Sunday, January 25. 2009
As some readers may know, I recently created the Wikipedia article for Mission Manzanita - Xylococcus bicolor. Here is a blog article showing an ancient specimen. Awesome. This is what the county wants to burn in the foolish belief that it will make us safer.
Saturday, January 24. 2009
wildbird in Laws & Regulations
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Here is a video you might find interesting. It features scenes from the chaparral as well as before/after pictures of wildfires.
The audio is excerpts from the Planning Commission meeting from January 9th. You can see my entry from the 10th to learn more about it. In this video you will hear a lot of testimony from experts and homeowners alike stating that clearing, masticating, burning large acreages of chaparral will do immense harm to the environment and will do absolutely nothing to make you and I safer. I might add that it will burn up many millions of dollars which could have been used for good. Instead it is being used for evil. That's your government, San Diego county. (You will hear one voice of reason from the Planning Commission, Michael Beck, who understands the great responsibility that is on his shoulders and who carries it with courage.)
I would like to thank Rick Halsey from the Chaparral Institute for all the hard work he put into making this video. You can find out more about the ongoing struggle to talk some sense into a cowardly and panic-stricken county government on his Slash and Burn page.
Thursday, January 15. 2009
Jon Keely, a scientist employed by USGS, has issued a new paper on the Causes of Large Shrubland Wildfires. You should read it. There is a lot of good info there. One of the things that caught my eye is this paragraph:
That would seem to run counter to the words of the head bureaucrat at the county who surprised a whole room full of scientists and land managers by claiming that young chaparral burns much slower than old chaparral, using that claim to justify burning many thousands of acres of old growth chaparral. (January 9th at the Planning Commission.) Perhaps someone can suggest that Mr. Oberbauer meet with Mr. Keely and get his head straightened out.
Saturday, January 10. 2009
I attended a San Diego County Planning Commission meeting yesterday and it was a real eye-opener. It seems that the county Board of Supervisors asked to have a plan drawn up for destroying chaparral in some lame attempt to reduce wildfires. A committee of bureaucrats was assigned to the task and it was to be supervised by the planning commission. At yesterday's meeting the committee presented their plan to the commission.
I was at one of the committee meetings while the plan was being worked on and was rather distressed that they seemed to be ignoring the input of knowledgeable scientist and land managers. Sure enough, the plan that they presented to the planning commission was wrong headed, is likely to endanger more lives than it saves, and will destroy forever some of the most amazingly diverse and surprisingly pristine landscape in the United States.
Nearly all of the testimony was by experts in either wildfires, ecology, or both. And nearly all of the testimony was in opposition to the destructive reduction of wild vegetation. Only two people did not oppose it. One was neutral and one didn't exactly endorse the plan, but rather seemed to endorse a return to the past where grazing animals roamed the land. All of the testimony was articulate, well thought-out and backed by personal knowledge and study. The testimony was overwhelming and I was very relieved that all of those PhDs were on the same side as I was. I could not imagine how the county could go forward with this moronic plan.
But five of the six planning commissioners present rubber stamped it and sent it on to the Board of Supervisors! I overheard comments about wanting to get to lunch. If you are unable to evacuate before the next fire and survive it, please remember that your planning commission considered their lunch to be more important than your safety.
My hat is off to Commissioner Michael Beck, who behaved with honor and intelligence to try and stop this dangerous and destructive plan from moving forward.
The plan put forward by the committee paid lip service to some very important issues such as power lines, the wildland/urban interface, and fire hardening of homes. But the primary reason the committee was formed and the primary focus of their plan (and of the opposition to it) was "brush" clearing in the wildlands. For some inexplicable reason, Supervisor Horn seems to have a beef against a bunch of plants. Maybe he resents that the plants are smarter than he is; I don't know. But he decided we need to clear hundreds of thousands of acres of "brush" and tacitly instructed this committee to mold the plan so that it looks scientific and yet does the maximum amount of damage that can be done.
I think Supervisor Horn does not understand wildfires. And not understanding them, he fears them. And his reaction to fear is to "Burn it all!" That is backward and completely inappropriate in a society which sends intelligent people to school so that they can understand it. For him to ignore those people is foolish. It's hubris. And government by hubris is bad government.
The chaparral is an amazingly complex ecosystem. It has evolved to survive in a very inhospitable environment. Blazing heat; long, dry summers; very poor soils; etc. It takes a very intricate and finely tuned system to survive here in the long term. To try and "treat" it with third world slash-and-burn techniques is barbaric. The "gossamer web of life" (as described by Greg Rubin) will be destroyed and replaced by faster burning weeds. Ick.
