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JU LY–SE P TE M B E R 20 1 2

A N E X P LO R AT I O N O F N AT U R E I N T H E S A N F R A N C I S C O B AY A R E A

special section

Crowning Glories Point Reyes Turns 50

Fire in the Hills Napa River Through Time Bohemia Ranch Goes Public Climate Change on Mount Hamilton $5.95


c o n t e n t s

july–september 2012

Features 29

There’s a lot more to the Napa Valley than wineries and fancy food. Look closely and the landscape reveals clues to a past full of greater ecological complexity, from beaver ponds to vast freshwater marshes. New research into that history may point the way to a more biodiverse future. by Robin Grossinger

Lech Naumovich, lechphoto.com

Brian Maebius

THE R I V E R THRO U G H TI ME H i sto r i c a l E c o lo g y of t h e N a pa Va l ley

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special section

Richard Blair, RichardBlair.com

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CROW N I NG GLORIES Celebrating the L a nds capes o f Po i nt Reyes

TAMI NG THE FLA M E S Wildland Fire in th e E a st Bay Hills

We mark Point Reyes National Seashore’s 50th anniversary by looking at the peninsula’s signature habitats through the eyes of five noted authors:

The 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm left no doubt that big fires happen in the East Bay. Now, the East Bay Regional Park District is fighting fire with fire at Redwood Regional Park, one part of a massive effort to reduce fire danger across thousands of acres in the East Bay Hills. by Wendy Tokuda

29 32 34 38 40 42

Introduction by Jules Evens Outer Coast by Claire Peaslee Bishop Pine Forest by David Rains Wallace Estero by Jules Evens Shrublands by Judith Lowry Grasslands by Greg Sarris

Departments On the Trail

4 Bay View Letter from the Publisher

6 Letters from our Readers 8 Ear to the Ground News from the conservation community and the natural world by Aleta George

10 Conservation in Action Beachcombers with a purpose hunt for plastic — and data. by Daniel McGlynn

12 Signs of the Season Cuckoo wasps, gorgeous parasites with drama to spare by David Lukas

14 Bohemia Ranch Goes Public A remarkable Sonoma County landscape is finally preserved, protecting redwoods, Sargent cypress, serpentine grasslands, and a beloved waterfall. by Jacoba Charles 18 Elsewhere… Milagra Ridge, Sibley Preserve, Long Ridge

20 First Person Ernest Callenbach: an ecotopian life well lived Interview by David Kupfer

52 Climate Change: Dispatches from the Home Front Lessons from the Mountain Above Silicon Valley, researchers on Mount Hamilton use ingenuity and high tech to track climate change. by Glen Martin

68 Families Afield: Exploring Nature with Kids Make geometry a walk in the park. by Laure Latham

69 Ask the Naturalist Let’s hear it for tarantulas. by Michael Ellis

70 Naturalist’s Notebook Owl in the hole! by John Muir Laws

visit us online at www.BayNature.org


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by david loeb

bay v iew letter from the publisher

Diane Poslosky

S

ome 22 million years ago — long after dinosaurs had left the scene, but long before we arrived — a large block of granitic rock that had been wrenched from the southern end of the Sierra Nevada about 50 million years earlier began a long, slow-motion ride northwest atop the Pacific Plate. Now this itinerant piece of California geology finds itself partially — and temporarily — sutured to the outer edge of the North American continent on the coast of West Marin. How lucky are we to be alive in this place at this time, when this crown jewel of a natural landscape just happens to be passing by within such easy reach? Here, it’s accessible to two million of us who flock each year to its sandy beaches, wildflower-draped headlands, forested ridges, and wildlife-rich lagoons. This temporary (in geologic time) residence of the Point Reyes peninsula at the edge of the Bay Area is one reason for my own permanent (in human time) residence here. During my first visit as an adult (coming from New York and Boston), I spent a sunny January day at Limantour Beach, seduced by the open vistas, the bright colors, the soft air, and the curious harbor seals. Eight months later I moved to San Francisco. And how lucky we are that there were people with the vision and dedication to ensure that this seductive place would be accessible to us not only due to geological luck, but also by law. And so it is that this year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore.

contributors Santa Rosa–based Michael Ellis (p. 69) leads nature trips with Footloose Forays (footlooseforays.com). Aleta George (p. 8) has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times. Oakland resident Kelly Hackett (p. 54) is a recent college graduate who spends much of her time exploring California and beyond. Jackson Karlenzig (p. 18) is a hiker, mountain biker, photographer, and student at Drake High School in San Anselmo.

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It was a great honor to be asked by the staff at the Seashore to put together a special insert marking this anniversary (see page 29). Of course, in 16 pages there is no way to adequately encompass or embrace Point Reyes; for that you have to return to the place itself throughout the seasons and over many years. However, this issue’s essays come from five noted writers who have done just that, so they may give you some good ideas about where to go and what to look for on your trips to this “king” of Bay Area parks. And that’s what we’re always trying to do at Bay Nature — inspire you to get out and discover the landscapes of surpassing richness and beauty all around us in the Bay Area. Now we’re about to do even more to help you explore nature nearby: We’re launching the new Bay Nature Trailfinder (baynature.org/trailfinder), an interactive online guide to parks and trails throughout the Bay Area. We’ve assembled comprehensive information about parks and open space across the whole region and recruited a group of top-notch Trailblazers to share their favorite trails with you. We’re building the site with iNaturalist.org and Transitandtrails.org, so you’ll get info on the latest wildlife sightings and detailed directions whether you’re driving or taking transit. The Trailfinder will launch in early July. Try it out and then let us know what you think. And tell us about your favorite trails as well, so we can keep expanding the Trailfinder and make it the most complete source of information about nature-related recreation in the Bay Area, from Point Reyes to Mount Diablo to Big Basin. (We are lucky, indeed!) Naturalist and illustrator John Muir Laws (p. 70) is the author of The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada and Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide. Information and class schedules: johnmuirlaws.com. Laure Latham (p. 68) is the author of Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area and the force behind the blog Frogmom.com. David Lukas (p. 12) is a naturalist and author of the book Sierra Nevada Birds. His newest book, Bay Area Birds, will be out in July (lukasguides.com).

BayNature Exploring, celebrating, and understanding the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area

Volume 12, Issue 3 july–september 2012 Publisher David Loeb Editorial Director Dan Rademacher Online Editor Alison Hawkes Development Officer Judith Katz Marketing & Outreach Director Beth Slatkin Office Manager Jenny Stampp Advertising Director Ellen Weis Design & Production David Bullen Contributing Editor Sue Rosenthal Copy Editors Cynthia Rubin, Marianne Dresser Board of Directors Larry Orman (President), Malcolm Margolin (Emeritus), Carol Baird, Catherine Fox, David Loeb, John Raeside, Bob Schildgen, Nancy Westcott Volunteers/Interns Lisa P. Allen, Harriette Atkins, Paul Epstein, Eric Galan, Kelly Hackett, Allison Hughes, Jackson Karlenzig, Elizabeth Laubach, Maureen Tanuwidjaja, Kimberly Teruya, David Wichner Bay Nature is published quarterly by the Bay Nature Institute, 1328 6th Street #2, Berkeley, CA 94710 Subscriptions: $53.95/three years; $39.95/two years; $21.95/one year; (888)422-9628, baynature.org P.O. Box 92408, Long Beach, CA 90809 Advertising: (510)528-8550 x202/advertising@baynature.org Editorial & Business Office: 1328 6th Street #2, Berkeley, CA 94710 (510)528-8550; (510)528-8117 (fax) baynature@baynature.org baynature.org issn 1531-5193 No part of this magazine may be reproduced without written permission from Bay Nature and its contributors. © 2012 Bay Nature Printed by Commerce Printing (Sacramento, CA) with soy-based inks.

Front cover: Aerial view looking east to the mouth of Drakes and Limantour esteros, where their waters mingle before flowing out into Drakes Bay between Limantour Spit (top) and Drakes Beach (below). This year, Point Reyes National Seashore is celebrating its 50th anniversary. [Todd Pickering, toddpickering.com] Native San Franciscan David Kupfer (p. 20) is an environmental activist, consultant, educator, and journalist. Daniel McGlynn (p. 10) is an independent journalist who covers science and the environment. Sarah Schoen (p. 18) is an outdoor activity docent and outdoor education leader with the Midpeninsula Open Space District. Ann Sieck (p. 18), a semiretired teacher, has lived in Berkeley most of her life. Her website, wheelchairtrails.net, provides trail reviews focused on accessibility.


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le tt er s To the Editor: A clarification regarding the article about foraging (“A Forager’s Dilemma,” April– June 2012): There is a reference to mushroom hunter Mike Twyford collecting edible cactus flowers in the Australian outback. Australia does not have any native cactus. What Mike came across was almost certainly the highly invasive prickly pear introduced from South America by some of the first colonists in the late 18th century. In that case he was not foraging native wild foods but weeds. Siobhan Williams, San Leandro To the Editor, I thank Bay Nature for publishing this eye opener (“A Forager’s Dilemma,” April– June 2012). I was one of a host of people unaware of the extent of this questionable activity. I’ve assumed that it was a trendy affectation of a rootless urban

NURSERY AND GARDEN

Cactus + Succulents California Natives Bamboo + more

culture without serious impacts (mushroom collecting excepted). Nowhere in the article do I find serious consideration of impacts on land and wildlife. Homo sapiens appoints itself cop, judge, and jury. We make the decision that wildlife and other eco-system components can bear the pressure of this nonessential practice, without knowledge of the profound and complex interactions of aboveground and below-ground organisms. As we accelerate from seven billion toward nine billion, eco-systems are fraying and coming apart. Species, even processes, are disappearing. Bay Nature does us a service by publishing this article. Will there be a widespread discussion of this latest insult to the land? Probably not. Jake Sigg, San Francisco Editorial Director Dan Rademacher responds: Foraging is tough to judge, in my opinion. I have seen its positive side: sold-out guided walks where people are talking about nature, learning to identify plants and to distinguish weeds from natives. Most people on the walks I’ve attended were under 35, decades below the average age for any birding or botany outing I’ve been on. So I’d say new people are being drawn into a connection with the natural world through an interest in wild foods. On the other side: The perils of commercial mushroom foraging are easy to see. But there are other impacts as well. A few years ago, I saw some folks at a street food event selling “sea beans” (pickleweed) for $5 a basket. We had just published a story about salt marsh harvest mice, which depend on pickleweed. When I asked the folks where they’d gotten the plants, they didn’t want to say, either to protect their source or perhaps because it was from public lands. So it’s hard to pass a single verdict for or against foraging. The impacts of so many

things we eat are far-flung and massive, from corn and soybeans destroying the Gulf of Mexico to pesticide-drenched strawberries a few dozen miles away in Salinas or Fresno. Does the increased nature awareness fostered through foraging offset the impact of wild food harvesting by reducing people’s participation in the industrial food system? To the Editor, The photo labeled “China Hole” on page 39 of the April–June 2012 issue is actually a photo looking east up the Narrows of the East Fork of Coyote Creek with Gun Sight Rock in the middle of the creek. China Hole, which is a bit downstream from the Narrows, was named, as the story goes, for a Chinese man who was working at the nearby Madrone Soda Springs resort. Apparently he couldn’t swim and drowned in the pool. Barry Breckling, Retired State Park Ranger, Greeley Hill To the Editor, In “Rays in the Bay” (April–June 2012), the author states that bat rays migrate into bays seasonally to feed, reproduce, and give birth. While some bat rays from the open ocean might just do this, each of the large bays in California, San Francisco, Tomales, and Humboldt Bays has a large residential populations of bat rays. Ron Russo, retired East Bay Parks naturalist, Bellingham, WA Send your letters to atn@baynature.org. volunteer for bay nature!

Discover new parks, share favorite hikes, get experience with journalism and marketing. All for a great cause! Learn more at baynature.org/volunteer.

Wealth Management for Unique People

Berkeley meeting location available.

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Point Reyes Hostel Celebrating 40 years of welcoming guests to Point Reyes National Seashore

NOW OPEN! Our newest and greenest facility is built to LEED Silver standards, and features private rooms that sleep up to 5 people.

(415) 663-8811 pointreyeshostel.org Dorm beds, $24 Private rooms, $82–$120 All ages welcome. We are a nonprofit, certified green business.

Photos by Cheri M. Larsh


Take a journey to Alaska!

My Wrangell Mountains Reudi Homberger Paper: 978-1-60223-137-5 $35.00

e ar to t he g ro u nd n e w s f r o m t h e c o m m u n i t y a n d t h e n at u r a l w o r l d

H

ungry river otters are popping up around the Bay Area in places where they haven’t been seen in a while. Several years ago, a kid on a guided hike at Muir Woods pointed to Redwood Creek and asked, “What kind of animal is that?” Education program manager Timothy Jordan was surprised to see the child pointing at two otters. River otters hadn’t been seen in Muir Woods for decades, but now they’re a regular summertime sight. “Usually when I see otters, they’re crunching on invasive crayfish,” says Jordan. “They’re making pretty © Jim Scarff

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by aleta george

Arctic Sanctuary

Jeff Jones and Laurie Hoyle Cloth: 978-1-60223-088-0 $55.00

The Changing Arctic Landscape Ken Tape Cloth: 978-1-60223-080-4 $35.00

www.uapress.alaska.edu 888.AK.BOOKS

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good work of them. I don’t see the crayfish in the numbers that I used to.” A few miles north of the mouth of Redwood Creek, staff and teachers-intraining at Slide Ranch were headed for the chicken coop a few years back when they heard the chickens sounding the alarm. Program manager Emily Cohen says that when they got to the coop they had to chase out a five-foot-long otter on the hunt. Otters still show up at Slide Ranch, but the coop has been fortified, so the chickens are safe. In 2006 and 2007, river otters started taking out brown pelicans at Rodeo Lagoon in the Marin Headlands. National Park Service aquatic biologist Darren Fong says that surveys and tests of otter scat confirmed it. The otters still use the lagoon and a pond near the beach in Tennessee Valley, but pelicans don’t swim there anymore.

Farther inland, otters have been seen from Napa to Berkeley. In Jessica Sheppard’s 23 years with the East Bay Regional Park District, she had never seen an otter until she saw four in Tilden’s Jewel Lake in 2009. Since then, a couple of otters have shown up in the lake every winter, and this year a wildlife photographer got pictures of them eating rare Sacramento perch, a California species of special concern. “Otters are cute,” says Sheppard, a resource analyst in the district’s stewardship department. “They are also formidable hunters not to be messed with.” It’s clear that otters are coming back, but it’s less clear where they have been and what their historic status was in the Bay Area. Enter the River Otter Ecology Project, which aims to answer such questions and get citizens involved in otter conservation. Since the group formed in February 2012, they’ve logged 90 citizen sightings on their online river otter spotter at riverotterecology.org.

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ith driving directions in hand, I darted through freeway interchanges, skirted construction zones, made quick lane changes, and dipped into a dark tunnel, emerging at last at the Alameda National Wildlife Refuge. So I had to admire the built-in navigation system of the endangered California least terns that find their way here each spring from as far away as South America. In the past, terns liked to nest on wide sandy beaches, but people like beaches too, and people usually win out over terns. As their habitat dwindled, the terns found refuge on coastal military bases and at airports. The terns started breeding on the tarmac at the Alameda Naval Air Station when it was still in operation. At least one-third of nesting California least terns are protected on military land such as this former base and the still-active Camp Pendleton in Orange County. When the Alameda (continued on page 56)


transforming the way teachers look at the world transforms the way they teach "I feel a fundamental shift in my being as I reflect on my participation in the Global Climate Change and Field Investigation Institute. The richness in the diversity of learning experiences was engaging, informative and has made a life changing impression on me. The rotations from the first two days, where we learned specific content and hands-on ways to demonstrate, can be put to immediate use in my classroom." —Lisa La Montagne-Long Thousand Oaks Elementary School

Think what you'll achieve as you master hands-on activities, field investigations, and experiential learning in the backdrop of some of California’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. Feel it transform your future teaching strategies by participating in one of our summer or fall professional development opportunities. Visit www.eurekaseries.org for more information.

a nonprofit leader in ecological literacy in the Bay Area and California www.calalive.org

creators of


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by daniel mcglynn

co n s er vat ion in a c t i o n

Daniel McGlynn

Beachcombers Hunt Plastic, and Data

At Stinson Beach, Chris Pincetich teaches local

It’s early on a weekday morning, and Chris Pincetich is sifting through a small pile of debris on Stinson Beach. He’s at the high-water mark, called the wrack line. That’s where buoyant ocean flotsam gets stuck as the tide goes out. As we walk along, he stops and points out how plastic strapping looks a lot like weathered eelgrass. Pincetich isn’t your ordinary beachcomber. He’s a scientist trying to compile a local data set for a global problem: marine plastic pollution. “Usually I just sort of shuffle through the wrack line,” Pincetich says. Today, though, he’s busy training Kari Gehrke, a San Francisco State University student on her way to an internship in Costa Rica. She’ll be working with a sea turtle conservation group there and, on the side, doing some beach plastic surveys. Along with Gehrke, 10 freshmen from the Marin School of Environmental Leadership will be meeting here to learn how to do plastic surveys. A year ago, Pincetich started monitoring plastic pollution on six beaches at Point Reyes. He set up transects, or meab ay n at u r e

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students how to identify and log plastic debris.

sured grids, that he visits regularly to collect data before carting away marine debris. Since he started the study, he’s recorded more than 4,000 items of plastic on Point Reyes’s remote beaches. The goal, Pincetich says, is to document the density and type of local plastic pollution and then use that data to inform larger conservation efforts. Pincetich started cleaning beaches with environmental groups like Surfrider as a kid. In college he majored in marine biology and studied pesticide runoff ’s effects on salmon for his doctorate. He worked at water quality labs but missed the beach. So four years ago, he joined the Turtle Island Restoration Network to work on sea turtle conservation. “The nexus of toxicology and sea turtle conservation is plastic pollution,” Pincetich says. Sea turtles, including leatherbacks that migrate just offshore, forage near the ocean’s surface and are especially susceptible to ingesting or getting tangled in floating plastic.

Pincetech sets up his transect by measuring 100 meters parallel to the water and then recording debris at four points along that line. Once established, the starting point is always the same for each beach, but the sampling interval along the 100-meter transect will vary, at random. “When you are doing ecological transects you don’t just do the hot spots; you try to be objective and look at the whole area,” Pincetich says. His goal is to understand what kinds of plastic items wash up on local beaches and where they come from, whether local sources or the global marine plastic mix. So far the study is revealing useful insights; for instance, shotgun shell casings (presumably from duck hunters) are among the most common plastics found on Bay Area beaches. Early on, Pincetich realized that plastics don’t wash ashore randomly —  deposition varies by location and season. “In the spring in Drakes Bay you can go to the beach and see plastic confetti everywhere,” he says. “In the summer, the current shifts and you don’t see the confetti as much.” That knowledge could help groups schedule beach cleanups when they’ll have the most impact. Late in 2011, Pincetich’s study expanded to include sites beyond Point Reyes: Stinson Beach, Point Richmond, Crissy Field, and Fort Baker. He’s also sharing data with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s local marine debris team, which is now using the same format to collect data, allowing easier collaboration. Pincetich envisions a time when communities up and down the West Coast survey beaches to create a full picture of the marine plastics problem. “Ideally, millions of people would be doing this,” he says. But for now, and with the help of two interns, he’s sifting through a year of data and posting it at seaturtles.org. “The idea behind the survey,” he says, “is to go beyond the anecdotal stories and the graphic photos and use comparable data to paint a real picture of the plastics problem.”  More at seaturtles.org/plastics. Join the world’s biggest cleanup on Coastal Cleanup Day (info: bit.ly/3Sti6).


red-tailed hawk dark patagial mark

LEARN RAPTOR IDENTIFICATION! Visit Hawk Hill this Fall, Sep-Oct!

Best viewing: fog-free days 10am-2pm Docent Programs: noon on weekends Learn Raptors! See Banded Hawks Up-Close! Details: (415) 331-0730 www.parksconservancy.org The Golden Gate Raptor Observatory is a program of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in cooperation with the National Park Service.

