Saturday, April 19. 2008
...maybe not yet, but it's well past noon.
You've read about it here before: SDG&E wants to build a new high voltage powerline across San Diego county, ruin some very pristine lands, and subject us all to even greater risk of wildfires. There are many reasons not to do it and San Diego County Department of Planning and Land Use has done a very good job of listing them. Check it out here. It's all still in the "draft" stage, so they haven't technically rejected the whole project, but it doesn't look good for SDG&E at this point.
People, contact your government and tell them to completely reject this ridiculous proposal. If enough of us call and write they will listen; you know why? Because the average citizen never bothers to contact them. Be the voice that matters. The California Public Utilities Commission has a section of their website dedicated to this project. Visit it here.
I do not focus on the Sunset Powerlink in this blog, but here is an excellent one that covers both the Powerlink fiasco and the alternatives:
Saturday, April 19. 2008
Rick Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute talked to residents of Del Dios today about wildfire, wildflowers, and the future of the chaparral in our area. Then he led a walk through part of the San Dieguito River Park to illustrate his words. Here's a photo that Janet took of the talk:
As you can see, they do these things nicely in Del Dios, with music, a potluck, organized by Michelle DePriest. The walk took about 35 to 40 participants of all ages through a part of the park that is closed to the general public, and many interesting plants and insects were found including a nice stand of Phacelia grandiflora - the latest act in nature's big wildflower show this year.
Rick will be doing another presentation and wildflower walk at the Elfin Forest Garden Festival on April 26th, 2008. Read about it here and reserve your tickets.
Tuesday, April 15. 2008
I was riding my bike, the other day and I had stopped to listen to the birds in a riparian zone when I detected motion near my feet. I looked down and saw a whole bunch of these ladybug larvae:
I didn't have my camera with me, so that photo is from Bugguide.net, an excellent site for identifying insects.
There were a lot of these larvae crawling around and attaching themselves to a whole crop of small, 4" tall plants alongside the road. When I got home I looked them up and found that they are Seven spotted lady beetle larvae, unfortunately non-native.
Today I was riding there again and stopped to look. They had all attached themselves and some had finished pupating (is that the right term) into adults, but most were still in the process. I didn't have my camera today, either, so I snipped off a piece of plant with the pupa on it and brought it home with me. Here's a closeup:
You can click that picture to see a larger version.
After I had taken some photos and put the plant outside I got to looking at them and finally noticed the plant that they are on. Look at those tiny flowers. What in the world are they? Here's a photo that shows a bit more of the plant:
I had snipped off the top half of a plant, but the bottom is mostly stalk with one or two branches similar to these. Oh, and you can see the remains of another SSLB that has already finished pupating.
So what you thought was a posting about a non-native insect has turned out to be another plant ID question. If anyone knows what this plant is, could you let me know? Thanks.
[Susan M. ID's this as a Spergularia, but exact species unknown. Thanks Susan!]
Monday, April 14. 2008
wildbird in Native/Non-native Issues
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Craig Gustafson of the Union Tribune wrote an article linking the lack of "brush" clearing by convict work crews to the recent wildfires. (Mr. Gustafson has obviously been doing more writing than reading.)
Kay Stewart, a prominent San Diego Landscape Architect, wrote the following letter to the UT in response. (Posted here with her permission. Thank you, Kay!)
Hi Mr. Gustafson,
Your article about work crews and "brush clearance" was all about numbers of prison labor camp crews, millions of dollars spent on working them to cut down "brush", and comments by people who managed those crews. Your article however didn't ask the most important question: if the work actually resulted in reducing fire risk to structures or lives when the wildfires happened. What your article needed was a map of areas that the crews had worked on in the '80's and '90's, to see if their work reduced risk to properties in any of the fires that did occur at any time.
Most homes lost this past year (read the stats) were from embers not from walls of flame rolling off of overgrown shrubs. The homes on the north edge of Rancho Bernoardo were hit by tremendous heat and embers burning from the stands of willows and cottonwood trees in the east basin of Lake Hodges that had been left high and dry the year before due to the drought. Trees are not what is referred to as "brush" and are rarely to focus of these work crews.
