Celebrating the Bigcone Douglas-fir of the San Gabriel Mountains
By Michael Kauffmann
The nearly 350,000 acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument was dedicated in October 2014 by proclamation of President Obama, after more than 10 years of work for its establishment. The monument covers the northern and eastern regions of the San Gabriel Mountains, primarily in the Angeles National Forest. Within the boundaries, vast wilderness areas like the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, the San Gabriel Wilderness, and Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness exist very close to the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. Most of the major peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, including Mount San Antonio, Mount Baden-Powell, and Throop Peak are also protected. The area is also home to many interesting plants and animals, like California's endemic Bigcone Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa).
In 2015, CNPS began a project with the US Forest Service (USFS) to map and survey Bigcone Douglas-fir within the Angeles National Forest. Daniel Hastings, Julie Evens and I embarked on this project along with USFS staff in the fall, spending most of November in the range, collecting data and ground-truthing populations of trees.
After nearly a month of travel through one of the gems of Southern California, I've had time to reflect on all aspects of the journey–including the wonders of the wilderness and forest, as well as the state of the region. The San Gabriel Mountains remain wild, in large part, because of isolation due to slope. In fact, John Muir called them the steepest mountains he ever hiked in!
The forests of the San Gabriels are mostly healthy. It seems to me that the forests here are doing as well as they are, while our climate is rapidly changing, because of plant isolation within slopes. Forest pathogens travel much more slowly through heterogeneous landscapes with mixed stands of trees. Many of the Bigcone Douglas-fir stands we visited were isolated on slopes of greater than 45°. Isolation sculpts the ecology of the mountain's biota in many ways, and makes life for this conifer both easier and more difficult. That balance also defines the ecological amplitude of many of the species within the California Floristic Province.
We are still working on a full report of our findings, but we did see some broad landscape-level patterns in Bigcone Douglas-fir's health and vegetation associations. Within region 1 of the map below, Bigcone Douglas-fir trees are exhibiting high mortality. Elsewhere, they seem to be doing fine at the moment–especially in forest areas that have been able to avoid high intensity fires. Reproduction is occurring at variable rates, but they seem to like disturbed areas, like landslides, which the San Gabriels have no problem offering.
1. Front Range
Populations are often small and isolated–and while being continually exposed to increasing warmth and decreasing rain–appear to be getting smaller still. It has also been proposed that smog is playing a role in the species' decline as well. High mortality was witnessed here–it is a tough place for many species to survive.
2. Interior River Country
This must be the wildest country Los Angeles County has to offer. Visitors are few and wildlife and forests seem to be thriving. Forests are healthy and Bigcone Douglas-fir reproduction is common along the washes and other areas where landslides are frequent.
Bigcone bark and views across the San Gabriel Wilderness.
High intensity fires often do not impact the north slope forests as much as the south slope, where chaparral is common.
3. North Slopes
Where the forest meets the high desert, interesting plant associations can be found–literally where the California Floristic Province ends and the rain shadow begins. Forests of Bigcone Douglas-fir are generally healthy except a few stands at lower elevation or on occasional south-facing slopes.
Bigcone, Arctostaphylos glauca, and Cercocarpus ledifolius.
Some forests survived on the North Slopes of Mount Gleason after the Station Fire.
4. Sierra Pelona Region
I had never been to this hidden corner of the Angeles National Forest and was pleasantly surprised with what I found. Spectacular black oak woodlands decorate ridgelines with chaparral-covered south slopes and fir-covered north slopes. Bigcone Douglas-fir was acting like its more common relative, Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), at the edge of meadows where fire suppression and wetter years have allowed them to "encroach" in the oak woodlands. This was the only place in the Angeles we have seen this "invasive" behavior in Pseudotsuga macrocarpa.
Bigcone Douglas-fir are "invading" oak woodlands at the edge of the Mojave Desert— with the Tehachapi Mountains in the distance.
Stay tuned to read more about our findings. We are scheduled to wrap up the project in late 2016.
