Sunday, February 17, 2013

Little Did I Know at the Time, Parry Pinyon was only the Beginning!

photo by Calphotos Berkeley
Many people living in the San Jacinto Mountains will recognize this beautiful blue-green dense foliage belonging to the Parry Pinyon (Pinus quadrafolia) pine tree. The photo evidently being taken in the area known locally as Garner Valley where the iconic Big Silver Sagebrush and Jeffrey Pine are just in the background. In fact it is this sagebrush, Greasewood, Redshank and other chaparral that are selected as a nut hoarding stash by Scrub Jays which will provide all the early nursing  requirements for these delicate seedlings to reach their adolescent stage of independence. Every year during late August/September, the cones would ripen and Scrub Jays or Pinyon Jays as they are sometimes called, will harvest almost every one of the pinyon nuts they can possibly get their beaks on. Then they hoard them under there favourite chaparral cached location of which there will be many. Every Spring after the next seasons rainfall period is just finishing up, these seedlings will reveal themselves, often times pushing up through snow on the ground if it is present. 

Image -
Interestingly, I done many experiments with numerous pine seeds, including Torrey Pines on my property in Anza CA. I was interested in just when seedlings would push up through the ground. Clearly during the frigid months, one would naturally expect some sort of dormancy period. I would out plant them in the the ground in late October, right as the rainy season started up in the mountains. To protect them from any predators, I'd use chicken wire screening and actually mark where each seed was placed. For me it wasn't a matter of waiting for actual breaking of the soil crust emergence of the seedling, but rather I wanted to see the exact timing of when the taproot growth broke through the nut shell. So periodically I would gently brush away soil and view the nut. Most of the actual soil breaking like the above photo and emergence of the the first immature needles would actually happen around early February, but the actual cracking open of the pine nut at it's seam with taproot tip beginning to protrude truthfully took place close to the middle of December. 

Photo courtesy Jeffry Mitton. University of Colorado
A decline in the reproduction of pinyon pine nuts in the Southwest in recent decades could effect a number of different bird and mammal species, including the Crossbill seen here feeding on a pinyon pine nut.
This was true of all the various pine species nuts I planted in the ground, including the Torrey Pines. If you ponder it for a moment, it's actually a great strategy. Seedlings have to contend with soil pathogens and allelopathic chemical properties of a shrub's dander or mulch underneath the plant selected by the Scrub Jay. For the most part, even these microbes are dormant, so the emerging root has a chance to develop a healthy networked infrastructure interconnected hopefully to the mycorrhizal fungal grid which will provide a healthy antibiotics against pathogens before the actual green needles part of the plant actually pops up through the soil into the light and before soil becomes warmer favouring the awoken activity of long dormant pathogens. I discovered that the soil temperature didn't require warmth for germination, much like I discovered with my Tecate Seed germination project , which I performed in the refrigerator on a bottom shelf basically in the dark for three months, at which time the seed germ produced the swelling of the white taproot bursting through it's membrane. But each year I always had an abundant supply of newer Parry Pinyon seedlings popping up all over my almost three acres. Funny thing was, I had no mature Parry Pinyons on my actual property. But a few surrounding properties did have some bigger older nut producing trees. Scrub Jays had brought them from very far away. It truly illustrates how a habitat can spread and in the case of these heavy nuts incapable of promoting themselves in ever expanding landscapes, the Scrub Jay gets the credit. I'll have more photos of Western Scrub Jay roles in and around Chaparral when I come back there for a couple of months. I'll have another post associated with this on Western Scrub Jays later. 

