Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Habitat Restoration: Science & Technology verse Common Sense

I love this illustrative scene of Science based Technology which is usually promoted as something that will save the world because it's smarter than humans verses an actual human who in reality has far more impressive abilities if only properly utilized and correctly trained. But this post is more of a subject about technological innovation verses the human qualities of compassion, intuitive creativity and common sense, then someone being outwitted by a computer and smashing it to bits. Scientists and other researchers often forget these simple concepts or qualities when doing research these days as everything must seemingly be so intellectualized to death that they often miss some very good common sense ideas which don't waste valuable resources and time.  A huge part of the problem is that science now days is mostly done in a Lab and through the Internet. In the old days they actually did things through field work and first hand observation. Personally I've always been a hands on learner when it comes to learning and retaining anything. It's never been enough for me to read some book. I've got to get my hands dirty. Not that this is not done today, but many things are taken for granted now and field work is commonly viewed as unnecessary because someone else has already done the work and therefore I can read about it in a textbook. Unfortunately times have changed and the natural world DOES NOT behave and act as it once did. Indeed it is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Hence this is what makes most of the conventional textbooks old and out of touch with the reality of the present natural world.


I've already given this very subject a mention sometime back with regards the Tecate Cypress germination project being done at the San Diego Safari Park. I'm impressed with what they want to accomplish and I truly wish them well for success. But I was critical in their old archaic outdated  conventional school understanding of germination which was around back in the 1970s when I first investigated specifically Tecate Cypress seed germination. Long time successful Native Plant Nurseries in and around southern California have known many of these things for years, but apparently much of the University grade understanding has not caught up with what even these people know. Of course Nurseries have to maximize their knowledge and what they techniques they use in order to make a profit or they go under. I know for a fact that the majority of the owners of these Nurseries actually try and replicate Nature to an exact science for sure success. Government or Charity Funded Research Programs often don't have the same financial needs for being a viable business or keeping from going bankrupt. They acquire grant monies whether they succeed or fail. So maybe it's a motivational thing. Anyway, if you've got the time, here is subject of the matter, Nature verses science.
Seed Germination & Old School Ideology vrs How Nature Actually Works

Coast Cholla - Rattlesnake Mountain
There have been some more recent developments in research projects done over there that I found exciting, but again I question a few of their methods. Take for example the Cactus Wren Habitat Restoration Project. I found that exciting as I inadvertently when recreating a Coastal Cholla Habitat up on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon CA also created a haven for Coastal Cactus Wrens which as a kid I never knew existed around that area there before. But low and behold there were numerous Cactus Wren nests the last time I visited. Now here is an example of where human time and experience is being shoved aside for reliance on so-called computer technology as opposed to real field experience which can be more effective and recalled to mind in an instant if that mind is properly trained. The subject was where to create habitat, what constitutes prime habitat, etc. Here's the quote in the article (which was a great article BTW):
San Diego Safari Park
"To this end, we are already propagating cacti to enhance an additional 50 acres (20 hectares) of habitat throughout San Pasqual Valley and utilizing advanced technology such as Geographic Information Systems, spatial analysis, and computer modeling and simulations to help us determine high-priority locations for habitat restoration efforts to maximize the probability of success." 
Now right here, I don't see or understand this reliance on this modern day obsession with computer models. Not that computer models don't have a place, but when wisely spent time in the field which creates experience for someone utilizing their brain, meditating and pondering over those observations which ultimately burns the experience into one's memory banks for life. My years of experience tell me that the vegetation habitat for Coastal Cactus Wren Habitat for production of successful cacti colonies needs low growing coastal sage scrub  some of which the species were even mentioned in the article. California Sagebrush, California Buckwheat, Black Sage, White sage, Coastal Brittle-Bush, etc. These plants don't get overly large and will not necessarily out compete either Prickly Pear or Coast Cholla Cactus. That's only logical and can be easily verified by outright observation in the field. You also need as far as Geography a south facing slope. A north facing slope will contain other Coastal Sage Scrub large treelike Toyons, Lemonade Berry etc which will overwhelm and dominate the habitat by several feet, or even meters in some cases. Any Cacti would have a tough chance colonizing. But I know this from experience of being outdoors, not because I read about it in a book or surfing the Net. Of course then there is the problem of the habitat dynamics and imputing all that data in that computer. Things have changed and not everything behaves as it once did. Will those data factors be uploaded into the computer simulations like invasive weeds ? The list is endless with no assurance that it'll work except within the mind of the programmer who ever that is. It may have some elementary school value, but young people need to be disconnected from the electronics and shoved out into the real world to experience how Nature really works.
Ramona Grassland Preserve
Ramona California
Then there was the article on Ground Squirrel Habitat restoration and in particular they are determined that these little guys are going to inhabit grassland like they believe they should (whether or not the squirrels want to & for their own good). Great idea and I hope they can find solutions, but they were focusing strictly on grassland prairie type settings. The example was the grassland preserve up in Ramona California

Ground Squirrel at Torrey Pines State Reserve
They of course acknowledged that the squirrels will live or be found almost anywhere. True enough, my wife & I on our last year's visit found Ground Squirrels, not in a Prairie setting, but  both up on Rattlesnake Mountain and along the coast at Torrey Pines State Reserve. The ones we saw at Torrey Pines had burrows in the Sandstone bluffs as you can see below and their diet wasn't just necessarily grasses(which are a part of their diet), but instead here numerous wildflowers found there. No doubt pines nut menu too.

