Saturday, December 15, 2018

California's glorious Spring wildflower extravaganza displays will soon be gone

Well, not quite. 😒 But clearly a radical change is needed or the entire planet's various ecosystems fail for good. Oh no, this is not another one of those mythical 6th Extinction acknowledgement posts so often celebrated by many of today's environmental organizations being pushed for ideological & political fund raising reasons. I'm not going to display a lot of pretty photographs or try to convince about you how resilient Nature is and despite the megadrought setback, Nature will bounce back if we all fight for it, so donate for the good fight please. This is just our world's reality as we now locally experience it today where ever any of us live. The setting in both photos below is the western part of Riverside County in California on the Cahuilla Indian Reservation.

Photograph by Jay Beiler

The first photo above was taken by Jay Beiler. I'm not sure of the date, but it's reminiscent of the expansive wildflower displays which were common for me when I first moved there in 1981. Interestingly between the dates of 1978 to 1983, Southern California had experienced one of it's longests and wettest El Niño weather events, in fact for many of us it was the first time we had heard of that term. But that El Niño event followed a milder drought period back in the 1970s and provided the energy for an explosion of wildflower growth. The early 1980s was a magical sort of time for nature lovers armed with cameras. All maner of native wildflowers like the iconic state flower California poppies, owl's clover, lupines, tidy tips, gold fields, etc. Everywhere you went out on a drive was every bit as breath taking as the scene above. Other areas like Aguanga, Sage, Hemet Valley, Winchester and further on down south to Warner Springs in San Diego county all reflected this same magnificent brilliance on a massive scale. But then of course things weren't as extensively developed in those days. Sadly that's all gone now. Take a close look at the radical contrast below. How quickly the local peoples forget.

Image from Cahuilla Creek Motorcross

Image from Google Earth
Fast forwarding to the present and this region has a whole new different look. And amazingly, this all takes place on the large Cahuilla Indian Reservation. This isn't about picking on Native Americans and their wish to prosper economically. I mean I get that. But aren't these the very people the environmentalists have told us are by their very nature are one with the land and whose example we need to follow ? Funny, I remember back in the 1970s & 80s how much of a target the Native Americans were by most all Environmental organizations with Greenpeace taking the lead. Not only were they targeted because some Tribal groups encouraged less than safe businesses with risky & dangerous polluting types of industries onto their reservations because there were less regulations, rules, and red tape, but also because some tribes had traditions of hunting Whales, Seals, Salmon fishing right privileges at sensitive locations, etc. Actually Greenpeace still has a beef with many tribes for whale hunting and they've recently engaged in a vicious threatening pursuit against one young Native American teenager in Alaska over a whale hunting affair just last year. Still it is interesting that such a business as a motorcross track would be allowed to be placed in one of the most beautiful spots on the whole reservation known for it's spectacular native wildflower displays which has now disappeared forever. Of course it's their land and they can do with it as they wish. Still, it's puzzling. This Google Earth image at upper right, can be clicked on to provide a bigger picture of the exact location and the extensiveness of the destruction and damage of the former wild meadow. I guess it's also the general shock for me every time I visit Anza Valley seeing ALL of the negative changes which have taken place everywhere, including my own former acreage on Table Mountain which has been stripped of most of it's native chaparral vegetation and turned into an industrial Marijuana Farm complete with massive industrial greenhouse infrastructure by some Asian business interests. Unfortunately for me I'm cursed with the memory of what my place once was. 😞
But there's something more Serious here than large corporate targets with deep pockets 😲
Image from a Temecula Real Estate Co.

This picture above could be any property for sale up in the Anza & Aguanga area. It is representative of your average land speculator, developer or average weekend ranchette property owner who purchases land and eventually strips it of all chaparral vegetation. The only exception would be if the shrub were a Manzanita or beautiful scrub oak. People make biased judgements about what plants to remove by mere outward appearances much like they do with each other. But why strip the land down to bare soil ??? In almost all cases invasive non-native weeds will move in and take it's place, especially land in the deep soils of the Valley floor. Now take a look at Anza from this Google Earth from a Satellite point of view.

Image - Google Earth

Image - Salton City (eyetwist)
Many of the more well known Environmental organizations are fond of targeting large corporate business entities because of their ability to cause wholesale damage on a grand scale within any environment, not to mention the other important fact that they also have deeper pockets to satisfy "sue & settle" strategies. But there are also the individual small land owners who often go unnoticed on the eco-activist radar, yet collectively these small land owners can ruin much larger regions of land far more than any single corporate giant. It was one of my pet peeves when I lived in Anza for almost 20+ years. People buy raw land and the first thing they do is hire the local Joe Sixpack and his mighty tractor to strip their property bare of most all of it's chaparral vegetation. I've often wondered why ? If that was their original goal, why not purchase raw dirt (literally) cheap land in somewhere like Salton City for pennies on the dollar which is already devoid of plant life ? But this degradation goes completely unnoticed and is absolutely never discussed by the eco-activists. Click on the google earth image above for a larger view and see how much land has been stripped of vegetation so far at this point. Don't pay so much attention to those larger tracts of farmland being cultivated, they've been there for ages. Focus on all the smaller 2, 5, 10 to 20 acres parcels together collectively.

