I am pleased to present my first report as the Conservation Analyst of the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (EBCNPS). I have been representing EBCNPS at meetings with the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) board and staff, Citizens for Sustainable Point Molate, SF Bay Shoreline Advocates, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, and our Chapter Board of Directors. I am still introducing myself to our East Bay conservation network and agency partners. I received excellent advice from former Analysts Lech Naumovich and Mack Casterman. Jean Robertson, our Conservation Committee Chair, and I meet every week and she has been invaluable in guiding my progress.

Carnegie’s SVRA: proposed expansion into Tesla-Alameda properties, Tracy, CA

February gave us two opportunities for our organization to continue to advocate for preservation of Tesla as a non-motorized park or preserve, in order to give maximum protection to these biologically and botanically significant lands. Tesla area is still considered for expansion as part of Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA). Our organization submitted comments, as well as spoke at the public Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Commission meeting on February 5, 2016, in Tracy. We reiterated that their Draft Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) did not adequately address our previous comments on the true impacts of Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) use on botanical resources, to the point of failing basic requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). We feel they missed the opportunity to improve the General Plan/ EIR, and adequately survey and map the Tesla area for rich resources such as curly blue grass grasslands (Poa secunda). The opposition speakers who also believe the Tesla area is inappropriate for OHV use included groups we do not always see standing together.  Conservation nonprofits, researchers, and students agreed with local ranchers, federal agencies, and local government that the Tesla area should not be open to OHVs. It was a heartwarming chapter in the struggle to get this area recognized for its amazing array of resources (see Corral Hollow Botanical Priority Protection Area (BPPA)).

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (whose district 16 covers approximately Orinda to Livermore) convened her first Environmental Advisory Council meeting in San Ramon on March 19, 2016. In attendance were more than 30 members from about 15 different environmentally focused organizations, including Save Mount Diablo, Tri-Valley Conservancy, Bay Area Open Space Council, EBMUD, and Livermore Area Recreation and Park District. Ms. Baker wanted an introduction to key issues her constituents and the organizations they support find important. I was excited to take this opportunity to engage, in person, with our District 16 elected official, and hear our concerns discussed and validated by a politically influential voice. In roundtable fashion, local agencies described a handful of actionable items we thought needed Ms. Baker’s support and engagement. The timeliness of this meeting announcement was important to our chapter, because a narrow margin still exists for increasing public pressure on Carnegie SVRA to stop their OHV expansion plans. A large majority in attendance mentioned the Tesla area. Assemblywoman Baker heard much about defense of our open spaces for public recreation, vegetation-wildlife corridor vitality, and how the EIR meant to protect it still lacks substance. We all would love to see non-motorized public recreation opportunities in such a beautiful place. Ms. Baker pointed out parallels in our concerns with policy she has supported. 

As conservation analyst I greatly enjoyed this opportunity to represent EBCNPS priorities to a political representative who engages with a large East Bay Area population. I learned more about how our scientific evidence could be used for the essential task of convincing politicians to take action in favor of conserving exquisite open spaces. 

Our newest update: The Carnegie SVRA General Plan Team emailed out a project update March 18, 2016, telling us that the process on the State Park’s end is delayed, and that more news should be available in summer 2016. This delay is good news because the commissioners could have voted to approve the expansion as early as immediately following their February 2016 meeting. The team instead will continue sorting through testimony and submitted written comments from the February meeting, and subsequently editing the Carnegie SVRA General Plan/ EIR. There will be a new and we hope better version of the Plan, followed by an OHMVR Commission meeting, at which they may vote. (We may call on you to attend; it will be preceded by a 30-day public notice.) We intend to carefully scrutinize their revisions when they become available, and attend the future public meeting to continue advocating for Tesla.

