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.
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.
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 (Quercus lobata) is the tallest oak in California, reaching 70 feet or more according to Sunset Western Garden.
California wild grape covered much of the ground and climbed high into the trees.
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.
Native willow grows densely near the creek, sprawling on the ground, creating tunnels on the trails.
There 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)
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