lot. Despite these seeming victories, State Parks proceeded with a series of unfortunate actions: developing the parking lot in sensitive habitat, ignoring the OTB planning process, destroying OTB habitat, and launching legal actions against conservationists.

Despite pressure to abandon the proposed parking lot development, State Parks started development with cement pouring for a foundation for the restrooms as well as placement of logs outlining the parking lot. Discovering the parking lot development, conservationists quickly worked to follow up on the assurances given to Fred Keeley and the Coastal Commission. Further investigation revealed a curious situation: an unprecedented hand-edited backtracking on the CDFW’s original letter to State Parks striking and replacing language, thus green-lighting the parking lot. Investigations concluded that a State Parks staff person had approached a high level CDFW staff person “friend” to achieve this result, favoring State Parks’ plans. Shortly thereafter, a State Parks staff person wrote a very threatening letter (on State letterhead) threatening one of the conservationists with legal action. This was a commonly employed strategy at the time called “Strategic Legal Action against Public Participation” or a SLAPP suit. Shortly thereafter, higher level State Parks administrators distanced the agency from this individual’s actions, but the staff person went on to file the lawsuit as an individual citizen. Amazingly, this individual’s complaint was supported by testimony of two of their subordinate employees. The lawsuit dragged on, costing thousands of dollars and untold stress; the matter was eventually settled though not before frightening other conservationists working on the issue.

Fortunately, through all of this, the Coastal Commission maintained its pressure on State Parks and was experiencing some success. Whether it was Fred Keeley or the Coastal Commission, or the embarrassment of the legal actions of its employees, State Parks eventually abandoned work on the ill-advised parking lot and turned its attention to the potential expansion of recreational trails through the work of Fred Keeley’s Gray Whale Advisory Committee (GWAC).

The GWAC’s first meeting was an unveiling of a polished plan presented by Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz for an extensive new trail system throughout the park. In a well-orchestrated maneuver to establish the basis for group’s focus, the biking community had been working with State Parks’ permission, surveying areas of the park for potential trail development. Meeting after meeting, the outnumbered conservationists on the committee repeated their testimony from earlier in the planning process: the right way to do recreational trail planning was by inventorying natural resources and subsequently planning for recreation where impacts to the most sensitive resources could be minimized. Parks administrators, clearly inexperienced and unprepared for group process, failed at any progress from the group, which eventually stopped meeting. State Parks presented the Fred Keeley with the report of failure to find a way to expand trails and eventually stopped organizing meetings. Fred Keeley had failed at his venture to secure both increased natural resource protection alongside increased public access. In one small way, this outcome might be seen as a conservation success, but in many other more significant ways it was a terrible failure. Conservationists had succeeded in stopping an expansion of official, State Parks-sanctioned trails through the many sensitive areas on the property, and yet, proposals to move existing and ill-designed access out of sensitive habitats had failed. Gradually, mountain bikers built and currently use the expansive trail system they had originally proposed with no consequence from State Parks’ enforcement staff. And so, mountain bikers got what they wanted while conservationists got little: wildlife lost habitat, and future generations have lost the chance to experience a more intact version of nature within the park.

To complete this story, we must explore two remaining legacies of the Gray Whale planning process: the outstanding Ohlone Tiger Beetle Management Plan and whatever planning process State Parks would initiate to take over where the Interim Use Plan left off.

Gray Whale Ranch is home to one of four populations of the very endangered Ohlone tiger beetle, and State Parks management of the species has been mixed. State Parks never submitted the required Ohlone tiger beetle management plan that the Coastal Commission had required for opening the park to recreation. Instead, sometime in late 2006 or early 2007, State Parks staff spread tons of gravel over very large areas of recreational trails, including in areas previously occupied by the Ohlone tiger beetle. To survive, these beetles create burrows in certain types of native soil: their larvae develop in those burrows, feeding on invertebrates passing within the reach of the burrow entrances. Adding gravel destroys Ohlone tiger beetle habitat. Gravel placement skipped the largest known area of beetle burrows: somehow, State Parks had decided to limit the species to a single area, perhaps in an effort to simplify their management and oversight. But, management at that now single site has seen some positive results: that population at times has been quite successful and healthy. Also, to State Parks’ credit, recreational users of the trails are at times able to learn about the species (when interpretive signs are maintained and legible). State Parks ecologists have even managed trail use to create additional habitat for the beetles. And yet untold but large areas of the beetle’s habitat have been destroyed and there is no published comprehensive plan for mitigating that destruction nor the ongoing destruction of their habitat throughout the park.