Torrey Pines State Reserve - California
Now here were some of the things they were considering in order to determine just what Ground Squirrels like for their Burrow Construction Habitat. For them this was a Dirt Dynamics thing because no self respecting Ground Squirrel would reject a grassland setting with all those seeds. Actually, there are any of a number of ground squirrel habitats with varying geological composition and makeup. But those old traditional paradigms are hard to shatter. Here are some partial quotes:
"But what determines where a ground squirrel likes to live? Sometimes it seems like they are everywhere: in parks, at the beach, alongside roads, and around our properties. But when it comes to grassland habitats in San Diego County, they’re not always present where you might initially expect them to be. Figuring out where ground squirrels can and prefer to live is especially important when you want to move them to places where they are going to be successful. After all, we want them to establish a new population in a place that will allow them to help the habitat as a whole."
So they are determined to restore this Ramona Grassland Preserve and Ground Squirrels need to live there and be a part of that. The idea is if ground squirrels are present, then other creatures like Redtail Hawks, Coyotes and Burrowing Owls will be able to make up part of this living breathing ecosystem also. First I must say that I'm not overly sure that this area was originally grassland in the historical past. I am more inclined to think it as being chaparral in earlier times before European arrival. Much of the original California plant communities were changed from Chaparral to grasslands as a result of human mismanagement in the first place since making a living dealt with raising Cattle. But no matter, if they can create such a well oiled natural community grassland prairie machine then more power to them. The one problem I see are the invasive plants up there at this Preserve. From the photos there are a lot of tall European Wild Oats, Mediterranean Mustard and Star Thistle to name a few. All this is rather tall and crowds out even many of the native wildflowers which Ground Squirrels love. I've never really seen these creatures eat many of these invasives, even the rabbits don't touch a lot of those things. But there were even more quotes.
" . . working on over the last few months is collecting data for the California ground squirrel habitat suitability model in order to determine what habitat variables predict the presence or absence of ground squirrels in a particular area."
"At study sites around the county, we’ve been surveying for ground squirrel burrows and collecting data on the surrounding habitat characteristics, vegetation type, and height in the area and any potential burrow protection observed."  
"In addition, we’ve also been taking soil cores to determine soil density and other attributes, which we’ll assess later in the lab. Because ground squirrels are fossorial, we think soil type has a huge influence on their habitat preferences." 
Now they do acknowledge the plant height problems. This makes sense since Ground Squirrels like an element of observational structure in their communal habitat. In some areas they utilize Elfin Forest lookout perches provided by Chaparral for their lookout Sentinel Post. For the Squirrel community, just like Prairie Dogs or even the African Meerkats, they have a Sentry on duty. Heavy dense tall grassland does not allow for this. Take a look at some of the observations of Prairie Dog Habitat preferences and why they are such. 
Black Prairie Dog - Landscape-scale habitat characteristics
"Black-tailed prairie dogs inhabit grasslands, including short- and mixed-grass prairie, sagebrush steppe, and desert grasslands. Shortgrass prairies dominated by buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), and western wheatgrass (Pascopyron smithii), and mixed-grass prairies that have been grazed by native and nonnative herbivores are their preferred habitat. Slopes of 2% to 5% and vegetation heights between 3 and 5 inches (7–13 cm) are optimal for detecting predators and facilitating communication."

"Black-tailed prairie dog distribution is not limited by soil type, but by indirect effects of soil texture on moisture and vegetation. Colonies occur in many types of soil, including deep, alluvial soils with medium to fine textures, and occasionally gravel. Soil not prone to collapsing or flooding is preferred. Though they do not select specific types of soil to dig burrows, silty loam clay soils are best for tunnel construction"
So a couple of observed logical points here about the Prairie Dogs preferences. Vegetation must be short grass Prairie type habitat with slight slopes or other mounding type areas for observation with regards predators. They are not particular as to soil type, mostly it is vegetation and geography issues. This makes complete sense and there is no reason not to believe that Ground Squirrels look for similar circumstance. Tall Grasslands never work and I have also seen this. If and when I did saw Ground Squirrels as a kid in or around grasslands in areas growing up like El Cajon and Santee, the Squirrels and their community burrows were almost always without fail in the numerous granite boulder outcroppings which appear intermittently inside or around such Southern California grassland habitats. Not only is it burrow protection, but the boulders offered high perches for which to keep lookout for predators. If there were no boulder outcroppings, then at least there was a rise in the landscape as in a slight hill or large mound rising from the flat grassland. They always like the open areas for which to run, even when in mountains. Tall invasive dense weeds and grasses not only prevent this, but they are not necessarily a favourite food source. No amount of Dirt Collection and study in a Lab is going to change what the squirrel prefers or will force him to adapt. 

