As of March 1, Downtown Los Angeles had recorded only 1.99 inches rain over the past eight months. Most of that was recorded in one storm in early January. It was the second driest July 1 – February 28 on record.
Following the January storm, temperatures warmed up and stayed relatively warm for much of the next 30 days. In the West San Fernando Valley the high temperature hit 89 °F at Pierce College on February 4, and was over 80 °F for 12 consecutive days. Some plants (and some rattlesnakes) responded as if it was Spring.
In mid February Winter returned, with cool daytime temperatures and cold nights. There were Frost and Freeze Warnings on several nights.
In March the ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure over the West Coast finally relented, resulting in above normal rainfall. It took awhile, but the March rain and April sun eventually produced an assortment of wildflowers.
The high point of the 14+ mile Bulldog Loop in Malibu Creek State Park is near the center of the skyline in the photo above. The Bulldog fire road can be seen cutting across the peaks on the right. Bulldog tops out at the Castro Peak fire road, which is the fire road leading up from the Corral Canyon Road parking area. Castro Peak (privately owned) is the peak on the left with the antennae.
From Crags Road to Castro Peak fire road, the Bulldog fire road gains about 1727 feet in 3.4 miles. The steepest mile starts at mile 2.0 of the climb and gains about 732 feet.
Today I was running the loop clockwise, so got to run down Bulldog for a change!
My plan had been to check on the MCSP redwoods and then do the Phantom Loop. Running along Crags Road west of Century Lake I started noticing flood debris along the trail, but it wasn’t until I reached the bridge across Malibu Creek that the magnitude of the flooding became evident. Most of the bridge’s wooden railings had been swept away and debris hung in the trees 10-15 feet above the creek.
The flooding resulted from heavy rainfall associated with an atmospheric river that hit the area on February 17. Between 4:00 a.m. and midnight the Remote Automated Weather Station near Malibu Canyon Road and Piuma Road recorded 4.45 inches of rain. Runoff was increased by the soil being nearly saturated from the above average rainfall we’ve experienced this rain season.
Many streams in the area experienced high flows on February 17. According to provisional USGS data Sespe Creek near Fillmore peaked at 34,000 cfs at 7:45 p.m.; the Ventura River near Ventura peaked at 20,400 cfs at 5:45 p.m. and the Los Angeles River at Sepulveda Dam peaked at 16,700 cfs at 4:30 p.m.
Eventually I returned to the Forest Trail and checked on the redwoods. My impression is that the trees in trouble have continued to degrade and the trees in better condition are holding their own. I will be curious to see how much new foliage there is later in the growing season.
I never did make it to the Phantom Trail but did have a nice run over to the Tapia Spur Trail.
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.