Monday, December 24. 2007
I went out the Mule Hill and San Pasqual trails today. (These trails are currently closed due to the recent fires and you need to be a volunteer trail patroller to use them!) It has rained a few times and things are starting to grow. Some of the regrowth is good, some is bad, and some of it I don't know, so maybe you can help me.
Here you can see that some severely burnt shrubs are sprouting from their roots. Many of the chaparral plants do this. It enables them to recover quickly from a fire and preserve the investment of many decades growth that they have in their roots.
Here's another one. This was a pretty big shrub or small tree.
Here are links to some more photos of chaparral plants that are regrowing in the same fashion.
Here is a beautiful old tree which sadly does not look like it will be recovering:
And here are some that I am not so sure about. If you can ID these plants, please let me know.
Maybe one of them is Pepperweed? These guys are spraying Roundup on emerging Pepperweed. I talked to a ranger about it and he said this is their only chance to make a dent in the Pepperweed invasion: while all the rest of the vegetation is burned back.
We know these next plants are bad. I asked the email group of the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society about them and they are an Erodium species. We'll know which species when they flower.
And a closer view of one:
There is supposedly one native Erodium species, but it is apparently not very common. These are likely the highly invasive non-native Erodiums. Take a look at this photo. See all that green on the ground? As far as I could tell with my 52 year old eyes they are all Erodiums. I would say the invasion is here. (Cool hawk on the fence post though, huh?)
Most or all of the land these trails pass through were formerly ranch land. My wife lived here in the '80s and remembers cattle being grazed here even that recently. After two or three hundred years of grazing, it's no wonder that the chaparral was pretty thin. It was just struggling to grow back. Look at what a setback this is:
While we are playing the ID game, does anyone know what these are? They are very tiny and are growing along the trail near Via Rancho Parkway. It seems to much to hope that they might be native. I know it's not the greatest photo, but if you know them, please tell me.
Here is a somewhat closer look at them. (And yes, that is a somewhat eroded turd full of berries in the photo.)
And finally, not to leave out our furry little animal friends: I have seen a few squirrels, though not nearly as many as before the fires. But here are something new to me. They are very small holes and very small mounds. The gopher holes I've seen in this area have been much larger and further apart. I was out during midday, so the dirt was dried and I saw no activity, but they are clearly fresh holes.
Hopefully these photos have been more interesting than my usual diatribes.
Monday, December 24. 2007
Pictures this time!
Here are some examples to go with the entry I posted a few days ago explaining why trails are closed. We'll start with safety.
First, here are some burnt woods that the trail goes through. Notice some trees have fallen.
Here is a tree which burned inside of its base and then split and fell. Before this split you would not have known that the inside of the tree had burnt out because the outside appeared unblemished.
Here is a tree that is hanging over the trail. Yes, part of it is starting to green up at the top, but look at the base and the trunk on the right. They are severely burned. This tree might have another 50 years in it or it might fall tomorrow. Until the rangers have time to examine and/or remove it this tree will remain a risk to users of the trail.
Here is a closer view of the base of that tree.
There is a dam along this trail and the trail uses it as a bridge. There were railings made of posts and cable. But the ends of the cable have burned away and the cable hangs slack. People of all ages and abilities use this trail and I suppose there is some concern that someone will stumble off of the dam. It's not a big drop, but you could still injure yourself.
There are fences in many places which have partly or completely burned. Some of these are for the safety of the trail users and some are for the safety of the environment. Some people just won't stay on the trail and so they need to be restrained by fences. It's too bad for the rest of us, but if you've seen someone off the trail and haven't said anything to them about it, you are also part of the problem.
And that brings us to the other reason the trails are closed. People won't stay on them. Look at this mountain bike track going right over a patch of eroding soil. The bike didn't cause the erosion but it will certainly make it worse.
Here's where one went around a barrier.
Motorcycles have been in the park, too. They were never permitted in there. Why now?
Another motorcycle came in from Highland Valley Road and just squirreled and skidded and made all kinds of mess. So much that the rangers had to take a lot of precious time to build this brand new fence which blocks all access towards Raptor Ridge. Don't these morons realize that the park staff has more important things to do right now than babysit them?