Oh and one more important point of note. They also are most numerous living in among human urban habitat developments. Go figure! I'm sure the main reason for the grassland project however was the benefit to birds of prey like the Golden or even Bald Eagles that reside up there. Although I don't normally think of Bald Eagles as preying on squirrels as much as aquatic prey. 

Photo courtesy of Dr. Roger Banner, USU Extension
Another example of a Science problem in the literature. There are continual flaws in photos and species listings and even critically bad reporting on the plant life itself. I often see such blunders in conventional Nurseries when looking for plants. I see it in municipa parks and preserves where specimen plants are brought in a a sitting or viewing area and mislabeled. But take the example of a draft I have here on Bush Food edibles and the subject of the native plant called Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) and the photo of it on a University Cooperative Extension site. The above photo is not of a Coyote Melon, but a similar vining plant in the southwest known as Buffalo Gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima
http://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/htm/coyote-melon-gourd
photo by Cal-photo - Coyote Mellon
Now I have no idea who is at fault here, the good Doctor or the University of Utah, but someone clearly didn't get the plant ID correct. Coyote Melon looks like the photo to the above left. It has smaller star shaped leaves as opposed to the larger triangular leaves of the Buffalo Gourd. Then there are also some bad description of the plant which are also commonly misapplied to chaparral plant community as well. Of course I have the same pet peeve with some retail nurseries which will have a Sycamore labeled as California Sycamore, but it has the leaves of a London Plane Tree. Oh well, take a look at what was said under the subtitle "Uses and Management"
"This vine can be invasive"
Really ???? How can a plant become invasive in it's own natural habitat ? Generally if there is some increase it is the result of disturbance or land mismanagement of a Human, not the plant. This was mentioned in an article referenced by the California Chaparral Institute on the flawed reasoning by the United States Forest Service when trying to justify the need for removing chaparral after a fire burn and the planting of pine trees which failed anyway. The chaparral still got the blame for the failure, but that is not what some of the more responsible science has known for years. Take a look back at Biologist Richard Halsey's article on his own Chaparral Institute blog
Bad chaparral. We don’t like you. We want Oregon forests here!!!
Another problem with the way things are done within science is that it is biased and heavily influenced by ideology, philosophy and politics. Take for example the excuses made for Prescribed Burns or Controlled Burns for removing dangerous chaparral. First of all, Chaparral is neither dangerous nor the cause of bad fires. Humans are the cause as the latest scientific research exposes on the history of fires and the recent Mega-Fire phenomena which has Human DNA Fingerprints all over it. Most of the justification for the clearings and burnings are from political leaders wanting to get either elected or re-elected and convincing the generally ignorant non-investigating public on any issue, that they really care and are doing something about the dangerous MegaFire problem- therefore you need to vote for me. Facts are coming forth from real investigative science that show the normal fire interval is far longer than previously promoted. 

Quite often in many of the combat forum chatrooms around the Internet there are a majority of uninformed ignorant commentators who actually parrot what the failed Scientific or Political leadership spouts off about the Chaparral ecology of southern California. These average anonymous posting citizens take for granted that these scientists or politicians are in a privileged position and must therefore know what they are talking about, so any local wildfire event is called necessary by these posters because chaparral needs this regular burn to survive because that's what the experts say. Yes the so-called experts say this, but that's also a flat out lie. Often what they are referring to is that there are specific plants that open their cones or other seed compartments and mass release seed all over the place as a result of high temps from brush or forest fires. It's a strategy for immediate mass reseeding in response to a catastrophic event and nothing more. And sure it's effective, but it's not meant to continue year after year as we have it now. Eventually the seed source disappears and the plants become extinct in those areas of regular burn. But no amount of ignorance is going to allow such logic and common sense to sink in.


Knobcone Pine's cone
 I'm here to say that fire is NOT necessary for these trees to actually move and spread their boundaries into wild uncharted new habitats among the chaparral. It is true and you will find the literature everywhere that says Tecate Cypress and Knobcone pine will keep their cones for decades upon decades before releasing seed after such a fire disaster. But as I wrote before from personal experience, there are other factors the experts never think to consider or observe. Like climate and animal or bird foraging.


Tecate Cypress Cones
But I have personally been to areas of habitat for both these trees and found in very very OLD GROWTH habitat that there were seedlings of both these trees under chaparral and other trees which were only 3 or 4 inches high. Now where did that seed come from ? There wasn't a fire to open the cones anywhere recently or the adults would have been absent. But oddly enough you will find some open cones on these trees here and there. Also there is the factor of foraging wildlife like Scrubjays and other birds or even squirrels looking for a meal. And who knows what extinct animals like the California Grizzly Bear may have contributed as a role to this in the ancient not so historical past. The total tonnage of stuff that science doesn't have a clue about in the way the ecology of many plant & animal communities may have once worked in the pristine past is astronomical.
Image - Chaparral Institute
One area of Tecate Cypress old growth where I personally have collected seed from is Guatay Mountain in San Diego County California. Now this mountain for as long as I can remember has always had the reputation of not burning even in recent major Mega-fire events. The area is truly an example of old growth luck in having the good fortune of not having such a catastrophe. Yet up in those pockets of Tecate Cypress woodlands you will find all manner of different aged trees everywhere. Even few years old seedlings. That of course doesn't mean they all make it to adulthood, but they are present even if not easily seen from the road. So why is there this seed release and germination anomaly if there has been no fires in a few hundred years ? Sometimes hot weather events trigger this as well. Sometimes bird peck and split open the cones, but you won't find these things promoted in the literature.

