Friday, April 19, 2013

Attention Eco-Activists: Why not challenge yourself to restore the Land that was Lost ?

Question: Why don't Eco-Activists save things closer to home in their own backyards ?  2nd Question: Why do so many of them rarely  volunteer for any restoration projects ?

All over the planet we are overwhelmed with all manner of Activist Protest movements. I've never seen so much angry activism over so many different types of issues in almost every corner of the globe all at once. For the purpose of this post, let's narrow down the angry list to one specific area of concern. This would give us Nature and our Earth's various eocsystems. In almost every protest chant when it comes to ecology or environmental issues, you most often will hear, "We need to Save this Area for future generations."  Okay, I can most certainly understand and appreciate the emotional take here and at times I too have lamented about what has happened to some of our most beautiful and pristine wildland areas, especially in Southern California where such places have a bad misfortune of disappearing at an alarming rate because it is deemed more important to grow the economy. But for all the angry protesting, politicking & finger pointing aimed blame ideological opponents for the ruin in some National forest or other wilderness area, I often times things closer to home are overlooked as a better opportunity to make an incredible improvement.  Here is an example of what I'm talking about, an area I once always considered the Yosemite of Southern California, Rancho Cuyamaca State Park. Now should that have been saved and set aside ? Absolutely, it's a perfect example of doing the right thing and no one would argue against the decision to set aside that area as a park or preserve. But unfortunately, in an instant of time in October 2003, the Cedar Fire consumed everything about that Park so completely, that most all old growth forest is gone forever. Most people now living and for generations to come will never see that beautiful area ever again. With climate change now at full steam ahead, it's highly doubful the majority of trees will ever achieve old growth status. Now while I find that such places are worth saving, there are clearly other regions closer to Home (city urban areas) which have long since been written off by such activists as having little worth, value or nothing more than a lost cause because it has become so deteriorated, we can only write it off as a loss. This type of thinking is nothing more than a con. 

Photo - Mine

This is just one of many island-like Hills which are located within the El Cajon city limits. Most of the native chaparral is long since gone, replaced by non-native invasive weeds from the European Mediterranean or Northern Africa regions. This particular one was stripped many years ago and planted with the common Red River Eucalyptus from Australia. You can see the living and dead remnants on the top and the numerous cut stumps of those which were harvested. Still, the native chaparral plant community never did really come back, but there are some surprising hold overs. 

Photo - Mine

On this Hill east of Gillespie Air Field is a hold over of times past. This is a Prickly Pear Cactus which surprisingly has gotten much bigger since I first encountered it in 2002. Still, you can see the overwhelming smothering of the non-native invasive weeds. However further down below near the Mobile Home Park, there is a rather large healthy colony near some large granite boulders and smooth  flat granite bedrock where Metate Grinding Holes are located. No doubt the natives may have plant these some centuries back when their village was present

Photo - Mine

California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) being overwhelmed and smothered by the heavy weedy intrusion of the non-native grasses like this cheat grass. This particular plant is the ONLY specimen on this entire hill. I know because I have thoroughly searched this entire hill for others. It is a main featured plant in saving and setting aside habitat for the California Gnatcatcher, such as the conservation area on Rattlesnake Mountain to the north of this location which demands that open space be set aside during the construction of the Sky Ranch Housing Development. We always wondered if one day some developer would come along and turn those mountains into another Mount Helix rich folks paradise to the south, but the mandated open space totally prevented that from happening.

Toxicodendron diversilobumWestern poison oak or 
Pacific poison oak
 (syn. Rhus diversiloba)

Finding this plant for the first time back in 2002 was a wonderful surprise and an unexpected shock at the same time. But interesting none the less because it further intrigued me as to what the orignal historic vegetation content of this hill was really like a century ago. Such a plantas this one I've only associated with areas of high moisture content, usually on on the north side of a  mountain. The Rattlesnake Mountain chain to the north of this Starlight Hill location and would be like comparing a giant granite boulder to a small cobblestone. And yet, from all my decades of hiking up there on Rattlesnake Mountain, I never once stumbled across this plant species high up there.

Close up view of the foliage of the Poison Oak
Just a few further comments on this plant which I consider a strange anomaly of sorts because there is none of this that I have ever found along all of the mountain ridges of the Rattlesnake Mountain chain. In almost every instance where I have ever encountered it when out hiking on So-Cal, I have never found it in such a dry hot south facing slope location before. It has always appeared to be in areas of higher moisture content. One clue as to why it survives and does so well here is the fact that there are several granite boulders outcroppings all over this small hill in El Cajon as is also the case with other such hills to the east and south of here. It's these geological rock features which fascinated me years ago and inspired the use of many rock or other similar hardscape features which can act as a sort of mulch to prevent moisture loss and also tend to concentrate rainfall allowing for such unique areas to have a higher water content than any of the surrounding soils. So drought years there is no problem. An illustrative comparison would be noticing the lusher higher growth of vegetation along desert highways as opposed to plants out away from the pavement. Runoff does concentrate and benefit those plants near by. Such natural features can actually create a micro-climate effect of sorts which will allow plants to grow where they normally would not succeed. I hope to document and photo some areas in Riverside Co as prime dry hot locations where plants which normally require a heavier moisture  content not only exist, but actually thrive in these locations. Still, this Poison Oak plant was unexpected by me when I first encountered it and my pondering thingy kicked in as to where this plant's ancestral heritage came from, much like the Rattlesnake Mountain single Lemonade Berry tree colony I've written about. Such pondering trigger other questions, like, "What was the climate like way back when ?" or  "What was the entire complete plant community like at one time ?" Another kool feature to keep in mind when it comes to seed collection or cuttings gathering, this could have unique genetic qualities useful in some habitat restoration projects as this plant's internal system may have engineered some important drought tolerant qualities into it that others may not have. Other clues as to past wetness are given the fact that, at the very foot of this small hill there are some exposed flat granite smooth bedrock with Metate grinding holes and these near a once well known Artesian Spring at the bottom of this rock platform, it's probably safe to assume that native Coastal Live Oak were also present in abundance as well.  Take a close look at the area of the once encampment village site of times long past.