Image Anza Electric Coop

Image - Calflora
Now this photograph above I found on the website or Facebook page of the Anza Electric Cooperative. The photographer's location is taken from the top of Hill Street up at the foot of Thomas Mountain north of Mitchell Rd. The valley below way in the distance is actually an ancient lake bed close to the Terwilliger area on the Cahuilla Indian Reservation, but it could be more accurately be described as a giant vernal pool in wetter years. When the Spanish Expedition of Juan Bautista de Anza came through here in 1775 along with Frair Pedro Font, they named this ancient lake, "Laguna de Principe" and paid special attention in their writings about all the spectacular wildflower displays seen for miles in every direction you looked. Check out a 2013 post I wrote on Anza's accurate account of his Spanish Expedition through Anza. They really were in awe of this area's raw untouched unspoiled beauty and they also described the even larger more vast the wildflower displays of Hemet Valley a week later after arriving from the mouth of Bautista Canyon. The photo below here is the area of west Hemet near the Auto Mall along Hwy 74, from Hemet the elevation only drops one inch all the way to Winchester. So quite often massive shallow vernal pool lakes use to form every Spring and that is prime habitat conditions for Goldfields. While a single Goldfield flower is pretty, the tiny flowers are barely noticiable on their own, but in company with millions of their friends, they create a spectacular golden display so bright, they are often too tough to observe without squinting or wearing sunglasses in the powerful sunlight. Hence the plural name Goldfields. Sadly, most of those former prime flat habitat areas which historically have had the best vernal pool habitats in Southern California are also prime flatland for commercial land development.

photo - Richard Cummins

This is probably the last brilliant photograph of the Goldfields to be display in western Hemet Valley that people will ever see. Those expansive vernal pool fields are now weed infested with cheatgrass, foxtails, mustard, etc. Also while visiting there I noticed recent housing tract encroachment and major commercial development everywhere in west Hemet and further south of this location. Add to all of this the extreme drought pattern which has become the new abnormal in SoCal and the newer improved flood control infrastructure the authorities have installed to quickly expedite rainwater out of Hemet Valley on it's way west to Canyon Lake and no more mass vernal pools will appear ever again which Goldfields in this area thrived best in after they dry up.

Satellite Image W. Hemet - Google Earth

This google earth picture above provides the exact location of where those large masses of Goldfields you see above at the foot of the Saddlback hills in the background. But like I stated previously, that brilliant blindingly beautiful Spring wildflower display of Goldfields will no longer appear here ever again. The field now is just too weed infested and another unfortunate change will be the rerouting of water runoff through newer flood control infrastructure which will now limit the vernal pool formation.

Hwy 74 Roadside View - Google Earth

Note there are some patchy remnants of Goldfields here, but they are overwhelmed by the invasive weeds brought in as a result of increased human activity. The Hill on the left is the one seen in the beautiful photo above. Take note of the housing encroachment.

Image - EPA

View is looking west from the Hemet Automall
The Vernal Pools of South and Western Hemet (Anza Expedition extra)
The San Jacinto River Valley that Juan Bautista de Anza saw
The other big problem ??? 😕 People are just simply loving Nature to Death 😔
Image - Billy Savanh / Flickr
The original photo at the top of this post was not a well known protected preserve or tourist area for viewing wildflowers. It was a dot on the Cahuilla Reservation map. But other not so well know location are getting publicity exposure through social media now days. The Vance Creek Bridge in Washington in the photo on the right is a favorite with celebrity Instagrammers. This too was once an off the beaten path location which is no longer well hidden. Such secret hidden areas do however run the risk of ruin because of modern technology. Why do I say that ? Well here's one example, read this article: INSTAGRAM IS LOVING NATURE TO DEATH. As the article put it plainly,
"Lesser-known lookouts are suffering under the weight of sudden online fame. Five years ago, Horseshoe Bend saw only a thousand visitors in a year. But this year, over 4,000 people a day have come to see the bend, take selfies at the rim, and dangle their feet over the exposed edge. Social media gets blamed for everything — but this time, it really is Instagram’s fault."
You should know that the region of Horseshoe Bend referenced is on the Colorado River and is also right next to the Bears Ears National Monument, a place which almost no one outside of the area really knew about prior to the original debate publicity in 2016. Now almost everyone knows about it and the increased traffic jams are living proof more and more are finding out about it. With industrial recreational corporate giants like Patagonia, Black Diamond and North Face on the prowl nothing is sacred or secret anymore. Their goal is not so much about preserve as it is to promote. Seriously folks, the business schemes of all industrial recreational giants are growing. Add a greenwash label to your industrial receational business model and you're declared righteous by environmental groups because you're not like those conventional dirty oil, gas and mining companies. Eco-Tourism is now being hailed as a planet's saviour. But interestingly, these dirty industries have no interest in Bears Ears National Monument. But industrial recreation also ruins the landscape. If you think this will never happen to California's designated wildflower Preserve areas, think again.

