Monday, June 29, 2009

What did they do?

We had our monthly canyon walk at Lunada Canyon on Saturday and were shocked to find the canyon in a devastated condition. At first it looked like someone had come in with a weed-whacker and just indiscriminately hacked away at the plants along the path, but on one side of the path only. Last time I saw the canyon, I had remarked that they were having problems with the weeds overtaking the path to the point that the path was obliterated and people were making their own paths up and down the cliff side.

But even a weed whacker doesn't strip a plant of its greenery, leaving only the stems behind as happened with this Lemonadeberry (Rhus integrifolia). Other natives that had been planted on the right side of the path in the top photo included California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) and California Fuchsia (Epilobium canum) which would normally bloom in August with bright red trumpet-shaped flowers. The Lemonadeberry will probably survive, it is a very tough plant, but the others will not.

This used to be a stand of Giant Rye Grass (Leymus condensatus). You'll have to take my word for it. It should be seeding now. Gone. But they left the trash.

Saddest of all was the condition of this large Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis) which had been turned from the lush green in the photo above (taken in June of 2007) to this:

The Coyote Bush is green all year and also starts blooming in August. It is a favorite of beetles and bees. Other wildlife will be affected. Lizards were running around more than usual. They had no place to hide. It reminded me of when I get my trees trimmed and the birds get all upset.

On the right side of the lower path, plants were in better condition including this Ashyleaf Buckwheat (Eriogonum cinereum) and the California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), both of which were blooming profusely. But the Bladderpod, Sticky Monkeyflower, and my favorite, the Bush Lupine were either gone or almost dead.

We found little brown pellets everywhere and even noted that the pellets started and stopped where the devastation had occurred. In fact, one of us slipped and fell on the pellets laying all over the drive at the entrance to the canyon. We were at a loss to explain all of this.

When I got home, I got a call from my sister and I told her about the walk and the condition of the plants. She lives in Connecticut and said that back there, deer will eat all the leaves of a plant and leave the stems. Then I remembered two things. A couple of years ago, at the cemetery where my DDH is buried, I saw a herd of goats that had been set free on the undeveloped land that was soon going to be put to use. I also remembered a remark one of the nearby residents had made to us as we started our walk at the canyon Saturday morning, "Well, at least it's better than goats in the canyon." I hadn't a clue to what she was referring at the time. But as I scanned my photos at home yesterday, suddenly the light when on and I knew what had happened in the canyon. The
PV Land Conservancy must have hired a herd of goats to come in and clear the weeds from the hillsides. They could have used portable fences to keep the goats on one side of the path, leaving the other untouched. I haven't received confirmation yet, but it's the one explanation that fits.

Aargh! Whose idea was that? Goats wreak havoc and make things worse than before. For one thing they leave the roots of all the plants and weeds, so the opportunistic non-natives can come back with a vengeance. And for another, their droppings spread the weeds and add new ones to the mix. Goat feed normally consists of corn, oats, wheat, molasses, and who knows what.

I'll be waiting to hear the official explanation of what happened and why. I'll also be waiting to see what they do next to restore the canyon. Is this the way they started? Hired goats, whacked the weeds to the ground but left the roots? And then planted natives in the hopes they would take over? If I were one of the many volunteers who planted the native plants four or five years ago, I'd be very reluctant to do so again. This whole process may just recycle over and over.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know goats could do that. I have seen them here in fields but never on a lush hillside like that of the canyon. So sorry to see it gone like that.

    DIL AZ