MICHAEL KAUFFMANN is an author, educator and ecologist who lives in Humboldt County with his wife Allison and son Sylas. He is author of three books: Conifer Country (2012), Conifers of the Pacific Slope (2013), and Field Guide to Manzanitas (2015). Follow more of his plant explorations at www.blog.conifercountry.com.
Suisun Marsh – Vegetation Mapping and Long-term Conservation and Management
By Rachelle Boul
If you live in or visit northern California, it is likely that you have driven past it and not even realized. If you've driven over the Benicia-Martinez Bridge along Highway 680 or taken Amtrak from the Bay Area to Suisun City, Davis or Sacramento, then you've traveled right through it. Suisun Marsh is located in Solano County, CA, and is part of the San Francisco Bay / Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta estuary ecosystem. It is one of the largest contiguous brackish marshes remaining in the United States, covering over 69,000 acres (28,000 hectares) of tidal and managed seasonal wetlands. It provides key wintering area for waterfowl and supports a number of sensitive plant and animal species including the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventrishalicoetes, California Ridgeway's Rail (Rallus obsoletus obsoletus), Suisun Thistle (Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum), and Soft Bird's Beak (Chloropyron molle ssp. molle).
While Suisun Marsh may go unnoticed to many, it has been front and center for countless ecologists, biologists, naturalists and hunters alike – for its rich wildlife, endemic and unique species, and ongoing natural and human-caused changes occurring in the marsh. For all these reasons and more, Suisun Marsh is a very loved and distinctive place that many people and agencies are striving to protect.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Vegetation Classification and Mapping Program (VegCAMP) is just one group that has invested considerable energy in supporting the conservation of Suisun Marsh. Since 1999, VegCAMP has mapped the vegetation of Suisun Marsh every three years, making the summer of 2015 the 7th triennial vegetation survey (read the reports here). Each map delineates patches of vegetation in the marsh that are 1/4 acre (0.1 hectare) or larger and attributes it with the appropriate vegetation type as well as other characteristics including average vegetation height and percent cover. The amount of information that can be gleaned from such a long, on-going, fine scale mapping project can make your head spin. Some examples include: detecting and monitoring changes in preferred habitat for the endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse, tracking the spread of species of concern including invasive strain(s) of common reed (Phragmites australis) and perennial pepper weed (Lepidium latifolium), correlating management activities with vegetation changes, providing baseline data for current and future restoration and climate change studies, and so many more purposes.
For this project, we define species of concern as any species that spread rapidly, displace native species, and decrease diversity and habitat quality.Common reed is one such species of concern, because it is so wide-spread and has rapidly increased in the Marsh since 1999 (Figure 3). Vegetation maps compared across time show that common reed has increased by 216% over the entire Marsh, starting with only 863 acres in 1999 and expanding to 2,731 acres in 2012 (contact VegCAMP for most recent report). The vegetation maps are used as a tool to show where species like common reedare increasing rapidly or displacing preferred habitat for the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse so that losses can be understood and minimized.
Suisun Marsh is an important resource that is owned and managed by several agencies and private entities, but the management is highly regulated and coordinated as one unit. The Suisun Marsh Habitat Management, Preservation, and Restoration Plan was completed in 2014. This plan sets 30-year goals for over 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) of tidal marsh restoration and over 40,000 acres (16,000 hectares) of managed wetland enhancement in Suisun Marsh (CDFW et al. 2014). Already many small restoration pilot projects, including the Blacklock Project, have been implemented from which land managers can learn from and improve upon their methodologies (DWR 2006). Fine scale vegetation maps are crucial for tracking the progression of the vegetation and channel morphology for these sites.
Whether you're into the casual plant hike or the nitty-gritty science, Suisun Marsh has something for you. So go check it out, and if you are so inclined, look at the vegetation maps on the Biogeographic Information and Observations System (BIOS) on the CDFW website. There are many more ways this dataset can be explored; if you have a research interest please don't hesitate to utilize this publicly available data or contact VegCAMP for any questions or assistance.