Photo - Mine

This is the granite bedrock site of the native American Metate grinding holes. Notice the Prickly Pear Cactus which no doubt was part of the native's pantry and out of this picture frame to the left are some abundant examples of Mexican Elderberry, also a common plant near these village food preparation sites. The weedy invasive plants have a tougher go of it here, although they are still present.

Mexican Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) 
Just above the historic Native village site. Actually this small chaparral tree is very common in and around the rocks here on this hill. I find it ncredible how Europe is so crazy about their Native Elderberry Trees and local Californians pay them no mind nor give them a second thought as a cultivated found source like the Natives did. Not even the majority of so-called Native Plant enthusiasts.
Now maybe I should get to the point of my post here. I have always found that most Save Nature Activism Groups never give many of the city locations a second look. Mostly these are written off and ignored by the majority in favour of more eye candy appealing locations which still contain native flora. Not everyone one, but certainly the majority view these locations as worthless and beyond hope and yet, these are right there in their own neighbourhood backyards. I look at such weedy locations as a challenging blank canvas to be restored to what it once was. Of course doing so means you must dump the conventional modern day enlightenment wisdom in plant healthcare (which generally comes with a price tag on it) and actually replicate what nature actually does. I'm happy that there are many who are nature lovers, love hiking and suchlike, but there is more to loving nature than mere surface knowledge. I often find that many greatly lack deeper practical application of what they see or observe on their short or long hikes. By practical application, I'm referring to their own personal garden and landscape projects. There are many who don't understand the basic fundamentals of plant growth in nature and that there is clearly more to buying a plant at your local Native Plant Nursery and plugging it into the ground. Conventional Care as espoused by the Commercial Garden Products industry will kill the natives and often shorten the life of other non-native Nursery Grown plants. I also find that while many are willing to support a cause, even if it's merely clicking the "LIKE" button on a Facebook page, most never consider personal commitment by investing personal time and energy with involvement on restoration work project. This is too bad, because even if you fail at something in terms of a project commitment, you also learn from that valuable experience. Weeding out the conventional bad scientific wisdom is a tough thing to over come. It's a complete turn around from things you've been taught & raised to believe and place your faith in. Maybe we should call it deprogramming. You know, things like dumping chemical fertilizers and installing a permanent irrigation infrastructure, believing all the while you are doing something for the plant's own good ? But gain understanding of how the natural world actually works and you'll never go back to that failed conventional modern day wisdom which is presently killing our planet Earth. 


Image from Google Earth

Actual Area east of Gillespie Field in El Cajon CA

A healthy chaparral plant community is a mycorrhizal one. On the other hand, the weedy type annual plants generally come  from a flood plain with it's bacterial system where most of the nutrients wash down from the higher locations and collect and settle on the valley floors. In the old days, weeds never really got a foothold on mountainous areas or foothills, but times have changed as these areas have become richer in nutrient content, no doubt as a result of various pollution components by mankind which have gradually accumulated over the decades to allow for this unnatural succession of invasive non-native annual plant community to take over. Not to mention the complete disappearance of the healthy mycorrhizal community which outcompetes weedy ruderals for nutrients that keeps the weeds in check. This is where I took it upon myself while working there to experiment with a portion of that Starlight Hill that I have revealed to you in any of the photos. First thing that has to be dealt with on such a location is what I consider a radical extreme measure of dealing with any heavy weedy system in a swift kick blow to the weedy plants themselves. First step would be to use a weed eater or Fishing line power trimmer to cut down as far to the ground as possible any and all weeds. dead or alive. Next, while I don't like chemicals, in some extreme cases where used properly and not over done, products like Roundup can be used after the next rainy season growth appears. After this initial extreme KILL, heavily mulch these areas to suppress the newer weeds from appearing on the area to be re-established with chaparral or any other native plants from any area of the globe being restored. In the old days, most southern facing slopes had a sterile decomposed granite soil base spaced between the individual plants with the plant's own dander or mulch underneath it's own vegetative drip line. This is not the case now. In fact you cannot allow any bare spaces between plants for a few decades, given the changes which have taken place on our once pristine natural world. Allow these spaces and weeds will fill in these spaces. So keep these areas between plants mulched until they grow large enough to merge with each other. What I did on this hill project was plant both native Chaparral and native tree species, with the exception of a few non-native Mediterranean trees which can take drier conditions. Also remember, this hill site was to never have an irrigation system, so proper healthy natural establishment done the right way in the beginning was a must. The native chaparral plants I used were Lemonade Berry, Californian Holly (Toyon), Cleveland Sage, etc. You also need to correct the soil's microbiology back to a mycorrhizal one. Decades of neglect ensure almost no beneficial mycorrhizal fungi existed to maintain healthy plantings. It was  imperative that a good species blend of mycorrhizal mix be added at the very moment of planting for a good healthy start and to change the underground soil structure and chemical makeup to something which would allow the plants to succeed. Native trees, believe it or not were Tecate Cypress and Coastal Live Oak, both of which thrived immediately. Non native trees were mostly volunteers of Aleppo & Canary Pine which were already around the properties below in the housing that was maintained by the company I worked for. What can I say is this, they were free and after all, it was only an experiment anyway. Even failure were to happen, this was a learning process. The first couple years the plants were babied with once a week watering the first several months down to once a month the second year. After that no more water. Such a watering strategy replicates what I learned here:  
Lessons Learned from the Bajadas (Alluvial Fans)
Okay, so below is a photo of  basically what the once weedy area looks like today below here.
Photo - Mine

