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I is for Ice Plant and Indigenous Intelligence

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
October 17, 2002


"God Bless America. Let's save some of it." — Edward Abbey

Originally I considered having "I" involve instigating violence and impeachable ignorance, but I just couldn't work up any excitement over another observation about George W. and his made to order war of diversion. Realizing there was nothing I could say that would make a difference, I decided to seek inspiration elsewhere.

This is not to say I couldn't dedicate 800 words to opposing the Bush Doctrine in the Middle East, I could. Fabricating a possible threat to justify military action is usually something I would address, but to be honest my heart is not in it because "I" is also for inevitable. And like his father before him, George will use American soldiers to divert the attention of Americans away from his disastrous domestic policy. It's too damn easy.

Instead I decided to wax philosophical around something near and dear to my heart, coastal sage scrub, and the wisdom of going native. Evolution is a sure bet, those species best suited to the climatic conditions of Southern California were the ones still around to be crushed under the boots of Spanish missionaries. Shaped by fog, little rain and regular wildfire the biotic community known as Coastal Sage Scrub defined the character of our place on the planet. Not any more.

That Southern California is no longer wilderness is obvious. What little open space remains is slowly be encroached upon one project at a time, and when development comes native habitat is scraped away and replaced with exotics better suited for other parts of the planet. Nine times out of ten those exotics are ones requiring ample amounts of water to sustain them. But still they go in the ground because folks want San Diego County to look like the tropics, South Pacific or Australia. Any place but here. Go Figure.

Ice plant is such a species, granted it is drought tolerant, mainly due to the fact ice plant species store water, which as we all know causes the m to grow heavy under the weight. Originally brought to the area as a ground cover to prevent erosion, these species actually add to the problem by dragging down the bluffs and embankments that were suppose to protect. And then there is the issue of non-native succulents providing nothing in the way of forage for native species.

Because food is not derived form these out of context species, native fauna is left wanting, further hastening their disappearance brought about by habitat destruction, increased predation by domestic pets and proximity to automobiles. Caught up in a vicious cycle, the loss of native plant species is leading to the extinction of native animal species. It is amazing how this unfolding drama gets little attention in a region that is so willing to wear its environmental credentials on their collective sleeve.

Millions are spent every year on mitigation for damage done to the environment. Ironically the mitigation itself does nothing to protect habitat viability. In fact mitigation is never about long term restoration, but short term environmental slight of hand that just shifts impact back and forth around the region in such a way as to hide the continual loss of our natural heritage .Like a sculptor chipping away at a piece of granite, what we are shaping is our own undoing. Sure it may look pretty, but when was the last time someone turned to Michelangelo's David for sustenance?

On December 31st 2002 San Diego County will be receiving considerably less water from the Colorado River and there is little we can do about it other than learn to live with less. The species of the region evolved in response to limited water resources, and whether we as the top of the food chain like it or not, we too will have to adapt to the harsh reality of an increasing population and diminished resources or suffer the consequences.

Planting native species makes both biological and fiscal sense. Attempting to convert coastal sage scrub into a tropical botanical garden has put form over function and all of us in a very precarious position. Wisdom is the art of knowing what to leave alone. Intelligence is the art of understanding of why and how nature provides for itself. Sadly both of these things are in short supply, and are now as rare as the species disappearing from a neighborhood near you.

Free Tibet? How about saving Southern California?

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