Point Reyes Seashore Lodge & Farm House Restaurant

Bordering the National Park 22 rooms 2 cottages Outdoor Dining Historic Bar Farm Fresh Food Local & Organic Barbequed Oysters

10005 - 10021 Coastal Highway One, Olema Lodge: (416) 663-9000 Restaurant: (415) 663-1264 www.pointreyesseashore.com

MUIR WOODS Shuttle operates MAY 5, 2012 to OCTOBER 28, 2012 weekends, memorial day, & labor day

call (415) 526-3239 or visit www.marintransit.org

Sponsored by Marin Transit and the National Park Service

marin transit

Tomales Bay Resort

35 Rooms Recently Renovated Economical or Deluxe Rooms Available Fireplaces Kitchenettes TV Kayaking Restaurant Conference Room 12938 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Inverness (415) 669-1389 www.tomalesbayresort.com j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 2

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s ign s o f t h e se aso n

A Gorgeous Parasite A cuckoo wasp is one of those remarkable animals that appears for just a few seconds and makes you wonder what the heck you just saw. Fast-moving and no larger than a skinny housefly, these wasps stand out nonetheless: They glow an outrageous iridescent blue-green, as if illuminated from within. Cuckoo wasps pack a lot of drama into their tiny bodies. Their color is part of the mystery. These wasps are parasites, and like their namesake cuckoo birds, they lay their eggs in the nests of other species (wasps or bees in this case). Since the cuckoo wasps depend on trickery and camouflage to fool their hosts, you might expect them to be drab. Scientists have not figured out whether the bright colors serve any function, and it wasn’t known until 2009 that the color is actually produced by light refracting through open spaces between six layers of cuticle in the wasps’ exoskeletons.

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(above) Cuckoo wasp (Chrysis sp.) on seacliff buckwheat near Santa Barbara. (inset) Cuckoo wasps can curl up like armadillos, a useful defense when they get caught invading another insect’s nest.

must somehow slip their eggs into an underground burrow without being detected. They first find bees and wasps that are in the process of digging burrows and dragging paralyzed prey into their nests as food for their own young. Female cuckoo wasps then hide nearby to watch the burrow and either try to hitch a ride on the paralyzed prey as it’s being dragged into the burrow or else wait until the host flies off and then slip inside.

© John Hallmén

Cuckoo wasps favor warm Mediterranean climates, and California is a center of cuckoo wasp biodiversity in North America. They are most active in dry, open areas between May and August, with adults foraging on flower nectar as they follow favored routes multiple times a day searching for solitary wasps and bees to parasitize. Each of the 166 cuckoo wasp species in California targets either a specific host or a specific nest structure. Many species target the nests of mud dauber wasps. One such species, Chrysis angolensis, initially traveled to the New World from Africa by parasitizing mud dauber wasps that nested on the wooden beams of sailing ships. Fortunately for the cuckoo wasps, their larvae’s hatching was well-timed to the sailing ships’ slow progress, and these insects are now established around the Bay Area and port cities in the northeastern United States. Cuckoo wasps might duck their parental responsibilities, but it’s not exactly an easy living. Cuckoo wasps that parasitize ground-nesting bees and wasps

Despite their caution, cuckoo wasps are frequently caught in the act of sneaking in, but their oddly pitted exoskeletons protect them from the stings and bites of their hosts. The undersurface of the cuckoo wasp’s midsection is cupped so the wasp can tuck in its legs and curl into a tight ball (like a sowbug or armadillo) to protect its body. Host bees or wasps then have no other option but to grab the balled-up cuckoo wasp in their jaws and carry it outside the burrow to evict it. The unharmed cuckoo wasp simply turns around and tries to get into the burrow again. Once the female cuckoo wasp succeeds in leaving its eggs in a burrow, the larvae have two survival strategies. Some larvae eat both the host’s larvae and its food items right away; others wait until the host larva eats its food supply and reaches full size, and then they eat the host larva. The first option requires the cuckoo wasp to eat several different kinds of food before it can pupate, while the second strategy lets the host larva do all the work, converting food stores into one juicy meal. Recent studies suggest that while these brilliantly colored wasps are easily seen and recognized outside the burrow, they are “invisible” in the darkness of the burrow because they camouflage themselves by simulating the smell of their hosts. So what’s the point of all that color? It may have no function at all. The scientists who reported on the source of the color speculate that the spacing between exoskeleton layers appears to protect the wasp from bites and stings or serve as a thermal buffer from the heat of the ground. And the resulting color may be just an incidental tip-off that a tiny bit of insect intrigue is buzzing by us on the trail.  © Alice Abela

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by david lukas


In Sonoma County,

it’s all about the land ...preserving what you love about Sonoma County

... preserving what you love most about Sonoma County

Point Reyes National Seashore

Rates from $99 415-236-1967 or 866-453-3839 www.motelinverness.com

sonomalandtrust.org

The District has protected almost 85,000 acres of agricultural land and open space in Sonoma County.

http://www.sonomaopenspace.org

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on the trail s on om a’s pe ople -powe re d par k

BOHEMIA RANCH GOES PUBLIC by Jacoba Charles

From the top of a windswept hill, Craig Anderson gestures out over the green expanse of the Bohemia Ecological Preserve. From this vantage point, forested ridgelines march into the distance, framing steep ravines and sloping meadows. “This is a really powerful place,” says Anderson, executive director of LandPaths, the nonprofit group to which the remote Sonoma County parcel was recently donated. “I think it’s going to affect a lot of people over the years.” The property is best known for its waterfall, a short hike away from the Bohemian Highway, between the small towns of Occidental and Monte Rio. Despite its location on private land, the fern-draped cascade with a blue-green pool at its base has long been a favorite public destination. But the steep hills above the waterfall are home to many other ecological treasures, as Anderson demonstrates during a visit to the site along with biologist Brock Dolman. This 860-acre piece of land, known as Bohemia Ranch, is a conservation prize that neighbors and environmentalists have been

working to protect for over a decade. This February, the protracted saga of hope and disappointment found a happy ending when a deal was struck between private landowners, LandPaths, and the Sonoma Land Trust. Just over 300 acres went to conservation-minded private owners, while the remaining 554 acres were donated to LandPaths, which owns two other properties and manages 4,500 acres of public and private land in Sonoma County. The organization, which runs extensive stewardship, volunteer, and outdoor education programs on its properties, will offer guided hikes and a docent program at Bohemia Preserve. “This outcome for this property is perfect,” says Caryl Hart, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks. “It is an amazing piece of land; it’s really delicate and beautiful. When you have an area like this, you really want it to be preserved and protected.”

Stephen Joseph, stephenjosephphoto.com

The wonders of nature It is easy to see why the waterfall is so popular. It tumbles down a 30-foot-tall cliff face, between rocky canyon walls that rise up on either side. Mosses, This waterfall was to be the centerpiece of a proposed ferns, and saxifrages public park in the 1990s. Now it has been protected within decorate the stone in a the new Bohemia Ecological Preserve, a partnership lush palette of green, and between local nonprofits and landowners.

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on tr ail

Stephen Joseph, stephenjosephphoto.com

th e

Bohemia Preserve includes a wide range of habitats, from second-growth conifer forests to oak woodlands to open coastal prairie.

cypress, a California endemic that grows only on nutrient-poor serpentine soils. “This property has an amazing mosaic of ecosystem types,” Anderson says. “It has suffered many insults over the last hundred years, but it’s resilient enough that there is still wildness here.” The chaparral and cypress form an eerie and striking landscape, with stunted trees spreading their limbs over rough red- and green-hued boulders of serpentinite. Impenetrable thickets of manzanita grow under and around the trees. The rare Baker’s manzanita is common on this property, one of a small number of places it is found. A series of coastal prairie meadows high on the hill represents one of the state’s most endangered vegetation communities, and those on the preserve are some of the most diverse. In the spring the meadows become a sea of wildflowers. The preserve is home to endangered Pennell’s birds-beak, and other rare flowers such as Sonoma jewelflower, Tiburon tarplant, and narrow-leaved daisy bloom here, as do more common species like goldfields, owl’s clover, Douglas iris, and blue-eyed grass.

Sally Rae Kimmel

gnarled buckeye trees cling to unlikely outcrops. Bay, live oak, and white alder stand on less precipitous ground, shading the boulder-strewn creek. As we hike up the narrow path, Anderson and Dolman point out favorite plants such as maidenhair fern and sweet-smelling vanilla grass. The waterfall is on Duvoul Creek, one of three streams that drain from the preserve into salmon-bearing Dutch Bill Creek. Steelhead feed and breed in the lower reaches of the tributaries as well as in the main stem of the creek. Dutch Bill Creek is one of the most valuable streams for coho in the Russian River system, according to Dolman. And the streams of Bohemia Preserve are an important source of the cool, fresh water that the fish rely on to survive. Just as important, ecologically, is the fact that the fish benefiting from this stream don’t actually live in most of it. “The waterfall acts like a dam, so the upper portions of this watershed have been fish-free for who knows how long,” says Dolman, gesturing upstream and explaining that some species thrive in the absence of predatory fish. “There are frogs and salamanders all up through there. It’s a really significant stretch of creek,” he adds. “I’ve never seen more juvenile California giant salamanders.” Later, as we bounce deeper into the new preserve in Anderson’s aged pickup, he gives me a primer

on why this land is so compelling. A lot of it has to do with where it sits on the watershed. The preserve is surrounded by a lot of other undeveloped land, including the 3,000-acre Bohemian Grove (yes, that Bohemian Grove — known for its connection to economic and political power brokers) and several outdoorsoriented camps. Federally threatened northern spotted owls and California red tree voles live on the preserve, as do mountain lions, bobcats, gray foxes, and many more species. “[Bohemia Preserve] connects all this surrounding wilderness,” says Anderson. “But it is also unique in the area.” He gestures at the neighboring hills: All are uniformly dressed in the deep green of second-growth mixed hardwood and conifer forest typical of the area. By contrast, Bohemia is a patchwork. As with the adjacent lands, there are dense forests that have rebounded after being logged. But the preserve also hosts a dark tuft of old-growth fir, hardwood riparian forest, thick stands of chaparral, oak woodlands, meadows of coastal prairie, and a grayish band of dwarf Sargent

(above) A western fence lizard, common in the sunnier parts of the preserve. (right) A hoverfly nectars on hayfield tarplant.

Sally Rae Kimmel

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might be managed as part of a publicprivate partnership. “But when the economy tanked, all the buyers ran away.” In 2010, negotiations with the county’s parks department, the Sonoma Land Trust, and other stakeholders also hit a dead end. “Our vision never wavered. When the regional park idea fell apart we just went, ‘OK, now what?’” says Eliot. “We really had to get creative, so we could find a way to protect the land and also make it available to the public. I’m not going to sugarcoat this: It’s hard to get funding, even for great projects like this one.” As the park plan faltered, LandPaths began to lead tours and hold volunteer restoration events even while Swindells still owned the land. A new, more restrictive conservation easement was placed on the part of the property slated to become a preserve. Swindells sold the upgraded easement to the land trust at a discounted price paid with a $1.4 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. He then donated the 544acre parcel to the Sonoma Land Trust,

as part of LandPaths’ “open meadow” celebration of the brand-new preserve

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A long, strange trip Despite its vibrancy, Bohemia has endured a long history of hard use, including logging, ranching, farming, mining, quarrying, and off-road vehicle use. Before the land was sold in February, several marijuana patches were found in its remote corners. And the zoning for the parcel would have allowed future logging, as well as the subdivision and development of up to six different parcels. The call for conservation began in the late 1990s, when the land was put up for sale. The waterfall was already a popular destination, and the environmental community had an inkling of the overall ecological value of the parcel. Soon a grassroots effort was launched to buy the land and save it from potential subdivision and logging. The push to turn the land into public open space —  to be called Waterfall Park — culminated in a 1999 benefit concert featuring three members of the Grateful Dead (Caryl Hart’s husband Mickey, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir) that raised $75,000 toward the purchase price. But it wasn’t enough; the galvanized public was sorely disappointed when the land was sold to a private buyer instead. Though many were suspicious of Ted

ul

“It’s a total botanical wonderland here because of the combination of the geology, abundant rainfall, and the steep and varied topography,” says Dolman. “You get these crazy endemic plants, species that occur almost nowhere else on the planet.”

Duvo

tr ail Michael Joiner, images.arrestedessence.com

Swindells, the new owner, he spent the next decade doing valuable preservation work. With the Pacific Forest Trust, he established a conservation easement that eliminated the possibility of clear-cutting, and he also set about cleaning up some of the damage done in previous eras. He repaired roads, removed spent ammo and old car bodies, revegetated hillsides damaged by off-road vehicles, and built a hilltop campsite with tent cabins. “When Ted [Swindells] bought this property, it was a massive tangle of offroad bad news,” says Anderson. “He likes fixing stuff up. He bought it for $3.2 million and, conservatively, he’s put about $3 million into the property since.” As with many sagas of land ownership, the progress toward Bohemia Ranch becoming a Guerneville preserve was riddled Russian to with complication and detail. In 2001, 116 the Sonoma Land Trust took over the 116 Vacation Beach easement, recounts yon n a C Mays Russian Wendy Eliot, the River land trust’s conseran to Sebastopol yo . n Rd vation director. r e to Duncans v i R Mills Smith C ree Meanwhile, Swink dells began considerBohemian Grove ing selling and (private) 41’ Monte Rio pursued lot-line 1080’ adjustments that Bo would make it easier he m 1000’ Creek for a buyer to carve Bohemia it up into smaller Ecological 1000’ Private Preserve developable parcels, land under Limited Access conservation Eliot explains. Bi easement ll “The property 136’ Creek ub Cree k has been on and k Gr off the market for years,” she adds, and many prospective owners met with her 0 1 Mile Camp Meeker to discuss ways N 0 1 Kilometer Bohemia Ranch to Occidental er

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in May 2012.

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on 16

A local Aztec dance troupe performed

Ben Pease, peasepress.com

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on

of nutrient-poor serpentine soil that favor native plants adapted to survive in harsh,

th e

open conditions.

which turned ownership of the property over to LandPaths —  and the Bohemia Ecological Preserve was born. “All the pieces had to come together like a really complex jigsaw—and out of that came a different kind of a project,” Eliot says. People on the land For now, if you want to see the interior of the Bohemia Ecological Preserve in person, you have to sign up for a guided hike or even better, says Anderson, sign on as a steward. The new Bohemia Preserve will be run according to LandPaths’ “peoplepowered parks” model. Rather than being open to the public and run with public dollars, the preserve will be run largely by volunteers and supported by donations. You can go on guided hikes and volunteer on work days, but the preserve isn’t likely to be open to the general public any time soon. “It’s a recipe that we’ve been working on for 15 years, and it’s very different from a [typical] park experience,” Anderson says. “The people-powered parks model that we developed is about transforming people from being park users to being park stewards.” LandPaths, which operates the preserve, touts a “people-powered parks” model, which includes providing guided walks, work days, and trainings that turn park visitors into stewards.

tr ail

Stephen Joseph, stephenjosephphoto.com

Bohemia Preserve has several large exposures

Volunteers at Bohemia will do everything needed to run a preserve, from leading hikes to removing invasive weeds to scouting for pot farms. “People are going to be out monitoring every acre of the preserve so we know what’s going on,” says Rebecca Abbruzzese, the organization’s parks and preserves director. “They are going to be our eyes and ears out there.” Anderson and Abbruzzese both point out that not only does this approach reduce the cost of managing the property, but it also makes people who use it much more engaged. “If we stop expecting people to be tourists and start expecting them to be stewards, change can happen really fast,” Anderson says. “We’re getting people to take ownership of a place — keep their eyes on it, help fundraise for it, and ideally go out there and get their hands dirty and sweat their shirts up.” The philosophy is one that has been receiving a wide welcome, particularly in the current era of dwindling resources for state parks and other public lands. While

it won’t be possible for individuals to visit the preserve freely on their own, “we’re in a brave new world right now,” Eliot points out. “Unfortunately the public funding that we’ve all relied on to keep our public parks and preserves open and in great shape is gone or limited. Into the breach have marched nonprofits and volunteers who can get the job done.” Getting There

Bohemia Ecological Preserve is about halfway between Occidental and Monte Rio on the Bohemian Highway (which runs north from the Bodega Highway). It’s open only for guided outings and special events, so contact LandPaths for more detailed directions: outings@LandPaths.org, (707)524-9318.  Science writer Jacoba Charles covers ecology, environment, and land use. Her work has been published in the New York Times, on Salon.com, and elsewhere.

tour the new bohemia preserve

Sunday, August 12, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Join Bay Nature and LandPaths for a four-mile guided hike at the new Bohemia Preserve. RSVP: hikes@baynature.org, (510)528-8550 x205. Details: baynature.org/inthefield. Find more access opportunities at LandPaths.org.

Sally Rae Kimmel

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18

elsewhere . . . s o uth bay

2

peninsula

3

e ast bay

Dan Hill

David Schoen

Jackson Karlenzig

1

Long Ridge Open Space Preserve

Milagra Ridge

Part of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, this preserve covers 2,035 acres along the upper west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Its 13 miles of mostly multiuse trails traverse mixed evergreen forests, grasslands, and oak woodlands and offer outstanding views. Established in 1978, the park’s former ranch and farmlands have faded to remnants of dirt roads, fence sections, and an old apple orchard. For a moderate 4.7-mile loop from the Grizzly Flat trailhead, take the trail west downhill toward Peters Creek. Turn left at the junction and follow the creek through shaded woods and sunny grasslands along a remnant of old Summit Road. Enjoy the cooling effects of the creek’s mosscovered boulders and large ferns, pause at the pond, and then head uphill, winding through the forest to the namesake ridge. Turn right on Long Ridge Road trail and catch a breeze, along with striking vistas. In the grassland through midsummer, look for yellow mariposa lily, ruby chalice clarkia, and purple elegant brodiaea. Pause at Wallace Stegner’s memorial bench for views of the Pescadero Creek drainage, Butano Ridge, and Big Basin, and south to Castle Rock and (on a clear day) the Santa Lucia Mountains near Monterey. To return, head right (downhill) through the forest. At Peters Creek, turn left and retrace your steps back to the trailhead. Getting There: Parking for Long Ridge Open Space Preserve is on Skyline Boulevard, 3.6 miles north of its intersection with Highway 9, and 3.3 miles south of Page Mill Road. More info: openspace.org. [Sarah Schoen]

Looking for wildflowers and a view? Milagra Ridge delivers. Located off of Skyline in Pacifica, Milagra Ridge offers a sanctuary for many endangered species. Directly where the 1.5-mile loop trail starts, a healthy coastal scrub environment hints at what the San Francisco peninsula used to look like. Thick coyote brush, sage, and lupine shelter rodents, rabbits, coyotes, and critically endangered butterflies. Milagra is home to the mission blue and San Bruno elfin butterflies as well as the California red-legged frog. You’re not likely to see these rare animals on a walk here, but in spring you’ll find many wildflowers (paintbrush, silver lupine, clarkia, checkerbloom, and more), and there are great views any time the fog’s out. As you ascend the gently sloped trail, watch for raptors riding the strong northwesterly winds. A few more steps up the nicely groomed path bring you to a panoramic view of the Pacific. On a clear day, you’ll see Mount Tamalpais to the north, Montara Mountain to the south, and San Francisco Bay to the east. Whether you want a short escape into nature, a hunt for wildflowers, or a quest to find butterflies, you’ll find it at Milagra Ridge. Getting There: From Skyline (Highway 35), follow Sharp Park Road to the west. Turn north on College Drive and continue about a quarter mile; park along the road at the Milagra Ridge gate. From Highway 1 follow Sharp Park Road east. [Jackson Karlenzig]

Sibley Preserve from Old Tunnel Road

2

Every day, east of Highway 24’s Caldecott Tunnel, thousands of commuters hurtle — or crawl — past a fine swath of the East Bay’s glorious greenbelt, where just off the highway, the north trailhead of Sibley Volcanic Preserve invites exploration. Skyline Trail climbs to cross over the tunnel a few yards back from its portal, hidden in dense foliage. Part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, it’s a narrow track linking Sibley Preserve to Tilden Park two miles north, over forested and grassy watershed slopes, offering long views of Mount Diablo and Sibley’s Round Top, with a good chance of spotting a jackrabbit or a coyote. Or go south on Skyline Trail to reach Sibley Preserve’s main entrance in less than a mile. Another trail, Quarry Road, climbs open hillsides directly to the fascinating Round Top volcanic area. (Using both routes, a three-mile loop is possible.) A map and self-guided tour brochure are at ebparks.org/ parks/sibley. Take in (or walk) the human-built labyrinths in the quarries. And 3 there’s a short side trip down to a stock pond overgrown 1 with cattails and populated by blackbirds and (in winter and spring) frogs and newts. It’s peaceful though never silent, out of sight of, but less than one-third of a mile, from the highway. Getting there: Exit Highway 24 at Fish Ranch Road east of the Caldecott; follow Old Tunnel Road one-third mile to parking area. Toilet provided; no bikes on trail to Tilden. [Ann Sieck and Dan Hill]

d i s c o v e r m a n y m o r e t r a i l s at b ay n at u r e . o r g /t r a i l f i n d e r b ay n at u r e

