Baja California: Renewable Energy in Natural Areas

Baja California: Renewable Energy in Natural Areas

By César García Valderrama

President of the California Native Plant Society Baja California Chapter

Photographs courtesy of Martha Pineda

Photographs courtesy of Martha Pineda

The CNPS Baja California Chapter shares the biodiversity of the California Floristic Province and the Sonoran Desert that ignores national boundaries. We also share common problems—including habitat loss, urban sprawl, and climate change. Recent proposals for renewable energy projects in Baja California exemplify how these issues are presenting new challenges on both sides of the border.

Renewable energy farms have been placed in natural ecosystems across the world. While positive results have been realized for energy production, environmental conditions and biodiversity have concurrently declined. A few years ago in Baja California a wind farm was developed by Sempra Energy, one of the world’s largest energy companies. The farm currently maintains 40 wind turbines but plans are in the works to build over 1000 more. This growth will impact over 7000 acres of mountain habitat. The project is named Energia Sierra Juarez after the Sierra Juarez Mountains—one of Baja California’s most endearing environments. The region is home to stands of chaparral, oak woodland and some of the last coniferous forests in the state.

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Exploration of Fens in Carpenter Valley

by Jennifer Buck-Diaz

p1010141The rattling calls of three sandhill cranes echoed across Carpenter Valley as ecologists from the CNPS Vegetation Program investigated a large fen/meadow complex last August. Soon, in lower Carpenter Valley, north of the town of Truckee, more than 1,000 acres of lush meadow and forest will be protected through ownership by the Truckee Donner Land Trust and a conservation easement held by The Nature Conservancy.

img_0181Carpenter Valley is perched more than 6,000 feet above sea level and includes a large meadow surrounded by patches of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) and conifer forest dominated by lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta). Lemmon’s willow (Salix lemmonii) lines the banks of the North Fork Prosser Creek which meanders through the site. With funding provided by The Nature Conservancy, CNPS assessed and delineated fen habitats within the meadow and adjacent forest. Fens are groundwater-fed, peat-accumulating systems with perennially saturated soils. You know you’re standing in one when the cool water begins to slowly seep through your shoes and into your socks. You may even feel a floating sensation as you walk, or feel the ground move beneath if you bounce.

img_0187We mapped about 30 acres of fen habitat in this area by a process of identifying wetland plant species, sampling the vegetation, digging soil cores, identifying saturated peat soils, and using a soil probe to delineate the habitat edge. A soil probe slips easily through the thick layers of peat in a fen, and you can feel the edges of this habitat by a gritty sound and the resistance of the probe as it hits mineral soil. Numerous mosses and liverworts were sent off for expert identification and small soil samples were analyzed to confirm the necessary levels of organic carbon content (>18%). We identified more than 130 vascular plants and 9 bryophytes/lichens; some of our favorites included gentians (Gentiana newberryi, Gentianopsis simplex), hooded ladies tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana), and marsh grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris). A new plant to us was star duckweed (Lemna triscula), an almost translucent triangular-shaped floating leaf that accumulates in the thin channels that braid through the meadow.

p1000008Five rare taxa were found in Carpenter Valley, and only a few non-native grasses were detected during two visits on the site including cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), Kentucky blue grass (Poa pratensis) and timothy (Phleum pratense). The fens of Carpenter Valley are highly rated for conservation significance because they are relatively undisturbed, and they support rare taxa and vegetation types. Additional surveys of fen vegetation in this region will contribute to a better understanding of these rare natural community types and augment additional data regarding the statewide diversity of fen/wetland vegetation.

To learn more about the Campaign to Conserve Lower Carpenter Valley click here: http://northernsierrapartnership.org/carpentervalley/. If you’re interested to know more about fen habitat, contact Jennifer Buck-Diaz at jbuck@cnps.org.

Why would anyone in their right mind keep a collection of dead plants? A visit to the herbarium at UC Davis.

