Posted on Categories Habitats, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

Fulton nursery a go-to spot for native plants


Cal-Flora Nursery in Fulton
California Native Plant Society – Milo Baker Chapter

The showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae) that grows east of the Rockies is a large wild orchid that reaches up to 30 inches tall, with 3- to 4-inch-long, slipperlike flowers of rose pink. They don’t grow around here. But their distant cousins do, and they look very different.

Our Sonoma County summer fog calls forth these plants where the redwoods grow tall and human activity is at a minimum. In these conditions, the forest floor may be sprinkled with them. The jewel-like pink fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa) grow only 2 to 4 inches tall and produce 1- to 2-inch “slippers” that only fairy feet could fit.

Why such a difference among woodland orchids? You might think that our mild climate and rich woodland soils would yield orchids even larger than those back east where winter locks up the soil in ice for nearly half the year.

The answer is our summer drought, where it rarely rains from June to October. Plants native to our Mediterranean climate, as it’s called, have evolved to deal with the dry season. Some, like the California fuchsia (Zauschneria californica) have amped up drought tolerance to astonishing levels, blooming furiously in late summer despite not having a drink for months. Some simply shut down their green, vegetative parts and turn dry and brown, sending their roots to sleep until rain returns, or overwinter as seeds fallen to the ground.


Posted on Categories Forests, HabitatsTags , , , ,

Nonprofit restores Sonoma County’s natural habitat with oak tree seedlings


When Natalie Portis first stepped onto her property in Sonoma nearly 20 years ago, she was immediately enchanted by the verdant natural landscape and the stately oak trees.

Portis’ wooded oasis was among the thousands of acres of forests and oak-studded landscapes that burned in the October 2017 Nuns fire, which claimed her home and an estimated 700 trees on her 10-acre Castle Road property.

“It still feels surreal,” Portis, 59, said. “It was devastating to go back there and see the singed trees. I just remember being there and feeling the grief and toll of such loss.”

She’s rebuilding her home and plans to move in this summer. It’s been a “painful” process, but a bright spot came last month as she planted 21 oak tree seedlings sprouted from acorns collected by local volunteers in the weeks after the devastating wildfires two years ago in Sonoma County.

“It was very playful and very sweet, and it put a huge smile on my face,” she said of planting the young coast live oaks on her property with help from members of the California Native Plant Society. “I feel like I’m going to get back home.”

Oak trees have long defined the bucolic landscapes of Sonoma County and played a critical role in shaping its natural habitat. Recognizing the need to preserve and proliferate the native species after the fires, the California Native Plant Society and its local Milo Baker chapter — named after the noted Santa Rosa botanist — quickly launched efforts in 2017 to harvest acorns from areas near burn zones in the county and surrounding communities.

“Oaks are really the powerhouses of our ecosystem here in California when it comes to native plants,” said Liv O’Keeffe, senior director of communication and engagement for the environmental nonprofit society. “A single oak can literally support hundreds of insects, pollinators, birds, critters and other plant species. Having those oaks in place keeps an ecosystem intact.”


Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , , , ,

A Plea to Journalists – Wildfires in California: please investigate poor land planning rather than denigrating the region’s iconic, native ecosystem


Many in the fire science community are disappointed by the recent reporting in High Country News (HCN) on the tragic fires in northern California (Shrub-choked wildlands played a role in California fires, HCN 10/24/2017).
Portraying the ecology of the region as “choked” by native shrublands not only demonizes California’s richly biodiverse, characteristic habitat, the chaparral, but fails to come close to explaining why and how the fires occurred. Little effort was made in the article to help readers understand the situation. Instead, the article simply repeated hackneyed phrases over-used to describe fires in the western US.
Every fire is different. Large, high-intensity wildfires have long been a natural feature of these chaparral landscapes. What has changed is that we have put people in harm’s way.
A quick overview on Google Earth of what burned in the devastating Tubbs Fire would have revealed that it was not “shrub-choked wildlands,” but rather a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed.

Tubbs veg area south no fire

“Shrub-choked wildlands?” The area burned in the Tubbs Fire was actually a complex patchwork of non-native grasslands, oak woodland, conifers, chaparral, and unfortunately, a lot of homes intermixed. Most of this area shown above burned within the southern portion of the Tubbs Fire, including the neighborhood of Coffey Park (in the lower left hand corner).

