You’ll soon be familiar with one of this area’s most important native shrubs and its ecological interactions. The best poets, writers, and film makers have intimate familiarity with plants and ecosystems, enabling them to transmit their hearts and imaginations realistically. To be part of this place, to appreciate the nature around us, you might consider doing the same. Most start with the dominant trees – those are easy…aim for 10 species, and you’ll have a great start! The next step is to name and know the stories of the top 10 dominant shrubs. In this case, you’ll certainly include a shrub with a confusing array of common names: California lilac, blue blossom, wood tick bush, soap blossom, or (in yesteryear) blue myrtle (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus).
Whatever you call it, this shrub is starting to blossom right now with long fat clusters of tiny pale blue flowers, shaking with pollinators, and filling the air with incredible perfume.
California lilac isn’t even closely related to the ‘normal’ lilac, but it is easily as commonly found in gardens. The European lilac is related to olives, has medium-sized leaves, and 4-petaled flowers with heady, sweet perfume. Our native wild lilac has a dusty-sweet scent, but you’ll have to squint or use a magnifying glass to see that the tiny flowers have 5 petals.
There are many relatives of blue blossom, and you can even find some side-by-side in our area. My favorite is warty leaved Ceanothus, Ceanothus papillosus, which likes to grow in chaparral. This warty-leaved type has sapphire-blue flowers and a very memorable, sweet-resinous smell emanating from its leaves, especially when it is hot out. This diversity of Ceanothus types and their stunning beauty have made them very popular as garden plants. If you have well-drained soil and some space in your garden, you might consider adding one not only for their flower beauty, but for their evergreen beautiful leaves, as well as their attractiveness to wildlife. You can find forms from tight ground covers to tall and treelike with flowers from white to deep, dark blue. The flower scents are that variable, too- from very sweet to very musky.
Twenty Years Ago
Twenty years ago, it was a much more unusual treat to encounter California lilac in the natural landscape around Santa Cruz. The same can still be said of the areas that haven’t burned in anyone’s memory. Big, burly blue blossom could hardly be called a shrub back then; they seemed more like small trees, with 1’ thick, gnarly trunks and barely organized canopies festooned thickly with pale blue flowers. Those powder blue puffs stood out singly or in small groves, poking up through old manzanitas or coyotebrush, visible a half mile away for their brief flowering period and then disappearing for the remainder of the year, blending in perfectly.
And Then There Was Fire
California lilac is a pyrophile. How can life love fire, such a destructive force, cooking and searing plants and animals alike as the wind-fanned flames race across hill and valley, crackling and hissing, turning everything to smoking char? For blue blossom, there is naturally no next generation without fire and adults are lucky to live 50 years. These shrubs make a lot of seeds, which sit in the soil waiting for the winter after fire to germinate. Sleeping seeds awaken when they feel the sun and the sun-warmed soil, then seeds that have accumulated in the soil for years germinate. Carpets of blue blossom seedlings spring up, and 3 years after the fire are 6’ tall and blooming, soon raining seeds in preparation for the next fire birthing.
Blue blossom seeds don’t appear adapted to dispersing far from their parent shrubs. The seeds don’t have maple seed wings or dandelion fluff to disperse on the wind. And, the seeds don’t have obviously attractive fruit like acorns or avocados. But, when the seed pods explode on hot days, cracking and popping seeds loose from the mother plants, wildlife become alert to the new availability of food. Quail have been known to gobble them up, as they scratch and peck in the shrubland understory. But quail and other birds don’t digest the seeds completely: the result, perfectly viable seeds being spread across the landscape, far from mother plants.
Not Just Fire
California lilac doesn’t require fire. Any disturbance that churns up the soil and shines new sunlight onto the seeds will work just fine. So, you can find new shrubs germinating in the wake of road or trail building, logging, and even suburban gardening. There are many other sneaky species like this: ones that appear abundant after fire, almost as if they require fire to germinate. There are many fewer species that do actually require fire to germinate- many of those are triggered to sprout by chemicals leached out of charcoal in the winter rains following wildfire.
California Lilac Uses
What good is this shrub? The vigor of this species in germinating after wildfire may be important for a few reasons. First, the shrubs might help to cover and then hold soil in place after fire. Second, the species has special roots that allow it to capture atmospheric Nitrogen and make it available as a plant nutrient. Adding this fertilizer to the ecosystem may help adjacent plants to grow and recover after wildfire. Blue blossom tends to grow especially well on poor soils, so it may be assisting many other species to make it in this soil-inhospitable situation.
Moths, Butterflies and Other Insects
Besides being good bird seed, moths and butterflies depend on California lilac. Ceanothus silk moth feeds on this species (its cocoons were used ceremonially by tribal peoples); many other species of butterfly and moths likewise raise their young on blue blossom. Tortoiseshell butterflies migrate from the Sierra Nevada to raise their young on blue blossom here along the coast. Somehow, the young know how to get back to those mountains to raise their children, which in turn fly higher in the Sierra and that high-mountain-raised generation is the one that comes to the coast.
Besides the post-fire explosion of tortoiseshell butterflies, one of my favorite phenomena are the annual gatherings of what I call blue blossom dancers. Thousands of tiny beetles fly in clouds above the blossoming shrubs at sunset, their silver-shining silhouettes are fascinating to watch pulsing and undulating in their fantastic annual ritual dance. Throughout the day, you can see those dancers feasting on pollen in the flower clusters, preparing for their energetic sunset display.
Where to See Blue Blossom….and a Cleaning Trick
Head for the post-fire ecological footprint! I hear that some Big Basin trails are open as are the trails in the Fall Creek Unit of Henry Cowell State Park. Both areas have huge rafts of California lilac just starting to flower. It is worth going before the winds on a warm day to immerse yourself in the scent. Do yourself a favor and get close to the flower clusters to see the awesome diversity of pollinators. If there is water nearby, grab a big hank of flowers and get to the water. Holding the mass of flowers between your wet hands, rub them together and you can experience the sudsy nature of soap blossom. Like apricot scrub, it has just the right amount of abrasiveness to help the nicely scented suds help clean your hands.
See, you know this! Ceanothus. You are on your way.
-this post originally made available via Bruce Bratton at his BrattonOnline.com blog; check it out…weekly updates…the BEST local news source in the Monterey Bay area.
How do you feel about Earth Day 2023, in Santa Cruz and throughout the USA? The first Earth Day was in 1970 and was organized by Wisconsin’s Senator Gaylord Nelson to be a massive public demonstration to restore the environment. Estimates are that 20 million people took to the streets in protest. They say that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded because of those first Earth Day demonstrations.
Imagine so many people demonstrating because of environmental degradation in the United States! While some things have improved since 1970, we are now facing the greatest threat to the planet ever due to greenhouse gases and climate change. Earth Day in 2023 is tamer, perhaps too tame. What are we going to do to better celebrate Earth Day in 2023?
