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 But I was critical in their old archaic outdated  conventional school understanding of germination which was around back in the 1970s when I first investigated specifically Tecate Cypress seed germination.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
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. 


  1. Hi there!!! Isn't that something??? Buffalo vs. the Coyote. I had a laugh on the way to work today. They look completely different...the color on the melon and leaves are different as are the shape of the leaves. But there is no denying that they are beautiful plants. They sure do grow well here and I can they be invasive??!! A lot of people in Tucson let the Coyote Melon take over. And in Sierra Vista, the Buffalo Gourd is everywhere....and thankfully no one is pulling it out:) They are such beautiful plants that serve many purposes. Great post!

    1. Yes I was amazed at the wrong photo and especially from an academic site. I often see wrong labeling in Nurseries. For example, if you ever see a California or Arizona Sycamore label, but the leaf had a maple shape to it, it's probably a mislabeled American sycamore from back east or the European London Plane Tree.

      Both Arizona and California Sycamores have large hand shaped finger like leaf patterns in them with the Arizona being the largest of the two.

      I love the gourds. I imagine they were also used by natives when cleaned out as a water storage container for travel at times.



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