Tubbs distance with arrow

The distance of the devastated neighborhood of Coffey Park (tip of arrow) was approximately 1.6 miles from any significant amounts of wildland vegetation (beginning of arrow). Brown/amber colored areas under arrow indicate non-native grasslands burned during the Tubbs Fire.

Blaming nature and past efforts by firefighters to save lives and property through fire suppression ignores the actual problem – poorly planned communities in high fire risk areas.
Ironically, the article quotes a source that admits large fires have occurred before, but the source goes on to ignore the full history to support his contention that the recent fires were unusual, a classic logical fallacy. Yes, the article reads, there were large fires in the past (when we were suppressing fires), but the recent fires are different because we have been suppressing fires.
Memories are short. Despite claims to the contrary, wildland fires along California’s west coast and inland valleys have not changed much since the 1964 Hanly Fire, a blaze which burned nearly the same territory as the Tubbs Fire but was even larger. What has changed is human demography.

Read more at: A Plea to Journalists – Wildfires in California: please investigate poor land planning rather than denigrating the region’s iconic, native ecosystem | The California Chaparral Institute Blog

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sustainable Living, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Sebastopol woman transforms yard into a way station for feathered friends


See the article in the PD for more information about habitat and native plant gardening.

Almost as soon as Veronica Bowers bought her property in rural Sebastopol 18 years ago she began making over the backyard. She ripped out rose bushes, hydrangeas and other strictly people-pleasing ornamental plants and began transforming her two acres into a comfortable way station for songbirds.
It’s a pretty place, with masses of native plants and trees for forage and cover, fallen logs that will host tasty insects and their larvae, berry bushes to fuel up for long migrations, multiple nesting boxes for extended stays and a large pond for bathing. She has arbors covered with wild grapevines, which also provide seating areas to watch the entertaining show of birds as they come and go.
Not everyone, like Bowers, can create a Club Med-style resort for songbirds. But the former pastry chef and chocolatier, who eventually gave up baking to devote herself full-time to maintaining a hospital for sick and injured songbirds on her property, maintains that everyone can do at least something to create a little sanctuary space for songbirds. For many native species, habitat is dwindling and they are under assault from multiple forces, from free-roaming house cats, to climate change to light pollution that confuses migrating birds on their nighttime journeys.
Read more at: Sebastopol woman transforms yard into a way station for feathered friends | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , ,

Windsor looks to extend the life of its urban growth boundary


Environmental groups, including the Greenbelt Alliance, support Windsor’s proposal, although they said the town should consider charging developers to offset the loss of agricultural lands and protect them elsewhere in the town’s jurisdiction.

Almost 20 years ago, Windsor voters approved an urban growth boundary designed to keep a greenbelt and discourage sprawl. Now they are being asked to do it again.
The Town Council last week scheduled a special election for Nov. 7 to extend the life of the boundary encircling the town for another 22 years — until 2040 — with slight modifications.
“I’m really proud that this boundary has held for 20 years and that it will basically hold for 22 more. That’s 42 years,” Mayor Debora Fudge said of the expected enactment by voters.
This time around, the council is asking voters not only to reaffirm the boundary, but slightly expand it by adding 22 acres of agricultural land south of Shiloh Road to the town’s future jurisdiction.
Town Council members say they want to accommodate two existing Windsor businesses with expansion plans.
“It’s to keep our valuable business partners in Windsor,” Fudge said.
Read more at: Windsor looks to extend the life of its urban growth boundary | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land UseTags , , ,

Bill McNamara is Glen Ellen’s ‘Indiana Jones’ of rare plants 


“When the plants go extinct, the animals that depend on them go extinct. And it’s completely ignored,” [McNamara] said. “Most biologists who are aware of this are convinced that by the end of the century, if current trends continue, we will lose half of all animals and half of all plants will be gone.”