Here's a sum up and I'm out of here. Common sense in our modern society is often over ridden by the ideological flavour of the times. Nobody considers questioning some of the nonsense the modern leadership is spouting and I don't care if we're talking politician, scientist, business or religious leadership. When something doesn't remotely seem right, investigate for yourself. Unfortunately Newer Students lack much life experience and are vulnerable to bad influence. They are not taught to use their brains and thinking abilities as much as they were in the past. Of course this also depends much on the instructor. A type of laziness has set in with the introduction of the electronic age. People in all manner of life look like Cyborgs who appear as if fragile to the point of death if you even attempted disconnect them from their electronic devises. People were more likely to enjoy the outdoors before the early 1990s and be interested in ecological issues. That has rapidly waned since the turn of the century. While there are a handful of people concerned about environmental issues, if you have an apathetic public, they are easier to control what information they are fed and will accept. Hopefully some here have become wiser at least on a few local issues.


My sister told me I should create a Facebook Account and write these subjects on Note Pages for people to read and I can receive 100s if not 1000s of "Likes". Seriously, what in the world is a "Like" anyway ? Who wants "Likers" who lazily and passively acknowledge, 'Oh yeah that sounds great, somebody should do something' 
The Earth needs Doers who get off their DuffersThese application examples can be found worldwide, not just in So-Cal. 

BTW, I really do like the San Diego Zoo and wish them success in their hard work. The point is I don't want to see them lose! I enjoy many of their projects and reading about them. So I'm critical of things I believe will hinder that success. I just want more logical common sense input and action while dumping some of the old school thinking. This is why outdoor observation and developing exact techniques which adhere closely to biomimicry of Nature is so important. 


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Final Take on Botanical Gardens in Göteborg and an Amazing Once Believed Extinct Tree

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) 
This incredibly kool prehistoric looking tree once only found in the fossil records, but actually rediscovered not that far back in 1944 in China, was once the dominant tree of the northern hemisphere. Fossils and actual mummified stumps and trunk remains of both Metasequoia & similar trees like Bald Swamp Cypress have been found everywhere in places like the extreme northern Canadian Archipelago in the Arctic, countries like Bükkábrány Hungary, states like Arizona and so on. The trees discovered were massive in comparison to the present modern day form specimens which are protected in their preserve over in Hubei Province China. One man is so impressed with this wonder that he has dedicated an organization and website to this single tree. Great info. He's created a Reserve for them and will open this to the public in 2035. In the mean time you can view his website for info and pictures.
Here are some of my pictures of the single specimen at the Göteborg Botanical Gardens. It was exciting when I found it there on my first visit ever to the Botanical Gardens. Prior to the visit I had been researching Metasequoia as a result of the uncovered giant trees found at the north pole on Axel Heiberg Island some couple decades back and the studies of not only the tree, but also what the climate was like to have such an incredible forest of these giants along with countless other biodiverse living organisms. There is a large stump field right where the trees actually grew after what was described by some as a mega-tsunami which destroyed life there by snapping the trees off their trunks and burying them under massive amounts of sediment which apparently flash froze. Sounds like a "The Day After Tomorrow" scenario of sorts doesn't it ? They estimate in an area called the Buchanon Lake Formation there are some 10,000+ logs and other debris buried there. But the truly amazing thing is that the evidence of this ancient world is still somewhat fresh. The wood still burns and so would the cones, leaves, twigs and branches they have unearthed as a result of further global warming revealing this treasure. None of this is petrified wood as in other fossils caches. Just extremely well preserved organic matter. I'll post a further references pages on this subject below. 

(PHOTO BY LYN ANGLIN/NRCAN)

The photo above insists that this is a 50-million-year old tree stump which lies exposed on Axel Heiberg Island, where Nunavut may establish a territorial park. I'm skeptical as to an actual 50 million years old without anything happening to cause decay. But the prevailing ideological philosophy holds the power of the print. Below is a photo of the stump field on the hillside. Notice the lake terracing effects of the gradual receding waters which were no doubt followed by snow and glacial build ups. One can only imagine how such an enormous extinction event not only wiped out all the rich biodiverse ancient life for good, but also entirely changing the weather dynamics permanently which presently prevents a re-occurrence of such life again.