This is looking up the Landscape and Maintenance Service road for which plants were established on both sides of the road to provide privacy screening for the work of chipping and gravel and soil dumping which was necessary for the normal Park maintenance. Often times such areas are unsightly branches and trimmings piles and it detracts from the tidy cleanness of the Park Community. At the top where the road turns left, you'll notice the Tecate Cypress which actually provide a good green screening, Aleppo Pine is easy to identify and many of the small trees are actually Toyon and Lemonade Berry. Cleveland Sage is to the right.

Photo - Mine

This is looking back down the maintenance road. Notice the Silver Agave on the right. I collected that back in the 1990s from the Huachuca Mountains above Sierra Vista Arizona and brought it down we me when I left Anza CA. This Agave was actually growing on the forest floor up there under trees when I first discovered it. It originally was the size of my fist when I collected it. It was one of the pups around a bigger one.

Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii)
This is on the south side of the maintenance road
Aleppo Pine (Pinus halapensis)

This is on the north side of the maintenance road opposite from the previous picture of the Cleveland Sage. Only weeds appear to be some Sow Thistle, but not much more. Continued use of mulch keeps them in check. These Aleppo Pine Trees here are 8 years old. There is absolutely no irrigation. My previous experiments in Anza California in dealing with the interconnections of a strong mycorrhizal grid network underground between a large group of pine trees are clearly present here as you can see these trees are  exceptionally healthy with little or no irregation. This underground interconnected network between all the tree root systems can shunt water from lower reaches where some irrigation from the Park may be transported uphill to the trees at the higher elevations above. The front Office and pool are of the Park has some extremely large Canary Island Pines for which somehow became colonized with Pisolithus tinctorius truffles. Every Spring the truffles appears and I'd collect them. Most of the Pisolithus tinctorius inoculent used on this hill came from those truffles I collected. Now the only water is the little rain from winter's rainy season which has been mainly drought.

Tecate Cypress ( Cupressus forbesii )

These trees are actually larger than they appear here in the photo. I had to stand back quite a ways to include all of them. The lower tall slender one is almost 20 foot in height as it is much much lower at the bottom of the bank. All of them show no signs of slowing down to a comfortable growth. None, with the exception of the lower one receives any watering. The lowest one may have roots near some irrigated plants nearby.

Photo - Mine

Same Tecate Cypress, but now viewed from below the bank. All of the Tecate Cypress were also colonized with mycorrhizae. The soil is decomposed granite with some adobe red clay and very little organic material. Only organics are the mulches place around the rooted areas.

Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia)

This is a large chaparral shrub and was given to me by the Company's owner to plant where I wished. This specimen came from Scripps Ranch area. I really was unsure if it would take as it had been in a one gallon pot for a long while after being transplanted from the wild. It looked stunted and could easily been written off, but fortunately, a good mycorrhizal mix is mostly all that was needed. To the right and on the back of the bush is wild cucumber vine growing up into the branches. How fortunate for the wild cucumber to fiend an old friend where most others are lacking.

Coast Live Oak  (Quercus agrifolia)

Of all things that would disappoint me, is the sorry condition of the Coastal Live Oak as upsetting, but it's still alive. When I last visited here in July of 2011, the vegetation was healthy, thick and dense. Now the leaves are half green and half brown, almost as if poisoned with Roundup. Not sure how sensitive it's roots are, the new maintenance person may have sprayed to heavily dose of roundup around it to maintain the rid the area of weeds around it. Still it has been a success otherwise as I heavily inoculated it with various Ectomycorrhizae , in particular Pisolithus tinctorius. There is a volunteer Texas Umbrella or China Berry Tree growing to the right of the tree and it has wild Cucumber Vine growing up into it. I'll have to work on this area with permission of course.

Photo - Mine 

Looking up at at the once weed infested hill from across the street below. I actually have a photo back in Sweden of this hill before anything was done, but I'll have to scan it at a later date and post it. The transformation is remarkable and possible for any location. I have actually got some conventional camera photos of this area before much was done, but I'll have to scan them and upload here later. 