For a onetime landscaper from California, it was a Cinderella moment — standing beneath the glass vaulted ceiling of the Edwardian Lindley Hall in London, accepting one of the world’s highest honors in horticulture.
The crowd that applauded American Bill McNamara as he accepted the prestigious Veitch Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society on Feb. 22, included finely dressed members of England’s titled gentry and some of the biggest names in the botanical realm over which Great Britain still rules.
“It was such a big honor, it was a shock,” said McNamara, now comfortably back in his bluejeans at Quarryhill Botanical Garden, a refuge for rare and endangered Asian plants that he gathered himself from seed in wild and remote corners of China. In just 30 years, a mere baby in the world of botanical gardens, Quarryhill has come to be considered one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world, numbering close to 2,000 species plants in their natural form, unchanged by man through hybridization.
Read more at: Bill McNamara is Glen Ellen’s ‘Indiana Jones’ of rare plants | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , ,

With spring wildflowers, pipevine swallowtail butterflies emerge in Sonoma County 

The explosion of wildflowers throughout March and April ushers in a favorite Sonoma County phenomenon — the emergence of the pipevine swallowtail butterflies (Battus philanor).
While they represent just one of many pollinators now visiting our nectar-rich fields, these black and iridescent blue lovelies stand out. They are large and slow enough that we humans can easily follow their progress as they visit flower after flower in search of nectar. The tiny scales on their dark wings catch the light, reflecting blue metallic hues above and displaying bright orange spots underneath.
And, if we know when and where to look, we can track their entire life cycle during the coming months.
Read more at: With spring wildflowers, pipevine swallowtail butterflies emerge in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Local Organizations, WildlifeTags , ,

It’s wildflower time in Sonoma County

List of guided wildflower hikes
It’s early yet, but splashes of color that have recently appeared amid bright grasslands and shaded local woodlands tell of glorious weeks to come, as spring takes hold and this year’s crop of wildflowers bloom into life.
Even in a region with the comparatively temperate climate we enjoy on the North Coast, the shift into wildflower season somehow offers reassurances that the harsh days of winter are behind us. The promise and potential of foliage that will soon sprout blossoms inspires us to contemplate new beginnings, while the plants that already have opened and spread their delicate petals can’t help but charm.
“It’s so delicious to see the flowers,” said one avid fan, retired Santa Rosa High School Spanish teacher Phil Weil. “I get very excited.”
Read more at: It’s wildflower time in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Forests, WildlifeTags , , Leave a comment on Historical extent of oaks in Sonoma County

Historical extent of oaks in Sonoma County


Oaks are intricately tied to the human history of Sonoma County, California. The impressive size of individual trees, and the extent and beauty of the lowland groves are common themes in our county’s historical records. Early writers often compared the valleys where oaks grew to a park, with open spaces between the trees and little understory . This is a testament to the natural vigor of the trees themselves, and to the stewardship of native peoples, who had been tending the land here for thousands of years.

Quotations from early California settlers

“We passed through an extremely large roblar (trees very tall and thick) . . . running 3 leagues [8 miles]east to west, and a league and a half [four miles] north to south” — Jose Altimira, founder of the Sonoma Mission, describing Sonoma Valley in 1823.

“the valleys are . . . sprinkled with oak trees, and it seems ever as if we were about to enter a forest which we never reach, for in the distance the oaks, though really far apart, appear to grow in dark and heavy masses” — Frank Marryat, describing Sonoma Valley in 1850.

Oak landscape as first recorded

The Spanish term “roblar,” commonly used in Mexican California, is not really conveyed by the English words “forest,” or “grove.” An “oak-dominated landscape” is probably close, if we imagine a place on the floor of a valley where oaks are prominent among a mosaic of grasslands, wetlands, and riparian corridors (see map on the following page). Within a roblar, oaks grow in varying densities, from savannah to denser woodlands. Historically, the roblars of Sonoma County were likely dominated by Valley oaks (Q. lobata) and their hybrids, though blue, black, Oregon and coast live oaks (Q. douglasii, kelloggii, garryana, and agrifolia) were also part of the mix.

Read more at Historical extent of oaks, Sonoma County, California.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County Updates Stream Protection Zoning

Sonoma County Updates Stream Protection Zoning

Press Release, County of Sonoma

The Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department announced it will hold an informational public workshop in Santa Rosa to seek input on proposed amendments to the Zoning Code to incorporate existing General Plan policies. Stream setbacks were established in the adopted Area and Specific Plans and in the General Plan 2020. Zoning code changes will not result in any new setbacks, not previously adopted.

What: Informational Public Workshop to seek input on proposed amendments to the Zoning Code to incorporate existing General Plan Policies

When: Wednesday, May 22, 20134:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Where: Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department
2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa CA 95403

Zoning requirements for properties with streams will be amended to be consistent with the Sonoma County General Plan 2020, any applicable Area Plan and the County’s existing Building and Grading ordinances.

via Sonoma County Updates Stream Protection Zoning For Consistency with General Plan 2020 | Press Releases | County of Sonoma.