Image - Penniless Parenting

Now getting to the point of this post, not everything is a rosy picture for not only the Parry Pinyon. Same with most all Pinyons and most likely other southwestern pine species. From 1999 to 2003 I tried to go out at the right time and collect Parry Pinyon pine nut seeds for Mike Evans of Tree of Life Nursery. During that four year period I could fine no viable pine nut. There were thousands of cones on all the trees combined and they were loaded with the pine nuts. But the nuts were hollow and empty inside like the photo you see above. This was odd and Mike said it was common that trees wouldn't produce cones if not enough rain or drought. But that didn't make any sense. These trees actually produced hundreds of cones and have always thrived in drought dry type environments anyway. Something else caused this as yet unknown phenomena. Furthermore, this was not a drought type situation where trees were holding back through an adaptation strategy called  'Phenotypic Plasticity'  responding to environmental cues by not producing any cones to conserve the health of the rest of the tree. At Burnt Valley in Anza California there were thousands of them and all with empty hollow pine nut shells. Of course this doesn't mean that somewhere on the San Jacinto Mountains there weren't any cones with viable nuts. But I went to over a dozen key areas and sampled everything around and found nothing. Thing only thing I received is hands full of pitch. All pinyon cones collectors will know what I mean. But this was also year after year for four years in a row before leaving to come here to Sweden. Going to the Forestry office and other individuals with supposedly expert background produced nothing. So I forgot about it. Well, until now. Now the news lately for Pinyon Pine & Juniper Woodland ecosystems isn't looking good and to be honest, I don't see a way out for them any longer. At least under the present System as it's headed. 

Image - Craig Allen - USGS
USGS: "Tree Mortality Patterns and Processes"
Dead ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), Jemez Mts, NM. November, 2013. But why even address this news when you can further read about it here if you've got the patience and interest:
And a study from 2005 from the University of Arizona which previous mentioned the massive die offs and underlying causes.
But now from the University of Colorado Boulder, comes news of Pinyon Pines being no longer able to reproduce as a result of severe climate change. If high Desert ecosystems like this can't make it then something is clearly wrong and yet there are still millions of deniers with their collective heads in the sand on this one still. And this isn't even from the evil climate scientists. Here's the link with a few important quotes below.
Southwest regional warming likely cause of pinyon pine cone decline, says CU study
"Creeping climate change in the Southwest appears to be having a negative effect on pinyon pine reproduction, a finding with implications for wildlife species sharing the same woodland ecosystems, says a University of Colorado Boulder-led study."
"The new study showed that pinyon pine seed cone production declined by an average of about 40 percent at nine study sites in New Mexico and northwestern Oklahoma over the past four decades, said CU-Boulder doctoral student Miranda Redmond, who led the study. The biggest declines in pinyon pine seed cone reproduction were at the higher elevation research sites experiencing more dramatic warming relative to lower elevations, said Redmond of CU’s ecology and evolutionary biology department."
"The cones in which the pinyon seeds are produced are initiated two years prior to seed maturity, and research suggests the environmental stimulus for cone initiation is unseasonably low temperatures during the late summer, said Redmond. Between 1969 and 2009, unseasonably low temperatures in late summer decreased in the study areas, likely inhibiting cone initiation and development."
"The study is one of the first to examine the impact of climate change on tree species like pinyon pines that, instead of reproducing annually, shed vast quantities of cones every few years during synchronous, episodic occurrences known as “masting” events. Redmond said such masting in the pinyon pine appears to occur every three to seven years, resulting in massive “bumper crops” of cones covering the ground." 
Then of course there is the ever present domino effect on all other organisms like the Crossbill (even scrub jays) feeding off the pinyon nuts in the picture towards the top of this post.
"Wildlife biologists say pinyon-juniper woodlands are popular with scores of bird and mammal species ranging from black-chinned hummingbirds to black bears. A 2007 study by researchers at the University of Northern Arizona estimated that 150 Clark’s Nutcrackers cached roughly 5 million pinyon pine nuts in a single season, benefiting not only the birds themselves but also the pines whose nuts were distributed more widely for possible germination." 
"Since each year in the life of a pinyon pine tree is marked by a “whorl” -- a single circle of branches extending around a tree trunk -- the researchers were able to bracket pinyon pine reproductive activity in the nine study areas for the 1969-1978 decade and 2003-2012 decade, which were then compared."
"Pinyon pines take three growing seasons, or about 26 months, to produce mature cones from the time of cone initiation.  Low elevation conifers including pinyon pines grow in water-limited environments and have been shown to have higher cone output during cool and/or wet summers, said Redmond. In addition to the climate-warming trend under way in the Southwest, the 2002-03 drought caused significant mortality in pinyon pine forests", Redmond said. 
So even wildlife like Scrub Jays dependent on the Nut production of Pinyons will suffer. No argument there. But so will other organisms dependent on their busy work load and hoarding instinctiveness for which they are known for. It's almost depressing to think I will come over and photograph & document everything that's going wrong and point out clues to what that ecosystem once was. I truly don't even know if there is anything positive to detect & report on. One thing is for certain, the Spring will not tell me if their is a good crop of Parry Pinyon nuts last season, but what will tell me is if there are numerous young Parry Pinyon pine seedlings throughout the region as was always the case. On my own small property alone there was always close to a little over 100 new seedlings and keep in mind I had no mature cone bearing Parry Pinyon on my land. I  know because I meticulously combed the area and counted. So come April/May I'll be looking for examples as in the pictures below. If you are in tune with nature and know what to look for, you'll find those little blue-grey seedlings everywhere. One of the other comments from the article was this description here - "Since each year in the life of a pinyon pine tree is marked by a 'whorl' -- a single circle of branches extending around a tree trunk" -- This is true, but not always. Depending on rainfall events during the rainy season or during times of prolonged drought, I personally observed many Pinyon Pines not putting on newer growth some years, but remaining in a type of neutral maintenance stasis mode. New growth takes valuable resources and energy. If drought is severe and dryness continues, they will stay stuck in neutral for some time, or depending on their geological location in the landscape which dictates how much moisture they obtain or not. In a way, it's an amazing survival strategy when all other ecosystems are functioning properly.