Willows and cottonwoods usually have a lot of moisture and don't burn, but the drought left these standing dry and combustible.
The idea that removing huge swaths of shrubs (which are carelessly called "brush") will prevent homes from being lost is not a good idea: when you remove the shrubs, and do it so there is virutally nothing left alive from the original shrubs, faster growing annual plants replace them, plants we rightly call weeds (and which these crews also call "brush. These weeds produce highly flammable fuel much faster (five times as much growth of dead fuel per year is one estimate) than the original shrubs did. This perpetual money pit of annual weed removal can be justified in terms of fire risk reduction only if it is done very near the home, within a hundred feet, and if it is done carefully so the fast growing weeds don't take over, and if people make changes to their propertyto reduce fire risk starting from the house on out.
If not, people would be feeling a false sense of security. If they didn't pay attention to the landscapes around their homes their property becomes a fire trap: big untended trees with dead stuff trapped in branches or dropping onto roofs and ground; build small dimension lumber decks, flimsy wood garden structures; fabric furnishings that are exceedingly flammable.
They don't replace hazardous windows with low-risk windows, or put screens on vents, or replace shake roofs or cover rafter ends, or put stripping around garage and tool shed doors all that brush cutting was a waste of time, even if it is close, because when an ember blows in from a fire even a mile away the house ignites. All those plants cut down was a waste of public funds and resources and time.
In short, your article is twenty years behind the fire science and the resulting direction of public policy. But there is a use for labor crews in reducing fire risk, but people may not like having convict labor so close:
If those crews instead were sent to clean up roofs, trim dead branches and leaves from trees near the homes, rake up and haul away flammable litter near the home, and if at the same time a trained fire marshall noted and listed all the fire risks to the home that were posed by louvered or single glazed windows, unsealed and hollow-core doors, unscreened vents and wind turbines, pet enclosures, open-framed decks and flammable fabric awnings, umbrellas, wood piles, exposed flammagle outdoor storage, wood fences close to the home, and wood furniture, then the money would substantially reduce fire risk to property.
If shrubs burn out in the wilderness that is a natural process. Why should you waste money and labor knocking them down so weeds can grow that you have to knock down five times as often if the fire doesn't pose a risk to a home?
The only smart thing to do is to keep embers from igniting a house and clean up the site immediately around it.
If an ember gets into a house it is a personal tragedy. The work needed to prevent the tragedy is not to send crews of laborers or herds of goats out to eradicate the vegetation for hundreds of feet around any structure. Fire breaks where crews can stage a fire suppression may be justified in some places, but embers jump 15 lanes of freeway, so a fire break without a fire crew isn't much use. Making those places diverts money, scarce and valuable funds, from doing the work that would prevent the tragedy, an diverts it now and every year thereafter, having set the stage for the annual weed infestation.
"Brush management" or "clearing" have made real mistakes in trying to reduce fire risk. Careful shrub pruning and thinning takes care and thought. It can mean avoiding having to personally hire (or use tax funds, which is our money too) a crew every summer to remove that year's growth of dry dangerous weedy fuel. With pruning and thinning the effort might be every four or five years instead, with minor work between.
Crews worked in our canyon last fall. Thank goodness they hauled away twenty years accumulation of dead and down eucalyptus and acacia litter (non native, not called "brush") in the no-man's land across the valley, but the places near me where they cut down small native shrubs that had grown only inches since we trimmed them eight years ago are now covered with 4-foot high weedy grass that I will have to go cut down myself and bag and haul up before fire season. If they had left the shrubs, which were only 18" to 20"
high, I could have trimmed the tops back some, 1/10 of the volume of work and labor. So I am speaking from personal experience as well as professional experience.
I am sure it is disappointing to the men who used to run these crews to see their jobs disappear, but as citizens we have to use our public funds in the smartest way and those massive shrub clearing projects were not the smartest thing to do. These men have skills that can be used for smarter work.
Kay Stewart, landscape architect
Wednesday, April 9. 2008
After I posted my pollinator photos I received a message from Margaret Fillius saying she had just taken some similar photos yesterday. Here are her photos and her comments. Thanks, Margaret!
