Wednesday, July 31, 2013

2013 Mountain Fire: Utilizing a Tragic Event to Evangelize Bad Ideologically Driven Science

2013 Mountain Fire - image by Kevin Snow

The latest News on the 2013 Mountain Fire which burned 27,531 acres, was started by an electrical equipment failure on private property in the Mountain Center area and destroyed 23 structures, seven of which were homes, in the first 24 hours while also forcing the evacuation of hundreds. At its peak, the fire, fueled by extremely dry brush, hot weather and wind, blackened skies over much of the Coachella Valley and rained ashes on homes and cars, spurring health warnings due to poor air quality caused by the smoke. The New Reports that I followed throughout this fire event were quoting all the experts who were saying the fire was extremely unusual as it was behaving like a Santa Ana wind driven fire which are normally encountered in the Fall. It destroyed prime wildlife habitat which in my opinion, given Climate Change circumstances, will not recover as well as they believe it will. But then, that's just my opinion.

image: allthingshealing
But then a couple days ago, there was an article in the San Diego Union Tribune which interviewed several experts [one Media Darling in particular] who were actually celebrating that terrible wildfire in the San Jacinto Mountains in which many people lost homes and other property and almost 30,000 acres of pristine untouched wildland was destroyed in about a week. Why ? Because there is this uneducated ideologically driven mistaken idea that continual fire is needed in order for Nature's plant communities to be healthy and thrive.  Sometimes Media Press Reporters are like Vultures in a feeding frenzy especially where Richard Minnich[the article's main character] is concerned. Anytime there is a fire story, he's like a magnet. I'm sure this guy has a lot of knowledge about a lot of things, but his personal ideological bias interferes with his reality of Nature, especially here in the San Jacinto Mountains. You can't help but view his love relationship with the Press like a storytelling Shaman relating a fable to a bunch of ignorant gullible tribesman sitting around in front of a Campfire hanging on unquestionably to every word uttered. Unfortunately, most uninformed readers will accept what he states without question as well, often parroting what this authority tells them for no other reason than, well because the authority say so and well after all, he's the Authority. Many of the statements in this Union Tribune San Diego article [by Minnich in particular] celebrating the wonderful thing the Mountain Fire did for Nature, were not so much of a scientific peer-review [which in itself does not equate unquestionable TRUTH] backed explanation as much as it seems to mirror the religion, or more politely, the metaphysics of Rich Minnich's own personal commandeering of Fire Ecology Science for decades.  Of course the Press here isn't innocent here either. Quote mining and taking people out of context is common among the Press. When I lived in Anza CA, Carl Long who owned the Anza Valley Outlook would often do that to me all the time, so I finally refused to comment when asked a question. This may be the case here with some quotes of others. But also never underestimate the power a real scoop on anything controversial, especially from a sensational entertainment angle which translates as Ratings for Newspapers. It's all about the ratings baby! Here are a few of the peer-pressured as opposed to peer-reviewed storytelling comments quoted from the article 
Forest passes trial by fire  
To Richard Minnich, a fire scientist at U.C. Riverside’s Department of Earth Sciences, this disaster is a poster child for how Southern California wildfires should burn. 
“We got an old growth forest that burned slowly in good weather,” he said. “We got a fantastic housecleaning. Someone finally vacuumed the rugs.”
by JFK

Data from:
So lets analyze this statement. “We got an old growth forest that burned slowly in good weather,” ? This is a fabricated untruth. Take a look at the chart to the right here. It shows the truth of what the weather pattern was like in the beginning of this fire and how it suddenly and luckily turned against the fire. The constant News quotes by the Fire Management site team was that this fire was behaving as if there were Santa Ana winds and was characteristic of Fall weather fires. This was the complete opposite of what Minnich said. While the firefighters were doing their heroic and courageous best to fight this Mountain Fire with heavy equipment and hand to hand combat, the fire was still winning with no end in sight. They simply lucked out because of a change in weather pattern called the Summer Monsoons. This fire was reminiscent of the 1990s Bee Canyon Fire which exploded up the mountainside east of Soboba Indian Reservation in the San Jacinto Valley, burned across foothills to reach the North Fork of the San Jacinto River Canyon, finally burning up at Pine Cove's [Idyllwild/Pine Cove already evacuated] backdoor, was burning fiercely driven by western winds and in fact on that last fateful day was already a crown fire poised to consume Idyllwild, when suddenly the winds shifted from an east monsoonal flow direction which blew this fire back into itself. Same identical thing with on the Beauty Peak Fire south of Anza from the Buck Snort Mountains and this was the same exact thing with this Mountain Fire earlier this month. Had the monsoonal flow not happened, they wouldn't be high-fiving each other and celebrating what a wonderful thing this was, but rather we would be talking about the fire's unchecked progress towards Pine Cove, Idyllwild, the beautiful old growth Forest of North Fork and other possible points west towards Banning and Beaumont California. This wasn't any win win thing for anyone involved, especially Nature. Take a look at some other statements. The article spoke of a research team which was already up there doing a five-year resurvey of the historic Grinnell Transectzoologist Joseph Grinnell’s landmark 1908 study on flora and fauna of Mt. San Jacinto. Here what they said:
“That forest until last week was much denser than it was in 1908,” said Phil Unitt, the museum’s curator of birds and mammals.  Dense enough to alter fauna, said researchers, who note that three species have vanished since Grinnell’s time.  One of those is the San Bernardino flying squirrel – a big-eyed, gliding rodent which sails through open canopies. Its disappearance has been attributed to changes in food, water and climate, but Tremor thinks it may have simply lost the space to soar."
Okay, so now the Flying Squirrels probably had no place to soar because of all the dense chaparral smothering the Trees and that's why they're in decline or totally gone in some areas ?  Has anybody here reading ever hiked up into the high country of Mount San Jacinto Wilderness State Park ? Can you tell me, what does the forest cover look like up there ? Is it really as dense and crowded like Idyllwild or as the lower chaparral plant community ? Remember, they were talking about an area of mostly 7000' and up to Mount San Jacinto Peak of  10,833' (3,302 m). Now for those unfamiliar with the terrain and plant community up there, please take a look.