These examples are from just a three mile section of the trail. I'm sure I could collect more.
Thursday, December 20. 2007
The fires are behind us and it is time for those little red patches of color to start sprouting along the edges of brush. I'm not talking about wildflowers, but brush abatement notices. Think it sounds like a good idea to clear your "brush"? Think again!
Do you know that there is a huge industry in the southwest built around brush clearing. There is a LOT of money in brush clearing. Think about how much brush there is in the southwestern US. It's kind of like a motherlode for people who are either greedy or just not smart enough to do anything else for a living. All they have to do is convince people that it is worthless, dangerous and evil and then ask for a blank check to clear it. That's where marketing comes in, because the brush isn't worthless, dangerous, or evil. So the brush clearing companies must make you believe that it is.
Do you know where those abatement notices come from? In some communities they actually do come from the fire department, but many communities are contracting with outside companies to do their inspections and issue their abatement orders. And who do you think those outside companies are? The brush clearing companies, that's who. One very big example is Fire Protection Services. They are the ones who contracted with the Escondido Fire Department and issued an abatement order on us. It turned out that they didn't know where the property lines were and the brush they were ordering cleared wasn't even on our property. Do they care? No. All they want is to force people into paying them for clearing somebody's brush. It doesn't even have to be yours.
And why cut the brush at all? They say it is for fire protection, but is it?
Brush does burn. But so will anything; native, non-native, mixed, weeds, landscaping, all will burn when dry. The chaparral, which is our brush here in southern California, has evolved to survive fires and recover from them, as has just about every ecosystem on the planet. Every ecosystem has its way of recovering after a fire, storm, or other catastrophe because every ecosystem experiences catastrophe from time to time. But that doesn't mean that chaparral needs fire to remain viable. Most of the chaparral plants are very resistant to catching on fire in the first place. As I pointed out in an earlier message, most chaparral species are very difficult to ignite even with a propane torch. They wither and char and unless you are persistent they just take a lot of energy to get started. If you can get the chaparral started and keep it going by blasting it with 60MPH winds, then it will produce a mighty wildfire - but so would any plant community under those circumstances. But think about this: the Witch Fire (the really big one in San Diego county this year) went about thirty miles from its origin - in about three days. That's ten miles a day or about four tenths of a mile per hour. In 40 to 75 MPH winds. If that was grass it would be moving almost as fast as the wind. You can get out of the way of a fire that is moving at four tenths of a mile per hour. You can evacuate a city in front of it. If all of that land had been weeds and grasses, the fire would have moved so fast that you couldn't get out of its way.
And that is what is going to happen if we keep clearing the "evil" brush. Or if we keep burning it. (Make no mistake: nature is not causing all of these fires, people are.) Grass and weeds will take the place of the chaparral. It will burn faster and much more often. And you will have to be able to run a heck of a lot faster to outrun it.
Now back to the brush clearing companies. What happens after they clear your brush? Something will grow back, that's what. Usually the chaparral plants will try to grow back, but they will be competing with a lot of weeds. And then what grows back will be a lot more flammable and will burn a lot faster. So then you'll have to clear again and again and again. That's what's called a cash cow if you are a brush clearing company. Once the cycle begins it is hard to break. And that is exactly what they want.
Monday, December 17. 2007
Janet was walking along a road above Lake Hodges and found what we think is a type of moss. It was on a SW facing slope. It grows in the upper bank of the road cut and right at the top edge of the cut. It grows close together in clumps ranging from six inches to many feet. She said it was in the burned area, but appeared just brown and shriveled, and it is starting to green back up.
Here is a link to a photo I took of two pieces that she brought home. (Don't worry, there is a lot of it.) Can anyone ID this plant?
And while we are playing the ID game, how about this one? It is growing just about everywhere you look in the burned over areas of the San Dieguito River Park.
(Sorry that I can't provide smaller images to preview, I'm using a new computer and haven't got my photo editing stuff setup yet.)
Monday, December 17. 2007
My wife wrote her own reply to John's questions. Here it is...
