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Author Topic: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California  (Read 3109 times)

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #45 on: February 18, 2022, 07:37:49 PM »


This week’s outing has been postponed and rescheduled for next week. The early blooming wildflowers have started to bloom in our local Lower Sonoran Life Zone (Sacramento Valley), with a few species now blooming in Upper Sonoran Life Zone (Sierra Nevada Foothill region). Despite the blooming wildflowers at lower elevation sites, I will be traveling higher into the Sierra Nevada Mountains next week to survey emerging herbaceous species in the Transition Life Zone. The snow has melted and temperatures have been well above average during the month of February. Extremely dry conditions prevail. How dry conditions are impacting specific plant species and their ecosystems is a major goal of this outing. It has been 40 days since the last measurable precipitation has fallen at our Placerville property. The record number of days without measurable precipitation during the winter months is 44 days. This record may be broken in the next 4 to 5 days.

I do have a few photographs to share from our Placerville property in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone. The photographs were taken yesterday, 17 February. Pictured above is Ranunculus occidentalis var. occidentalis one of the common early blooming species in our area. Over the next few days I will have a few more photographs to share.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #46 on: February 21, 2022, 02:47:42 AM »


I spent most of the day at our Placerville property working with my brother. The irrigation piping is very old and needs replacing. We rented a trenching machine to dig new trenches for some replacement irrigation lines. The trenching went well and we will be laying new irrigation piping this coming week.

Before returning to Sacramento, I had time to walk the property and see how the spring season was progressing. I found Cardamine oligosperma in bloom scattered about the property. This is a very common spring annual in our area. This species is somewhat weedy almost like an invasive plant; however it is a California native plant.



Lamium purpureum is a weedy invasive species. Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule, can also be found on our property during the spring. The flowers of Lamium amplexicaule are small but very interesting. The photographs of this species did not turn out.



A great deal of habitat restoration needs to be accomplished on our property. Many of the native species that occupied the property 40 years ago can no longer be found on the property. Very poor land use practices that were commonly used and still are used in the area to provide protection from wildfires is the primary cause of the loss of biodiversity and habitat. About 15 years ago I began efforts to reestablish the flora and original habitat of our property. White Leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida, occasionally germinates and grows on the property. I was able to save the plant pictured above and it is now getting ready to bloom for the first time.



Ripgut Brome Grass, Bromus diandrus, is one of many highly aggressive and highly invasive non-native grasses in California. These non-native grasses have displaced, and replaced most of our California native bunch grass habitat. These non-native, invasive grasses have an extremely large impact on our native grassland and savannah ecosystems. Their presence has completely altered the behavior of fire in much of California. During the summer and autumn months their dried foliage provides explosive fuel for wildfires. Their dried foliage ignites very easily and fire spreads very rapidly in their dried dense growth. This grass is one of the major wildfire issues not being addressed in California.



Several years ago I began reintroducing Purple Needles Grass, Stipa pulchra, to our property. No only have the original plugs survived and grown well, but they have also begun to seed and spread around the property. There are strong indications that with proper management our native bunch grasses can be reintroduced into their former habitats. With simple yet effective management they can compete well with the existing non-native invasive grass species. With further research I hope to create simple, easy-to-implement processes where our native bunch grasses can reestablish their dominance in their former habitats.

Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #47 on: February 21, 2022, 02:48:57 AM »


I will end this discussion with this photograph of Primula (Dodecatheon) hendersonii blooming on our property.

Until the next time…

Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #48 on: February 24, 2022, 02:46:42 AM »
Due to snow and treacherous driving conditions, this week’s outing has been postponed again. Tentatively, I have this outing rescheduled for next week providing that the weather cooperates. Jasmin, however, has ideas that tie together our varied garden journeys, the ecological shifts, and our current garden vision with a hopeful vision for how things can become in our environment.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #49 on: February 26, 2022, 09:42:07 PM »
Usually, an outing involves surveying a nearby locale, exploring the geology, botany, and human impact upon the area.  Frequently, the discussion involves the impact on native plants of current human activities, be they the past of gold mining, or cattle ranching, or development.  Because these locations have been visited frequently over the decades, memory provides an appraisal.