Earth Day Learning
The best things I find to do on Earth Day in the Monterey Bay area in 2023 are about learning. My favorite educational attractions for Earth Day are being offered in conjunction with Earth Day Santa Cruz. Mainly, I suggest that you check out the free admission to the Museum of Art and History where the main feature is the Bay of Life exhibit. Chris Eckstrom’s and Frans Lanting’s Bay of Life project is very important- a way for more of the Monterey Bay’s people to learn how we live in an epically special place. The photos at the exhibition are more than memorable…they are inspirational, and the project aims to mobilize people, much as Earth Day did at its origin.
Earth Day Reading
For Earth Day 2023, I highly recommend people read the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. The book is full of wisdom about how to live better on this planet. If you are interested in what your find in Ishmael, take the next step and read Derrick Jensen’s Endgame. Both books will point you in the right direction in many ways. A lot of what Derrick Jensen has to say is pretty important.
Learning is Not Enough
Environmental education is only valuable if it helps nurture pro-environmental behavior.
Give or Take?
In Quinn’s Ishmael, we are asked to reflect on if we are taking too much or just what we need from Earth. I take that another step to ask what we are giving back to Earth. A few of the events I find about Earth Day in the Monterey Bay area in 2023 are about taking less, not giving back to Mother Earth. Some of the events are downright greenwashing or irrelevant. Ecological restoration is the main way I see that we can give back to Earth, but I can’t find a single opportunity to help with ecological restoration associated with Earth Day near Santa Cruz.
I know of one event that has brought greenwashing to local Earth Day celebrations. Building new trails is not a pro-environmental behavior, especially when it comes to building those trails at Cotoni Coast Dairies. As I have mentioned in previous essays, that property has not experienced the kind of planning for trails that is necessary to conserve our extraordinary biodiversity, especially that land’s sensitive wildlife species and the species protected through its National Monument status. That hasn’t stopped the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (aka Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Stewardship) from advertising an Earth Day event that focuses on habitat degradation. At their ‘Dig Day,’ volunteers will be unwittingly paving the way for unnecessarily wildlife disturbing activities. Earth Day volunteers will be helping folks rich enough to afford both a car and the gas to get to that park to bring their mountain bikes to have a ‘rad time’ on trails too narrow to be comfortable for bombing bikers and families going for a walk to use at the same time. To assure mountain bikers rule the trails, BLM has proposed rules that would make it illegal to step off of the narrow trails. It’s a pity that the Bureau of Land Management has had such a special relationship with this group, allowing them so much access to the closed park while turning away ecologists who would help better understand the plants and wildlife that need protection.
Outdoor Industry Lobbying Infects Earth Day
This Earth Day let’s renew our dedication to vigilance in protecting our public lands from well-funded special interest groups. In California as elsewhere, there are coalitions of businesses organizing to lobby for “increased access”(read wildlife habitat destruction). Their job is to “streamline regulations and policy affecting the active outdoor industry” (read stop public lands managers from protecting wildlife in favor of outdoor recreation). The clout of the Outdoor Industry Association is affecting politics, apparently trickling down right here on our North Coast.
Earth Day is Every Day
In closing, I hope you can sort through the Earth Day hype to find something meaningful to do. If you seek educational programs, may your experience lead in in the direction of actions that you can take to not only reduce your footprint on Earth but also to help improve wildlife conservation in and around the Monterey Bay. May we all think about that impactful, original Earth Day and how we might soon mobilize to push for the changes needed to avert the catastrophes of climate change. We are gathering together to make a difference, and our might will be felt in the near future.
-this post slightly edited from the original part of Bruce Bratton’s BrattonOnline.com weekly blog.
Wild blackberries are blooming big time. Their brambly tip-rooting canes are sprouting new leaves and are festooned with bright white five-petalled flowers. In rare years, they make tasty, juicy berries, but mostly the weather turns hot and dry, and the fruits are seedy/not-so juicy. Currently, they are making pollen and nectar for the emerging bumble bees, while we dream of the tasty fruit. Wild blackberries are the dominant wildflower right now on the farm, creating hedgelets along all the fences ‘cause that’s where we can’t mow them too much. They arch out from there onto our fence-side trails: trip hazards!
Soon, there will be more wildflowers – spring is on the verge of letting loose! Nearby, on south-facing shallow-soiled spots, the poppy displays are epic splashes of orange, bigger than any recent year. Across Molino Creek, on that steep south facing slope, a large patch of poppy orange has erupted where before the fire there had been shrubs. I’m looking forward to the woodland iris displays, though they are getting overtaken by post-fire shrubs like blue blossom (Ceanothus), which is starting to blossom as well. In about 2 weeks, there will be miles of blue blossom shrubs blooming about 5 feet high across at least half of the 85,000-acre burn footprint of the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire. Imagine a sea of powder blue, framed by glossy light green leaves…thousands of acres of rolling wild lilac scent wafting headily, luring you to just stand still and gaze.
More than a few of the noble ridge-line tree skeletons have fallen, but many remain silhouetted on the ridgelines. The redwoods have enjoyed the rain and are recovering from drought and fire with luxurious new growth; the ones that burned hotter sprouting from only their trunks…others from their branches…and all of them from the base of their trunks with 5’+ tall sprouts sprinting skyward. And everywhere, between it all, so very green and lush, but the ground is getting drier.
Even with all the rain, the ground is starting to dry out. Once the rain stops, even for a little while, the long days and the strong breezy days we’ve been having make for quick dry soil. The upper 2” of soil is dry, dry, but below it is still pretty moist. Gophers are awaking and their soil throws are starting to appear, moist piles burying the surrounding lush grass. Roots pump moisture from deep in the earth and plants grow quickly to blossom and seed before the last moisture is gone and the long dry summer sets in.
The most proud bolt is in cover crop land. Thick bell bean stalks sport rows of big white flowers and flapping succulent leaves. Twining ferny leaved vetch climbs up those stalks. Pert sharp leaves of oats grow in thick forests through it all, promising tons of tough stems for future spongy soil organic matter.
Along Come the Mowers
Back and forth, hither and yon, the mowers must mow. Behind the machines, dense mats of sweet-smelling chopped up vegetation, either to be tractored into the soil or left on top as mulch, protecting the earthworms from sunburn. We rush to mow the farm fields and the orchard understory to keep the plants from sucking up the soil moisture, to keep the water for the crops to delay irrigation for as long as we can.
It’s suddenly become a busy time around the Farm. I suspect the spring is revving everyone’s energy about now. Keep calm and plod forward!
-from my weekly blog also posted at Molino Creek Farm’s website.
I invite you to immerse yourself for a few moments into my dream of the future of Santa Cruz’ North Coast. How will Cotoni Coast Dairies fare in the future, for instance in 2064? During the past year, many things have aligned to allow my dream to be much closer to reality.
Cotoni Coast Dairies’ new manager, Zacchary Ormsby is the first with the skill, knowledge and respect to manage the property according to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) protocol for lands with National Monument and National Conservation Lands status. Zacchary is joined by a freshly hired California Coastal Monument manager, another conservation-oriented biologist, Leisyka Parrot. Congressman Jimmy Pannetta, a skilled veteran of addressing impacts in over-loved and under-stewarded wildlands of Big Sur, has been newly elected to represent Cotoni Coast Dairies’ geography. Jimmy is dedicated to helping address North Coast tourist visitation issues with his important federal government leverage. And Justin Cummings with his doctorate in multi-disciplinary environmental problem solving is newly both the County Supervisor AND the Coastal Commissioner overseeing the park. Meanwhile, many very smart coalitions are poised to work together to assure that Cotoni Coast Dairies is a park for all, well stewarded for wildlife, forever.
