Protecting the Dunes

President’s Notes

As we focus this month on the Oceano Dunes and its rare plants, habitats, and proposals that could change this area forever, it is worthwhile to look at the area in the larger context. Recall that the Oceano dunes are part of what we call the Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Complex, a 10-mile stretch of coastline running from Pismo Beach to Point Sal, consisting of multiple areas of differing land ownerships and management strategies. (See “Project A” of the Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreational Area for a figure from the Guadalupe Dunes National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Management Plan.) Within this complex, there are County parks, State Beaches, a national Wildlife Refuge (Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes), and two preserves. We are lucky to have these areas. But it has taken years to gain this, and we need to be ever diligent in monitoring and protecting what we have. The Oso Flaco Lake Natural Area can be argued to be the “heart” of the area, including its valuable wetlands, numerous bird species, surrounding dunes, sensitive plant species, and rare natural communities. Let’s keep it that way.

-Melissa Mooney

A larger need for conservation and protection

President’s notes – October 2019

As a passionate supporter of California’s native plants, from within my heart I often hear a voice that calls me towards the greater humanitarian perspective, one that encompasses an even larger need for conservation and protection. Here are the opening remarks made by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on December 11th, 1964, as a call to acknowledge this greater perspective.

“This evening I would like to use this lofty and historic platform to discuss what appears to me to be the most pressing problem confronting mankind today. Modern man has brought this whole world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future. He has reached new and astonishing peaks of scientific success. He has produced machines that think and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. He has built gigantic bridges to span the seas and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies. His airplanes and spaceships have dwarfed distance, placed time in chains, and carved highways through the stratosphere.

This is a dazzling picture of modern man’s scientific and technological progress. Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer
we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers (and sisters).
The time has come for an all-out world war against poverty. The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.”

Bill Waycott

Email updates, the August meeting, and the CNPS Fire Recovery Guide

Sign up for Email Updates

Here is a brief organizational request. I had a telephone conversation with long time members after our August meeting and the presentation on landscaping with fire resistant natives. I mentioned I did not see them at the meeting and emphasized how pertinent the information was for those of us living in rural and suburban communities. Their immediate response to my comments were “What meeting? I didn’t know there was a meeting.” At that point, I proceeded to explain that a simple request for information via our website (www.cnpsslo.org) would give them access to semi-monthly updates via e-mail, from our chapter, and would have alerted them to the existence of our August meeting. So, for those who rely on the paper edition of the newsletter for all your chapter information, you are missing announcements to members throughout the year available only on computer, tablet and/or smartphone.  To request receipt of these updates, open our chapter’s website (www.cnpsslo.org) Home Page, then scroll down until you see the green box on the right hand side, opposite the calendar. Type in your name and e-mail address and check “subscribe”, and you will be listed to receive the chapter updates.

August Meeting with Greg Rubin

For those who missed the August meeting, Greg Rubin gave a detailed presentation on landscaping with fire resistant natives. Of particular note, he mentioned several times that a native garden/landscape surrounding a structure should not be a pure, undisturbed native setting, but rather a well-managed native planting. The critical take-home point here is that a straight, undisturbed chaparral landscape is ten times more likely to ignite than a well-spaced, infrequently hydrated, low growing native landscape.

Regarding structural considerations, he made these points:

  • no plants up against a structure
  • leave an unplanted “apron” around any structure
  • all windows should be double glazed and metal framed
  • all eaves should be enclosed
  • roofs should be made of non-flammable materials

Regarding planting considerations, he made these points:

  • 75% of the plants are perennial and evergreen, 25% can be color spots which bloom at different times of the year
  • use infrequent, overhead irrigation (not drip) every 7-10 days, similar to the effect of a light rain occurrence
  • leave healthy spaces between plants, and make liberal use of rocks and paths
  • use well-compacted “gorilla hair” (finely separated redwood bark) as mulch, which when compacted will not burn

Regarding a list of recommended native species, he gave this short list with a Southern California focus:

  • Summer Holly (Comarostaphylis diversifolia)
  • Channel Island Ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus)
  • Bladderpod (Peritoma arborea)
  • Howard McMinn and Sunset manzanitas (Arctostaphylos sp.)
  • Pigeon Point Baccharis (Baccharis pilularis)
  • Blue Jeans, Frosty Blue, and Joyce Coulter Ceanothus
  • Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat (Eriogonum arborescens)
  • Wayne Roderick Daisy (Erigeron “WR”)
  • California fuchsia (Epilobium canum)

CNPS Fire Recovery Guide

The CNPS state office has just released the second edition of the Fire Recovery Guide. This extensive guidebook is a treasure trove of information for Californians living in the rural and suburban areas of the state, like the communities of the Central Coast. The guide can be downloaded and a hard copy of the guide can be obtained via the state website at cnps.org.

