What are these field notes about, and why do you guys pull French broom?

People have been asking for a bit of the theory behind all this, so here goes.  Shall leave it as a regular post for a little while and then make it accessible in the sidebar somewhere.

The main focus of these notes is the stunningly beautiful and nearly contiguous chain of parks that grace the north-south trending hills of the East Bay, namely, Sibley, Huckleberry, Redwood, and Chabot Regional Parks, and Joaquin Miller Park in the Sausal Creek Watershed. Most of these have redwoods and there seems to be some question whether all might have lain within the bounds of the original ancient forest.  I am currently mapping the distribution of French broom in the southeastern portion of Redwood, hence the preponderance of postings from there of late.

The very existence of the redwoods here is a miracle, as they have not only been geographically isolated from other redwood populations for many thousands of years but were felled and burned with wholesale abandon up into the early 1900s.  And their preservation within a largely contiguous belt of wild land is a miracle of yet another kind, encompassed as they are by the first regional park district in the history of the world and within one of the most unique city parks in the nation.

Preservation from development, however, is but one part of the story.  The changes wrought by chainsaws, steam donkeys, cattle, and successive waves of exotic species continue to reverberate through the forests, the streams, the sky-prairies of these wild lands, often in ways that can change them, with breathtaking speed, from complex, beautiful, functioning native ecosystems to impoverished, desolate monocultures of one or two nonnative species that have no check on their expansion across entire grasslands, through entire forests, until they smother everything but themselves.

No check on their expansion, that is, but us.  The agencies, while often very hard working and very well meaning, just don’t have the funds, the staff, and sometimes even the legal mandate to take on this fight on a landscape scale.  And so, in a few isolated places at first but now growing by leaps and bounds, community-based restoration is taking hold and restoring forests, native grasslands, spawning streams for steelhead and salmon, and pretty much every wild habitat you can think of.

A main focus of the highly successful volunteer restoration projects here in these Redwood parks, and the subject of many of these posts, is the removal of French broom.  Here is a very timely example as to why this is so, in the context of the lovely, wild, and rapidly vanishing prairies in the uplands of the southeastern portion of Redwood.

And here is a snapshot of the broom removal effort up where oak woodland transitions to redwood forest along the East Ridge Trail.

And here is a vivid demonstration of how astoundingly much terrain these volunteer crews can restore, down in the old-growth broom thickets in the deep canyon.

This only begins to touch on all that needs doing, and is being done, to restore the many wild habitats within these parks.  People are helping build silt-catching checkdams to aid the native rainbow trout;  they are planting willows to help hold the soil;  they are helping plant rushes, elderberries, ferns; they are discovering new populations of rare species.   Some of these stories are touched upon in this journal, while others remain to be written. Perhaps by you. : – )

The hardest thing to convey here, though, is just how much fun this all is, not to mention healthful, invigorating, relaxing;  for that you’ll just have to come on down and check it out for yourself!

The next volunteer workdays are the first Saturday of June at the Skyline Gate of Redwood Regional Park at 9:00 a.m., and the second Sunday of June in the general vicinity of the Ranger Station in the main canyon of Redwood at 9:30 a.m.  For details see http://www.ebparks.org/files/redwood_resto_project_brochure.pdf

Hope to see you there!

John Slaymaker, Out in the Pinehurst Shale, May 6, 2011

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