Photo - Andrew Cullen
Spring 2017: "Southern California 'Super bloom' wildflower trail closed indefinitely after photo-seeking visitors trample flowers"
In the Spring of 2017 thousands of people descended on Southern California's wildflower fields (most of these were the protected preserves), where the disastrous environmental impact was evident as large swaths of wildflowers were flattened by selfie-seekers, instagram celebrity wannabes who blazed new trails through the wildflowers on a daily basis. Why would nature lovers do such a thing ??? For one they've been encouraged by leaders/owners of environmental non-profit organizations who post pretty little photos on their Facebook & other social media accounts and reassuring their followers that all was well with Nature because it's still resilient even after five years of devastating megadrought in California. Another factor is that the majority of viewers also want instant Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus or Twitter fame. And finding that one perfect shot may require lots of trampling. But hit that perfect shot and post it on your social media site profile and you're an instant viral photo celebrity. Take note of the damage that can result when over aggressive nature enthusiasts go overboard in the pursuit of viral photo fame this very well done illustrative video.

Image & Video - Israel Rocha

(Existem comerciais E existe este comercial) - (There are commercials and there is this commercial)
When it comes to onlooker reactions to spectacular videos or photos, a good example comes from an earlier video of a Firenado  filmed this past July 2018 on Youtube taken in Blythe California and there's one comment under the Youtube video by an anonymous user which illustrates perfectly what motivates so many to pursue the same goal:
"This..... is.... AWESOME!  C'mon, when does one capture such quality images like this... once in a lifetime. Simply wow."
But What About Those Protected Wildflower Preserves ??? Aren't They Safe ??? 😳
Image from Mike Rich

Lately the Eco-Activism groups have been up in arms and on the warpath again. Their collective voices are outraged once more. Why ? The mission this time is to stop those evil Oil Companies from drilling for gas and oil on the Carrizo Plains. Others are up in arms over keeping the Tejon Ranch from building a housing tract complex known as the Centennial Development. Of course the area is a well known wildflower viewing region with the most famous spot known as the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve. Tejon Ranch is just west of this California wildflower reserve by about 15 miles or so. But is the threat to such protected areas really coming from conventional development schemes ? Both regions (Carrizo & Antelope) are heavily invested (or infested) with massive alternative energy schemes known as Solar Farms. These often are given a free pass. But there is also another even more sutle danger and you can see it here in the socks and hiking boots of the Nature lover above right who may come visit. Cheatgrass stickers and seeds of other invasives annual non-native plant species are an even bigger threat as you can see from the very top photo above where cheatgrass encroachment is flowing into wildflower habitat like an overwhelming montrous unstoppable Tsunami wave.

But the wild beauty that brought so many here to these wildflower locations in the first place will soon be gone. Social media certainly gets blamed for many things these days, but this time, it really is their fault for encouraging this kind of stardom behaviour. Even if the natural attractions aren’t suffering from social media crowds, they still have to keep a lookout for the infamous social media Graffiti Artists, offroader stunts, etc. But rather than continue on with my rant about this anymore, I'll admit that I'm not really trying to discourage anyone from enjoying the outdoors. But here's a good piece written about what Jackson Hole Wyoming is trying to do to encourage responsible behaviour in the wildlands.
Image & Article by Larissa Faw, November 19th 2018

"Wyoming's Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board (JHTTB) is launching what it calls a first-of-its-kind campaign to educate people about how social media, specifically Instagram, is causing travelers to unintentionally abuse precious natural areas in pursuit of the perfect image. 
The Tag Responsibly message, developed with Colle McVoy, provides Instagram users about to geotag Jackson Hole’s pristine natural amenities with the alternative, generic location tag: "Tag Responsibly, Keep Jackson Hole Wild."
You can read the rest of the article in Media Post:
"Jackson Hole Seeks To 'Tag' Social Media Travelers"

Other similar Articles with the same Wildflower viewing Theme
Country Living: "The Tragic Way Social Media Could Be Killing Wildflowers"
Selfie stampede - Destroying California's super bloom for the Likes

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Yosemite Valley, Land Management with Fire for no other reason than because Indians did it

Really ??? So then, what's wrong with Yosemite's trees ??? 😧
Image - R.A. Scott Photograpgy

Someone asked the photographer R.A. Scott how he took this photograph. He said he used a Nikon D810 With A Sigma 24-105 lens, standing at Tunnel View with a tripod. He further said:
"It's not how you take a picture, it's what you see that guides you to the perfect spot and view to take. If, like me, you are out in nature to have fun, then it is just a plus to get a great picture. When I go to Yosemite I'm like a kid in a candy store. I just want more beautiful scenes to take and to stand in the quiet and enjoy each moment to the fullest. I walk/hike through the valley to find new spots. I take the trail less traveled (Well all trails in Yosemite are well traveled). I stand at Tunnel View with many photographers that are all trying to take great pictures. Sometimes I just get lucky. Life should be lived to the fullest and now that I'm retired, I'm able to have a little fun."
Image - CalFire
And I totally agree, it's really a beautiful photograph with all those amazing colours, textures and patterns. But this is Yosemite. Did you also notice some of the reason for the pretty splashes of rust colours in the photograph were because of the dead trees ? Yup, sure enough Yosemite has lots of dead trees, much like I showed you in previous postings about Yosemite's dead trees a couple months back. Funny, much like the numerous dead trees at Torrey Pines State Reserve, most all of the official promotional websites with regards Yosemite and other National Parks also will not publish any of these devastatingly negative photos. What you will see are earlier photos of healthy trees from the usual iconic vistas and picturesque viewpoints. It's not good public relations to publish and point out the negative truth of what's been happening recently to all these once beautiful areas right now. The conventional Media will of course publish them with sensational articles of doom, but then the media generally enjoys gravitating towards the negative and tragic angles of any subject matter. So we have a sugar-coating public relations strategy to provide the public the illusion that all is well in all the National Parks, Preseves, Forests, etc. Unless the public actually comes and physically visits, then they find out first hand all is not well. See the references below at the bottom of this post with regards articles.
Nighttime view of  Yosemite Valley's tunnel view
Image - Patrick Coyne