I'm a SDRP volunteer. Just after the fire, the first priority was to check every trail for safety. The ranger staff is tiny, plus they lost their office and equipment, and this was a huge job. And there were safety issues with debris and burned trees along the trails. Many power lines were down and power poles burned (I don't agree with SDG&E access there, but it is there.) Some trees had burned limbs that had to be cut back; other large trees were burned through the center of the tree, and most were large, heavy oaks.
It is precisely the lack of connection with nature that makes it problematic to have people in burned areas. Many are unaware of (or don't care about) the problems they cause by riding vehicles or walking through burned areas or letting their dogs run through them. I do believe it is helpful to have volunteer presence on the trail to keep people on their good behavior.
The effect on wildlife is stunning and we as humans (with our dogs, horses, machines) create more trauma. Wildlife has been concentrated in a few areas, they don't have adequate cover. For example the only cover left in one area is transected by a road, with a trail on either side. I quickly realized it was a bad idea to walk on the trails, as the birds have only two narrow corridors of around 3 feet on each side. It is pitiful to see birds so desperate to eat and so lacking in cover that they just don't try to hide, or if they do, know that the cover won't protect them. And it has been a great feast for birds of prey, who are out in huge numbers.
On the good side, most areas are being reasonably respected by people. Still, some are being abused by bikes, dirt bikes, all terrain vehicles, dogs off leash, etc. Again, it helps for volunteers to show presence. Personally, I have recommended that some areas be restricted, such as closing the trails I mentioned in the last paragraph. People can ride and walk on the road (which has only park service vehicle traffic). In the other areas, I am seeing serious abuse. I doubt the park will close these abused areas, and people will be on the honor system.
If you live near a burned area and can spend even a few hours a week walking or riding a trail, I highly recommend volunteering. There is great need. Just your presence will deter people who abuse their privileges. Pretty much every dog owner had their dogs off leash and either turned and ran when they saw me or put them on the leash (for the moment)--so they do know better!
BTW, it is true: one guy walking with his dog off-leash literally did turn and run the other way when he saw us. There is no figuring some people out. --Brian
Monday, December 17. 2007
After my previous entry, someone asked:
> Brian, I am left wondering why the trails have been closed to the public.
I do not speak for the park officials, but I can offer some of their stated reasons and some guesses as to further reasons.
They say that they are concerned about the safety of the users and they are concerned about people causing even more damage by going off-trail.
There are some areas where safety actually is a real concern. There really are trees out there which burned at the base and inside of the trunk. I have seen them. Some of these have split apart with large pieces (weighing well over a ton) falling to the ground. Others have not fallen - yet. Will they fall across the trail? I have not seen any which were endangering the trail, but I have not ridden the whole trail. There are places where fencing is down. Sensible people like you and I will not fall over the edge, but not everyone is sensible. I say "let them fall if they are that clumsy" but I do not make the decisions, the lawyers do.
Before the fire there were a few unauthorized trails here and there. But to leave the main trail or one of these side trails was usually difficult and unpleasant in many areas because the brush was so dense. Now the brush is gone and you can go pretty much anywhere you want. People wandering all over the place will really mess up the recovery. Sensible people like you and I will stay on the trails, but I have already seen one person who is not sensible.
The wildlife is extremely exposed right now. Too many people take their dogs out for walks and let them roam off-leash. In the past, it was difficult for dogs to go off into the brush (though many did anyway) and it was much easier for wildlife to escape from them. Right now it is easy for dogs to go racing off in any direction after a rabbit or deer and there's no place for the animal to hide. And they can chase birds all over the place - birds who are desperately trying to find something to eat in the burned-over wasteland. Sensible people do not allow their dogs off-leash in the park, but five out of six dogs we've seen so far have been off-leash.
The park headquarters were destroyed. Their trucks were destroyed. Their computers were destroyed. Everything needed to manage the park was destroyed. The staff has been overwhelmed with the effort of pulling themselves together, pulling their office together, and continuing to manage the park (not all of which burned.) They closed all burned trails until they could be checked out and made safe. They are working hard to get them opened, but it takes time. They have opened the north shore of Lake Hodges. I'm sure they will be opening other trails soon, and still others not so soon, depending on how much work they must do. Having seen the North Shore trail, I can tell you that they are not trying to make them pristine before they re-open them. Their efforts are very basic.