Rachelle Boul is an environmental scientist with California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Vegetation Classification and Mapping Program (VegCAMP).
Vegetation Classification and Mapping Program (VegCAMP). 2014. The Vegetation of Suisun Marsh, Solano County, California: Permanent Plot Resample Study 1999, 2006, 2012. A Report to the California Department of Water Resources. Unpublished administrative report on file at Biogeographic Data Branch, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sacramento, CA.
Vegetation Classification and Mapping Program (VegCAMP). 2016. 2012 Vegetation map update for Suisun Marsh, Solano County, California. A report to the California Department of Water Resources. VegCAMP, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sacramento, CA.
New from CNPS, California's Botanical Landscapes: A Pictorial View of the State's Vegetation is Now Available!
California's Botanical Landscapes: A Pictorial View of the State's Vegetation, by Michael G. Barbour, Julie M. Evens, Todd Keeler-Wolf, and John O. Sawyer, provides a vivid exploration of the Golden State's vegetation. Each chapter focuses on one of 14 regions, illuminating their unique plants and plant communities through a phenomenal array of photographs paired with in-depth, interpretive descriptions written by California's top plant ecologists. This book serves to inspire–with beautiful, brilliant depictions of our State's landscapes–and to enhance understanding of current vegetation patterns, as documented and standardized by A Manual of California Vegetation (CNPS 2009).
This colorful and engaging book contains over 300 pages of rich text and more than 600 stunning photographs!
A must-have book for anyone interested in the botanical diversity of California–botanists, ecologists, environmental scientists, natural historians, and wildlife lovers of all kinds. Purchase your copy of this gorgeous book now!
Call for a Vegetation Program Intern or Volunteer
The Vegetation Program is seeking individuals to assist us with various tasks to support statewide vegetation classification and mapping. Tasks include but are not limited to archiving of photos and data and computer entry of vegetation survey data from around the state. Tasks would be carried out in our office in downtown Sacramento. We are open to individuals with a range of skills and abilities, but good organization skills and attention for detail are desired. This is a great way for someone to gain experience and knowledge of California's diverse flora. Contact Jamie Ratchford at
if you would like to find out more.
Call for Car Donations: The Study of Vegetation Occurs on Roads Less Travelled!
The CNPS Vegetation Program is in search of a vehicle for our surveying and mapping forays across the state. Please consider a tax-deductible donation of your 4WD truck or SUV. For more information contact Julie Evens, CNPS Vegetation Program Director, at
Even if you don't have a 4WD vehicle, your car donation can still make a difference for CNPS! Through the Center for Car Donations, you can donate your used car, truck, boat, motorcycle, or even tractor and California Native Plant Society will receive the proceeds! Your car does not have to be running to qualify, however it must have an engine and be towable. Call 877-411-3662 to talk with a representative and within 24 hours you will be contacted to have your car picked up at a time and location convenient to you. You will receive a tow receipt when the vehicle is picked up, and thirty days after the vehicle is sold, you will receive an acknowledgement. If your vehicle sells for over $500 you will receive IRS Form 1098 B & C for your taxes. It's really that simple!
Upcoming CNPS Plant Science Workshops
The CNPS Education Program is gearing up for another year of exciting plant science training workshops! Full details and registration will be posted at www.cnps.org/workshops as it becomes available, or contact Becky Reilly at
for more information.
How To Photograph Flowering Plants Like A Pro
Feb. 25-26 (TENTATIVE), San Diego
Taught by Phil Roullard, Photographer
Rare Plant Survey Protocols (Registration open now!)
March 14-15, Oxnard & Malibu
Taught by Heath Bartosh, Senior Botanist, Nomad Ecology; Aaron Sims, Rare Plant Botanist, CNPS; plus a guest lecture from Kristi Lazar, California Department of Fish & Wildlife
Measuring & Monitoring Plant Populations
April 3-6, Zzyzx (Western Mojave)
Taught by John Willoughby, Independent Ecological Consultant
Wetland & Riparian Plant Identification (Registration open now!)
