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A late fall walk in the woods

December 3, 2013

Kaweah Oaks Preserve is a 322-acre remnant of riparian woodland in the Central Valley of California, near the town of Visalia.  The land was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1983 and turned over to a land trust 14 years later.  That’s the usual Conservancy strategy.  They buy the land to preserve it, engage in an initial restoration to its pre-settlement condition if necessary, but they look for partners to maintain the land for the long-term.

Kaweah Oaks Preserve

When we parked our car, we were instantly greeted by the chatter of birds.  In a brief visit of less than 2 hours, we saw or heard 15 species of birds.  (1)  In late fall, many of the plants were dormant, but there was still much of interest to see.

Kaweah  Oaks2

There was no water in the creek.  We wondered if we would find water in the creek in the late fall during a more typical rain year.  We have had almost no rain in California yet this year.

Valley Oak

Valley Oak

Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) is the tallest oak in California, reaching 70 feet or more according to Sunset Western Garden.

California wild grape

California wild grape

California wild grape covered much of the ground and climbed high into the trees.

native blackberry

Native blackberry was also thriving in the understory. We were reminded of its non-native cousin, Himalayan blackberry, which is eradicated for the same “invasive” behavior exhibited here by its native counterpart.

Willow

Native willow grows densely near the creek, sprawling on the ground, creating tunnels on the trails.

oak gallThere were oak galls on the trees and lying on the ground under the trees.  “The valley oak trees on the Preserve are hosts to at least nine different kinds of gall wasps.  These tiny cynipid wasps sting the stems of oak leaves in the early spring and lay their eggs there.  The tree responds to the chemicals the wasp leaves behind and quickly produces a growth that the wasp larva live in and consume until they become adult wasps and chew their way out.  The oaks can look like an apple, a tiny pink-and-white chocolate kiss, a wooly ball, a bright pink sea urchin, a brain or even a tiny ball the size of a pinhead that jumps around!” (2)

Valley Oak

This Valley Oak fell over a long time ago, but doesn’t appear to be dead yet.  It is left on the ground to continue to contribute to the ecosystem.  Dead trees are valuable members of the forest community.  As they slowly decay, the nutrients they have accumulated during their long lives will be returned to the soil.

The lessons of the Kaweah Oaks Preserve

These were our thoughts, as we ended our late fall walk in the woods:

  • Native plants sometimes spread just as non-native plants do.  However, they are never called “invasive” as non-native plants are.  We would like to retire the word “invasive” from our horticultural vocabulary.  We don’t wish to call native or non-native plants “invasive.”
  • Nature is wild and free in the Kaweah Oaks Preserve.  It isn’t being manicured to suit the preconceived notions of humans.  Why can’t we leave our public lands in the Bay Area alone to grow as nature dictates?  Human “management” of nature does not achieve better results than nature left to its own devices.
  • An occasional downed tree or trail obstructed by a sprawling limb adds to the adventure of a walk in the forest.  The resulting tangle provides superior habitat for every creature in the forest.

*************************

(1)     Our bird list:  Acorn Woodpecker, Nuttal’s Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, House Finch, Says Phoebe, Turkey Vulture, Brewer’s Blackbird, Redwinged Blackbird, Brownheaded Cowbird, Northern Mockingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Western Scrub Jay.

(2)    “Kaweah Oaks Preserve Community Access Guide,” Sequoia Riverlands Turst

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Janet permalink
    December 3, 2013 6:02 am

    Beautiful photos of a beautiful place — and it’s beautiful because it has been left to grow naturally: thickets, undergrowth and all.

  2. December 3, 2013 7:16 am

    So much wildlife benefits in all that ‘mess’. It is a shame others don’t see what is lost when they disturb and remove. It must be a very tough place to live without much rain.

  3. DonE permalink
    December 3, 2013 9:00 am

    It is not left totally to nature. They do prescribed burns to reduce the fire hazard.

    • December 3, 2013 9:33 am

      Although you are correct that prescribed burns are occasionally conducted at the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, you are mistaken about the reason for those prescribed burns, which have nothing to do with your perception of “fire hazard.” The Kaweah Oaks website says, “Prescribed burning: Mimics nature’s cycles of regeneration and controls invasive species.”

      Fires are a natural event in California’s native ecosystems and all Mediterranean climates. Hundreds of species of California native plants will not germinate without fire and those that are fire-dependent disappear from the landscape within 5 years of a fire.

      It is one of the great ironies of our interminable debate with native plant advocates, that they claim to be concerned about fire hazard while simultaneously advocating for prescribed burns which often cause wildfires.

  4. December 3, 2013 3:06 pm

    This is so beautiful, as your entire blog is.

    I don’t believe the burn propaganda since it plays right into the current plans to “control” wilderness that is so destructive. I just saw a “historical” painting of local Indigenous people on horseback, doing the burns they are said to have done. Horses became extinct in the Americas and were brought back by Europeans. Whenever possible, the invaders (now THAT is the “invasive species) prevented the Indians from access to horses. That didn’t work elsewhere, but I have never read anything about the many nations in California having horses. I’ve read elsewhere people saying they saw photographs of Indians burning hillsides. No, they didn’t have photography then.

    Considering the incredibly amount of arson and the escaped “controlled” burns, I think it’s dangerous and should be stopped. If the native chapparal is allowed to returned to the over-grazed hillsides, there will be far less damaging fires. And letting all the glorious non-native trees continue living and making the earth below them moist will protect from fire even more.

    People just are illogical about nature. A friend was disturbed by how “messy” Muir Woods looks, though that National Park educates people to not take a twig because the animals need every part of the environment.

    Native and non-native blackberry and the magnificent poison oak (who is a little tree/shrub, vine, groundcover, etc.) in wilderness parks help protect the animals from being overrun with humans and dogs. You’re right, what difference between the blackberries really except that the “invasive” one gives wonderful fruit and all part of it can be eaten.

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