Student assistant Mayra Huerta shows off the type specimen of Lycianthes jalicensis, a species described by Curator Ellen Dean in 1998. Type specimens are the most valuable specimens in a herbarium, because they represent what an author means by a species name that they publish. Photo: D. McNair.

by Ellen Dean

In natural history museums around the world are collections of dead plants that are curated by scientists called plant taxonomists. These collections are known as herbaria (in the plural) – a single collection is called an herbarium. If you go to see a bug museum, you say you are going to an entomology museum. If you go see the collection of dead plants, you say you are going to the HERBARIUM! This is generally confusing, because the name makes people think that it is a collection of living herbs – like oregano. But no, it is dead and flattened plants.

A flattened plant is an excellent representation of its living three-dimensional counterpart, and once glued onto sturdy archival paper, it becomes a herbarium specimen that can last for centuries (the oldest specimens are about 500 years old). Each specimen has a label that details who collected the plant and where and when they collected it. The label can provide all sorts of information about the habitat where the plant was collected, the elevation where it was found, the height of the plant, the color of the flowers, or whatever else the collector noted down.

Student Margaret Starbuck demonstrates how to use a plant press. Plant samples are placed in folds of newspapers, placed between blotting paper and cardboards and then placed in the wooden press which is tightened with straps. Photo: E. Dean.

Student Margaret Starbuck demonstrates how to use a plant press. Plant samples are placed in folds of newspapers, placed between blotting paper and cardboards and then placed in the wooden press which is tightened with straps. Photo: E. Dean.

Herbarium specimens can provide information on flower shape, leaf shape, leaf arrangement, seed structure, pollen structure… and much more! They can even be used as a source of DNA for sequence analysis. Plus, because the specimen label provides detailed information on when and where the plant was collected, herbarium specimens are an historical record of where and when plant species have grown. They are the basis of much of the information that is published on plant species in floras and guide books.

While herbarium specimens are not as beautiful as living plants, dead specimens do not need to be watered, fertilized, or repotted. They also take up less space than living plants. The largest herbarium in the United States has over 8 million specimens! The herbarium at UC Davis as over 350,000 specimens and is a very busy place. It is housed in a museum called the Center for Plant Diversity. Herbarium staff identify plants for the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory, as well as Farm Advisors, and Master Gardeners around the state.

Student Assistant, Tina Ku, mounts pressed plant samples onto archival paper creating herbarium specimens. Photo courtesy of UC Davis News Service.

Student Assistant, Tina Ku, mounts pressed plant samples onto archival paper creating herbarium specimens. Photo courtesy of UC Davis News Service.

Anyone can use the herbarium. Students and faculty with many types of research projects bring in plant samples for identification. Some students are looking at changes in grasslands or forests in various parts of California, others are studying the variation in just one type of plant or are looking at insect-plant relationships. Vegetation ecologists who work for the state of California and the California Native Plant Society use the herbarium to identify plants that they collect at their study sites; by putting accurate identifications on their plant samples, their vegetation data is much more accurate. Consulting botanists from many different companies use the herbarium to familiarize themselves with the rare plants of particular areas before they do field surveys. The herbarium’s staff and students have also been involved in many projects to provide plant lists for parks and reserves throughout northern California (available on the herbarium website http://herbarium.ucdavis.edu/plantlistsandfloras.html).

Some specimens are not flat enough to mount onto paper and are kept in a bulky items area. This large Coulter pine cone, held by Assistant Curator Daniel McNair, is one such specimen. Photo: J. Shepard.

Some specimens are not flat enough to mount onto paper and are kept in a bulky items area. This large Coulter pine cone, held by Assistant Curator Daniel McNair, is one such specimen. Photo: J. Shepard.