(photo courtesy David Grattan)
 The picture above is said to be Fossil Forest Hill which is the site of the ancient Redwood forest on the Island of Axel Heiberg, which the northern most region of the Canadian Archipelago. If you look vary closely, you'll see what is termed as 'Lake Terracing'. It's both breath taking in the sense of actually being there to see such an amazing fossil find and in a certain way sad as to realize what once was which is now gone as a result of a catastrophic event. It truly must have been a powerful mega-tsunami to snap the giant tree trucks in two like some match stick and bury the majority of resulting logs and debris in what is listed as the Buchanon Lake Formation. Now back to the Göteborg Botanical Gardens and the Dawn Redwoods or Metasequoia.

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia) 
Göteborg Botanical Gardens
The example they have at the Botanical Gardens is by no means a giant of any sort, but beautiful none the less. Especially in the wet evergreen surroundings of other forests trees and herbaceous understory. It is located way in the back of the gardens among other like conifers. I really wished more people would use this as a landscape tree here, but I never see it sold anywhere in the plant Nurseries, or as the Swedes call them, Plantskola (literally translated as 'Plant School'). Don't ask, I have no clue why! Even still, it's a beautiful tree and I'll have to get back this coming Fall to see if I can actually catch a glimpse of the golden reddish Fall foliage. Remember, the Dawn Redwood unlike the two evergreen California native redwood species is a deciduous tree. There is a Nurseryman in New Mexico who has been successful growing these trees and somewhere in the Sauraton Mountains of North Carolina, lies the Crescent Ridge Dawn Redwoods Preserve, there is a private endeavor to re-establish a self regulating forest of meta-sequoia in the Appalachian region.


The upper tree canopy of the Metasequoia


Dawn Redwood - Göteborg Sweden

Example of the twisted furrowed patterns on this trees trunk. Very different from the deep straight furrowed look of the other Redwoods like the Coastal and Sierra Redwoods. In many ways it resembles more the Bald Swamp Cypress of the southern United States accept it have a more conical shape whereas the Swamp Cypress may be often more broadly crowned and multiple trunk or branched higher up the canopy. This is also seen from the very top photo of this post.

Metasequoia Leaves
 The leaves however more closely resemble the California Coastal Redwood as opposed to the Sierra Redwood which are more Cypress or Juniper-like. They are also different however from the evergreen Coast Redwood in that this tree is deciduous and the leaves turn golden to red in the Fall and winter months it is completely bare.

Fall Colouration
Take an example view of the Fall or Autumn  colouration before the onset of winter and the complete leaf fall. These are brilliantly coloured trees in the Fall. Incredibly there is a research fascility called Arboretum Tome in New Mexico which maintains 33 genetic lines of this tree and has successfully grown them for over 20 years. The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University at Cambridge Massachusetts USA sent an expedition over to China to collect some of the seeds which were germinated and thereafter sample seedlings sent out to other Arboretae and Universities worldwide.  They (the seeds) weren't brought over to the United States until 1948 and problems developed after that with inbreeding as a result of lack genetic diversity. But further collections by those who have a fondness and love for this tree has changed that.


Dawn Redwood Grove in Fall Colour


Winter Dormancy. Metasequoias along a roadway  
on the island of Mainau on Lake Constance in Germany.
 This tree would be a challenge to grow in many of the drier locations on Earth, but possible given enough water and the proper biological organisms makeup of the soil they are in. The Los Lunas, New Mexico Nursery "Trees The Please" which is just south of Albuquerque is an excellent example of growing such trees in an otherwise challenging soil and climate environment. Please review some of the important and informative links below for further understanding of proper soil requirements and the ability to change saline and badly alkaline soils into a rich forested habitat by using biological processes which have the ability to digest, redistribute and to recreate the Earth into something extremely productive. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
REFERENCES:
Plant of the Month: Dawn Redwood


The Arboretum Tomé - Education Center

http://www.dawnredwood.org/
University of Cambridge Botanic Garden & Dawn Redwood

http://www.metasequoia.org/


THE CHRONOLOGY OF THE “LIVING FOSSIL” METASEQUOIA GLYPTOSTROBOIDES (TAXODIACEAE): A REVIEW (1943–2003)


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Modern Day Megafires: Understanding Some Basic Fundamentals for Survival

Today I viewed an interesting take on surviving these modern day un-naturally occurring and all to common megafires which have become our  unfortunate norm for many areas around the globe. A short piece on the Facebook page below  
National Fire Fighter Corp. - Firefighting Equipment
 This website or rather Facebook page showed the audience some photographs followed by these words of wisdom under these two before & after photo shots. Here's what they said:
National Fire Fighter Corp:
"Defensible space works!"
"Check out this home near Cle Elum, Washington during and after the Bridge Taylor Fire passes by. If you live in a wildfire-prone area, take the time to protect your property!"


