Workhorse Species and the Superbloom

Much of my time over the past month has been devoted to the development of a document tentatively titled “Work Horse Species for the Restoration of Disturbed Lands and Pollinator Habitat.” I bet you’re at the edge of your seat! What even is a work horse species? Why combine disturbed lands and pollinators? Well…

Long before I arrived, restoration staff started on a simpler report intended to recommend which native plant species to use in revegetation efforts across the forest. The SBNF covers so much ground and so many different varieties of habitat that it’s important to set some rules. This way we ensure plants added to restoration sites are adapted to survive local conditions and contribute to healthy, resilient ecosystems. These hardy, recommended plants are dubbed “workhorse species.”

Then, in May 2015 the White House released their “National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.” The Forest Service Region 5 (California) also generated a Pollinator Best Management Practices report. Together, these directives urge Federal land managers like the SBNF restoration team to support the health of pollinator populations in response to the massive honeybee, monarch butterfly, and other pollinator population crashes that have occurred over the past few decades. Considering these bugs are responsible for the reproduction of around 80% of the world’s flowering plants, including most of our food crops, this should concern us all.

Basically, whenever a restoration project is planned on the forest we want pollinator habitat to be a primary consideration. Fortunately, pollinator habitat enhancement and disturbed lands restoration are complementary activities! Several of the workhorse species used in restoration are already favored by pollinators. Eriogonum, Penstemon, and Encelia, for example. Our program is identifying additional species important to pollinators as sources of nectar and larvae food. Milkweed, aka Asclepias, is one, which I discussed in my last post.

Besides writing, I’ve been enjoying lots of time in the field. A few weeks ago I helped plant a rather dramatic restoration site known as the Summit Staging Area—dramatic for the view of the San Gabriel Mountains as well as the method of restoration.


This lot had been used as a “staging area” where off highway vehicle (OHV) riders could unload their quads, dirtbikes, etc. and get ready to ride the trails. Sadly, many riders decided to drive off the footprint of the staging area and onto the hillside, running over quality habitat. To prevent this continued degradation, the restoration program called for the placement of boulders around the perimeter of the lot and “chunking” of the damaged area outside. Chunking involves the creation of hills and dips over the ground making it essentially impossible for OHV riders to drive across. According to staff, the contractors chunked this site considerably more than the norm with taller hills and deeper dips.

So, we knocked those tall hills down a peg! We used the excess soil to fill the dips and create a perfect bed for the planting of native Eriogonum, Ericameria, and Malacothamnus from our greenhouse.

Outside of work, in mid-February, I took advantage of a three-day weekend to explore Death Valley. I couldn’t have accidentally picked a more super time, for the national park was experiencing a super bloom. There is only one big bloom like this every decade or so. Thanks, El Nino. I took literally hundreds of photos of the wildflowers. The desert is colorful, immense, and humbling.

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I take the GRE next weekend. Too bad they care more about geometry and vocabulary than plant ID. Wish me luck!

Brandon Drucker

Mountaintop Ranger Station
San Bernardino National Forest
Fawnskin, California

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