Coastal Trees Endangered by Nativism
We are pleased to publish a guest post by Moro Buddy Bohn, who is trying to save a forest of Monterey Cypress and his home of 55 years from being inundated by sand. The sand lying between his beachfront home and the ocean has been destabilized by the removal of European beach grass at Salmon Creek State Beach by the US Army Corps of Engineers (and local State Park refusal to replant it). Moro tells us about this issue in the hope of finding help to save what’s left of the bird and animal-habitat beach forest being destroyed by runaway sand. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate in his advocacy effort or volunteer to help shovel sand away from the trunks of trees that can still be saved.
Moro is a professional classical guitarist-composer and author of Kin to the Wind, the story of his youthful round-the-world travels through 50 nations that included an Arabian Desert crossing by camel in the company of Bedouin smugglers. Visit his website for a sampling of his music and a description of his book.
Northern California’s coastal cypress trees are endangered by nativists in control of State Parks. Entrusted to look after our trees, they’re actually destroying them. They employ slow suffocation as opportunities arise, for it’s cheaper than clear-cutting. They’ve allowed a sand dune tsunami to form and swallow our mini forest of Monterey cypress trees at Sonoma Coast’s South Salmon Creek Beach State Park near Bodega Bay.
Their ecological thought is presently gripped by an ideology espoused in WWII Germany known as nativism, understandably dubbed a pseudoscience by horrified witnesses to the destruction. Nativists protect life forms they think are “native.” They treat other forms as “exotic alien invaders” and destroy them on public lands when/as funds are available.
I watched our Salmon Creek cypress tree saga begin more than 50 years ago. Human encroachment had destroyed our “native” grass, destabilizing the sand dunes. So the deeper-rooting European grass was chosen, after years of study, and planted to save our homes, the fishing industry, and Salmon Creek itself. The sand having been re-stabilized, a forest of Monterey pine and cypress trees, together with other coast-enhancing flora now considered “exotic alien invaders,” were then planted by Park rangers who understood that these were the only plants proven capable of withstanding beach abuse.
But nativism took control of ecological thought in the early eighties, causing ecologists in charge at State Parks to begin orchestrating the destruction of these same “alien exotics.”
Nativists are now actually destroying the tougher species they planted in Salmon Creek, attempting to replace them with the weaker, shallower-rooting “native” species that died out because they couldn’t coexist with 20th-century human invasion.
So beach forest endangerment isn’t from man generally, but from this new breed of men who’ve taken over California’s coasts, beaches and parks and practice nativism. They’ve dubbed Monterey cypress trees unlucky enough to be outside the Monterey Bay Area as “non-native scrub.” But Sonoma Coast’s “non-native scrub” lucky enough to be on private property is often highly prized and cared for by residents who consider cypress trees among the most exquisite of nature’s creations.
These photos generate a question. Why can’t Sonoma Coast State Parks people express as much pride in their cypress trees as Sonoma Coast property owners do, and treasure them as do the State Parks people at Pt. Lobos State Park south of Carmel?
Is it because nativist pseudoscientists say the trees are “invading” from Monterey and Carmel? Is that the reason they’re dubbed “alien scrub” and being allowed to be buried by windblown sands? Incredibly the answer is yes, based on my interviews with them.
The obvious flaw in nativism is that no one can define what’s “native” and what isn’t. For species migration has been going on since life began on the earth. The question, “native to when,” is therefore begged, and nativism’s hollow sophistry is thus exposed.
How did cypress trees get to Monterey initially? Were they not invaders there too at some point when nativists weren’t around to mourn losing the area’s treeless heritage and combat them with mass arborcide campaigns?
Nativists claim “invader” plants threaten biodiversity, but the opposite is often true. For example, studies show “invading” eucalyptus trees are home to 47 native California bird species, host an understory of 36 plant species, and are preferred by wintering monarch butterfly congregations. Author, lecturer and conservationist J.L. Hudson says,
“The ‘anti-exotics’ movement is a growing threat to biodiversity conservation efforts. In the past 10 years, the mythology of ‘invasive non-native species’ has spread from a minor pseudoscience indulged in by the gullible fringe, to a growing extremist movement uncritically embraced by otherwise responsible environmental groups…It is ominous.. that during Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, the National Socialists (Nazi Party) had a program to rid the landscape of ‘foreign’ plants.”
