HEADLINE FOREST NEWS:
This story first came to my attention from my readership connection to the California Chaparral Institute website and blog:
I don't live in Southern California anymore, but I have not been out of the loop regarding many of the horrific wildfires that make worldwide CNN News Headlines that have taken place since my moving to Sweden in May 2006. This fire here mentioned apparently happened in 2009 and the LA Times article deals with the US Forest Service restoration project to help jump start the Ponderosa Pine habitat which the fire destroyed. The planting project for the most part seemed to be a 80% failure. Some of the blame mentioned in the article went towards that evil invasive Southern California native chaparral species which moves in and takes over. But of course they forgot that this is how an the ecology of a forest regeneration works in the natural world to begin with.
Before I explain how the processes work in nature, let me admit one thing that I myself unfortunately have as a human flaw as these foresters no doubt suffer from. Impatience! Yes we all suffer from this same imperfect human flaw that plagues all mankind. Why ? Well we are all aware of the ever so short bubble of a lifespan we all have been cursed with from birth onward. When you are a kid, time seems to slow down to a slothful crawl. Remember when you were a child, how long time seemed to drag on through another School semester until the next summer vacation would arrive ? Then you became an adult and the weeks are like days and months fly by so fast that next year quickly overtakes you. There's simply not enough time for a healthy happy human being to do, see and appreciate all that there is in life and it's healthy potential before it all ends. And I can't think of a people who are more into life than those who love nature and the environment. With that said, Foresters & Biologists (who believe it or not are also humans with all the same failings as everyone else) sometimes try and push the ecology time clock forward by pressing ahead and going against what they know to be intellectually and factually true, but have allowed instead personal well meaning heartfelt emotions to cloud their thinking and knowledge of what they know to be the correct approach. Not to mention the US Forest Service mandates behind the scenes for pushing things ahead faster than they should progress.
Let's look at what we've all seen in those High School & College Textbooks with their illustrations of how nature regenerates itself by means of successive increments. Take a look below and can you pick out which habitat vegetation types the Angeles National Forest habitat restoration folks bypassed on their way to hoped for end result ?
Correct! They jumped to the 5th and 6th stage plants (Coulter Pines, Big Cone Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine) to regenerate the community and then blamed the failure for successful establishment on plant communities #1 (annuals) #2 (brush/Chapararl) #3 (Schrub Oaks/Small Trees) . And the facts are, they ALL know better than to do that.
Now look at this next graphic which is only for illustration purposes anyway. Some of the problems I see with this Habitat restoration is an ignorance of a local habitat's ecology. Many forestry practices learned from forest experiments done back in the Eastern USA or Pacific Northwest or even in Central or Northern Europe don't apply elsewhere, like on the drier west coast. Those wetter climate forest habitat restoration practices don't work in drier regions in much of the ecology of the southwest where rainfall totals are considerably far less than those areas of abundant rainfall. The illustration below shows what is called an "Overstory" tree canopy of Red Oaks with an "Understory" of White Pine. Some plants in nature actually require what are termed 'Nurse Plants' or 'Mother Trees' and it works this same way no matter what the ecosystem on Earth. Where I live presently, the Björk (Birch) trees and Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) are actually the reverse of this illustration below. Both of these trees explode up before anything else has a chance to when an area is disturbed by clear cutting, like the later sucessive species of European Oak (Quercus robur) & Acer platanoides (Norway Maple) Both of these actually need an overstory of the other trees to grow properly and create a nicer much taller form. Out in the open I have noticed here they tend to be stunted and shrubby.
But getting back to the mistakes and some practical landscape applications. I myself am admittedly impatient when it comes to gardening and the landscape. But I know enough to get a handle on it before planning a layout and installation of a project. For example, when I have laid out the landscape plans and know exactly what I want and where, I go to the Nursery and pick and choose the plants most desirable. It is a huge temptation for me to select the larger 5 gallon or higher Shrubs/Trees because they are big and beautiful than it is to select and choose from the one gallon selections. Why ? Because like those foresters and also my impatient clients, we all want "instant landscaping". That's the imperfect human nature in us. I know full well from my own personal experience that the 1 gallon tree will catch up and out perform the 5 gallon or higher. Why? because the roots of that five gallon tree are usually spiraling around the inside of the container and proper growth and structure of this type of root structure can hamper the performance above ground vegetation later. Look at many of the established public parks and notice some of the large tree trunks which have an above ground spiraled nature around the base of the trunks as a result of it's early childhood experience. LOL! The only reason it has gotten as tall as it has is because of the irrigation system. Such trees are also easily blown over in windstorms.
