Saturday, January 27, 2018

California Fan Palm Updates

UPDATE: Oasis of Mara Update by Desert Sun Sept 1, 2018
Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun
"Joshua Tree park superintendent David Smith talks about arson caused fire in March 2018 that burned plants and trees in the Oasis of Mara in Twentynine Palms."
Desert Sun: "After Joshua Tree arson, Joshua Tree National Park takes steps to heal the Oasis of Mara" 
Like most all living things today, the Oasis of Mara in 29 Palms is fighting for it's life on Earth
"The Oasis of Mara was first settled by the Serrano and provided them with food, clothes, tools and housing. In one legend told about the oasis, the Serrano were instructed by a medicine man to plant a palm tree each time a boy was born. In the first year, they planted 29 palm trees at the oasis."
Hi-Desert Star: "Oasis of Mara fights for life"

Hi-Desert Star - June 2017
There is no argument that in this 2017 photo above, these lovely California Fan Palms are struggling to stay alive. The being narative being spun on this is that the desert oasis ecosystem here in 29 Palms is a casualty of the bigger ongoing megadrought which has been effecting all of California over the past five years. What I find odd however is that deserts by definition compared to other ecosystems are generally all about drought in the sense that deserts always experiencee less rainfall, general lack of humidy and lots of heat. So what is drought to most ecosystems is life to deserts. Despite the record rainfall from the last rainy season (winter of 2016/17), the drought pattern is far from over. Most environmental groups proclaimed all was still well in Nature to their followers by posting wildflower images taken on outdoor Springtime field trips on social networks in an attempt to smokescreen the real dire nature of our times. Fact, all is not well and the leadership in these organizations know that. Clearly so far this season, those promised normal rainfall patterns are once again a no show and the weather experts have explained that the negative high pressure pattern over the Pacific is still stationary and stronger than ever. But there is something even more worrying here than declining fan palm trees as you can see in this photo below.

Comelia Botha - April 2015 (AllTrails)
"The mesquite trees in the oasis area are also declining," says Neil Frakes - Vegetation Branch Chief - National Parks
This is definitely even more odd. The native desert Mesquite Trees are in decline at this same Oasis ? 😲 Mesquite, Acacia, Palo Verde and Ironwood are some of the toughest desert trees I know when it comes to survival in the harshest of desert climate conditions. They can take any amount of intense heat the summer sun can throw at them as long as they have available water supply. And normally they do as you can see in the illustration on the right hand side of the page here. Once mature, many mesquite trees have an extremely extensive long deep tap root system which grows down 150' to 200' where many water tables can be tapped into. This allows most mesquite no real need for any available surface water which is usually dependent on rainfall. As long as Mesquite is tapped into an underground aquifer, there should be no problem. But these mesquite in the photograph above are clearly struggling and they are having a tough time in a geologic scenario where for perhaps 1000s of years this desert artesian spring has existed. This oasis is located at the end of the Pinto Mountain fault. Many earthquake faults are natural conduits for moving water where it collects and is moved towards the surface. But this sudden lack of water in an artesian spring on a fault such as Mara Oasis is troubling. Clearly one could understand shallower rooted plants like the California Fan Palms and then Cottonwoods having a rough go of things if the surface water table dropped significantly, but dropping so far down that mesquite start to die off ??? Below is a map of the earthquake faults in and around Joshua Tree National Monument.