I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from the August meeting and so we plan to repeat the event in the years to come. Please make sure you have signed up to receive chapter updates via the website to stay informed.

-Bill Waycott

 

A Discussion about Environmental Justice

During a recent CNPS Board meeting in Sacramento, I participated in a discussion on environmental justice. A quick search in Google defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Environmental justice addresses the phenomenon of poor communities being habitually situated in neglected, if not polluted environments, where access to clean air and water is often difficult. If we look around the state, we find underserved communities often lack modern infrastructure, access to utilities and internet, and sanitary conditions. There is also a dearth of information about healthcare, diet, and exercise. The fact is that low income communities have become  marginalized because they have been denied the basic rights of clean air and water, community parks, open spaces, and educational resources.

Should CNPS have a concern for these issues? Does our advocacy for “all-things native plants” include environmental justice in its list of priorities? What do you think? At the top of the State CNPS webpage it reads, “We’re on a mission to save California’s native plants and places, using both head and heart. CNPS brings together science, education, conservation, and gardening to power the native plant movement.”

Personally, I think the strong connection between the native plant movement and the environmental justice movement is clear. A clean, pure, natural environment is everybody’s birthright, and a clean, pure, native plant environment is the essential ingredient for that to take place. As native plant lovers, we see the connection between a healthy environment and a healthy human existence; we see the relationship between clean, natural resources and quality of life. The work done by CNPS in native plant research and protection is known throughout the world for its environmental advocacy and conservation.

During the Board meeting, we talked about some simple approaches to being more “present” in the environmental justice conversation. CNPS’s commitment to maintaining plant diversity in this state (over 6,000 species of plants, a third of which are endemic), is a natural segue into a discussion about the diversity of the human family in California. We acknowledge that all species have intrinsic value and need to be secured. We give equal regard to poppies, redwoods, and bryophytes.

If environmental priorities are to manifest going forward, we need everybody at the table. We need the soccer moms, the plumbers, and the farm workers to join the biologists and the philanthropists, if there is to be equitable consensus on these issues. We need to listen to this conversation and participate in its discussion. We need to acknowledge this diversity and articulate its benefits. Awareness of these issues needs to spread across all communities, so there is real agreement on environmental integrity and fairness for all.

-Bill Waycott

President’s Message December 2018

President’s Message December 2018

In past issues of Obispoensis, I have noted some of my observations on the impact of invasive plants in our state – their negative effects and a bit on their historical introductions. My musings on the origins of such a domineering presence by these plants,  led me to machinations on how alterations to our California landscape invariably trigger chronically weedy areas that don’t seem to ever go away. It is unfortunate that once the native landscape is significantly altered, invasives race in and dominate for, well, forever!

There are examples of this all around us, where invasives out compete their native counterparts by germinating earlier, by flowering earlier or flowering later, by flowering more abundantly, or by simply over growing them. In fact, I’d be willing to wager that every time a land parcel on the Central Coast is disturbed, its ability to return to its former, diverse self is seriously hindered, if not eliminated. Can someone show me a landscape that has successfully regenerated to its former self after significant disturbance?

An excellent example of how permanent the impact of disturbance can really be, is clearly illustrated along the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way, not far from my house, where it winds through vineyards south of the SLO County Airport. According to historical records, that rail line was completed in 1895. As one walks through the area today, it is choked with the usual cast of characters; two species of mustards (Brassica sp.), wild oats (Avena sp.), bristly ox tongue (Helminthotheca echiodes), prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola), Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), purple vetch (Vicia villosa), Canadian horseweed (Erigeron canadensis), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), curly dock (Rumex crispus), and a Class B noxious species, Russian knapweed (Rhaponticum repens); all of this along with an occasional coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis).

So, for more than 120 years, this area has been left to the quirks of nature to restore itself to its former self. And in a century’s time, only an few coyote brush grow there, along with a gang of opportunists, better able to thrive than the natives they’ve replaced. Like the zebra and guagga mussels in the Great Lakes, and the Asian collared doves in North America, the introduced and now naturalized exotic plant species are here to stay, at least for the conceivable future.