It has been many years since the publication of the Gray Whale Ranch Interim Use Plan, but there has been no progress on creating a longer-term plan for managing the park. According to State policy, State Parks must create a General Plan for each park. And, each General Plan is to include a carrying capacity analysis that outlines ways to balance recreational use with protection of natural resources. General Plans are subject to public review and concurrence by other agencies charged with protection of public trust resources (wildlife, clean water, plants, soils, etc.). Without further planning and improved management, the future of Gray Whale Ranch is in some ways certain and in other ways unknown. Without major changes in management, there will be continuing but gradual and severe habitat degradation from ill-planned recreational use and management. Trails have already eroded with the loss of hundreds of tons of soil that has been washed into surrounding habitats, filling wetlands and degrading streams. Unplanned and unregulated trails bisect sensitive wildlife habitat, degrading it and spreading diseases and invasive plants. The park ranger position that Fred Keeley helped to fund has long since evaporated and one very rarely sees any ranger presence at the park. Families with small children and horseback riders report feeling displaced from using the park, which has been overrun by fast moving mountain bikers on the shared trails. And yet, a small but very dedicated cadre of State Parks ecologists do what they can to restore portions of the park when they have the time.

On face value, this story is all about one place, but every element of the story has been and is currently being repeated in every park in our area. Public parks planning processes in our area are always done in contravention to best practices, failing to analyze the park for opportunities and constraints to recreational use with natural resource inventories. Parks planners point to limited resources and a rushed timeline to complete such inventories and yet reject offers by volunteers to complete those—suspect of these meddlers as “biased” and “unscientific.” As with this story, when presented with data, parks personnel ignore it. As with this story, parks planning processes are driven behind the scenes, outside of public process, by the mountain biking community in close partnership with the public parks agencies. Like the example given in this story, conservationists who actively participate in parks planning processes and attempt to increase natural resource protection are reviled by parks managers and face personal attacks and punishing retribution. When other agencies attempt to influence conservation outcomes, their work is stymied and ultimately abandoned. Sometimes, too few staff manage well-designed conservation successes but addressing only a tiny fraction of the need. Finally, parks planners who promise the necessarily ongoing and subsequent planning and monitoring fail to deliver, making temporary plans permanent, follow-up plans never materialize, and monitoring very rarely occurs.

In closing, I want to give some means of action for those who care about wildlife, clean water, and the ability for future generations to experience the wonder of nature in our parks. First, we badly need a more organized constituency for nature. The California Native Plant Society needs funding, more members, and more active members; this group offers a science-based and collaborative approach to conserving native plants including in our parks. The Wildlife Society might also benefit from increased funding, membership, and participation— this group might one day become more active in parks management planning for wildlife conservation. The Xerces Society has resolutely been protecting insects everywhere they can- including by advocating for sound public land management. Second, everyone should express concern about parks management often to their elected officials, who should be pressured to increase funding for the natural resource/ecologist positions for parks agencies. Third, people could monitor parks resources and report their findings to the agencies, perhaps even using the popular iNaturalist application during organized bioblitzes: long term monitoring of trends using the same methods could be powerful. Fourth, assisting volunteer groups in removing invasive species from parks would have very direct positive impact: there are regularly organized opportunities throughout our area. Fifth, following up on any aspect of the above story in any park would be useful—ask questions, investigate, document, and stay involved … that attention could garner results. And, finally, participation in the public processes for planning in parks; learn from others about how to do this effectively and teach others what you’ve learned. Though my story seems grim, together many conservationists have accomplished much. There are many others working on these issues right now. Every success to protect nature in parks means a better chance of a child a hundred years off experiencing natural wonder on their visits to parks. I hope you will help.

Surpassing Sustainability? Natural Areas Visitor Use in Northern Santa Cruz County

The Situation

Our community has done a relatively good job of preserving nature and building a tourist economy, but with no end in sight to development pressure and wild lands feeling the pinch we as a community have nature tourism sustainability issues it’s up to us to face and manage. In the current configuration around 20% of Santa Cruz County has been set aside as parks, most of that managed by State Parks but with many other locations falling under the purview of a patchwork of public and private managers. This extensive park system allows us to enjoy diverse and healthy wildlife populations, increased property values, recreational open space, and clean ground & surface water that can only flow from unpolluted drainages. The 8+ million tourists that visit Santa Cruz County each year are a substantial driver of the economy –bringing jobs and tax revenue to our community– and yet, each of the 3 realms of sustainability – social, economic, and environmental – are already facing unprecedented strain, with even greater challenges clearly identifiable in the very near future. There is an urgent need for action.

Socially, both parks users and parks neighbors are facing a crisis of expectations. Visitors do not find the amenities they expect of open space areas; instead they find few restrooms, no interpretation, degraded and dangerous trails, and parks in a humiliating state of neglect. As neighbors with a long-timer’s perspective our experience of the natural areas around us is quickly changing with jammed parking areas, increased motor vehicle traffic, more users of more types, and the inevitable trash, graffiti, emergency response, and noise issues becoming more frequent and more intense. Longtime residents, where able, increasingly adjust their lives to avoid interactions with crowded tourist weekends. Those who live adjacent to public open spaces are more frequently picking up trash and calling law enforcement or for emergency response assistance. The impacts on our community are random and incur real costs, all the while being totally preventable.

