Fire and Flood in Kern County

Over my first eight weeks at the Ridgecrest office, I’ve slowly grown accustomed to the procedures of making SOS collections. And thankfully, with some help from Sarah De Groot (a field botanist from The Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden), my fellow intern and I have gained some competency in local field botany. But, happily, just as I’d begun to settle into the process of scouting and seed collection, new tasks and challenges appeared, maintaining the pace of learning and adaptation that was set by the first few weeks of work here.

Two weeks ago, I felt as though I was just first coming to grips with the process of making Seeds of Success collections, when Sarah De Groot took me and two other interns along on a collection trip in the Amargosa Range, near Death Valley. However, while she instructed us on exactly how to make a collection of either seed or tissue, Sarah didn’t necessarily stress the importance of always being prepared to make an SOS collection. As I’ve now experienced on multiple occasions, upon setting out to scout for populations, I won’t necessarily find the plants that I need. However, I may find a large, healthy population on a day which was initially set aside for range land health assessments, or for monitoring a listed species. While herbarium and database consulting was useful in the first weeks here, overall, the most productive strategy has been to simply keep my eyes open and be prepared to make voucher collections while going about other business.

Our camp for the night, near Twelvemile Spring, at sunset.

 

 

 

 

The most recent work that has come my way is the task of monitoring a few State listed plant populations in our field office. In particular, my fellow Ridgecrest intern and I were met by another working botanist from the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Naomi Fraga. She did her Master’s work on the Kelso valley region of Kern County, near Weldon, California. As such, she was interested in joining us for a quick estimate of the Mimulus shevockii population in the area, which was subjected to a burn during last year’s Erskine Fire.
Luckily, the fire appeared to burn relatively cool in the area. Although the area covered by the burn was large, it didn’t appear to affect the seed bed of M. shevockii, which bounced back in even higher numbers than were found last year just before the fire. We estimated that the region supports around 1,220 individuals total, with about 55% of them in the fire-affected area. Since the Erskine fire was widely hailed as one of the most destructive in Kern County’s history, it is nice to see that some of the local plant life has managed to pull through. And, on another positive note, it would appear that like the local plant life, nearby communities affected by the Erskine fire have also begun to reclaim areas lost to the blaze.

The Kelso Creek area, one year after the Erskine fire.

A rather large example of Mimulus shevockii Heckard & Bacig.

Ironically enough, many other areas of the Ridgecrest field office have been subjected to flooding this year, due to uncharacteristically heavy rainfall. That rainfall ended the five-year drought which contributed to the intensity of the Erskine fire, but it has also been responsible for flooding throughout the state. We need to make significant policy changes to combat the effects and causes of this volatile weather, in order to protect both ourselves and the environment around us. As we saw many times this year, we cannot always insulate ourselves from the effects that severe weather has on the landscape. Human lives are also tied up in the balance.

-Jonathon

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