Photo - Mine
Looking down from the hill at the restoration project below. This is looking directly south towards Mount Helix in the southern end of El Cajon Valley.
Cleveland Sage (Salvia clevelandii) - Howard McMinn Manzanita
(Arctostaphylos densiflora) - Big Berry Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca)
These were planted on along the top of a wall to replaced the conventional dying Retail Nursery plants which had outlived their usefulness. They were inoculated with mycorrhizae mix from Dr Mike of Mycorrhizal Applications Inc and no supplementary water is necessary with the exception of some periodic deep slow watering once or twice in the summer.

Howard McMinn Manzanita and Bigberry Manzanita

Well to mostly sum things up, anyone can create a small project like these and go far farther that what I did if they get up. The experience is a fun learning thing. I'll have to photograph and post some of the plants I installed on my mum's property which is a third of an acre. The Cleveland Sage and Manzanita, which by the way is "Canyon Sparkle" ( Arctostaphylos insularis) does exceptionally well here in interior valley HOT El Cajon CA. Yet is is advertised as a coastal cooler climate plant. Of course the soil is a very deep sandy loam and roots are deep. A mulch is always kept around the roots and of course it was heavily inoculated with mycorrhizae at time of planting. No summer watering has ever been necessary after the first couple of years. Most watering is rainy season ground storage and maybe some slow soak winter soaking for later usage throughout the year. It resides next to a Cleveland Sage and both look so natural. Incredibly, I now understand why this "Canyon Sparkle" or Island Manzanita got it's name. The newer foliage is exceptionally  glossy bright green and does reflect an awesome amount of sunlight on a bright sunny day. Of course the older foliage is a bright beautiful green anyway. Still! I've noticed more and more that the Freeway planting projects are going mostly native now around here locally. Good for them and us. Here's the post on my mum's place: 
"Canyon Sparkle" Manzanita
One of the best non-profit organizations, which actually does do a hands on restoration and education program is the,  Back to Natives Restoration, group out of Orange County in Southern Califonia. You won't find the long time traditional in your face activism tactics like civil disbedience, foul language, threats etc comon among many of today's groups. Mainly they education young people and to be honest, I've never seen an organization like this that attracts so many volunteers as this group. This is refreshing, because environmentalism has gotten a black eye where most causes are based and identify with something they hate as opposed to something they are for or love.
https://www.backtonatives.org

image - PBS
Still Interested in Environmental Activism ???
Then stop being distracted by the plethora of environmental non-profits who promise if you donate to them, join in monkey wrenching protests or trust their "Occupy" worldview of overthrowing an ideology they hate which will make the world a better place and challenge yourself to restoring a landscape they have written off as unsalvageable decades ago. Nature has always had the tools for turning things around again. Take some outdoor time away from time wasting Facebook sites and find out just what those tools are. Start with your own backyard or local habitat beautification project. It's local and not far to go time-wise and expense-wise as far as fuel is concerned. Areas of local restoration could include the entire restoration of the San Diego River riparian corridor from Mission Trails Regional Park all the way to El Monte Valley in Lakeside California. Or anywhere else on the planet where the misuse and abuse of Science by profit obsessed corporate entities has caused environmental ruin.
Lakeside River Park Conservancy




Thursday, April 11, 2013

Beginning to Feel Wonder Again

photo: Mine
When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s, I was always wondering about things in nature. Of course it help living up against a mountain with low growing easy to maneuver coastal sage scrub was a big help. Mostly my wondering about things had a lot to do with what appeared to be odd, strange or just out of place anomalies, especially where plants were concerned. For whatever reason I've always had an eye for these things that defy their surroundings. As time has gone on, it's only gotten worse, so much so that often even driving in the back country can be a hazard. I was reminded of things that caught my attention up on Rattlesnake Mountain when I discovered the dismembered Torrey Pines. The link I gave to the collection of photos I quickly took last Friday before being told I had to leave reminded me of another chain saw destruction which took place in the 1960s. Take a look at this photo above of a large clump of dark green foliage in a rock outcropping at the top of the ridge with houses in the background. These dark green shrubs you see up there are of  Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia). The light green shrub in the center and foreground is actually a Mexican Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana). They too have been there since the 1960s as far back as I can remember.

This location and the plant itself are truly a marvel and a mystery. On that entire Rattlesnake Mountain is actually chain of ridges, and on all the acreage, this is is the ONLY location of a Lemonade Berry plant colony. I know because for well over two decades 60s & 70s, I made it a point to explore almost every square foot of those ridges, especially on the mountain's back side northern slopes which border Santee and Lakeside looking for other Lemonade Berry specimens. None have ever been found. What's more, this group of Lemonade Berry used to actually tower over those rocks. If still as tall and wide as it originally was in the early 1960s to the present, nothing about that center house or it's outbuildings would be visible. As a kid I first saw it from down below as a massive oak tree. It was so big it actually stood out like a sore thumb even from viewing it at Pepper Drive School athletic field (which is no more). I always thought it was in fact an Oak Tree. It's the first time that I really started wondering about things and the clues they could tell me about the past. Even now I wonder, where did it's parents come from which produced the seed from which it came ? How different was the climate back then, especially considering this is on a southern slope exposure ? This is certainly the most easterly example I have seen of them because they don't like frost and prefer the coast for this reason. 


