Tag Archives: drought

The Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods Are Dying

Century Lake, Malibu Creek State Park. March 26, 2016.

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.

Dying coast redwoods at Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park. March 26, 2016.
Dying coast redwoods at Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park

I tried to convince myself it was just the golden hue of the warm morning light, but it wasn’t. From Crags Road I could see at least one tree appeared to be dead, and most of the others were highly-stressed, if not dying. A detour to the other side of the lake on the Forest Trail confirmed the bleak situation.

Dead coast redwood at Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park. March 26, 2016.
Dead coast redwood at Century Lake

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.

The redwoods appeared to be healthy in June 2011, August 2012, and January 2013. This photo was taken December 13, 2014 and may show the first hint of discolored and thinning foliage. On May 1, 2015 — just 4 1/2 months later — Google Earth imagery clearly shows several discolored trees.

This coast redwood along the Forest Trail shows some foliage discoloration, but is in better shape than the trees closer to Century Lake.
This redwood is in better condition than those along the shore of Century Lake.

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.

Browning foliage of a coast redwood along Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park.
Browning foliage of a coast redwood in Malibu Creek State Park

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.

Redwoods update July 27, 2016: Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods: Fighting the Drought

Some related posts: Malibu Creek State Park Coast Redwoods, Reeds and Redwoods, Coast Redwoods Along the Forest Trail

New Leaves on Drought-Stressed Valley Oak

Drought-stressed valley oak sprouting leaves following summer rains in Southern California

Sprouting new leaves as if recovering from a wildfire, this drought-stressed valley oak at Ahmanson Ranch benefited from the unusual amount of rain in Southern California during July and September.

Hilltop valley oak at Ahmanson Ranch, photographed in April 2011, prior to the drought in Southern California
Valley oak at Ahmanson Ranch

Between July 1 and October 1, the Cheeseboro RAWS, located on a hilltop about two miles away, recorded more than two inches of rain.

Here’s what the tree looked like in 2011, before the drought.

Some related posts: Ahmanson Valley Oaks Battling Drought, It Was So Muddy (Again) That…, A Two Mud Run Summer and Wet Winter Outlook for Southern California

Ahmanson Valley Oaks Battling Drought

Following four rainfall years in which Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has cumulatively recorded less than half of normal rainfall and accrued a precipitation deficit of more than 30 inches, many of the valley oaks at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve) are drought stressed.

The most obvious signs of drought stress in valley oaks and many other plants are a reduced number of leaves and reduced leaf size. In severely stressed valley oaks the foliage has the appearance of a tree that is recovering from a wildfire.

At Ahmanson the degree of stress varies widely from tree to tree. The “TV tree,” an aesthetically-shaped and often-photographed valley oak on the west side of Lasky Mesa appears to be showing a higher than average level of stress.

Valley oaks and live oaks cohabit the oak savannas at Ahmanson Ranch, but live oaks appear to be more drought tolerant. The lone Blue Oak at Ahmanson seems to be doing OK and has at least as much foliage as it did last year at the same time.

Some related posts: Ahmanson Blue Oak, The Color of Rain IV

The Rattlesnakes Are Blooming

Rattlesnake on the PCT east of San Francisquito Canyon.

Although we are still experiencing a record-breaking drought, this rain season did provide a little short term relief to plants and wildlife. Compared to last year rainfall is up 27% at Los Angeles, 39% at Santa Barbara, 57% at LAX and 63% at Camarillo/Oxnard according to NWS data.

The increase in rainy season precipitation dramatically increased plant growth, the abundance of wildflowers, and temporarily increased the availability of key resources to wildlife.

Another thing it seems to have increased is the number of rattlesnakes. Over the past two years I have seen maybe two rattlesnakes total on my runs in the Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, and in the Big Bear area and on San Gorgonio Mountain. In the Ahmanson Ranch – Cheeseboro area I’ve seen none.

With the increase in rainfall this season that has changed. The title photo was taken on the Leona Divide 50/50 course March 28. That day I encountered two rattlesnakes and talked to a runner that had seen three on the course the previous weekend. From March 26 to April 2 I encountered rattlesnakes on three out of four runs. Two of those were at Ahmanson and it seemed everyone I talked to on the trail was seeing rattlesnakes.

Hard to see rattlesnake on the PCT a few miles west of Bouquet Canyon.
See the rattlesnake? Click for larger view.

There has also been an increase in the number of encounters with non-venomous snakes as well. I’ve seen a number of gopher snakes and a California striped racer. Friends have mentioned seeing a ring-necked snake and California kingsnake.

Since the weather has cooled I haven’t encountered any rattlesnakes, but have seen their tracks. When I run, especially on single-track trails, my snake radar is on and I’m definitely on the lookout for the hard-to-see beasts.

Some related posts: Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Big Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at Ahmanson Ranch