May 18-20, Taft Gardens, Ojai
Taught by David Magney, Botanist/Certified Arborist
Vegetation Rapid Assessment/Relevé
July 19-21, White Mountains
Taught by Julie Evens, Vegetation Program Director, CNPS; Jennifer Buck-Diaz, Vegetation Ecologist, CNPS
Summer 2016 (TBA), SF Bay Area
Taught by Julie Evens, Vegetation Program Director, CNPS; Todd Keeler-Wolf, Senior Vegetation Ecologist, VegCAMP Program, CDFW; John Menke, Senior Vegetation Mapping Specialist, AIS
Introduction to Plant Identification
Dates, exact locations, and instructors TBA - 3 classes will be held this year, in Northern California (Redding/Chico area), Southern California, and the San Francisco Bay area.
Chapter Events - A Sampling from Around the State
To connect to your local chapter, or to find other events in your region, see this page for a list and map of CNPS chapters. Even more events from CNPS chapters and partners can be viewed on the Horticulture Events Calendar.
Come to the monthly general meeting to hear long-time CNPS supporter David Popp presenting "CalFlora.org: A Wonderful Resource for All Native Plant Lovers". He will give an overview of CalFlora as well as an introduction on how to use this powerful tool! This will take place at the Chico Branch Library, at the intersection of East 1st Avenue and Sherman Avenue in Chico.
Join Don Thomas for a four mile walk to see the southernmost population of the endemic western leatherwood (Dirca occidentalis). We will also see some early emerging woodland plants in flower. There will be some moderate but slow-paced hill climbing, with a stop for lunch. This will be a repeat of the field trip for the 2015 CNPS Conservation Conference, but we will try to obtain a more accurate population count. We will meet at the park's parking lot near the intersection of Stevens Canyon Road and Mt. Eden Road. Please bring lunch, snacks, and water. Heavy rains cancels. For questions or more information, please contact Don Thomas at
or call (408) 828-4044.
Four years of drought certainly has set the stage for high stress, but why are some oak trees okay and others not, in the same area? Rosi Dagit will provide information on how interested individuals could start monitoring their own trees or trees in addition to presenting results from a recent monitoring project in local public spaces. Rosi is a Senior Conservation Biologist and certified Arborist with the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. Originally trained by Jo Kitz, Rosi has spent many years studying our local oaks. This talk will take place at the First United Methodist Church, 1008 11th Street, Santa Monica CA 90403, which is located one and a half blocks north of Wilshire Boulevard on 11th Street in Santa Monica.
If you look for them, you will see lichens pretty much everywhere. Places to find them in the Presidio include mature trees, historic buildings, cemetery headstones, stone walls, and even sidewalks. Shelly Benson of the California Lichen Society has been studying these symbiotic organisms for many years, and has a particular interest in their sensitivity to pollution and climate change. Bring a handheld magnifying lens if you have one. Meet in Pershing Square, on Arguello Blvd at the south end of the Main Post (The PresidioGO shuttle stops at the Transit Center, 215 Lincoln Blvd, at the Main Post, and the Muni 43 bus stops nearby on Presidio Blvd). If it is too rainy, we'll try again on February 20. For more information, contact Gail Wechsler at
Santa Rosa Plateau Field Trip
Sunday, February 14, 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM
The Santa Rosa Plateau, located at the Southern edge of the Santa Ana Mountains in Western Riverside County, is one of our area's most remarkable natural history and botanical sites. We will provide a botanical overview of the best of the area. Our general plan will be: from the Visitor's Center, we will walk the short Granite Loop Trail. Then, we will drive to the Vernal Pool trailhead. We will hike on the Vernal Pool Trail to Ranch Road to Adobe Loop Trail. We can have a rest stop and lunch at the Historic Adobes. From Ranch Rd. to Trans Preserve Trail and back to the cars. During the trip we should see Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. clevelandii), many other wildflowers and lots of beautiful Engelmann Oaks. Meet at 8 AM at the parking lot at Bravo Burgers, 31722 Rancho Viejo Rd., San Juan Capistrano (just off Hwy 74 near Int. 5). Or meet around 9 AM at the Visitor's Center on Clinton Keith Road, 4.1 miles W of Interstate 15 in Murrieta. Free and open to all. Bring trail shoes, hat, sunscreen, water, a $4 trail fee, and lunch if desired. Trip Leader: Rachel Whitt. For more information, go to www.occnps.org/explore.