Well, at least the Saguaros 
were still intact.
One day a childhood next door neighbour friend of mine and I decided to hike up there. We were between six & seven years old. We wanted to explore that giant oak tree up there. We basically followed the same route I take to the location where the Torrey Pines once existed. In fact the photo is looking up from that very location. Even the Saguaro Cactus is still there which I feared may have suffered the same ignorant fate as those Torrey Pines. But that Lemonade Berry was incredible to behold. Indeed the old growth gnarled bark looked identical to any Oak Tree I had seen over at El Monte county Park beyond Lakeside. Even the leaves had an uncanny similarity to Coast Live Oak leaves, well at least to a young botanically challenged kid. The seeds however, were a dead give away though that this was not your typical oak tree. Red, flat and loaded with some sticky substance, I'd never seen acorns like that. We climbed up into the multiple large tree trunks to get an even better view of the valley below. It truly was an incredible old growth anomaly and definitely qualified to me then and even now, more of a tree than a chaparral shrub. But like the shock of seeing the Chain Saw massacre of last week, in the late 1960s, some idiots drove a truck up there and chain sawed the massive old growth of the Lemonade Berry trees for firewood I presume. But it sprung back, but the huge old trunks and branches were gone forever. Even several fires which passed through that ridge didn't eradicate this tough chaparral tree. One protection they had was the granite rock outcroppings from which they grew acted as a fire suppressing barrier.


Source of continual Artesian Spring flow
But wondering about it's origins and what the mountain must have looked like way back when was only a beginning. Now take a look at this next photo to the left here. It's of a riparian woodland for which a permanent spring has always existed and supported an obvious Native American village site. The village site remnants are still there. Mostly the flat granite bedrock where the Metate grinding holes can still be seen. There was a lame attempt at an archaeological study before the Sky Ranch development was allowed to break ground. They were forced to by the rules and I saw the actual team down there with their screen sifters everywhere. I never went down to speak with them, but I could have informed them that most of the artifacts were taken back in early 1960. I know because I & a neighbour friend helped the collectors find arrowheads, pottery and three medium size free standing round granite boulders with deep grinding holes loaded onto their trucks. 

photo: Mine
The Artesian Spring is up and to the left of this photo. In fact it's out of the picture, but this is the beginning of the old Alluvial Fan or Bajada which at one time spread out south of the mountain here. There are some Coast Live Oaks and several Sycamores planted, but these were never there when I was a kid growing up. Orange Groves were present and there is evidence that most of the oak Savanna was probably replaced by these growers on the south side of these mountain ridge chains. Such ground is generally a very deep sandy loam in Southern California on the west side of mountains and perfect for orange groves as old photos bare out. 


photo: Mine

Coastal Live Oak ( Quercus agrifolia )
On Rattlesnake Mountain I discovered only two major Native American village sites. The one I mentioned above and another behind my mother's place on a very large granite boulder outcroppings with some of the usual flat to sloping granite bedrock which suited the Indians best for their Metate establishing needs. This is where my WONDERING comes back into play. While most Kumeyaay & other Tribal nations So-Cal village sites will almost always have Prickly Pear Cactus and Mexican Elderberry present (no doubt human planted), other more important vegetation like Oaks would have been more important, especially for processing the acorns. And yet they were absent, with the exception of a few old timers. One such tree is behind my mother's property where our neighbour Mr Dreybus lived. His property home and barn were the original orange grove caretaker's dwellings as the early Craftsman Style architecture will attest. There were also oak's further up that ridge where another family, the Steinmetz, lived. Mr Steinmetz actually found some Indian remains up there, but I couldn't even now tell you where. Most people, including the experts don't even know of this location even today. But it's the plant anomalies which intrigue me and have left clues behind to an amazing ecological past that was never respected by those early pioneers who viewed everything for the taking. Take a look below at the giant Coast Live Oak tree behind my parent's place.



This Coast Live Oak s at the cross corner of Pepper Drive and Wenatchee in El Cajon, CA. This tree is the same exact size as when I first viewed it in 1962.  Back in the late 1980s, it's foliage was attacked by something, but it recovered. Still there are other examples of ancient Coast Live Oaks in the neighbourhood here that have not fared so well as the next photo reveals. This house always belong to the John Geba family and there are several others in the neighbourhood backyards behind this location on Pepper Drive.

photo: Mine
This Coast Live Oak is a few streets over on Lindenwood Drive just four blocks over. It is on a property which was once the Mansion house of one of those Orange Grove Barons from a time when agriculture was in it's heyday. I remember when this place was the second to the last hold out with regards land holdings. Most of these Mansions still exist around here and Coast Live Oaks were a huge part of the original landscape. On this Tree on Lindenwood, notice the struggle to keep what foliage is left. I remember when they trimmed out the old dead massive branches, but clearly it's started to come back. The family with the Orange Barron Mansion on this particular property had numerous Oaks behind the main house, but most of these were destroyed when they found a need to sell land to developers for more housing tract construction ventures.



photo: Mine
This is simply a photo of my mother's neighbour to the north towards the mountain. It illustrates how readily these Coastal Live Oaks propagate with the help of Scrub Jays. Sadly, this location is destroying the concrete block wall and the tree will have to come out before the wall is destroyed completely.


photo: Mine
This is the area of my mother's backyard where I created a sort of native California plant ecosystem. Specifically this is Tecate Cypress, three  Canary Island Pines which volunteered from the mulch that brought home from work and simply let them grow after a wind storm blew most of the Tecate Cypress down. To the right is a massive California Spice Bush (Calycanthus occidentalis) , White Alder and low growing and spreading Catalina Currant (Ribes viburnifolium) and none of which ever gets watered. The original installation was heavily inoculated with various mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria which interconnects everything. Also the deep rooting of the largest trees and the biological and physics phenomena of Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution are what now maintain this urban landscape ecosystem. So successful is it that water loving California Sycamore Seedlings need to be weeded out.