(AP Photo/ Elaine Thompson)
This photo combination shows a house on a hillside above Bettas Road near Cle Elum Washington, surrounded by flames on August 14, 2012. A Spokesman for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources said the house survived the fire because of the defensible space around the structure with the placement of the driveway and the lack of trees and brush up against the house, preventing flames from reaching it. Fire Fighters are still working to control the Taylor Bridge Fire and said that it's 25% contained"
Basically credit was given for the defensible landscaping & cleared perimeter space. I agree, landscaping should be considered when mapping out a landscape design for an area YOU have made a conscious decision to live in knowing full well most back country rural areas are more prone to fire hazards in our modern times than in previous past decades. Yet there are a number of things to consider in laying out a landscape. First off don't fall into the error prone ideology of all native chaparral is evil and the likely cause of all megafire destruction. I love native plants and recommend them in the backcountry over traditional non-natives who tax the ecosystem's resources like water. Natives are better adapted to these landscapes.
 "But they have Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which exploded under the right fire conditions , right ??????????????"
Yes and but so do ALL plants. They all have a measure of VOCs. All landscape material will burn. It's organic and that's what happens to things organic. There is no fire resistant plants. Some have less VOCs than others, but will still explode in fire given the right conditions, especially with these later day MegaFires phenomena which it appears are uncontrollable. What I did with my house was an obvious strategy for removing vegetation away from immediate vicinity of the house. That's logical and yet you can take a tour of almost any back country and people actually have dense vegetation touching their homes, even if it's ornamental plants purchased from their favourite city Nursery. And yes the House in that photo did appear to have defensible perimeters around it as a defensive line. Yet there were some things in that photo and the accompanying story that were misleading and reflected in many of the comments that followed,  like how safe Metal Roofs are because they won't burn. Lets take another important look of the top photo now popularly presented as an example property lifesaver.
Which way is the wind blowing ???
Can anyone reading see which direction the wind is coming from ? When looking at the photo, can you tell at the direction of the flames and smoke that the wind is coming from right to left. And yet, though the flames are blowing in the opposite direction away from the house up that hill, the fire never the less is SLOWLY making it's way down the hill towards the direction of the home. However, if the winds had been blowing from left to right in the photo, you wouldn't have been able to see the house in the photograph.  Or if the fire had come from right side to the left, we would have a far different scenario. In fact smoke & intense heat would have been so dense that no firefighter  could have been able to breath let alone defend the house. Let's take a look at a photo not shown in all the popular journals but one which were used to champion the smart landscaping as the savior. Yes the landscape can be clean, but it's no guarantee.

Image from USA Today
At this point notice the winds had died way down even further from that top photo where the burn has progressed further. Yet the bottom photo at the top show of this post showing the comparison of complete burn all the way around the property gives the impression that it was the ideologically correct landscaping plan that saved the day which in reality wasn't exactly the case. Yes the landscaping was clean, but given other wind direction circumstances, there is no guarantee here. Clearly at this point in the photo above, they were able to allow the fire to burn off the surrounding landscape and control this burn with ease. Even the giant scrub at the top of the bank in front of the house was in no real danger at this point. Once again let's look at a shot of the complete burn after the fire is totally out. Notice how much easier it was to defend after those winds had died down. And even when there were winds, the fire though progressively and slowly moving down hill was still being blown into itself by the opposing winds from right to left in the photo at the top.


Landscaping really had nothing to do with saving this home.
If the winds & fire direction had been coming fiercely from the right to left going up the hill instead of down, the house would have never survived and no amount of philosophically Correct Landscape vegetation or defensible space would have prevented any disaster from happening. Yet native Chaparral will continue to get the blame for wildfire property destruction. Let's revisit a photo from the California Chaparral Institute which clearly shows the odd behavior of fire is not necessarily dictated by chaparral's presence to a house.

(Image & quote: Richard Halsey)
 "A home ignited by blowing embers during the 2007 Witch Creek Fire. Note the burned sticks in the foreground where the wildland fire stopped, the green iceplant, then the dense, unburned patch of chamise chaparral right next to the house." Richard Halsey
One of the facts of those 2003 & 2007 MegaFires and the majority of homes that burned was that they were stucco or concrete block & concrete or clay tiled roofs. Remember those popular Ranch Style 1950s homes with the Cedar Shake roofs that went up like a matchstick during the 1970 Laguna Fire in San Diego County ?  That led to a movement of banning or limiting such material in future houses and rightly so. Now stucco, concrete and clay doesn't burn, so what happened here ? The intensity of the heat coming within range of a building can simply create combustion from within. Not to mention blowing embers igniting leaves and other dry dead debri in rain-gutters etc. As the photo above shows, the landscape was untouched while home in the center exploded and went up in flames. This sure is the exact opposite of that recent story of that Taylor Bridge Fire home escaping disaster as a result of the ideologically correct landscaping saving the day. Notice this photo below and the propaganda captioned underneath it.
"This home and outbuildings survived the 2010 Cowiche Mill Fire near Yakima, thanks to several fire prevention steps taken by the owners."
Fire, Defensible Space and You

This photo to the left like the one above along with the Public Relations promo  has often been used as the poster child as a sort of guarantee to an uneducated public that all will be well if you follow these procedures. Seriously google it and you will see it not only is used by many institutions like cities, counties, states etc, but in fact right NOW it is being replaced by the newer poster child Photo at the top of my page here which inspired me writing this post about it being as savior of the day. In fact there is a good read on the above photo here on the Chaparral Institute's webpages explaining the actual science of what they found actually saves such homes and burns others with similar so-called defensible perimeters.