However, what if there were no living memory of a location, and its native habitat?  Could one reconstruct what might have been?  How could one do that?



Just as we speak of a climax forest, here we have a climax urban environment.  This is how we find the Lower Sonoran Life Zone today.  It is a place where concrete, asphalt, and the replacement of one building structure by another dominate.  The children of this environment know only this.  Orange juice and milk come from paper or plastic cartons or glass bottles, not oranges from an orange tree, nor milk from the mammary glands of a lactating female mammal—be it sheep, goat, cow, or camel.

If our ancestors saw this place, would they be able to describe what once was?  Can it even be found?  Let us suppose we have a guide, this fellow here.



We leave the urban center, searching.  Our first encounter with trees is sporadic enclaves, tiny spaces scattered through various neighborhoods, and parks; however, the largest trees are mostly sycamore and camphor, surrounded by close-cropped Bermuda grass lawns.



Even along freeways, the prevalence of non-native plantings is extreme:  Everything was stripped away for ranching, farming, and broken into housing parcels. Some major roads were widened, and the interstate freeways installed and expanded.  Our guide might recognize something familiar in the housing of our modern-day homeless, the resourcefulness and creativity common to all humans, but little else.



One has to travel more than a couple kilometers (miles) to find fragments of what the urban center might have been.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #50 on: February 26, 2022, 09:44:54 PM »


Closer to the river, we find larger swaths of remnant habitat, something more like what the first explorers said they found when they came up these rivers:

“Along the banks, wild grapes, anchors of box elder, willow, and cottonwood.  Some are still stout, with thick trunks.  Steelhead and salmon, herons, cranes, Swainson’s and ospreys, elk, pronghorn, and bears… Ducks, rabbits, deer, mountain lions, various snakes, lizards, and other wildlife. . . “ 



Many of these creatures are still here, but more secretive.  Despite the large urban center, the fragmentation of habitat, and the encroaching homeless, these riverways are among the busiest wildlife paths, connecting many diverse populations with each other, ensuring that some remnants thrive.  Generally, people are coexisting here with mountain lions and bears quite well.  Once in a while there will be a surprise, the young inexperienced animal attracted to, or by, or curious about someone’s backyard.

Although Indigenous stories tell us much about the environment as it was, teaching the proper time to gather acorn is when duck, squirrel, and salmon are “friends” or abundant, and there are vague written references, such as those by John Muir—that there were so many flowers in the Sacramento Valley, that an ant could walk from one end of the Valley to the other without touching the ground, by going from petal to petal—we are missing many of the tiny denizens that are as critical to our ecological habitat as the oaks, willow, box elder, and cottonwood trees.

We must look to areas that are further away; yet more intact and surmise:


Asclepias fascicularis


Calochortus luteus


Carex integra
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #51 on: February 26, 2022, 09:48:02 PM »


Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea


Rosa californica

As part of the Lower Sonoran Life Zone, our garden has gone through many phases and transformations:

It was once part of the Kessler ranch.  At that time, there was a dairy.  Remnants of posts and other hardware that were used are sometimes still found.  The soil was incredibly rich:  corn and hops were also grown here.  As the city urban center expanded, eminent domain forced the sale of the ranch, which was graded and subdivided into suburban plots.  Much original forest was still in existence here at that time, and was still connected to the river.


Map of subdivision

The previous owner did his own addition on the existing 1941 house.  Typical for the era, it had fruit trees, roses, wisteria, and other ornamentals, and lawn. 



In 1971, Jasmin’s parents bought the house and property that we call home. 