Another interesting and beautiful nighttime photograph of the Yosemite valley above shows car lights traveling through the main road, but still you can see all is not well with the forest's ecology even at night. Look at all those dead trees. Interestingly where this photo has been shared and discussed on social media sites, almost no one ever mentions this. I pointed this out previously when I wrote about a before and after photo of the old Milwaukee Road railway right-of-way through Pipestone Pass, Montana. Nobody noticed any of the dead trees which stood out like a sore thumb. Most people either miss this when reposting any photo or deliberately ignore it as an inconvenient truth of the area's declining health. An interesting article was posted in the Facebook group, Era of Megafires, which showed a historical photo view of the Yosemite Valley and the present day view.
The Era of the Megafires is because we won't let it burn or so the so-called experts insist
Historical Images - New York Times
To Help Prevent the Next Big Wildfire, Let the Forest Burn
Well, fire worship is back in vogue again when it comes to these expert's #1 promoted dogma regarding land management. Above the article in the New York Times offered two photos of Yosemite Valley, one which is supposedly from 1899 and the other 2011. The 1899 photo revealed far less vegetation in existence, while the one on the right from 2011 shows far more denser vegetation mainly in the form of trees. I wish the 2011 photo had been taken at the exact location and angle as the 1899 photo. If you look at it from another perspective, you find that there is still a large meadow which from the angle they provided in the 2011 photo, looks to have almost disappeared. Biggest difference of course there still are more trees. Take a look at one paragraph from that New York Times article:
"Before the 1800s, most forests in California burned every five to 25 years from wildfires caused by lightning or Native American burning practices, said Scott Stephens, a fire ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley."
Seriously ??? Every five to 25 year fire interval is natural ??? And the reason they justify this is because Native Americans did it. A while back I read about the history of the native people who inhabited the Yosemite Valley. And yes it was a sad story how they were removed. The Ahwahnechee or Awahnichi (″Yosemite Valley People″) are a Miwok people who traditionally lived in the Yosemite Valley, which they called Ahwahne. The account about their history also referenced how they kept the valley cleared the valley's vegetation by regular burning and I don't doubt that, but should we consider that as something "natural" as many environmentalists dogmatically advocate ? The problem I have with terms like 'natural' or 'pristine' being used in descriptions of various ecosystems is that these words/terms sort of places the Native Americans in a sub-human category as if they were some sort of Pre-European animal which were an intregral part of all ecosystem maintenance. Some Fire ecologists like Richard Minnich of UC Riverside say the necessary interval between wildfires within a plant environment should be 30-50 years, others like Richard Halsey of the Chaparral Institute have said it's more like 70-130 years interval between fire disturbance followed by rest and recovery. Trust me there is no real united consensus among any of them. How often do you hear or read about biologists bickering amongst themselves in attempts to out do another opponent's so-called expertise in the public eye ? Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project claims intervals of 300-400 years. Frankly I like the longer version. There is no doubt that fire by lightning has always been a natural occurence, but most of that would have occurred during a couple of months during the summer monsoon season if at all. Most all knowledge we have about what science believes is natural is limited to 19th & 20th century photographs and some writings. Beyond that we get speculations, assumptions and storytelling narratives based on the biased beliefs of those doing the telling. 

Illustration - Mike Danton/Alamy
In past historical times, perhaps several centuries, creatures like the giant Ground Sloths or even Mastodons (which were browsers as opposed to grazers) once kept forest floor understories clean and neat. Prevent shrubs from taking over or tree seedlings and saplings from creating dense carpets of water and nutrient competitors. And if fire did occur by chance, such activity was mild as compared to present day wildfire catastrophes. But even before Sloths, other creatures would have occupied much of the same habitat in forest ecosystems providing much of the same services that sloths did for trees and that modern Giraffes do for tall trees in Africa today.