Cute little guy!
A fly of some sort?
Do aphids pollinate?
Yes, a harvester ant.
What kind of pollinators will these hairy guys become? These were, I
Didn't see this one actually pollinate
Wednesday, April 9. 2008
A couple of weeks ago I was riding my bike and looking at all of the masses of native wildflowers growing out there and I got to wondering how the all come to be pollinated. There are a couple of ways it could happen. The pollen could spread by wind or it could be transferred around by animals (usually insects, but also bats and hummingbirds).
If spread by the wind, I reasoned that the flowers would have to produce a lot of pollen and that it would be easily dislodged, so I got off of my bike, held my hand behind a flower and blew on it. No pollen came off. Then I rapped the base of it with my finger and no pollen came off. So I reasoned that it must require the assistance of a pollinator and started looking around for one. I didn't have to look far before I noticed a whole lot of what I had just assumed were some sort of little "hoverflies". Upon looking closer I began to wonder if they were actually flies or bees. Since then I've looked at quite a few of them and found that we have a wonderful array of tiny insect pollinators. Honeybees are not native to North America, but there are many other kinds of wild bees and they are out there right now, today. Go take a look.
Meanwhile, here's a sampling for your enjoyment. One of these days I'll have to start learning more about pollinators. Without them we wouldn't have these wonderful shows of wildflowers after the rains.
This first one seems to be the most common kind:
Look! Here he is again:
This one is similar but different. Look him poking his proboscus down into a tiny nectar-pot of a flower.
Here's another one and you can see his/her proboscus, too. What a treat: I learned what a "proboscus" is while playing Cootie when I was a little kid, but I rarely get to use the word. Today I got to use it twice.
If you click that last picture you can see a larger image. Take a look at the flower this bee is standing on. If you look closely you can see that it is really a massive cluster of little flowers, each with petals, stamens, pistils, and a dab of nectar at the bottom to pay off the pollinator. Beauty is nice, but bribery gets things done. You can also see that they open in a progression from the outside towards the center. I guess that is probably an insurance policy so a day or two of bad weather can't occur on "pollination day" and ruin their chance to reproduce. There are probably other reasons as well. Nature is wonderfully complex.
Wednesday, April 9. 2008
Janet found this Phacelia grandiflora on one of her walks in the San Dieguito River Park, so she sent me out to photograph it. First, the whole plant:
Here's a view of just the flowerhead:
Did you see that beetley-looking insect on one of the flowers? Here's a couple of photos showing them in close-up:
And even closer...
So does anyone know what kind of insects these are and if they have some special relationship with this species of plant or if they just happen to be there by chance? Are they pollinators? (More on pollinators in my next posting.) You can email me or answer by clicking the "comments" link at the beginning of this posting.
***Phillip Roullard thinks it's a blister beetle. I Googled it and I think he's right. I don't know if they are "good" or "bad", and Wikipedia says there are over 2500 species of blister beetles world wide, so I suppose there is still more to learn. And more interesting news: the "blister" in "blister beetles" is a toxin called cantharidin which will cause your skin to blister if you touch these beetles, but will kill you if you eat one. I know they look tasty, but don't say I didn't warn you!
Tuesday, April 8. 2008
wildbird in Laws & Regulations
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I just heard that SB1618 has been killed! (See earlier entry for more info.) That is very good news. Thanks to everyone who wrote, called, or emailed their objections. We must still be vigilant because these things have a way of popping back up again, but right now it is very good news.
I think we should celebrate by thanking Rick Halsey for his hard work in defeating this bill, and also Senators Kehoe and Steinberg for opposing it in the committee. You can thank Rick through his website: californiachaparral.org. You can thank the senators by sending your letters or faxes here:
Honorable Senator Darrell Steinberg
Honorable Senator Christine Kehoe
You can find their email addresses here: SENATE EMAILS
Tuesday, April 8. 2008
SDG&E power lines started the Witch fire which burned hundreds of thousands of acres, thousands of home, killed people, killed wildlife, and left ash where once beautiful chaparral carpeted the land.