It is 2064, the 50th anniversary of Cotoni Coast Dairies becoming public land, and there are national celebrations of this unexpectedly exemplary project. The New York Times has a full color Sunday edition article featuring the park’s success. Cotoni Coast Dairies has become a global destination for accessible, multi-cultural nature tourism. Hundreds of thousands of visitors have enjoyed immersive educational experiences that are the gold standard being copies at other parks around the world. Programs at the park have changed lives of thousands of underrepresented schoolchildren from throughout the Bay Area. Tourists of many nationalities flock to Santa Cruz with this destination in mind. The park’s managers have worked closely with scientists and conservationists, succeeding in restoring the property’s teeming wildlife populations. Visitation is so well managed that many different experiences are available, no matter what ethnicity or language and no matter the financial means. Using cutting edge technology, parks administrators provide the vast array of experiences that visitors report wanting and have developed software to continuously adapt available park experiences accordingly. BLM has received recognition for their sound management through strong public as well as private funding and through the added capacity of dedicated partner organizations and volunteers.
Badgers, Burrowing Owls, and Tule Elk, Oh My!
Early on, BLM partnered with local scientists, State and Federal wildlife agencies, and conservation groups with what turned out to be highly successful reintroduction programs for American badger, western burrowing owl, beaver, and tule elk. Volunteers working with conservation groups adapted prior regional wildlife connectivity successes to create Western North America’s first badger preserve by reintroducing ground squirrels, installing drift fences to underpasses along roads to reduce badger fatalities, and creating landscape-scale habitat corridors, and badger populations recovered. Because badgers prefer sandy soils for denning, Cotoni Coast Dairies managers designed large recreation-free buffers around the best denning sites; at first, those buffers were insufficient, but monitoring refined buffer design, and the badgers responded positively with their first young born in 2040. The badger and ground squirrel burrows created habitat that made it possible to later reintroduce burrowing owls which have established several breeding colonies in the huge swaths of restored coastal prairies. These wildlife species have become an important focus for visitation.
Restored Coastal Prairie
Besides reintroduction of these keystone grassland wildlife species, BLM managers embarked on two other processes that turned out to be critical to the restoration of some of California’s last remaining coastal prairies. First, the entire property, including its prairies, became actively cared for by the descendants of the indigenous people who have tended the landscape for thousands of years. The importance of indigenous stewardship was an insight from the outset, including in the name of the property beginning with the tribal name of the first inhabitants, ‘Cotoni.’ In the process of recognizing and revitalizing their culture, native people have directed hundreds of programs attracting thousands of volunteers, school children, and others to collaborate in the large-scale restoration of the land. They reintroduced fire management and tended wildflowers and grasses, carefully relearning the best ways to nurture them to health. The native peoples have revived their internationally renowned basketry, tending plants throughout the park for materials.
At the same time, BLM managers have used cutting-edge, science-based livestock grazing management to restore coastal prairie health. They have collaborated with many other coastal prairie managers, from Humboldt to Santa Barbara, to manage cattle alongside tule elk herds, moving the animals through a matrix of patches of grasslands managed with prescribed fire and reseeding. The prairies draw visitors each spring to view stunning spring wildflower displays unrivaled in the region.
Vibrant Lagoons and Beaches
The 2050s were a decade of sea level rise adaptation made possible by the strong North Coast public lands managers partnership facilitated for decades by Santa Cruz City Parks. The first beach and Highway 1 realignment to be redesigned was at Scott Creek Beach, back in the 2030’s. Then, there were successes in restoring Lidell Creek/Bonny Doon Beach and Laguna Creek/Laguna Beach, and then the coalitions managed to redesign all the other North Coast Beaches and highway crossings. Economic development, transportation and conservation interests all converged, and every beach has moved inland of Highway 1. Multi-use bridges accommodate public transport, pedestrian, and bicycle use as well as interpretive and viewing areas which draw the highest numbers of visitors.
The redesigned bridges allowed reintroduction of beavers, which in turn restored fish habitat. Coho salmon and steelhead have been reproducing in all the newly restored streams. After 40 years, BLM wildlife biologists have succeeded in restoring California red-legged frog populations to every beaver pond and lagoon on the North Coast; this is the last place they can be reliably found, the last viable population remaining on Earth. While beachgoing recreation is no longer possible on most North Coast Beaches, the small slivers of sand now support snowy plover nests alongside elephant seal nurseries, drawing wildlife-oriented tourists to high tech, wildlife sensitive viewing opportunities.
Cotoni Coast Dairies has become known for its approachability and accessibility. Visitors are greeted by guides who can communicate in 14 languages; interpretive information on interactive signs is available in an additional 30 languages. Guides are provided state of the art, sustainably constructed family homes attached to visitor interpretation outposts spread throughout the property, allowing 24-7 oversight.
Visitor experiences at Cotoni Coast Dairies vary with time in response to ongoing surveys of existing and potential users. While it has become necessary to limit use, a universally available reservation system assures fair distribution of tickets. Free transportation into the park is available from nearby public transit hubs. The reservation system allows park managers to adjust amount and types of use, including segregating users within the park, to accommodate visitor expectations and reduce use conflict. Families feel safe walking small children or elderly family members on tranquil trails while thrill seeking bicycle riders enjoy uncrowded downhill forays without worrying about others’ safety. If you don’t mind more crowded conditions, you won’t be surprised by what you experience. But, if you want more solitude or better wildlife viewing opportunities, parks managers have specific days, trails and destinations just for you.
One of the most popular reservation requests is for guided nighttime wildlife viewing. For this opportunity, small groups are guided into one of 10 remote viewing locations designed to minimize wildlife impacts while maximizing the opportunity to view nighttime wildlife using the latest night vision technology. Visitors enjoy these immersive experiences, with interpretation and storytelling by expert volunteer naturalists.
Digital communication has allowed active feedback about visitors’ experiences to parks managers, and data feeds into the network of universities participating in the studies and assisting with adaptive management. Management response to real time social carrying capacity analysis has become second nature to Cotoni Coast Dairies users and the vastly superior visitor use experience has resulted in a high demand for updating other park system management protocol.
Realizing the Dream
What I describe above is truly attainable if we want it bad enough and are willing to act. The key element of success is public will which is necessary to raise our capacity to succeed. We’ll need leadership, volunteers, capital, technology, and kindness. And, we need to have a common vision: I hope I began that by communicating something we can work together to hone and then aspire to. If you like this vision, let BLM, Jimmy Panetta, and Justin Cummings know by clicking those links and writing a short note referencing this essay.
-this post originally posted via Bruce Bratton on his vastly illuminating weekly blog at BrattonOnline.com: subscribe now and SAVE!