Illustration - vignette-wikia
Nothronychus was the only therizinosaur that lived in North America, it lived in the Mid Cretaceous. (The name Therizinosaur is derived from the Greek word therízein, meaning 'to reap' or 'to cut off', and saûros meaning 'lizard'. The animal was also described as slow or sluggish. Like it's relative, Therizinosaurus, the Nothronychus had big claws and a kind-of long neck. It was 4.5-6 metres long and 3-3.6 metres tall. It may have weighed 1.5 tonnes. It's diet was trees in the canopy area. This dinosaur's name means "Slothful claw" it was named by james I. Kirkland and Doglas G. Wolfe in 2001 because there was something unusual in that it was a theropod but it's diet was plants. Nothronychus was a strange dino with a 4 inch(10 cm) finger claws similar to those of sloths. This dinosaur walked on two legs. It had long arms, a long neck, a small head, a toothless beak, leaf-shaped cheek teeth, and a short tail. This would have been perfect for stripping off lower limbs of young trees prevent a scenario of fire ladder fuels. Don't get me wrong when it comes to fire, yes it can be a good tool. However when it comes to ecosystem management, it's a last resort or the last tool on the list. Unfortunately in every ingle discussion on this subject, "Burn Baby Burn" wins out every single time. Not only do we live in times of massively increased fire disaster, but the experts say we need more. It should also be noted that research published back in August 2018, revealed that so-called low-severity wildfires and prescribed burns do in fact harm soil and the organic biological make up of the soil. FACT: other tools have far more importance than Fire.
So What Can We Do Exactly ??? Study & Use Biomimicry 
Image - Chris Schnepf/University of Idaho Extension

Image - Cornell University
Ideally it would behoove forest managers to replicate how the natural world really maintained itself historically in past centuries ago within vegetative ecosystems prior to human disruption. Environmental organizations are adamantly opposed to humans having any connection to maintaining ecosystems, especially forests. In their twisted worldview, fire is the grand creator and nature will take care of itself. Unfortunately nature isn't exactly intact and you can blame the abuse and misuse of science, something they practically worship as infallible. However, more and more studies from several universities are finding the contrary to be true when it comes to management. For example, forest ecosystems can benefit from the introduction of animals into the tree understories if properly managed in a hands on directed manner. The reason nature cannot be counted on to take care of itself any longer is because humans (especially from the historic past) have decimated the large populations and in some cases caused numerous large grazing & browsing animals (slow moving vegetarian megafauna) to go extinct. That's a fact and consequently an inconvenient truth to those who wish to promote indigenous peoples as all knowing when it comes to conservation. But it's even worse than that. Researchers have now discovered than in many cases, biodiversity is not so much the problem, but rather Bio-Abundance is. The numbers of most all living creatures are way down, from insects, to amphibians, birds, etc. Why ??? Because humans have relied too heavily on Science as the saviour of everything by "bending nature to our will," as CRISPR gene-editor inventor, Jennifer Doudna, has proclaimed when interviewed. Nature should have aways been worked with as opposed to being fought against. The Cornell University has some researchers who now agree. The concern in the past has been whether livestock would cause trampling damage, but this can be solved using salt licks and fencing and by hands on herding. The idea here is not leaving the domestic animals to their own, but actually living with and managing them. Landowners with young conifers should keep cattle out for the first five years. But once the trees are shoulder height to a steer, it’s not really much of an issue.
Success Stories Where Biomimicry Has Worked 
Image from Jim Priest 2013

The photo above could well illustrate how Yosemite Valley could and should have been maintained all these past decades without the prevailing secular dogma in demonization of forest thinning and cattle grazing as the natural world's enemy. This photograph was taken by ranch foreman Jim Priest of the RV Ranch Company which is west of Helena, Montana. This fence line separates National Forest lands and RV Ranch Property. According to Jim Priest's own words, the land on the right has been selectively logged for over 100 years. This means there were zero clearcut strategies used in their management, something the environmentalists abhor. But it has also been hands on intensively grazed and managed, which means cattle were not left to their own device, but rather they were hands on managed and moved regularly. You should also note the land on the left hand side of the fence line. This is National Forest land and has taken a mandated hands off approach in letting nature take care of itself. Unfortunately Nature is no longer a well oiled complete biological machine it once was for countless millennia. Numerous parts and components are missing. It doesn't take a man of credentialed genius to understand which side is healthier. In fact all it takes is common sense. Sadly, human governments, academic institutions, and environmental organizations tend to blunder along blindly, failing to adapt to the changing new challenges in the ecological circumstances until they plunge themselves and nature further into catastrophe or their own management practices become outdated. Still with the success stories coming to the surface more and more from private land owners who responsibly know what they are doing, one wonders if government protected and eco-activist run National Parks and their mandated (don't touch - hands off - let it burn) approach to Wilderness areas aren't missing out on something positive and wonderful. Using domestic animals with a hands on well managed approach could be an answer if those with a vested political interest against such practices would just stay out of the way. Clearly there is a way to both save and make money all at the same time here. What would Yosemite look like today with such a management approach ? There's clearly a need for change.
Some important ranching and forest maintenance references
Workshop to help forest owners with livestock grazing
Cornell Cooperative Extension educators suggest grazing cows, sheep, ducks in forests
Read the References on stories about what's happening not only with Yosemite Valley, but also the whole of  California 😔
Image from Fresno Bee
Whats Up With Yosemite's Trees ???
 What about all those Industrial Corporate Outdoor Recreational Companies, can they help rescue Nature ? 😟