You would think they would try to reduce the likelihood of another such event, but you would be wrong. SDG&E is trying to build the "Sunrise" Powerlink right through the desert, the mountains, and the wildland preserves of the city. It's just that much more exposure to risk. And why? Because SDG&E could make some money from it. That's greed and they will make their money at our expense. The cost to us will be our wildlands, some of us will lose our homes, and a few will lose their lives. Just so SDG&E can route power produced in Mexican coal-fired powerplants into northern San Diego county. Don't be fools. Object to this with passion!
Take a look at one of their alternate routes: (Click the "play" arrow to watch this.)
(Thanks to Cindy Buxton for that nice presentation.)
There are alternatives for We The People. You can send your comments here: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is a link to the California Public Utility Commission's web page about the Sunrise Powerlink: www.cpuc.ca.gov/environment/info/aspen/sunrise/sunrise.htm. You can send written comments and objections here:
You can fax them to: 866-711-3106
Please voice your objections. Let's bury SDG&E's proposal so deep in objections that the PUC cannot even find it.
You can also contact your state representative and/or senator. If they hear from enough of us they can help put pressure on from the top. And don't just object, suggest the solar alternative. We get enough sun here to supply most of our energy needs without any transmission lines at all.
Saturday, April 5. 2008
The California state Senate is putting together an anti-wildfire bill. Naturally, when a body of such important and busy people gets together they want to do big things and don't have time to actually learn about the problem they are trying to solve. Oh, and of course they must write legislation that will create more opportunities for big businesses to fleece the public.
Current laws generally suggest a 100 foot defensible space around most structures. Amazingly, that current law is pretty well thought out. It must have been written in a sane and sensible time. A properly constructed 100 foot defensible space is about optimum. Too little and a fire might burn right up to your house. Too much and the slow burning chaparral plants cannot protect you from that storm of embers that is blowing towards your house. And any poorly maintained defensible space is really worse than nothing at all: dried out grasses and weeds are far more flammable than most native chaparral plants.
So what's the problem? The problem is that the senate wants to require a 300 foot cleared space. That is irrational, but they're going to do it if we don't stop them. A 300 foot clearing around every house will not save houses. In fact, it may actually be the cause of more house fires during wildfire events. What it will do is to decimate more of our native ecosystem and line the pockets - no, stuff the pockets - of the corporations who sell and use "brush" clearing equipment. If we have to clear 300 feet from every house around our little acre and a half of chaparral it will all be gone - and so will we. I have my scruples; there's no way I would live in a state that would do something like this.
And what can we do about it? You can go to the California State Senate website and drop your senator an email expressing your objection to the 300 foot clearance. Here's the link to their email addresses: http://www.sen.ca.gov/~newsen/senators/senemail.htp
Dear fellow naturalist,
From time to time we do what we can to help our local leaders better understand the importance of the natural environment and why it is crucial in maintaining our quality of life. Next Tuesday the Natural Resources and Water Committee of the California State Senate will be holding a hearing on a bill that will have a serious impact on our rights to enjoy nature around our homes. The bill is sponsored by Senator Hollingsworth (SB 1618) and will allow excessive “clearance” distances to be required around homes (300 feet of bare dirt and seriously compromising up to 1000 feet of habitat).
This is the wrong approach to fire safety. The use of excessive clearance distances is not only counterproductive to our efforts to reduce fire risk, but creates a whole host of additional problems.
Let’s kill this bill in committee.
If you have a chance this over the next two days, please take a moment and express your concern by FAXING a note to the Chair of the Committee and any other member you choose. The Committee hearing is Tuesday morning, so your thoughts should be sent no later than noon this Monday (4/7). Here are the Committee member’s names and FAX numbers:
If you have a chance this weekend, please take a moment and express your concern by FAXING a note to the Chair of the Committee and any other member you choose. The Committee hearing is Tuesday morning, so your thoughts should be sent no later than noon this Monday (4/7). Here are the Committee member’s names and FAX numbers:
Here’s the bill:
It's easy to send an email and some faxes. Please do it. This is important!
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