Her father planted a vegetable garden and the orange tree.  Most of the neighborhood consisted of immigrants who remembered wartime and hunger, so vegetable gardens were quite common.  Jasmin still remembers someone had goats, and there was abundant open space.  Red fox and deer were common until the freeway interstate was completed, blocking the neighborhood from the river access.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #52 on: February 26, 2022, 09:49:46 PM »
During the 1980’s open spaces were divided and housing was built.  When Jasmin returned here around 1990 to help her aging mother, there was much less forest and open space.  Around 1992, Jasmin removed the lawn and planted wildflowers, just a common seed mix sold at the time.  There were stragglers from that mix for many years; the calendula is one straggler that remains.  Later, Jasmin planted a cottage garden and herbs.  She loved to bring in cut flowers.  Along with that, she decided to plant a butterfly and bee garden.



Like many, she had the right idea—plants to feed these insects—but not the right plants.  The plants that are sold frequently provide some shelter and nectar, which aids the adults, but provides nothing for their offspring.

By the time we married, the garden she planted was changing:  Caregiving did not give her much time to tend it, and weeds were claiming territory.  There was still enough of the garden for flowers, and encouraged birds and bees, all of which her mother loved.

Our marriage meant the marriage of many things:  her property, her mother, my parents’ property with the farm and nursery, --and all our parents were of the same generation!  We had a lot of ambition and hope despite the circumstances, for what we wanted to create together. I think the ideals and energy of love allowed us to take on super-human tasks.



We restructured the garden in Sacramento, adding plants that were among my choice treasures.  We built areas of special soil, for lewisias and rhododendrons. For a number of years, things did actually work miraculously enough, largely because my parents were strong and active for their age.  It was Jasmin’s mother who required special care, and we were blessed to arrange it.

However, the deepening drought, the increasing inability of our parents, the mounting bureaucratic challenges for small farms and businesses, the 2007-2008 economic downturn, and a changing customer demographic turned into a tsunami, and it all came at once wiping the slate clean. It really is a wonder we have any of our plant treasures from earlier garden phases, let alone our health and anything else.

We look back, and it seemed really horrible at the time, but really turned out to be a blessing:  We are thankful we closed our businesses and cleaned up when we did, and that the gardens here and uphill fell apart.  Now, together, we are able to create again, something that is truly ours.  Now that our parents are gone, we have begun that process, picking up old dreams and reevaluating them.  Some we let go, and are glad to do so; others, we reimagine, and redesign.  The garden that is now forming is that re-imagination embodied:

The old, shoddy 1951 house addition was removed, and in the space there is now an expanded vegetable garden surrounded by cinder blocks full of dry bulbs.  Rather than attempt to keep and maintain plants that are failing with the climate changes, we see the possibilities of what we will plant in the blank space once it is clear the plants will not recover.

This brings us to the beginning of this essay:  Is it possible to truly restore a natural place once it has been so dramatically altered?  The answer is yes and no.  It can never be whatever it was; there is just not enough information: Our guide from the past will not find the habitat that once was. However, we can glean ideas from the remnants, and build them into the garden here, a token for nature to feel welcome, re-invited to thrive.  Only time will tell if our guesses and theories will bring the desired birds, butterflies, insects—and their offspring.

We know we cannot change the global climate alone; however, rather than fall into despair we choose the hope of doing what we can do, with what we do have: our garden.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #53 on: March 12, 2022, 07:28:00 PM »


I had a very productive outing to the Sierra Nevada Mountains last week. I have a great deal to report over the next two weeks.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #54 on: March 16, 2022, 02:37:52 AM »


On 9 March 2022, I set out to survey a number of sites in the Transition Zone of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. My goal was to focus my attention on sites within the watershed of the South Fork of the American River. Last year’s Caldor Fire, the King Fire in September and October 2014 and the Cleveland Fire in September and October of 1992 impacted large portions of this watershed. At some of the sites I have detailed field notes dating back to the 1990’s--well before the wildfires impacted some of these sites. Compiling large data sets of accurate, detailed information about individual plant species and plant communities at these sites is a primary long-term goal.

My first stop was near the site of Riverton. This site partially burned during the 1992 Cleveland Fire. Many of the conifers at this site are very uniform in size, being planted at the same time and the transplants derive from a very uniform seed line. Many deciduous hardwood trees stump-sprouted from their bases, creating many multi-trunked trees. In addition, the seeds of many species germinated naturally after the Cleveland Fire. All of these species are now somewhat mature.