young Parry Pinyon

Credit: Mojave Desert Reserve
In all of the above Pinyon seedlings examples will be common under most chaparral plant community site locations, you will see in the springtime where fully mature Parry Pinyon or Single-Leaf Pinyon pines are present and "IF" producing cones with viable seed, but you may also find later on in late spring or early summer scenes like this below in the photo.

It is also a common occurrence to see dead seedlings brought on by something called Fusarium Root Rot which is a pathogen which causes what it called damping off in nursery germination flats if sterile conditions have not been met to rid the area of this and other similar pests. But again, it is perfectly natural in the wild and necessary for forest health. If every seedling succeeded, trees would never attain old growth majesty, they'd rather be weedy and create an unproductive ecosystem. There is also something else I want to address on this before closing and that was something that appeared in the Riverside County Press Enterprise newspaper back in 2009. I'm not certain, but I may have mentioned this somewhere before. The article was  Volunteers pitch in to save special pinyon pines  and it payed tribute to some well meaning nature lovers, but sometimes that love of nature can be misplaced if there is a lack or absence of important knowledge, understanding, and wisdom with habitat & ecosystem mechanism functions. I'm referring to the ignorant old school myth that chaparral brush clearance is actually viewed as helping nature in tree (even if they are decades old) establishment and this is totally untrue. Chaparral presence is  actually the first stage infrastructure by which a healthy desired forest comes into a reality. Chaparral have much deeper roots than pines and pines will tap into the mycorrhizal grid under the ground and be fed nutritionally and hydrated regularly. Let me first show a couple of pictures from the article, repeat what was said and quoted from the article. 