Dr. Suzanne Valente posted a comment on blog #93, by Point Reyes Light publisher-editor emeritus David Mitchell, about the fallacy of nativism in general. She says,
“We should recognize nativism shows no respect for the sanctity of life, all life…”
So it would appear Sonoma Coast is far from alone in the abuse it receives at the hands of nativists in charge who’ve been entrusted by the public to protect it. The resurgence of nativism during the 1980s has become, in fact, an issue of worldwide concern.
At Sonoma Coast’s Salmon Creek Beach, a moving dune (now known as the big South Salmon Tsunami) began in the early 1980s when the U.S. Army Corps of engineers used heavy equipment to re-float a beached Coast Guard ship. The cranes and tractors tore out a healthy section of European grass that had been planted by a massive cooperative effort between Parks, citizen volunteers and the US Dept. of Agriculture in the ‘50s and ‘60s after native grass and shrubs had been destroyed by normal beach abuse of human influx.
The Army offered to replant the grass. But State Parks, while vowing to take care of the forest, took no action and allowed the Army’s 5-year Statute of Limitations of Liability to expire. For nativism had by then taken a stranglehold on ecological thought, and replanting of “invading” European grass was unthinkable.
So the multi-acre South Salmon Tsunami began. It has swallowed much of the beach’s thriving mini forest that was planted, prior to the rise of nativism, by predecessors of the current regime at State Parks. The forest that still remains is endangered by the runaway tsunami of sand.
This endangered forest mingles the bouquet of fresh salty air, flowering blossoms, rosemary, and pine cones. A virtual oceanfront paradise, it’s enjoyed by birds who sing to the accompaniment of gentle surf sound.
Little passageways lead through friendly tree branches to quiet mini sanctuaries where beachgoers meditate, and quail, jackrabbits, raccoons, deer, possums and birds make their nests, relate in privacy, and munch on seeds or succulent blossoms.
But the runaway South Salmon Tsunami—now a 30-foot-high wall of sand moving (by State Parks measurement) at 12-plus feet per year (about 3 inches per week)—will soon bury it. It has already buried dozens of cypress trees and now threatens homes.
The tsunami slowly suffocates the trees at 3 inches per week as seen below.
If not followers of Pythagoras who described trees and plants as ensouled entities, many local residents view the mass arborcide—death by suffocation at 3 inches per week—as macabre and immoral. A Bodega Bay resident recently declared that when she sees a tree destroyed for no good reason, she feels “…a deep pain, like a stabbing in the heart. By allowing the harming of trees, we destroy a part of ourselves. And that’s immoral.”
The trees could be saved by stabilizing the tsunami with European grass, the one ground cover determined by the USDA, after extensive study, to root deeply enough to withstand modern beach abuse and hold the sand in place. But nativists in charge won’t consider it. And along rural, less frequented, less windy coastal areas, they’re actually destroying the European grass at considerable public expense and replacing it with weaker native grass that will hold only so long as those areas remain less frequented.
It’s logical that when an ecosystem can no longer survive, owing to a newly arrived hazard such as human beach abuse, a new ecosystem capable of living with that environmental abuse needs to be introduced. But the nativists at State Parks want only to reestablish the failed ecosystem.
Their most recent planting of the shallow-rooting native grass at Salmon Creek Beach parking lot in 1993 has failed, having been torn out by log-dragging bonfire builders and children playing.
So the nativists are fully aware native grass no longer survives here. But they still cannot rationalize planting a so-called “alien species” (European grass) to benefit other “aliens” such as Monterey cypress and pine trees, ice-plant, lupine, possums (“invaders” from Georgia), deer, jackrabbits and raccoons (all of them “invaders” of sorts—some from far away) who take sanctuary among “alien” trees to enjoy “alien invader” birds singing.
Below is a view from atop South Salmon Tsunami’s cutting edge, looking toward its next victims—trees and homes in its path.
Salmon Creek Itself—and Children—Jeopardized Too
Extreme abuse by man and horse has also destroyed marsh vegetation alongside Salmon Creek itself, about 300 yards north of the great South Salmon Tsunami.
This destruction has created another runaway dune, encouraging tunnel digging that proved fatal for a Tucson ten-year-old over Labor Day Weekend, 2007. He crawled into the tunnel he’d dug, and it collapsed on him. His 15-year-old brother, digging near him, couldn’t get to him in time. Locals hope his death won’t be in vain or go unheeded.