But in addition to the damage it will do to this fragile ecosystem, this plan will not do a single thing to make us safer and will probably increase the danger for many of us. One committee member, Tom Oberbauer, said that “young fuels burn slower than older fuels.” This is a blatant fabrication calculated to head off one of my chief concerns which I expressed in a previous meeting. What should grow up after a fire are returning chaparral species, but what actually grows up after a fire are invasive weeds and grasses which grow fast, dry out and burn like, well, like wildfire. And I think the absolute worst case would be areas which are degraded but not totally type-converted, where all that grass and weeds moves the fire quickly through broken chaparral, actually adding to the fuel load. So the "treated" areas (burned or masticated) will not stop the fires. I expect that fires which re-burn these "treated" areas will burn much faster than fires in pure stands of chaparral and could reduce the available evacuation times in our cities from hours (which we currently have) to minutes.
Mr. Oberbauer and Supervisor Horn, how are we going to evacuate in minutes? Where is your plan for that?
Saturday, January 3. 2009
We have been nurturing some live oaks in our front yard, waiting for them to get large enough that we can cut down our last eucalyptus. (We need the shade or we'd have cut it already.) We also planted some oaks and the jays planted some acorns below our house and some of them are growing. So we will someday have a small grove of live oaks along one side of the house.
In answer to my "plant it and they will come" philosophy, we had a Nuttall's woodpecker visit our yard yesterday. This is the first one we've seen. No telling if this was his first or a return visit, but it was nice to see him. We've read that they prefer oak woodlands. In a few more years maybe we'll see them regularly.
Saturday, January 3. 2009
wildbird in Native/Non-native Issues
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There has long been a backyard habitat program in Washington state, though I don't know the details. Here is a link to an article about a small program in Oregon. I think we should do something like that here in southern California. It would help by giving visibility, credibility, and guidelines to the contribution we can all make in our own yards.
Thursday, December 11. 2008
Earlier this year a county planning group released a paper titled "EAST COUNTY MSCP PLAN WILDFIRE ISSUE PAPER". You can read it by clicking here. This paper proposes a method of burning the living landscape in a patchwork "mosaic" as a means of controlling the spread of wildfires. This third world slash-and-burn technique is too simplistic and brutish to apply to the very complex living chaparral and it will do nothing to save us from wildfires.
The mosaic technique was developed after much research in forested ecosystems and probably does work in those landscapes. But the scientific consensus is that it would be a disaster to apply it in chaparral ecosystems. It will cause significant damage to the ecosystems, but will provide no added fire protection. Look at the Witch fire of 2007. It burned unhindered through all types of vegetation: old growth, regrown, degraded, and recently burned chaparral as well as total weed beds. When the Santa Ana blast furnace gets started, anything dry burns.
If these mosaic burns are done, the burned areas will re-grow with a load of weeds and grasses which die and dry out in the summer and will burn even faster than live chaparral, making it very difficult to get out of the way of an approaching fire. Evacuation times in front of a Santa Ana driven blaze could change from hours in a chaparral wildfire to minutes in a weedy wildfire. How are we going to evacuate whole cities in minutes?
Folks, if you want to protect yourselves from fire, you must look at your own home. The rules are very simple and they are something we all can do:
While a house built in a dangerous location may still burn even after these preparations, the large majority of houses are not in such dangerous locations and should survive unscathed.
What the county SHOULD be doing is consolidating development into defensible neighborhoods and then creating adequate protection around those neighborhoods. It is nice to be able to go out into the back country and build yourself a home - makes one think of the 1800s, doesn't it? But this is not the 19th century, it is the 21st century and there are swarms of people here in southern California. We simply can no longer act like we are pioneers still living in the 19th century. It is simply unrealistic to be scattering dwellings throughout the wildlands.
Friday, December 5. 2008
It rained a little in mid-November. Now you would think you were in the great Pacific Northwet...
"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." --Confucius
Most people do not notice mushrooms, and when they do they often kick or stomp on them. But that is foolish. Mushrooms are very important in the environment. They are the fruiting bodies of fungi who do a lot of support and cleanup work. Some fungi are symbiotic - they connect with the roots of vascular plants, greatly increasing the reach of their root systems, and they exchange water and nutrients for the carbohydrates made by the host plant. Other fungi are saprophytic - they break down dead plant tissue so it can be recycled into the soil. Sure, some fungi are parasitic, but even those have a Darwinian function as they generally only infect the older and weaker plants.
I don't actually know what this particular mushroom is. If you have a clue, please let me know.
Wednesday, December 3. 2008
Here's a great article explaining why we should be protecting the chaparral and not eradicating it as many seem to wish.
Wednesday, November 5. 2008
If you watch TV you might be interested in an upcoming program on California wildflowers. It's called Wild Gardens and can be seen on KVCR-TV or hopefully on your local public television station. You can also buy the videos by visiting their website.
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