credit: Press Enterprise
Daniel McCarthy, tribal relations program manager for the San Bernardino National Forest, left, and volunteer Bob Sieski clear brush from a Parry Pinyon pine in Anza. The trees are important to the Cahuilla and Serrano bands.
image: Press Enterprise
In addition to saving Pinyon Pines in the area, McCarthy oversees an effort to plant new ones.
Now, here are some important relevant quotes and please keep in mind I'm not demonizing or vilifying Daniel McCarthy, Bob Sieski or any other volunteer who participated in this well intentioned habitat improvement projects, but the science they were using to justify this project is totally wrong. But this isn't the first time things like this have been done. Government funded programs with  supposedly top of the line biologists have done exactly this. Here is the first quote:
Special Section: Inland Wildfires
"Volunteers are clearing brush from beneath small outcroppings of pinyon pine trees in the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains to help them survive wildfires."
Well right from the start, this article has a negative misdirected subtitled which is going to attempt to associate Chaparral plant community as being responsible for Wildfires which in turn will destroy the more desirable vegetation like pines and other conifers. To put a sarcastic slant on it, "It must be the Chaparral plant's "Selfish Genes" attempt at making fire happen so that it can further spread it's own DNA over the landscape and cause the extinction of better looking species for which it is both envious and jealous." Okay okay, I'm being silly, but often times to get a point across, you sometimes need to illustrate absurdity with more absurdity. Read it again:
"Volunteers are clearing brush from beneath small outcroppings of pinyon pine trees in the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains to help them survive wildfires."
Image - Craig Allen - USGS
Absolutely & totally untrue. Doing this will save nothing. At best it is done for person idea of aesthetic value and eye candy appeal and nothing more. Quickly now, take a quick glance and view the 1000s of acres of dead Pinyon Pines again in the photo at the left. These photos show the massive die-off of pinyon pines that occurred during the recent drought. Pinyons, normally evergreen, have reddish-brown foliage in October 2002 (left). By May 2004, the dead pinyons have lost all their needles, exposing gray trunks. The photos were taken from the same vantage point in the Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos, N.M. Photo credit: Craig D. Allen, U.S. Geological Survey. These Pinyons were NOT killed by fire, these were killed by a variety of Climate Change anomalies. Fire had zero to do with it. However, Control and Prescribed burns quite often targeted in the middle of nowhere will actually remove vital vegetative rainfall mechanisms which would otherwise be hydrating and sheltering the young of these pines and oaks only to self-sacrifice them later on several decades later as the succession plants take over creating that ultimate end game desired forest look. 
"Over the past three years, Daniel McCarthy, anarchaeologist and tribal relations program manager for the San Bernardino National Forest, has plotted small populations of these pinyon pines and organized volunteer work parties to clear tinder-dry brush from around the base of the trees."

This is amazing. The chaparral up there is no more tinder dry than the pines they are symbiotically trying to survive with. In fact, the chaparral is far more deeper rooted and likely drawing up moisture from deep sub-soils through a mechanism called hydraulic life and redistribution. However, if the ongoing drought and climate change continues to persist, then even these mechanisms will breakdown. The Chaparral is the ONLY reason those Parry Pinyons exist up there in the first place. Of course, the next quote below is ridiculous too. Brush cleared 15 feet away from the trees will save nothing. If a mega fire comes through these mountains, everything will go up in smoke. I can tell you that from personally having been up and around where they did some of this before, is they provided a perfect environment for non-native Foxtail grasses and other weeds to move in. The ground in a pure chaparral environment is mycorrhizal and provides almost a sterile setting between all plants which generally makes it unfriendly to most weeds and non-native grasses. The other thing chaparral plant community does is provide a water transport from deeper subsoil layers of the earth and by means of hydraulic life and redistribution it are these engineering marvels which actually hydrate and protect these pinyons to maturity.  

"During three recent weekends, volunteers ventured into the mountain chaparral to clear brush."
"We clear about 10 to 15 feet away from the tree," said Scott Findlay, 68, of Orange, who wore gloves and used a handsaw and other tools to hack away at the undergrowth around a pinyon on the Ramona reservation.
"It's the fuel ladder. You have got to clear out the lower rung of the ladder, so hopefully the fire doesn't climb up this tree," said Dorothy Degennaro, 65, of Yucca Valley.What Findlay cuts, she drags some distance away from the pinyon pine. The pines thrive under protective filtered light of a larger "Mother Tree." 