National Park Service
Take note of the pinpointed spot located at the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park where the Oasis of Mara is located at the end of the Pinto Mountain Faultline. Below is a definition of just what constitutes an actual artesian spring as opposed to other types of springs or seeps from the US Geological Survey site.
"A spring is the result of an aquifer being filled to the point that the water overflows onto the land surface. There are different kinds of springs and they may be classified according to the geologic formation from which they obtain their water, such as limestone springs or lava-rock springs; or according to the amount of water they discharge-large or small; or according to the temperature of the water-hot, warm, or cold; or by the forces causing the spring-gravity or artesian flow."  (Source: USGS)
Wow 😲😠
Photo credit: Steve Raines - Firefighters on scene during the Oasis of Mara fire. 
ATTENTION UPDATE (March 27, 2018)
 Looks like the Oasis of Mara is now totally gone thru an arson set fire last night (26th). One of the more annoying things is all photos of the Oasis are older photos when it was still vibrant and healthy, no reality of it's poor almost dead condition as of recently. Much the same with the decline of Torrey Pines in San Diego.
 ABC News: Fire at Joshua Tree damages California landmark
Daniel Mayer - July 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)
This photograph above was taken in 2009 and can be found on Wikimedia. What a contrast when we compare this 2009 photograph to the one at the beginning from the Hi-Desert Star's article from June 30, 2017. There was one comment at the bottom of the Hi-Desert Star article which however well meaning, would never be a viable solution to correcting anything at the Oasis.
"I've lived in 29 Palms since the early 1960s and this is by far the worst the Oasis has looked in that time period. Something needs to be done to save what's left. The mesquite needs to be cut way back for starters because it's stealing water from other plants that need it more, like the Palms and the lone Cottonwood. After all, these palms in the Oasis are our namesake."
(Hi-Desert Star's comment section) 

The Mesquite at the Oasis are not the bad guys here. But this is common with many people who by nature will demonize one favoured plant over another less loved plant. I clearly do understand the emotion behind the commenter's feelings about the idea of removing the mesquite to save the much beloved and rarer palm as compared to plants from the pea family, but the mesquite are generally more helpful than harmful. In previous posts I've provided this animated illustration above showing the incredible natural hydrological phenomena mesquite are known for. This natural phenomena is known as, Hydrailic Lift and Redistribution. The Mesquite tree is quite often an excellent important nurse tree for other desert plants like young Saguaros cacti. Likewise so are Palo Verde and other desert trees. They can tap into a permanent water source and lift that deep water to the surface re-hydrating their own lateral rootsystem, thereafter feeding it into the mycorrhizal fungal network grid which may be connected to other plants like the California Fan Palms and/or Fremont Cottonwoods. This phenomena is especially strongest at night. So cutting down the mesquite would offer no value, since the mesquite themselves are clearly struggling and in decline. This would not be so if the water table within the fault were at normal levels. It could be that a lack of rainfall and snow up in the San Bernardino Mountains to the west have not been capable of recharging the Pinto Mountain Fault aquifer because of the mega-drought. But I'm not sure. Or it may also be another natural anomaly which sometimes changes hydrological conduits caused by some major earthquakes which have been known to close off and completely shut down age old artesian Springs, forcing their waters to resurface elsewhere. This actually happened historically with the town of St David Arizona south of Benson where artesian springs and ponds began to appear where they never were previously. However in other townsite areas further south like Charleston and Fairbanks where springs and lush grazing lands once existed in the old west cattle ranching days, they actually began to dry up and disappear after an earthquake. Here is the link below to this event and it's a good read. Mind you, I'm not certain if that happened near 29 Palms, but it's one posibility given the historical seismic activity of Yucca Valley which is aligned with the infamous San Andreas fault.

Tombstone Times: "The Day the Earth Shook in 1887"
How an 1887 Earthquake change a high desert environment into a lush riparian paradise - St. David, Arizona

Other California Fan Palm Updates
“Pygmy Grove” - Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Well in other News, there appear to be a number of people with agendas insisting that the Washingtonia filifera is a non-native invasive brought here from Mexico and planted in numerous brand new locations throughout the Southwestern USA by Native Americans and therefore not Natural. This is a switch since numerous environmentalist groups have often considered the Native American as type of early primitive sub-human animal which was an integral part of North American ecosystems. But as I've stated before, the idea of an "Ecological Indian" is nothing more than a myth. They always were/are real human beings equal to all other cultures and races on Earth. The ONLY real difference between themselves and the white European settlers when they first came to North America was nothing more than differences in education and technology. I don't really wish to focus on this controversy which is mostly time wasting. But apparently there is another ideologue out there, James W. Cornett, an ecological consultant with the city of Palm Springs, who is convinced that the California Fan Palm is actually an invasive, brought here originally from Mexico by native indigenous peoples from the ancient past. While acknowledging they can be spread by animals like birds and coyotes, etc, he blames Native Americans (real people/humans) as the foremost cause for the Fan Palm's presence. Clearly many Natives Americans did farm, plants small gardens and field crops, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that they did spread the Fan Palms to new locations as they did with Elderberry and Prickly Pear Cactus. But we live in times of controversy in the botany world. There's a plethora of individuals out there right now attempting to rewrite classsification history of all manner of plants. Here is his story anyway:

