Illuminated by a just-risen sun, Goat Buttes reflected sharply on the lake’s surface. Ducks squabbled near some reeds and a bullfrog’s resonant croaking filled the canyon.
Part way through the Bulldog Loop, I’d paused for a moment at Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park to enjoy the tranquility of the early morning. I snapped a photo and then noticed something very disturbing. The hundred year old coast redwoods across the lake looked brown.
Although coast redwoods have been planted in several areas of Southern California, they do not occur naturally here. The southernmost stand of naturally-occurring coast redwoods is about 200 miles north of Malibu Creek State Park in the Southern Redwood Botanical Area of Las Padres National Forest.
Redwoods have widespread, but shallow, root systems. Drought and warming temperatures are a worst case scenario for these trees, with the upper layer of soil being moisture-starved and baked.
Ironically the redwoods closest to the lake appear to be the most severely affected. This tree away from the lake on the Forest Trail appears to be in better shape, but it too is showing signs of stress.
Malibu Creek State Park isn’t the only locale in Southern California where redwoods are dying. According to this May 2015 San Gabriel Valley Tribune article, 15 redwoods were removed from Verdugo Park in Glendale, and redwoods in other areas of Southern California have also been affected.
As mentioned in an earlier post, the 2004 article “What’s up with the redwoods?” by James Downer, discusses a dramatic decline in coast redwoods planted in Ventura County and describes some of the problems that can affect this tree.
Drought and climate impacts are not limited to redwoods in Southern California. Endemic redwoods, particularly those in the southern extent of their range have also been significantly impacted.
This autumn, the first measurable rainfall at Downtown Los Angeles was on October 4, 2010. Since then we’ve seen some rain in Southern California every 7 to 10 days or so. The storms haven’t been huge, but many locations have recorded near to above average rainfall for the water year to date. Some, like Santa Barbara and San Diego, are well above normal for the date.
Because of our erratic weather, many Southern California plants are opportunistic and will shift their growing and flowering season to take advantage of wet weather.
Discounting plants that normally bloom in autumn, one of the earliest of the early bloomers this autumn was this bigpod ceanothus in Pt. Mugu State Park, photographed on November 14. Another early bloomer was Wishbone Bush which was beginning to bloom in the Simi Hills on November 21. This Shooting Star was photographed at Sage Ranch on November 30. In the past couple of weeks I’ve also seen Prickly Phlox, Bush Monkeyflower and Wild Cucumber in bloom.
The title photograph is Wishbone Bush on the northeast ridge of Ladyface last week.
Update Friday, May 13, 2011. Good news! Effective Monday, May 16, 2011, Angeles National Forest is reopening about half of the area of the Forest currently closed as a result of the Station Fire. This reduces the closure area from 186,318 acres to 88,411 acres, and opens most of the burn area south and east of Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2) from Bear Canyon east to Twin Peaks. Some of the trails and areas opened are the Sunset Ridge Trail, Bear Canyon Trail, segments of the Gabrielino Trail, Nature’s Canteen Trail, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment, Valley Forge Trail, Kenyon DeVore Trail, Silver Moccasin Trail, Pacific Crest Trail (some rerouting), Twin Peaks and the Mt. Waterman-Twin Peaks Trail from Three Points. For more information see the news release, detailed map, and other information related to Closure Order No. 01-11-03 on the Angeles National Forest web site.
According to the press release, most of the areas burned in the Station Fire remain closed “for public safety.” When will these areas reopen? In the press release former ANF forest supervisor Jody Noiron states, “The Forest Service intent is to reopen areas severely damaged in the fire over the next few years as conditions allow.”
It’s hard to understand the rationale for the extent and duration of this closure. Over the past year, many dedicated forest users have participated in permitted work parties and events in the closure area. We’ve been on the trails and roads. We know firsthand that many miles of trails and dirt roads are passable, and much of the closure area could reasonably be in use.
Remarkably, a year after the fire, the size of the Station Fire closure area remains LARGER than the area burned by the fire! Some areas in the Forest that were burned are open, and some large areas that did not burn are closed.
Other than the boilerplate “to protect natural resources and provide for public safety” in the closure order, and some bureaucratic arm-waving, there has been very little information released documenting why these areas of ANF should remain closed.
According to an article posted on the Pasadena Star News web site (08/22/10 by Beige Luciano-Adams), acting ANF forest supervisor Marty Dumpis said, “It’s not just safety but also we have to allow the area to recover because if we allow people to start trampling over regrowth then they’ve just set it back another year. We hope people will be patient enough, allow natural recovery to begin, and then we can get some of these areas open.”
Is that the way Angeles National Forest higher-ups see us? The hikers, runners, and riders that most frequently use these trails are among the most experienced that visit the Forest. Trails constrain use, and are a minuscule part of the recovery area. If credible evidence exists that trail use would delay the area’s fire recovery, Angeles National Forest should make it available to the public.
To keep such a large area of public land closed for such an extended period following a Southern California fire is unprecedented. Even in the case of the largest Southern California fires, the Cedar and Zaca fires, closed areas in Cleveland and Los Padres National Forests were reopened within a year of the fire. In many cases fire closures in the National Forests of California have been lifted within days or weeks of a large fire. This reflects a general policy that closures be implemented and maintained as a last resort.
