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The Fifth Habitat on the Left

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
May 6, 2004


"Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw." — Henry David Thoreau

Spring in Leucadia is indeed a wondrous time of year. Even during unseasonable heat, the answer to why we stay in the land of the sprawl and crawl is easily found in blue skies, coastal breezes, and the overall pleasantness of this piece of the planet. Life along California's southern coast is worth suffering the overpopulation that comes with the privilege.

Sadly, over the past hundred years, the coastal region that was became the coastal region that is. With natural ecosystems and native species being pushed to the fringes of our ever-expanding human communities, gone are the oak grooves, rolling hills of sage scrub, and riparian corridors carrying water to the coast. With each passing year the biological heritage "claimed" by Spanish missionaries in 1769 is disappearing beneath the destruction of modern convenience.

Although impossible to escape car culture, there is still plenty of opportunity to enjoy an authentic Southern California spring. To do so you must distance yourself from the manicured lawns and exotic landscaping of most neighborhoods. In Encinitas places like Indian Head Canyon allow residents to experience the real southern California. Oceanside has Pilgrim Creek, Carlsbad, Box Canyon, and Del Mar, Crest Canyon. Coastal estuaries also offer a glimpse of the California that once was.

Yes it's a short list, but at least it is something.

Growing up in Vista I developed a fondness for the plant species native to this region. The smell of warm chaparral triggers so many fond memories of childhood it is impossible to separate my cultural identity from the ecosystem in which it was formed. As native as white sage, and as local as lemonade berry, I recognize the ongoing ecocide inflicted on the indigenous habitants of Southern Californian bioregions. I also recognize the need for active stewardship.

According to a report generated by the Biological Resources division of the United States Geological Survey the major causes of biotic impoverishment today are habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. It also finds "A strategy for ecosystem conservation must not only protect and restore ecosystem types that are already endangered but must be proactive by conserving multiple, healthy examples of all native ecosystem types in each region." The USGS considers the ecological habitats of California as critically endangered.

Everyone should.

REPLACEs a strident advocate of native landscaping, I am happy to announce, after a decade of ecological restoration, the National Wildlife Federation officially recognizes my slice of suburbia as Backyard Habitat # 41435. I'm hoping to start a trend.

Converting suburban landscapes to suburban habitats makes ecological and economic sense. Environmental restoration can be accomplished one property at a time. Parks can easily be converted to native species, as could road medians, and municipal landscaping. As this is accomplished, wildlife corridors will begin to establish. If one residential property can support a host of species an entire neighborhood could support several generations.

Imagine the amount of water that would be saved if San Diego County homeowners restored their residential properties to native species. Economically speaking, water saved is a penny earned. Homeowners could better use the water needed to maintain introduced exotics. Conserving water should be a priority for all Californians.

With state finances in limbo, an enormous federal deficit, and the economy in shambles, cities can do right by their ratepayers while doing right by the indigenous flora and fauna of the region. Native landscaping is fiscally conservative. Helping local municipalities save money, by reducing irrigation and associated costs. Everyone wins when native species are allowed back into our communities.`

Going native is not easy. Restoring habitat takes time, patience, and a small investment in the future. It's worth it. And where you will save money, you will also be gaining the luxury of a thriving biotic community.

The habitat you protect could be your own.

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