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Botany, Biology, Ecology, Natural History, Nature-based Arts

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Sarracenia | Photo by Melanie Hofmann

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First Person An Ecotopian Life Interview with Ernest Callenbach, by David Kupfer As we prepared this article for the magazine in April, we were saddened to learn that environmental pioneer Ernest “Chick” Callenbach passed away at home in Berkeley with his family at his side. The author of 10 books and a longtime UC Press editor, Callenbach grew up in the small hamlet of Boalsberg, Pennsylvania, in the hills near Penn State University, where his father was a professor of poultry science. After graduating from the University of Chicago, Callenbach moved to California in 1955 with his first wife. He got a job at UC Press, where he worked until 1991, editing the Natural History Guide series and Film Quarterly, among other projects. Inspired by the first Earth Day in 1970, he began to study and write about environmental issues and human values and social habits, leading to the publication of his best-known work, Ecotopia, in 1975. This classic utopian novel helped frame and inspire the growing interest in appropriate technology, sustainability, and green lifestyles. On a sunny afternoon in October 2011, we sat down to talk over tea in his living room in North Berkeley. DK: You’ve made the Bay Area home for decades. When and how did you get out here? CC: I came out here to live in 1955, but I actually first visited when I was only 17. It really all started with a book: When I was in the eighth grade, I read Storm by George R. Stewart and this led me to being fascinated with the Central Coast of California, where Storm takes place. When I was 17, I was working a summer job in Los Angeles, and I realized that I could call in sick to my job and get Friday off and get on the bus up to the Bay Area to visit with Stewart, who was a professor at UC Berkeley. I’d written him some fan letters and he was willing to have me come for a visit. So I caught the overnight bus and my very first memory of the Bay Area is coming through the Livermore hills at dawn on what we now call I-580 on this Greyhound, and those curved, wonderfully sensual hills just blew my mind. I was still half asleep from the bus ride, and I thought, “Are these really hills?” It was July so they were nice and brown. I couldn’t believe that any landscape could actually look like that. When I got out and walked around, it was one of those Bay Area days when the air is cool enough to be comfortable and yet not really cold, and it feels like the air of paradise, just what we were meant to live in. This was a place I could really feel at home, a place to put down roots and

settle down. Some years later, after I’d gotten married and we wanted to settle down someplace other than New York or Chicago, I persuaded my then-wife to come out here. I’ve been here ever since. It really did feel like home, that’s the weird thing, and the air is still very important. “Ecotopia,” if you go back to

the Greek root, means home place. I didn’t understand that until I was about to send the book off to the printer — I thought it just meant ecological utopia, but decided to look it up and was glad I did! DK: What it was like growing up in the Pennsylvania countryside? CC: It was really part of Appalachia, and I grew up among subsistence farmer hillbilly kids. Everybody was poor, but there was a strong sense of community and that had a lasting impact on me. But it was very boring; it was deep country and people were profoundly Republican. They voted Republican in the depths of the New Deal when they needed help more than anyone else, but they all hated Roosevelt. So I was not exactly surrounded by intellectual companions. DK: Can you explain the derivation of your adopted name “Chick”? CC: My father was a professor of chickenraising, and I was his first hatched! Some grad student remarked on this and the name stuck. My family runs to crazy

Noah Berger

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of the Bay Area have their place. You can’t live here without being conscious of the Bay, maybe fearful for the Bay in various ways. Then you have the surrounding, easy-to-access wild areas, not only the East Bay regional parks, which are an astonishing achievement started in the depths of the Depression, but also

DK: Finally, as you’ve made reference to it, what are some of the lessons learned as a consequence of your health challenges? CC: One of the first realizations I had when I was diagnosed with lung cancer is that one of these days something is going to get you. I didn’t feel any bitterness; that’s the really weird thing about Craig Hodgetts, facebook.com/hplusf

nicknames. Chick and Ernest evens it out, with one serious and one nonserious name. DK: How has living in the Bay Area for half a century motivated or inspired your work, writing, and life? CC: There is some kind of infernal openness and excitement about the Bay Area that I have never understood. When I arrived, you had a strong sense that things were going on here independently of the nerve centers of New York and Washington, D.C. You felt you were part of something that had a kind of independent spirit and was going its own way and the rest of the country wasn’t paying much attention and that was just fine. As years went by, there grew a great openness to initiatives in literature, music, art, design, politics, and a lot of other things. It’s no accident that Silicon Valley is here. We have this large community of very smart and daring people doing astonishing things. As time goes by I think that entrepreneurial spirit will make itself felt on the green side of life. It already has, with the bulk of venture capital going into new energy technology from here. We’re lucky to have a lot of filthy-rich people willing to put money into some pretty chancy things. DK: What are some of your favorite outdoor spots in the Bay Area? CC: All the places I like returning to are wallowing in water. One of my favorite places for a walk is Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley. When I first came here it was the site of the dump. I use to go down there and throw stuff in [the dump] and salvage other things. But now it’s a nice stroll for people like me who don’t have a lot of strength. I’m also very fond of the outer beach in Bolinas where the reef is off to your left and the beach runs north. I set one of the scenes in Ecotopia Emerging out there. I like that spot because it sticks out into the Pacific in such a brave and wonderful way. It’s thrilling to be there. DK: Why do you suppose so very many environmental consciousness movements, ideas, and institutions have taken root here in the Bay Area? CC: That’s a mystery, but part of it has to do with the Bay, the beating ecological heart around which all the other organs

(above) Architect Craig Hodgetts created this rendering in 1978 for a never-completed film version of Ecotopia, the classic novel by Ernest Callenbach (left). Hodgetts’s rendering includes balloon generators over San Francisco Bay. Ecotopia proved a wellspring not only for Callenbach but for many other activists and thinkers.

the wildlands in Marin, on the San Francisco Peninsula, and down toward Santa Cruz. There are extensive areas insulated from development and that’s part of your consciousness if you live here. Even though we have just over 7 million people living here, twice the number as when I arrived, you still have a sense you are close to natural processes. Another lucky factor is due to historical accidents, such as John Muir settling here. Just our luck! Dave Brower was born and spent his life in Berkeley. There’s been a continual outpouring of people who care. I look to the work of the Greenbelt Alliance or any of these organizations that are doggedly devoted to preserving things and wonder, where do they get their energy, persistence, tenacity from? How do they raise the money? It is just astonishing! I am in awe of these people.

it. You know, sure, there are things I would like to do that I will not be able to do, particularly centered around my darling wife Christine and our life together. But in the end, and I suppose it is a green thing to say, we are all recyclable. Gary Snyder put it another way when he wrote that we are all edible, which is literally true. I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I have lived a long, healthy life. I come out of a Protestant ethic, and I feel like I’ve carried my share of the load. I don’t have any new writing projects except an “epistle to the Ecotopians” [see bit.ly/Jrqxwo+], some words of advice and comfort as to how are people going to get through hard times. The old idea that we are like nature, red in tooth and claw, is simply wrong. We are astonishingly cooperative. If we are encouraged at all, human beings are a pretty OK species.  j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 2

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H i s t o r i c a l E c o l o g y o f t he N a p a V a l l e y

The

River

Through Tıme by Robin Grossinger

Napa Valley and River, 1885, by Manuel Valencia. Collection of the Hearst Gallery, Saint Mary’s College of California. Gift of James J. Coyle and William T. Martinelli

This 1885 painting from the river’s lower reaches shows a relatively shallow channel that, compared to today’s incised river, is wellconnected to its floodplain.

The following is adapted from the Napa River Historical Ecology Atlas, a new book by Robin Grossinger, director of the Historical Ecology Program at the San Francisco Estuary Institute. The book is the result of 10 years of study of the Napa Valley, combining exhaustive research into historical documents and exploration of the landscape today. It is perhaps the most in-depth look at the historical character and transformation of any river in our region.

I

ts headwaters can be found in the deep canyons of Mount St. Helena, on the northern margin of the Napa Valley. Seeps and springs trickle into small creeks that emerge onto the valley floor, initiating the complex, interacting system of vegetation, sediment, and water we call the Napa River. Today, the river mostly follows a single deep channel through the vineyards of this world-famous wine region. It is easy to assume that the sinuous, tree-lined,

river retains much of its original character. But historical records show that the Napa River once differed greatly from the way it looks and behaves today. Compared to conditions in the recent past, the present river turns out to be simplified and constrained, retaining only remnants of its previous wild and diverse nature. These patterns explain how the river supported salmon and now-rare birds like the yellow-billed cuckoo. Understanding how the river once worked can help us figure out how to improve its health in the future. In fact, a number of restoration efforts currently under way seek to re-create some of the river’s former complexity. j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 2

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24

Brian Maebius

…change through time…

I

n the early 19th century, the Napa River grew and changed dramatically as it headed down the valley. It received mineral-rich overflows from the hot springs at Calistoga, met perennial tributaries at Mill and Ritchey creeks, and absorbed sand and gravel from streams in its middle reaches. Alluvial fans and bedrock knolls deflected the river’s course from side to side. As the river approached San Pablo Bay, it widened into vast tidal wetlands. The river supported broad riparian forests in some reaches and floodplain wetlands in others. Over 30 miles of side channels branched out across the valley bottom, doubling the river’s effective length and providing forage and refuge for young steelhead. Native minnows lived in warmer water; steelhead and (likely) chinook salmon fed in the deeper pools. For thousands of years, people fished and swam in the river’s cold pools and reclined on its gravel beaches. b ay n at u r e

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The Napa River remains the valley’s spine, its central geographic feature. Yet it shows signs of distress. The river is listed as impaired by sedimentation under the Clean Water Act, and increasing local water demand may threaten dry season flows. While the Napa River has not been transformed to the same degree as have many other California streams, it has been significantly altered, losing much of its complexity in the process. Today, the Napa River may be on the brink of another transformation. For two centuries, it has been modified, polluted, and restrained. Now, barriers to fish migration are being removed and the presence of steelhead and salmon has been increasingly documented in recent years. In the past decade, several largescale restoration projects have begun. It is possible to recover some of the Napa River’s former glory and, in the process, restore the health of one of the Bay’s most important tributaries.


1942

…change through time…

1800s

2009

Broad riparian forests spread 500 feet or more from each side of multiple

Tributaries and side-channels provided

interlaced channels.

additional riparian habitat.

Freshwater marshes were once much

Vernal pools hosted diverse and colorful

more extensive, here covering much of

seasonal wildflowers in an undulating

the area between the river’s two main

landscape of pools, swales, and

channels.

mounds.

Wet meadows, the valley’s most Oak savanna was once a signature

common wetlands, were seasonally

landscape, of which remnant trees

flooded lowlands dominated by sedges,

remain today.

grasses, and wildflowers.

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Riparian Forest  Today much of the

Napa River is bordered by thin strands of riparian forest, 50 to 100 feet wide on each side. Research suggests that many riparian wildlife species need much wider forests — 100 to 500 feet or more on each side of the channel. Broad riparian forests provide nesting sites for wood ducks, yellowbreasted chat, and yellow-billed cuckoos; cover for elk and deer; and food and building materials for beavers. Several lines of evidence indicate that historically the river featured a much wider forest than exists today, supporting diverse native species. For example, forest remnants 200 to 400 feet wide can be seen upstream of St. Helena in early 1940s aerial photography. On the lower Napa River near Zinfandel Lane, 19th-century surveys documented even wider willow-dominated forests associated with side channels of the river. An 1871 article Jonathan Koehler, Napa County Resource Conservation District suggested that willow lands covered substantial areas along the river and foreshadowed their clearing: “I cannot help thinking how much better it would be for all parties if landholders would sell these waste lands [along the Napa River] . . . to such of those as would make a thorough business of clearing out the useless willows and covering the broad and fertile acres with blackberries, gooseberries, currants, or other fruits.”

Beavers

Fur Bearing Mammals of California: Their Natural History, Systematic Status, and Relations to Man, by Joseph Grinnell, © 1965 by the Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press.

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(above) Some riparian woodlands remain, as at the Napa River Ecological Preserve near Yountville. (left) A beaver dam near St. Helena creates a deepwater refuge for juvenile fish. (below) This painting is from a 1937 book by pioneering naturalist Joseph Grinnell. Well before that time, beavers had mostly been driven out of the Napa Valley, leaving some debate today about how prevalent they might have been previously.

  Beavers have recently been found in the Napa River for the first time in years — in the vicinity of Rutherford and downstream of Oak Knoll. But were they there historically? Early naturalists speculated not. And John Work, one of the earliest trappers to come through the North Bay, wrote of the Napa River in 1833: “The little river where we are encamped at appears very well adapted for beaver yet there appears to be none in it.” But six weeks later, the expedition sent a side party to the river, where they had earlier “found a few beaver.” Work also reported beavers a few miles away in the Sonoma Creek watershed; other sources also support the historical presence of beaver on the river. Trapping likely removed most beavers from the watershed by the 1840s. Before then, beaver dams would have increased the extent and persistence of wetlands along the river even beyond the amount documented in the 1850s and 1860s. In other regions, the importance of beaver ponds to salmon populations and overall stream function has been increasingly recognized, and their return can potentially help speed river recovery.


The River Spread Into Wetlands

Islands and Sloughs

 In   At least 32 miles of floodthe fall of 1852, a survey team followed the Napa River, using plain sloughs, or side channels, once branched from the river’s compass and chain to record the meandering course of the river main stem, running roughly parallel before rejoining the river as an official cartographic and legal boundary. Just north of Dry downstream. Ranging from 10 to 50 feet wide, these features Creek, the character of the river abruptly changed: The channel extended both aquatic and riparian habitat well beyond the disappeared, leaving no dividing line to survey. County Surveyor primary channel. Nathaniel L. Squibb had encountered one of the Napa River’s The sloughs branched through mosaics of wetlands, riparian great marshes. He wrote: “Has the Napa River a distinct channel forest, and seasonally flooded meadows, defining distinct “islands” at that point or (the largest, near any channel at all? Yountville, was over I examined the 300 acres). Particuplace and could larly in the lower not find a channel half of the valley, at that point simithe Napa River’s lar to the channel floodplain sloughs above or below.” contributed to the Farther north, river’s productivity. near Zinfandel Given the surroundLane, the main ing permanent wetchannel spread lands, some sloughs into several likely had perennial smaller sloughs water. Slow-moving, winding through well-wooded backextensive “swamp waters supported (above) Cinnamon teal once nested in the valley’s marshes and tule.” Off-channel wetlands such as these contributed wood ducks and but are now limited to nearby reservoirs and sewage ponds. an array of valuable functions, storing surface water and fine beavers, while pro(below) This cross-section shows the river’s historical sediment and likely providing high-quality rearing habitat viding rearing habimultichannel complexity, now much reduced. for steelhead and salmon. tat and high-flow Within a few decades, Squibb’s wetland — and many similar refuge for juvenile salmonids and other native fishes. As these environments throughout the state — had been drained and side channels have been filled in and disconnected, the main forgotten. channel has had to carry more water. From Grinnell, et al. 1918, courtesy UC Press

Jennifer Natali, jennifernatali.com

… lo s t h a b i tat s …

Going Deeper  While the Napa River has not been converted to an engineered channel

like many other lowland rivers in California, it has experienced many of the same effects. The channelization and draining of wetlands, the disconnection from side channels, the decline of beavers, the removal of riparian forest, and the loss of woody debris all have contributed to the transformation of a once-diverse river into a straight chute, a water highway. Yet the river also demonstrates the resilience and ecological potential that we see in many California landscapes. The changes, while dramatic, are relatively recent. Many native plants and wildlife are still present, or even returning. As we attempt to make our watersheds ecologically healthy, safe from flooding, and resilient to climate change, these forgotten elements may have a role to play in our future. The lessons of 1850 may shape the river of 2050. 

Learn more

This is just a small slice of SFEI’s full Napa Valley Ecology Historical Atlas, published by UC Press ($39.95, ucpress. edu). You can also discover more about the river through the Friends of the Napa River [friendsofthenapariver.org, (707)254-8520] and the Watershed Information Center and Conservancy of Napa County [napawatersheds.org, (707)259-5936].

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Point Reyes National Seashore Association

Proudly Presents Two Exhibits from BayWood Artists 

Painting by Jon Francis

BayWood Artists Celebrate Pt. Reyes

50 Years of Beauty September 1-26

Opening weekend: September 1, 2, 3 The Red Barn, Bear Valley Visitor’s Center, Point Reyes 415-663-1200 x303 www.ptreyes.org

October 5-27

Opening reception: October 5 Bay Model Gallery 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito 415-332-3871 www.baywoodartists.org

Thank you, Bay Nature. We join you in honoring the Golden Anniversary of Point Reyes National Seashore, California’s majestic nature preserve. This outstanding natural refuge will help buffer the impacts of a changing planet for this and future generations.

nature.org/california

© RomanS/Flickr via a Creative Commons license


Crowning Glories

© Sean Arbabi / Arbabi Imagery

Point Reyes National Seashore * 50th anniversary

Celebrating the Landscapes of Point Reyes

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© Sean Arbabi / Arbabi Imagery

Rick Lewis

Randall Finley

n a clear April morning, I walk out on the wind- and wave-swept sand spit that shelters Limatour Estero from the Pacific

swells. The beach has been swept clean of footprints and graded flat by the last high tide. Migrant shorebirds — sanderlings,

Kathy Barnhart

(top) Dramatic view looking west toward Point Reyes and the setting sun from the Headlands Over-

willets, and whimbrels — all molting into breeding dress, probe for mole crabs in the backwash of receding waves. In the distance,

look at Chimney Rock. (above,

the white headlands of Drakes Bay frame the contour of the coast, a diorama set against a backdrop of a cloudless, indigo sky.

phant seals on a beach at Drakes

from left to right) Two young ele-

It’s a peaceful stroll, accompanied by the hypnotic rhythm of the waves. Eventually, out near the end of the spit, anomalous

Bay; Douglas iris on the Coast

forms take shape. Lifting my binoculars, I make out a large roost of white pelicans. Nearby, another congregation is resting

blooming cow parsnip on Tomales

on the quiet shore, several dozen harbor seals gathered to give birth and nurse their pups. I kneel behind a hummock to observe

Trail; a tule elk buck in front of Point; black oystercatcher.

unnoticed. For an hour or two I watch while these aboriginal beings go about their ancient duties — preening, nursing, resting. Few places on earth are as composed, as sublime really, as this place, on this day.

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more abrupt jolts when the fault gives way, as it did in the great 1906 earthquake, which left visible scars in the landscape around Olema. Our ready access from the core Bay Area to this wild and recondite terrane is thus a passing privilege. The current position of the peninsula, jutting out into the Pacific Ocean at 38°W and 123°N, puts it directly in the path of winds and ocean currents tacking southeasterly across the North Pacific from the Gulf of Alaska. These prevailing currents engender an upwelling of cold water that dominates the peninsula’s weather regime, moderating the climate to such a degree that average monthly temperatures on the land are only slightly higher than that of the open ocean. This conformity to the climate of the California Current —  with its remarkably consistent temperature — provides the peninsula with one of the most equable climates on the planet. Distinctions between winter and spring are befogged. Flowers bloom and hummingbirds nest in midwinter. This hospitable climate accommodates an overlap of flora and fauna from both north and south. Plant species with neotropical affinities reach their northern limit here, intermixing with species of boreal origins. Manzanita and

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© Monda Rafla, monda.net

The Point Reyes peninsula was dubbed an “Island in Time” by San Francisco Chronicle writer Harold Gilliam, a sobriquet that captures both the singular and transitory nature of the peninsula — a huge chunk of granitic bedrock wrenched from the southern Sierra Nevada about 100 million years ago and adrift ever since, working its way up the coast, pushed along by the tectonic forces generated by the perennial collision of the North American and Pacific plates. This itinerant geology is sutured, if temporarily, to the western boundary of the North America’s tectonic plate. The expression of this contact zone, the San Andreas Fault, comes ashore at Bolinas Lagoon, stretches northward beneath the deceptively tranquil Olema Valley, and heads offshore again at the mouth of Tomales Bay. This plate boundary is considered “active,” and the northwestward movement of the Pacific Plate is relatively speedy in geologic time, averaging two to three inches a year, but predisposed to much

Richard Blair, RichardBlair.com

GEOLOGY & GEOGRAPHY

Scott Mansfield, scottmansfield.com

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And yet, it could so easily not have been. Back near the base of the spit are several incongruous graded areas, sites intended for vacation homes on the ridge of the dunes. How fortunate we are that some determined people had a different vision, and backed that up with the hard work necessary to create a refuge for both wildlife and humans seeking wide-open natural landscapes. In the following pages we honor the creation of Point Reyes National Seashore 50 years ago by presenting portraits of five of the signature habitats of this magical place.

sagebrush grow alongside Douglas fir and redwood. Likewise for the animals; elephant seals breed no farther north while northern sea lions occur no farther south. So, here we experience a biodiversity seldom encountered on the North American continent.

