The Battle for Monvero

I stepped out of the air-conditioned cab of my BLM vehicle. Heat surrounded me. I lost my breath. The suffocating heat of summer was asphyxiating. I was nervously anticipating the call of duty, the heat of the day, and the mission before us- but it had to be done. Our mission was to defeat the alien invaders from their newly colonized landing atop one of the rarest ecosystems on the planet. We were to attack at high noon.
The Monvero Dunes are located in the mountainous western boundary of California’s central valley (Tumie Hills area). The Monvero area comprises a number of small dune islands located on the summits of Monocline ridge, a jagged ridge that hugs the eastern rim of the mountains. The vegetation is unique to the zone. A unique array of plants has colonized these dune islands, including several species native to the Mojave Desert, hundreds of miles away. The dunes are also home to the rare and endangered kangaroo rat and Monvero beetle.
These species are now suffering the overthrow of their precious communities and robbery of their resources by a colony of aliens, which is why we were here now: to remove the aliens by force and restore the precious balance of life that existed before the invasion.
We grabbed our weapons of choice and silently ascended the steep sandy slopes. To our dismay, we saw that we were highly outnumbered, but the unsuspecting aliens were armed only with small spines. We begged the higher powers for strength, and jumped into action.
The battle was on. Sand was flying. The heat was intense. The weight of our weapons seemingly increased with each blow. The shadows of the mountains grew long and elegant as the evenings hue burned red. The battle endured.
As the sunset and the moon rose, corpses littered the sands. We combed the battlefield for any survivors. There were none.
Exhausted, sun-burned, tired, but victorious, we celebrated that evening under a millions stars with the kangaroo rats, the beetles and the accomplishment of holding onto a gem that would have otherwise been lost forever.

The end of the Rainbow

Ranunculus lobii might be the most elusive plant on Fort Ord. R. lobii, alias buttercup, aka RALO, has had me on a wild goose chase for the second summer in a row. I prefer to use the name RALO when referring to this plant, buttercup being too sweet of a name for RALO’s real character: deceptive, secretive, and terse.
It all started last summer. It was a sea of gold; a veritable ocean of RALO. All who passed would stand in awe at the display. I had the perfect plan; I would wait until the color faded, and collect. It would be a golden bounty of seed! I would pass the field daily, but the color did not fade. Then one day, without notice, the meadow was dark green, no gold in sight. I ran from my truck, bags in hand ready for the most lucrative collection of all. I walked into the meadow, high stepping the tall Carex sp, but all I saw were sharp blades of the sedges. I swam through the thick grass on hands and knees looking for any sign of RALO- nothing! Unsettled by the enigma of the vanishing sea of gold, I returned again and again, but my bags remained empty and my dreams unfulfilled. I held on to my measly collection determined to solve the mystery in the following season.
This year, I was prepared. I monitored all known RALO populations; I watched, recorded, measured, photographed, and waited. Then, one day, RALO was gone. I searched mountaintops and savannas, looking for the remnants of what once were. I scrutinized fields once full of RALO, only to add another measly hundred seeds to my bag. Despondent and forlorn, I abandoned my dreams of collecting 20,000 RALO seeds.
Having moved on to other seeds, my spirits started to rise. I visited Butterfly Valley- a lovely place! Here species are abundant. I filled my bags with seeds from not one, but three species! Happy with my success, I packed my bags and headed for the truck. Just then, something caught my eye. There at my feet, hanging on a delicate perch, a head of brown, little, hooked fruits. On my hands and knees, I recognized this plant as none other than RALO. As I looked around, I realized that it was not just this one individual, but a field of mature RALO seed heads! I had come to the end of the rainbow. I collected until I could collect no more.
Dreams fulfilled, mystery solved, I feel better about RALO as a species. However, I will warn those of you who intend on collecting this species. You never know what might happen when you turn your back on characters like Ranunclus lobii.

Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) Removal on Fort Ord BLM

In the 1920s a local rancher crossed the European wild boar with a domestic pig and got what we now call the wild boar, Sus scrofa. These robust individuals have since spread from Monterey County, CA to 56 of the lower 58 states. Despite their local origin, these pigs did not find a home at the Fort Ord BLM until 2004. Their presence was soon apparent as the destructive nature of the animal is to upturn the soil in moist soils and wetlands looking for bulbs, tubers and other yummy(?) edibles. This is a problem considering the number of rare and threatened species we have coexisting in these habitats. The program to remove the remaining invasive wild Boar has been underway for around five years. The pigs are lured into traps with fermented corn (this is my job) and then shot (this is not my job). The meat is then donated to one of many organizations on a waiting list to clean and process the meat, and then eat it. The program has been very successful and only a handful of individuals that remain (I think there are around three). Still it is not uncommon to discover sensitive areas roto-tilled overnight by the strong snouts of these pigs. The program to remove the remaining hogs will continue to operate in order to ensure that the population does not rebound. But until then it is a slow process.

April showers bring may flowers… May showers bring June flowers!

It has proven to be a glorious spring. The colors are remarkable. Hills splashed with shades of pink, purple, green, blue, yellow, orange… just about every color. And as if colored with scented markers, the hills and the spaces in between are deliciously thick and sweet with the smell of sky lupine. sky lupine is one of the most abundant annual forbs around the Monterey Bay area. Along the coast range you will find many types of lupine, but the sky lupine will shout for recognition from afar, radiating sun beams of purple frequency across the landscape and filling the air with sweet whiffs of pure spring magic.

This year has been especially great for wildflowers. From a short winter’s nap the chaparral awoke, first with the pink blossoms of manzanita. Week after week we spotted the slow emergence of new flowers, a blue forest of lilac, an occasional footsteps of spring, the highest ridge with a pool of shooting stars, milk maids in the understory by the trail side. I counted every species and wrote down every flower name and location. It seemed to be a slow awakening, when one day I looked around and saw so many different species flowering that I lost count.

Maybe there are so many flowers this year from all of that rain that we keep getting. I do not remember it raining last year in April, which is why I was surprised by this year’s April showers, and even more surprised by the rain we got all last week, in the end of May.

In the past the the fiesta flower, a white or purple flower that creeps about under the large lounging oak trees, was the first to disappear. By this time last year they were long gone. They have had a long run this year, and although they are starting to loose their petals and grow large pregnant styles, most of them are still showing off to the flies that pollinate them.

It seems to be that annual plants die because they dry out, desiccating in the dry earth and racing to set their seeds before they crumble to dust. The rain this year has supplied them with youth and longevity. The plants sip up what may not return for another year and nurse new buds in hopes of putting more seeds in the bank.

However, the months are passing quickly and the early spring flowers are beginning to set seeds. I become frantic with great plans for collection. On hands and knees I count the seeds of a shooting star. One seed falls to the ground where many small pink flowers are beginning to bloom. The ground is covered with the next batch of summer forbs, with which I am excited to meet and become acquainted.

sky lupine