photo image: & Nick E.
Take a good look at the landscape to the right in the photo here of plant density of Mount San Jacinto Wilderness Park. Does this landscape look like it would impede a Flying Squirrel's soaring life style because of heavy chaparral choking  trees ? This photo angle is on Mount Jacinto  looking south towards Idyllwild's upper Fern Valley and Humber Park. Thomas Mountain is in the background and Santa Rosa on the far left side. I don't see any overgrown old growth chaparral,  do you ? The growing season is also  different up in the high country. Not like  below and so is the plant community. It  doesn't recover as quickly as it has shorter  grow season. Even the types of plants are  not the same either, but I see nothing to  impede a Flying Squirrel's heart's desire  to glide and soar as it wishes. And yet here is another gem worth mentioning. Take a look at what allowing chaparral growth to develop into old growth Elfin Forest community did for the local wildlife up there in the high country with all these years of evil fire suppression. Here's the quote:
"Another suite of animals, however, 'thrives on the thicket'. Two birds, the Hermit Thrush and Townsend’s Solitaire, weren't present when Grinnell studied the mountain, but have appeared in recent years, Unitt said. The Brown Creeper was present in Grinnell’s time but is far more numerous now."
Now I'm really puzzled, the chaparral is almost always demonized, but as a result of old growth Chaparral Elfin Forest in some areas, these birds and perhaps other wildlife have actually benefited and increased as a result of old growth Chaparral ? So was this a bad thing or a good thing then ? One of the components I rarely see mentioned or spoken about is how abundant wildlife[especially larger animals], aside from fire may have dealt a housekeeper service with keeping vegetation down and perhaps not allowing fires to no get so out of control. Also fires no doubt would have happened in Nature during those very real moderate weather events with monsoon or winter storms when conditions would have been less favourable for megafire. But again, here's another quote:
“When the fire got into the park it was for the most part not a crown fire, it was a creeping ground fire," Ken Kietzer said. "That is going to be very favorable to reducing the buildup of ground fuels and thinning out some of the smaller, shade tolerant understory, which will probably in the long run be a benefit for the park.”
The conditions up in the high country have a sparser vegetation than down below and there were no favourable moderate conditions. Even just before the fire was shut down by Nature's downpour of almost 2 inches of rain, the winds were heavy and blowing the thing in a westerly direction towards Pine Cove/Idyllwild. [see image at bottom of post]  During the fire and watching the video recordings of News Reports, and listening to the Fire Management Spokesman, they kept saying what a dangerous fire this was because it's behavior was that of an Autumn Fire when hot dry Santa Ana winds blow a fire into an unstoppable megafire. So it wasn't a good weather pattern after all. So much for that theory. Then other quotes like this one:
“Some of the fuels out there are really old and really decadent, and have changed the forest,” said Anne Poopatanapong, district biologist for the Forest Service. “So what you’re seeing is not necessarily the way the fire would naturally occur.”
image: Press Enterprise

Bald Eagle nest in dead tree snag at Big Bear Lake, CA
I've never found anything decadent or unnatural about anything old growth when it comes to forests and that includes chaparral. I'm actually surprised at this description of older dead snags being described as decadent by this biologist especially since she works with Bald Eagles. But this is not unique to her view, it has been the attitude for decades. This is reminiscent of adjectives used to describe chaparral of National forests as being boring and mundane by other Forest Service experts. In the San Jacinto mountains there is this unique official Mandate to keep the Palms to Pines Hwy - Palm Desert - Idyllwild - Beaumont looking like a Park for viewing pleasure of traveling motorists. So the Palms to Pines Road beautification mandate is more of a Public Relations issue that let's the public feel the government is doing a good job. This is why so many of the tree planting projects I remember in the almost 24 years I lived there were mainly done along both side of this specific tourist promoted highway. 
Especially in Garner Valley have they normally kept dead trees cut down. Whenever a tree dead or was sickly, some local resident there would acquire the Forest Service's wood cutting tape, mark the tree and submit a cutting permit before someone else did. The service would send out a Patrol Officer to assess the tree, determine it's wood value and charge a fee accordingly to the woodcutter. The other thing these snags provide is potential nesting sites for woodpeckers and Mountain Bluebirds, but instead, the new nesting site normal are countless nesting boxes nailed to living Jeffrey Pines. But is that really what people want to see ? As Richard Minnich says, this is all part of the new normal. Below here are some of my pictures I took in early May 2013 of Garner Valley and the ongoing mandate to physically shape this valley into their own image or not necessarily what it once was, but rather their own biased image of what it should be.

