Destroyer of Habitat – US Forest Service

Due to a sudden influx of money, a federal agency that had once shown promise of becoming a protector of native chaparral habitat, has become a destroyer. The Los Padres National Forest plans to clear a quarter million acres of habitat, most of which is chaparral.

Why? Because Nature is now seen only as “fuel,” not as living habitat.

To the US Forest Service,

Our family is sitting on our backyard patio in Escondido, watching a pair of Spotted Towhees enjoying the habitat we’ve created over the past three years. They successfully raised at least one offspring this year. We saw it scampering about looking for food with the help of its parents.

Where once was lawn is now a rich chaparral, sage scrub wonderland. It’s all framed by several Refugio manzanitas (Arctostaphylos refugioensis) that have really taken to our place. They outgrow and out-flower any other Arctostaphylos species we’ve planted. That seems odd because they’re a relatively rare species native to the coastal ridge line above Gaviota, just west of Santa Barbara. We’re looking forward to this January when the white, urn-shaped blossoms will be covering the ground with chaparral snow.

I got to thinking about the temporary reprieve our lawsuit provided in 2017 to the Refugio manzanitas that were scheduled to be masticated by US Forest Service grinding machines along the Gaviota ridge. We knew at the time the reprieve would be transitory. That’s the way many environmental protection lawsuits work – they merely delay.

The inevitable occurred during the 2021 Alisal Fire. Dozers ripped out and crushed many of the manzanitas we had protected. Much of the destruction was for naught as the fire had already moved quickly toward the ocean. But dozers are not easily stopped once the fire brigade arrives. Ironically, the fire appears to have started along the old ridge line fuel break, likely in the flammable, weedy grasses that invade such disturbed places. The same situation occurred during the 2019 Cave Fire above Santa Barbara. We cited this key risk factor in our 2017 lawsuit – fuel breaks create conditions more conducive to ignitions.

And now the Refugio manzanitas that remain along the ridge face yet another threat, as do tens of thousands of acres of chaparral throughout the Los Padres National Forest, with the newly proposed LPNF Ecological Restoration Project; the use of Orwellian doublespeak is common in land management policy.

We had hoped this destructive approach to chaparral was a thing of the past.

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Nature Provides Common Ground, if We Listen

Happiness. Inspired. Encouraged. Comradery.

Words like these come to mind every time we have conversations – about Nature.

Whether it’s during a presentation, on the trail, or around a fire. Be it over howling grasshopper mice, ancient grizzly bear trails, or hot blood coming out of the eyes of horned lizards (it actually comes out of modified vessels near the eye lid), everyone is genuinely uplifted when amazing natural history tales are passed around.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Why do people really enjoy learning new things about Nature when nearly every other topic of discussion these days seems to be a hop, skip, and a jump away from a brawl?

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Ten Reasons Why Chaparral is so Awesome

Take a drive (or a hike!) into the hills or mountains surrounding nearly every California metropolitan area and you are immediately immersed in chaparral, the state’s most characteristic habitat.

Maritime chaparral above Santa Barbara.

What’s out there? In addition to the 10 awesome features listed below, the chaparral is filled with an inspiring array of life including:

  • beautiful, drought-hardy shrubs like burgundy-barked manzanita with delicate, urn-shaped flowers and explosively blooming ceanothus, painting the hillside in cerulean blues and frosty whites.
  • rhythmic Wrentits calling from unknown places deep within the canopy.
  • the iconic symbol of prehistoric life – the horned lizard – basking in the sunlight.
  • the amphibian survivalist of drought – the spade foot toad – appearing only very briefly during the moistest of times.
  • the delicate checkerspot butterfly, skipping from flower to flower during the colorful explosion of spring.

Chaparral also provides spacious landscapes for the:

  • endangered California condor, the stealthy mountain lion, the marauding bobcat, and the trickster coyote.
  • ghosts of the now extinct California grizzly bear, and the absent jaguar which still haunt the shrub-encased tunnels below the leafy canopies of still thriving stands of old-growth chaparral.

Now to celebrate 10 remarkable features
that make the chaparral such an inspiring place!

1. Birthplace of Western Civilization

Mediterranean shrublands like California’s chaparral have given rise to two of the greatest civilizations of all time – Greece and Rome. Due to its Mediterranean climate (hot, dry summers, and mild, wet winters) and rich volcanic soils (some of the best in Europe), the Italian peninsula became the fertile birthplace of the Roman Empire. And although only 20% of the land in Ancient Greece was arable, it shared Rome’s climate, the key factor in the ability of both civilizations being able to produce an excess of grain, olive oil, and wine. As Rome grew, it merely looked across the Mediterranean sea to Egypt to supply the extra grain it needed. One of the perks of living in Rome itself was a free supply of grain, a remarkable achievement considering the city’s half-million population.

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