November 14, 2017
We are definitely in the rainy season, with good amounts forecast this week. We've already had over two inches at Skyline.
Last week, we finished our last cut and rake section at the Siesta Nose above the old bench on the Steam Trains leg of the trail. On Sunday, Bob led the attack on Euphorbia above the Water Tank. Thanks, Bob, I saw the piles. We'll be working on that for several more outings.
We'll have regular days out this week, but we may get rain. Please let me know if you can make it. If it looks like we need to cancel, I'll let those folks know by 8am of the target day.
This week, I wanted to show in more detail our efforts to protect young Live Oaks. This is part of our overall restoration strategy of encouraging the return of oak woodland at Skyline in appropriate places. This is important in itself, as oak woodlands are the most diverse ecosystems in California. Think of it; all those leaves. branches and acorns house and feed multitudes of lichen, moss, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals large and small.
Live Oak woodland also plays an important role in wildfire control, as they rarely burn and act as dependable fire breaks. They shade out flammable annual grasses and shrubs. The leaves are not full of oil like pines and eucalyptus, and very little litter (read branches, needles and bark for fuel) gathers in the woods underneath them. They can get singed by nearby flames, but they almost always bounce right back.
Up at Skyline, there are scores of young Live Oak seedlings and saplings who all want to become big trees. But they are heavily browsed by deer and kept small. We have all seen the topiary oaks that the deer keep in that mushroom shape for decades. Our strategy is to ID the most promising of these and put wire cages around them so they can get a leader above the 'browse line.' Once they get a branch above the browse line they on their way to becoming a tree.
The first step is to mark or flag the best ones. Here is a picture of one that has been flagged (white)
Notice how at this browsed stage, the oak looks a lot like the surrounding Coyote Bush.
The next thing we do is drive a T-stake at the edge of the oak. This will support the wire cage:
The oak to be caged is to the right of the stake. Just to show you the age of this browsed one, here's a shot of the trunk, at ground level:
Look at the size of that trunk! The blue is one of our nitrile gloves for comparison. This trunk is about five inches in diameter. This oak may be 20 or more years old, but the deer have kept it low by diligent browsing.
Next step is to put a wire cage around the oak. This is the same tree:
The wire will prevent the deer from reaching in and nibbling the new growth. Next spring, this oak will shoot up a leader perhaps four feet or more. This tree has a huge root system and will just shoot up with protection. Shall we form another friendly betting pool on how tall this one will be next year?
Lastly, here's what the growth of a Live Oak looks like once the leader has gotten above the browse line:
There's the glove again, for comparison. Above the glove, you can see three year's growth (look for a straight shoot and then a cluster of spreading branches). In this case, there's about six feet of growth, or two feet a year. At this rate, a ten year old Live Oak would be twenty feet tall and nearly as wide. They grow really fast; I've seen it many times.
To close out, the rain means seeds are sprouting. Yes, they are. Here's a shot from today along the trail:
The yellow-green duo in the middle are Fiddlenecks; their seed leaves are forked and bristly. I see some Geranium and clover there too, exotics. We've been waiting for this all summer and we are ready. Like Grant at Richmond, we know where they are and we've got them surrounded; and, when they make their move, we will pounce.
Get the vinegar ready.