Shrubs you can often get away with larger than 1 gallon, no problemo.
But trees need to develop their nature for the benefit of the entire habitat, landscape or otherwise. In the failed tree planting project mentioned in that article, they listed as a species the planting of Ponderosa Pine. This tree is way down the line to come along in nature and most often benefits from already established forest habitat, at least in the southern reaches of it's boundaries. Coulter Pine was a good choice as it usually is one of those 'Pioneer Species'. This means that it is known or seen to venture out into brush habitat ahead of other trees. The ONLY reason for this is because of this little guy.
The main reason is that the Coulter Pine seeds or nuts are rather large/heavy unlike Ponderosa which is smaller and lightweight with a wing connected to propel it away from the mother tree. The ScrubJay collects them from the rather large Coulter Pine cones. What is interesting about many of the southern drier habitat seeds is that they are all mostly a fairly good sized nut shaped, unlike some of the northern habitats. Every variety of Oak Tree , Pinyon Pine , Torrey Pine, Digger Pine , Coulter Pine , etc in the drier southern regions owes it's existence to this bird who in actuality doesn't plant these heavy seeds/nuts out in the open (like the Foresters did) , but rather under the dander(mulch) of a chaparral species which has already been long since established in the habitat to begin with. So the oaks and many of the heavier nut producing pines actually need the care of a nurse plant to be a success later down the road. Yes, it'll take a bit longer, but once established they can actually have explosive growth once conditions are right and eventually replace those nurse plants that helped them establish at the beginning.
As I remember in High School Ornamental Horticulture class my Ag Instructor James Dyer explained to us about what a nurse plant was and it's function in the wild. This was actually a new thought back then. Hence I used the nurse plant approach on two to see what would happen. Five years past and everything was fine. Later long drought periods took over and the four trees in the open were dead, but the two planted in the protection of the nurse chaparral were smaller, but healthy. I left not long after and moved to the mountains of Riverside county and left all that behind. But periodically I would come back every few years and find the two were still doing well. Of course I had long since inoculated them with Pisolithus tinctorius (Ectomycorrhiza) and that seemed to help, but funny thing is I had also incoculated with the other four dead ones which were planted out in the open. But oh well.
Okay, here are the is a photo of the other Torrey Pines and it's present growth from within that still old growth Laurel Sumac. The upper Torrey Pine I posted above is tallest of the two and the lower one was a bit more crowded, but still has several strong multi-trunk branches sticking out of the shrubby Laurel Sumac. I't probably 10'-15 ' high. This particular one was much a older than the other Torrey Pine I planted inside the Laurel Sumac by about a couple years. The top upper Torrey was out planted from a one gallon container and the lower one in this picture I had in a five gallon container. Interestingly however, the one gallon out performed the lower five gallon container tree by far, which told me that earlier establishment of a good healthy root system which is not bound out by a container is to be preferred. Sine this experience, I have always chosen one gallon sized trees over larger trees on bigger sized containers. Every single time they have out performed larger containerized trees because of that root structure development issue. And of course a good mycorrhizal blend is always necessary at time of planting.
Here is how close to the actual development came within view of these Torrey Pine Trees. In the beginning of the development when brush clearing was being accomplished prior to road and other infrastructure construction, I had actually seen some of the environmental tape just before I left for Europe. There were no houses or roads at the time, just large areas cleared of native coast chaparral down to the bare soil. Seeing that tape and the signage blew me away. The residents weren't exactly pleased at my taking photos of the trees, but oh well. At least I can document these for any future Reference. But it had been a privilege to help establish these trees and the rather extensively large Coastal Cholla Cactus colony which has attracted Coast Cactus Wrens to nest in as the photo below here shows an example of the colony.
(April 6, 2013 - An unfortunate Update to the above)
|photo taken on April 6, 2013|