Monday, July 20, 2009

Canyon Report

We were not looking forward to our canyon walk on Saturday at Lunada Canyon. June's walk-through had taken us by surprise and filled us with dismay when we found many of the plants, both native and introduced, indiscriminately shredded and hacked down. It took us awhile to figure out that goats had been "hired" to clear the brush. But this month we found new hope for the plants that were ravaged by the goats and for the care that the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy (who owns the land) is giving the canyon, although we still feel there is some cause for concern.

After sending in our report last month along with complaints about the treatment of the canyon, a meeting was held with the canyon "keepers" (that's us) and the staff of the PVPLC. We were informed that the goats were utilized to comply with county fire regulations although the staff agreed that they should have warned us about this method of brush control. Our understanding was that the law required brush to be cleared within 100 ft. of any structure (see the L.A. County Fire Department's Brush Clearance rules here), but were told that the fire department was to clear up to 200 ft. and were using GPS to measure this distance.

None of the staff was present to oversee this enterprise and to ensure that the goats stayed within the limit. We have determined that indeed the goats were allowed to roam beyond even 200 ft. because they set up their portable fences along the path and not along a strict 200 ft. boundary line. That this was the case can clearly be seen in the top photo which shows the path from beyond where it crosses the now dry creek that forms the canyon and in the Google Earth photo below which we used to measure the distance from a nearby house to our favorite Coyote Bush. The result was 279 ft. [Correction: After further study of the maps on Google Earth and playing around with the measuring tool, we have come to the conclusion that the Coyote Bush was within the 200 ft. limit at anywhere from 188 ft. to 198 ft.] Also, only one side of the canyon was cleared and not all the way down. If indeed, the law requires 200 feet of clearance, then the whole canyon might as well be stripped bare of any plants.

On the bright side, we found new growth on many of the plants that the goats had fed on last month and were amazed that these hardy natives, Lemonadeberry, California Buckwheat, Bladderpod, and Coyote Bush, were all sprouting green even though we have had no significant rain for months. The goat droppings and other debris which was very slippery on the part of the path that is covered with asphalt had been cleared away. The upper path has been re-instated and the lower path that had eroded away with the passage of the goats had been shored up again.

We also discovered a new native plant that we knew had been planted in the canyon but had never observed until now since it had been covered by the weeds. I had been going crazy trying to learn the difference between the two goldenbushes, Coastal (Isocoma menziesii) and Saw-tooth (Hazardia squarrosa). Being able to see the two plants, if not side by side, at least in the same place at the same time and in the same state, i.e. blooming, really helped. I was getting nowhere with the photos on the web. Let me note the differences that I observed between the two and if you know of others, feel free to comment. I know that both species have many subspecies, but I am not getting into that. I feel lucky to have gotten this far.

These first two photos are of Coast Goldenbush. This particular plant is along the upper path (canyon side, ergo saved from the goats). I have photographed it many times but I never felt the leaves before. This time I did so and found them to be sticky. That is a sign of the Coast Goldenbush which has a resinous secretion especially on the leaves. And while the leaves are toothed, they are soft. I also noticed that the blooms appear at the tip of the branches and come in clusters and that they have a whitish tip before they open up.

The bottom two photographs are from the new plot of goldenbush plants we found at the canyon edge of the cleared area going down the lower path. These are definitely Sawtooth Goldenbushes. The leaves are rough and firm, and the toothed edges are very sharp. The flowers are coming out along the stem where the leaves also begin, not just at the tip, and there is no white but sometimes a reddish color when they open. These bushes were also smaller than the coast.