Economically, we don’t have a good understanding of costs and benefits of open space users on our local economy. Certainly, many businesses embrace maximizing tourism to improve their profits. But, the tax revenue that nature tourism brings doesn’t seem to be enough to maintain our vehicle access & amenities at parks and hasn’t increased either trash or restroom services. We grimly consider how many more tourism-related accidents our emergency services can accommodate before negatively impacting response time for residents. Parks budgets have not kept up with the increased demand for interpretation, enforcement, trail management, or stewardship activities; local tourist taxes have for the most part not been allocated to our community’s natural attractions, and parks entrance fees are vastly insufficient in the rare cases that they are collected at all.   

Ecologically, our area is rich with globally-significant treasures all of which are threatened by increased use. Our rich predator community — understood by biologists to be a key indicator of ecological health– is only holding its own because we have at times been careful to maintain areas with fewer human impacts. Mountain lions, badger, ringtail, bobcat, coyote, and fox all are important to the ecology of our natural areas and each species requires careful planning to ensure sufficient habitat and that human use of those habitats does not disrupt them. Increased visitation also threatens our rare and endangered birds, fish, and amphibians through poaching; introductions of weeds and disease; as well as mere regular behavioral disruption.

Solutions

How do we create a more sustainable future for natural areas visitation in Northern Santa Cruz County? First and foremost, there must be a more comprehensive natural areas visitation plan across the landscape. Such a plan would address all of the social, economic, and ecological issues raised above. Currently, there are 11 entities operating in various levels of natural areas management isolation. Each time one of those entities proposes a new public access plan, there would be benefit from a more holistic analysis and plan for regional visitor use sustainability.

In addition, and in the meanwhile, there are two other important elements to create a more sustainable public access program: scientific rigor and public accountability. Public access managers are not able to adapt their management to social, economic, or ecological thresholds without good data; without good data, much will be lost. And, without a means for the public to hold them accountable, public access managers will be unable to comply with their civic agreements. Both of these elements require advocates strong enough to allow public access managers to reduce use as necessary and until data exist to support any level of access. Public engagement in natural areas management will be fostered through regular public reporting including convening of community meetings where there is evidence of both the standing of and responsiveness to our community.

Monument Proclamation for Cotoni-Coast Dairies Adds Significant Protections for Biota

The President’s Proclamation adding the Cotoni-Coast Dairies to the California Coastal National Monument has created protections for many biota, helping to guarantee a balanced approach between public access and preservation. The property’s managers, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), had previously demonstrated disregard for all but federally listed species of plants and animals, which are few on the property. The Proclamation now obligates BLM to manage for 24 species as well as 13 biotic communities that are not otherwise federally protected.  The Proclamation guarantees some public access for the property only after the completion of a management plan that is ‘consistent with the care and management’ of these resources.

The following non-federally protected species (24) probably would not have received attention by BLM had this Monument proclamation not included their mention:

  • Wilson’s warbler
  • Orange-crowned warbler
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Black swift
  • Tree swallow
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • American kestrel
  • California vole
  • Dusky footed woodrat
  • Black-tailed jackrabbit
  • Gray fox
  • Bobcat
  • Mountain lion
  • Mule deer
  • California buttercup
  • Brown-headed rush
  • Redwood sorrel
  • Elk clover
  • Madrone
  • California bay
  • Monterey pine
  • Knobcone pine
  • Douglas fir
  • Coast live oak

 

The following biotic groups/communities (13) must now be protected and managed for by BLM:

  • California sagebrush
  • Coyote brush scrub
  • Amphibians and reptiles
  • Bats
  • Red alder forests
  • Arroyo willow forests
  • Riparian areas
  • Riparian corridors
  • Wetlands – in riparian areas as well as meadows and floodplains
  • Grasslands
  • Scrublands
  • Woodlands
  • Forests

The following federally listed species (4)were also mentioned in the Proclamation:

  • Tidewater goby
  • Steelhead
  • Coho salmon
  • California red-legged frog

The following species (2) are listed in the Proclamation and are also listed by BLM California as requiring protection on BLM lands. These species might not have been protected in perpetuity, though, as that BLM list changes with administrations.

