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Tis the season to go native

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
January 16, 2002


"I do not understand how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to." — Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Staring out across the neighbor's house I can see a hillside of coastal sage scrub. This relatively undisturbed native habitat looks out over the Batisquitos estuary, the Pacific Ocean, and the river of humanity we call Interstate 5. If not for the huge "For Sale" sign, and a wall of Monopoly-like homes lining the ridge, I could almost imagine what the area looked light before manifest destiny engulfed it.

Often I walk around this small piece of open space, enjoying the view, studying the native habitat, trying to understand the complex relationship the species share. Rich in diversity this isolated biotic community is completely surrounded by development, yet still remains the ideal example of California natural history. The purpose of these forays into the native Leucadia is two fold; the first is to establish a sense of place, and the second, to become familiar enough as to restore native communities to my own yard.

Sadly the sound of the freeway hinders any real sense of refuge. Glimpses of bird calls are fleeting as traffic noise is ever present. But still, walks in this native space are reassuring, living proof that all is not loss. When I wander among the elfin forest of sumac, toyon, and lemonade berry, lizards scramble under foot, and a hawk is usually over head. There is no doubt in my mind that a coyote is somewhere nearby. Although a nice walk with a nice view, this is hardly an enchanted place.

The native space I consider to be enchanted is also in Leucadia. Tucked beneath the new municipal golf course, Indian Head Canyon is Encinitas's best kept secret. And except for an invasive grove of Eucalyptus, this piece of city property is an even bigger slice of native California. The creek that meanders through the western portion of the passive use park feeds directly into the misnamed Batisquitos lagoon.

Although dry most of the year, this small water course could easily be restored. By removing the aforementioned Eucalyptus weed trees and allowing the riparian habitat to reestablish itself, the city would have in place a functioning ecosystem. With wise civic planning, parkland could also encompass the creek as it makes its way to Batisquitos estuary. From mesa top to creek bed, the Leucadia that once was would still be. Instant quality of life, just add access.

Not content with having to travel to find native habitat, at Scenic house we are transforming our front yard from a non-native collection of individual plants into a thriving community of coastal sage scrub. Last spring I saw and heard a California Gnatcatcher from my bedroom window, a major event considering the tract development which was to become our neighborhood required the violent removal of native habitat to make room for suburbia.

Going native is actually liberating. Once reestablished native yards required no irrigation and little maintenance. For those who like labor intensive yards, native plants can be groomed into fantastic landscapes, complete with a full palate of native flowers.

With the implementation of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) storm water management ordinance 2001-01, chemical-free native landscaping makes it easy for property owners to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into the storm drain system, and ultimately the ocean. Saving money while protecting water quality and the environment is actually a good thing.

By going native, residents also improve the health of their immediate environment. Lawns and other water intensive species, which have not evolved to survive in this bioregion, require fertilizers and other chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides, to prosper. A healthy native landscape does not. Also, irrigating tropical and other exotic plants, ensures synthetic poisons will leach into the water table, or remain close to family and pets.

For those of you wondering, now is the perfect time to plant natives. Coastal fog and the occasional rain fall make the first two months of the year ideal for young plants to take root. By spring, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and a host of other native species will soon be looking for a place in the suburban refuge you have created.

If we have any hope of preserving remnants of the coastal California that predates the missions, the railroad, and the sprawl culture that sustains itself on fast food, the fast buck, and the false promise of perpetual growth, learning to live in balance with the native environment, instead of in spite of it, is a philosophy we must return to.

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