Photo: Mine
The above stripped bare landscape in and around the trees is to supposedly spare the poor trees from evil chaparral encroachment [background] which would encourage wildfire to damage the Palms to Pines P.R. image. This valley hasn't always looked like this. In fact the forest use to be solid from the valley floor all the way up to the present limited treeline up there on Thomas Mountain. Two major Human error caused brushfires started over at Santa Rosa Indian Reservation took care of all that, aside from what historic logging did in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

photo: Mine
The article's celebrating attitude of those interviewed is also reminiscent of when I lived there and the Baldy Mountain Fire took place. Of course it was an arson set fire right on Hwy 74 from near the South Fork San Jacinto River Trailhead, but it was championed as a good burn because that old growth forest and chaparral hadn't burned in over 100 years and in fact, they had tried previously to get permission for control burns before, but studies were held up for some unknown reason. Now this brings me to the article's other misquoting of history as to what old forest conditions were like and a quote from Minnich as to natural fire intervals. Remember this is only a fraction of what was reported and NOT about any mountains of the San Jacinto, let alone anywhere in Southern California:
"A 1898 timber assessment by U.S. Geological Survey surveyor John B. Leiberg stated that the absence of decayed ground cover and leaf litter in the San Jacintos makes “the occurrence of hot and lasting fires in the forest impossible.”
"Southern California forests are two to three times denser than they were then, Minnich said, and pack far more ground fuel. The thickly wooded peaks of Mt. San Jacinto hadn’t burned in 130 years he said – more than twice the site’s historic 50-year fire cycle." 
Ah yes, John B. Leiberg. Please take note that the statement about absence of decayed ground cover along with lack of leaf litter was originally NOT describing the conditions of the San Jacinto Mountains or any other So-Cal mountains, but rather northern California. And the 50 year burn cycle preached by Minnisch is also another falsehood. It's a modern day myth sprinkled with the peer-pressured pixie dust of Government Mandates for the way it ought to be. Here is what Prof. Chad Hanson had to say on this same exact study, but along with more context. First off, Chad Hanson has a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of California at Davis, with a research focus on forest and fire ecology in western U.S. conifer forests. He's the Director of the  John Muir Project (, and is a researcher in the Plant and Environmental  Sciences department at the University of California at Davis. Here's the quote from his website on the same exact John B. Leiberg study: (found here, pg, 14 & 15)
"In the late 19th century, John B. Leiberg and his team of United States Geological Survey researchers spent  several years mapping forest conditions, including fire intensity in the central and northern Sierra Nevada.  Leiberg recorded all high-intensity patches over 80 acres (32 ha) in size occurring in the previous 100 years The Myth of  “Catastrophic” Wildfire A New Ecological Paradigm of Forest Health 15 (Leiberg 1902). Using modern GIS vegetation and physiographic information, Hanson (2007a) compared fire  locations to forest type and site conditions to examine patterns of high-intensity fire events, excluding areas that  had been logged in the 19th century in order to eliminate the potentially confounding effect of logging slash  debris (branches and twigs left behind by loggers). Hanson (2007a) used areas that Leiberg had mapped as  having experienced 75-100% timber volume mortality."
Hanson (2007a) found that high-intensity fire was not rare in historic Sierra Nevada forests, as some have  assumed. Over the course of the 19th century, within Leiberg’s study area, encompassing the northern Sierra  Nevada, approximately one-fourth to one-third of middle and upper elevation westside forests burned at highintensity (75100% mortality) (Hanson 2007a). This equates to fire rotation intervals for high-intensity fire of  roughly 400 to 300 years (i.e., for a fire rotation interval of 300 years, a given area would tend to burn at high  severity once every 300 years on average). Available evidence indicates that current rates of high-intensity fire  are considerably lower than this overall (Hanson 2007a). For example, the Final EIS for the 2004 Sierra Nevada  Forest Plan Amendment indicates that, on average, there are about 15,000 acres of high-intensity fire occurring  per year in Sierra Nevada forests (entire Sierra Nevada included) (USDA 2004). Given the size of the forested  area in the Sierra Nevada, about 13 million acres (Franklin and Fites-Kaufman 1996), this equates to a highintensity fire rotation interval of more than 800 years in current forests (longer rotation intervals correspond to  less high-intensity fire).
May I suggest you click on the link and read the page 15 in it's entirety  John Muir Project Technical Report 1 • Winter 2010 •
photo: Mine

This tree is bigger than you think.
Notice the still living lower limbs ?

(click to enlarge)
There is a wealth of great material there that flatly debunks everything Minnich is saying about the nature of fire interval which being every 50 years which is a gross falsehood of the truth. While others have stipulated that 130 years is more appropriate, I disagree with that as well, but only from a forest mechanism growth perspective which takes place in stages. For example, prior to any logging anywhere, there was old growth and not just any old growth, but the kind of the mammoth order. Ever see early logging pictures where loggers are having difficulty of trying to transport these insanely enormous tree trunks on horse and wagon ? Even when local rail eventually became available, these cut up logs took up whole flatcars and I'm not talking about Redwoods here. Viktor Schauberger even mentioned this in his early 1920s logging flume he engineered in Austria with the challenges of moving and transporting logs of such great width which no longer exist today. There are some, but only in protected Parks or as I pointed out in this Post here , remnants as you can find even in Idyllwild. The intervals of fire cycle from what Hanson wrote can on a low average be between 300 to 400 years and given percentages of acreage burned, there may be some conditions where 800 years were common. This is where understanding gradual forest regeneration and plant replacement comes in. One of the things Minnich doesn't discuss is chaparral's important first phase forest establishment. And why not ? , because it's considered evil an invasive good for nothing and that fit's perfectly with government ideologically driven policies of mismanagement for which he no doubt gets much celebrity status for. He said 50 years in his research for fire intervals where fire would clean out understories leaving this Forest floor pristine and carpet swept as he put it. BTW, one more note: He said that area hadn't burned for almost 130 years and that was a flat out lie. There have been many fires in this region that formerly burned and have done so back in the 1980s. The Apache Peak fire in the 80s caused an evacuation of Trails End, Girl Scout Camp and other residents on Morris Ranch Road and there was also fire in May Valley which is back up in Apple Canyon. So his timeline here is twisted. 

