Native Plant Program Damage

Today one of the coyotes was basking in the sunshine in one of many favorite spots — there was no activity, so there was not much to write about regarding her.

However, in the park this morning there was a huge crew of volunteers cutting down a beautiful area of old growth, lichens, moss and overhanging picturesque branches — all to be replaced by a damselfly and butterfly habitat of native plants. This “nativism”, which involves substantial clearing of existing growth, has impacted the coyotes who live here. The area the coyotes use the most is an area that has been impenetrable to humans, because of both the extreme incline of the hills and because of the density of the poison oak and blackberries. No footpaths are in this area. Since no one has ever cared to go into this area, it has been a perfect coyote habitat. However, last fall we found out that the nativists were pulling out poison oak in this area and as they did so they uncovered a coyote den. Poison Oak actually is a native plant which serves as a protective barrier for the animals. Instead of leaving the area alone, they returned this spring to pull out even more poison oak whereupon they uncovered several more dens. This interference with the dens has impacted the coyotes — they are much more out in the open than they ever have been before. Is this plant program more important than the existing wildlife in the area?

The nativist plant program, referred to as NAP has received a full 1/3 of our parkland for their program. Any plant that was in California before 1750 is a “true native California plant” — these are mostly scrub and dune plants. That these plants never existed in some of our parks doesn’t seem to matter — they are being ‘restored’ anyway. And neither does it matter that people love the park the way it is. This park has never been managed in the past — and that is where its charm and beauty have always resided. It has always felt “wild”, untouched by humans, where you could see what wild-growth was really like if it were left alone.

For this program, the dense, existing growth which has been in place for a long time, is being removed: dense thickets, underbrush, old-growth with lichens and moss. Hundreds of the eucalyptus trees, which serve to collect the fog water and moisten the ground, have been removed; so much of this very special natural beauty which has always been the signature character of this particular park is being taken out in the name of “restoring native plants”. Most importantly, the removal of this growth is impacting animal habitats and removing animal hiding places. The coyote dens are a specific example. Another example is the so-called “invasive” “non-native” flowers growing on the grasslands which have been removed by poisons, even though they add color and variety. Poisons such as Brush-B-Gone are being used, affecting gophers, voles, bees, snails and worms. These small animals are the food source for our hawks, owls, raccoons, and coyotes.

So, the forestry character of some of our parks is being altered and existing habitats are being interfered with or eliminated in favor of landscaped areas which will require continual maintenance and weeding to keep out what will continue to grow there on its own. I myself have spoken to the planning director for the parks and to the head of the day-to-day operations. Submitted comments won’t even be addressed until the springtime.

Volunteers with no supervision continue the clearing. Our Park Department has few gardeners because of the budget cuts, so volunteers do most of the work using their own directives and a one dimensional credo to remove anything “non-native” and “invasive”: we now have barren patches along paths and a mud-hole in place of the once lushly vegetated creek are. This week, a huge swath of willows — again, a native plant — was cut down and chopped up to preserve 7 small native brush plants higher up on the hill — and at a distance from the willows that defied comprehension for how the two were even connected. Today, beautiful long tendril-like branches, 6-8 inches thick and covered with lichens and moss were chopped down in order to create a damselfly and butterfly habitat, irregardless of the use of this area by other animals: every morning I had been watching the Coopers Hawks perched in this area as they hunted -– the perches are gone now. There are plenty of places in the city where “native plant gardens” can be created — why does this beautiful old-growth have to be cut down. The “gem” character of this particular park is being altered totally.

We all need to be included in the planning of the park, not just the vehement and well organized native plant group who seldom have frequented the park. There is a lot here that needs to be saved, including the animals habitats and, of equal importance, the wild and overgrown character of the park we all love so much. Nativists have an arsenal of politically correct catch-phrases: “invasive” “native” “non-native” “biodiversity” “scientific”, which are used to impose their own biases. However, in just a few weeks, I have seen that just removing the “invasive cape ivy” is not where the plan is headed, even though this is what is talked about. The program is changing the entire nature of the park, altering the overgrown wildness which is its signature and primary characteristic by letting a nativist program take over the park. This, in turn, is interfering with existing animal habitats.

We all are for native plants and some clearing, the extent of this work is what is of concern.

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