Well, don't count on it. Like other big global business interests, they will lobby and donate to the right political & environmental non-profit entities to influence things like designating newer National Parks, Preserves, etc where under the guise of saving nature and species biodiversity, they have development plans of their own regarding opportunities to cash in on the concessions and other outdoors equipment business model schemes. The reality with them is it's not so much as preserving as it is in promoting. Remember all those Chevron "Do people really care?" commercials from the 70s & 80s ? Somehow the conventional corporate entities like oil or mining companies are labeled evil and greedy, but not so the eco-activist approved outdoorsey corporations (Patagonia, North Face, Black Diamond, etc). Most of today's outdoor corporations that sell themselves as pro-environmental have cleverly sugar-coated their business model as something they're really not. It will still always be about the MONIE$ with nature being the crutch to lean on and in the end nature & people will still get the shaft. 😕
Important note on Yosemite & potential for wildfires. Interesting read about an instagrammer looking for fame by lighting fires within Yosemite for social media fame:
KCET: Epic, Yet Illegal: Famous Yosemite Instagrammer Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

Monday, November 26, 2018

El Monte Valley Sand Mining vs Nature Preserve Controversy

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie— deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–1963)
Illustration - Chess Play of Nature - Greenpeace of Brazil 2011

Teddy Ortiz
You could almost make a Chess Play boardgame out of this story and call it "Developer vs Nature." Such stories are all too familiar around the globe in what authorities usually label such activities as nothing more than progress. But like Teddy Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill, so there is a well known San Diego county nature photographer charging up El Capitan Mountain above Lakeside's El Monte Valley to stop an outrageous scheme which will destroy the very last piece of floodplain left along the San Diego River corridor. Billy Ortiz has rallied people behind an effort to halt an investment group's sand mining ambitions bent on completely raping the natural resources from a picturesque floodplain which many people have called the Yosemite Valley of Southern California. And they are doing so under the eco-green smokescreen cloak of later promising to create a nature preserve after they are finished. The location of this brewing controversy is east of the inland community of Lakeside, California. It's also the old story of Cain and Abel (brother against brother who should be on the same side - more on that later) and a bit of David and Goliath (rich powerful land developer vs the little people & nature). First it was proposed that this loaction was to be a golf course resort, then a nature preserve, later a possible wastewater treatment plant and now finally an industrial sand & gravel mining operation. I'll provide some links for you to follow the controversial plans at the end of this post. Indeed, this sand mining is detrimental to any and all restoration of the riverbed, but I'll let other people explain in further detail the fight going on while I'll stand on a neutral sidelines. I'm interested mainly on what can ONLY be done regarding restoration done the right way. But this will only be done with two separate future two posts. There are just way too many complex details. But here now are some brief historical points of the valley's ongoing controversies over decades. First, here is my previous post.
Santee's River Walks: Mast Park & Walker Preserve
Where the whole Sand Mining controversy began years ago
Image -  Billy Ortiz

Image - Quora
In 1997, the Helix water district leased a 480-acre property to these developers (see above photo) under the name El Capitan Golf Course LLC whose plan to build a golf course in the El Monte Valley, however the plan flopped flat on it's face in 2005. What's interesting is that some earth moving equipment did create some large holes where the golf course lakes would go, but nowhere to this day can you tell where they placed the excavated sand they removed. Were one to take a stab and guess, you'd have to say it was sold for a profit. It appears this is really what the company wanted all along, a sand mining operation with the gold course scheme providing perhaps a cover story. In 2010, the Helix water district planned to use the site build a wastewater-recycling plant there. But Helix also looked at getting into the sand-mining business. After the failure of the Golf Course scheme, there was a renaming of El Monte Golf Course LLC over to El Monte Nature Preserve LLC, with an address in Solana Beach. But this new identity cloak also has filed a proposal for the land with the county planning department for sand mining. The land belonged to the Helix Water District, which transferred the land as part of an August 2014 settlement with El Capitan Golf Course LLC — which has now become the Nature Preserve LLC. The scheme's plan suggests excavating a massive trench down through a large portion of the El Monte Valley's San Diego River course, creating a giant industrial ditch much like the patch work of old former industrial gravel pit operations you can view from western Lakeside all the way through Santee to Mission Dam. Later the plan calls for planting trees along this long giant ditch's edges, build some trails, plant some native trees and shrubs with signage and label it a successful restoration project and nature preserve. 

Image - Billy Ortiz

The photo above is looking north from the flume trail on the south side of El Monte Valley at where the damage by heavy construction equipment removed massive amounts of sand already. The two characters in the photograph at right are Bill Adams and his token eco-activist Michael Beck who provides the Business group the mere appearance of having eco-green oversight as well as a sort of expert with restoration of the riverbed after the mining operation has extracted as much sand for profit as possible. In other words after the riverbed is dredged to death below the water table line, it will appear like the rest of the San Diego River's sunken channelized riverbed (with the exception of the Mission Gorge canyon) west of Cactus Park & El Capitan High School in Lakeside all the way to Padre Dam. The theory is that if they dig down 40 to 60 feet to the water table, which exposes the water at the surface, then this could be the foundation of a channeled riverbed with riparian vegetation on both sides like the unnatural look on the west side of Lakeside. I understand the thinking in one sense. Water is needed for a viable riparian habitat to thrive. Humans over 100+ years have literally ruined this floodplain river channel which at one time was as level as the surrounding landscape. The water table in historical times was actually just a few feet under the surface. Old historical photographs reveal the river bed just a few feet lower than Lakeside itself, with only the tre lined edges to provide a location of the actual channel. The trees (Fremont Cottonwoods, California Sycamores & Willows) on both sides of the river channel were once huge old growth specimens. Such trees were once common pace and not the occcassional exception one encounters today. A person could compare them to the old riparian forests from many of Arizona's large riparian preserves today. What vegetation that does exist now are only within the excavated flood channel trenches and not nearly as huge. If attempts were made now to plant trees in the El Monte Valley as it now stands, the root systems would barely reach the water table. The natural river system as it exists today in El Monte Valley has been shut down, mainly by the El Capitan reservoir to the east. There are no seasonal flooding flows to house clean the riverbed and provide fresh new nutrients & water resources. 