photo: Mine
 I wrote a post which no one really paid attention to about the 1982 Mountain Center Fire in which I took photos this past Spring in April 2013, where not all pine trees died in the fire, other than losing their lowest limbs and other branches. See photo on the left. No replanting was done or attempt made to replant. Trees along with heavy Chaparral grew aggressively back together. The age of this regrowth  is over 30+ years old now. Take a look at my post and view all the abundance of trees which are actually five or six times as many trees before the fire. 1982 Mountain Center fire  Does anyone think or truthfully believe that if another fire went through here 2032 that ONLY the understory would be cleaned out ? The fact is, that entire vegetation cover would go. The Chaparral is still there and probably will be until forest canopy degrades it through sunlight competition and other natural normal biological degradation for another 130 years. Of course the larger animals don't exist anymore to help out and we are now in an unnatural climate change position, so the older long time natural phenomena cannot be counted on the work as once did. Still, if you look at that pine in Idyllwild, There are no char mark remnants anywhere, as well there should be had fire gone through every 50 years. I mean, at least some speck char marks. 

Another point he insisted on is that the every 50 years the fire burn kept everything looking like a Park. While I believe large valley floors like Garner Valley and Strawberry Valley [Idyllwild] probably could have been this way, it still didn't acquire such status of every 50 years of burning. The Mountain Fire burn though was not on a valley floor however, it was on steep slopes where dense growth is necessary for holding a mountain together like so much rebar in concrete. Valleys and chaparral are different. Ground is richer in nutrients, there is generally more water and graslands tend to dominate. Both of these places also were targeted by the logging companies who harvested the majority of those giant trees unchecked and without any consideration to restoration management programs. Early pioneers were greedy idiots. Now take a look at one more picture comparison. Minnich says that if Firefighters allowed  everything to go ahead and burn instead of suppressing the fires, he insists all would turn into that perfect mythical park. The problem is he is blaming the fire fighters themselves for saving people's homes and lives, in what he calls fire suppression. And to make clear here again, there was NO favourable weather happening with this Mountain Fire, not till the end after most of the damage was done. So what is a fire fighter supposed to do ? The worst hit place with loss of buildings and homes was the Pine Springs Ranch up Apple Canyon Road. I've been to this ranch and the end of the road community back in the early 1980s and it was always extremely well manicured manicured and park-like just as he insists will save things. Take a look at the historical photo of the Ranch before the fire.

by Gerry Chudleigh (2011) 
"The biggest personal loss was the house occupied by the facility manager, Fritz Wuttke, his wife and two teen sons. Their home burned to the ground with everything they owned. Other structures destroyed included the camp store, the maintenance building, and the multi-million dollar sewage treatment plant. Several other buildings were damaged, including the Town Hall and staff houses, but the largest buildings on the property – the 80-room lodge, the dining room and kitchen, the multi-purpose building and the camper cabins -- were not damaged."

Oh gee lookie there, the trees did make it, but
no such luck for those Pine Springs Ranch
buildings. But by golly, give me five, it is a
win for Nature after all.
But these above statements in that article made me think of the way science is often irresponsibly practiced and authoritatively shoved down a greenhorn Public's throat who for the most part take it all on blind faith. After all, it's peer-reviewed, it must be an absolute truth since it came from the Authorities! To me these these ideological viewpoints have all the religious dogma insistence as anything conventionally religious, but with a Scientific label. That brings me to future subject matter point and that is the all too common gut felt metaphysics involved in Science which is otherwise promoting as rock solid hard facts. As with conventional religion, it is also shackled to political ideology and personal philosophy of the leadership guru claiming to speak for the majority. Well, more on that in a future post, but I hope people here reading start using their heads. Oh and who am I ? I'm irrelevant, start paying less attention to celebrity peer-review and more time spent on observation and logical reasoning which is what the Scientific Method [far superior to peer-review which is more about peer-pressure] is all about anyways.
On a sad note, studies will be done to determine if they need to seed the area for flood and erosion control. Best thing they could do now is leave well enough alone, they've already done enough damage. Who knows what that will bring to the table.
 What Is BAER? Burned Area Emergency Reponse
BTW, here below is a Satellite image link of the last gasps of the Mountain Fire before massive wave of Thunderstorms saved the day for fire fighters and the communities threatened by it. You'll notice Palm Springs and other community lights, see the two major  Lightning Storms and what is still a pretty intense fire in the high country of the Mount San Jacinto Wilderness Park itself being now blown by very intense high east blowing winds towards the west as the smoke trail reveals. In the Satellite image, you can clearly see it headed towards Idyllwild/Pine Cove, but not before high humidity and 1.6 inches of rain fall on it.
NASA Satellite Image of Mountain Fire
(click to enlarge image) 
"Lightning storms inland of Los Angeles and San Diego as seen from the International Space Station on July 21.  The storms helped douse California’s Montain Fire. Click for a larger version. (Photo: Karen L. Nyberg/NASA)"
Further reading on Land Management & Fire Ecology

Friday, July 26, 2013

Revisiting Black Locust and their Root Networks

New Mexico Locust - Anza California
I've previously written a couple of posts on the subject of Locusts and I never seem to find areas where I am satisfied with knowing everything about them. This past Spring April/May when I last visited Southern California, I ran across some old plant friends of mine again. I went back to Anza and revisited my old New Mexico Locust woodland patch. Still thriving and in full bloom at the time. You could say this is a follow up to what I've written previously here about networking with New Mexico Locust which I'll post the link at the bottom of this post.