Two years earlier, in 2005, a Salmon Creek homeowner had written to the local State Parks resource ecologist, “We feel that the dune poses an attractive nuisance to the many small children who play on it and fear that they will either be injured by hidden broken glass/rusty nails, etc. or by becoming buried in the unstable sand or by having a spinal cord injury secondary to jumping off the steep dune.”
That same ecologist met with Salmon Creek homeowners shortly after getting the letter. Ironically he told us that loose sand poses no threat to children playing, or to the park.
But ten-year-old Andrew Waldrup of Tucson, AZ, was killed within two years, and windblown sand is now being pushed into the creek by foot traffic of man and horse. This affects the fishing industry, for salmon need the creek for their annual migrations.
In the face of all this, State Parks continues to dodge requests that they terrace the sand, plant vegetation proven to withstand modern beach abuse, and thus end the ecological disaster, public nuisance and danger the unstabilized sand poses.
So there’s been no meaningful action—only broken promises, false starts, and plantings of native grasses that couldn’t and didn’t last because native grass cannot withstand modern beach abuse as has long been proven.
Still More Trees Being Buried at South Salmon Parking Lot
Still more bird-habitat Monterey cypress trees, about 200 yards north of the great South Salmon Tsunami, are now also endangered, being directly in the path of the Parking Lot Tsunami that killed Andrew. This new tsunami, made from loose sand alongside the creek, is being allowed to advance from the creek and bury a stand of cypress trees at the South Salmon Creek Beach parking lot entrance.
Volunteers with shovels might still be able to save some of these half-buried trees if something is done soon. But there’s no chance of that until nativism is challenged and replaced by common sense. Park ecologists don’t consider the arborcide immoral at all. So loss of the Monterey cypress continues as trees are victimized by pseudoscience.
Source of the Tsunami
The denuded bank of Salmon Creek, shown below, provides the sand that’s burying these trees. This photo looks down the tsunami’s windward side toward uncovered sand that will need stabilization to protect the creek, its inhabitants, the trees, and children playing.
Snowy Plover Endangered by Loss of European Grass
Beach vandals harass even the bravest surviving snowy plovers, stealing their driftwood logs behind which they nest out of the wind, to make bonfires. Unleashed dogs have all but annihilated this tiny bird whose one last refuge, paradoxically, is in the concealment provided them by the tall, coastal European grass that State Park nativists are actively destroying at many beaches while simultaneously bemoaning the plover’s demise.
Spotted Owl Endangered by Loss of European Grass and Tree Burial
European grass, when maintained, serves trees by stabilizing the sand, preventing our uniquely fierce, prolonged, Sonoma Coast windstorms from creating tsunamis. The trees in turn serve birds and man with homes and shade.
A spotted owl, former resident of a Salmon Creek cypress tree, recently became a refugee when the big South Salmon Tsunami swallowed his abode. So he came to live with me for awhile, perching on a 4×12 beam out of the wind along the leeward side of my home. He’d swoop down on suspicious wiggles in the European grass to gather his meals. I owe the honor of his visit to nativists who willfully let the tsunami bury his natural home.
Monterey Pine Falsely Accused of Being Non-native
Monterey Pines, like Monterey Cypress, are also considered “invading, alien scrub” when outside Monterey County. But Connie Millar, U.S. Forest Service ecologist, advocates planting them where fossils found throughout California prove they lived during the middle Miocene and Pleistocene Ages and are of late returning home.
She tells the tragic story of a No. Calif. state park where a forest of Monterey pines considered “alien invaders” was cut down by nativists ignorant of our natural history, the philosophy of the sanctity of life, and the common sense realization that even if there are no fossils proving “native” status, a tree or plant serving birds, man, and environment with its beauty and function—and harming no one—should be saved whenever possible.
Driftwood Road Arch, below, is artfully created by two “alien invader” Monterey pines reaching out over Driftwood Road. The arch gives welcome shade on hot days. But this pair of “invaders,” directly in the dune’s path, will be buried if public apathy continues.