In a 2009 presentation following the Station Fire, Jody Noiren noted that Angeles National Forest:
– provides 72% of all open space in Los Angeles County
– has 17 million people living and working within 1 hour drive
– has 3.5 million visitors per year, of which half come from within a 50 mile radius of the Forest
It may simplify forest management, and be more convenient for the Forest Service to keep such a large area of Angeles National Forest closed, but it is clearly not in the public interest. Extending the Station Fire closure will not enhance recovery, increase protection of sensitive species, or prevent the spread of invasive plants. But it will deprive millions of people living and working nearby of an indispensable and intrinsic public resource.
Long experience in Southern California demonstrates that public lands can be reopened in a timely fashion following a fire without abusing resources, or putting the public in undue peril. It is time to stop the doublespeak and reopen all but the most severely damaged areas of the Station Fire burn area to public use.
The Station Fire closure area is in the congressional districts of Rep. David Dreier [R-CA26] and Rep. Howard McKeon [R-CA25]. California’s senators are Sen. Barbara Boxer [D-CA] and Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA]. Determine and contact your Representative and Senators.
Update 12/22/13. New Williamson Rock/PCT scoping letter, dated 12/18/13, from Angeles National Forest to “consider resuming recreation opportunities in the currently closed area, in and around Williamson Rock.”
Located in Angeles National Forest (ANF), Williamson Rock is an area of exceptional scenic and recreational value. Because of its proximity to Los Angeles, variety of climbing routes, scenic beauty, and moderate summertime temperatures, it is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in Southern California.
In December 2005, in order to protect critical habitat of the mountain yellow-legged frog (MYLF), the Forest Service “temporarily” closed approximately 1,000 acres in the upper Little Rock Creek drainage in the San Gabriel Mountains. The closed area includes Williamson Rock, and the Pacific Crest Trail between Eagle’s Roost and the Burkhart Trail.
In May 2007 the Forest Service issued a press release and scoping letter proposing an access trail and initiating an environmental analysis. Now, nearly five years after the “temporary” closure of Williamson Rock, and following many delays, Angeles National Forest has completed a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) whose bottom line recommendation is to extend the closure another three years!
In the draft EA, the Forest Service says the extension is needed,”while neighboring [MYLF] population segments are given time to rebound from the effects of wildfire and consequent watershed emergency.”
The Forest Service’s recommendation to extend the closure is based on a false premise, that closure of MYLF habitat, and adjacent land, will protect the MYLF population. There is substantial evidence that this is not the case. This was recognized in the 1999 paper (Mahony, et al.) in which researchers assessed the disappearances and declines among Australian frogs and proposed methods to prevent further losses:
“It is generally accepted that the least expensive way of preventing extinction and loss of biodiversity is the maintenance of habitats. This argument is well established in the conservation biology literature (Caughley and Gunn 1996), however, it does not consider or deal with a situation such as that which currently faces frogs in Australia and globally. One of the puzzling features is that species have disappeared from areas of pristine or near pristine habitat and areas of large reserves where there are no indications of habitat destruction. Similarly, there is no evidence that an introduced competitor or predator is responsible, apart from the hypothesis that an introduced pathogen is involved (Laurance et al. 1996). Preservation of habitat or declarations of new reserves would not have halted or prevented the loss of the majority of species.”
Since this paper was published, there has been much research in this area, and there is a growing body of evidence that global declines in many species of frogs, including the MYLF, is due to infection from the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd).
It is believed that the fungus is spread through its own movement in water, the flow of water, and by the activity of infected amphibians. Because infection has occurred in pristine, widely separated populations, it is hypothesized that other vectors, such as birds, fish, animals or insects, could play an important role in its spread. Research has shown that spread by birds and other mechanisms are a possibility (Johnson & Speare, 2005). It is also a possibility that Bd has been present in amphibian populations worldwide for some time (Rachowicz et al., 2006).
In support of its recommendation that the Williamson closure should be extended, the EA states, “Indirect impacts to the frogs include the spread of pathogens, such as chytrid fungus, inadvertently carried into the habitat by visitors.”
I have found no published evidence that recreational activities, such as rock climbing, are the proximate cause of the spread of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis into MYLF habitat. It would seem especially unlikely in the context of rock climbing in usually warm and dry Southern California. Desiccation kills the fungus. In the 2005 study by Johnson & Speare, in which zoospores and zoosporangia were introduced on feathers, under most circumstances the fungus became inviable after 2 hours of drying.
According to the EA, all remaining units of the Southern California distinct vertebrate population segment (DPS) of the MYLF have already been confirmed positive for presence of Bd. This suggests that a frog unaffected by Bd is much more likely to be infected by natural mechanisms and vectors from within the infected population rather than by Bd brought into the habitat by a human visitor.
Under the EA’s Alternative 3 (The Recreational Development Alternative), in which climbers would be routed away from MYLF habitat, the probability of climbers spreading Bd from outside the habitat, or physically harming the frogs, or disrupting their habitat, would appear to be almost nil.
Rather than extending an unnecessarily prohibitive closure that is unlikely to benefit the MYLF, a plan such as Alternative 3 (The Recreational Development Alternative) should be adopted, and Williamson Rock reopened to climbing.
The efforts of the climbing community are being coordinated by the Friends of Williamson Rock in partnership with the Access Fund and the Allied Climbers of San Diego. The Access Fund is a national, non-profit climbers’ organization dedicated to preserving the natural resources used by climbers, and climbers’ access to those resources.
Comments regarding the draft EA, and the recommendation to extend the closure of Williamson Rock for another three years, must be submitted by October 1, 2010. Send to:
Attn: Williamson Rock Environmental Assessment
701 N. Santa Anita Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91006
Email: [email protected]