Photo: Mine
The lady who now owns it is quite a collector  of things. She runs an antique barn down in  Anza. But the New Mexico Locusts which  really don't get much higher than what you  see in the picture
Photo: Mine
This is a Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and it's location is on Hwy 79 north from Santa Ysabel CA and right directly across the street from the south entrance to Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation on School House  Rd. This medium sized tree has been here for ages and  was an early Landscape plant in many rural area gardens  and properties of San Diego County. On the opposite  side are some younger trees which may have germinated by seed or by underground root networks. Incredibly though, this small tree just seems like it's been here forever. Well, as far back as my memory will take me. Of course when we were all kids in the early 1960s and took drives into the San Diego backcountry I would see them everywhere. I assumed of course that they were native to the wild here. But that was not the case. One of the reasons I thought them to be native was/is there incredible ability to survive and thrive under hot and otherwise harsh conditions. In many way they are very similar to Engelmann Oak which is native and a tough survivor. At the very least in some areas, you could label them as naturalized. But not so much as a negative like an overwhelming invasive such as Tamarisk or Brazilian Pepper Tree.

Photo: Mine
I took the above pictures on my early visit into the backcountry, but below are some pictures of an area I always admired for a long row of Black Locust at the foot of a hill along Hwy 67 just north of Poway Road Jct. It is just south of an old Antique & Curio shop which burned down during the 2003 Cedar Fire and south of Mount Woodson. It's also across from an outdoor parking for hiking in an open space area directly across Hwy 67 called Iron Mountain Trail that you see above here. When I was a kid and we past by this area on weekend drives, I always thought these were some variety of Native tree. They were never watered that I knew of and this area is a hot dry harsh by garden standards climate spot. Yet they always thrived here But the Cedar Fire put a stop to that temporarily, like every other plant in it's pathway. What I was curious about how ever is what has caused the explosion of growth of far more trees than historically existing prior to fire ? Actually it is the fire ecology that was responsible for spread by underground sprout re-vegetation by extensive root networks, than by any seed dispersal spreading. And it makes more sense. I found a page from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources which considers it an invasive there. First a bit of history regarding this tree, it's origins, and native habitat. 
Black locust is native to the southern Appalachians and the  Ozarks, where it occurs on slopes and forest edges. It has  been planted in 48 states and was noted as spreading in  jack pine barrens in Michigan as early as 1888. It tolerates a  wide range of soil conditions, and spreads clonally as well as  by seed. Its dense thickets shade out native vegetation. As a legume, black locust fixes nitrogen and soil nitrogen  levels are higher under old trees. It produces more leaf litter  and that litter has much higher nitrogen concentrations  than most native tree species. Soils under black locust also  have elevated levels of phosphorus and calcium. 
 Black locust is a deciduous, medium-sized tree ranging in  height from 12-25 m (40-82 ft) and 30-60 cm (12-24 in) in  diameter, although trees in Michigan have reached 1.5 m (5  ft) in diameter. It has a narrow crown and an open, irregular  form with contorted branches. Black locust has an extensive  network of lateral roots and forms dense clones. 
Reproduction/Dispersal of Black Locust
Black locust reproduction is primarily vegetative, although  it can also reproduce by seed. It sprouts from the roots and  forms clones, particularly in sandy soils. It also sprouts easily  from stumps in response to damage.  Black locust grows rapidly and matures early; some trees  may produce seed at six years of age. Heavy seed crops occur at one or two year intervals.  The seeds have a hard, impermeable coat and require scarification to germinate. They are heavy and fall close to the  parent tree, although birds may move them over longer distances. Michigan Flora notes that seeds may remain viable in  the ground for up to 88 years. Seeds can accumulate in the  soil a density of 29,817 seeds/acre in second-growth mixed  forest. Densities are much lower in mature forest. Trees begin suckering at four or five years of age. A fibrous  network of roots connects a black locust grove, with the  oldest trees in the center and younger trees around the  periphery, In late-successional communities, black locust  becomes rare, as the species is shade-intolerant.
A more positive piece on Black Locust and Fire Ecology was from the University of Georgia
Soil nitrogen mineralisation and nitrification potentials, and soil solution chemistry were measured in Black Locust (Robinia pseudo-acacia L.), in pine-mixed hardwood stands on an early successional watershed (WS6), and in an older growth oak-hickory forest located on an adjacent, mixed hardwood watershed (WS14) at Coweeta Hydrologic laboratory, in the southern Appalachian mountains, U.S.A. Nitrification potentials were higher in black locust and pine-mixed hardwood early successional stands than in the oak-hickory forest of the older growth watershed. Ammonification rates were the main factor controlling nitrification in the early successional stands. There was no evidence of inhibition of nitrification in soils from the older growth oak-hickory forest site. 
Within the early successional watershed, black locust sites had net mineralisation and nitrification rates at least twice as high as those in the pine mixed-hardwood stands. Concentrations of exchangeable nitrate in the soil of black locust stands were higher than in pine-mixed hardwoods at 0–15 cm in March and they were also higher at 0–15, 16–30 and 31–45 cm depth in the black locust dominated sites in July. Soil solution nitrate concentrations were higher under black locust than under pine-mixed hardwoods. Areas dominated by the nitrogen fixing black locust had greater nitrogen mineralisation and nitrification rates, resulting in higher potential for leaching losses of nitrate from the soil column in the early successional watershed."
So there are pros and cons to this beautiful tree. So what's new, most of the cons are a result of human ignorance and even stupidity. The tree has potential just as any other living thing on this planet. Depending on it's location around the globe it could enhance or becoming an uncontrollable overwhelming invasive. Please take a look below at some pictures of the trees along Hwy 67 that most motorists never give a second glance at. It's a pity really. They've truly beautified this location along Hwy 67 since the early 1960s. Back then I remember viewing them along Hwy 67 just past Poway road heading further east towards Ramona when we took weekend family drives to Julian and seeing these 15 or so single large trees. But that all change dramatically after the 2003 Cedar Fire which seemingly destroyed everything. I say seemingly because appearances above ground were deceiving. It was what was happening underground that made the incredible difference which was never evident for decades until tragedy struck.