Photo courtesy Elayne Sears
"Did Native Americans introduce Fan Palms to California?"
This is certainly not the first time he has promoted this same line of reasoning since he has done so as far back as back in 1991. Apparently, James W. Cornett  published this same Washingtonia filifera is invasive nonsense in the San Bernardino county Museum Association Quarterly Volume 38 Number 2, summer 1991. But there is another person out there who is dedicated to the saving of the Moapa Palms Oasis, Spencer Winton, who has written numerous articles about justification for the palms long ancient history. He's researched thoroughly and even interviewed the grand parents and great grand parents of many of the Native Americans to this area who have explained the palms were always a major part of life in this area. You can judge for yourself. Here Spencer provides a rebuttal to Cornett's 1991 invasive narative. "The Desert Fan Palm-- Evidence Supports Relict Status"
Another player in the proposed Fan Palm removal has not only been the Government, but also the Southern Nevada Water Authority who has stepped in pushing it's own water rights agenda by using the saving of a native fish, Moapa Dace, strategy for which the Palm Trees are said to be partially the blame for the fish's decline. Here are some pertinent quotes:
"Tensions are running high in the Warm Springs area 60 miles north of Las Vegas, where the Southern Nevada Water Authority bought up land to protect a rare fish but has endangered relations with the locals in the process. 
  Lately, it’s the sound of chain saws that has residents buzzing. Over the past year, workers have cut down some 900 wild palm trees on the fenced, 1,200-acre tract the authority bought in 2007 and now operates as the Warm Springs Natural Area." 
"Before the Southern Nevada Water Authority took a lead role in protecting the endangered Moapa dace, the regional agency was widely considered one of the biggest threats to its survival.  
For decades, the authority has pushed a plan to tap billions of gallons of groundwater across rural Nevada. One of the links in that pipeline network is Coyote Springs Valley, just west of the palm-lined springs and streams at the upper end of the Moapa Valley.  
Authority officials became chief defenders of the finger-length fish under a 2006 federal agreement that also cleared them to pump water at Coyote Springs."
Southern Nevada Water Authority thins palms, upsets Warm Springs residents
By Henry Brean - Las Vegas Review Journal

So 900 Washingtonia filifera or California Fan Palms were cut down and the happy biologists can now snorkle to count how many Moapa Dace actually exist as seen in the photo above where palm stumps are the only visible remnants of the Fan Palm's former existence. It's the same old story, to obtain success with one's favoured agenda, justify it by claiming you just want to save something else. This happens all the time, especially regarding forestry and housing development arguments. Environmental groups do this all the time championing the life of something when something entirely different is on their mind. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't care about saving endangered organisms, we should. But you really have to put those who make claims to be outraged about an endangered creature into perspective when often times their goal is this just another "Sue and Settle" money making scheme to fill their coffers. 

Moapa Oasis & Natural Area, Nevada
Image - Stan Shebs - May 2006

Intro to The Basis for the Current Official Listing of Washingtonia filifera in Moapa Warm Springs Nevada as a 'Non-native' Species - and the evidence which contradicts it

Anyway all these updates make for some interesting reading about California Fan Palm beyond the brief landscaping descriptions referenced in a Sunset Western Garden book. It is interesting that the native Desert California Fan Palm is on the increase in desert areas of Coachella and Imperial Valley and not necessarily by people, but by means of critters. The Mexican Fan Palm on the other hand is out of control, spreading and invading riparian habitats on the western side of the Mountains near the Pacific coast. Here are some other posts I've written regarding California Fan Palms and finally the invasive Mexican Fan Palm.

Getting to the Root of why Natives rule & Exotics struggle or outright fail
California Fan Palm (Washingtonia filifera) growth explosion with Mycorrhizal Fungi
"Day of the Triffids" or "Monolith Monsters" ? (Mexican Fan Palm - Washingtonia robusta)
The Fan Palm Oasis in Mum's Front Yard

Photo mine in 2015 (El Cajon, California)
Both Mexican & California Fan Palms, Screwbean Mesquite, Mexican Bird of Paradise Bush, Baja Fairyduster, Laurel Sumac, and Engelmann Oak.