As we approach land development going forward, we now know that if we disturb the land, the chance of realizing a full restoration event on that parcel is next to impossible. We also know restoration is an expensive proposition (plants, irrigation, and management), that more than likely will end in failure, as well. It is tough! Hence, the more competitive, more aggressive introduced species that abound in disturbed areas here, are now actually part of the “new normal” – they’re here to stay. The way I see it, it’s time we welcome these visitors as permanent residents in this environment, and therefore, integral participants in our California landscape.

Bill Waycott

Exotic Species on the Central Coast Part II

Exotic Species on the Central Coast Part II

This month’s President’s Notes is the second part of the October post

Last month I wrote about my curiosity for the origin and distribution of some of the invasive plants that have become naturalized on the Central Coast. I continue this month with exerts from historical accounts. These come from an article published in the Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences, October 1920, entitled “The Immigrant Plants of Southern California”, by Samuel Bonsall Parish, a noted amateur California botanist. In the article, the author reports historical data on 281 non-native species observed in Southern California at that time, citing reports from some of the earliest botanists who visited the area, as well as stating his own views on this subject. Here are four exerts of the article, addressing early plant introductions, two putatively during the “Mission era”, or pre-gold rush, and two thereafter.

Avena fatua, Wild oats: The wild oat must have been among the earliest introductions of the Mission era and being well suited to the conditions, have spread with rapidity. Newbery reported in 1854, “throughout central and southern California, wherever the ground was not occupied by forests, wild oats covered surfaces of many hundreds of miles in extent as completely as the grasses cover the prairies of Illinois,” and he was inclined to regard this species as indigenous. His report indicated that at that early date, wild oat was even more abundant than at present (1920), the increase of agricultural cultivation having curtailed their area. It is by way of California doubtless; the wild oat has reached other parts of the United States. It is native of the Mediterranean region, but entered this state from Mexico. [To the layperson, this implies the extensive spread of wild oat populations reported by Newberry in 1854, must have been realized within the 100 years prior, as the first of the Alta California Mission was founded only in 1769.]

Brassica nigra, Wild mustard: Abundantly naturalized as a “ruderal weed” and also in grain fields. In the coastal district, in the rich adobe soils of the hills and mesas, it often covers wide areas with a close growth 5-10 feet high, excluding all other vegetation. It is sometimes harvested for the seed. It was certainly introduced during the Mission era, and there is a persisting tradition among some Spanish-speaking Californians that the Mission fathers were accustomed to carry the seed with them and sowed it by the wayside. This seems improbable, but the fathers no doubt grew the plant in their gardens, as the young leaves are relished by the Mexicans and others, too, as a pot herb. The seeds would be scattered by the small birds, who freely eat them.

Conium maculatum, Poison hemlock: Introduced into ornamental cultivation under the name of “Carrot Fern” around 1905, soon escaping and now frequent in wet places and abundantly naturalized in willow thickets along river beds.  Widely distributed in localities throughout the state, but probably of recent introduction.

Lactuca serriola, Prickly lettuce: naturalized and common. A very recent immigrant, but here as elsewhere, its diffusion has been rapid. The species is an abundant weed in cultivated grounds, gardens, roadsides, and waste places, but they do not make their way into unbroken dry hills and mesas. While an obnoxious weed, these plants have not proved themselves so injurious in this region, as they are reported to be elsewhere. The earliest records for this state are: Berkeley in 1890, Sacramento in 1891.

Thus, intentional or unintentional, the vast array of exotic species naturalized in this state were clearly human-caused events, often out of ignorance and oblivious to what was to follow. Every introduction to California apparently has its own unique  story, how it was thought to be of ornamental or agricultural value, or how it just hitchhiked its way here. I think as CNPSers, we need to keep a look-up for unusual species and report them to the County Ag Department, if it is something new to the area.

Bill Waycott

From left to right, Avena fatua, Brassica nigra, Conium maculatum, Lactuca serriola Pictures: Wikipedia Commons

Exotic Species on the Central Coast Part I

This month’s President’s notes will be divided into two parts, with the second part included in the November issue.

As someone who frequently hikes in our California landscape, I often ponder over the abundance and diversity of exotic species that have naturalized here, and how that came to pass, specifically during the past two centuries. This is not to say humans did not move plants around California prior to the arrival of Europeans, but historical records point to the introduction and, in some cases, rapid dispersal of non-native species in our state, as a post-European-arrival event. So, I set out to satisfy my curiosity, and in the process found some interesting facts.