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine

The above photos show far far more young Black Locust trees, than were originally present before the fire. Rather than seed [which could also be a very real possibility], these trees most likely regenerated by vegetative sprouting from their extensive root system network infrastructure. The consequence of the 2003 Cedar Fire is now there are 10 times as many Black Locust trees [most likely clones] as previously present before the fire. Now mind you, you'll have to look closely as these little Locusts which are woven in among the Laurel Sumac, but they are everywhere far up the hill and grow right down to Hwy 67. What an incredible come back.

Below is an aerial photograph just after the 2003 Cedar fire which consumed this entire area. The Antique shop of course is obliterated and the hill where these masses of Black Locust trees are located is on the very far right where the Hay 67 ends at the photo to the right. You can also see the Iron Mountain Trail parking area across the street. Mount Woodson is over on the left, but out of the picture. They Hwy 67 on the left running towards Ramona at this point travels through some of the most beautiful old growth Oak Tree Chaparral mosaic you'll ever find and if Fire never hit this area EVER, it would still be healthy and perfect as it is.

Photo: Gary Morris
Below here is an excellent link for viewing aerial photographs of the 2003 Cedar Fire burn areas and the devastation left behind. 
Aerial Photos of Cedar Burn by Gary Morris

image: USFS
Just some closing thoughts. While the paper from Michigan was a bit negative on them as a take over invasive, I have never noticed this problem here. Mostly because I think the drier climate keeps them in check. Only this fire option has created a spread, so maybe that could be a game changer. You should know that as a tree choice, when they flower and develop those characteristic white flower clusters which look more like white Wisteria blooms, the fragrance is powerful at night and smells of Orange blossoms. My first experience with this was at Cahuilla Market. I asked the then owner, Chuck Mckee if he had orange trees up around his place and he said no it was the Locust trees. My old New Mexico Locusts in Anza I find to be far more aggressive when it comes to underground spreading and cloning even far away from the parent tree. I planted only one and there are presently about 5 or 6 main trees left with a couple of sprouts in the Redshank. While I lived there and during wetter times, there were spreading prolifically everywhere. So clearly the drier climate keeps even them in check. Amazingly however, they never have shown signs of any drought stress as far as I could tell. Especially since they are never irrigated. Their nitrogen fixing and networking abilities are well known and their ability to help Ponderosa Pine regeneration in New Mexico is well documented. It's all about knowing your native plants and being aware of their requirements and limitations and how practical landscape design and maintenance can prevent any future problems.

Photo: Mine
Black Locust at the end of the line of the #10 Trolley line at Guldheden between two apartment buildings in
 the south of Göteborg Sweden.
 the south of Göteborg Sweden. For further info on Locust potential for rebuild the land, please see the article on New Mexico Locust.
Networking with New Mexico Locust 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Historical Observations on Fire Ecology both Past through the Present

Credit: Jim Parkin, Sioux Falls

"Controlled burns are essential to promoting healthy
 pine growth and to prevent unwanted wildfires."


Grave of California Governor
Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga
Well that's not only a Theory, it's also the prevailing conventional industrial  science-based practice which has the power over and ability to trump the Science of discovery and wonder. In these modern times with so much research and information gathered on the actual way Nature really operates  and maintains itself, you'd think that this newer understanding would replace the old outdated thinking and archaic land management practices based on the Historical past's ignorance. But it hasn't. Incredibly though, not all historical figures of the past were so ignorant. Some had the ability to observe and see first hand the fallacy of just such a practice and during a time when most of us would have called such a time in California as Nature in it's perfect pristine state. The man's name was, José Joaquín de Herrera, and he was once the Spanish Governor of California and only one to my knowledge who is buried here. He listened to complaints of many who were upset by the practice by both Spanish Settlers and the Natives who were burning the landscape for no doubt the commercial ventures of the time. No doubt with any lack of controls, or as Richard Minnich calls it, "Shepherding" of the fire, these fires most likely got out of control, though maybe not in the megafire way we experience them in our modern times. It's really hard to understand fully what this Spanish Governor saw, but clearly he saw the use of fire in both domesticated land management and out in the wild as reckless and childish as he put it.
“With attention to the widespread damage which results to the public from the burning of the fields, customary up to now among both Christian and Gentile Indians in this country, whose childishness has been unduly tolerated, and as a consequence of various complaints that I have had of such abuse, I see myself required to have the foresight to prohibit for the future …. all kinds of burning, not only in the vicinity of the towns but even at the most remote distances.
Therefore I order and command all commandantes of the presidios in my charge to do their duty and watch with the greatest earnestness to take whatever measures they may consider requisite and necessary to uproot this very harmful practice of setting fire to pasture .: I order that this decision of mine be published by proclamation in the presidios as well as the missions and towns of this province which is in my charge …. with the full understanding that whatever lack of observance may be noticed in this matter [which is] of such great interest will be worthy of the most severe punishment.”
May 31, 1793 -  Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga
( Source )
The above source has some fascinating reading and observations from those early exploring pioneers who wrote about life in the past. Though in some places, it's really hard to interpret everything they observed and their take on the actual observation. Wonder what a person in modern times would think if transported back in time to that era and unshackled by the ignorance of those times[not to mention the biased assumptions of these times], and what questions do you suppose he/she would ask the Natives ?What would be the actual TRUTH of what actually happened and why back then ? Hmmmm!