Once again, it's the clues of odd little plant anomalies which stick out like a sore thumb if you know what to look for, that give clues to the past and teach you how to replicate if you have the intuitive ability and motivation to do so. Driving around this morning I found most people's yards to be almost a total wreck. Most of the old lawns are dry, dead or thrashed totally. Many of those old horrible Brazilian Pepper trees which were planted in the 1950s and are a maintenance nightmare are now being taken out by most folks. If only people would get a clue as to what once was and utilize these native plants, or at least incorporate more of them with other exotics with similar habitat needs. At the very least, start challenging yourself when out on your next hike. Look for clues from the past. In my next few articles, I'll deal with one more plant anomaly here in El Cajon and several up around Anza CA which deal with specific very old plant specimens which shouldn't be growing there, but actually reveal something about the region's past wetter climate. Also I will talk more about Alluvial Fans or Bajadas and what they teach us about plant establishment in the Southwestern landscape. I've seriously seen no one else make any of these connections before. But they are useful and informative.


photo: Akseabird
This Kumeyaay Metate above is a prime example of what was taken back in the 1960s from Rattlesnake Mountain. These were actually once common in and around many areas of two locations on Rattlesnake Mountain. One very large one was taken back in the middle 1960s by a Archaeology hobbyist who wanted it for his front yard as a decoration. Of course the laws and rules were not as strict back then, but sadly so much was taken prior to the Village Site Archaeological Study that was mandated be done before approval of the Sky Ranch development. I even found an almost most identical Matate to that in the picture above one in Anza California. But of course the Native Americans there were of the Cahuilla band. I gave it to my sister. The main difference would be that the grinding hand stone itself that I found along with the Metate was pure white quartz and perfectly shaped  like a very large bar of Ivory Soap. I always wondered how long it would take to shape such an object by hand like that. I won't say exactly where I found it, but at least I can say it wasn't on the Cahuilla Indian Reservation, but rather private property where a very large sizable village had once been up there in Anza Valley. So it appears that different tribes created similar designs in regards kitchen equipment.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Massacre on the Mountain

Rattlesnake Mountain Changed Forever


This Torrey Pine Tree was planted in 1980 on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon California and this photo I took  in 2011 on a visit home from Sweden where I presently live. This particular tree was 25' tall.
The last thing I expected was to come home and start off on a negative note. Since I haven't had time to post much of anything lately and when I did, it was generally on a subject matter dealing with a negative topic, this trip was going to be different and informative about things I've discovered, appreciated and accomplished over the last few decades. I wanted to deal with forensic clues in the form of vegetation anomalies I have accidentally stumble across over the past few decades which defied explanation, which gave clues of a different climate and ecosystem past in Southern California. Well, no such luck. Things have taken a turn for the worse on Rattlesnake Mountain. I suppose my spirits are down a bit as well, but nothing surprises me anymore in this modern day system. The trees I have for so long cherished and spoken about are now gone. I had always considered that some event like wildfire consume them or housing development would bulldoze them, but never in my wildest imagination did I expect this deliberate chain saw massacre which was done for stupid ignorant reasons. When I told friends who had known of the trees I planted over three decades ago, they were sad for me and wanted to console, but the reality wasn't so much sadness as it was disappointment of the average person's stupidity and ignorance. Mostly my reasons for lack of sadness are that I don't regret the experiences I gained and learned in the way of practical application by replicating nature (Biomimicry or Biomimetics) and gaining a much deeper understanding of the value of our native Chaparral as host or nurse plants. Take some interesting statisitcs about Laurel Sumac as having good nurse plant potential.
Some interesting facts about Laurel Sumac and it's ability as an ideal nurse plant which utilizes Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution of sub-soil water which facilitated this Torrey Pine to thrive

Photo taken by friend in 2011
There's a remarkable story behind this and another Torrey Pine tree's success up in Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon. Follow the link below as to how this was possible.

