Biodiversity Loss Bigger Than Climate Change

February, 2018

 

1981: This coastal prairie habitat had been passively grazed by cattle for a century or more. Although some natural succession occurred, the habitat was held in check by grazing. Photo: Dave Imper.

1981: This coastal prairie habitat had been passively grazed by cattle for a century or more. Although some natural succession occurred, the habitat was held in check by grazing. The habitat at that time supported a vigorous (albeit largely non-flowering) population of western lily and a variety of other early successional wildflower species. Photo: Dave Imper.


“This is bigger than climate change.” Those were the words of Dave Imper, respected “retired” rare plant advocate and our October evening program speaker. He was referring to the short- term impact on biodiversity in our region near the coast. Putting frequent, low-level disturbance back into our native habitats is something important that we can make happen now, at the local level, and see the results soon. Most California plants, including lilies, brodiaeas, fritillarias, azaleas, and yampahs, evolved with frequent, low-level disturbance.

Dave told us that in most cases the “natural” condition is the disturbed condition: by fire, landslide, grazing, thundering hooves, pocket gophers, digging sticks, etc. The importance of human-mediated disturbance by Native Californians has been amply documented by Kat Anderson in her book, “Tending the Wild.” Even in our coastal redwood forests, forest ecologists have found fire return intervals of seven years. Yet our parks have protected their redwood groves from fire for 100 years. California landscapes were shaped by humans and it’s up to us to continue managing them.

From the perspective of his studies of the Western Lily (Lilium occidentale) Dave showed us case after case of coastal prairie, where these spectacular native flowers grew, succumbing to succession, becoming shrubland or even forest—no place for lilies. These lost coastal prairies were in state parks or other reserves, which we citizens think are preserving our natural heritage. Unfortunately, our parks and other land stewards most often take a hands-off approach, preventing disturbance and “letting nature take its course.” Monitoring and habitat management are not in their mission and certainly not in their budgets. Dedicated staff who can see the problem struggle against a general lack of awareness (partly due to lack of data) and lack of funding. The result is the inexorable loss of early successional habitats like coastal prairie.

2006:  Cattle grazing was terminated in about 1992. The prairie rapidly developed into coastal scrub and forest, leading to a steep decline in the western lily and botanical diversity in general. Photo: Dave Imper.

2006: Cattle grazing was terminated in about 1992. The prairie rapidly developed into coastal scrub and forest, leading to a steep decline in the western lily and botanical diversity in general. Photo: Dave Imper.


Here is our call to action: we need to tell the stewards of our public lands that we know the importance of frequent, low-level disturbance to maintain biodiversity. If they are aware of it but frustrated by lack of funds, we need to educate and pressure the sources of those funds. If land managers are trying novel techniques to mimic natural disturbance, we should encourage them and learn with them from the results. We can’t use fire as it has been used in the past, and we don’t have massive herds of elk, but we have mowers and goat herds. We have to experiment. We need more tools, and every ecosystem will need a custom treatment.

If you watched the lilies, sneezeweed, and gentians on Elk Head disappear under salal and huckleberry, if you remember the azalea reserves when fragrant, billowing Western Azaleas were dominant, if you walk under the Douglas-fir on Titlow Hill wishing for the oak woodland and houndstongue that used to be there, if you remember a mountain meadow being bigger than it now is, then you understand the need to bring back the disturbance.

If you would like to join a “Disturbance Task Force” to brainstorm and enumerate ways to educate, encourage, pressure, and modify attitudes, procedures, and policies, contact Dave (dimper@suddenlink.net) or Carol (theralphs@humboldt1.com). 

 

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Field Trips & Plant Walks


Beginners and experts, non-members and members, are all welcome at our programs and on our outings. Almost all of our events are free. All of our events are made possible by volunteer e ort. For more information about North Coast CNPS and our events, please visit our website: northcoastcnps.org.

February 25, Sunday—Rohner Park and Humboldt Botanical Gardens field trip. Bring your Humboldt Botanical Gardens membership card or CR student ID or pay $5 senior/$8 adult admission. Meet at 9:30 a.m. at the Kohls end of Bayshore Mall parking lot, or 10:00 a.m.at the Fireman’s Pavilion in Rohner Park (Park St. off Main St. by 16th St.). We will be outside! Dress accordingly. Bring lunch and water. Please tell Carol 707-822-2015 you are coming.

March 24, Saturday—East Fork Willow Creek Day Hike. Among the species we will see are fawn lilies, assorted trees, and perhaps giant purple trillium. Dress for being outside in whatever weather appears: the campground itself is often uncomfortably cold and shady in the morning. Bring lunch and water. Meet at 9:00 a.m. at Pacific Union School (3001 Janes Rd., Arcata) or arrange another place. Tell Carol you are coming 707-822-2015, in case plans change.

Evening Programs


February 14, Wednesday—“Journey to New Caledonia."
 
In late 2017, Marie Antoine and Steve Sillett traveled to the island of New Caledonia. e island of New Caledonia is about the size of California and has the highest number of plants per square kilometer in the world. ey will share tales and images from their visit. 7:30-9:00 p.m.

March 14, Wednesday—“Wildflowers of the Trinity Alps.” Ken DeCamp, author of Wildflowers of the Trinity Alps, has been drawing and photographing wildflowers for over 40 years. Ken will share tales from the trails and images of some of his favorite flowers. Books will be available for purchase. 7:30-9:00 p.m.

Workshops


March 17, Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. A Primer on Sedges.
Identification of members of this genus can feel esoteric, but it contains numerous rare and sensitive species. Spend a day in the lab at Humboldt State University keying sedges (genus Carex) with material and expertise provided by Gordon Leppig and assistants. $100 for CNPS members; $130 non- members. For more information, check our website at www.northcoastcnps.org

 

 

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