People often ask how the herbarium was compiled – where did the specimens come from? Many of the specimens were donated by researchers associated with UC Davis. Wild and cultivated tomato specimens were collected by tomato breeders in South America and wine grape specimens collected throughout the world by wine grape breeders. Valuable high elevation and high latitude specimens were collected by the eminent vegetation ecologist Jack Major. The specimens he collected while describing the vegetation of his high elevation study sites represent species that will be greatly affected by climate change, and they will be a valuable record of how those areas looked fifty years ago. Specimens were also donated by the California Native Plant Society Vegetation Program; those specimens represent species they assessed in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The herbarium is a valuable record of the research that has taken place in California and continues to be a valuable resource for the botanists of today.

The herbarium also trains students in curation and plant identification, including a herbarium plant collecting internship and a herbarium internship. In most years, a dozen or so paid student assistants work in the herbarium. One of the current undergraduate assistants at the herbarium, Mai Xong, has become interested in our collection of Hmong culinary and medicinal herbs – a collection that was made as part of two research projects at UC Davis. Mai is of Hmong heritage and has helped us label and mount some of the specimens, and now she has been inspired to make a plant collection of her own in her mother’s garden. Mayra Huerta, another undergraduate assistant, is assisting with a herbarium specimen-based study of two species that grow in Mexico and Central America. Are they one species or two? A simple, but complex question that she will answer by making detailed morphological measurements on dozens of specimens.

So, if you need help with a plant identification, you know where you can find help! The herbarium website is easy to find: http://herbarium.ucdavis.edu.

Livermore Tarplant

Livermore Tarplant

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) successfully petitioned for endangered status for the rare Livermore tarplant (Deinandra bacigalupii), a species known to exist in only three locations within Alameda County.

Two years after Heath Bartosh, Rare Plant Committee Chairman of the East Bay Chapter of CNPS, petitioned the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to list this rare endemic species as endangered, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to grant the Livermore tarplant endangered status. The Commission praised the thoroughness and sound science that CNPS presented in the petition, and in two motions moved to add it to the list of plants declared to be endangered in California.

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Oaks and Agriculture at Odds in SLO

Oaks and Agriculture at Odds in SLO

The drone of heavy equipment is not unusual in the rural community of Adelaida west of Paso Robles, where farmers regularly work the land to reap harvests of walnuts, barley, safflower and more recently, wine grapes. But the din coming from Sleepy Farm Road this spring didn’t sound like the ordinary tractor, and indeed it wasn’t. It was the sound of bulldozers toppling thousands of oak trees, many clinging to steep hillsides, to make way for a vineyard and a six million gallon agricultural pond.

slo-oaksThe owners of neighboring properties sprang into action to garner public support to stop the destruction. A flood of complaints to County officials resulted in the issuance of a stop work order on June 9th. The local press and social media picked up the story and it soon went national. Local residents descended on the County Board of Supervisors during public comment on June 16th and urged passage of an oak protection ordinance. The Supervisors scheduled a special meeting in mid-July to consider an urgency ordinance prohibiting clear cuts of oak woodlands. When the day arrived, the urgency ordinance passed with 4 of 5 supervisors in favor. In mid-August, the supervisors voted unanimously to extend it until April 2017. They also directed staff to bring back a permanent ordinance to protect oak woodlands by this date and report progress in January 2017.

The urgency ordinance requires authorization from County Planning for the removal of up to three trees on smaller properties and up to five per cent of the canopy on larger parcels in the unincorporated inland areas. Exemptions are provided for public utilities, public safety, fire clearance and conservation easements that include woodland management plans. Anything above these thresholds requires a permit and environmental review. A minor use permit is required for the removal of up to ten percent of the canopy. A conditional use permit is required for removal of more than ten per cent and an Environmental Impact Report is required for more than twenty-five per cent.

Meanwhile, the owners of Justin Vineyards & Winery and its parent corporation the Wonderful Company (a conglomerate which includes FIJI Water, Justin Wines, Landmark Wines, Hopkiln Winery, POM Wonderful, Teleflora, Wonderful Almonds, Pistachios, Halos and Scarlett grapefruits) issued a mea culpa, saying they were ashamed, sorry and “asleep at the wheel”. They offered to “make things right” by donating the denuded property to a local nonprofit and planting 5000 oak trees. The idea that such actions could offset the destruction of a mature oak woodland was met with considerable skepticism, as was the notion they were “asleep at the wheel” when it was revealed the company had cleared 100 acres of trees on a nearby parcel just four years earlier.