HUMAN HISTORY The first European known to have glimpsed the peninsula was Portuguese mariner João Rodrigues Cabrilho as he explored the northern limits of New Spain’s west coast in 1543. Many historians believe that Englishman Francis Drake steered his listing Golden Hinde into what is now known as Drakes Bay in 1579. Two decades later Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino passed the peninsula on the 12th day of Christmas, El Dia de los Reyes, and named it La Punta de los Reyes. The name eventually morphed into Point Reyes, a phrase capturing its hybrid European history. Despite occasional visitors from Europe, the peninsula had remained the realm of the native Coast Miwok, tule elk, and grizzly bear for millennia. With the establishment of the Spanish Mission San Rafael Archangel in 1817, everything changed. The indigenous


STEWARDSHIP

(above) View looking south down to Kehoe Beach and along Point Reyes Beach out to the westernmost tip of Point Reyes. (left, from left to right) Hiker on the Sky Trail, with Limantour Beach in the background; clouds over Abbotts Lagoon at sunset; surfers walking down Drakes Beach. (right) Fog covers Olema Valley while light from the setting sun hits Bolinas Ridge.

people were rounded up and brought to the mission. In place of their villages, Mexican ranchos were established, domestic livestock was brought to the fog-fed coastal prairies of western Marin County, and much of the perennial grasslands was converted to pasturelands dominated by annual European grasses. After the declaration of California statehood in 1850, the ranchos came under American ownership, with surnames Garcia and Briones replaced by Shafter, Randall, and Nelson. By the 1860s the butter and milk era was well under way, as the peninsula’s ranches supplied the markets of a burgeoning San Francisco. Through various influences over the next century and a quarter, the landscape was dramatically altered, but its original nature managed to persist, if cryptically, in native rootstocks and seed banks and on slopes and ravines too steep for grazing or logging.

“Biodiversity” was not a concept in common currency 50 years ago. The main rationales for establishing the park were the scenic and recreational opportunities afforded so close to a sprawling urban area. But after the park was established, areas formerly inaccessible to the public were opened up and visitors began to catalog an impressive richness of species. A dawning understanding of the peninsula’s unique natural attributes attracted scientists and naturalists, as well as a public hungry for experiences beyond the clamor of urban life. In 1968, several intrepid birders, realizing that many rare migrants were showing up on the peninsula, founded the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (now PRBO Conservation Science) and began monitoring the peninsula’s birdlife, eventually recording half of North American avifauna in this one place. The California Native Plant Society began cataloging a plethora of native plants, including about 50 rare, threatened, and endangered taxa. Some were even unique to the area and named for Point Reyes — a bird’s-beak, a checkerbloom, a meadowfoam, a rein orchid. And a few of the peninsula’s mammals have been identified as separate subspecies —  Point Reyes mountain beaver and Point Reyes jumping mouse. For the first several decades after the park’s establishment, resources were directed mostly toward visitor services, trail maintenance, and laissez-faire land management. In the mid-1990s, a new superintendent shifted the focus to resource management, which led to the establishment of the Pacific Coast Science and Learning Center, dedicated to “scientific inquiry, supporting science-based decision making, and promoting resource stewardship through partnerships.” (continued on page 44)

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As early as 1928, eminent landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted Jr. had proposed creating a national park on the “hilly, forested, mesa, canyon, beach, and bluff lands fronting on Drakes Bay, Pacific Ocean, and Tomales Bay.” In 1957, George L. Collins, regional chief of recreation planning for the National Park Service, surveyed the peninsula from the air and came to much the same opinion. Collins, a passionate conservationist and Marin County resident, took the concept beyond words and nurtured the idea of incorporating the peninsula into the National Park system. Three politicians — Senator Clair Engle, Congressman Clem Miller, and county supervisor Peter Behr — provided crucial support for the legislation, helping to overcome such obstacles as the designs of developers and the concerns of local ranchers. On September 13, 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed the act establishing Point Reyes National Seashore. The narrative of the enabling legislation reveals a complicated interaction between local and national interests that continues today. The park’s administration has had to negotiate a delicate balance between human use and requirements to protect and preserve natural resources for future generations. Managing this tension between preservation, agriculture, and recreation has been an ongoing challenge. Meanwhile, this 71,000-acre park serves as a wilderness magnet for people from the Bay Area and around the world: More than two million people visit the park each year to hike, ride, camp, and enjoy the peninsula’s natural beauty.

Richard Blair, RichardBlair.com

BIRTH OF A PARK

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On the Edge by Claire Peaslee

You always know essentially where to find it: just aim yourself toward the western horizon, and go. At the road’s end, the trail’s end, the far end of that last dune-trudge or bluff-scramble, it’s there: a great conjunction of land, sky, and sea. North America meets Pacific Ocean. Yet as surely as you may know the way there, you can never know what awaits you: What phenomena will flood your senses and deepen your sense of place in this living world. Will there be gigantic sea waves, born in a deep vortex a thousand miles away, exploding into frothing geysers on the sea stacks at McClures? Will a lone harbor seal commuting near the Limantour shore catch a rising wave from within and show itself, backlit, surfing — no, flying! — inside the water? Will an osprey plunge wishbone-deep into the sea near Sculptured Beach and then muscle back into flight, shuddering off spray, its talons locked on a 10-inch surf perch? Immerse. Drakes Beach, late summer, nightfall; a soft overcast promises to drop down as wet fog. Friends hover near the embers of a driftwood fire. Gradually, another fire begins to manifest — in the breaking waves. Dim at first, and mildly greenish. Sky darkness deepens, and the oncoming surf is surely glowing brighter. At our feet, jets of brilliance zoom left or right: water-energy meeting the shoreline’s perfect curve. We stomp and shuffle in the wet-sand starburst. This is bioluminescence, visible light emitted by hordes of minute ocean creatures (such as the dinoflagellate Noctiluca) when excited by the likes of wave action. We, too, are decidedly excited and plunge into the water and the swirling clouds of microscopic life that luminesce our bodies. Point Reyes’ outer coast is all about expecting the unexpected. Even a favorite destination on the margin of this wild peninsula is never the same twice. Here, familiar is wedded to unprecedented, impermanent, primal. Elemental forces hold sway. Weather pulses onshore as part of a flow that fills the whole North Pacific basin. Storm-powered surf drags six or more vertical feet of sand off beaches in winter. Just offshore the California Current churns north-to-south, chilling and mixing local ocean water, producing exceptional concentrations of marine life. Onshore habitats, too, are richer for this region of upwelling, one of a handful in the world ocean. Life zones that intersect here host a multitude of creatures: single-celled to greatwhale-sized; drifting or locomoting; migrating or colonizing or simply coping with an accidental arrival on currents of wind and water. Tides raise and lower the ocean by as much as nine feet in a span of six hours; a minus tide will pull the curtain open, for just a while, on one of the greatest biodiversity shows on earth. b ay n at u r e

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(above) Algae-covered rocks at McClures Beach at low tide. (left to right) The resurgent Drakes Bay elephant seal colony produced 330 pups in 2012; a cresting wave crashes onto McClures Beach; a photographer at the south end of Drakes Beach; life—such as these sea stars and sea anemones— “coats every surface” of the rocks in the tidepools at McClure’s Beach.

Investigate. McClures Beach, late spring, sunrise. Extreme low-tide pilgrimage down to sea level (still receding). Boulders heaped with gleaming kelp display the year’s phenomenal crop of macroalgae (still growing). Beyond a stony passageway lies a wet and slippery cove where the mad-laughter calls of black oystercatchers echo off the cliffs. Life coats every surface and has found a phenomenal range of ways to express the theme of “clingingto-rock-in-frothing-surf.” Seawater is essentially soup, rich in ground-up, once-living matter — detritus. If you can suck and filter sea water, or prey on something that does, or scavenge upon its remains — and resist desiccation when exposed, and tolerate wave shock — success! Competition for space is intense, and the place is a jumble of resilient anemones, crusting sponges, tough sea stars, scampering arthropods, muscled gastropods, glued-down barnacles, tied-down bivalves, and holding-fast algae. Amidst this riot of colorful lifestyles, a curiously drab blob hangs from a boulder’s underside. Though it scarcely passes for a living thing, let alone an animal, this sack-like creature is our closest relative among the invertebrates, a tunicate. It has a flexible cord of stranded nerves, precursor to a human’s spine (a fact that lends the tunicate, improbably, charisma).

Richard James, coastodian.org

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George Ward, georgeward.com

David Wimpfheimer, calnaturalist.com

Kathy Barnhart

Point Reyes National Seashore * 50th anniversary

William Dreskin, dreskinfineart.com

Rocks, reefs, bluffs, dunes, surf. How to embrace this grand coastal zone? Point Reyes’ outer edge seems surreally long relative to the size of the land it rims. The peninsula measures 28 miles from stem to stern and, at its widest — between the lighthouse and the San Andreas Fault zone — about 12 miles. Its total area is just over 110 square miles, yet it touches oceanic waters along a span of fully 63 miles, about half-and-half rocky shore and sandy beach. A saltwater margin wraps the body of the land like a living skin. Rocky bluffs, muscular, confront the ocean head-on. Between headlands there are softer recumbent landforms, hollowed by water and shaped at their edges into sand beaches. Layers of Point Reyes geology, tilted and torqued, meet the sea in a mosaic of pocket beaches, sculpted sea stacks, an improbable waterfall, and broad shale reefs. Trace the coastline here; sample its power and diversity. Remote in the northwest, Tomales Point thrusts a granitic finger in the direction of transit for this floating island . . . toward the Aleutian Trench. Just to the south, headlands are edged with a jumble of rock ocean-battered over eons. The largest lump, guano-covered Bird Rock, holds the same critical value as many an ocean isle: isolation from terrestrial predators. Nesting seabirds and resting pinnipeds love this, need it, and likewise inaccessible crannies all along this broken shore. Journey on to the Great Beach, 11 miles of unbroken, dune-

backed, high-energy surf — an expansive spectacle of driftwood, steep sand, and crashing waves that may stir reflections upon California before so many shores were leveled, groined, built upon, raked bare of any wild debris. Playground or habitat: can beaches be both? Imagine. Abbotts Lagoon, summer solstice, midmorning. The north wind is already kicking up a white haze on the horizon. Gulls loiter near the tide line, brown pelicans oscillate along the fronts of cresting waves, and the beach appears empty. Unseen, a true denizen of this landscape hunkers in a divot, protected from predators only by its appearance and behavior. The snowy plover is a tiny shorebird whose camouflage and cryptic markings enable it to vanish against sand and scattered drift. You could walk within inches and miss this creature . . . except that this male has two chicks nearby (the third likely taken by a raven). Should a dog approach the chicks — mottled fluff on long legs, now crouching perfectly still at their parent’s signal — the adult will throw himself into a distraction display worthy of an Oscar. Wings flailing as if crippled, crying as it goes, the plover lures its enemy away, then vanishes again within its terrain. While such fine adaptations have not immunized snowy plovers on the West Coast from a century of insults to their habitat, they still cling

to home in the sands of Point Reyes Beach. This parent calls his chicks to his side, then leads them on a ploverly chase for kelp flies. Kehoe, Abbotts, North Beach, South: this is genuinely wild sandy shore, pummeled by northwesterly winds and big wave trains. Winter swells may rear up a quarter-mile offshore and collapse in thunderous, foaming waterfalls. On to the lighthouse and Chimney Rock headlands. The blunt fist of outer Point Reyes juts so far into the ocean that it actually mixes things up in the California Current. A plume of localized upwelling enriches sea life in the Gulf of the Farallones, and mobile vertebrates from herring to humpbacks congregate here for the feast that ensues. Just inside the peninsula’s bent wrist, where Drakes Bay begins, northern elephant seals are multiplying. Driven close to extinction 100 years ago, this giant pinniped has made a dramatic return; several hundred now haul out at Point Reyes each winter to squabble, bond, and breed. The Drakes Bay colony alone produced 330 weaned pups in 2012. Wildlife populations, like everything oceanic, are in flux. Also in the lee of Point Reyes, sand grains too fine to settle out on the Great Beach swash into Drakes Bay on a curving back-eddy. The same curve, writ large, has sculpted cliff walls of blond shale. These are layered remains of minute marine organisms (continued on page 44)

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Bi shop Pi ne Fo re st

Renewed by Fire By David Rains Wallace

When I started visiting Point Reyes in the 1970s, the land-

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Then came the wildfire of October 1995, which consumed the vegetation from Mount Vision west to Limantour Beach with astounding thoroughness, partly because the pines burned so readily. The fire burned more patchily in the Douglas fir and hardwood forest south of Kelham Beach. Standing on a headland a few weeks after the fire and seeing almost nothing but blackened earth in every direction, I felt less inclined than before to take plants for granted. And the astounding speed with which the plants reclaimed the area over the next few years made me take them even less for granted. They began to seem less vegetative and more dynamic — almost animated. Bracken fern and coyote bush sprouted from charred bases days after the fire. Grasses and forbs like trefoil, lupine, clover, and rush-rose covered the soil by the summer. Shrubs and vines — blueblossom ceanothus, huckleberry, manroot, blackberry — shaded out many of the herbs by the summer after that. Some patches of blueblossom grew six feet tall in that time. No plant species in the post-fire Limantour area seemed more dynamic, however, than Pinus muricata. The fire killed almost all the existing pines in the burn area. Yet its heat freed countless seeds —  which can stay viable for decades within their sealed cones —  by melting the resin of the cones, thus opening the scales. Fiery updrafts sent the winged seeds showering onto the westward slopes and headlands, including many places where pines had not occurred. Pine seedlings started appearing a few months after the fire and a year later formed large, irregular patches in sites where grass, brush, or Douglas fir had seemed the permanent vegetation. © Ed Callaert, edcallaert.com

scape from Limantour Beach up to the crest of Inverness Ridge had a special appeal. I had spent my early childhood in the New England countryside in the 1940s, so vestiges of the pre-Seashore ranching days made me nostalgic — homestead sites, dammed lakes, fence lines, timothy hay growing in old fields. On the other hand, watching the wild ecosystem come back, with its brush rabbits, jackrabbits, quail, hawks, and bobcats, was endlessly fascinating. Yet I wasn’t too clear about what that wild ecosystem was. I knew that north central Point Reyes supported a forest of bishop pine, Pinus muricata, a species confined to areas of relatively dry and nutrient-poor soils along the Pacific coast. Granitic bedrock and proximity to the ocean (where the trees benefit from fog drip) make the Limantour area a good place for it. Like its close relative, Monterey pine, it is a closed cone species, the firmly attached asymmetrical cones remaining on the branches instead of opening to release their seeds and then falling off as with most pine species. Named for San Luis Obispo (“obispo” being Spanish for “bishop”), where it was first identified, bishop pine now occurs in scattered stands from Santa Barbara to Humboldt County, with an isolated population in Baja California. Fossils show that its ancestors were more widespread during drier times over the past two to five million years. Hiking the Limantour area back in the 1970s, I saw plenty of bishop pines. Yet the pines on the crest and west slopes of Inverness Ridge seemed a little too peripheral and vestigial to be considered a “bishop pine ecosystem.” Point Reyes’ main bishop pine forest occurred on the ridge’s east slopes, down to Tomales Bay. I knew places along the Inverness Ridge Trail where bishop pines were large for a species that seldom grows over 50 feet tall or lives more than a century, but few young pines grew in the understory of huckleberry and other shrubs. Although hot weather or gray squirrels can open some cones, those factors don’t release enough seeds to regenerate a pine forest, and bishop pine seedlings compete poorly with other tree species in their parents’ shade. Saplings of hardwoods like bay laurel, wax myrtle, madrone, and oak mainly grew there, and the largest pines seemed senescent. There were places on the ridge’s west slopes where small pines predominated, but these spots were shallow-soiled granitic outcrops and the little pines were dwarfs, older than they looked, growing where few other woody plants could survive. On deeper-soiled sites, Douglas fir saplings poked up here and there among grass and brush. Although the landscape changed little from year to year, the overall plant succession seemed headed toward the mixed hardwood and Douglas fir forest that grows on the sandstone and shale bedrock to the south in Point Reyes.


of forest that wasn’t burned in the Vision Fire; (left) Bishop pine saplings glow electric green around the funguscovered trunk of a pine burned in the Vision Fire (right), which consumed many of the bishop pines on the west side of Inverness Ridge. (far right) Close-

Richard Blair, RichardBlair.com

west side of Mount Vision in a pocket

growing young pines that sprouted

Those seedlings seemed different from the bishop pines I’d known before. The pre-fire trees had a lot of character, both the picturesque, umbrella-shaped large specimens and the gnarled, persistent little ones. But they were a bit drab — their needles plain green; their trunks, branches and cones grayish. The post-fire bishop pines had an electric quality, as though some plugged-in current was emanating from them, making bark and needles glow. A phenomenon in the soil may have contributed to this impression of enhanced vitality. Mycologists found that the fire stimulated a population explosion of fungi that live symbiotically on the roots of young bishop pines, which helps them absorb mineral nutrients in return for photosynthesis-produced food. Uncommon before the fire (when other fungi species performed this function for the mature trees), the young fungi — Rhizopogon and Tuber — grew abundantly from spores that probably had been resting in the soil for decades. Looking east from Limantour Beach toward Inverness Ridge in 1997, I saw few of the farmland vestiges that had made me nostalgic before the fire. The burned landscape reminded me more of Yellowstone National Park. The headlands and slopes now had a similar shaggy look, like a landscape for elk rather than cattle, and in 1998 the park service did indeed introduce some tule elk here from the Tomales Point preserve.

Julie Kitzenberger

after the fire now line the Bayview Trail.

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© Sean Arbabi / Arbabi Imagery

(above) Mature bishop pines on the

Although flames temporarily decimated vulnerable species like the mountain beaver (not a beaver but a uniquely primitive rodent species with a race endemic to Point Reyes), the post-fire landscape seemed to attract and stimulate wildlife. Butterflies and other insects thronged the burned area even before the wildflowers bloomed, as though anticipating the feast to come. One insect species, a small black moth, proved new to science. Soon after the fire, I had my first and only sighting of a golden eagle — listed as rare at Point Reyes — at the park. Near Limantour I saw the only longtailed weasel I’ve ever encountered in the park, although that may just have been due to the enhanced visibility post-fire. Meadow voles underwent one of their periodic population explosions, probably encouraged by the wealth of leguminous forbs. There was no doubt after the Vision Fire that the Limantour area is a bishop pine ecosystem, just as there was no doubt after its 1987 fires that most of Yellowstone is a lodgepole pine ecosystem, also dependent on fire for renewal. I understood now how Pinus muricata’s ancestor dominated a prehistoric landscape that included mammoths, sabertooths, and ground sloths as well as the surviving elk, deer, and mountain lions. As the last ranching era vestiges have vanished, roads revegetated, dammed lakes and hay fields reverted to marshes and riparian woodland, I’ve sometimes missed my pre-fire nostalgia, but not that much. Bishop pine forest seems right for the place, although the wildfire on which it depends for renewal can be catastrophic. Still, whether started by an illegal campfire like the Vision Fire or by more natural factors, wildfires are inevitable, like earthquakes. We have to adapt to nature’s perils in the end, like all the other organisms. The thousands of teenaged bishop pines now growing from Limantour Beach up to the Inverness Ridge Trail are vivid reminders of that fact, although the landscape doesn’t look quite as shaggy now as it did in 1997. In fact, some of it resembles a 1950s Weyerhauser tree farm ad, as the carpet of even-aged pines gives the slopes an almost industrial look. Some hikers find the close-growing young forest a bit claustrophobic and monotonous compared to the sweeping panoramas that the Bucklin and Drakes View trails offered before the fire. But time will open the forest as weaker trees die, and diversity will increase as young ferns, shrubs, and hardwoods creep into the understory, exploiting patches of sunlight that already penetrate the canopy. Above, where their needles endlessly sing in the wind, the little pines’ two-foot-long, silver and amber terminal shoots still seem to glow from within. Female cones in various stages of development — bright green new ones, year old orange ones, weathered gray ones — ring the trunks and branches, patiently awaiting the next wildfire. 