  • White tailed kite
  • Townsend’s big-eared bat

Saving the Coastal Prairie on the Santa Cruz North Coast, Thanks to California State Parks Ecologists

On Tuesday, December 27th I hiked onto the Gray Whale section of Wilder Ranch to see the prairies where the smoke was coming from back in October. I first visited these meadows in the late 1980’s while the property was privately owned; cattle were grazing the meadows, and there were abundant native grasses and wildflowers. Santa Cruz preservationists fought hard to protect the property from a proposed housing development, it went to State Parks, which removed the cows and took many years to start managing the prairies, which were starting to disappear to weeds, shrubs, and trees. Luckily, things were to change…

dsc_0156

Postburn strikingly green meadows.

This past October, I knew that big plume of smoke I saw while driving on Highway 1 meant that State Parks was continuing their work at maintaining the meadows that I love so much. Fellow ecologist Jacob Pollock and I hiked from Twin Gates on Empire Grade down the Long Meadow ‘trail’ and into the strikingly bright green resprouting native grasses and wildflowers growing from the charcoal blackened ground. We found many types of native grass and a few wildflowers in the burned areas. Purple needlegrass, California’s State Grass, dominated the burned area, its dark green, rough leaves now 6” long and ubiquitous- a plant every square foot! These bunchgrasses promise a beautiful spring of silvery-purple flowers swaying 2’ high in the breeze. Patches of California oatgrass were less plentiful in the burn area than in the adjoining unburned area. This is the wet meadow loving indicator species of coastal prairie, and, in the many years after grazing and before the fires, it’s bunches grew taller to get to the sun- these tall bunches are susceptible to fire, but some survive.

dsc_0162

Fire recovery of California oatgrass

Patches of the leaves of wildflowers dotted the meadow and promise much more in the months ahead. Most abundant were sun cups, purple sanicle, and soap plant all long-lived perennials with nice flowers. Sun cups will be the earliest to bloom, maybe as early as late February, with simple, 4-petaled yellow flowers. Purple sanicle will be next to bloom in earl April with it’s small, purple spherical clusters of flowers. Soap plant blooms in late spring with evening blooming, white flowers that attract a variety of bumblebees.

Besides the obvious revitalization of the meadow plants, we marveled at other aspects of the handiwork of State Parks’ expert ecologist land stewards. Unlike many of our area’s meadows, there wasn’t a single French broom plant, a super-invasive non-native shrub that obliterates meadows, overruns trails, and is a major fire hazard. A many year program with State Parks partnering with volunteer groups has controlled that and other weed species at the park. We also saw dead coyote brush both in and out of the burn area- this native shrub can completely overrun meadows, closing bush-to-bush canopy in 15 to 35 years, depending on the soil. State Parks killed the coyote bush to maintain the prairie, and then burned the skeletons of the bushes so that there are now wide opened expanses of meadows, which are attractive to hawks, owls, coyotes, bobcats, and prairie-loving songbirds like meadowlarks. The ecologists also sent the fire into the adjoining and invading forests, maintaining the sinuous coast live oak ecotone that so beautifully frames the meadows.

dsc_0148

Fire maintains prairie ecotone

Today, I’m celebrating environmental heroes- 2-3 State Park Ecologists who manage over 18,000 acres in Santa Cruz County. They are motivated and hardworking. They need more support, more staff, more funding- please tell your State Assemblyperson/Senator! Without their dedication, our prairies would disappear. Thank you!

June 2017 Addendum: Portia Halbert sent me this photo (from State Parks Ecologist Tim Reilly), taken recently. The unburned portion of the coastal prairie in Long Meadow turns out this year to be dominated by Italian thistle, an invasive plant, whereas the fire from last fall seems to have more-or-less obliterated the species in the adjoining meadow. Thistles are especially bad this year in many meadows that haven’t been well stewarded. This discovery, that fire might help with thistle invasion, is a complete surprise to me- it deserves some careful scientific investigation! Long meadow italian thistle

Wildlife Protection at the Potential Cotoni Coast Dairies Monument- The Naysayers

Preservationists have done what they can to protect natural resources at the Cotoni Coast Dairies, should it become a National Monument- but, who didn’t support that work, and why?

The Proposal

Early in 2016, a broad coalition of experts and I drafted a proposal to add natural resource protection to any Presidential declaration of the Cotoni Coast Dairies National Monument. Expert wildlife biologists, amphibian and bird experts, plant community ecologists, and others co-created a list of sensitive species and rare ecosystems that would receive more protection under a Presidential Monument declaration, should that list be included. Sensitive natural resources at other presidentially declared Monuments in California have enjoyed such protections, so there is no reason such protections shouldn’t be in place at Cotoni Coast Dairies.

Questions: Who is writing the Presidential Proclamation that will give the Cotoni Coast Dairies National Monument status? Do they know about this proposal?

Answers: The staff at the Council on Environmental Quality, an office that advises the President. As of Fall 2016, they have our proposal, and we are hoping they will include it, in its entirety.

