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Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
May 29, 2000


Here in San Diego County we are witnessing the demise of the Coastal Sage Scrub and Chaparral ecosystems. Systematically development is reducing local flora and fauna to the point where the only place left for them is fragmented "wildlife corridors" along steep hillsides, and canyons. Far from adequate for feeding and breeding purposes, these open spaces are far from protected. When native species are cleared to provide a protective buffer for poorly planned homes, native species suffer.

One day last week Southern California crossed an arbitrary line marking the beginning of fire season. With that annual announcement came the warnings that in order to lessen the possibility of property loss it was time to clear away brush. Every local news station ran a story, complete with fire official, telling residents to save their homes they should destroy native habitat, and replace it with iceplant. We are our own worst enemy.

Denuding hillsides of indigenous vegetation is not only irresponsible, it is environmentally damaging. By clearing brush, homeowners are clearing away habitat for quail, coyote, bobcats and the endangered California Gnatcatcher. Year after year, we go through this dance, and every year southern California still burns. Why you ask? Because fire is a natural and much needed part of the biotic system. No amount of fire suppression strategies will keep fires from fulfilling their role. Without fire many native species can not germinate and reproduce, resulting in a further reduction of native species. It is in the vegetation best interests to burn.

Wildfires would not be so threatening if humans did not have to protect their hoarded consumer goods. Fire suppression is about greedy people trying to protect their stuff, and greedy insurance companies not wanting to pay for the stuff when it burns. Anyone who pretends otherwise is probably comfortable in their anthropocentric delusions of altruism, and unlikely to be swayed by sound environmental reasoning.

When humans encroach into fire prone areas, instead of building fire resistant homes of adobe and tile roofs, they destroy the fire prone area in order to make it "safer." Instead of taking the time to remove the dry underbrush, the fuel of most wild fires, they remove the biotic community. No compromise. No balance.

Fire is a vital part of the Southern California biological process, and will remain so. In fact residents can expect an increase in wildfires as the region heats up, and drys out due to climate change and the growing water shortage. According to the water barons at Metropolitan Water District we are moving into a 30 year dry cycle. According to the Upper Colorado River Commission, southern California residents can expect a severe reduction in water from that source. Isn't it about time we humans learned to live in balance with our environment, and start making choices the respect the bioregion in which we live.

I am in the process of revegetating my personal habitat with native species, knowing full well the front yard could ignite on a dry summer day. To lessen the risk of property loss I spend an occasional afternoon tending the natives like others would tend their roses.

By selectively weeding out the dry twigs that accumulate beneath the canopy of laurel sumac and lemonade berry, coyote bush and sage brush it is possible to maintain a native habitat that is less likely to burn, while maintaining the habitat. That is what we call balance.

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