35


Dillon Beach

Tomales Bluff

N

Miles 0

Major Habitats of Point Reyes

Tomales

2

1

Bird Rock

To m ale

Includes Tomales Bay State Park, Samuel P. Taylor State Park, and portions of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area managed by Point Reyes National Seashore.

s

Po i n

t

McCl u re s Beac h

Tr a i l

Hog Island

1 Bishop pine Douglas Fir / Coast redwood / Hardwood forest

oe Beac

h

s l e m a T o

Shrublands

Laird’s Landing

2

Keh

P a c i f i c

Riparian Forest

O c e a n

Grassland / pasture Dunes

Marshall

Beach

B

Water

a

y

Wetlands

P

ie

Abbotts Lagoon

hw

er B ay

er

l

ai

Tr

k lin

te

sV

ie

w

Dr

ak

e

B uc

Es

n

r nt

ou

i

5

Tr a i l

Ester o

Lagu

na

Fr

Sa

an

Drake

nt Be a ac Ma h r

hw

a

Hig

B

a em Ol

Chimney Rock

Sir

Olema

ia

s

Bear Valley Visitor Center

s

a Be nto ac u h r

Lighthouse

Mount Wittenberg

ci

Lim

D r a k e

R o ad

Point Reyes Station

a Lim Pt Reyes Hostel

4

Lim

Drakes Head

Ro Hol ad low

a ntour

ch

l Trai

l

Tr a

il

Tr a i

e

ro

m

de

h

I nv

y Ba Sunset Be a

s nci

Sir

Schoon

e ak

Dr

s

ye Re

Fra

t

in Po

Ho

dy

Beac

y

Mud

s

Pt Reyes Hill

in m co d Gi a e t l a n W

ie

ke

y

Mount Vision

3

g e Tr a i l s Rid

rr

a Dr

Drakes Bay Oyster Co

es

y

Ken Patrick Visitor Center

Ba

Urban / disturbed

d

Inverness

Drakes Estero

Ba

s

Po i nt Tr a i l

C

re a m er

Ba

Roa

Point

ay

Bull

Be ac h

g Hi

1

rc e

ay

y Va

am lh ch Ke ea B

y lle

Recommended Hikes

1

1 Grasslands Tomales Point Trail to Lower Pierce Point Ranch site (6.4 miles out-and-back): An up-and-down trail through open grasslands and coastal scrub, offering superb vistas (fog permitting) of both Tomales Bay and the Pacific, prolific wildflowers in spring, and the best tule elk viewing in the park. 2 Outer Coast

ge

Tr a i l

Estero Trail to Sunset Beach (7.6 miles out-and-back): For all but the first mile of this long but

T rail

3 Estero

ast

cliffs to the north.

Co

to the longest uninterrupted stretch of beach at Point Reyes and some great geology exposed in the

Alamere Falls

Rid

Kehoe Beach Trail: An easy .6-mile walk from the parking area out to Kehoe Beach provides access

moderate hike, you’ll have constant and changing views out over Drakes Estero with opportunities to observe the diverse suite of birds and marine animals that spend time there, ending at a small peaceful beach on the estero.

Palomarin Field Station

4 Bishop Pine Forest Fire Ecology loop (6.5 miles): This strenuous up-and-down hike from the Muddy Hollow Trailhead takes you into the heart of the regenerating bishop pine forest, with the added reward of terrific

Bolinas Lagoon

views from the summit of Point Reyes Hill. 5 Shrublands

Bolinas

Laguna Trail to Coast Camp (4 miles out-and-back): The moderate up-then-down trail from the hostel to the coast takes you through several alluring “series” of scrub and chaparral, ending at wide-open Santa Maria Beach. (The loop option using the Coast Trail to return is unavailable as of summer 2012 due to trail closure.) For more information on these and other Point Reyes trails, go to baynature.org/park/point-reyes.

Duxbury Reef GreenInfo Network: Louis Jaffé, cartography; Megan Dreger, data processing Habitat data courtesy of Point Reyes National Seashore Copyright Bay Nature Institute


Dillon Beach

Tomales Bluff

N

Miles 0

Major Habitats of Point Reyes

Tomales

2

1

Bird Rock

To m ale

Includes Tomales Bay State Park, Samuel P. Taylor State Park, and portions of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area managed by Point Reyes National Seashore.

s

Po i n

t

McCl u re s Beac h

Tr a i l

Hog Island

1 Bishop pine Douglas Fir / Coast redwood / Hardwood forest

oe Beac

h

s l e m a T o

Shrublands

Laird’s Landing

2

Keh

P a c i f i c

Riparian Forest

O c e a n

Grassland / pasture Dunes

Marshall

Beach

B

Water

a

y

Wetlands

P

ie

Abbotts Lagoon

hw

er B ay

er

l

ai

Tr

k lin

te

sV

ie

w

Dr

ak

e

B uc

Es

n

r nt

ou

i

5

Tr a i l

Ester o

Lagu

na

Fr

Sa

an

Drake

nt Be a ac Ma h r

hw

a

Hig

B

a em Ol

Chimney Rock

Sir

Olema

ia

s

Bear Valley Visitor Center

s

a Be nto ac u h r

Lighthouse

Mount Wittenberg

ci

Lim

D r a k e

R o ad

Point Reyes Station

a Lim Pt Reyes Hostel

4

Lim

Drakes Head

Ro Hol ad low

a ntour

ch

l Trai

l

Tr a

il

Tr a i

e

ro

m

de

h

I nv

y Ba Sunset Be a

s nci

Sir

Schoon

e ak

Dr

s

ye Re

Fra

t

in Po

Ho

dy

Beac

y

Mud

s

Pt Reyes Hill

in m co d Gi a e t l a n W

ie

ke

y

Mount Vision

3

g e Tr a i l s Rid

rr

a Dr

Drakes Bay Oyster Co

es

y

Ken Patrick Visitor Center

Ba

Urban / disturbed

d

Inverness

Drakes Estero

Ba

s

Po i nt Tr a i l

C

re a m er

Ba

Roa

Point

ay

Bull

Be ac h

g Hi

1

rc e

ay

y Va

am lh ch Ke ea B

y lle

Recommended Hikes

1

1 Grasslands Tomales Point Trail to Lower Pierce Point Ranch site (6.4 miles out-and-back): An up-and-down trail through open grasslands and coastal scrub, offering superb vistas (fog permitting) of both Tomales Bay and the Pacific, prolific wildflowers in spring, and the best tule elk viewing in the park. 2 Outer Coast

ge

Tr a i l

Estero Trail to Sunset Beach (7.6 miles out-and-back): For all but the first mile of this long but

T rail

3 Estero

ast

cliffs to the north.

Co

to the longest uninterrupted stretch of beach at Point Reyes and some great geology exposed in the

Alamere Falls

Rid

Kehoe Beach Trail: An easy .6-mile walk from the parking area out to Kehoe Beach provides access

moderate hike, you’ll have constant and changing views out over Drakes Estero with opportunities to observe the diverse suite of birds and marine animals that spend time there, ending at a small peaceful beach on the estero.

Palomarin Field Station

4 Bishop Pine Forest Fire Ecology loop (6.5 miles): This strenuous up-and-down hike from the Muddy Hollow Trailhead takes you into the heart of the regenerating bishop pine forest, with the added reward of terrific

Bolinas Lagoon

views from the summit of Point Reyes Hill. 5 Shrublands

Bolinas

Laguna Trail to Coast Camp (4 miles out-and-back): The moderate up-then-down trail from the hostel to the coast takes you through several alluring “series” of scrub and chaparral, ending at wide-open Santa Maria Beach. (The loop option using the Coast Trail to return is unavailable as of summer 2012 due to trail closure.) For more information on these and other Point Reyes trails, go to baynature.org/park/point-reyes.

Duxbury Reef GreenInfo Network: Louis Jaffé, cartography; Megan Dreger, data processing Habitat data courtesy of Point Reyes National Seashore Copyright Bay Nature Institute


38

E ste ro

Fingers of the Sea By Jules Evens

Dawn. Spring tide. Fog shrouds the estuary. A shore-cast tree trunk — contorted, branching skyward — rests in the shallows. On its twisted branches roost a half-dozen cormorants, some with wings outstretched or akimbo, others standing upright, necks coiled into graceful question marks. That congregation, silhouetted by the morning light, suspended on the rising tide between the pewter sky and the mercurial bay, conjures a prehistoric diorama, a world awaiting sunlight parables. Estuaries — wetlands where seawater mixes with freshwater and the nutrients of each commingle — are crucial ecological engines, nurseries of the sea and arteries to the land. Nature’s rhythms are amplified here, not only through the recurrent seasons, but through the daily pulse of the tide’s ebb and flow, vast respiratory systems breathing in lunar time, remaking the world on each tidal cycle. The largest estuary complex encompassed by the Point Reyes peninsula, Drakes Estero, resembles a huge hand, irregularly outlined by nearly 25 miles of crenulated shoreline. The main lagoon, along with its five fingers—Barries Bay, Creamery Bay, Schooner Bay, Home Bay, and Limantour Estero — comprises 2,270 acres or about 3.6 square miles at high tide. The Drakes complex is not discrete but exists within a network of coastal wetlands — San Francisco Bay, Bolinas Lagoon, Tomales Bay, Abbotts Lagoon, the esteros San Antonio and Americano, Bodega Bay — that supports as diverse an array of estuarine organisms as any habitat on the west coast of North America. Movements of migratory fish, birds, and marine mammals between the constituents of this wetland network add to the value of each, and each to the other. These coastal treasures are connected, in turn, to others distributed up and down the Pacific Coast — from Baja’s Laguna Magdalena to the estuarine systems of the Alaska coast. Because there are no large freshwater streams feeding Drakes Estero, the name is something of a misnomer. In strictly scientific terms, it would be referred to as a “low-inflow marine lagoon” because most of the system is fed and flushed in synchrony with the daily tidal cycle, its salinities and water temperatures mirroring nearby oceanic conditions. The estero’s productivity is not fueled by the upland watershed but rather by the ocean, in the form of nutri-

(above) View from Bull Point ents that arrive on incoming tides that Trail looking south across feed the foundations of the estuary’s food Drakes Estero toward Limantour pyramid — phytoplankton, benthic algae, Spit and Drakes Bay; (left to right) Point Reyes hosts the and salt marsh vegetation. largest concentration of harbor seals Early summer, I sit on a boulder at in California; view south from the Drakes Head overlooking the confluence beach at Bull Point; eelgrass provides the only sustenance for brants of Limantour and Drakes esteros. The on their 5,000-mile migration. pulse of the rising tide floods the estuary with cold seawater. Flocks of waterbirds forage at the water’s edge, their voices amplified in the translucent marine air — wails of whimbrels, insistent tattles of willets, braying brant, mellow whistles of wigeon, and the nervous chirrups of small shorebirds. A squadron of brown pelicans, as silent as they are graceful, skims the breakers just offshore. Bat rays and leopard sharks glide in on the flood tide, their silhouettes visible in the shallow water as they forage across the flats. Eelgrass blades sway on a pulse of the tide. At the base of the chalky cliffs is a narrow cobbled beach where multitudes of invertebrates — brittle stars, anemones, barnacles, and shore crabs the size of silver dollars — are busily provisioning the estuary. All are making the world come into being, each in its own way. Another day. After an early April rain the morning sky, obscured by low cloud cover, is glazed leaden gray. The low-lying fog begins to lift and the soft geometry of the surrounding landscape is slowly unveiled. The sheltering terrain — white shale cliffs, rhythmically

It seems that intrigue and controversy have

entrepreneur, ran his schooner the Ayacucho

Drakes Bay Oyster Company (formerly John-

visited this estuary ever since the earliest

aground on the sandbar that now bears his

son’s Oyster Farm), has become embroiled

Europeans arrived. The questions surround-

name. Limantour promulgated a land scheme

in a fight with the National Park Service over

ing the landing spot of Sir Francis Drake’s

that laid claim to more than 300 square miles

efforts to extend its lease to farm oysters in

Golden Hinde, thought by many to be Drakes

before he was exposed and fled to Mexico.

the estuary beyond 2012, when Drakes Bay,

Bay, are still unresolved. In 1841, Joseph-

In recent years, a private commercial opera-

by law, becomes part of the Phillip Burton

Yves Limantour, a Breton navy captain and

tion that predates the formation of the park,

Wilderness.

b ay n at u r e

j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 2


David Wimpfheimer, calnaturalist.com

© Ed Callaert, edcallaert.com

Point Reyes National Seashore * 50th anniversary

Richard Blair, RichardBlair.com

Jules Evens

bedded marine terraces, and rumpled hills — defines the boundaries of the estuary. From Bull Point, I scan a vast flock of black brant, a rather small, handsome sea goose. This congregation is en route from its traditional wintering habitat in Baja to breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra. This gathering, several thousand strong, rafts on the still water near the mouth of Barries Bay, chattering among themselves, foraging on the submerged pastures of eelgrass. No other waterbird relies so heavily on a single native food plant. During the brants’ 5,000-mile journey, eelgrass fields provide their only sustenance. With its epic odyssey, the brant is perhaps the most emblematic estuarine ambassador, its life history figuratively tethering each estuary to another, an evolutionary product of the interrelatedness of these far-flung habitats. As the brant is the estuary’s emblematic waterbird, so is eelgrass its emblematic plant. Not a seaweed, but a true flowering plant, eelgrass needs sunlight and relatively clear, cool tidal water to thrive and fulfill its variety of ecological functions — creating habitat, providing shelter and spawning substrate to myriad species, and forming the basis of primary production. Eelgrass meadows are in slow but marked decline along the Pacific coast, so those in more remote, undisturbed, and nonurbanized estuaries like this take on added significance.

A harbor seal drifts by silently, no wake. Just above the waterline, those vitreous, obsidian eyes, unblinking, take it all in. Beneath the water, her highly light-sensitive retina captures the shades of gray and the shadows of movement that make up the submerged world of the estuary. Approaching eelgrass meadows, she notices a starry flounder scutter across the sandy bottom and disappear into the root tangles. Siphons of gaper clams retract as her shadow passes over. Other than the fish that hide in the eelgrass, the creatures that reside here are too small for the seal to eat, too numerous to know, but their names suggest their peculiar beauty—the hydroids Plumularia and Obelia, the skeleton shrimp Caprella, the sea hare Aplysia, the bizarre mantis-like Pycngonids (sea spiders), and myriad other denizens of the sea grass pastures. Our harbor seal circles the perimeter of the meadow and sees large depressions in the sandy and muddy substrate, saucershaped pits — half a foot to a foot deep, 10 or 12 feet in diameter —  excavated by the schools of bat rays that swarm the estuary in early spring and stay through summer. The rays feed mostly on bottomdwelling invertebrates they unearth from the soft sediment — crabs, clams, sea cucumbers, polychaete worms. These depressions provide habitat that attracts flounder, sand dabs, and small sharks that forage on the invertebrates exposed by the ray’s diggings. This suits

the seal just fine; she strafes several ray pits and manages to catch a starry flounder as it tries to scoot away. The seal then returns to nurse her pup on the sandbar, which is now surrounded by a huge roosting flock of American white pelicans, immaculate in the bright sun. The Point Reyes peninsula hosts the largest concentration of harbor seals in California, about 20 percent of the mainland breeding population, with the sandbars at Drakes Estero and the beach at Double Point together producing more than half of the pups born locally. (Drakes Estero is closed to boats from March 1 through June 30 to protect the seals from human disturbance during pupping season.) Across the inlet, the twisted root of a coyote bush protrudes from the layered sediment of the cliff face — the peregrine’s favored perch. There the male roosts, plucking a bufflehead as deliberately as a grandmother knitting her new grandchild’s first blanket. The duck’s feathers drift off on air currents, slowly rocking as they fall. A long-tailed swallow swoops in and catches a single white feather in its beak, lining for its nest. Three mule deer pick a path down the steep slope, sure-footed but cautious. A raven patrols the tide line for carrion—carcasses of bird or fish, sea life tangled in the tidal wrack and spools of dead eelgrass blades. The cadence of the tides, the ebbs and flows, (continued on page 44)

j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 2

b ay n at u r e

39


40

The Shrubl a nds

Taken By Surprise By Judith Lowry

The shrublands of the Point Reyes National Seashore,

b ay n at u r e

j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 2

underlying geology, the soil type, the intensity and direction of wind, its fire history, and the proximity of other vegetation types. On windswept, grazed coastal pastures at Bull Point, coyote bush grows only 15 inches high, with tiny leaves; its companion, the shrub lupine, is similarly dwarfed. The shrublands help us understand the specific consequences of the unique characteristics of each site. Let’s begin our tour on the Ridge Trail near Palomarin. This steep trail transitions back and forth from scrub to chaparral. Coyote bush on the south (scrub) side of the trail has an unexpected understory of sticky monkeyflower; the delicate, diminutive gold-back fern; Torrey’s melic grass; and coral-colored Indian paintbrush. On the north (chaparral) side is coffeeberry, along with elderberry, blueblossom, and blue bush lupine. Where the trail flattens, I discovered a new-to-me component to the coastal scrub nestled into the coyote bush: Oregon grape, with large yellow blossoms followed by showy blue berries in summer. Toward the middle of the park, Muddy Hollow shows us coyote bush dotted with cow parsnip, in full bloom in April. Other coastal scrub species — bracken fern, cucumber vine, sticky monkeyflower, native blackberry, and one lone coffeeberry — mingle with groupings of alders, elderberries, thimbleberry, and salmonberry, indicating the presence of moisture. Let’s head north to Mount Vision for a case study of how the specifics of the Vision Fire 17 years ago led to an unusual shrubland succession. One dominant shrub of the maritime chaparral here is the elegant evergreen huckleberry, a plant lovely in all seasons. Its pink bell-like flowers are set off by shiny green leaves that when young are almost coral. Small blue-black berries follow, to the joy of many. It is good friends with salal, also with bell-like pink flowers, but possessing larger, dark-blue fruit, not quite as highly valued. David Wimpfheimer, calnaturalist.com

which include the northern coastal scrub and maritime chaparral, hooked me long ago with their vibrant charms. Found on slopes within the influence of the sea, they hug the land as tightly as a knitted sweater, shrugging off the challenges of wind, salt spray, and fog. Northern coastal scrub is the shorter of the two, under eight feet, with a hardy palette of coyote bush, California sagebrush, sticky monkeyflower, lizardtail, poison oak, and others. Maritime chaparral sometimes, but not always, succeeds coastal scrub, with its assemblage of taller species such as coffeeberry, blueblossom ceanothus, silk tassel, toyon, and Pacific wax myrtle. A broad sweep of coastal scrub or chaparral across a hillside is a uniquely Californian landscape, one in which a particular set of insects and birds rejoice. Over 200 species of insects frequent coyote bush, for instance. Quail hide, nest, and loaf in the shrublands. For deer and elk, they provide important browse. The wrentit, the most sedentary bird species in North America, spends its whole life in coastal scrub, ranging only 400 meters from home. Sometimes referred to dismissively as “brush” or “scrub,” shrublands can seem an underappreciated landscape. Yet a tour of the shrublands of the Point Reyes National Seashore may leave you smitten with delight by the silken feel of California sagebrush’s fragrant gray-green leaves or the huge, pure white flower umbels of the tropical-looking cow parsnip surging sturdily out of the ground. One soon learns that it is difficult to generalize about shrublands. Because of the many combinations of species, one of my most frequent reactions while exploring them is, “What, you here?” The Manual of California Vegetation deals with the variability this way: “The coastal scrub . . . is better thought of as a ‘collection of series,’ ” a series being a repeated grouping of species, with one or several dominating. Some of these different series will become evident as we journey through the Seashore on our “shrubland tour.” Circumstances being as varied as they are at Point Reyes, I have learned never to be surprised to be surprised. Expect to see a good deal of coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis), which is the pervasive “dominant” species in northern coastal scrub at Point Reyes. Coyote bush can be a generous companion, leaving room for bunchgrass circles and places at the edge of the path for annual and perennial wildflowers like yerba buena, angelica, baby white eyes, paintbrush, and ruby chalice clarkia. Or it can be a space hog. The character it assumes, and indeed the character and makeup of shrubland in general, is the result of the particular land-use history of the site it inhabits, as well as the site’s intrinsic attributes, which include the direction it faces, the steepness of the slope, the


Ranch next to thickets of coyote bush punctuated by the large white flower umbels of cow parsnip. (left) The flowers of blueblossom ceanothus. (right) A blue bush lupine blooms in the coastal scrub along the Coast Trail near Palomarin. (far right) Spotted towhees, like this one on a coyote bush, favor the dense