Invasion a Mythology
To prevent still further destruction of our forests, the mythology of “invasion” needs to be recognized for what it is—mythology. An old ranger I met at the beach once told me there’s no reason for nativism in Salmon Creek. For tourist abuse at this beach is so harsh, even European grass, the world’s toughest, is severely challenged.
Like me, he loves all trees, grasses and shrubs. He says the anti-exotic programs looked harmless enough at the start. “But people just weren’t thinking,” he said, and that’s how nativism, with its mass arborcide and other beach forest destruction, gained momentum and became established. But now he agrees it needs to be stopped. So I propose a five-step plan to save Salmon Creek’s trees and mini forest:
1) Get applicable nativist policies overridden (an exception granted for heavily abused public land) so that the planting of European grass for long-term dune stabilization (followed by replacement of the buried trees, flowers and shrubs capable of withstanding Salmon Creek’s uniquely tough beach abuse) will be permitted here again.
2) The moving dune’s steep slopes need to be reshaped, creating flat terraces that will discourage sand surfers and prevent windswept sands from covering the newly planted baby shoots of European grass.
3) Then, according to the USDA brochure, Sand Dune Control Benefits Everybody—The Bodega Bay Story (circulated in 1967), the entire dune should be planted with shoots of European beach grass during December and January—18-inch pre-started clones—75,000 clones per acre at nine-inch depth with spacing of 12 to 15 inches between clones.
4) Fence off the dune to protect baby shoots from abuse by vandals, sand surfers, run-jump-and-sliders, log draggers and jackrabbits. 1000-dollar-fine signs for fence violators could be posted along the fence and enforced by rangers (a source of much-needed income for State Parks!).
5) Per USDA instructions, apply a 20-20-0 fertilizer at 200 lbs. per acre each February, for 3 years, on the new plantings.
Nativists Will Fight All Rescue Attempts
Stimulus Funding will need to be applied for and received by benignly motivated, clear thinkers at State Parks.
Nativists everywhere will certainly object to the rescuing of “alien” trees and will fight it. But assuming enough of them can be convinced to help put an end to the arborcide of Salmon Creek’s remaining forest, there will still be the taking and approving of bids, and time-consuming greenhouse preparation of the 18-inch clones. So constructive litigation will need to begin soon, for sand is already climbing the trunks of remaining trees.
Nativism’s Further Devastation in Nahcotta, WA
In Willapa Bay, Nahcotta, WA, the state and county are implementing the current West Coast Governor’s Action Plan by spraying imazapyr-glyphosate-containing herbicides along the tidal flats to eradicate “invading” spartina grass. But Spartina is considered precious along the Atlantic Coast. Dr. James Morris, Director of Baruch Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, showed in his 2011 PIEL Conference discourse that spartina isn’t harmful and provides economic benefits that dwarf the $25M taxpayer dollars so far spent on local spraying that primarily serves the toxin makers. “Not all ‘invasives’ are troublesome—some are beneficial,” he says. He recommends action against “invasives” be taken on a case by case basis. Author-Professor Michael Pollan recently remarked, “the war on ‘invasive species’ has been founded more on ideology than science.”
Although we are unfamiliar with this specific project, we are well aware of the consequences of removing non-native vegetation which stabilizes the coastal dunes of California. The first book we read about ecological “restorations” was Ecology and Restoration of Northern California Coastal Dunes by Andrea Pickart and John Sawyer (Sacramento: California Native Plant Society, 1998). Ms. Pickart was the manager of the Lanphere Dunes near Arcata, California. She acknowledges in that book that native dune plants do not stabilize sand. In fact, many native dune plants require transporting dunes for propagation and long-term survival. We have visited that project which is open to the public on a very limited basis because of the fragility of a native dune landscape.
We have not verified any of the factual information in Moro’s article. However, Moro has provided the following bibliography of his sources.
Recommended reading/viewing: (Below are 12 data sources for this article)
Axelrod, D.I., and F. Govean. 1996. An early Pleistocene closed-cone pine forest at Costa Mesa, southern California. International Journal of Plant Science 157(3):323–329.
Millar, C.I. 1998. Reconsidering the Conservation of Monterey Pine. Fremontia 26(3):12–16.
USDA Brochure 1967 Sand Dune Control Benefits Everybody—The Bodega Bay Story.
Michael Pollan quoted in “Rethinking ‘Invasive Species’: Environmentalism Gone Awry?”– October 8, 2012 Symposium flyer