Supporting the Proposal…

The proposal enjoyed the public support of the following organizations:

The Trust for Public Land, which owned the Coast Dairies property before handing it to BLM, wrote an especially important support letter. Their letter emphasized the importance of including our proposal because it documented species and ecosystems that had been discovered since TPL wrote the legally-binding land management plan that would otherwise serve to protect the property under BLM ownership.

Not Supporting the Proposal…

Despite repeated requests, the following organizations refused to publicly support our sound, science-based proposal to increase protections of natural resources at the Cotoni Coast Dairies:

It is ironic that all of these organizations publicly supported the proposal to make the Cotoni Coast Dairies a National Monument. And, these are all expert conservation organizations. And so, these organizations must have been aware that BLM provides less protection to the natural resources listed in our proposal without those species being included in the Presidential Monument declaration.

The various written rationales for not supporting the proposal included (paraphrased):

  • ‘it would take too much time for our organization to analyze the issue’ (two organizations)
  • ‘our policies have changed since we signed on to support the proposed Monument, now we don’t do those types of things’(one organization)
  • ‘some influential people (elected officials/Monument advocates) wouldn’t like us as much if we supported the proposal- so, it’s not worth it’ (two organizations)

What Can You Do?

If you agree that future generations deserve to enjoy healthy wildlife and clean coastal streams….

And, if you agree in science-based, policy-smart solutions to make that happen…

  • When choosing to join or support in any way an environmental organization: choose from the list of those organizations that supported our proposal.
  • Even without such support, please let the organizations listed above know what you think. Click on the organization names above- I included links to their websites.

True or False: National Monument Designation Will Confer Additional Natural Resource Protection to Cotoni Coast Dairies?

 

-Part 1-

Our government designates National Monuments in order to protect them, but would a National Monument designation for Cotoni Coast Dairies really better protect these lands? An informed answer requires an examination of the protections already in place, the language of the monument designation, and how the public and US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) follow through after monument designation. Today we will examine the first two of those three subjects with a subsequent essay that will cover the last subject.

Through decades of public effort, natural resource protections in place at Cotoni Coast Dairies were already very strong when the BLM took possession in 2014. The owners before BLM – the Trust for Public Land (TPL) – created two sets of deed restrictions that incorporated private and public funders’ interests as well as protections imposed by the California Coastal Commission. These deed restrictions require future managers to accommodate public recreation without sacrificing protected endangered species or endangered species habitat. The restrictions also prohibit mining, commercial timber production, and use of off-road motorized vehicles. The TPL and the California Coastal Commission both have standing to enforce these deed restrictions in perpetuity. Since these restrictions serve to protect the Cotoni Coast Dairies property’s natural resources in most of the ways Federal National Monument status normally affords, the question is: what additional natural resource protections might National Monument status afford?

Interestingly, National Monument designation doesn’t necessarily guarantee any specific types of natural resource protection. Those that exist are entirely subject to the discretion of Congress or the President. There are different regulatory guidelines for Congress versus the President in establishing National Monuments. Congress has constitutional authority to declare an area a National Monument; the Constitution allows Congress to make whatever rules it wishes for such land. For example, Congress can allow off road vehicles and commercial timber production on National Monuments, or Congress can prohibit human visitors, altogether. Alternatively, the Antiquities Act of 1906 allows Presidents to designate an area as a National Monument. The President is limited by the Antiquities Act which requires the size of the Monuments is ‘smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.’

In 2015 two US Congresswomen and both US Senators from California co-sponsored a measure to add the Cotoni Coast Dairies property to the California Coastal Monument. The proposed addition lacked any substantive natural resource protections and ultimately failed to motivate sufficient support to make it to a floor vote. In accounting for the omission, aides to both the House and Senate sponsors have directly claimed that such language was ‘inappropriate’ because the representatives believe that Congress should not exert political influence on federal agencies’ land management decisions. In keeping with this policy, other Monument legislation in California from this era has contained little natural resource protection language.

As early as February 2016, in the wake of the failure of the California proposal, Congressional proponents met with the Obama administration on numerous occasions to urge designation of Cotoni Coast Dairies as a National Monument via an Executive Order under the Antiquities Act. We know little about what if any natural resource protections those Congressional offices lobbied for in their negotiations with the President, because this information is not available to the public. But when Congressional designation of National Monuments failed in the past, subsequent Presidential Antiquities Act proclamations of Monuments have had a regrettably mixed record of inclusion of natural resource protection language.

No discernible pattern exists –not one informed by policy or ‘pragmatism’– to account for the variable inclusion of natural resource protections in Presidential National Monument declarations. Most often, local grassroots conservation efforts motivated Presidents to designate lands as National Monuments. In most of those designations, grassroots organizations proactively provided Presidents with the information necessary to inform specific natural resource protection language in their Monument proclamations. This language often provided for protections above and beyond the federally listed species protected on federal lands by including mention of state-listed, rare, and unusual species.

