The Santa Cruz mountains of the San Fran Bay area are a land of startling contrasts. The beaches and rocky surf give way to windswept, barren coastal scrub, then patches of coastal prairie, then evergreen oak woodlands and mixed evergreen forest, then rain and fog-drenched redwood forests that go deep into the mountains. Between state parks and land owned by logging and aerospace companies, there’s huge (hundreds of thousands of acres), contiguous, close to uninhabited wilderness within 40 miles of San Jose. And above the redwood layer are the Chalks: sun-baked, steep, dry, alkaline ridges with scorpions, rattlesnakes, manzanitas, knobcone pines (short-lived and 100% fire-dependent for reproduction), and other desert and chaparral species.
What drives this landscape diversity is the Mediterranean climate of the central California coast. The Pacific currents drive strong, salty wind from the west year-round, inhibiting tree growth in the coastal scrub and prairies. The year-round fog and winter rain season ensure that there’s enough moisture for rich, closed-canopy forests to develop once you’re inland far enough from the wind and salt. And the 6-month (or longer!) dry summer season ensures that plants are fire- and drought- adapted everywhere, and it’s all open woodlands, savannas, and scrub once you’re above the fog or in the rainshadow on the east side.
So healthy land management here is a complex process. It requires wet-climate strategies like diversifying and thinning second-and-third growth redwood forests towards old-growth, and managing floodwaters during the rainy season, and also dry-climate strategies like using prescribed fire, thinning, fuel reduction, and firebreaks to reduce wildfire hazards, as well as rainwater harvesting and erosion mitigation. And there’s all kinds of land use strategies specific to the plant and animal communities and land use history of this region as well.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time on and off in this greater bioregion (including western Marin and Sonoma counties north of the Golden Gate) over the past 6 years, and I think it’s one of the most diverse and compelling eco-social landscapes on the continent. There’s a lot to say about the place and what people are doing here to regenerate the land. But I wanted to give an introduction on this blog to another bioregion I’ll be talking about over time.
In other news, truffles. Also, my blogroll is up. Send me more links that you’d like to recommend!