Indian Manzanita, Arctostaphylos mewukka ssp. mewukka, is the dominant Manzanita species at this site. This species forms burls, which can sprout with new vegetive shoots after a fire. In much lesser numbers, White-leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida, can also be found at this site. Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida is an obligate seeder. This species will not resprout after a fire; however their seed will often germinate prolifically after a fire. Knowledge of the behavior of plant species to environmental variables can reveal a great deal about the current status of an ecosystem, its past history, and its possible future evolution.



Many Phacelia species can be found in this portion of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Phacelia heterophylla var. virgata is the dominant Phacelia species at this site. It is a perennial species that forms a distinctive, somewhat tall single-stalked inflorescence.



This site was covered with snow during most of the month of December, as well as the first part of January. Very little precipitation fell during the remaining part of January, all of February, into mid-March. Despite the dry weather, the soil on this south-facing slope was still moist. In the above photograph, seedlings of Diplacus kelloggii and Leptosiphon ciliatus can be seen. At this time, there were few signs of major drought stress on these seedlings.



Caldor Fire Burn Scar

Across the canyon the burn scar from the Caldor Fire was very evident.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #55 on: March 16, 2022, 02:40:27 AM »


Many perennial species can be seen at this site. When temperatures are relatively warm, Agoseris grandiflora var. grandiflora emerges quickly from its summer dormancy when the autumn-winter precipitation season begins.



The single leaf of Fritillaria micrantha can be seen to the left of the Incense Cedar seedling, Calocedrus decurrens. Fritillaria micrantha is a dryland species. This species requires bone-dry conditions during its summer dormancy.



In the center is a single specimen of Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa. This species is very common in the Transition Life Zone. To its left is an evergreen oak, Quecus chrysolepis, Canyon Live Oak. This species frequently stump- sprouts after a fire, often forming a multi-trunked tree. To the right is a dormant California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii. This species too can resprout from its base after a fire.



Generally Quecus kelloggii will drop all of its leaves during the autumn. Dry leaves clinging to the branch is often--but not always--an indication of drought stress with this species. In this instance, it is a sign of extreme drought stress.



After finishing my survey of this site it was time to move on to the top of the ridge. Those that follow this diary will recognize this view.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #56 on: March 16, 2022, 02:43:06 AM »


This crest of the ridge at this site is at an elevation of ~ 5,125 feet (1,562 meters). I was pleased to find some snow still on the ground at this site. Precipitation has been well below average for the last 2 months and temperatures have been generally above the 30-year average.



Spring is beginning to arrive at this site. The flowers of Greenleaf Manzanita, Acrtostaphylos patula, are beginning to open.



In this photograph, the variations of the leaf color of Penstemon laetus var. laetus can be seen. This species also has a wide variation in its expression of anthocyanins in the leaves and stems during periods of environmental stress.



The new growth of Viola purpurea ssp. integrifolia was emerging from the ground. At the lower site, I spent time trying to locate a stand of Viola purpurea ssp. purpurea that I have been observing for a number of years. I know the exact location; however I never found the plants. Did they expire from the drought last year? I will know soon enough as the season progresses.



The flower buds of Primula (Dodecatheon) hendersonii were showing color. This species will be blooming shortly.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #57 on: March 16, 2022, 02:45:41 AM »


Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum, is another species that emerges quickly from its summer dormancy once the autumn precipitation begins.



Dichelostemma multiflorum can express various levels of anthocyanins in its new foliage during the winter and early spring months when the weather is still quite cold. In addition, the new growth can also be buried by snow for weeks at a time often into April. I have found some forms of this species that maintain a rich purplish color to their leaves for most of the growing season.



Phacelia stebbinsii is fairly common at this site. This species ranked 1B.2 by the California Native Plant Society is considered rare, threatened, endangered in California and elsewhere. There are other rare and endangered species at this site. Keep this in mind as I continue this diary.