The following Presidential Antiquities Act proclamations declaring National Monuments all had language protecting natural resources above and beyond what would have been protected had these areas not been declared Monuments:

  • Carrizo Plain
  • Berryessa Snow Mountain
  • Giant Sequoia, and
  • the Pt. Arena Stornetta boundary enlargement of the California Coastal National Monument (of particular relevance).

Presidential Antiquities Act proclamations for these Monuments each called out protections for a number of rare or state-listed species not otherwise protected on Federal lands (Appendix 1). Here is a tally of the numbers of non-federally listed plants and animals in these proclamations:

  • Carrizo Plain National Monument – 8 plants, 3 mammals
  • Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument – 17 plants
  • Point Arena-Stornetta Unit, California Coastal Monument – 1 plant, 4 animals
  • Giant Sequoia National Monument – 3 animals

On the other hand, some Presidential monument proclamations had little or no such language. For instance, the proclamations creating the Santa Rosa/San Jacinto and Fort Ord National Monuments did not include mention of any specific non-federally listed species.

When non-federally listed species and other natural resource protection language is included in Antiquities Act proclamations of National Monuments, land managers must explicitly manage for those resources. If no natural resource protection language is included in proclamations the managers need never exceed baseline practices of natural resource protection. In my next post I will provide details on how land managers for the above listed Monuments adjusted their management to account for National Monument status, answering in the main the ‘what happens when’ question. For our purposes here suffice it to say that natural resource protection language in Monument designations has correlated with additional protection of those natural resources.

The nut of our position is this: Cotoni Coast Dairies is already largely protected in the ways that National Monument status would confer. If National Monument status is meant to increase protection of Cotoni Coast Dairies –as advocates for Monument status have suggested– the only sure way is if the President’s proclamation includes specific natural resource protections.

————————————————————————–

Appendix 1: Recent, Antiquities Act created Californian National Monuments and the sensitive natural resources that the Presidential proclamations protected.

Monument Species Listing Status
     
Carrizo Plain San Joaquin (Nelson’s) Antelope squirrel State of California Threatened
Pale‐yellow layia

Carrizo peppergrass

Lost Hills saltbush

Temblor buckwheat

 

California Rare Plant Rank 1B
Hoover’s woolly‐star

Forked fiddleneck

California Rare Plant Rank 4 “Watch List”

 

Pronghorn antelope

Tule elk

 

Unlisted
Berryessa Snow Mountain

 

Indian Valley brodiaea

Red Mountain catchfly

 

State of California Threatened

 

Bent flowered fiddleneck

Brittlescale

Brewer’s jewelflower

Snow Mountain buckwheat

Coastal bluff morning glory

Cobb Mountain lupine

Napa western flax

 

California Rare Plant Rank 1B
Purdy’s fringed onion

Serpentine sunflower

Bare monkeyflower

Swamp larkspur

Purdy’s fritillary

 

California Rare Plant Rank 4 “Watch List”

 

Musk brush

MacNab cypress

Leather oak

 

Not listed
Point Arena-Stornetta

 

Humboldt Bay owl’s clover

 

California Rare Plant Rank 1B
Black oystercatcher

Yellow warbler

Black-crowned night heron

Brown pelican

 

Not listed
Giant Sequoia Great gray owl

 

State of California Endangered

 

Northern goshawk

 

State of California

Species of Concern

 

American marten

 

Not listed

 

Experts Weigh in on Monument Proposal: Sensitive Natural Resources of Cotoni Coast Dairies

Introduction

The BLM-managed Cotoni Coast Dairies property is being proposed for National Monument status, but thus far proposed legislation lacks language typical in such proclamations that recognizes the natural and geologic features which make this place special. This brief proposes such language as reviewed by the region’s experts in this area and its natural resources.

Methodology

The following language about the Cotoni Coast Dairies property contains information about natural and geologic features of national significance as reviewed for accuracy by regional experts familiar with the property. Natural resources presented here include plant and animal species that are found in few other places. Bird species are included if they are suspected of breeding on the property. Because the property has historically been in private ownership and biological investigation has been largely prohibited, this list is not meant to be exhaustive. Experts who reviewed the proposed language for their areas of expertise are included in Appendix 1.

 Proposed Language

“Because of its history, topographic features, and water resources, Cotoni Coast Dairies is a property notable for its species-rich, diverse habitats as well as its sensitive plants and wildlife. The property is located in one of the richest biodiversity hot spots in North America. Many species of plants and wildlife found on the property are listed as rare, sensitive, threatened or endangered under Federal, State, and local laws. These include: Point Reyes horkelia, Choris’ popcornflower, Santa Cruz manzanita, steelhead, coho salmon, California red-legged frog, western pond turtle, white-tailed kite, northern harrier, olive-sided flycatcher, Bryant’s savannah sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, tricolored blackbird, San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat, and American badger (for a complete list, see Appendix 2).

