Tuesday, August 19, 2014

England Looks In No Way Like Southern California

"You know what's remarkable is how much England looks in no way like Southern California."

Above is one of my favorite lines from Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me. If you need a refresher Austin is cruising the "English countryside" with Felicity Shagwell when he makes the comment. The irony of course, being that the scene and the whole movie were filmed in southern California.

Now taken as it is we have a great example of Michael Myers penchant for witty, off the cuff dialogue - the line was not scripted - and Heather Graham simply mutters "What?" in reply. But such a line, innocuous as it is, can take on some deeper meaning. For starters the native chaparral vegetation which dominates the coastal hillside of southern California and central California, along with oak savanna and coastal sage-scrub, is often featured in movies not explicitly taking place in California but filmed there due to the proximity of the film industry. Indeed the famous Hollywood sign is on a hillside of chaparral vegetation. In stands of old growth manzanita the tangle can get over 30 feet tall and by all accounts chaparral was actually some of the most productive grizzly habitat in the state. While it is true fire is part of this habitat, it has become apparent that the frequency of fire due to anthropogenic causes has increased over time to the detriment of the ecosystem. Interestingly the fire barriers created by people seeking to separate the brush from their property might be accelerating fire risk due to non-native grasses moving in and spreading fires.

Sespe Wilderness. Ventura backcountry
With its ubiquity in many of the most iconic spots in California and its export around the world via the film industry you might think native Californians would take pride in this unique biome found in only a few places on the planet. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth.

For the most part large swaths of the population look at chaparral as a prickly, dry, combustible, menace.  Fortunately there are lovers of chaparral - a notable example being the chaparral institute - which I encourage you to check out.

Old Growth Manzanita. San Luis Obispo county
It is for shame that California does not herald the unique chaparral biome to the extent it is does the redwood forest - or other parts of the country celebrate their native flora. I mean just check out how cool the twisted, gnarled bark of old growth manzanita looks. Now imagine all of coastal southern and central mountains dominated by stands of old growth manzanita. And this tall canopy creating shade and thermal refuge for amphibians, fungi, wildflowers, reptiles and mosses that one would not expect in such an arid climate. Grizzly bears carving out intricate mazes and centuries old foot paths through the tangle of growth.

Now to get back to what I was saying about Californians having at best an ambivalent relationship with chaparral and much of the native vegetation. This became especially obvious to me working at a retail plant nursery in the Bay Area. I would try and chide and cajole customers to the native plant section but  often time with frustrating results. People from the east coast wanted eastern Lilacs not ceanothus. Everyone insists on a lawn and water hungry annuals. About right here you can insert a discussion on planting for a drought tolerant landscape - especially in, you know, a time of drought.

Now let me dovetail this discussion into the insights gleaned by Heidi Perryman and others concerning why and how often beaver are lethally trapped in California over the last 20 months.

From Martinez Beavers
As discussed already on Martinez Beavers - Dying For Information - over 36% of complaints stem from either agriculture  (20%) or to trees/landscaping (16%). Although dealing with beaver in agricultural situations can be tricky - live trapping and relocation should be the option - it is the high number of reports of damage to trees and landscaping which resulted in 41 kills that is most distressing. And this is because it is easily remedied by a simple wire mesh around the trunk or bad tasting paint - but no plastic por favor. Or, as I would like to see, simply letting the area in question go native to the willows, cottonwood, sycamore and other trees than can coppice, resprout, and reseed in the wetland provided. Check out this cute blog Georgia Backyard Nature and the authors love/hate story of beaver felling valued trees. You can see that several of the trees the author bemoaned the loss of due to beaver actually resprouted and several other trees reseeded in the habitat made by the beaver.

But this recalcitrance to just let things go back to what is there naturally - whether it be your cities creek side park or beaver pond adjacent to your landscaped property - really speaks to the ambivalent relationship Californians have with chaparral. It is our emblematic native vegetation. In the past it provided sanctuary for grizzly in daunting chaparral mazes and today it fuels massive fires that threaten urban sprawl. In the past grizzly was seen as a challenge and menace to be eliminated by California settlers. Today fire is seen as a threat to California that needs managing. Both fire and the grizzly are intimately linked with the chaparral.

Whether it be fire, grizzly, or beaver it seems we have a tendency to try and demonize, eliminate, trap, or suppress it as opposed to understand, value, and cohabitate with it.

Santa Monica Mountains near Pt Mugu. Camarillo Springs Fire

One piece of good news is that there were no depredations for beaver in southern California during this period!!

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Southland Beaver at the Martinez Beaver Festival!!

Just got back from my norcal trip to Martinez to host a booth at the annual Martinez Beaver Festival. It was a blast and met loads of cool people and made some nice contacts. Martinez is such a cool and funky little east bay town - when I lived in the Bay area I never got a chance to see this town but I really liked the vibe of the town.

There were over 40 booths with topics ranging from native gardening to cougars. But I noticed a common theme of grass roots, volunteer driven protection of animals and natural places. We should expect and encourage such groups in the future as governmental agencies only do so much. And CDFW, like any monolithic bureaucracy, can not pivot quickly enough to address multifaceted and quickly emerging topics in California's human mediated ecology.

The crowd was great, never too many people and the people I got a chance to really talk to seemed genuinely intrigued by the strange and little known saga of beaver in California. I did not come across anyone adverse to what I want to do and most seemed on the same page with me as far as putting more beaver in California, especially southern California (but one person wryly added do not take our northern Californian beaver). There were a lot more adults than I expected and although there were a lot of kids they did not dominate and seemed especially interested in the science. I myself brought 10 skins of birds that utilize riparian/pond habitat, my mural, and loads of photographs of beaver ponds, google earth imagery. People were impressed that beaver lived in such arid climes as the Mojave River.

After the festival I got a chance to explore Alhambra Creek and hopefully check out the beavers. I had it on good word that they usually start coming out around 6:30 so I had some down time to photograph and hang out at the local tavern. I had long known of the tidal influence from the nearby delta on this creek but was impressed by how much of it there was.

Above is the secondary dam before high tide. At high tide this dam was completely submerged and the beaver do a little maintenance after every high tide cycle evidently. Me and several other beaver watchers hung around for the nightly beaver watch. I myself was dead set on seeing a beaver as I have never seen a live, wild beaver (hark hark insert beaver pun of your choice here) and I was promised that the Alhambra beavers are pretty people friendly. At about 6:30, like promised, things started happening. A ripple here, a splash here I watched from the bridge overlooking one of the most active bank burrows. And then I did some counter surveillance at the main dam. And finally there was a beaver in the water - just lazing along. Me and several others were treated to quite a show at the main dam as one fairly big beaver - the good for nothing uncle some people claimed - made several up close appearances. My photos are all out of focus and wacky but hey - whatevs.

I though it was really cool how the beaver utilized the rising tide to get to vegetation normally out of reach. They especially liked the black berry bushes!!

Anyways blogger is not letting me link to youtube videos but if you want to check out my videos go to my youtube channel at Duane Nash.

I also got some nice shots of a pond turtle.

Anyways had a blast, thanks Heidi, Cheryl and everyone else involved!!

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