Friday, May 17, 2013

Lessons Observed From the Ranchita Hwy Beautification Project

A Chaparral Ecosystem versus a Grassland Ecosystem or perhaps a Mycorrhizal system versus a Bacterial System one and how both either hinder or facilitate the forest growth movement.

Photo Credit: CalFireSanDiego

2002 Pines Fire

This scene could be either along the S-2 or San Felipe Road or Montezuma Valley Road near Ranchita California. In any event, 80 or 90 % of the chaparral, trees and grassland was obliterated in an instant. But curiously I wonder back then about the Pine and Incense Cedar Trees that the locals had planted back in the late 1970s - early 1980s as a means of scenic Hwy beautification project which I believe was accomplished by local volunteers. I must admit that I have found no info on the project anywhere. By the time of the 2002 Pines Fire event, the trees  were actually quite large and made the drive truly scenic, especially during those wetter years. So this post is about what has happened to the areas ecosystem with regards these trees since that terrible fire season. 

Photo Credit: Mine

S-2 San Felipe Rd & Pine Tree landcaping
The Pines & Cedar Planting Project actually starts at the Jct of State Hwy 79 and S-2 San Felipe Road where a group of five or six Coulter Pines are grouped on the north side next to a large Truck and RV Turnout. It then cruises past the old Butterfield Stage Line Station which has recently been fixed up and restored. It is sad that, unfortunately for forest regeneration, grasslands are predominantly a bacterial system that does not facilitate the regeneration of forests very well. Trees need a mycorrhizal system in the underground networks to survive. If you visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on the Kaibab Plateau, you will find many pristine meadows where trees are unable to encroach upon. A roadside sign will explain the reasons why trees cannot make any headway into such a system. Grassland systems are mostly a Bacterial System. Trees that you do observe there are actually stunted in growth around the fringes of the meadows and forest edge boundaries. This also explains why Coulter Pine regeneration on the stretch of roadway between Jct 79 and Montezuma Valley Road turnoff is almost nonexistent with the exception of two small side by side trees near the Butterfield Stage Station.

Photo Credit & Text by John Malcolm Penn

San Felipe Valley Butterfield Stage Station
"Here the southern trail of explorers, trappers, soldiers, and immigrants crossed ancient trade routes of Kamia, Cahuilla, Diegueno, and Luiseno Indians. On the flat southwest across the creek, Warren f. Hall built and operated the San Felipe home station of the Butterfield Mail, which operated from 1858 to 1861. Later the station was used by Banning Stages and by the military during the Civil War." 
by John Malcolm Penn 

Photo Credit Mine

Butterfield Stage Station location today is on County Hwy S-2 near the intersection or Jct of State Route Hwy 79 near Anza Borrego Desert State Park. The Station has since been restored and renovated for tourists.

Photo Credit: Mine

This view is just east of the Stage Station and looking north towards the lush greener bottomlands of the San Felipe Valley. However from this point east to Montezuma Valley Rd leading to Ranchita, the area is dry grassland and most, but not all of the Coulter Pine & Incense Cedar trees were destroyed in the 2002 Pines fire which actually burned to the Hwy 79 Jct.

Photo Credit: Mine
This is what most of the western part of the road to Ranchita CA from the Jct at hwy 79 looks like. After the fire in 2002, the hills you see in the background were stripped bare and later a major Summer monsoonal Thunderstorm created a massive flash flood which closed this highway for weeks. Notice the large boulders in the Bajada or Alluvial Fan ? I'll have a future post on these features and lessons that can be extrapolated from such observations during wetter times of flooding. This is very important as huge practical applications can be made in ALL urban landscapes for establishing mature landscape plants.

Photo Mine

Charred and chain sawed Stump
Both sides of Highways S-2 (San Felipe rad) and Montezuma Valley road which travels through Ranchita California on it's route to Borrego Springs had many many Coulter Pine and Incense Cedar trees burned and destroyed by fire , but certainly not all. The remarkable thing is the contrasting forest tree regeneration which takes place along tree lined roadway of San Felipe Rd in which I ONLY found two 3 foot high Coulter Pines growing side by side each other below an area clear of the dead mother trees removed by the San Diego County Road Dept near the Butterfield Stage Station location and the contrasting abundant growth of 100s of  Pines and Cedars in the thick chaparral growth along the roadway of Montezuma Valley Rd turnoff point eastward. Follow the photo gallery where I photo document first showing the pines regenerating along the roadside where we would expect them and then followed by photos taken well off and away from the Montezuma Valley Rd into the Chaparral where the Pines and indeed even Incense Cedars are actually encroaching on the chaparral Plant community.
From this Jct on eastward to Ranchita, the plant life regeneration takes on a whole new life within the Chaparral Plant Community which has actually enhanced the growth of both Pine and Cedar trees and actually protects these young Saplings on their journey through life, something the powerful Scientific Orthodoxy that is employed by many governmental agencies insist will never happen unless such plants such as invasive Chaparral Plants are removed before tree planting programs are moved forward towards completion. This has been proven an unfortunate untruth over and over which in turn has actually hurt Nature rather than help.

