Paleo-endemics and Planning

We enjoyed a few snow showers in March, but by noon the following day it all had melted to make way for springtime growth. Our mountaintop flowers have been popping up all over the place, nurtured by abundant moisture and sunshine. I’ve discovered a previously unfamiliar species almost every field day over the past few weeks. This recognition has been important as I finish out my restoration document, which recommends local native species for revegetation. Now that I can put a name to a face, so to speak, I can more accurately write about floral characteristics.


Of the plants described in my document, none are more unique than those comprising the Pebble Plain vegetation community. Pebble Plain is made up of miniature, low-growing species often with highly reflective, succulent features–all special adaptations to harsh environmental conditions like high clay content soils, frequent frost heave, extreme soil temperature variation, and reduced soil moisture. Until very recently in the season, Pebble Plain, to me, resembled a wet, rocky, mud flat. But, since spring sprung, I’ve quickly come to appreciate this habitat for the exciting biological community it is. Pebble plain is found only on the SBNF and adjacent private lands, and while resident plant species are abundant within their specific habitat, these areas are very narrowly distributed on the Forest overall leading to the designation of a few characteristic plants under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).




These plants were described by our district botanist at a Big Bear Sierra Club chapter event as “paleo-endemics,” meaning they persist only in select locations, surviving as relicts of earlier, further ranging populations. Closely related species are found in alpine zones of the Sierra Mountains and Baja California. Many, many years ago when the climate was colder we can infer that these populations were connected. Today they make their last disjointed stand at high elevations.

The archetypal example of Pebble Plain habitat is located just outside the city of Big Bear Lake near a residential neighborhood. It was here that I happily observed Douglas’ violet (Viola douglassi), Alkali draba, (Cusickiella douglasii), and Parish’s rockcress (Boechera parishii) in full bloom, and eagerly await the flowering of the endangered Southern mountain buckwheat (Eriogonum kennedyi var. austromonatum), and ash gray paintbrush (Castilleja cinerea).

This past week I took a break from botany for a training opportunity “down the hill” in San Diego, a much appreciated component of the CLM internship program. I chose to attend the Association of Environmental Professionals 2016 Conference. While most of my post-grad work experience has involved botany, ecology and restoration, my educational background centered on natural resources planning. Many of the lectures offered at this conference addressed the intersections between these disciplines via Conservation Planning.

The first talk, titled “Conservation Planning & Implementation in San Diego,” discussed the impressively organized and highly collaborative conservation efforts developed to serve the vulnerable flora and fauna of the sprawling metropolis that is greater San Diego. Speakers from the private and public sectors discussed their experiences formulating and implementing the regional Management and Monitoring Plan (SDMMP) and Management Strategic Plan (MSP) that falls beneath. The MSP categorizes and prioritizes species and vegetation communities, identifies geographic locations for management actions, provides specific timelines for implementation, and established a process for coordination. According to the speakers, while these plans are complicated and require long-term commitments, they are working to enhance habitat in an area under a great deal of pressure!


A forum later that day discussed “How Wind Energy Development is Navigating Complex Avian Regulatory Requirements with Technological Advances.” We were taught about the semi-ambiguous regulatory framework currently involved in permitting wind development in relation to birds, namely the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). A representative from the consulting firm RES group presented on IdentiFlight, a promising new technology that can identify bird species from 1,000 meters away! If it turns out the be a large raptor, the computer will switch off the turbines quickly enough to avoid a collision.

April will probably be the last full month of my internship so I’m looking forward to successfully completing my projects and documents, learning more species of Forest vegetation in their greenest, liveliest, blooming forms, and exploring more of beautiful southern California. Thanks for reading!

Brandon Drucker
Mountaintop Ranger District
San Bernardino National Forest
Fawnskin, California

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