Fuels management affecting East Bay Maritime Chaparral, and grazing contracts:

Our Conservation Committee continues to work with the East Bay Regional Park District to effectively steward important Maritime Chaparral habitat, in the context of required “fuels reduction” work. Maritime Chaparral consists of areas of open shrubland dominated by brittle-leaf, woolly-leaf, and/ or pallid manzanitas (Arctostaphylos crustacea, A. tomentosa, and A. pallida), plus their associates. This plant community (with the pallid manzanitas) exists nowhere else in the world except in our two-county area, and is rare here (federally listed as threatened, state listed as endangered). Two important stands occur: in Sobrante Ridge Regional Preserve (see Sobrante Ridge BPPA), and at Huckleberry Regional Preserve in the Oakland Hills.  Although this vegetation profile requires fire intervals for healthy cycling, our local stands are threatened by nearby urbanization, requiring manual, non-fire fuel reduction methods. No proven method yet exists for how to best manage these important vegetation stands for their own values, while effectively reducing fire risk to nearby homes. It is all a guessing game and an experiment, so we are carefully monitoring how this fuels reduction work will be carried out. As part of that process, we await the release of the Pallid Manzanita Management Plan, a document that will guide how the fuels reduction work will be performed for the benefit of the pallid manzanita and its characteristic, sensitive community.

The California Native Plant Society and East Bay Regional Park District agree that appropriate management of the maritime chaparral and its nearby buffering chaparral vegetation is critical. We are eager to better understand which of their vegetation management protocol options they plan to follow for areas such as Huckleberry Preserve. We continue to stay sharp on monitoring these entire habitat regions.

We recently noticed that a multiyear grazing contract for about 800 acres that was approved by the Park District for managing fuel breaks lacked robust plant protections. For example, avoiding tree girdling was required, but maintaining any measurement of native bunchgrass on each parcel was not. In this case vegetation management protocols do exist to guide the contractor in the form of the Park District’s own robust Wildland Management Policies and Guidelines. We assert that incorporating whole-habitat vegetation management standards within the contract language lends enforceable value to plant protections. We all want these plant protection measures not to get lost in the cracks of communication, risking irreparable damage to native plants. Other bay area governments and entities have incorporated these guidances without significant expense or hardship. I was greatly assisted by chapter volunteer Jim Hansen, also of the California Native Grasslands Association, in finding this contract detail and understanding its importance. We are heartened by the positive and immediate feedback we have received from Park District department heads on fuels management projects.

Teens explore the Point Molate vistas and vegetation corridor:

Citizens for Sustainable Point Molate’s Pam Stello invited me to join other professional scientist mentors for a walk on February 26, 2016 with a local high school group learning about environmental science. We walked for an hour, starting from Point Molate Beach Park in small groups along Drumm Road (currently closed to public access).  We saw California man-root (Marah sp,), elderberry (Sambucus sp).), the invasive  weed French broom Genista monspessulana), toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), oatgrass (Danthonia californica), California fescue (Festuca californica) blue dicks (Dichelostemma  capitatum) and a lone California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). One spot had gooseberries, blackberries, and poison oak (close to each other, which helped in noting the species’ differences. They had just discussed ocean acidification in class, so we talked about how well bunchgrasses store carbon in its fibrous but deep roots.

We also had the pleasure of seeing an Allen’s hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin). 

It was exciting to experiment with my youth teaching strategies for inspiring conservation principles. I have a lot to learn! Although I was prepared for discussing the botanical bounty of this bay area, I realized it takes another kind of focused teaching to keep groups engaged. The students wanted to know how the color and shape of flowers affected which pollinator visits. Looking from uphill across our improved view of the Bay we talked about the mostly intact and uninterrupted stretch of vegetation in this section of the watershed, running from the mountain top to the shore and underwater eelgrass beds. We also saw how all Bay shore areas are connected, and we also discussed the rain shadow of Mount Tamalpais. Of course, the concrete and buried fuel tanks visible from Point Molate’s naval depot history still carry a large effect into the present day. The Ohlone’s use of this land factored into our discussion of edible native plants, and how invasives interrupt the food cycle for native plants. I introduced the idea that this area may be developed into housing or a community center one day, and it is up to everyday citizens like ourselves to understand the value of land from multiple perspectives. I think they walked away with some great facts and ideas to talk about in biology class, a closer connection to parks and open space, and an appreciation for making sure we have areas like this close to our urban environments. 