James Katz, riverjourneys.com/gallery.html

One of the largest native bunchgrasses is found here too: Pacific reed grass, growing four feet tall and equally broad. Fire frequently causes plants to transition from a woody series (such as coastal scrub) to an herbaceous series (such as coastal prairie). Yet during the Vision Fire, this steep slope burned hot enough to stimulate the germination of the fire-adapted seeds of blueblossom ceanothus. The result is a conversion from the shorter coastal scrub to the taller blueblossom-dominated chaparral. Alison Forrestel, former fire ecologist for the Seashore, says that ten years after the fire, blueblosssom had increased in area by more than 4,000 percent. One consequence of this shift is an intoxicating honey-sweet fragrance filling the air in spring, accompanied by a loud bee drone directed at those same blue blossoms, and the presence of largerthan-usual numbers of the strikingly-patterned ceanothus moth, whose larval (caterpillar) stage feeds on ceanothus leaves. Farther north, we head to the Estero Trail. From the parking lot, we see coyote bush, its green tips backlit down the hill in staggered arcs. Crossing the bridge over an inlet of Home Bay, we are rewarded by an exuberant mixture on the bluff, an unexpected combination of chaparral, scrub, woodland, and prairie species,

Rick Lewis

cover provided by coastal scrub.

j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 2

b ay n at u r e

Point Reyes National Seashore * 50th anniversary

Michael Joiner

(above) Tule elk grazing near Home

which causes me to put an exclamation after each entry in my notes. Huckleberry! Hazel! Pacific wax myrtle! Willows follow small drainages down the slope. Cow parsnip edges the trail. Pacific wax myrtle, which can grow to 60 feet tall in protected places in the Seashore, here assumes the same height as its neighbors, about five feet. When I think of where I’ve seen these plants before, and how different they looked, my notion of them and their life histories is expanded. This sense of mental expansion is one of the joys of a shrubland tour. For contrast, let’s head back to the unburned southern end of the Seashore to visit PRBO Conservation Science’s Palomarin Field Station. In the late ’70s the ornithologists here began their longterm studies of the birds attracted to coastal scrub, creating a detailed and invaluable record of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. Every spring, Tom Gardali, an ecologist at PRBO, tells new interns the story of human land use around the field station. It begins with the fires set by the Coast Miwok, with varied and sophisticated intentions, such as maintaining browse for game animals or grassland for their seed harvests. Their tenure was followed by the agricultural endeavors of The Church of the Golden Rule, whose adherents farmed these marine terraces for many years. When they left in 1965, the farmed land (re)turned quickly into coastal scrub. In the late 90s, the tall and vigorous native conifer Douglas fir moved into the area, shading out and radically changing the coastal scrub study areas. The decision not to intervene seemed consistent with the goals of researchers at a scientific organization — to let nature, in the form of natural succession, take its course. Yet as Gardali puts it, “To do nothing is also a management decision.” In the recent PRBO “State of the Birds Report,” coastal scrub, along with grassland, is the plant association identified as most in decline in the Seashore, with the birds that favor it also at risk. The shift from one plant community to another, and the consequent shift in bird species, make an interesting story. Gardali suggests that a somewhat different story might view that land and also the data on 67 pairs of wrentits, collected since 1979, as a cultural resource. He recalls tapes made by Dr. Luis Baptista in 1989 of the white-crowned sparrow’s local song dialect, a particular song that may never be heard again, with the disappearance of this particular coastal scrub habitat. Our shrubland tour ends here, though many unique examples remain to be enjoyed. A multiplicity of landscape elements, such as those in the Point Reyes National Seashore, keeps the mind and heart open to complex information and to the surprise of different kinds of beauty. In a sense, diversity creates surprise; diversity is surprise. The shrublands of Point Reyes, these rich repositories of nature’s dance of call and response, are true sanctuaries of both. 

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Fidel’s Place by Greg Sarris

Three days after the Indian — I’ll call him Fidel —  avenged the assault on his wife and slayed the young rancher who’d committed the horrible deed, the posse of vigilantes pursuing him found him, not near the small settlement of Marshall, but across Tomales Bay on a ridge; and not in a thicket of coyote bush and low-growing fir where he might’ve hidden, but in the middle of an open grassland. Seemingly oblivious to the sound of approaching horses, he was standing, taking in the view, continuing to look over his shoulder to the expansive Pacific and then back across the bay to the eastern hills from which he’d come. Even when the men shouted threats, dismounted, and aimed their bayonet-clad rifles at him, he did not waver. He didn’t look as if he’d been running for days; his clothes on that fogless morning were clean and he wore a brightly colored shirt, perhaps white or scarlet, creating the impression, along with his indifference to their approach, that he actually wanted to be found, to surrender. They continued to bark orders, bayonets jutting from their rifles only feet from him, and all he did then was drop his gaze to the grass where he’d been standing, back to the open prairie, his head twisted around, even as they marched him, shackled, down to the boat that would carry him across the water to Marshall. I was 12 or thereabouts when I first heard about Fidel. A friend’s mother, I believe a descendant of Fidel, told the story. Like many Coast Miwok from Tomales Bay, my friend’s mother had moved north to Santa Rosa a couple decades before, shortly after World War II, looking for work, and she reminisced often about “the old days in Marshall” with her sisters — and for any kids who sat at her kitchen table and listened. I never liked the story. I found it moralizing, admonishing — for this man Fidel had great powers, including the ability to shape-shift into a hummingbird, which would have allowed him to escape his captors, had he not broken the tacitly understood rule against murder associated with these powers. After decades of dislocation and abuse (this story took place in the late 1860s or early 1870s), to find your wife gagged and tied under the thrall of a white man and not do anything — or to get punished for seeking justice — just didn’t seem fair. But, probably like others listening in, I subliminated the part of the story I didn’t like and focused instead on Fidel’s revenge, how he survived. “If you go to Marshall on a night when there is no fog,” my friend’s mother said, “you can sometimes see on that treeless ridge across the water an enormous green light.”

For Coast Miwok people, like all indigenous peoples of central California, the landscape was nothing less than a richly layered

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(above) From the open grasslands atop Tomales Point, Fidel could look west to the Pacific Ocean and east to Tomales Bay and the hills of West Marin. (left to right) Cow parsnip and yellow bush lupine anchor the view north to the tip of Tomales Point; three tule elk cows and a juvenile above Tomales Bay; Holstein cows have replaced elk on many of Point Reyes’ grasslands, including these from the Nunes Ranch grazing near Chimney Rock.

text, a sacred book; each ocean cove, even the smallest seemingly unassuming rock, or tract of open grassland — each feature of the natural world a mnemonic peg on which individuals could see a story connected to other stories and thus know and find themselves home. Villages, indeed entire nations, were not only associated with particular locales but actually named after them. Hence, the tribal nation that occupied most of the territory encompassing Point Reyes National Seashore called itself Olema, Coyote’s Home. A large village overlooking Drakes Bay was Pusuluma, Olivella Shell Ridge; and the open grassland ridge and shoreline just north of Laird’s Landing on Tomales Bay, where vigilantes found Fidel on that fogless summer morning, was Calupetamal, Hummingbird Coast. By the late 1860s, the landscape of the region had been greatly transformed, much of the homescape trampled, unreadable. The fir forests were logged, the waterways dammed or dredged, the herds of elk and pronghorn all but gone. Overgrazing and foreign seed in the dung of the cattle and horses combined to unsettle the grasslands, replacing the deep-rooted perennial bunchgrasses and sedges with exotic annuals like European oat grass. European settlement thus spelled dis-settlement; and for the Native the dis-settlement was both personal and historic, psychological and environmental. Members of the Olema nation, and the Guaulen just south of the Olema, were among the first Coast Miwok to be taken into the mis-

© Ed Callaert, edcallaert.com

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David Wimpfheimer, calnaturalist.com

sions, specifically into Mission Dolores in San Francisco, as early as 1818. Many survivors of the missions and the subsequent Mexican rancho period ended up on a tract of land near present-day Nicasio. When these survivors were booted out of Nicasio by Americans in the early 1860s, many went west to Tomales Bay and settled along the shore. Today, no known Coast Miwok trace their ancestry back to an Olema village; most of the mission survivors originated from eastern locales, and many were descendants of intermarriage with Spanish or Mexicans. Yet stories of the place remained; perhaps some Olema survivors had returned — even led others — to the region. And, in the old tradition, the survivors rooted themselves to a place and called themselves Tomales Bay Indians.

I saw the green light. On one of those many trips from Santa Rosa to Marshall in the middle of the night, a dozen of us packed into a car or onto a truck bed, didn’t I see the ball of green light atop the ridge across the water? “I see it,” someone always said. Maybe I didn’t see it, only know it in my imagination. The shape of the grassland ridge that rises above the bay was there, visible even in the dark night. And it is there today, the open prairie of Tomales Point, bordered by brush and sparse live oak, not unlike the grasslands elsewhere along the seashore. I’ve made several trips to this place in recent years, stood in the grass and taken in the views. Tule elk have been reintroduced to this place. But where they once roamed

visible in the forests, behind brush. Villages were always located adjacent to grasslands. In fact, controlled burning of the grasslands kept brush and encroaching trees in check. After European settlement, when Natives were forbidden to burn, much of the grassland was taken over by coyote bush and Douglas fir. Fidel, though, wasn’t hiding. What safety, then, in the open space? He could’ve run south from Marshall, not turned northward below the bay and run out onto the narrowing peninsula between ocean and bay where he would be trapped eventually. Did he simply want to go where he had views? Was there something in the place concerning his totem hummingbird that he had to reconcile before his death? Or was it a memory, certainly of his wife, the strength and delicacy of her fingers as she held a basket and seed beater while collecting seed for pinole, and, as she went along there, how the hem of her dress caught and lifted atop the grass stalk? Then Fidel is laughing at me. For, once again, frustrated by my pondering, I follow him across the water to the hanging noose, to the scaffold on which he stands, the mob below, jeering American settlers, somber Indians in the distance, and at last I understand something. It is the grassland itself, the safety it gives in memory. There is the space, yes, on which memory paints its lore. But it is in the grasses too—perennials, annuals, roots; grasses that reveal the shape of the land from time immemorial, and continue rise up there again and again. The prairie, so empty, so full. Is that what Fidel sought — that understanding in the grass? He is gone, the scaffold empty; and there on that grassland ridge, a light in the brain, he stands, laughing. “What more?” he says. “You told the story.” 

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Point Reyes National Seashore * 50th anniversary

Wyn Hoag, wild-nature.org

John W. Wall

freely, now they are contained by fences maintained for local dairy ranchers; more black-and-white Holsteins dot the peninsula’s grasslands than elk. Always the man Fidel rises up from the grass, visible before me, bright shirt, his demeanor resolved, and I am set to wonder about him, though now it’s not the green light or the drama of his last days that intrigues me, but the question regarding this place — why he stopped in the open, as if his only reason for fleeing the law was to come to this particular spot. The grasslands were always a safe haven; not only for herds of elk and pronghorn to graze, and for us to hunt, but also as refuge from the grizzlies less

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(Crowning continued from page 31) This transformation in focus was fortuitous. In October 1995, a wildfire ignited atop Mount Vision, incinerating over 12,000 acres of conifer and coastal scrub habitat. Fortunately, despite the intensity of the fire and serious damage to many homes along Inverness Ridge, no residents or park visitors died and research teams were ready to document the habitat devastation and study the remarkable recovery that followed. The next decade would witness another renewal: the purchase of the 550-acre Giacomini Dairy at the south end of Tomales Bay with the goal of restoring its historic tidal wetlands. In October 2008, after nearly a decade of negotiation and planning, the man-made levees that had been built in 1947 were breached and the tides soon reclaimed the pasturelands. Monitoring of the post-fire regeneration and the wetland restoration is ongoing, providing a landscape-scale laboratory for the study of natural succession and habitat recovery. The 50th anniversary of Point Reyes National Seashore provides not only an opportunity to consider the changes that have occurred to the peninsula to appreciate the resilience of its habitats, and to recognize its biodiversity, but also to celebrate the protection of its craggy headlands and vast ocean vistas, its sandy beaches and sheltered estuaries, its conifer-covered ridgelines and fog-shrouded coastal scrub, its wildflower-covered prairie and pastoral zone, and its silent dunes, all of which, together, make the Point Reyes peninsula among the most treasured of our Bay Area landscapes. 

“Crowning Glories: Celebrating the Landscapes of Point Reyes” is pubBayNature lished by Bay Nature, a quarterly magazine dedicated to exploring the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area. Bay Nature is a project of the Bay Nature Institute, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that also sponsors BayNature.org, a gateway to nature in the Bay Area. Purchase subscriptions to Bay Nature or additional copies of “Crowning Glories” at BayNature.org/store or by calling (888)422-9628. “Crowning Glories” was produced in collaboration with: Point Reyes National Seashore Association (PRNSA) is the primary nonprofit partner of the National Park Service at Point Reyes. PRNSA mobilizes community support for resource preservation projects within the park and provides environmental education programs that help people explore, discover, and connect with the natural world. (ptreyes.org) National Park Service/Point Reyes National Seashore manages and provides public access to 90,000 acres of national park lands on and around the Point Reyes peninsula. (nps.gov/pore) Funding for “Crowning Glories” was provided by: The JiJi Foundation supports conservation, research, and science education on environmental issues in California and Baja California. Point Reyes National Seashore Association

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that rained upon ancient seafloors. Protected bay waters are haven for grebes and scoters and loons. Willets and marbled godwits may probe wet sand to extract living nuggets of food, while troops of silvery sanderling motor back and forth in shallow waves on a blur of running legs. Limantour Spit. Coast Camp. Sculptured Beach. Coast Trail. Arch Rock. Wildcat. Alamere Falls. Palomarin Reef. And beyond — Bolinas Point, Duxbury Reef, the mouth of Bolinas Lagoon. A shoreline to occupy a lifetime. Just stand still then, at the tip of Chimney Rock, for example, and consider: This exquisite coast has always, and never, been just like now. 

(Outer Coast continued from page 33)

(Estero continued from page 39) set the adagio tempo of the estuary, a celes-

tial metronome guiding the creatures in their daily chores as each is busy renewing the world. An osprey glides by at eye level, head cocked downward as he scans the slough for jacksmelt or flounder, unconcerned by my presence, my intrusion really, into a world that will continue to come into being long after I have left.  drakes estero paddle

Sunday, Sept. 23, 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Join Bay Nature, Blue Waters Kayaking, and naturalist David Wimpfheimer for an exploration of Drakes Estero by kayak. $120/person. Reserve at 415-669-2600.

Authors: Jules Evens is a wildlife biologist specializing in wetland ecology and birds. A longtime resident of the Point Reyes area, he is the author of The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula (UC Press, 2008) and coauthor (with Rich Stallcup) of the forthcoming Coastal Birds of Northern California (UC Press, 2013). Judith Lowry is the proprietor of Larner Seeds in Bolinas, specialists in California native plants and seeds. She has published articles in numerous magazines, including Orion, Bay Nature, and Fine Gardening. She has also published two books with UC Press and is working on a new one about the edible native plants of California for Timber Press. Claire Peaslee is a naturalist, writer, editor, graphic designer, and improvisational theater artist whose home is Point Reyes. She produces the quarterly journal Observer for PRBO Conservation Science, appears sporadically on the public radio program West Coast Live with Sedge Thomson, and cultivates nature-laughter. Greg Sarris is an author, screenwriter, and college professor and the current chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria in Sonoma County. He was appointed in 2005 to the endowed chair in Native American Studies at Sonoma State University. David Rains Wallace has published many books and articles on natural history and conservation. His latest book, Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of California’s Desert (UC Press, 2011), received a 2012 Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal for Literature. Editor: David Loeb Design: Dave Bullen Cartography: Louis Jaffé, GreenInfo Network Thanks to: Deb Callahan, John Dell’Osso, Donna Faure

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Point Reyes June 2–Nov. 1: Get to know the park better through the Point Reyes Challenge, a self-paced exploration of the park open to people of all ages. Free program. More info at ptreyes.org. Sat., Sept. 1–Mon., Sept. 3, 12 noon–4 pm: “Baywood Artists Celebrate Point Reyes: 50 Years of Beauty,” an exhibit of over 100 paintings of the landscapes of Point Reyes. At the Red Barn, Bear Valley Visitor Center. Info at ptreyes.org. Sat., Sept. 8 (time TBA): 50th Anniversary rededication ceremony at Drakes Beach. Sat., Sept. 22, 2–8 pm: Dinner on the Pacific Plate: Point Reyes National Seashore Association’s annual fundraising dinner includes pre-dinner hikes, cocktail reception, gourmet trail dinner at Bear Valley grove, and a special 50th anniversary program. Info at ptreyes.org. Fri., Oct. 5–Sat., Oct. 27, 11 am–4 pm: The Baywood Artists exhibit will continue at the Bay Model, 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito. Opening reception on Friday, Oct. 5, 5­–8 pm. Sat., Oct. 13, 12 noon–4:30 pm: Bay Nature, PRNSA, and the National Park Service are offering four free author-led hikes exploring the habitats described in “Crowning Glories.” Further details and sign-up information at baynature.org/ptreyes50th (reservation required). Sat., Oct. 13, 5–7 pm: Bay Nature, PRNSA, Point Reyes Books, and the National Park Service are hosting a reception and reading with the authors of “Crowning Glories” at the Red Barn. Wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served. $25/person. For information and reservations, go to baynature.org/ptreyes50th.


Discover your agricultural roots this summer

Writers, naturalists & storytellers

presents

Since 2008, the coastal village of Point Reyes Station has been home to one of northern California’s most exceptional literary festivals. The Geography of Hope takes its name from Wallace Stegner’s famous “Wilderness Letter” in which he described wild landscapes as part of our “geography of hope.”

Will be our guides Geography of Hope 2012-13: Practicing the Wild centers around the theme of the wild - not only with respect to the natural world, but also as an inextricable part of human character and culture.

Throughout 2012 & 2013 Writers, naturalists, storytellers, artists, & educators will be our guides in this ongoing exploration of re-awakening & incorporating the wild into our contemporary lives & times.

Join MALT’s Hikes, Tours & Talks

In a series of spirited presentations, conversations, field trips, excursions, art & music events featuring David Abram, Bernie Krause, Gary Snyder, Kay Anderson, Jon Young, & many more.

To see a listing of current events, go to www.malt.org/programs Marin Agricultural Land Trust • 415.663.1158 • www.malt.org

For information on upcoming Geography of Hope events, visit ptreyesbooks.com

Join the Environmental Action Committee (EAC) of West Marin to

HELP SAVE DRAKES ESTERO Wilderness

On this momentous 50th anniversary of our National Seashore, private interests want to undo wilderness protection for Drakes Estero, the West Coast’s only congressionally designated marine wilderness area.

Point Reyes National Seashore is a public treasure... please support EAC’s tireless work to protect it! Since 1971, EAC has been the only grassroots advocacy organization focused on protecting the wildlife, wildlands and wilderness of West Marin that we all love to explore and enjoy. Please support our important work to protect and celebrate this uniquely special place and become an EAC member today!

The Ecological Heart of Point Reyes National Seashore www.savepointreyeswilderness.org

www.eacmarin.org

Photo by Robert Campbell


habitats of

the East Bay Regiona l Parks This story is part of a series exploring significant natural habitats and resources of the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), many of which are encountered in other parts of the Bay Area as well. The series is sponsored by EBRPD, which manages 65 parks, reserves, and trails covering more than 100,000 acres in Alameda and Contra Costa counties (ebparks.org).

T

aming the

Wildland Fire in the East Bay Hills No one who lived through the Oakland firestorm of 1991 will ever regard fire in quite the same way. My family was living in Piedmont at the time. I remember the look of panic on my daughter’s face when the ashes began to drift into our yard like light snow. Five friends who were evacuated from their own homes waited at ours, nervously watching the news. When the flames approached Piedmont, we packed the car with our most important belongings, anticipating evacuation. The fires stopped before we had to leave, but 12 families we knew lost their homes. The Oakland firestorm remains the most destructive fire and one of the most deadly in California history: 25 people killed, 2,900 homes and buildings destroyed. Alasdair McCondochie

(above) Firefighters working a controlled burn in Tilden Regional Park in 2012. (left) Views like this, with invasive broom and eucalyptus, native plants, and the city in the distance, encapsulate the challenge of managing East Bay wildlands. Exotic weeds both fuel and benefit from fires, igniting easily and coming in after a burn. Some native plants do better with fire; others suffer. Through it all, homes and neighborhoods have to be protected from catastrophes like the 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm (right).