Bare twigs are erupting from buds into clusters of flowers and whorls of spring green leaves. It is bud break. Unfurling walnut leaves are the subtlest green whereas apple leaves emerge more deliciously bright. Even evergreen coast live oaks have a flush of new spring leaves – some pinker, some shiny olive green. The really stunning eye-hurting green though is from the grasslands, which haven’t been this bright due to years of drought. The last two years, the grasslands greened by December only to brown again by March. This year, the amplitude of green keeps ramping up each week and today was so shimmeringly brilliant as to in contrast dull the sky’s pure blue.
All Weather in One Day
Sun, clouds, rain, sleet, wind, hail. We recently had a few days with everything possible in a day’s weather. The most striking part was the pea + sized hail, which pelleted the landscape, wave after wave for a long, long time…wide large storm stalling across the North Coast. The hail bruised miles of freshly emerged poison oak leaves, releasing its distinct pungent, acrid, sweet scent that soon blanketed the land, seeping through car vents and into homes.
For months, we’ve had storm after storm, but only more recently have we had truly ghastly wind storms. The latest storm dwarfed the prior. Giant trees toppled, shredding through the canopy sending branches flying far. Just across Molino Creek canyon, a half-acre of trees all pitched sideways at once, roots pitched, baring the slope like a landslide. Where we had just spent a hundred hours cleaning fallen limbs to buffer from wildfire…there is now another big project to tackle once again. The entire forest is so thickly strewn with 6” + branches, it is a wonder that any branches or trees remain; it is very difficult to walk anywhere in the forest even along the trail we used to walk to the creek.
When the weather clears, pent up bird song erupts. The birds are singing their spring songs. Song sparrow and house finch melodious jabbering dominates the sound scape, and the whole farm is enveloped in near frenzied mating song. Calling from nooks above the farm and echoing from the canyon walls: turkey gobbling. In the meadows just below the farm, there are huge groups of turkeys with a fair number of showy, strutting toms.
Raptors are calling, as well. The eerie screech of a barn owl reminds us that they are still around: bone-filled pellets stack up below the redwoods at the water tanks complex. In the recent profound breezes, the farm kestrel hovered and dove, over and over, little need to flap. The wind seemed to agitate the red tailed hawk into frequent screaming as it darted between tree tops.
Farm partners have been mowing the cover crop- the fields dried out fast enough with the wind so tractoring was possible. I wanted to follow to gather the scent of fresh-mown grass and also found a juvenile California red-legged frog hopping across the shortened sward.
There are only 2 barn swallows just yet and those two males wheel and swerve in constant play. How soon will their kin arrive, their mates?
The first sky lupines blossomed on the farm this week, tailing the first poppies by a few weeks. Bush lupines started blooming as well along with scarlet paintbrush and blue-eyed grass.
The scent across the farm comes from a series of blossoming plums, the first over a month ago but more blooming each week. Plum scent contains the highest of sweet notes and just a little low musk to add a bit of interest. The first cherry blooms also erupted this week, but more cherry blossoms are soon in store.
Quickening Farm Pulse
The greenhouse is stacked with young farm plants – Two Dog Farm’s seedlings are itching to get planted soon. Meanwhile, the fields are nearly already mowed, well in advance of nesting birds this year. Soon, the tilling will begin as it has in the brussels sprouts fields along the coast. This Spring, the plow contends with a huge hole that opened up in our lower field. That hole seems as close to a mini active sinkhole as anything we’ve seen: it is 3’ across and that deep, an odd crater that suggests a both a drain and the spigot for the artesian lake that we got twice this year.
The orchardistas must now hurry: three weeks and we’ll need to irrigate again. The soil quickly dries as the trees leaf out and the cover crop rockets skyward. The pruning is nearly done but young trees need propping! So much to do…
-shared here from my usual posts at Molino Creek Farm’s webpage.
Another in my monthly series challenging readers to stay in touch with the seasons by locating one of the quintessential plants flowering at this moment in Central California. This month’s (March’s) flower: footsteps of spring.
Bare Foot Healthy
Botanists have a history of assigning ironic, sometimes deeply ironic, Latin names to plants. This one’s Latin name is Sanicula arctopoides. Some suggest that going barefoot is good for your health, others suggest caution. This plant’s Latin name does nothing to settle that score. The first name comes from the Latin “Sanus” meaning ‘healthy’ (sanitary, for instance) and its second name is a play on words: “arcto” means ‘bear’ and “poides” refers to ‘foot:’ put the two together and you start sensing the wordplay – “bear foot.” In full, the name means bear foot healthy. I’m not suggesting that the Latin name refers to the horrible and unsupported consumption of bear’s feet for health benefits. Rather, I suppose it was meant to be a twist on words. There has long been controversy over whether or not going bare foot makes for better health. I’ve had hippy friends swear to the benefits of going barefoot – I tried it myself for quite a long time with mixed results. I spent a semester of my undergraduate time in a Costa Rican cloud forest, during which I mostly went bare foot as my shoes otherwise never seemed to dry out. This led to a memorable experience where an itchy blister turned out to be full of maggots, an infection of tropical foot-burrowing flea larvae. That experience was kind of the opposite of this plant’s Latin name translation, “healthy bear (bare) foot.” But, I digress…
If there was a magical grassland Sprite calling up the advancing Spring across our meadows, she might dance from one ridge to the next, leaving her first footprints in the form of this gorgeous plant, subsequent waves of other wildflowers and color emanating from her earlier footfalls.
Footsteps of spring plants are the brightest of yellow, but it’s not just the flowers. As the plant starts to make flower clusters, the leaves surrounding the flowers emerge as pale, bright lemon yellow framing the likewise pale yellow flower clusters. The entire plant frames and highlights globe-like clusters of tiny flowers. This species is low-growing – ground-hugging even – and can’t take light competition from surrounding taller plants. And so, patches of footsteps of spring are found on rocky ridge tops or rocky-shelved outcrops especially where the surrounding vegetation consists of grassland species and where soil conditions aren’t conducive to taller, shading, more productive plants.
I don’t want to prejudice your sniffer, but I am hoping to hear from people about what scent they get from the flowers of this plant. Also, the leaves of the close relatives of this plant normally have interesting odors…one species releases an uncannily cilantro-like scent, for instance.
Whatever scents this wildflower emits, the only types of pollinators I’ve seen visiting the flowers are different types of flies. Maybe the presence of flies as pollinators hints at the scent of the flowers…
-this essay originally published by Bruce Bratton at his weekly blog BrattonOnline.com
Someone new on the scene recently asked me to explain the history of what went wrong at Cotoni Coast Dairies. After many, many years, the property still isn’t being managed for wildlife or public safety, and it still isn’t open to the public. As a prelude to this, I urge readers to read my essay on how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) came to manage the property in the first place…a curious story, indeed. This essay compliments that prior essay with more details, especially since BLM took over managing the property. Soon, I’ll be writing the third in this series with suggestions about what is needed to improve this unfortunate situation.