Reny Parker, the author of Wildflowers of Northern California's Wine Country and Coast Ranges, will be the featured speaker for February's meeting. General meetings are held the third Tuesday of each month (except for July and August) at the Luther Burbank Art and Garden Center at 2050 Yulupa Street in Santa Rosa at 7:30 PM. The general meetings, free and open to the public, include speakers and presentations of floral interest. Plant ID Hour begins at 6:45 before the General Meeting. We provide microscopes, so you can see plants up close and key them to species. Bring specimens you want to identify, or view the selections we have collected. For more information, contact Liz Parsons at (707) 833-2063.
Program Meeting, featuring David Gordon
Thursday, February 18, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM
Monthly meetings take place on the third Thursday of every month at the Hall Ambulance Communication Room, at 1031 21st Street (Corner of N and 21st Streets) in Bakersfield. For February's meeting, David Gordon of David Gordon Designs will speak from his experience as both a painter and landscape architect on designing your garden.
Perry Riffle Trail Field Trip, Sacramento River Bend Recreation Area
Saturday, February 20, 9:00 AM
This is a fairly easy hike over uneven terrain on a 3.5-mile trail, which is part of the Yana Trail, in the Sacramento River Bend Recreation Area. This loop trail follows the Sacramento River for 1.5 miles before traversing a blue oak woodland and open grasslands to return to the trailhead. We'll have a chance to see various liverworts, lichens, and plants ranging from early blooming wildflowers to California sycamores. This is a leave no trace fieldtrip—no collecting allowed. Meet at the far end of the Placer Street Holiday Market parking lot, near CVS, in Redding at 9 am to carpool to the trailhead. Rain cancels; for sprinkles, bring an umbrella. Dogs on leashes at all times okay. For more information, call David Ledger at (530) 355-8542.
This 5 1⁄2 mile hike with 800 ft. elevation gain has a delightful variety of wildflowers: Indian warriors, footsteps of spring, shooting stars are just a few. Bring water & lunch. Arrive early; we depart at 9:45 from the dirt parking area outside Toro Park. Call for a reservation—limit of 8. Contact Lynn Bomberger for more information at (831)-375-7777.
East Bay Chapter
Bryophytes and Their Biology: Mosses are from Mars, Vascular Plants are from Venus
Wednesday, February 24, 7:30 PM
Come hear Brent Mishler and Kiamara Ludwig discuss the fascinating ways bryophytes differ from vascular plants. This event will take place at the Orinda Public Library, located at 26 Orinda Way, in the Garden Room.
Orchid Black will be presenting "Returning Rain Water to the Aquifer: Simple Water Infiltration Practices". This program will show simple ways to detain water on site and infiltrate it back in to the aquifer. Orchid will show examples of swales, earthworks, cisterns, and other rainwater harvesting methods that can be used to store water on site, creating a better environment for plants to grow and helping to refill our aquifers and our wells. Monthly meetings take place at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, located at 1750 N. Altadena Dr. in Pasadena, and are open to the public.
Two manzanitas and their hybrid will be targets for a day in the dune forest of the North Spit. Precious, pink Calypsos are an unlikely but possible extra. A trek across the dunes to the beach or across the railroad to the salty bay shore are likely additions. The exact location of this outing is still being worked out. It will involve between 2 and 4 miles of walking. Meet at 9:00 a.m. at Pacific Union School (3001 Janes Rd., Arcata) or arrange another place. Dress for being in the weather all day! Bring lunch and water. Return late afternoon. For information call Carol (707)-822-2015.
Contributors and Photo Credits
Bigcone Douglas-fir Map and Photos - Michael Kauffmann