How did so many non-native species find their way to California and how could they spread so quickly and in such large populations – was it intentional or by accident – by air, by water, by animal, by human, etc.? I reckon humans have had preferences for certain plant species since the beginning of time, thus altering the landscape to create a more desirable food supply. As North Americans, most of the plant species we consume are actually native to somewhere else, where simple domestication events started eons ago. However, as non-native plant species were carried to other continents during the last 500 years, adequate safeguards for their containment were apparently not well understood, and the botanical invasion we see today in California correctly had its origins in the not so distant past.

Here’s one example. I am astonished to see European fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) growing in such numbers in abandoned fields in my neighborhood. It is particularly thick along the railway right-of-way that bisects this vicinity. How did those plants get so well established here? One possible scenario could be – it’s originally from Greece, then traveled to Italy, then to Spain, to Mexico, and finally to California, where it was planted in the early gardens in this area, and then transported via the hooves of horses and on the wagons they pulled, later on the trains, trucks and tractors that worked and subdivided the land, and finally via the shoes, socks, and pockets of humans. I wonder if that is how it really occurred.

This hypothesis comes from observations I have made while hiking in some of the more remote areas of our county, where it can be hard to find exotic species that have become established. In most cases, the further one travels away from human civilization, the fewer number and variety of exotic plants are found. There are exceptions to this rule, especially where soil type and/or moisture do not afford these plants adequate resources for growth. Here are a couple of examples of what I have seen in recent years, illustrating to me how new species have potentially moved into our area.

On some of the hiking trails, one finds an introduced species growing right along the path, but rarely more than a few feet off the path. Torilis arvensis, known as hedge parsley, or “sock destroyer”, is a European native having seeds covered with tiny hooks, similar to Velcro. The plant grows within the range of most people’s socks, i.e., 1-2 feet tall. Socks pick up the seeds when the plant is shaken and then transport them to new locations along the side of the trial, thus engineering this unique dispersal pattern.

The other example concerns two species; Canadian horseweed, Erigeron canadensis, and Italian thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus. Both of these plants were uncommon in our county 15-20 years ago. Later, they began showing up along roadsides and even later spreading along the trail systems, to the point where they now dominate sizeable portions of our open spaces. Canadian horseweed, although native to North America, has become an “unwanted plant” in many places, common in disturbed areas in full sun, while Italian thistle does best in partial shade, especially under coast live oaks. Both are in the Asteraceae family and produce copious quantities of seeds. Using its pappus, a small parachute connected to one end of the seed, these species achieve phenomenal aerial dispersal potential, even from a single plant. Seeds move with the wind, easily get lodged in vehicles, horses’ hooves, people’s shoes, etc. Thus, these seeds first arrived along roadsides, then moved along the trails into our wildlands.

So, I guess the finger of blame for these introductions, and rapid disseminations, points to us, because the patterns of dispersal invariably involve human activity. Next month, I will cite some historical records to further illustrate my point.

Torilis. Photos by David Chipping

Carduus and Torilis, right) revealing two different seed dispersion strategies.

 


President’s Notes April 2018

Here are some of the activities in which the SLO Chapter is involved that are often missed.  Is there something here that excites you?  If so, follow your passions – get involved!

Activities in April/May 2018: (more…)

President’s Notes March 2018

President’s Notes March 2018

While volunteering a few weeks ago in the CNPS co-sponsored San Luis Creek restoration project with the City of San Luis Obispo, several of us were removing weeds and planting natives along both sides of the creek in front of the Old Mission Church. This project is now entering its third year with nearly 200 native plants placed in this scenic landscape.

While working on the creek bank a few weeks ago, I noticed a number of shoots of giant horsetail, Equisetum telmateia, emerging on the (more…)

President’s Notes February 2018

I received a telephone call last month, from a US Mail carrier who works in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, asking for information and ideas on ways to do something meaningful in the aftermath of the Thomas Fire.  At the time, I was moved – and still am as I reflect on our conversation – by the honest, soul-searching attitude that motivated her to reach out to CNPS in the first place.  I wrote back to her about a week later with a few links to information addressing the phenomenon of fire in California landscapes.  Now a month has passed along with the tragedies in Montecito.  I wrote back to her recently with these words (below), in an attempt to shed a bit of light on the causes and consequences of living in our natural surroundings. (more…)