The San Luis Obispo chapter of the Native Plant Society has been actively working with County representatives, as well as concerned citizens, environmental and agricultural groups through this entire process. Chapter leaders quickly organized an adhoc committee to work on the issue and went on to meet individually with supervisors, submit written comments on the draft ordinance, provide interviews to local media, encourage CNPS members to make their voices heard and provide testimony in public hearings. In the months ahead, the chapter will continue to play an active role in the development and implementation of a permanent ordinance to protect our oak woodlands. The final result will inevitably represent a compromise between the goals of conservation, agriculture and property rights that is essential to win the support of adherents from all groups and secure passage.

–Holly Sletteland
CNPS San Luis Obispo Chapter

Saving the Lassics Lupine

Saving the Lassics Lupine

Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei)

Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei)

Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing the Lassics lupine (Lupinus constancei) up close knows that it is among the most attractive of all the California lupines. The striking white, pink and rose flowers—contrasting with its silvery-white foliage on the barren rock slopes where it occurs—is simply magnificent. Endemic to less than four acres on the upper slopes of the Lassics Mountains in eastern Humboldt County, it depends on sufficient snowpack and shelter from summer heat to survive. The Lassics Mountains are widely known for their exceptional botanical diversity and rare species associated with the ultramafic (high in magnesium and iron) soils.

The CNPS North Coast Chapter has been active in conservation efforts aimed at the lupine for more than 20 years, including several cost-share agreements with the U.S. Forest Service, and assistance in inventory, monitoring, and other tasks. Based on annual monitoring conducted since 2005, the population of mature Lassics lupine has declined from more than 600 in 2014 to roughly 130 in 2016. An estimated 580 seedlings germinated this year but, based on historical data, 95 percent of those are not likely to reproduce.

Extensive research by US Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service scientists has indicated a variety of factors responsible for this decline, including seed predation by small mammals due in part to and forest and chaparral encroachment into its open habitat. Since 2003, most of the physically accessible reproductive plants have been caged to prevent seed predation. A population viability analysis conducted in 2012 suggested the caging was critical to stabilizing the species in the short term.

Changing climate, however, poses a new threat to the species. Drought over the past five years, the virtual absence of winter snowpack, unusually high summer temperatures in 2014 and 2015, and the Lassic Fire of 2015 have pushed the Lassics lupine to the brink of extinction.

img_2501sm

In habitat.

Virtually the entire distribution of the species is within the 7,000-acre Lassics Wilderness, managed by Six Rivers National Forest, which—in this area of the forest— is surrounded by either private or National Forest timberlands; this severely limits the feasibility of allowing lightning-caused fires to burn naturally. After decades of fire suppression, manual treatment followed by routine prescribed fire is needed to restore and maintain much of the Lassics lupine habitat. Unfortunately, that same habitat offers the species the best available refuge from climate extremes.
Although multiple policies allow and often mandate the Forest Service to take specific action to conserve this species, Six Rivers National Forest has not implemented habitat restoration nor aggressively pursued recovery actions. Over the past decade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CNPS have repeatedly asked the Forest Service to give priority to saving this species. These requests have been ignored, ostensibly due to conflicts with wilderness values and forest priorities or lack of funding. As a result, a petition to list the lupine as Federally Endangered was filed in January 2016. This would force the survival of the species to be considered in any actions taken by the Forest Service, and would require development of a formal recovery plan for the species.

To help spur the Forest Service into action, we petitioned for State listing in July. Not only could this lead to increased potential for funding from the State, but Federal guidance on management of wilderness areas recognizes an important role for state decisions affecting fish and wildlife resources in wilderness. As the trustee agency for fish and wildlife resources statewide, we believe the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a shared responsibility for saving the Lassics lupine.