Flames

Lech Naumovich, lechphoto.com

Fast-forward to 2012, a few miles from where that fire started, to the East Ridge Trail in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. Over the last year, the hikers and dog walkers who use this popular trail have watched work crews fighting fire with fire. First, the crews cleared dead brush and vines and raked them into large slash piles. Then, over the winter, firefighters burned those piles one by one, standing by with hoses until the smoke finally stopped. This fall, fire crews will take the next step: a “broadcast underburn”— a low-intensity fire under the trees in the 30-acre tract —  to clear out the remaining brush and weeds. It’s all part of an ambitious, comprehensive plan by the East Bay Regional Park District (ebrpd) to reduce the risk of an uncontrolled wildfire by getting rid of some of the fuel on its parklands. The effort, officially called the Wildfire Hazard Reduction and Resource Management Plan, is mainly geared toward public safety, but a secondary goal is to improve conditions for the plants and animals that live in the affected areas. It is a complicated plan and a challenging one to

Richard Blair, RichardBlair.com

by Wendy Tokuda

implement. The district has already faced one lawsuit (which was settled) and is still negotiating with another local group over how some of the details will play out. Several years ago, when the district took the first step in Redwood Regional Park, cutting down many of the Monterey pines and eucalyptus, there was a flurry of protest from some locals, including dog walkers and hikers. Ultimately, the district agreed to take out fewer trees than planned. This backdrop hints at some of the complexity involved when you add the human element into wildland planning. There is no telling what the reaction will be when those fire trucks roll out in the fall for the broadcast burn. . . . T HE PL AN The district’s Assistant Fire Chief John Swanson has stacks of papers and charts to explain how agency officials decided exactly what to do and where. First, planners and scientists studied 20,000 acres of district parkland, from Point Pinole in Richmond through the Oakland-Berkeley hills south to Lake Chabot, to determine which specific areas were most at risk during fire season in late summer and fall. That’s when the vegetation is driest and warm “Diablo winds” blow from the east. The plan, which runs nearly 400 pages, was released in 2009 and outlines fire j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 2

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Pete Veilleux, eastbaywilds.com

management actions for 3,000 acres of parkland. Swanson says most of the areas identified as highest risk are along the western boundaries of the parks. “That only makes sense,” he says. “Where the Diablo winds are blowing from the east toward the Bay, you would expect that a fire that started in the park would be blown by the wind into residential areas. So our best place to prevent or reduce the potential for damage would be right at the boundary with the residential areas.” The highest-risk areas were broken up into 129 smaller parcels and in each one, the district came up with an individual plan or prescription, detailing what it would do. In most, that involves clearing brush or thinning trees in strategic areas, using everything from weed whackers to tractors to goats.

. . . THE FIRE SI TE The narrow, mile-long stretch called #rd001 in Redwood Park is the only tract designated for a broadcast underburn. You wouldn’t expect that to be an easy sell near the site of the 1991 firestorm, where residents jump at the mention of fire. But most people on the East Ridge Trail seem unaware of the plan, even though the district has held public hearings. The Hills Conservation Network, which has sued to stop the district from cutting stands of eucalyptus, supports the burn. “We like the idea of reducing ground fuel rather than cutting trees,” says Peter Scott, who serves on the group’s board. “So as long as wildlife and safety considerations are addressed, Charles Kennard we are for it.” The California Native Plant Society is reserving judgment. Its official comment is that it “has been in ongoing discussions with the East Bay Regional Park District for over 20 years regarding the impacts of vegetation management on native plant resources in the parks. Given the complexity of the topic of the proposed prescribed burn at Redwood Park, cnps reluctantly declined the opportunity to comment other than to say that the confused goals of the plan make for dubious benefits to the public.” Despite that controversy, the district’s fire experts say this particular spot is a perfect place for a planned burn, partly because of its location between two wide trails accessible by fire b ay n at u r e

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One segment of Redwood Regional Park is now a nonnative Monterey pine forest, yet still hosts two rare native plants: the federally endangered pallid manzanita (above) and the Oakland star tulip (right), listed as a species of concern by the California Native Plant Society. Both plants had to be considered as the park district planned a controlled burn here.

trucks. “They already have the equipment there. They don’t have to find the fire and get there,” explains fire expert Carol Rice, “and they have access on both sides to control it.” Rice, coauthor of a book about managing fire at the edges of cities and towns, was one of the consulting scientists on ebrpd’s extensive plan to reduce wildfire risk. She points out that this tract has actually been burned several times before, during the ’70s and ’80s, so the district has on-theground experience here; in fact, Rice was on site during one of the burns as a graduate student. . . . F IR E O N T HE L AN DS CAPE Fire ecology, the study of the natural incidence of fire and its role in the environment, is becoming a more important specialty in California, and for an important reason: Fires are becoming more frequent and more destructive. Janet Upton, deputy director for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, says of the 20 largest fires (in acreage) in the state’s recorded history, more than half have occurred just since 2002. Professionals call a really huge fire a “siege” fire, as in “we’re under siege.” Upton says, “Before, maybe a firefighter would have one ‘siege’ fire in a career. Now, fire professionals have dozens of them.” Seventy percent of those siege fires happened in heavily populated counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa


Barbara, and Ventura, where housing is woven into the canyons, hills, and open spaces, like in many neighborhoods here in the Bay Area. Fire danger is especially high in dry chaparral, where fires are fast-moving and notoriously hard to stop. “These fires are inherently intense anyway,” says Neil Sugihara, fire ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service and editor of the book Fire in California’s Ecosystems. “They’re dangerous fires by nature. It’d be perfectly fine if we didn’t live here.” But of course, we do now, and in ever greater numbers. Almost all of the fires in the so-called “wildland urban interface” (wui or “wooie,” as some call it) are caused by people. Some are outright arson, but others are started inadvertently with cars, power tools, or burning leaves or debris. Either way, the bottom line is people cause fires, and there are a lot of people in California. Many Native Californian peoples used fire to reduce the buildup of brush, making it easier to hunt and clearing the way for desired plants and sprouts. But now, we have done almost the opposite — adding fuel rather than burning it away. Neil Sugihara points out we have brought in invasive, highly flammable species, “like eucalyptus, French broom, and Monterey pines, which create more fire load in the community.” The buildup of this “fire load” was also the result of policy. On federal lands, the “10 a.m. policy” became the rule in 1935: put the fire out before 10 a.m. tomorrow. Some called it a “war on fire.” But the 10 a.m. policy backfired in an unexpected and ironic way. It led to a thicker understory and more dead wood, so when fires do start, they are more intense. The policy was officially abandoned in 1978, and since then land managers have gradually begun to understand that fire has an important role in

ecosystems. On federal land, officials now have the flexibility to let some wildfires burn themselves out. But land managers can’t do that next to residential neighborhoods where lives and property are at stake, so the underbrush in the wui often builds up unabated. With California’s normal drought cycle and the prospect of climate change bringing even more drought, it’s no surprise that firefighters are concerned. “Drought-stressed trees are more susceptible to disease and fire,” says Janet Upton. . . . T H E BU R N This is where we get back to fighting fire with fire. The ebrpd plan is to conduct the prescribed ground-level burn in Redwood Regional Park this fall, right in the middle of the fire season. That may seem like an invitation for trouble, but Assistant Fire Chief Swanson says there are reasons for the timing and he is confident in the precautions being taken to prevent the flames’ escape. “That’s why we have a plan that tells us the best way to safely burn.” In March 2012, piles of slash were burned to make sure the planned broadcast burn will be a low-intensity fire. Work crews cut the lower branches of trees to prevent any flames from climbing into the canopy; and the firefighters will only burn on a day when the winds and humidity will work in their favor. In the fall, “we can burn more efficiently and with less smoke,” says Swanson. And it’s safer for wildlife: “In terms of birds and animals, basically the nesting season is over.” In designing the plan, ebrpd ecologists surveyed the area to make sure no endangered animals or plants would be negatively affected. District Stewardship Resource Analyst Jessica Sheppard

Left, an area along the East Ridge Trail in May 2011, prior to brush clearing. The righthand photo shows the same scene in April 2012. Before the clearing, poison oak, coyote bush, and other vegetation were fairly thick alongside the trail. When the crews cleared the underbrush, they also scraped the ground around logs on the ground to keep flames away during the ground fire. John Slaymaker

John Slaymaker

Another area along the East Ridge Trail shown at left in May 2011, prior to brush clearing. The righthand photo shows the same scene in April 2012. Some native grasses have thrived since the clearing, but so have some weeds.

John Slaymaker

John Slaymaker

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Lech Naumovich, lechphoto.com

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slash piles in Redwood Regional Park, weeds are sprouting prosays traps were set to determine whether the Alameda whipsnake fusely. Some of the broom sprouts look like they’re on steroids: lived there, but she wasn’t surprised that none were caught. “It’s twice as large as normal seedlings and already sprouting out not good habitat for the whipsnake,” she says. “They don’t live branches, something that usually doesn’t happen until their secin mature shaded forests.” The dusky-footed wood rat is not ond year. They are apparently benefiting from the nutrients in endangered or threatened, but all wood-rat nests in the burn area the ashes, which act like fertilizer. were located and flagged. Work crews were careful to avoid them Sheppard says the district’s plan calls for follow-up to deal and, Sheppard says, “they developed a clear buffer area around with such problems: “What we know is you can’t treat the area each one that allows them an escape route.” and then just leave. It’s a long-term commitment. Our vegetation There are two listed plants in the tract: the Oakland star tulip and integrated pest management and the pallid manzanita. The tulip will experts will go back out there, docube dormant in the fall, and ecologists ment, and then we’ll decide what to hope the pallid manzanita and other do.” The district hasn’t set a detailed natives will actually benefit from the budget for this yet, but it does have burn. maintenance funding from a 2004 The federally threatened pallid manvoter-approved bond measure and it zanita actually reappeared after the will also have some rules to follow. completion of the first installment of Federal officials require the district to the district’s fuel mitigation plan, sevmonitor all the treated parcels for 10 eral years ago, when crews cut down years, and although the specifics aren’t many of the mature eucalyptus and spelled out yet, the monitoring will Monterey pines on both sides of the include a goal to reduce noxious weeds. East Ridge Trail. A year later, two coloThe French broom may offer an nies of pallid manzanitas sprouted —  one around the single existing tree on interesting test case because there’s a lot East Ridge, and the second in an area a of it in the tract and volunteers (includquarter-mile away. Pallids are thought ing me) have been trying to control it to need fire to germinate, and it isn’t for about seven years. Sheppard says clear whether the disruption or the the fire may flush out the broom seed increased sunlight and warmth caused bank — thousands of stored seeds that can live for more than 20 years in the these plants to sprout. soil. “If the broom seed bank is flushJessica Sheppard hopes the fire will ing out, let’s document it and do somebring out more pallids and other native thing about it,” she says. If the district species as well. “It would be great to A park district crew burns slash in the Berkeley Hills. Undergrowth can effectively deal with this explosion see the oaks, bays, and madrones conwas removed mechanically, piled up, and then burned. of sprouts, it may significantly reduce tinue to grow there. If I could work the broom seed bank. But if it can’t keep up with the broom and some magic I would see coffeeberry, snowberry, flowering curthe other weeds, the result could be a mess. rant, ocean spray, and hazelnut,” all of which do exist in the area How that issue will unfold is hard to say, and Sheppard and some of which are thriving in places where the brush was emphasizes that reducing fire danger is job one: “This is not a cleared. restoration project. Our primary goal is fuels reduction. . . . We But the district’s overall goal for the tract remains a mostly all want to have a fire-safe community, and that is achieved by a nonnative ecosystem: “open Monterey pine stands with underbalance of supporting the local ecology with the ever-present story of pine litter, grassland, and scattered low shrubs and limitation of available resources.” annual grasses”— neither the pines nor the annual grasses are native. And then there are unwanted but ever-present exotic invaGiven the threat of a major fire, invasives are one risk the sives including several different kinds of thistle, poison hemlock, park district is willing to accept. As fire ecologist Carol Rice oblong spurge, and French broom. Many of the exotic perennipoints out, “Fire is the only natural disaster we can do someals and biennials have thick taproots and will easily survive a fire. thing about.” We can’t do much about earthquakes or tornadoes, “Realistically, we know that the invasives are present and will but, she says, “You can change the behavior of fire. We can make return,” Sheppard says. “Diversity is the key to adaptability and a difference before it happens.”  though we are pro-native, we recognize that our landscape includes Wendy Tokuda recently retired from nearly three decades as a TV news anchor a balance of native and nonnative vegetation.” and is now a special projects reporter at CBS-5 television. She has won multiple Achieving that balance can be difficult after a burn. Fire TV journalism awards, including a Peabody, a national Public Service Emmy, stimulates the germination of some plants, including invasives. and seven local Emmys. 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climate Change: Dispatches from the Home Front by Glen Martin

Lech Naumovich, lechphoto.com

Lessons from the Mountain: Adapting Strategies for Conservation

“Dispatches from the Home Front” is a yearlong series of articles highlighting some of the groundbreaking work being done by Bay Area institutions, agencies, and nonprofit groups to comprehend, mitigate, and adapt to the impact of climate change on Bay Area ecosystems. The series is a partnership with the Bay Area Ecosystem Climate Change Consortium (baeccc.org).

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he looming bulk of Mount Hamilton is a familiar sight to anyone driving Highway 101 through the Santa Clara Valley. At 4,196 feet, it’s the tallest peak visible from the shores of San Francisco Bay, identifiable by the stark white globes of Lick Observatory at the summit. But despite the mountain’s impressive dimensions, many Bay Area residents know little about the wildlands and working lands it encompasses. This is the most expansive wild landscape in the Bay Area: roughly 700,000 acres of public parks, university and conservancy reserves, and private ranches. It stands as a bulwark of wildness between the highly developed com-

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munities to the west and northwest and the intensively cultivated croplands of the San Joaquin Valley to the east. From atop one of the higher hills on the University of California’s Blue Oak Ranch Reserve, the story of the region comes into focus. Above, to the southeast, are the observatory buildings at the top of the peak. Almost directly below, to the east, is the dizzyingly steep canyon of Arroyo Hondo, its year-round stream cooled by a lush riparian forest. Groves of valley and blue oaks cloak the surrounding slopes, and wildlife is abundant: Mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes hunt here, and so do rarer predators such as San Joaquin kit foxes and badgers. This is essential habitat for both raptors and songbirds, and a wide array of native reptiles and amphibians are found here, including protected species such as California tiger salamanders, California red-legged frogs, and western pond turtles. San Diego State rattlesnake specialist Rulon Clark has opined that Blue Oak Ranch has the state’s densest population of northern Pacific rattlesnakes. Look west, though, and the vista is utterly, jarringly different: The sprawling high tech campuses of Silicon Valley and the


Hamilton (kneeling) works

Michael P. Hamilton

Reserve manager Michael

spires of downtown San Jose dominate the far and middle distance, and tracts of e-suburbia lap right up against Mount Hamilton’s lowest slopes. And then there’s another, less visible, factor that compounds the threat to this magnificent ecosystem: climate change. Warming global temperatures, shifting precipitation, and drier soils may well disrupt Mount Hamilton’s ecological equipoise, perhaps eliminating entire suites of native species. Mount Hamilton and the surrounding wildlands of the Diablo Range are hardly unique in this regard; around the world, most landscapes are feeling impacts from spiraling greenhouse gas emissions. But Mount Hamilton is more than just another “victim” of a warming planet: It is pointing the way to effective response strategies. Researchers are using the surrounding landscape as a living laboratory to develop methods for conserving native plants and animals in an era of profound climate change. The 4,200 foot-high summit of The mountain has been the focus of Mount Hamilton looms above Kammerer Ranch, where research- a long-term conservation project for the ers from the Nature Conservancy Nature Conservancy: Since 1997, in partare studying how to adapt consernership with agencies, landowners, and vation strategies for remaining other organizations, the conservancy has large wild landscapes—such as helped protect about 115,000 acres around the Diablo Range—in the face of the mountain and surrounding Diablo climate change. Range through land acquisitions and conservation easements. Along with the 200,000 acres protected by public agencies, these deals go a long way toward preserving an essential reservoir of biodiversity at the edge of the densely populated Bay Area. But as acknowledged in a 2011 report by Nature Conservancy researchers, the organization’s original conservation strategy of simply preserving wildlands might be insufficient to address the challenges of climate change. Properties were acquired on the assumption that resident native species would be protected in perpetuity. But what if changing climatic conditions meant that even protected landscapes were no longer suitable for those target species? Given that Mount Hamilton already was the focus of one of the organization’s most ambitious conservation

with Dr. Rulon Clark (left) and a student assistant to install a remote camera and WiFi unit as part of the large ecological sensing array at Blue Oak Ranch.

efforts, it made consummate sense to investigate the impact global warming might be having on the mountain’s ecosystems — and start figuring out what to do about it. “The original conservation plan looked at Mount Hamilton as a basically static system,” observes Sasha Gennet, the conservancy’s Central Coast ecologist. “But climate change has altered that. Natural communities are in a state of dynamic flux, increasingly so due to climate change. So conservation plans have to be flexible and aim at long-term goals that maximize the options for wild species.” That sounds straightforward enough, but the devil is most definitely in the details. It’s not just a matter of figuring out what to do for Mount Hamilton: The goal, Gennet emphasizes, is to develop streamlined, standardized protocols and methods that can be used as conservation planning guidelines for other areas threatened by climate change. “We’re realizing we need better — quicker, cheaper, more accurate —  means of assessment,” Gennet says. “That’s what’s really driving our work here. As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, we’ll need cost-effective, reliable ways to evaluate and deal with them across a variety of landscapes.” Several factors make Mount Hamilton ideal for such efforts. First, it has dramatic topographic range and variability, climbing from near sea level to more than 4,000 feet. The result is a wide variety of microhabitats, providing potential refuges for resident species that may become stressed by climate change. Then there’s UC’s Blue Oak Ranch, a 3,260-acre reserve on the northwestern flank of the mountain that draws wildland ecologists, zoologists, hydrologists, and climatologists from several campuses, including Berkeley. And finally, there’s the mountain’s proximity to Silicon Valley — something of a blessing and a curse: McMansions spawned by the valley’s digital industries sprout on the lower slopes of the range and are a direct threat to its wild systems. Yet the valley is also a source of the funding and high-tech Google Earth map of UC’s Blue Oak Ranch Reserve showing the location of 32 of the 60 sensors placed around the reserve at different elevations to continuously collect and report data on weather and soil conditions. The

Kirk Klausmeyer, The Nature Conservancy; data provided by BORR

ranch’s topographic diversity produces a wide range of such conditions.

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Jeffery T. Wilcox

Jeffery T. Wilcox

know-how helpful to such an ambitious conservation project. Currently, much of the research at Blue Oak Ranch centers on a recently installed network of wireless sensors, explains Michael Hamilton, a conservation biologist and the director of the reserve (no relation to the Presbyterian pastor Laurentine Hamilton, for whom the peak is named). Hamilton, an ebullient man with a long white ponytail, conducts his work from a refurbished barn that serves as the reserve’s workshop, kitchen, meeting room, and sleeping quarters. Picnic tables accommodate both diners and equipment repair projects — sometimes simultaneously.

(left) California tiger salamander at Barn Pond on Blue Oak Ranch. (above) Grad student researchers seining for amphibian larvae in Eagle Lake at the Nature Conservancy’s Kammerer Ranch.

“This is our standard sensor unit,” Hamilton says, picking up one of the devices; it has the dimensions of a size 10 hiking boot. “It’s solar operated and works well in very low light. Actually, it’s designed to provide agricultural data — you put it in a field, and it relays information on temperature, humidity, solar radiation. But it’s ideal for our purposes too.” He flips it over and points out several ports on the bottom of the device. “You can plug in auxiliary sensors for soil temperature and soil moisture. We even have a sensor that functions as a kind of virtual leaf — it records condensation values, giving us an idea of the rate of condensation on vegetation in the wild.” Researchers are also using small weather stations and automatic digital cameras to augment their database. Together, the

technologies are beginning to provide a detailed picture of the effects of climate change on the mountain, at a fraction of the time and cost of more traditional research methods. Hamilton logs on to his laptop and calls up a topographical rendering of Blue Oak Ranch. Sixty sensors appear on the map, strategically placed to capture the property’s range of conditions; all of them, explains Hamilton, transmit their data in real time to a central research station. He retrieves temperature information for the preceding 24-hour period on one of the sensors and displays it as a graph: The lines show a 30-degree variance between midday and nocturnal temperatures. That’s heartening, emphasizes Hamilton. “That shows the impact of the marine layer,” Hamilton says. “We like to see that. Coastal influence

K i d s T r ac k i n g C l i m at e , i n R e a l t i m e Maybe you take the bus to work or abandon the gas pedal on Bike to Work Day, but how do you know whether you and your neighbors are making a difference in your community? It’s hard to know for sure, since nearly all greenhouse gas emissions are monitored on a global scale. Now that’s changing. UC Berkeley Professor Ron Cohen is leading a team that’s designing a network of real-time regional carbon dioxide monitors called BEACON (Berkeley Atmospheric Carbon Network), and they’re testing the system at schools and with community partners all over Oakland. They’re also working with Chabot Space and Science Center on a curriculum, so students at participating schools can see the data collected by their sensors and compare carbon levels on a public website (beacon.berkeley.edu).

by Kelly Hackett

Each “node” is a roof-mounted gray utility box containing a sensor that uses infrared light to measure local carbon levels and a computer to wirelessly transmit real-time data back to the lab at Berkeley. Thanks to digital visualization tools, numerical data collected by the

Courtesy Tracy Ostrom, Skyline High School

nodes is converted into easily understood charts and maps of pollution levels. The fact that this is real data, happening now, is a key part of the project. “Real-time data has real impact. This data could be determining policy,” says Etta Heber, Chabot’s director of education. The first school to install a node was Oakland’s Skyline High School, and over the next year, the project aims to add 32 more schools and community partners. UC Berkeley graduate student Virginia Teige, who designed the nodes, has her sights on even bigger networks: “We’d ideally like to cover the whole Bay Area, but that’s a long-term goal.”