Development plans for Point Molate may be up for discussion soon, due to recent litigation resolutions. The area is home to beautiful examples of native coastal prairie, as well as salt and riparian marsh and scrub habitats. It struggles with pressure from invasive non-native plants such as eucalyptus, brooms, and various grasses. This land is notable to our chapter because it falls within our Richmond Shoreline BPPA. Future developments need to manage for the health of the native scrublands, grasslands, and the eelgrass beds.  Our chapter will continue monitoring development proposals for this area, and will continue advocating for a continuous open space corridor, from shoreline to hilltop.  Other Shoreline advocacy groups, like Citizens for Sustainable Point Molate, would also like to see this area preserved as open space with recreation, and to protect the important remaining eelgrass beds of the bay from excess acidification and polluted runoff.

SF Bay Shoreline Advocates

On March 7, 2016, the Shoreline Advocates hosted a meeting at the Shorebird Park Nature Center. We had a roundtable introduction to current events within organizations such as Citizens for East Shore Parks, Audubon Society chapters, Kids for the Bay, Friends of Sausal Creek, Friends of Five Creeks, Alameda Creek Alliance, and others. Positive work abounds amongst our watershed partners. We heard a special presentation on Measure AA from the Trust for Public Land’s Amanda Brown-Stevens, and on a constitutional amendment initiative in favor of redefining stormwater as an official utility, led by Mitch Avalon, County Engineers Association of California. EBCNPS is considering our options with supporting these movements. Our group also touched on how to learn from citizen science tools like bioblitzes, and the smart phone applications iNaturalist and Observer.

Concord Naval Weapons Station

The Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS) development is coming to a point again this Spring, as the city chooses a developer for the first phase of housing, and EBRPD launches plans to manage the 70% conserved open space of the more than 12000 acre former Superfund site. I had an informative working lunch on March 9, 2016, with chapter volunteer Lesley Hunt and an associate of hers from the CNWS Neighborhood Alliance. They both helped me contextualize the long process of Concord community involvement in coaxing this development into supporting local economy while also preserving a maximum of open space in perpetuity. The CNWS-associated conservation groups have done an excellent job, and I look forward to seeing this project continue with EBCNPS support. Soon, I will also meet with Save Mount Diablo’s Juan Pablo Galvan, so I can educate myself on their deep involvement with the CNWS project and BPPA area.

Byron BPPA mini-tour

The Conservation Committee and I are arranging a series of field trips to our Botanical Priority Protection Areas, in order to increase our knowledge of these hidden beauty habitats. I have especially appreciated the help of our volunteers Heath Bartosh, also of Nomad Ecology, and Jean Robertson, who helped organize and guide our most recent trip exploring alkali meadow and scalds habitats on March 20, 2016. We celebrated this first day of spring with a botanizing hike through whitened patches of these soil-driven sensitive community types. The iodine bush (Allenrolfea occidentalis) stood out as the most imposing alkaline plant, surprisingly capable of surviving heavy grazing. The little ok orach (Atriplex fruticulosa) stays tighter to the ground, perhaps to avoid advertising its holiday-colored fruiting bracts; description credit is attributed to Jepson. The surrounding hills and meadows were a sea of beautiful greenery. From this brief introduction to our Eastern Bay Area BPPAs, I understood immediately how these salty areas have trouble scoring points in favor of their own preservation. But, I learned to love its charms along the way, and look forward to sharing about our future trips with you. Please join our chapter on field trips by checking out the EBCNPS website, http://ebcnps.org/field-trips/. Conservation Analyst blog updates can be found at: https://ebcnps.wordpress.com/.

Karen Whitestone, Conservation Analyst