Cotoni Coast Dairies is replete with wild and diverse landscapes and climatic micro-habitats that support unique biotic assemblages. These include deep, riparian canyons containing seven nearly undeveloped watersheds and clear-running streams that have been rarely impacted by humans. Ridges contain intact lowland maritime chaparral, a threatened and species-rich, fire adapted ecosystem endemic to low elevations along the California coast. The property’s four marine terraces contain an ecological staircase providing a unique localized profile of ancient soil development and evolution. Each of these terraces contains sensitive and unique assemblages of coastal prairie grasslands, of which more than 40 types have been documented from the vicinity. The extensive coastal scrub on the property includes species-rich rocky outcrops and large areas inaccessible to humans. The property contains numerous wetlands and springs, which are buffered by the maritime environment and fed by healthy watersheds that provide spawning, breeding, and foraging habitat for fish, amphibian and aquatic reptile species including steelhead, California red-legged frog and western pond turtle. The rare ecosystems of redwood, Shreve oak, and Monterey pine forests on the property are globally significant. The relative isolation of the property provides core wildlife habitat to a particularly diverse mammalian carnivore community including mountain lion, American badger, gray fox, long-tailed weasel, bobcat, and coyote. The grasslands on the property likewise support foraging habitat for an unusually abundant and diverse raptor community including: white-tailed kite, golden eagle, northern harrier, red-tailed hawk, ferruginous hawk, American kestrel, American peregrine falcon, short-eared owl, barn owl, and burrowing owl.”

Appendix 1: Expert Reviewers

These persons provided review of the proposed language for their areas of expertise.

Name Expertise, Affiliation
Mark Allaback Certified Wildlife biologist

Biosearch Associates

 

Don Alley D.W. ALLEY & Associates

Certified Fisheries Scientist

 

Sandra Baron Ecologist

 

Phil Brown

 

President

Santa Cruz Bird Club

 

Dr. Don Croll Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

University of California at Santa Cruz

 

Dr. Gage Dayton Ecologist

University of California at Santa Cruz

 

Carleton Eyster Coastal Ecologist

 

Steve Gerow

 

Past President and County Records Keeper

Santa Cruz Bird Club

 

D. Kim Glinka Wildlife Biologist

 

Dan Grout Wildlife Biologist

Grout Wildlife Research

Brett Hall

 

California Native Plant Program Director

UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

 

Grey Hayes, PhD Botanist/Restoration Ecologist

 

Kim Hayes Biologist/Conservation Lands Manager

 

Dr. David Kossack San Andreas Land Conservancy

 

Kerry Kriger, PhD Executive Director

SAVE THE FROGS!

 

Inger Marie Laursen Wildlife Ecologist

 

Dr. Bruce Lyon Avian Ecologist

University of California at Santa Cruz

Bryan Mori Certified Wildlife Biologist

Bryan Mori Biological Consulting

Watsonville, CA

 

Dylan Neubauer

 

Botanist
Elliot Schoenig Herpetologist

 

Lisa Sheridan

 

Conservation Officer

Santa Cruz Bird Club

 

Dr. Dean Taylor

 

Botanist

California Academy of Sciences

 

Jim West

 

Botanist

 

Appendix 2: Sensitive Species of the Cotoni Coast Dairies Property.

Animals
Common name Latin name Rarity Status
California red-legged frog

 

Rana draytonii Federally Threatened

CA Species of Special Concern

 

Coho salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch Federally and State Endangered

(central California coast ESU)

 

Steelhead Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus Federally Threatened

(central California coast DPS)

 

White-tailed kite Elanus leucurus

 

CA Fully Protected

(nesting)

 

Bryant’s savannah sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis alaudinus

 

CA Species of Special Concern
Ferruginous hawk

 

Buteo regalis California Watch List

(wintering)

 

Grasshopper sparrow Ammodramus savannarum CA Species of Special Concern (nesting)

 

Northern harrier Circus cyaneus

 

CA Species of Special Concern (nesting)

 

Olive-sided flycatcher

 

Contopus cooperi CA Species of Special Concern (nesting)

 

Tricolored blackbird Agelaius tricolor

 

CA Species of Special Concern

(nesting colony)

 

American badger Taxidea taxus CA Species of Special Concern

 

San Francisco dusky-footed woodrat Neotoma fuscipes

annectens

 

CA Species of Special Concern
Western pond turtle Actinemys marmorata CA Species of Special Concern

 

Plants
Common name Latin name Rarity Status
Choris’ popcornflower Plagiobothrys chorisianus var. chorisianus