I went up there yesterday to photograph the Torrey Pines and the trees were totally gone. While I was looking around the site where the large Laurel Sumac which provided the means of serving as an excellent Mother Tree still stood, several irritated home owners came out and yelled at me for trespassing on conservation area land and demanded to know what I was photographing. I kept calm and explained I was taking pictures of Coastal Cholla Cactus (Coastal Cholla never was originally native to this location when I was a kid and I established a one acre patch which has since spread on it's own) in bloom and those of Prickly Pear Cactus, plus I was looking for Cactus Wren nests which I noticed the year I left for Sweden in 2006. Actually, all I saw were the old abandoned nests of the pre-housing development construction before I left in 2006. Nothing new of note anywhere. I'm assuming the Wren's were frightened off by the closeness of the development. But documenting the tree slaughter with photographs was mostly what I was seeking after because I could see from the paved road that both Torrey Pines were gone. I asked one of the disturbed neighbours about what had happened to the pine trees and the ignorant unscientific explanation given made it all I could do to hold back keeping my mouth shut and emotions in check. One of the men said to me, 
 "Those trees are a huge fire hazard, they were producing cones and once those seeds escape, they will spread everywhere and will cause fire and create a bigger fire hazard endangering these houses." 
Seriously ??? Torrey Pines cause fires ? I thought people caused fires around here ? In the whole history of fire on this mountain every single one was always human caused. No brushfire in my almost 60 years of lifetime were ever started by natural causes. None of what he said was true and a fire starting as a result of more trees would never have happened anyway. I was told I was a trespasser, threatened with police being called and fined $1,000 if I didn't leave their precious conservation area. These trees were nowhere near any of the houses as this photo below of the other smaller tree poking out from the Laurel Sumac clearly shows.


photo: Mine
This Torrey Pine in the photo at right here was the smaller of the two trees. It was a bit stunted, contorted, twisted and was developing a beautiful picturesque form. It was once of the survivors of a wildfire that swept the area earlier. One single lower branch to the south of the tree survived and grew upwards into a crooked twisted tree. Ironically, the accusation of the non-native status of the trees was ridiculous, because if you do an inventory of the plants they have utilized on the terribly  scarred disturbed hillsides they created during construction, you have non-native yuccas, Iris, Mediterranean Rock Rose which is from Spain and elsewhere in the Mediterranean. There are other non-native plants, but perhaps I'll document that at a later date. There is also this constant water drenching from an elaborate irrigation plumbing infrastructure everywhere on these hillsides all around this development, something which is abnormal for native coastal sage scrub, but necessary to keep the non-natives alive. I'm actually shocked more strategy planning and attention wasn't provided by the so-called Conservation people from Escondido who are in charge of the oversight of this official conservation area. Just the irrigation pipe and other fixtures alone must have cost a fortune. The other negative is that this destruction of native coast sage scrubb ans replanting coupled with early years of heavy irrigation have mostly benefitted and spread all the non-native noxious weeds I mentioned earlier and more. I'll walk up and do list of many of the non-natives for a later post.

photo: Mine
This is the exact spot of the 30' tall Torrey Pine which was butchered by Sky Ranch residents who themselves trespassed on to this Conservation area land and took it upon themselves to enforce the modern day unscientific  thinking that So-Cal native plants are evil mega-fire causing living organisms that need eradication in order to save human life. So what more is there to say. I kept my cool and didn't get into any confrontations even though that seemed to be the intent of those few I was speaking with. I'll post below a couple of pertinent photos of the damage done by those residents from the surrounding neighbourhood who not only trespassed onto the Rattlesnake Mountain Habitat Conservation Area themselves, but also took chain saws and destroyed a rare wild growing tree native to San Diego county. 


These signs exist everywhere around Rattlesnake Mountain now. Of course I don't own the land and they can do with it what they wish, but it's amazes me how this land for numerous decades prior was always spat upon & figuratively urinated on by humans without fear of prosecution before anyone decided it had some sort of ecological worth aside from the economic value to a handful of business benefactors. I actually contacted that telephone number on the No Trespassing sign and asked the biologist,
 "If the penalty for trespassing on Rattlesnake Mountain Habitat Conservation Area is $1000, could you tell me what the penalty for trespassing and taking a chain saw and removing valuable rare protected wild San Diego County tree species is ?"
The headquarters from where this Rattlesnake Mountain conservation area is given oversight is north from here in the city of Escondido. The biologist I spoke with on the telephone was nice enough and seemed to have already known about the removal. He said he was previously tipped off prior to the chain saw massacre and had visited the site himself. I never actually got a straight answer as to why these trees were destroyed, but it appears that there were several complaints to his office after I wrote my first article on the successful planting of trees by utilizing the Laurel Sumac as a nurse plant. Laurel Sumac is really the only shrub up there that stays richly evergreen all year long, aside from one single small colony of Lemonade Berry which has also been severely cut back for housing. Those Lemonade Berry are so ancient that they look almost look small oak trees and I thought so when I was a kid back in the very early 1960s. They are located just uphill here from this cactus where the Torrey Pines also were. 


I will post a link here below of an album I created of several photos, not just of the dismembered trees, but also the growing Coastal Cholla and Prickly Pear Cactus colonies which are just starting to bloom now. The cactus colony is beautiful. One photos of the ground where Cholla Cactus joints have fallen off and rolled away from the parent plant explain just how the plants are able to spread so easily. I am also fascinated by what appears to be some sort of allelopathic chemical properties of these cacti plants in that none of the invasive weeds seem to grow anywhere around them. Well who knows, maybe it's just good luck. The biologist knew of the Cholla Colony and told me that Coastal Cactus Wrens were his favourite study. The Wrens never were there prior to my planting of both Cholla and Prickly Pear throughout the 1970s. The cactus Coast Cholla joints were rescued from yet another housing project from the 1970s near Santee Lakes across the valley to the west of Rattlesnake Mountain.

