Lost Coast Headlands and other explorations

Fleener Creek running into the Pacific

April 17, 2012

Since my first post in March I have been continuing with my surveying of dune vegetation on the established transects. Much of this work has been done on BLM land that is nearby. I have quickly found that moving only a few miles closer to the coast can yield drastically different rainfall and wind patterns, regardless of what the radar indicates. Weather aside, I have completed 12 of 13 dune transects with the hope to finish my last one this week. I am definitely much more confident in my identification skills of the local dune vegetation schemes. I find that the more time one spends hunched over a sandy dune mat scouring for smaller and rare flora, counting rosettes of beach Layia (Layia carnosa), and observing the floral phenological changes, the more appreciation I gain for the complexity of this habitat. The intense climatic and geologic pressures on these species is quite evident after spending even just one day on the dunes. They are unquestionably better adapted for survival in such an environment than any field worker.

In addition to my concentration on dune vegetation, I have had a chance to travel to several of the other disjunct parcels of land under the jurisdiction of the BLM Arcata field office. Our office hosted a group of high school students who helped restore trails and remove invasive Monterey pines, coyote brush, and french broom from a former US Naval base at the Lost Coast Headlands. The invasive woody vegetation has been encroaching on the threatened coastal prairies over the last 10 years since the removal of the naval base. A substantial stand of Monterey pine– which, to clarify, are native to the central coast of California, but artificially cultivated and invasive in the north coast– have grown in excess of 25 feet in just a decade. Fortunately these pines focus all their resources into growing fast, not strong, and thus have very soft wood and a large tap root. Many of the trees (up to 6 feet tall) were easily pulled by hand and trees up to 5 inches dbh were felled with a small hand saw. This was an important opportunity to share the importance of our conservation work with a younger generation of local students. We made sure to stress that coastal prairies are equally native to the north coast as forested hillsides, though most of these prairies have disappeared in the last century with a focus on timber growth and restricted grazing and fire regimes. My supervisor has been educating me on the conservation of these prairies and of the often scrutinized methods for actively managing the land to ensure their survival. All in all, coastal prairies are pretty cool.

Next week I will be traveling to a BLM Seed Collection training conference in Las Vegas. I am looking forward to learning more about seed conservation work and preparing for the late-season efforts to collect seeds in the Arcata district. Because the conference is in the middle of the week I will have a chance to drive through much of California and am planning to take both the coastal route and eastern-Sierra route along the journey there and back. I look forward to sharing my experiences from the trip in May.

-Andy, BLM Arcata, CA

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