Project members from UC Berkeley and Green Energy Academy installing a BEACON carbon dioxide monitor on the roof of Skyline High.


helps mitigate climate impacts. The greater the temperature range, the more potential there is for adaptation. We still have those cooler niches here that native plants and animals can exploit.” A major goal of the work at Blue Oak Ranch is tracking ecotone shift — the movement of microhabitats across the landscape as a result of climate change. At a shallow swale about a mile from the barn, UC Berkeley ecohydrologist Sally Thompson explains how changes in water availability — along with other variables, including shifts in solar energy  — affect ecotone distribution. To the west of the swale is a slope covered with coyote bush merging with deep woodlands. To the east are sparse blue oak savannah and open grassland. The swale itself is damp and heavily thatched with grass. “Right now we’re in the aspirational stage of data collection,” explains Thompson with a laugh. “We’ve just begun, really. But we’re looking for the cutoff points for the various ecotones, and what determines them.” Water distribution isn’t strictly a matter of rainfall; as Hamilton noted, the marine layer is also a factor. Fog deposits a great amount of water on foliage, and hence plays a major role in coastal ecotone distribution. “A very good indicator for the limits of the marine layer in this part of California are the epiphytic lichens — the gray-green hanging ‘moss’ — on the oaks,” observes Thompson. “Here at Blue Oak, the cut-off point for these lichens is right around 1,800 feet. Above that, there’s little fog, and the ecotone distribution changes dramatically.” Ultimately, says Thompson, researchers will combine marine layer information from different sources: the Blue Oak Ranch sensor arrays, photo sequences from cameras mounted at Lick Observatory, Doppler radar records from the San Jose Airport, and the monitoring of lichen distribution. “The goal, of course, is to use the data to arrive at predictions of how ecotones will move under certain conditions,” says Thompson. “And from that, we hope to derive timely and effective conservation strategies for specific species.”

In fact, lessons are being applied at Mount Hamilton even as they’re learned. Gennet points to the California tiger salamander, a federally listed species that is also one of the conservancy’s six target species for its climate adaptation work. The six- to eightinch-long amphibian depends on grasslands with seasonal pools for its larval stage, and on ground squirrel burrows for use as refuges during the dry summer months. On Mount Hamilton, as in many other places in the salamander’s range, these requirements are most often met in rangeland with its attendant stock ponds. Not surprisingly, it is the need for surface water at the right temperature at just the right time of year that makes the tiger salamander most vulnerable to climate change. According to Gennet, one of the leading causes of the decline of tiger salamanders has been poor water management practices on rangelands. So gathering data on how water moves through the ecosystem — as Thompson is doing at Blue Oak Ranch — is critical to the development of climate-adapted management practices for rangeland ponds: where to site them, when to dredge them, how to address surrounding vegetation, and so forth. A serendipitous adjunct to the research at Blue Oak Ranch is the conservancy-owned Kammerer Ranch next door. Kammerer is still being grazed; Blue Oak is not. Comparing data from ponds on each will help researchers further refine their recommendations for maintaining stable California tiger salamander populations in the face of climate change. While the warming climate is requiring scientists to adjust their conservation strategies, it has not affected their basic mission. “Climate change is requiring us to approach our projects in new ways,” explains Gennet. “But the goal remains the same: preserving biodiversity and all of its benefits for both people and wildlife.”  Glen Martin, former environmental reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, writes on resource issues for many publications. His latest book, Game Changer: Animal Rights and the Fate of Africa’s Wildlife, was published by UC Press in March 2012. “Climate Change: Dispatches From the Home Front” is supported by the State Coastal Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Gas & Electric, and PRBO Conservation Science.

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perfect feeding waters in the Bay, some tern-friendly amenities installed by usfws and volunteers have helped this tern breeding colony become Northern California’s largest. Sand and gravel top the tarmac; hundreds of A-frame shelters protect birds from the sun, hawks, and falcons; plastic crow effigies deter Eleanor Briccetti

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base closed in 1997, the nesting area’s fate was up in the air along with that of the rest of the area. While authorities from a variety of jurisdictions weighed, rejected, and reconsidered plans for the site, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, Friends of the Alameda Wildlife Refuge, and Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge pushed for protecting the tern colony. As a result, the site became a de facto refuge. Each year the terns have returned, while the U.S. Navy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (usfws), Department of Veterans Affairs (va), East Bay Regional Park District, and the City of Alameda were hammering out the final plan for the land. The latest proposal seems to be one all parties can live with — including the terns. The va will build a medical complex and columbarium adjacent to the refuge, which will be managed by the park district and usfws. In the middle of the refuge is a 9.7acre tern nesting area enclosed by a cyclone fence and a shorter “chick fence” to keep the little ones safe. Along with (continued from page 8)

other avian predators; and professional trappers sometimes catch feral cats, skunks, and raccoons. The work has paid off: The nesting colony has grown from 25 pairs in 1980 to about 300 pairs today. Both parents feed anchovies, herring, and silversides from the Bay to their young, and as the season (continued on page 58)

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E

arly San Francisco writer Charles Warren Stoddard said the city’s sand “went round and round, as God probably intended it should, until a city sat upon it and kept it quiet.” As a boy in the early 1850s, he and his pals ventured out to the Cliff House by walking on top of the wooden trough that ran circuitously along cliffs above the ocean and Bay to carry water from Lobos Creek at the Presidio’s southwestern edge to what

of the miniature lupine were exploding loud enough to sound like crickets. Learn more at bit.ly/KTWflX.

W Lewis Stringer, Presidio Trust

Houses and streets have capped those sand dunes for a century, but the Presidio Trust has brought back a little of old San Francisco with a five-acre dune restoration project in the Presidio’s southwest corner. On the east side of Battery Caulfield Road, restoration workers covered an old maritime cemetery and dump site with 20,000 cubic yards of sand and planted pioneer dune plants. They have unofficially renamed the remediation site “Dead Man’s Dunes.” Across the road they dumped 30,000 cubic yards of sand and planted it with 35 species of lowgrowing dune annuals such as miniature lupine, coast gilia, and San Francisco lessingia. Lessingia was close to extinction until the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy restored the Lobos Creek Valley, the first major restoration project after the Presidio was transferred out of military jurisdiction. Today, Lobos Creek supplies the Presidio with most of its water, and the Lobos Creek lessingia number in the millions. “It’s incredible how the plants are responding,” said Presidio Trust restoration ecologist Lew Stringer on a day when the dried seeds

hile many of California’s state parks are on the chopping block, there is one state park that has the resources to amend its general plan and expand its acreage. Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (svra) in eastern Alameda County is one of eight svras that form the off-highway motor vehicle (ohv) recreation division of California State Parks and are funded by a gas tax and a portion of ohv registration fees. East of Livermore, Carnegie stretches across 1,300 acres of dry, windy hills. In 1998 the state bought an adjacent 3,000 acres, dubbed the Alameda-Tesla Expansion, to increase Carnegie’s trails and facilities. Park officials have twice tried and failed to complete environmental impact reports for the project. This time, the expansion and the associated environmental review have been folded into a larger General Plan revision, which includes a series of community meetings. “We’re excited to meet with groups and Carnegie SVRA

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was then the city — a small settlement hugging the peninsula’s northeastern shore. To return home, they navigated several square miles of sand dunes that had “neither track nor trail,” using Mount Tamalpais and Lone Mountain as landmarks until the fog rolled in.

draws to a close, the fledglings practice flying on the runway. To cool their feet they stand on the faded white lines facing the direction they’ll soon be flying, headed south with no map needed. (continued from page 56)

accommodate the widest range of recreational activities,” says park sector superintendent Joe Ramos. The only thing Carnegie can’t accommodate, he says, is a request for no motorized vehicles. But that’s exactly what the all-volunteer Friends of Tesla Park wants. This group of citizens calls (continued on page 60)

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them with an ohv trail system and not damage them,” says Garamendi, sister of u.s. Representative John Garamendi (d-ca). “Fragmentation would create unacceptable damage to this incredible parkland.” Ramos argues that ohv users are just as passionate about their form of outdoor recreation as are hikers and horseback riders, and that their activities need to be permitted but responsibly managed. “Times have changed and users are aware that they have to be environmental stewards,” he says, adding that these days ohv park managers place a greater emphasis on protecting watersheds, reducing pollution, and minimizing erosion. Follow the process and learn about upcoming meetings and comment periods at carnegiegeneralplan.com. Visit the Friends of Tesla Park at teslapark.org.

I

n early May, botanists Christopher Thayer and Heath Bartosh walked transect lines at Rockville Trails in Solano County in search of western

viburnum, a rare shrub never before documented in the county. Some theorize that viburnum is a relict of the last ice age, says Bartosh, and that the plant was widespread in lower latitudes until the glaciers retreated. “They started to wink out,” says Bartosh, “until they found a niche in deep-shaded, north-facing aspects.” Tom Engstrom

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the expansion property Tesla Park and wants the state to change the intended use of the land to a nonmotorized historic and natural resource park and preserve. Bay Nature first reported in 2001 on the reasons some consider this a poor spot for offroad vehicles: Park critics look at Carnegie as a landscape battered by hard use, and they want to keep the same fate from befalling the vibrant property next door. “Beauty and the beast,” says Friends member Celeste Garamendi, when asked to compare the two properties. The “Tesla Park” parcel is home to endangered and rare species, a historic town and mine site, wildlife corridors, and Native American artifacts. As we reported in 2001, it is the northernmost range for several reptiles, amphibians, birds, and flowers. It is also home to endangered or threatened species such as the Alameda whipsnake, red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, and San Joaquin kit fox. “The resource features are so diverse, so concentrated, that you can’t fragment (continued from page 58)

Thayer and Bartosh are assembling a Solano flora (a definitive key of this particular region’s plants) and are in year three of what they predict will be a 10-year project. It is the first for the county even though Willis Linn Jepson, the father of California botany, was born (continued on page 62) in Vacaville, and he

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they will document for the flora, and one more reason to help Solano Land Trust protect Rockville Trails. Learn more about Rockville Trails at solanolandtrust. org/SaveRTE.aspx or the flora project at solanocountyflora@gmail.com.

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ot many organizations can claim writer Wallace Stegner as their first president or point to 50 years of success in protecting open space. The Creative Commons: Zemistor/Flickr

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botanized here as a boy. Jepson wrote the first flora of California, The Manual of Flowering Plants of California, and is the namesake of the Jepson Manual, a compiled flora for California that Thayer and other botanists consider their bible. A revised Jepson, 10 years in the making, was released in January 2012 with a large number of classification changes based on genetic analysis. Thayer and Bartosh had reason to believe they would find the rare plant at Rockville Trails because it had been listed in a study for a housing development once proposed here. Bartosh says he saw the plant at the “magic hour, when shadows are long, and the landscape gets that golden feeling.� He found 20 blooming plants along the margin of an oak woodland. A viburnum specimen will be placed in the University and Jepson Herbaria of the University of California at Berkeley. “Finding and collecting western viburnum in Solano County is a significant documentation on a statewide basis for a very rare native shrub,� says Thayer. It’s also just one plant of the many that (continued from page 60)

Committee for Green Foothills can do both. When a small group of citizens on the San Francisco Peninsula came together to fight sprawl in 1962, they elected Stegner to serve as president. Two years earlier, Stegner had written

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the famous “Wilderness Letter,� in which he said that every loss of wilderness caused “a little death� in all of us. That letter helped fuel the movement to pass the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act. Many of those wilderness areas were far from Stegner’s Los Altos Hills house, but the Committee for Green Foothills has worked for decades to protect the land, coastal farms, and waterways closer to home. One of the group’s biggest victories came in a 22-year battle to compel Caltrans to build the Devil’s Slide Bypass Tunnel instead of routing that precarious section of Highway 1 through McNee Ranch State Park. The new route will open at the end of 2012. The committee’s current campaigns include keeping a watchful eye on development plans for Coyote Valley south of San Jose and stopping conversion of farmlands in the southeast quadrant of Morgan Hill. The Committee for Green Foothills is celebrating its 50th anniversary at Runnymede Sculpture Farm in Woodside on Sunday, September 23. More information at greenfoothills.org. 

 

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su pport f or bay natur e By making tax-deductible contributions above and beyond the price of a regular subscription, Friends of Bay Nature invest in the continued growth and development of Bay Nature magazine and the Bay Nature Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. Bay Nature Sustainers are businesses and organizations that make an annual tax-deductible donation of funds or in-kind services of $500 or more. (Contact david@baynature.org.) Bay Nature Funders are foundations, agencies, or institutions that have provided funding for general support, specific editorial content, or other programs over the past 12 months. (Contact david@baynature.org.) The Friends of Bay Nature list includes donations received between March 1 and June 1, 2012. Donors of $500 or more become members of the Publisher’s Circle and receive invitations to special events and outings. Call (510)528-8550 x205 or email judith@baynature.org for more information. Thank you for your interest and support!

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exploring nature with kids

The Shapes of Nature by Laure Latham spirals formed by the scales of a pinecone. The spirals express a number series called the Fibonacci sequence, which you can also see in snail shells and many other natural structures. (below) Make a simple protractor and use leaves and branches to

Laure Latham, frogmom.com

start learning angles.

Walk any Bay Area trail and your kids might marvel at the views, the wildlife, or the gurgling of a creek — but the variety of geometrical shapes? That takes a junior nerd or somebody interested in making abstract classroom ideas concrete. I took my girls and three of their friends to a park in Pacifica to help them find and understand geometric concepts in nature. Standing in a meadow by a creek, I asked them to find circles. Inspired by the book Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, we started with a tree stump. Crammed around it, we confirmed it was a circle. Then I said, “Now take 10 steps back and tell me what you see.” They yelled, “An oval!” Enter the concepts of angles and perspective. For a 3-d riff on circles, they hunted dandelions and had a blast blowing away the seeds of dandelion heads. Kids start learning shapes as soon as they notice the world around them, and there’s no better library of shapes than a wild place like a forest full of leaves, a creek full of stones, or a beach strewn with driftwood. From simple shapes to

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fractals and Fibonacci sequences, nature can be a geometry playground. In the Presidio, Katherine Coleman of Caring Creatives takes preschoolers on after-school educa-

GET OUT!

It’s easy to make up a geometry hike of your own in any natural

area (or even a city park). You can just wing it, or try making shape cards and a protractor to measure angles (see photos). For guided outings and classes, Filoli Gardens in Woodside [filoli.org, (650)364-8300] offers family-oriented nature walks and wildlife drawing classes. The University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley [botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu, (510)643-2755] has a “Math in the Garden: Patterns in Nature” program for groups and a curriculum book anyone can purchase. Caring Creatives [caringcreatives.com, (415)205-0439] runs nature-based programs for the preschool set in San Francisco’s Presidio.

Creative Commons: Andrew West/Flickr

(left) Use a marker to trace the

tional hikes. “For kids, geometry is always abstract and nature quests are a great way to look at concepts and understand sequences,” she says. Her young learners look for triangles, stars, pentagons, or hexagons in eucalyptus seed pods and then count the pods to learn numbers. Other teachers use nature’s geometry for artistic purposes. “Nature is made of patterns and geometrical shapes,” says Lee McCaffree, instructor and curriculum developer of the Filoli Botanical Art Certificate Program. Noticing shapes is the first step toward drawing those shapes and seeing other patterns too. Look at the base of a pinecone and follow each spiral from the base with a color marker. You’ll notice two sets of spirals. These spirals aren’t random. They’re determined by a number series called the Fibonacci sequence, which starts with 0 and 1, then adds the last two numbers to get the next one (0,1,1,2,3,5 . . .). The same pattern appears in sunflower heads and snail shells. Laure Latham, frogmom.com

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Families Afield


For Stanford education professor Shelley Goldman, looking for geometry in nature gets kids outdoors and helps them visualize ideas. “A lot of geometry concepts show up at school, but kids don’t go into a garden and look at a flower with a spiral,” she says. Kids can easily understand symmetry by looking at leaves or the reflection of a landscape in water, or hexagons in honeycombs and turtle shells. Any nature hike can become a geometric scavenger hunt. Back in Pacifica, I wanted to show the kids, ranging from preschool to third grade, how angles work using a tree and a branch as lines. We stepped back to where the branch and trunk roughly converged with the center of our homemade protractor and I eyeballed the angle. Voilà: 30 degrees! Unimpressed, the kids just stared — 30 degrees, so what?

m i c h a e l Q: What’s the largest underground-dwelling invertebrate in the Bay Area? How does it live? [Paul, Berkeley]

Laure Latham, frogmom.com

Ask the Naturalist

A few simple note cards turn a day at the park into a geometric scavenger hunt. See who can find circles, spheres, triangles, and more.

I had to think about everyday examples of angles. A 30-degree angle is a gentle sand dune whose sides you can slide on. A 70-degree angle is a tall boulder you can climb with your hands. A 90-degree angle is a redwood shooting straight up. A 120-degree angle is what separates each stem of a three-leaf clover. My girls have got the basic shapes down, but angles and degrees are their next frontier. Now we’re planning hikes through forests, so we can practice on trees and other branching plants. With their homemade paper protractors, they can demystify angles and get a head start on geometry class—all while getting their nature fix. 

A: Paul, that has to be the tarantula, which is about five inches across. California’s dozen or so species of “tarantulas” are in the genus Aphonopelma in a family called the Mygalomorphs. But our spiders are not the original tarantulas. That’s Lycosa tarantula, found in Europe, and named for the Italian town of Taranto, where people believed the spider’s bite was fatal. Just preceding death, the victim entered a state of melancholy called tarantism. To survive, you had to listen to music — not just any music, but the right music. The patient would be unmoved until the right tune was struck. With a wild look in his eye, he’d begin an uncontrolled frenzy, leaping about, flailing his arms and shrieking. Finally he’d drop, exhausted but cured. The patient would have recovered anyway. Tarantula venom is mild, and it’s pretty hard to get a tarantula to bite. But at least we got the tarantella dance out of it. Tarantulas may be big, but they’re far from the world’s largest land arthropod, the Southern Pacific coconut crab (up to three feet across!). That’s about the limit. As an animal with an exoskeleton gets bigger, its body mass increases more quickly than its skeleton’s strength, piling on enough weight that a larger creature couldn’t move. (Water is another story —  the largest animals with and without skeletons live in the sea.) Luckily for male tarantulas, they can move — and find mates. Normally nocturnal, they leave their burrows morning and evening each fall in search of females. A male finds a female’s burrow, then taps the entrance with his legs, enticing her to emerge. This is a dangerous operation. The female may charge him with fangs exposed. He grabs her fangs with special spurs on his front legs, then he flips her on her back, they mate, and he makes a hasty retreat to avoid getting eaten. With

e l l i s people, mating sometimes follows dinner; with spiders, it’s the reverse (though that happens less often than once thought).  Exposed to predators and the elements, male tarantulas live only a few months after reaching maturity, but females have been known to live more than 20 years. Soon she will plug her burrow and spend the winter underground. In her lair the following spring she will deposit around 500 eggs in a thick egg sac she weaves. The spiderlings hatch in about a month, hang out for a while, then leave the burrow. The best location to view this autumn phenomenon is the inner Coast Range mountains like Diablo and Hamilton. There is even a tarantula festival in Henry Coe State Park on October 6.  Send your questions to atn@baynature.org.

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Bay Nature, July-September 2012