Years of On the Ground Nothing, or Worse
Since its purchase for conservation, Cotoni Coast Dairies has a history of very little stewardship and management. Trust for Public Land purchased the property in 1998 and held it until 2014. During that time, managers working for the Trust for Public Land did almost nothing to maintain the property. Occasionally, someone would show up to clear some anticipated future trail. For instance, TPL contractors extensively cleared riparian vegetation along Liddell Creek, chainsawing decades-old willow trees that shaded endangered fish habitat and provided cover for the endangered California red-legged frog. They argued that the clearance was along an ‘existing road,’ and they started putting this trail on early maps as a favored future public access point. (The trail later appeared on BLM’s maps, but federal wildlife protection agency personnel demanded otherwise, so the trail disappeared from plans.) Otherwise, TPL let fences, gates, and culverts rust away, roads and trails erode, weeds spread, and fuels build up creating hazardous conditions for future wildfires.
Eight years ago, BLM took over management of Cotoni Coast Dairies, and those same patterns largely continued. Early on, BLM staff constructed a new trail, carving through nests of state-listed sensitive wildlife without required State consultation. Like TPL, BLM staff have either overlooked erosion issues along roads or graded long abandoned ‘existing roads’ (aka ‘future trails’) with uncannily similar detrimental impacts to rare fish and amphibians. Meanwhile, terrible weeds and immense wildfire risks continued to spread across the property. The reason BLM staff have given for such poor stewardship: ‘we don’t have an approved plan.’ That changed, but management hasn’t…except for one new stretch of cattle fence and subset of future trails being created mainly by volunteers. The trails and fence came before any work on invasive species or wildfire mitigation, so we sadly sense BLM staff priorities have been directed away from conservation towards recreational access.
Decades of Funky Planning and Community Engagement
Staff from both TPL and BLM have sporadically spent a bit of time working on poor planning processes or participating in largely perfunctory public meetings about property management at Cotoni Coast Dairies. In the year 2000, TPL convened and facilitated a Community Advisory Group (CAG) to advise on guidelines meant to be used by future managers. A few of us on the CAG were asked to provide feedback about the biological portion of those guidelines, but we were unable to improve the largely cursory and incomplete biological assessments used to guide future property management. It is unclear if those guidelines have ever been used by BLM, or if TPL even cares.
BLM has done little to inventory the property, so it has very poor information with which to plan its management. Like TPL, BLM staff have shunned offers to improve biological survey data and so, as with the TPL plans, BLM’s plans have overlooked species and ecosystems that are easily identified and/or previously catalogued by reputable sources. This alienates the conservation community including the wealth of well-trained scientists that this region enjoys.
Instead of the long series of TPL’s CAG meetings, BLM staff showed up for a single community-engagement-style meeting convened and facilitated by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. That meeting surprisingly and very oddly focused on weighing pros and cons of parking lot locations, but it was never clear why public input was sought or what became of it afterwards. In the midst of this, an outside funder parachuted in hundreds of thousands of dollars so that several local organizations could mount a seemingly ‘grassroots’ Monument Campaign.
In 2015, The Sempervirens Fund led the “Monument Campaign,” a fast-paced, highly scripted, well-funded effort to organize rallies and letter writing to show public support for National Monument designation of Cotoni Coast Dairies. In what is increasingly common “fake news,” the bulk of the Monument Campaign messaging was about opening the property for public use, while in fact Monument designation is more about improving conservation of the property…which would typically increase limitations on public access. This nonsense was compounded by campaign organizers’ refusal to address how designation would increase deed restriction protections already in place from TPL. Furthermore, organizers dismissed concerns about managing the anticipated influx of visitors drawn to something called a National Monument. How important the Monument Campaign was in Obama’s designation is unclear, but the divisions in the community were deep and lasting. Organizers were successful in coalescing well-meaning but very poorly informed people whose nonsensical byline was “Monument designation means my family will be able to visit!” On the other hand, there was a surprisingly politically diverse coalition equipped with well-informed questions and concerns that were never addressed. After that local experience, it is difficult for me to believe that any political faction is immune from using scripted ‘truthiness,’ hype, or even lies when they feel those tools necessary in attracting popular support for secret agendas. Unsurprisingly, leaders of the ephemeral Monument Campaign movement have since disappeared from involvement, leaving the aftermath for the real, long-term grassroots organizations to deal with, and we have yet to experience any conservation benefit of Monument designation.
Pop Up Trail Plans, Abandoned
As the Monument Campaign launched in 2015, BLM issued a proposal for the property’s first public access trail, aka the “Laguna Trail,” in an expedited environmental review process that showed our community how poorly equipped BLM staff were to adequately plan for the property. BLM staff relied on old, insufficient biological inventories for their analysis, failed to survey for endangered species, and did not include any analysis of how the trail would address social equity concerns in providing for visitor use. BLM staff did not respond to the many concerns raised by the public but instead completed their pro-forma circulation and approval of planning documents and rapidly deployed machinery and workers to clear the trail. Trail construction proceeded without conforming to even the nominal environmental guidelines outlined in BLM’s planning documents. The hastily constructed trail cut through state-protected wildlife habitat, degraded historical artifacts, and came very close to a native village site which BLM failed to plan for protecting. In addition, if the project had proceeded, BLM would have opened a trail beginning at Laguna Creek Road and Highway 1 without any new parking, litter, or bathroom facilities, without sufficient staffing for enforcement or interpretation, and without a recreational plan for the property as a whole to analyze how to best protect wildlife while providing public access. This pop up trail was BLM’s way of introducing themselves to the land and to our community.
Introductions to BLM Planning Procedures
As the first federal land manager in the County, it was BLM staff who introduced our community to the federal government’s environmental planning process. This introduction was surprising in many ways. We had been accustomed to public lands managers paying careful attention to protecting “environmentally sensitive habitat areas” (ESHA) according to Coastal Commission rules. Not so with this property – BLM staff didn’t even provide the public maps of those regulated habitat areas in any of their planning documents! With the promise of National Monument protections, we were hopeful that BLM staff would follow the required and highly regimented process outlined in BLM’s policy “Manual 6220,” which provides staff with guidelines on how to manage national monuments. Again, not so! In fact, BLM staff have not used the 6220 manual and have neglected any public acknowledgement of the manual, as if they do not intend to use it, at all. Moreover, BLM staff have never specifically acknowledged the many species and ecosystems protected through the monument designation process. Monument management protocol seems irrelevant to BLM staff, who are apparently bent on expediting the public access so vocally anticipated by the Monument Campaign (coincidence?).
Expediting Public Access
BLM staff have chosen expediency over thoroughness in each of their property planning exercises. For their most recent property-wide plan, instead of data-based predictions of visitor use, BLM staff chose a largely arbitrary low-ball figure of 250,000 anticipated visitors/year for the property. Instead of the logical in-depth alternatives analysis of a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), BLM staff have chosen expedited Environmental Analysis (EA) processes, complete with incredible conclusions of ‘Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI),’ despite significant contrary expert testimony that has gone unaddressed and unacknowledged. As we learned for the first time about its ‘federal consistency process,’ the Coastal Commission recently mandated that BLM use a phased approach to opening the property to public use. The Coastal Commission required that only if/when the BLM proved it could adequately manage public use could it open the full range of parking lots and trails; that proof requires monitoring and such monitoring would normally require a baseline inventory of sensitive natural resources, but we have yet to see that happen…we don’t even know the language to which the BLM and the Coastal Commission have agreed.