California Chaparral Institute: "Protecting your Home"

With all that has been said here, does this mean I'm against defensible landscaping ? No of course not! That would be crazy. But I'm all for logical defensible and neatly arranged landscaping. After all I was in that field for many years. Yet the propaganda behind many of these stories doesn't tell the reader the entire truth of the matter as the new poster child reveals here. It leaves a rural homeowner lazy, relaxed and allows them to make utterly stupid decisions like getting the family out and the male Patriarch staying behind proving his testosterone at saving the family dwelling. Even fire agencies and other officials don't recommend this even if you are considered to have the politically correct landscape. My home in Anza California was in the midst of fire disaster scenario and I would never considered to stay behind and defend. A human life is more important than saving material things. Yes there are examples of so-called heros we hear about in the News Media, but what if it went the other way and it has ? Not only does a family loose all possessions, but a loved one who was also the family provider. Take one more look at my old place and the landscape decisions I made that may not have been considered safe. Two photos of what I wanted , preferred and accepted their potential loss. But then I knew this when I moved there.

Photo: Mine
Large Coulter, Jeffrey & Aleppo Pines next to the house's wooden porch covered decking.

Photo: Mine
Same deal with the back of the house. I would have left for safer pastures in the event of a fire and given permission for no firefighter to risk his life to save anything that resulted in my personal choices at landscaping. Seriously at this spot on the hill of Table Mountain, the area has a reputation for some of the most extreme high hurricane winds of anywhere in Southern California. Even without those trees and shrubs it would have been a total loss. For the most part that is all I have to say, but there are some interesting details about that cause of the Taylor Bridge Fire which had ZERO to do with Nature like most modern day fires. Take a look at the cause being investigated.
Posted: 4:33 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20, 2012 Exact cause of Taylor Bridge Fire still unknown
Exact Cause Unknown ??? Yeeeah! Suuure!
Speaking of human fire causes and the recent ongoing controversy over Windfarm's actually causing several fires ? Get a load of these photos of the Taylor Bridge Fire and the Wind Energy machines all over the charred landscape. Of course they weren't at fault, but "Just Saying . . . "
Now look real close at the ridgelines and hills at those not so sustainable Wind Energy Eco-Solutions

Here's a further close up view of the charred landscape
Be safe

Time Out Post: Guerrila Habitat Improvement

when you have grey hair no one suspects you of anything

In  the archives of both my blogs, this one you are reading and "Earth's Internet" I have a number of personal accounts of Guerrilla Habitat Restoration. There are a number of organizations and folks out there somewhere who just plain love the natural world who have privately and covertly created natural beautification enhancements where it was once lacking. One such example comes from Tucson Arizona where an un-named individual made a rather remarkable street improvement where nothing more than just plain gravel existed between a sidewalk and the street in what is normally a planting space. Such spots can be found everywhere in any city, in need of loving care by some dedicated landscaper, Guerilla or otherwise.

By Matt Griffiths
The improvement involved digging up a volunteer Mesquite Tree Seedling and transplanting it where it would be better appreciated instead of being weeded out of it's previous location. Now there is no surprise that I love deserts and all things to do with Mesquite Trees. But this mystery individual/s (He & Wife) documented the progress of their tree rescued seedling and transplanting into a location that badly needed improvement in a location where no one including the city cared to bother with. Frankly the idea of doing such a thing appeals to me because I also have done things similar with regards to Torrey Pine tree planting where they shouldn't have existed. Take a look.


Guerilla Street Tree Planting of Mesquite in Tucson Arizona


Four years from seedling to street tree
 Guerilla Street Tree Planter's comment on their success with their covert street improvements:
"My sweetheart and I noticed this tiny mesquite seedling sprouting beside an old stump in 2007. We watered it and look: Shade in 2011!"
Here is their next apparent attempt at improvement of a property where the landlord didn't care to create a nice habitat for his Tenants.


"Planted May 17 2011. Three little seedlings on the brutally hot west side of a three unit house.  The tenants like to sit on the steps and visit. I can’t wait to see them shaded. This works best on properties with indifferent tenants and  landlords that don’t care."

I sure hope they update us on  it's progress!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Further sites of interest:
http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ 

http://www.laguerrillagardening.org/

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ökenliv 2012 (DEsert Life) - Bugs & Blooms


Incredible Looking Flowers ?????
I spent much time wandering around looking at other flower beds at the Göteborg Botanical Gardens and came across these very interesting looking small flowering plants on a steep slope, yet there was no signage describing to me what I was seeing. The combination of yellows and blueish-purples. Maybe somebody viewing this knows exactly what the plant is. Yet on close up inspection of the plant, not everything was what it seemed. It actually reminded me of Poinsetta plants where what most people consider a flower is actually the leaves, The actual flowers being yellow and very tiny compared to the giant red leaves. Take a closer view below.



