Many high alpine meadows in the Sierra Nevada are undergoing conversion to lodgepole pine woodland and forest. These pines are grand and beautiful in many ways, but its the meadows that are risking extinction since they have little ability to equilibrate with the pines given reduced wildfires. These vast meadows that are critical habitat for wildlife and wildflowers alike are losing out to marching pines that seem to particularly invade (and become established) on excessively dry years (see John Helms’ 1987 Madrono article). Notably, as with many climate mediated change, the changes aren’t necessarily gradual. They occur at distinct moment (punctuated equilibrium), when a system will transition suddenly from one state to another: e.g. wet meadow with running water becoming mesic pine stand. A ticking timebomb if you will. Once the conditions are right, and all the seeds are in place, the pines get through a critical 3-year growth cycle and become established even if conditions return to a wetter cycle.
One notable implication occurs at the pollinator level. Bumblebees, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators typically have fewer flowers available in a closed canopy pine forest vs. an alpine wildflower meadow. Where will Pooh get his honey when the pines come marching in? I’m not sure, but I know that big meadows certainly are important for pollinator services. Basically, we could start to see quick losses in pollinator habitat at high elevation if meadows are congested with pines.
The European continent is painted with thousands of centuries of industrialized, high density civilization. As compared with our North American continent which was gardened and nurtured by first nation peoples, Europe feels more conquered. The brazen castles guarding the hills of Catalonia for instance communicate a feeling of a land that has been well-surveyed through the ages. Few acres sit quietly untrodden.
Drought is kind of a dirty word. It’s a dry, dusty, parched, scary, dirty word for most Californians. I feel for the farmers and ranchers and fish as we survive through epic drought conditions.
Black oaks (Quercus kelloggii) was slower to leaf out in the drier year.
Although the important discussions press onward about impacts of drought on people (which I think is an extremely important discussion), I’m taking a second to think about it from a wildflower perspective. Yes, drought means limited water, but what’s that decrease mean for one of California’s oldest residents – the flora. Continue reading →
Both as a photographer and an ecologist I am regularly wowed by valley oaks (Quercus lobata). These comely giants rise up from the driest summer soils and produce a rich refugia for hundreds of plant and animal species avoiding the unrelenting sun. These trees create veritable oases of wildlife and wildflower activity in a desert-like August sun.
Unfortunately these giants are perishing with limited replacement. As the parent trees pass on, quality habitat for regeneration also desiccates. The fathers and mothers have seen our land shift from native American management to agro-industrial conversion. Rare trees still grow in large groves with mingling arch-like crowns. Instead they are often solitary sentinels. Listen for echos from a quieter 1800, or even a 1700.
We as humans can and must metamorphose nostalgia into restorative action. We can start to replant our valley oak spreads, but we must do it while they still have the soil, water and biotic conditions to establish. The figure below from a 2012 CA Energy Commission report models a loss of 2/3 of the extant habitat in light of rising carbon emissions and climate change. These trees are resilient when they are established, but that needs to happen soon, before it’s cost prohibitive and ecologically nearly impossible. We hope to get a small planting going in a historic valley oak area through Golden Hour Restoration Institute. We do need money (about $2000) and partners and I hope we can play a small role in helping maintain the grandiose valley oaks of our fathers grandfathers past.
We have one (maybe two) slots left for our February 1 workshop in San Francisco. This will be modeled after the January workshop where we spent the day going over techniques/methods – photographing – talking and repeat! We had a great time and I’ve heard lots of positive feedback from attendees.
Who’s this for? Amateurs who are interested in getting the most out of their camera (usually a DSLR, but an advanced compact is great too!). You’ll be joining a small group of about 4 people and will be working together and learning as a group. It will be fun, instructional, and very interactive with fast feedback on what you’re learning!
After being fortunate enough to be published in the San Francisco Chronicle this past Sunday – and yes, we had a full page, no ads, it was awesome! – I’ve been asked by a few people to see more pictures of this unique wedding. I can’t say enough about how amazing it was to photograph Alicia and Mike’s big day. Beyond the klezmer, the delectable food, and the home brewed honey wine, the community was just amazing.
I’ve never quite seen a wedding community dance for quite this extended of a time… It was epic! Continue reading →
Yes, you read that right. One of the most iconic, magical places on earth will only be accessible by trespass. This is what we call Fortress Conservation in the ecology field: buy the land – then put a fence around it to limit human interaction.
Erecting fences is a short-sighted, privilege-driven way of doing conservation. It’s not a way to promote conservation, it’s the way to kill it.
Leah and Adam are about the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. They have kindness in their souls. And they’re good listeners too, making for a really fun engagement session at Stow Lake, in Golden Gate Park – San Francisco. The cherry trees were going off, and it was green as green gets for our golden California. It was lots of fun, and no, no one went swimming in the lake today!
While waking transects and looking for rare plants in the dusty Mojave Desert of 2013, I had much time to consider vastness, appropriateness and tenacity. Notably, it was hot, dry, and teetering on spiritual (which isn’t always a good thing when rattlesnakes abound).
The desert is nothing if it is not tenacious. It is an acerbic beast even in it’s kindest moments. Blowing sand, regular temperatures in the hundreds from April through October (in the sun that is). Humbling, and even bending or distorting the idea of life just a bit, since the desert’s signature is withering brown plant skeletons, dry playas and spines. Dessication, opportunity and impermanence are its soul. It is a tribute to both eternal things and the ephemeral. Within that sea, there are pauses of vibrance and life.