The last part is clearly misunderstood & inaccurate, is to suggest is that only a large old mature Parry Pinyon qualifies to be labeled as a "Mother Trees" I've never once observed in all my 24 years up there (not that it couldn't be possible) any mature Parry Pinyon being an actual mother tree to any offspring. Unless of course mother tree here is being referred to as a large older mature tree producing cones and viable seed. Most all Chaparral plants have the potential to be a "Mother Tree" to not only Parry Pinyons, but even other more desirable trees like a great variety of Oaks (especially Palmer Scrub Oak) and believe it or not, the biggest most popular mother chaparral trees (or Nurse Tree/Plant) in this Parry Pinyon habitat is Chamise or Greasewood (Adenostoma fasciculatum) AND it's cousin Redshank or Ribbonwood (Adenostoma sparsifolium). I'll prove it when I come out there utilizing photography. But of course nothing like photos and first hand eye witness accounts will mean anything when it comes to evidence. Especially when a deep ingrained ideology employing religious affirmations of FAITH in "Fuel Management" as the 'final solution' against the mythical onslaught of Chaparral.  dogmatically defended without facts.

Photo by Cal Flora
Cal-Flora - "Adenostoma fasciculatum Hook. & Arn. var. fasciculatum Chamise Rosaceae (Rose Family)"
This shrub is probably the single biggest 'Nurse Plant' or "Mother Tree" to Parry Pinyon that I can remember. Why no one, nor any study has ever pointed this out previously is beyond me. Yet in ignorance, this species of chaparral and others are being removed as evil invaders which hinder the creation of beautiful forests. Far from this misguided viewpoint, these plants are the underground & above ground networked foundations for the establishment & eventual self-sacrifice of themselves for any beautiful old growth forested system in the southwestern landscape. 
To be fair though, perhaps most of this misinformation comes from the Press Enterprise reporters who are always looking for a controversial slant against Chaparral ecosystems. At least in a report from Daniel McCarthy himself through the U.S. Forest Service website, he at least does acknowledge some importance of Redshank chaparral and other species as Nurse Trees.
Perry Pinyon Pines Protection Project - by - Daniel McCarthy
I'll do a couple of posts separately on both Redshank and Chamise. In that region between the Anza Valley floor and Thomas Mountain ridge running all the way to the Hwy jct 74 & 371 at Paradise Corners, I'll photograph several very steep dry southern facing slopes with nothing but Chamise or Greasewood and hundreds of 3', 4' & 5',6' foot tall Parry Pinyon pines. The seeds didn't blow there, that's impossible. They were deliberately planted there by Western Scrub Jays during seed & nut hoarding season along with Palmer Oak acorns. Although normally, I've only found Palmer Oak mostly under Redshank. This has always led me to ponder weather or not Scrub Jays specifically pick and choose different species of Nurse Plants for specific seed collected. No matter, it should be fun.
Photo by J. E.(Jed) and Bonnie McClellan
This Chaparral Species above is likewise often vilified and demonized as impeding the growth of forests, when in fact it is a true 'Mother Tree' or otherwise known as 'Nurse Plant'. It has been complete ignorance of this that has actually hindered and doomed many a well meaning forest restoration program. 
Oh, and all is not finished when it comes to Parry Pinyon or any other Pinyon for that matter and Juniper trailing not far behind. Incredibly, they have more worth as mere raw biomass materials for Bio-Diesel Ventures. They are actually considered invasive and impede Cattle Operations and removal is essential for the land to be productive once again. This article below is about the issues of Nevada, but Arizona is not far behind. As stated at the outset, for me personally, the problems for Parry Pinyon were just the beginning of what has gone wrong with scientific progress when shackled and motivated by both political and big business interests.
By Ken Cole Wildlife News
Pinyon and Juniper trees, demonized by ranchers, miners and water mining entities, are being eyed by Chinese "biomass" companies with backing of political leaders like Harry Reid who's supposedly part of the Green Party gang. This is yet another removal of weather system mechanisms by human agents for profit.
Update on Anza's Parry Pinyon (Prophecy fulfilled)

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