Nipping at the Community
My personal interactions with BLM staff have historically been less than pleasant, perhaps because those staff members are unused to much public engagement. My experience of poor interactions with BLM staff isn’t isolated. Someone suggested that this might be partly because those staff feel ‘rocked back on their heels’ because of criticism of their work, which is odd because our comments have been professional, polite, and part of what BLM should expect as public lands planning processes. A BLM staffer told me long ago that their colleagues were in for a surprise as they encountered the very actively involved communities of Santa Cruz County’s North Coast. Previously, most BLM staff working at Cotoni Coast Dairies had worked very much out of the public eye, in remote parts of California with little/no public oversight.
While we can’t ascertain why BLM staff have avoided offers for assistance, their subterfuge is as enlightening as it has been damaging. My compassion about staff feeling rocked back on their heels is limited because BLM staff have sought to discredit my work and harm my reputation, even approaching employers with false information to negatively affect my job while also giving ultimatums to conservation networks to preclude my participation. During one encounter at a public meeting, a BLM staff person told me that they would never collaborate with me or the groups with whom I worked because I was “against any public access at Cotoni Coast Dairies.” That was an incorrect statement about my position that I had likewise been hearing from a particularly activist, radical group of mountain bikers. As this BLM staff person echoed that quote, it was possible to better understand communication channels and allegiances.
My earliest interactions with BLM staff at Cotoni Coast Dairies were when I proposed assistance for biological monitoring. I and a few other biologists offered BLM free assistance with biological surveys to improve their understanding of the property. After that proposal, over a very long time, a BLM staff person strung us along through an incorrect informal process without ever encouraging us or acknowledging the potential value of such work. There was a chain of calls and emails that each ended with something like ‘well, maybe….’ By the time we subsequently discovered the correct application process and applied in that way, leadership had changed and the application was then officially refused.
Cumulative Impacts: Traffic, Trauma, Toilets and Trash (the 4 T’s)
It is important to view BLM’s problems in the context of issues related to visitor access on conservation lands throughout Santa Cruz County. As with all of the other public lands managers, BLM has been planning for visitor use and conservation in a vacuum, as if the surrounding lands don’t exist: this is a deeply flawed perspective. Much of the land from Santa Cruz City to the County line is heavily used by recreational visitors. Most weekends, parking lots overflow with cars and parked cars dangerously line the highway. There are too few trash cans and toilets to serve those visitors. Police and emergency responders are stretched to respond to the many accidents such visitation is bound to create.
County Parks, State Parks, the City of Santa Cruz, the Rail Trail, and BLM each have their own properties to manage and the same 4 T’s issues to address, but they aren’t doing it collaboratively. It is clear that none of those agencies has the resources to address those issues and so those issues are borne by our community. Visitors have come to expect trashy beaches. Emergency responders have come to expect exhaustion and insufficient support. Visitors with elderly family members or small children are avoiding parks due to dangerous or disgusting conditions. As each agency plans in isolation to provide for the maximum number of visitors, parks managers are dooming wildlife and visitor experience – the carrying capacity for the entire North Coast will be surpassed. It is no wonder that our community does not trust BLM to be able to manage their land and the visitors that they plan on attracting. BLM entered an arena of mistrust and fueled the fire with their own mistakes.
Who is Responsible?
Those of you who know me well know I don’t like the passive tense: I like clearly stating the subjects of verbs…who (specifically) is responsible for doing what (specifically). And yet, agencies like BLM are opaque…staff even refuse to specify who is specifically responsible for anything you might witness happening. But, placing the entire blame of the tragedy of Cotoni Coast Dairies on current BLM staff is unfair. Local, state and federal elected officials also bear some responsibility; good intel is that some of them have even winked behind closed doors in Washington DC, saying that local concerns needn’t be addressed. But again, placing a large amount of blame on elected officials also doesn’t seem fair: after all, they should be swayed by popular opinion (or at least election).
We saw how enough funding swayed popular opinion with the Monument Campaign, right? Apparently, no funders have been inspired to sway popular opinion in favor of wildlife protection on conservation lands in this particularly biodiverse region. Even if they did, there is a dearth of organizations who would lead that campaign. And so, in regard to the tragedies unfolding at Cotoni Coast Dairies and across Santa Cruz County’s North Coast, we must bear the brunt of blame within our community, which has long lacked leadership, energy, and focus on environmental conservation. For more on that, read my essay “Democracy and the Environment.” And, stay tuned for the third in this series of essays where I will outline steps forward out of this unfortunate predicament.
-this article adapted and updated from what appeared in late March at Bruce Bratton’s blog BrattonOnline.com
Rain and storms and wind and hail and thunder, and more rain keep buffeting the landscape around Molino Creek Farm. At the same time, we welcome the new moist spring and its seasonal phenomena: wandering cats, amorous coyotes and ravens, ribbiting ponds and puddles, roaring ridges, gushing creeks, re-leafing trees, emerging forest wildflowers, and smiling tree tenders returning to their work.
Storm after storm, trees have been snapping off and tipping over, both live and dead, previously burned trees…trees on ridges and trees in valleys, young trees and old trees.
This most recent two-eyed cyclone had the weirdest winds! Automatic reverse 911 alarms rang out: “SEEK SHELTER!” They told us to go into the middle of our houses where no hurdling window glass would cause injury. But, hours before, the weather service told us it was ‘just another’ atmospheric river that would scuttle down the coast and mainly impact southern California. Suddenly, they changed their story, we tuned into radar, and saw a west coast hurricane spinning and spinning with its center(s) stalled right over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Three giant power polls out at the ocean overlook snapped off – PG&E technicians have seen those types sway widely back and forth flexibly under higher winds, but the latest storm must have had vortexes and twisters and the like. Silver dancing sheets of rain that normally come from one direction in storms are beautiful to watch against the dark redwood canyon background. But with this last storm, that changed: my eyes bugged out, I gasped, and I saw sheets of rain passing one another in opposite directions at high speed (>40mph) in just the few hundred yards across the farm. Such things had seemed impossible!
Lake Molino is rising for the second time and the farm is WET. Every low point burbles and flows with runoff. Even days after one of the storms, the ground bubbles and burps with muffled underground light-tinkling rumors of streamlets flowing through gopher runs. Footsteps go squish….squish…squish; there is no moving fast without slipping. Roadbed puddles splash, mud-spattered vehicles advertising our country living to the urban folks. Many, many young avocado trees are tipping over in the wind, but we are staking; their rhizospheres have been freed of drought-accumulated residual soil salts from irrigation – fresh soil for an era of vigorous fresh new growth.
Roots and a Moist Rhizosphere
Rhizosphere is a good word: it means the area of soil in the vicinity of plant roots. I envision plant roots doing a different kind of foraging for nutrients washed past them during the deluge. Biomimicry of this deluge foraging phenomenon would replace your walking down aisles of food at the market, with your plopping down on nice comfy padded benches instead: food parades past, and you grab what you want when it comes within reach. For plants, rainwater is washing nutrients through the rhizosphere, presenting the smorgasbord to each plant….slurp, gobble, and grab the next nutrient molecule….yum-yum-yum…what a way to eat!