Image provided by Billy "Lakeside" Ortiz
Above is a photo of the newly excavated San Diego River which has been slightly altered, deepened and straightened to allow to faster movement of any future flood wwaters. This was done in the early 1980s, not long after the 1980 floods where both San Vicinte and El Capitan Dams both overflowed their spillways. It was a time when every dam in San Diego County overflowed and washed out numerous bridges downstream.
Image from Billy "Lakeside" Ortiz

What exists today is a bulldozed slightly straightened uniform flood channel full of mainly non-native invasives like Tamarisk. Take note of the river bottom's vegetation in the photo above. The majority is invasive non-native Tamarisk, which have root systems that go far far deeper than the native cottonwoods and Sycamores. There are future posts I have in draft which will touch on this much deeper and in length. I won't spend much more on the political and legal controversy here, but I'll provide credible links to people and their sites that can be trusted. Not all people and their websites on this issue can be viewed as credible and trustworthy.
Controversy on how El Monte Valley's land should be used is not a new phenomena
Image - East County Magazine

Another controversy from the past once included a proposed industrial solar farm on the floor of this same scenic El Monte Valley which as with this present industrial sand mining complex, stirred up controversy among the surrounding Lakeside residents. One property owner named David Pressman & OCI Solar once proposed to build a 40-acre solar photovoltaic farm project with approximately 8,500 solar panels on El Monte Road.  OCI is a Korean company who has holdings in the United States. To be clear, massive hectates of land with industrial infrastructure is not a farm at all in the true definition. As with most Solar Farm schemes, they require massive amounts of raw land to fullfil the exacting solar requirements from such a technology which still has many limitations despite the public relations otherwise. Without going further, you many read about this past controversy below.
East County Magazine: "Industrial Solar Proposal in El Monte Valley Outrages Residents"
An unfortunate Industrial Sunrise Powerlink scheme which sadly did succeed
Map - San Diego Union Tribune

Image - Billy Ortiz
Another controversy was the argument for high voltage transmission lines to be routed through El Monte Valley for movement of electricity from Desert Alternative Energy Schemes which have never really produced as advertised or promised. The map above reveals the unfortunate alignment is called the Sunrise Powerlink. It's purpose is to service all the electricity which authorities hope will be generated by other alternative energy schemes down in the desert areas east of San Diego county like Ocotillo's failed Wind Facility (plagued with numerous logistics & technical problem, with the lack of wind being #1) and the plethora of awful looking industrial solar projects which have actually replaced real agricultural farms. Pictured above right is one of the sky cranes being used to lift Sunrise Powerlink electrical transmission towers into place along the north rim of El Monte Valley in Lakeside.
Basin & Range watch: "Sunrise Powerlink Controversy"
A little background history in San Diego County's Building Boom Era and the deliberate  intention of turning rural  Lakeside into an industrial salvage yard
Image - San Diego Public Library

Over a century ago Mission Valley once looked very much as El Monte Valley looks today. Completely flat, no sunken river channel. Although having more meandering characteristics it wasn't neccessarily a wild river as it had cultivated farmland on both sides with rural houses here and there. But take note above of the natural and normal meandering river channel pattern of a true floodplain. Also take note of older river channel portions known as oxbows where the river had switched direction and left these curved or comma shaped oxbow lakes. The river valley prior to European settlement would more than likely have had vast riparian forests lining it's edges and pocket woodlands here and there on both sides. The first pioneers would have later removed all those trees to make way for agriculture in the rich bottomlands which were subject to overflow over countless centuries and provided perfect dryland farming with water or at least moisture only a couple of feet deep. Of course like all flat expansive river valleys, this was indeed a true floodplain. 

Steven M Youmans‎—"c.1927 The flooding of Mission Valley"

Yup, sure enough, floodplains do indeed flood, hence the name description. And yes though historically there was a meandering river channel like we saw in the San Diego Historical Society color photo above, but they do overflow their banks during the rainy seasons and this has been going on for 10s of 1000s of years. But to the exploring humans centuries ago, floodplains were something to be tamed and fought against as opposed to being respected and worked with. After all, there was agriculture and other human commercial ventures to be explored and pursued. Take special note of this great illustration below which through simplified visuals explains at the top just what I said about the nature and function of a meandering floodplain.