What triggered my thoughts again on this subject was a post by the Chaparral Institute on Natural Fire return interval (meaning normal effect prior to Human influence) in which it was mentioned about interval time frame of fire effects as being between 30 to 130 years. He referred to the available study data in which oldest Manzanita found have averaged 130+ years. Incredibly though, I have found Manzanitas which appeared 100+ year old growth on numerous hiking and other exploration outings which had died, but without fire. [logically it's easy to tell if fire was at fault] Actually I've found not one, but several, one of which were on my property and died for no visible reasons in what appeared to be healthy pristine surroundings in wild settings. Rick Halsey calls such long held beliefs about reasons for Fire Management in which Prescribed or Control Burns are based on "conventional wisdom". There others like Jon Keeley who have also bucked a lot of conventional wisdom when it comes to outdated understanding still found in many modern day textbooks which influence policy in land management practices.

Credit: Springer

"Obligate Seeders"
But I've spent a lifetime bucking the conventional wisdom of this world's leadership, especially where it is glaringly wrong. I admit, I do question things quite a bit, but only because many times I have observed things behaving contrary to the supposed wisdom Conventional Authority[who as a general rule, resents having such authority questioned] when I've spent hours in the field over a period of 30+ years. For example, take the image from 'Springer Images' on the right. It is an example of plants said to ONLY germinate as a result of Fire and these plants are called "Obligate Seeders". Upper image: (left) serotinous cone of Pinus halepensis; (right) Pinus halepensis seedling. Lower image: Cistus creticus seedlings massively appearing on the burned ground. Yes, and as the story goes when the justification of Prescribed Burns is promoted, many plants cannot survive and/or propagate without fire and because there has been historical fire suppression, these ecosystems are in danger of going extinct otherwise. This has also been said about Tecate Cypress in a research papers and other Cypress are also "Obligate Seeders"
[PDF] A framework for assessing adaptation strategies for plants ... 
"Tecate Cypress (Cupressus forbesii) Threatened by altered fire regime ▪ Obligate seeder – time for seed bank" 
"Longer average fire return intervals better than shorter Fire Return Intervals, with 60 – 80 year average fire return intervals being optimal"
Again with Tecate Cypress, as I've written about before [see link above] and given directions where to view Tecate Cypress seedling Germination in old growth Chaparral/Tecate Cypress settings on Guatay Mountain between Pine Valley and Descanso CA right on Old U.S. Route Hwy 80. Then there was always my easiest example where I used to collect Tecate Cypress cones at Wildcat-Spring on Boulder Creek Road below the western face of Cuyamaca Peak. Cypress seedlings were always common every year when I came to collect cones off those large trees. They were not only under the canopy of the Mother Cypress Trees, but pioneering out into the Chaparral as well. Sadly, I'm afraid the 2003 Cedar Fire put an abrupt halt to all of that. I'd be curious if any reader would go there and report back to us with any photos. You can identify the spot which has a rock build square shaped reservoir for storage. Fire just is not necessary in many cases. But the strategy of explosive seed germination are necessary 'IF' a fire does plow through an area eliminating entire woodlands, but certainly not a requirement as the conventional wisdom would have you all believe.  Another study [and there are countless others like it], which I reference at the bottom of this post because it deals with research on the age of Manzanitas, also refers to Manzanitas as one of these "Obligate Seeders", which by the definition given by this paper means this:
"These species have been well-studied in CA, and their seeds have been found to require fire for germination – this germination type is called ‘obligate seeder’.  In CA and in other Mediterranean climates, shrubs with obligate seeder germination are generally unable to successfully recruit in the absence of fire."  (uuuun-believable)
*see link below @ bottom of this post)
Here is something interesting about my experience with Big Berry Manzanita. I had many on my former Anza California property. On the south side of my house I had 5 Manzanita seedlings which all sprouted during about the same time period of the year 1986 & year after 1987. They were all down slope of two very large old growth Manzanitas which were  along side the dirt road Table Mountain Trail. These five or six seedlings didn't require any fire whatsoever. In fact they all germinated in between what are commonly viewed as worthless chaparral, Chamise or Greasewood of all plants and in some of the most impossible soil you would never want to garden in. When I visited mt old place this past year, three of the Manzanita shrubs were missing and a small mobile home in it's place, but the rest were still there. This area also always had multiple Coyote scat loaded with seeds as there was always a small narrow game trail running through this location. And that is where I am glad I took these next photos I took on the South Fork San Jacinto River Canyon trail in early May 2013.

image - Mine

Somehow I knew this would come in handy. This Coyote scat (droppings) are representative of what is part of a predators diet, though most folks won't associate them with such a diet. This is a common sight on hiking trails. At different times of year you may also find Holly Leaf Cherry. In any case, the stomach acid effects can have the similar chemical trigger that may result in fire effects. But this proves that fire isn't always necessary as advertised by concerns who may have a vested interest in such mythology with great commercial potential. 