Plants are leaping skyward so fast and lush and wet that they are toppling over like couch potatoes after a(nother!) gluttonous pizza fest. We’re going to have some nice cover crop biomass, even if it grows sideways a bit. Cover crops are all about enriching the rhizosphere.
Spring Animals’ Behavior
Here’s to all the humans with November and December birthdays! Spring was in the air….As it is now with All Beings around the Farm.
Maw and Caw are bowing and nuzzling, sitting closer together and eying each other amorously. The bigger burly white saddled male coyote trots happily behind the coy, lithe female on their head-tilting then pounce-filled rodent forays.
From spring wanderlust to mewsing about the treetops: whether from antsy fierce neighbor dogs or from slyer more untamed coyotes, a farm neighbor’s domestic cat spent some nights in a tree (since rescued!).
Swallows are Good Americans – emissaries seasonally crossing geopolitical boundaries of North and South America. Flocks of these graceful songbirds knit together cultures, carrying news between the geographies of Panhispanism/Bolivarianism movements and the (likewise proud but oft-repressed) anti-capitalist bird conservation movements in the USA. Pay no attention to the mist netters…
Last Friday March 17, barn swallows returned to Molino Creek Farm from Central or South America. Meanwhile, we watch for the return of the antagonistic cliff swallows, graceful tree swallows, and other species that follow this arc.
(BTW, Golden Crowned Sparrows do not yet dare venture North, meanwhile they gorge on forbs, fattening on rain drenched salads)
The gloomy drizzly weather helps the wildflowers stand out. Bright yellows and deep purples grace Molino’s well-tended wildflower ridge. In peak flower are footsteps-of-spring, purple sanicle (aka satellite plant) and buttercups. The first tulip-sized poppy blooms are emerging, opening for the (rare) hour(s?) of sunshine. In the woodlands, houndstongue is huge – its bright blue borage flowers keeping fresh with the abundance of rain. Forest understory milk maid flowers are attracting the large white butterflies that feed on the plants’ leaves as caterpillars and the same species’ nectar when adults: beautiful near flocks of white butterflies flutter around the forest! On another of our farm ridges, 2’ tall star lilies in full bloom! And then there’s the dreaded French Broom…just starting to blossom. A better shrub and one in the dark forest is the subtle, pendulous, deep-maroon-petaled woodland currant, currently in full flower. It’s a good time to get to the forest with its drippy mosses, flowing drainages, and tipped over trees.
Farmers can do one thing on these early spring days when the ground’s too wet to do anything with the soil: pruning! The Two Dog Farm chardonnay vineyard is as tidy as can be: pruned up and weed-whipped down. The Community Orchardists have spent too few, but quite energetic sessions pruning many a tree: we’re half way done increasing the tidiness that we have been moving towards, together, for many years. We have taught each other pruning and the orchard reflects that loving care.
Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) is an extraordinarily valuable endangered species that has received insufficient conservation recognition. The stand of pines around Año Nuevo have been heavily impacted by wildfire but are regenerating well (for now). Meanwhile, much of the Monterey pine stand on the Monterey Peninsula is effectively gone. Cambria’s Monterey pine forest has likewise been compromised. In both cases, while there is what appears to be Monterey pine forest in and among homes, those trees are what are termed ‘relictual’ – without fire, they will not regenerate and no one is suggesting that prescribed fire be used in neighborhoods to manage those forests to perpetuate them as they would naturally need to be. In an ideal world, homeowners in Cambria and on the Monterey Peninsula would be so interested in conservation that they would participate in an expensive program to replant older pines with enough genetically appropriate seedlings as to maintain those populations, but we have too little leadership, interest, and funding to support that kind of initiative. My hope is this becomes a reality. The first step is to build awareness and interest. Your job is to help tell this story to increase support for the protection of this pine. The next step is to gain State legal protection of this endangered species.
Monterey pine is an enormously important tree for producing timber around the globe. Some of my advisors suggest I start any argument for conservation in the economic realm, and so I start here. If you are going to discuss this tree in this context, the first thing you need to do is to use the correct terminology, starting with the right name for the tree. Call the timber tree ‘radiata pine.’ That’s because it has been so intensively bred as to be easily distinguished from its wild counterpart.
10 million acres of radiata pine occur in timber plantations, mostly in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Chile.
As the effects of climate change intensify, it will become increasingly important to maintain and adapt the genetics of radiata pine. While there is some genetic diversity already embedded in plantation radiata pines, there will inevitably be a need for wild genes to augment the plantation trees. And so, conservation of the wild populations becomes important even to the timber industry. Because the wild populations are distant enough from each other, each population has unique attributes that would be important for the health of radiata pine for future timber production.
The Five Pine Populations
There are five wild Monterey Pine stands, three in California and two in Baja, Mexico: Año Nuevo, Monterey, Cambria, Cedros Island, and Guadalupe Island. The Año Nuevo stand is the largest, growing from southern San Mateo County in the north to near Bonny Doon Road in the south. The Monterey stand is bounded to the north by Highway 68 and then into the northern Big Sur to the south. The Monterey stand occupies a series of ancient marine terraces, each with very different soils, an ‘ecological staircase’ with each terrace supporting very different biotic communities. As you move up the staircase, the pines become increasingly short-statured due to age of the soils increasing and, therefore, the soil fertility decreasing.
The population in and around the town of Cambria. There are also two very odd populations on islands to the west of Baja California. Cedros Island is 14 miles offshore of central Baja and Guadalupe Island is 130 miles offshore of northern Baja Mexico. The Guadalupe Island population has historically been highly threatened by goat grazing, but goats have been recently controlled and now there is hope. The Cedros Island population fares better. The two Baja populations of Monterey pine stand out in having only 2 needles per bundle as opposed to the 3-needle bundles from the other populations.
Local Importance, Local Threats
Superficial consideration might suggest that Santa Cruz County’s Año Nuevo stand of Monterey pine is well protected, but there are important issues to consider which might lead to different conclusions. This stand of endangered pines is the largest and much of it is located on property where the owners are amenable to good stewardship. And, this stand is also likely the origin of the plantation ‘radiata pine,’ and so contains the historical suite of genes that have been so important to forestry. This location is the only one where Monterey pine hybridizes with another species – knobcone pine. Sometimes, people refer to ‘hybrid vigor,’ and breeders once saw that expressed from trees grown from Año Nuevo stock in their trials as they selected the best trees for plantations.
Although the Año Nuevo stand has strong potential for conservation, there is no plan to guide that conservation and no leadership in convening and focusing that stewardship. An invasive pathogen, pine pitch canker, has the potential to continue spreading, killing up to 80% of the trees. Other pathogens will no doubt be introduced due to carelessness in regulating global trade; those pathogens will likely be spread along recreational trails and roads through the population. There is also the issue of fire…
The 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire raged through most of that population spurring (in patches) a whole new generation of trees. How frequently will the stand burn is an important question – too frequently and the pine may be unable to persist for many more generations.