Rattlesnake Mountain Photos of Torrey Pines Dismemberment and Coastal Cholla & Prickly Pear Cactus colonies


photo: Mine
Believe it or not, I am not totally bummed out here. I always knew this scenario would play out in one way or another. That same day I also that had a bit of a surprise to view a location where I previously worked as head landscapers for a property management company on Bradley Avenue which is south of this location, where I converted a non-native weed infested hill [almost exclusively Cheat Grass] in El Cajon which has a portion of it forested with Coastal Live Oak, Tecate Cypress, Toyon (California Holly), Lemonade Berry and Aleppo Pine on a south slope exposure. My goal was another experiment to see whether or not non-native weed (Runderals) infested locations long written off by the Native Plant peoples for saving, if such locations could be converted back and restored. I heavily inoculated all the plants with various forms of Mycorrhizae and beneficial bacteria. The first two years the plants were babied with water and mulch and then left to their own with no water other than the below average historical rainfall that has plagued So-cal for the past couple of decades. Most of the trees are between 15' to 20' in height now. Large height and wide spread growth on the chaparral species of Toyon and Lemonade berry planted. Mostly the main purpose was to try and experiment by replication of exactly how things perform in nature and IF they can be utilized in an urban landscape setting and/or any habitat restoration project. I'm thrilled and happy to say that they can succeed if left to their own devices, even when climate is considered less than ideal.
Attention Eco-Activists: Why not challenge yourself to restore the Land that was Lost ?
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Some Photo Updates:
Photo of Saguaro on Rattlesnake Mountain in 2011
This photo was taken with a friend in 2011 of the Saguaro I planted in 1980 when friends from Tucson brought over a foot tall Saguaro from a Nursery there. The original size of the Saguaro grew quickly to over six feet tall until some idiots with a shotgun or rifle blew it to Kingdom Come for target practice. All my life from the 1960s such things continually happened like this for decades. One day a couple of years after they destroyed the Saguaro, I went back up there in the early 1990s and saw that the would had calloused over stump to the ground, but there also were two small buds from which two competing Saguaros appeared. Finally as of 2011, this is what it looks like. The Biologist I spoke with knew of it's presence, so I have no idea if it is still there.  

Photo taken in 2011 on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon California

Photo by James Gallagher, Sea and Sage Audubon
Well, the above photo is a close up of the San Diego Coastal Cholla colony on Rattlesnake Mountain. This particular spot was where I first saw the San Diego Coastal Cactus Wren nest in the middle of all that tangle of Cholla arms with spines. For those who think of Cactus Wrens living only in the deserts, think again. Here is an example on the right of a San Diego Cactus Wren which lives in coastal sage scrub habitat where colonies of Coast Cholla still exist. In the same photo above and to the below right out of the picture is a colony of Desert Agave I brought up from Ocotillo outside of Anza Borrego State Park back in 1981. When I left for Sweden in the Spring of 2016, that was the only time I saw the main older Agave with 50+ spread pups all around it's base finally send up a giant flower stalk. It was wonderfully beautiful. This Coast Cholla colony has also spread further from the main body and it too was loaded with flower blooms everywhere for the first time since I first planted thise cacti joints in the ground. It's actually odd that this area wasn't more protected back in 2005 since in the original housing development land preparation phase when they did an inventory of plants prior to any bulldozing, this entire area was roped off with conservation tape and posted as protected area. One would have thought that more care would have allowed protection of the Torrey Pines which are also native to San Diego County. 

photo from 2011 - notice how the Chola Colony spreads
These Cholla joints are everywhere within and outside the two main colonies. Not difficult to understand how they can easily spread within coastal sage scrub habitats. Below I also added a Prickly Pear Cactus pad here and there planted in the soil. Previously they were not here either. The prickly Pear varieties I chose were the mature native plants father below near the artesian spring where they are next to the Native American Metate grinding holes in the flat granite bedrock. I believe the natives carried and planted Prickly Pear beaver tail pads near all their camp settlements where ever they moved because it was a major part of their diet. Same can be said of Mexican Elderberry for the same reasons. 

Another angle of part of the Cholla Colony. 

The photo above almost squarely in the middle you can just make out the gray blue of the Desert Agave and the old dead flowering stalk which still persists. Also take note of some of that invasive African Bunch Grass which are commonly planted along freeway cutouts to supposedly hold the banks together. They are the ones with the fuzzy seed stalk heads. Many other non-natives such as Yellow Star Thistle & Mustard have made their way up here as a result of the Sky Ranch Housing Development.. 


Photo taken in 2011

This is at the top of the hill where the last remnants of the Lemonade Berry Colony still thrive, but they are only a whisper of their former glory. In the 1960s & 70s there were larger trees behind this scene where houses now are. The trucks of these looked f´so very ancient and the bark was identical to that of any Coastal Live Oak. When I was a kid I thought these were oak trees, until one Spring where I saw the sticky flat red berries. As far as I know, these is the eastern most extent of Lemonade Berry in San Diego County because they dislike frost and will easily burn. This location never did freeze even when we had frosts below in the valleys. I do not even recall seeing any over in Lakeside which is on the other side of this hill. Still, I cannot believe they took a chain saw to these special trees.