 

California Rare Plant Rank (CRPR) List 1B
Point Reyes horkelia Horkelia marinensis

 

CRPR List 1B
Santa Cruz Manzanita Arctostaphylos andersonii

 

CRPR List 1B
California bottlebrush grass Elymus californicus

 

CRPR List 4
Michael’s rein orchid Piperia michaelii

 

CRPR List 4
Bolander’s goldenaster Heterotheca sessiliflora subsp. bolanderi

 

Locally rare1
Brownie thistle Cirsium quercetorum

 

Locally rare1
Cascades oregon grape Berberis nervosa

 

Locally rare1
Coast barberry Berberis pinnata subsp. pinnata

 

Locally rare1
Coastal larkspur Delphinium decorum subsp. decorum

 

Locally rare1
Common muilla Muilla maritime

 

Locally rare1
Elmer fescue Festuca elmeri

 

Locally rare1
Fire reedgrass Calamagrostis koelerioides

 

Locally rare1
Hoary bowlesia

 

Bowlesia incana

 

Locally rare1
Narrow leaved mule ears Wyethia angustifolia

 

Locally rare1
Round woolly marbles Psilocarphus tenellus

 

Locally rare1
Salmon berry Rubus spectabilis

 

Locally rare1
Woolly goat chicory Agoseris hirsuta

 

Locally rare1

 

1 Locally rare species were not included in the suggested language but may deserve mention; these species are recognized by experts as deserving of protection because of their local rarity.

Post Scripts:

  • I submitted the above to representatives and agencies responsible for National Monument designation including the Obama Administration, Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Senators Boxer and Feinstein, Congresswomen Capps and Eshoo.
  • Letters of support for this proposal included with submission from the Trust for Public Lands, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Audubon California, California Native Plant Society, Sierra Club, Valley Women’s Club of San Lorenzo Valley, Save the Frogs, and the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County

Robin Irruption!

 

American Robin

Licensed under CC: Photo by Flickr user Lucina M. All rights revert to originator.

Thousands of robins are visiting California’s central coast: lots more than usual, an ‘irruption.’ Unfortunately, I lack records of the timing of their arrival, but many people are talking about their astounding numbers, including: Feynner at Big Creek Reserv
e in Big Sur and Brock Dolman in Occidental, Sonoma County…and birders with the Monterey Bay Birds list serve. Feynner’s says maybe they came this way to avoid big burned areas inland and North. I counted 200 in about 10 minutes, flying in squeaky-talkative groups across a North Coast Santa Cruz field. This has been a daily occurrence for many weeks.

I have spent a little while standing among flocks of hundreds of robins in the fields and orchards at Molino Creek Farm, watching them. They scratch the mulch under the apple trees or poke at the ground in the fields, each bird holding their own few square feet. Some birds rest, alert high in nearby branches in two’s and three’s. I hear the crackle crackle crackle-squeak of a perturbed bird chasing away another, too close; they chatter their beaks by clicking them together rapidly when they seem especially territorial in a favorite food spot. These birds are apt to live up to the cliché, a worm hanging sideways out of their mouths.

Robins were Rachel Carson’s indicator species for the ‘Silent Spring.’ In 1950’s Michigan, researchers documented that elm leaves containing a pesticide applied to battle Dutch elm disease were digested by earthworms, and the earthworms by Robins. Pesticide poisoning made the Robins’ egg shells too thin, and they faced reproductive failure at a landscape level.  Mornings got quieter and quieter in the Great Lakes states as the friendly dawn chorus of Robins quickly faded. Thanks to Rachel Carson and a host of others, America woke up and stopped large-scale broadcast spraying of pesticides.

Robins seem especially wise. Their gaze is intent. Someone once saw an American Robin sweep leaves aside using a twig- tool using intelligence. I imagine their vocal chatter is carrying lots of information. Their friendliness towards me suggests that they know I don’t eat them- people once hunted them for food. They are still food, but for other species: while hiking the other day, I walked towards a cacophony of Robin voices. As I do for all flocks, I spoke gently saying “don’t worry about me!” But, they wouldn’t stop and, after another dozen strides at my feet was a freshly dead Robin, neck broken, just killed…probably by a Cooper Hawk. Cooper Hawk and Sharp Shinned Hawks must be well fed this winter.

I’m pleased to have witnessed this Robin irruption, reminding me that terrestrial ecosystems of the Western United States can still produce bird abundance. This is the third irruption in recent years. 2014 was the Varied Thrush irruption. Winter of 2012/2013 was a Red Breasted Nuthatch irruption. What next? Don’t miss this one! Take time at dawn or dusk in the fields around the Central Coast to see the many Robins and hear their “chock chock” talk. (Check out their big beaks, too!).