For millions of years, the distribution and health of Monterey pine has been shaped in a dance between fire and fog. Not too long ago, Monterey pine circled the Monterey Bay, but it has persisted only in the foggiest and most fire-free areas. With climate change, wildfire is expected to increase in frequency and intensity. The 2020 fire left large numbers of dead pines and other trees standing; those present a massive fuel load for subsequent fire(s). With so much fuel loading and anticipated increased fire frequency, I am concerned that fires will become too frequent and intense for adequate regeneration of Monterey pines. For those of you who want to view a now very rare healthy and diverse Monterey pine forest, I strongly recommend that you visit the very few remaining areas very soon.
Where to Go
While it will be instructive to see how Monterey pines are regenerating from fire at the Año Nuevo stand, it is perhaps more enjoyable to see mature stands near Monterey. Within the Año Nuevo stand, you can see post fire regeneration by gazing into the forest along Highway 1 at Waddell Creek beach. If/when BLM opens its northern trails at the Cotoni Coast Dairies, visitors will be able to glance one of the southern-most patches of the Año Nuevo stand of Monterey pine is on a hillock above those trails. Near Monterey, the Huckleberry Hill nature preserve is worth seeing as is Point Lobos State Park and Jack’s Peak park.
What You Can Do
In 1999, the California Native Plant Society petitioned the State of California to list the species as Threatened; the State however refused to consider the petition due to lack of staff resources/time/money to adequately process the petition. This example joins a plethora of other similar situations: the State of California needs citizen support to allocate the necessary funding to list deserving species as Threatened or Endangered so that they will be adequately protected at the local level. We should all be writing to the California governor and our local state assembly and senator members to ask for increased budget and attention to promulgating and analyzing listing petitions for species including the Monterey pine. Here are the contact emails: Governor Newsom, Senator Laird, and North County Assemblymember Gail Pellerin or South County Assemblymember Robert Rivas.
-this article orginally published in my weekly column at BrattonOnline.com, where Bruce Bratton’s team updates our community about local issues from experts who tirelessly track such things. Thanks Bruce!
I like the phrase ‘all politics is local’ and have coined a corollary phrase ‘war starts at home.’ We must find solutions that work at the local level, including resolving conflict. My twist on these issues has an environmental focus, and I want to illustrate our local situation in this essay.
If locals were judged for those they elect, how environmentally-minded would anyone think we are? I can’t think of a single local city council member who purports to prioritize environmental conservation. None of our County Supervisors advertises environmental conservation as a primary concern. Likewise, the local State Assembly members do not have strong environmental conservation platforms. Only when you reach the level of State Senator do we get an inkling that our local constituencies support environmental conservation: John Laird has long been an effective environmental conservationist, and conservation is one of his main priorities.
As we consider voting, how are we to be informed about which candidate might best serve environmental conservation? My experience has been that it is not easy. Unfortunately, there is no reliable environmental conservation organization informing local votes through their endorsement process. The Santa Cruz Group of the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club used to serve this important role, and the Group still ostensibly considers making endorsements – apparently only if a candidate seeks their endorsement. For 2022, the Group posted a list of endorsements, though without any analysis explaining their reasoning. Upon examination, most of the candidates they endorsed had little or no mention of environmental conservation in any of their election materials.
Lacking other means, you must follow environmental issues yourself and watch how politicians and political candidates react to those issues. Even if you track a single issue, you will find it helpful in illuminating for whom you should cast your vote. As a reminder from my past columns, priority environmental conservation issues for our area include: habitat protection for maritime chaparral and coastal prairies, creek and river habitat conservation, water pollution, and wildlife habitat connectivity/corridors. Of course, there are many issues to address when conserving rare and endangered species throughout our region, and those must be prioritized as well. If one of those priorities strikes your fancy, watch it carefully to see who is active and how politicians navigate to address them…and vote accordingly.
Environmental Advisors for Politicians
One of the ways environmental conservation conflicts might get resolved is through governmental advisory bodies. Locally, cities and the County have advisory bodies that ostensibly COULD advise on environmental matters. However, I cannot think of a time when City Council Members or County Supervisors sought out those advisory committees for advice, let alone acted on any of the advice otherwise offered by those committees. I suppose that’s a reflection of politicians’ assessment of how much local voters care about environmental matters. You might ask yourself, ‘are there environmental conservation conflicts locally?’ I hope you recognize that the answer is, ‘yes.’ The next question is ‘how are those conflicts being addressed?’ The answer is, ‘they are not.’ ‘Why?’ The answer to that question is ‘one side, the one in power…the one that destroys the environment…is winning.’ Why would anyone seek to resolve conflict when they are already winning? Two reasons come to mind: the primacy of environmental conservation for life on Earth and, consequently, avoidance of war which is the natural result of the degradation of the environment. All politics is local, and we’ve punted on this issue to our peril.
The following section lists the advisory groups that could be tasked to help resolve environmental conflicts, should politicians ever realize the importance of doing so.
City of Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz City Council has a Parks and Recreation Commission to advise the City Council. Unfortunately, as reflects the views of the politicians who appointed them, the majority of those advisors care so little for environmental conservation that they fail to address those issues as part of their advisory role. This is a shame because the City’s parks contain a wealth of biological diversity, including many rare and endangered species, and these advisors could be valuable in helping to address most of the priorities I outlined above.
County Political Advisors
The County curiously has two bodies to advise the Supervisors about environmental matters: the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Commission and the Commission on the Environment. The Fish and Wildlife Advisory Commission membership historically has included a majority of experts with strong environmental conservation track records. After years of that Commission, there was the anomalous creation of a second advisory body, the Commission on the Environment – this one appointed with a majority of members without any environmental conservation interest, expertise, or experience. If you’ve got insight into why that second commission was convened when Supervisors could easily turn to the first, I’d love to hear from you.
Each of the groups above has a history of success in their own issue areas in our region. But, even with all of their work, major environmental crises still plague our area and are going virtually unaddressed. Those crises are getting worse. And, despite the work of all of these groups, we have the bleak political landscape that I outlined in the opening of this piece. Simply put, none of those groups has affected the political change we need to sustain environmental conservation in our region.
Rating Activist Groups
If we want to donate money or join a group, how do we know how effective it is? Unfortunately, there isn’t an organization that rates our local conservation groups for their effectiveness. Nationally, if you want to give money to a group for environmental conservation, you might use Charity Navigator to peruse groups’ effectiveness. But that group’s ratings don’t really reflect our local situation. For instance, if you looked at the Sierra Club, you might find Charity Navigator’s high rating for the Sierra Club Foundation, whose work (despite the nomenclatural similarity with the Sierra Club Santa Cruz Group) doesn’t address our local conservation issues. Here again, if you follow even a single local issue, chances are that you’ll get to witness the effectiveness of a local conservation group. I know the groups I’ve been impressed with…but, we have so much more to do!
Working Together to Healthy Nature and a Lasting Peace
Only by working together, through democratic institutions and processes, by supporting the leaders and groups that are most effective, can we create the local changes from which others can learn. Together, starting locally, we will create a world that embraces successful environmental conservation and achieves a lasting peace. I hope that you will do something to help.
-this post originally published at BrattonOnline.com, a dependable source of interesting information especially for the Monterey Bay area. Sign up and enjoy.