They are also stating (and posting) that the trails are open on the condition that users remain on the trails. If too many abuses start happening they will be closed again. That sounds reasonable to me. It is good that we get out there, but we must behave responsibly.
Frankly, I would much rather have free access without having to wear the little vest and tell people the trail is closed. But that's not how it is. And I have not seen any evidence that most of the people using the trails are at all interested in the vegetation or the recovery. Well, except for the guy who was gathering and carrying out garbage - and not leaving the trail to get it. We didn't bother to remind him that the trail was closed.
> In my opinion, those of us who love and wish to protect our unique and
The problem is that there are so few of us. It never ceases to amaze me how few people who use the trails in the park have a clue what is around them or care. Mountain bikers are generally more interested in their sport than the nature around them. (There are exceptions; I bike to get out into nature because I have a bad foot which cannot handle long walks.) I see many joggers with iPods stuck in their ears. How idiotic that appears to me! How do they hear the bird songs which are everywhere? Or how do they hear the bicycles who are behind them and asking to pass? (I always slow and ask politely - many do not.) One lady today was talking on a cell phone while her dog wandered off-leash. I can't tell you how many people I have talked to in the past who were surprised that rattlesnakes were at large in the park.
But your comment did give me an idea. From now on I will attempt to engage people in discussion of the area when I meet them. I usually try to be nice about telling them the trails are closed, anyway. I have directed some to the trail that is open and have suggested to them that they could volunteer to help. More people should volunteer, anyway, so maybe if this gets some of them to do so it will not be a bad thing.
Sunday, December 16. 2007
After the fires we tried to volunteer for trail patrol at San Dieguito River Park, but I think the staff was so devastated that they didn't have the time or energy to contact us. Then a couple of weeks ago we saw a note saying they needed volunteers, so we tried again a bit more persistently and this time met with success. And now we are volunteer trail patrollers. This allows us to get out and hike/bicycle on the closed trails. We have to make notes about what we see and ask unauthorized people to leave - though there has been surprisingly little unauthorized access as far as I can see. The burden on us is not great, the advantages are great, and I truly hope we are helping the park - we are certainly trying!
The big advantage for us is that we can get out into the burned over areas - legally - and even do some good in the process. This allows us to see how they burned, what burned and what didn't, what grows back, and how. It is very interesting. In some areas the fire appeared to have burned pretty quickly and left a lot of standing, charred, bushes. These are re-sprouting from the base - just like the native plant experts predicted. There are some areas which were heavily grazed until recently and the brush was younger. These appear to be re-growing much more slowly, if at all. I presume this is because the younger brush has a lot less roots to support the re-growth.
Most of the oaks seem to have been scorched, but not burned, their crowns still full of dead, brown leaves. Some of these are starting to show a bit of green in their crowns where it appears that leaves are re-sprouting. Some of the oaks did burn and a surprising number of them burned on the inside. It appears that these fires started in trees which had a crotch right near the ground. I bet these crotches probably collected lots of duff which would make good tinder when an ember got into them, but I'm just guessing about that.
There was some erosion after the recent heavy rains, but not as much as I expected to see.
Much of the area from Del Dios far to the east - probably all the way to Vulcan Mountain - has been grazed in the past and there were lots of non-natives mixed in with the chaparral that was trying to return. Lots of them seem to be re-growing and a lot of plants that I'm not sure about. I have a strong interest in native plants (and wildlife) but I'm terrible at IDing them.
We have a special interest in birds. Sadly, with most of the plants burned away it is a lot easier to see birds and we have been spotting birds which eluded our eyes in the past. I think there are fewer birds in the park overall, but it is much easier to see the ones which have remained.
I would like to recommend that anyone who wishes to use the trails responsibly, help the rangers monitor them, and watch the recovery should consider volunteering. There is a short-term (@6 months) need for temporary trail patrollers (like we are) and after that they may disband us and/or incorporate us into the permanent volunteer patrols. So the commitment is not open-ended and the training only takes a few minutes.
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