See what I mean ??????????
But there were further things that caught my interest. Mostly I've never been to an area with so many wild varieties of BumbleBees. In most places on the Earth today they have become either extinct or mostly absent from the urban scenes. Honey Bees have replaced them, but even they are up a creek so to speak with the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in recent News on a global scale. But here around Göteborg, Sweden they are able to thrive.

Bumble Bee on a variety of Salvia



Honey Bee on Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea)



Photo: Mine
There were some Butterflies but not many. We always called these in our gardens back home Cabbage Moths and there was a yellow variety there. But who knows, I'm not exactly an expert on bug world names except many of the familiar common ones I am use to back home. But then I found one below that was far more interesting.

Photo: Mine
Does not look all that spectacular, but wait till it opens his/her wings. I must have waited close to an hour.

Photo: Mine
It was worth the wait and yet the shot was difficult. Let's face it, I'm in someone else's extremely manicured backyard where the gardens are perfectly neat and in order to get some better close-ups you've got to stick your big feet into the fluffy tilled amended soil or onto some other plants and that wouldn't have gone down real well as there were many of visitors watching every move you made. Okay, I only made a couple of giant size 12" footprints, But I brushed them a bit afterwards. *smile*

Photo: Mine
There were a couple of interesting critters in the bee/fly family like this guy who had the ability to perform a number of precision helicopter antics and stunts. Interesting also is that all of these guys had their favourite flowers that appealed to them specifically. This little Chihuahua dude above only liked this plant and it's petite raspberry coloured flowers

Photo: Mine
This was just a kool shot of another variety of Echinacea with long drooping pink flower petals with the reflection pool in the background.

Photo: Mine
Going back to my original entry which I wrote about in the beginning of this series where the Gardeners had incorporated various Cacti & Agave into desert flower mixes, I found that I had missed a few details. Here was some of the native New Mexico flowers I mentioned from a previous article which was the  Mexican Hat  Coneflower   (Ratibida columnifera)

Photo: Mine
And how could you not incorporate these into the mix of all things Desert decor. Chile pepper plants of all sorts are sold here everywhere as ornamental indoor-outdoor decor plants. I doubt the Swedes here use them much for culinary arts as they tend  to burn their northern European lips on Katsup.

These really reminded me of California Tiger Lily



Another Bumble Bee shot



Photo: Mine
This little guy was all by him/herself. Generally I usually see these guys in large numbers, even in the States. Can't remember the name, but Margarethe Brummermann of Tucson Arizona would surely know.

Just another shot of the flower with Bumble Bee 


Another succulent directional sign

Magnollia stellata 'Centennial'
Finally before I exited the gardens I had to go back and take some photos of the desert themes in between some of the rocks with plants that appeared desert-like, but weren't. I just caught a couple more angles of some of these amazing settings that look like they shouldn't belong here in Sweden.


Magnollia stellata 'Centennial'


Magnolia sieboldii 'Buskmagnolia'
Now below here is another variety of Magnolia they incorporated into the rocks which is actually behind the photograph just above here. Take a look at it's shape and form and once again use the imagination on how such a plant could be incorporated into a landscape that doesn't necessarily allow for a true Desert theme. Notice also the understory planting ? I'll place that picture below this one.

Magnolia sieboldii 'Buskmagnolia'

Marmalade Coral Bells

Heuchera x 'Marmalade' 


Just after I made the final exit and before I actually rode the trolley home, I visited a spot where I had been a few times at the end of the Trolley #10 line where an interesting 'U' shaped Apartment complex design reminded me of something else in nature that can have a natural shaping and growth guiding effect on trees like this Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) which incredibly does very well over here. 

Spring Blooms
We have a stand of them grown in a long row along a boulevard where we live, but they are in the open and more rounded in appearance. This one below is long tall and slender. Something also that I  would imagine seeing in a slot canyon in Northern Arizona in Redrock country. Look at the way the building's walls perfectly shape it. One of the other major rewards for those in climates not conducive to growing citrus is the 'Orange Blossom' fragrance which permeates the air all around your garden when these flowers display the white Wysteria like blossom clusters.



Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)


Photo: Mine

Again I love the tall slender growth which allows for numerous other plants under the tree in a courtyard setting. The two trees on either side are Norway Maples.
Just another angle from within the courtyard itself.

Looking up from the base of the tree at it's trunk

Photo: Mine
And one last shot before leaving for home. This tree is an amazing survivor. Not only does it accept this cold freezing often wet rainy (Sucky) climate, but it does well in Southern California in hot dry interior valleys and high deserts. Truly remarkable and something to consider with the in between climates. Not sure about low deserts, but maybe someone else can comment on examples they may know of.
For more on Robinia, see my piece on New Mexico Locust at my "Earth's Internet" blog where I explain the networking abilities underground with this plant's relationship networking to other plants within it's ecosystem community.
Tomorrow one last look at a specimen tree that has nothing to do with the Desert theme, but a tree once thought extinct and only found in the fossil records until someone discovered it was in China in 1945.