Photo: Mine
This young Manzanita was emerging from a Chamise or Greasewood as the Prescribe Burn proponents love to call it. This plant also was along the South Fork San Jacinto River Canyon Trail and about ten yards further up the trail from the Coyote scat. Now I can't say for sure that this small shrub resulted from the Coyote scat, perhaps it could have been even microbial breakdown of the hard seed shell which allowed germination. In any event, what I do know is that it wasn't the result fire as there was no recent evidence of such anywhere.  

For those local to the Anza/Aguanga area and interested in seeing for themselves, as opposed to taking my word for it, here is an easier drive to take and you may not even have to get out of your Car. Between Bautista Road and all the way west to the very foothills of Cahuilla Mountain, there are whole acreage patches of pure Manzanita chaparral stands where this fire prescription hasn't been necessary. To make things specific and easy, take Cary Road north from Highway 371 towards the area called Tripp Flatts. In fact I believe somewhere in twists and turns, Cary Rd becomes Tripp Flats Road. At a certain point you will come to a Y in the road where pavement continues to the left, but straight on to the right becomes Woodview Rd which loops around and eventually comes back to Tripp Flats Rd by means of Saddleback Road. There are other loops, but that is a main one. Keep in mind that traditionally this road has been a rough one with rocks, wash board and ruts everywhere depending on recent rains. But that's rural life in Anza. What you will notice in many of the cuts the road takes through hills is that the sloping berms created by the road cuts will have numerous small Manzanitas of varying ages and Fire was NOT a reason they germinated. Anyway, here is a map link to make it easier to find. (Map Loop link) . Even off Baustista Rd, you'll find many roads heading west towards other land development which will offer similar observations. The "Obligate Seed" anomaly may simply be viewed as  a document or file of a genetic programming to be used where immediate recovery on a grander scale is necessary to counteract the effects of a catastrophic event. If these fire events however happen to frequently, even this file or program is made worthless. 

The recent events of the major wildfire tragedies have brought out the Ideologue boys in pimping Control or Prescribed Burn philosophies which are nothing more than Government looking like they are doing something good in the eyes of their citizens, despite the evidence that Nature doesn't work this way. Hence, justification for prescribed burns are said to be necessary because the Native Americans did it. Or the flawed argument that chaparral needs a regular healthy burn because it can't germinate without it. Both these flawed reasonings are parroted by countless ignorant citizens on all manner of discussion boards because they are conditioned to letting the Authorities do their Natural World thinking and research for them as opposed to actually getting off backsides out and out into the field and finding out for themselves. Such strategy by Authorities is nothing new. When Christendom ruled europe for Centuries with an iron fist this was done very effectively for Centuries by indoctrinating parishioners not to question their Authority. So it should not come as a surprise when today's Secular Authorities employ the same information control tactic. You've heard the expression, "If it's not broken why fix it" ? Rulership never changes, just the change of garb. Especially with this latest "Mountain fire" in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs California have many well known ignorant statements been made by people promoting themselves as the infallible authority. Two main ones come to mind. Recent comments by supposed Fire Ecologist Richard Minnich who says old growth vegetation is a bad thing and Politician Harry Reed who had this to say below:
"Reid said the government should be spending “a lot more” on fire prevention, echoing elected officials who say the Forest Service should move more aggressively to remove brush and undergrowth that turn small fires into huge ones."

Image - Mine

Cuyamaca Cypress & it's
Chamise Nurse Plant
The sad thing is, the average person will parrot such men or woman in charge of fire policy. Chaparral and old growth Forests are not the problem. Human error however is the issue. The challenge for these Politicians and others in authority, is how do you control human behavior ? Answer- you can't. Aside from creating some newer extremist type of Laws hindering more freedom and strict enforcement of penalties by means of a Scientific Socialism type of Gestapo police state action, quite simply you still won't control people's actions, whether deliberate or the flaws of their own stupid decision making. Education certainly would be beneficial, but let's be honest here, this freedom mentality is a tough nut to crack and rein in. Teaching people that Freedom has limits is not what the majority wants to hear, even though they know this to be true. You all know what I'm talking about, just flick on the Nightly News. For some people like the Minnichs, Bonnicksens or the Reids of our world, they will always cite that often misused and abused term "peer-review". Ever notice that some intellectuals [at least the ones that promote themselves as such] seem to be incapable of believing in something unless it's been "peer-reviewed". It's like a truth of a matter cannot be correctly established unless it has been 'peer-reviewed'. But is there really any guarantee that 'peer-review' translates as 'Truth' ? While peer-review is a wonderful concept and should be used for the purpose intended, it is no guarantee of truth of a matter. Some people use it in discussions and debates as a kind of 'magic pixie dust' for settling an argument on Public Forums.The bottom line here is, you should always test things out for yourself. If you believe you cannot trust something unless it has been peer-reviewed, then you seriously need deprogramming. The obsession with "peer-review" often champions another term called "political correctness, when what is really needed is "common sense." If "peer-review" was actually the silver bullet for success,
"The gullible believe anything they’re told; the prudent sift and weigh every word. Foolish dreamers live in a world of illusion; wise realists plant their feet on the ground."

Don't be gullible and taken in by the Expert's bluff. When you here the News Reports and the Politicking going on, take everything with a grain of Salt. If you are a private citizen property owner, don't wait and count on the leadership to say and do the right thing before you act on your own land. Historical precedents tell us it'll be a long ride before that happens and the Earth and Natural World under the present system doesn't have the luxury of time.

Interesting Reading References:

From the Chaparral Institute's Fire and Science page:
"The Basics on Fire in the Chaparral"
"Are Leading Fire Ecologists Really Lying?"