-Dave Imper
CNPS North Coast Chapter

What can you do to help the Lassics Lupine?

Creating a Native Wildflower Meadow

By Greg Rubin

A small portion of a 1.5 acre wildflower meadow created by the author in Fallbrook in 2011. Flowers include Tidy Tips, California poppies, Desert bluebells, Owl’s clover, and Chinese houses. Photo by Greg Rubin.

A small portion of a 1.5 acre wildflower meadow created by the author in Fallbrook in 2011. Flowers include Tidy Tips, California poppies, Desert bluebells, Owl’s clover, and Chinese houses. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Few things evoke magical memories like spring wildflowers. Whether it is a desire to recapture a serendipitous discovery of a color-laden flower field from our past, or simply re-living that scene from the “Wizard of Oz”, nothing stirs our passion for nature like a beautiful field of flowers. California was once celebrated for its annual floral shows; unfortunately, these delightful events are becoming a thing of the past.  The great Kate Sessions lamented that wildflowers were disappearing from San Diego’s foothills by the early 1900s. Even her attempts to include wildflower displays at Balboa Park repeatedly failed. Why?

The answer is that European settlement in California altered our delicate ecology so profoundly that it was lost at all levels. Nothing is quite so fragile as a wildflower meadow. These annuals serve as pioneers that help re-establish ecology should a disturbance wipe out climax shrubs and trees. Being so low in lignin, they disappear after dying, returning all of their nutrients back to the ecology. Additionally, they fill holes not occupied by shrubby plants, and persist in places inhospitable to anything with deep roots, such as in the shallow soils of true native grasslands. What the Europeans brought were non-native weeds: competitive plants unhindered by native bio-controls while putting all of their life energy into reproducing themselves.  These non-native seed banks now reach 10-100,000 dormant seeds per cubic foot! The wildflowers never stood a chance.

Seed was spread to create overlapping drifts of color, which is essential to maintain drama in such a large planting of wildflowers. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Seed was spread to create overlapping drifts of color, which is essential to maintain drama in such a large planting of wildflowers. Photo by Greg Rubin.

Fortunately, knowledge is the best tool, and we have ways to turn back the clock. Eliminating weeds is foremost. It is usually not sufficient to clear a space and drop seed, as Ms. Sessions learned. Instead, the seed bank must be addressed, either through repeated watering and killing of emerged weeds, or the use of chemicals called pre-emergents that kill seed in the soil when watered in. This must be done months in advance of planting. Solarization with clear plastic can also be used, but the effect is usually temporary. After treatment, seeds can be spread and either gently raked in or covered lightly in decomposed granite (this avoids disturbance and deters birds). Wildflower seeds can be purchased at most garden centers and online; however, be sure that the word “NATIVE” is somewhere in the title, and that the species are native to your locale, or you will end up with a mix of weedy introduced flowers, the worst being Alyssum. (ED note: You can check the local appropriateness of your chosen seed mix ingredients by entering your address in CNPS’s Calscape app, available at calscape.org or on CNPS’s homepage.) Common native mixes include California Poppies, Lupines, Goldfields, Desert Bluebells, Gilia, Baby Blue Eyes, Tidy Tips, and Farewell-to-Spring. You can add Owls Clover, Five Spot, and Thistle Sage if available. Keep the plot lightly moist until germination, continue watering twice a week if rainfall is lacking, and CONTROL WEEDS! The outcome will be thrilling!

CNPS Member Greg Rubin is the founder and owner of California’s Own Landscape Design, Inc. (www.calown.com) and a popular speaker. A specialist in the use of native plants in the landscape, he is responsible for over 700 native landscapes in San Diego County and co-authored (with Lucy Warren) two books on native landscaping: The California Native Landscape: the Homeowner’s Design Guide to Restoring its Beauty and Balance and The Drought Defying California Garden: 230 Native Plants for a Lush, Low-water Landscape, both on Timber Press.