Photo Credit: Mine
These two above photos are north and south of each other along Montezuma Valley Road west of Ranchita California just where we would expect to find regeneration of new pine seedlings and saplings around former older growth parent trees now removed along the highway as a result of the 2002 Pines Brushfire. BTW, many local residents collected many seedlings way back when they first appeared along the roadways and transplanted them to their properties. This is fine as many many seedlings were there for the taking and are better thinned anyway. I saw some along a fence line at my brother's neighbour's house at a BAR-B-Q  we went to a few weeks back.

All three Photos: Mine
Okay, I believe these next three photos also clearly illustrate where we would expect to find young regenerating pines under their former parent tree's location along Montezuma Valley Road. Of course the dead charred parent trees were removed for safety reasons along the road and we understand that. Notice though that even along the roadway they are growing along side the native chaparral plants to the areas. Most of these plants are Desert CeanothusGreasewood or ChamiseSilver SagebrushRedshank or RibbonwoodMountain Mahogany, assorted Scrub Oaks, etc. There does not appear any restrictive or chocking behavior of the Chaparral against the tree seedlings or young Pine Saplings

Above Photos: Mine
I was of course curious as to whether or not I would find any pine regeneration off a good distance from the SD County Road through the Ranchita community within the deeper chaparral cover. I wasn't disappointed whatsoever.  Many examples were actually thriving within the Chaparral plant ecosystem. 

Photo Credits: Mine

Anybody see any strangulation and competition going on here ?  On the contrary we see mutual cooperation. Clearly all of the examples are healthy and fit. The process of a phenomena I wrote about previously,  "Phenotypic Plasticity"  , for which environmental changes in which a plant finds itself will cause the plant to grow differently, yet successfully under whatever newer circumstance. The point here is that these trees are plugged into a healthy viable underground fungal network in which they are the main beneficiary as they will eventually out perform and over take the Chaparral mother Trees which will eventually yield to the larger Forest tree canopy. 

These next group of photos are of Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrensregeneration which I absolutely did not expect to find through dry hot excessively windy Ranchita area. Even in present day Anza I don't expect to find Incense Cedar, although I have found dried mummified remnants of them in Burnt Valley and Table Mountain and on some of Agri-Empire's property of the old Dunn Ranch complex. Still the idea that successful germination and growth in such an ecosystem with climate change was still unexpected. Take a look below at the gallery of just a handful of what were actually hundreds of examples. Mostly in my photo trek this particular day, I was only focused on Coulter Pine re-establishment. Had I not stopped and looked closely, I would have assumed the bright green patches were the same perennial chaparral plants which are common along roadways in these areas.

Photo Credits: Mine

There were not many Incense Cedar Trees that survived the 2002 Pines Fire which devastated everything. The pines of course did fair better because their foliage density is not as great as the Cedars. Very few Cedars made it, but the two large examples above which did escape are also responsible for producing massive amounts of Seed which resulted in the 100s of seedlings that I found along the highway and back into some of the Chaparral Plant Community well away from the road shoulder. As the lower photo illustrates, it was the Silver Sagebrush, which is actually a great facilitator of Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution of water from deeper layers of subsoil for the benefit of others, that has certainly helped the survival of this small Cedar at the bottom shot.

Above Photos: Mine
All of the above photos here in this post are meant to illustrate the benefits and real importance of Chaparral Plant Communities at actually establishing higher plant communities like Pine, cedar, Fir and Oak Forest Ecosystems. Why the various Government & Private Commercial Forest Departments and their supporting Scientific Orthodoxy doesn't get this is beyond me. Of course not all scientists and researchers follow the conventional rules as their own research papers reveal, but they are drowned out by those with power and authority who are either beholding to big business economic interests or too prideful to admit their inept irresponsible methods are killing this planet.  It's okay and no one is to blame for having  been ignorant in the past, I was and I failed following the conventional thinking, wisdom and flawed techniques taught at School. But it is your fault if you stay there given all the newer evidence and understanding that we now know.

Hopefully private land holders and other property owners will get a clue and make practical applications on their own properties by learning from Nature. Most Governmental Institutions are too giant and disconnected to listen or take notice, but private groups and individuals can make successes on their own lands and put these to shame. Maybe they'll take notice after being embarrassed by things they should have known and taken the lead in doing all along. I doubt that will happen or take place, but either way, your local community can and will eventually look far more beautiful than it does at present!


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  2. Thank you, very interesting. Starting a orchard in Ranchita, hoping to incorporate the chaparral plants.


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