Eriogonum prattenianum var. prattenianum is a very tough, drought-tolerant species. During the winter months they can look distressed; however, once spring arrives fresh new growth emerges from semi-dormant twigs.



Even without the wildfire, there are many dead and distressed trees in the forest due shift towards a much drier climatic pattern during the last 20 years.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #58 on: March 16, 2022, 02:48:41 AM »


Castilleja applegatei ssp. pinetorum is a very attractive Paintbrush species. As the new growth emerges in the very early spring, this new growth is frequently tinted reddish-purple with anthocyanis.



Aspidotis densa is a very common fern species in this part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The species is very drought tolerant and is also commonly found growing at the bases of large boulders.



As I worked my way around my usual circuit at this site, I arrived in an old mature stand of Jeffrey Pine, Pinus jeffreyi. Here there were additional stands of Acrtostaphylos patula. This grove of Jeffrey Pine survived the 1992 Cleveland Fire with its ecosystem--more or less--intact. Within this grove of Jeffrey Pine there is (was) a colony of Pyrola picta. I have been observing this colony of Pyrola picta for many years. Last year the plants in this colony became extremely drought stressed. Most of the plants disappeared and the few remaining plants were clearly impaired from the dry conditions. This year there are no signs of any of the plants in this colony.



As I continued my circuit I was shocked by what I discovered next. Even now I do not have words to describe the mess and destruction I found. This photograph shows only a fraction of the mess (the destruction comes next). Beer bottles, empty food cans and junk were strewn about the site.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2022, 02:55:14 AM by Robert »
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

Robert

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Re: Plants, Ecosystems, Climate – Northern California
« Reply #59 on: March 16, 2022, 02:52:18 AM »


This fire pit was the location of a vernal seep where rare plant species once grew. This was one of two sites where Erythranthe microphylla, a rare but not endangered plant species, once grew. Due to the prevailing drought, I have not seen this species at either site for over two years. The other site where this species grows is very inaccessible, so hopefully the species is safe at the other site. I am hopeful that the “Death Valley”* effect will prevail with Erthyranthe microphylla.  Between the drought, wildfire, and human-generated destruction such as this fire pit, the future is uncertain.

* The “Death Valley” effect is this:

Death Valley, California is an extremely hot and dry location. Very few perennial plant species grow in this ecosystem. Occasionally there are seasons where abundant precipitation falls during the winter months. Dry lakebeds fill with water and in the spring the desert explodes with wildflowers. The seeds of annual species often lay dormant in the soil for decades before a wet event occurs, the seeds germinate and grow, and the plants produce flowers and more seeds. In the intervening years there is little or no indication that these plant exist in this ecosystem. It remains to be seen if our other plants can be so adaptive in the face of the onslaught of climate change and human activity.



A great deal of brush clearing had taken place at this site. The Mazanita species cleared at this site will sprout from their burls. This new growth will be sprayed with herbicides until the area cleared no longer supports plant life. The herbicides enter the watershed, poisoning the drinking water of many communities.



The reasons for these strips cleared of plant life are to slow and control the spread of wildfires. Instead, the introduction of invasive grasses increases fire potential. Native birds, insects, and other animal life have no food sources, no habitat to live in, no location to raise young, and no place to go.



I do not understand the churning of the soil in this location where there was “apparently” very little plant life. This site did not support the growth of shrubby species. This site was not a fire hazard; it was a habitat for many small bulbous species and tiny herbaceous species, including a unique ecotype of one species.



In addition to the churning of the soil, uprooted trees and shrubs were dumped on these barren sites. Now there is fuel for a wildfire where there was once no fuel. Such thinking and activities are beyond my comprehension! This type of disregard and destruction of natural ecosystems is taking place in California on a vast, immeasurable, and rapid scale. With this type of disregard and destruction taking place, like the Passenger Pigeon, even once abundant plant species face extinction.
Robert Barnard
Sacramento & Placerville, Northern California, U.S.A.
All text and photos © Robert Barnard

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him stepto the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

 


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