Illustration - Yazoo Stram Ministries

Image - British Geographer
Now the bottom animated portion of the above illustration shows how humans have traditionally tamed the wild dangerous ancient floodplains so that industrial, agriculture or other commercial ventures like businesses or housng tracts could then move in. The strategy calls for destroying and removing all the meanders and curves of the river by straight channeling. Up in Los Angeles this has meant massive construction of concrete channeling infrastructure to tame the water flows during flooding events in the rainy seasons. In many ways flooding in SoCal is worse because rain mainly falls on asphalt, concrete and 1000s of building's roofs. Even a tiny storm can and will cause flooding. But how well has this straight channeling worked out for Mission Valley ??? Well, it still floods during heavy & even light storms as you can see in the photograph below which is well illustrated in the animated picture above.

Image: Kevin Walsh and Wimmer Yamada and Caughey

But gradually the times changed and things developed rapidly after World War II and the wildness of Mission Valley had to go. In the 1940s, the federal government begins building 13,000 “cracker box” houses in Linda Vista, the largest single defense housing project in the U.S. at the time. This type of model city bedroom districts were made up of “cracker box” houses, with almost 3,000 units still remaining today along with the original building housing the old roller rink called Skateworld. In 1954, the Federal Public Housing Administration sold the houses for private ownership, according to Linda Vista officials. But again, it was the model for other construction boom projects around San Diego like Clairemont, Allied Gardens, etc. 

Image taken from Mission Valley News
 And all that sand & gravel for asphalt & concrete had to come from somewhere and that somewhere started in Mission Valley with industrial mining operations. Not only Mission Valley, but further up into Mission Gorge, Santee at about the Walker Lakes near Edgemore hostpital and further east to Lakeside.
Image - San Diego Free Press

The city of San Diego expanded rapidly after the World War II. Many former military men didn't wish to return back home to places like Iowa and other places back east or up north where long frigid winters were common. Getting use to Southern California's mild year round pleasant climate was a major draw and this called for a construction boom. Many of the early Sand and Gravel Pits were located close to the coastal floodplains like Mission and Otay River valleys. For the moment construction began close to the city of San Diego and Mission Valley was convenient for transportation of such materials, but as time went on it became apparent there were bigger plans for Mission Valley from a commercial developer standpoint as the modern photo above reveals. Agriculture was now on the way out. When I was growing up in the 1960s however, these giant industrial mining companies were mammoths from an industrial point of view as you can see in the example below. 

Image - San Diego History Center
Sand Mining Companies in Mission Valley (1960)

Towards the end of the 1970s and through the 1980s, these industrial giant eyesores were forced out of San Diego coastal areas and found refuge inland. The City of San Diego and San Diego County had a plan of ridding itself of such eye sore operations and replacing the infrastructure with more eye candy appealing businessses that fit their tax revenue vision of being an industrial tourist holiday mecca. Hence further inland in places like El Cajon, Santee and Lakeside, these industrial giants found new homes on once large picturesque rural parcels where they could park massive amounts of construction equipment (both working & broken down) and construction material supplies in an environment which provided a lack of zoning, rules and regulations for doing so. When I lived off Pepper Drive in El Cajon, you could see the lack of any planning forethought where all manner of businesses sprang up on former farmland, residential housing, etc. The City of San Diego didn't care, after all it would be someone else's problem in east county. Today in many places Lakeside looks like one big giant salvage junkyard. Take a look at this google earth and this other private party photo below that one.

Image - Google Earth

What's happened to Lakeside is despicable, but Santee and El Cajon both have their disorganized lack of zoning rules and regulations as well. Greeenfield Ave and Prospect Ave are also glaring examples. It never use to look this way folks. 😔

North end of Moreno and Slaughterhouse Canyon (Billy Ortiz) 

It's sickening to see what once was beautiful farmland turned into an industrial apocalypse. Let's get back to the floodplain mining controversy now. Below is an awesome video and really a whole series of videos explaining stream flow dynamics. I'll post their links down below, but first watch this video put out by the "Little River Research & Design" group which illustrates exactly what happens to a riverbed floodplain when a sand and gravel mining operation moves in and does it's dirty work on the landscape. 

Here are some liks to the Little River Research & Design
Youtube: Little River Research & Design
Little River Research & Design website
Seriously folks, watch all the videos on their Youtube site, all about things that effects on river flow dynamics, even log jam simulations, etc. Below is another video highlighting that illegal and irresponsibly operated sand mining is a global problem, especially in places like India. These ecosystem destroying sand mining operations are a worldwide problem for which you may google.

Follow the Sand Mining Controversy thru these Links below - The next video will introduce you to the people who are most knowledgeable and provide a bit of historical backgraound to this area

[these are the only 3 links I recommend reading & keeping updated]

Lakeside River Park Conservancy- El Monte Valley
Links to the Industrial Energy Controversies
Desert Sun: "Why do millions of public dollars keep flowing to a private consultant in Southern California?"
Links for reading about San Diego's Mission Valley's history
San Diego Free Press: "How to Destroy Mission Valley"
San Diego Government: "Mission Valley Community Plan"
First San Diego River Improvement Project

This is the first & only post I'll really speak about the controversy. The links I provided above will update you on the day to day Lakeside squabblings going on between industrial interests vs riparian preserve hopes of the residents. My next post will be on the mechanical preparation first needed regarding the kind of foundational groundwork infrastructure that will be necessary prior to preparation to the actual restoration of both native plants and animals back into El Monte Valley.  
Stay Tuned! 😉