This month’s activity calendar is up. Take advantage of all the good stuff going on before the valley becomes a soul-wrenching heat cauldron.
Among the myriad options for outdoor fun and adventure is the once-per-decade trek up the challenging Dry Lakes Ridge with local plant maven and CNPS Channel Islands chapter president David Magney. The hike is Saturday, and David was kind enough to take a few minutes to give some background and insight into this fascinating, unique area.
1. “A Flora of Dry Lakes Ridge” came out in 1986, based on your extensive exploration and research in 1984. What led you to this particular area? At what point did you realize that there was something unique about the ridge that merited a full-length study? What kind of institutional support/resistance did you contend with?
As part of my map examination exercise then seeing what it was like there, I found out that there is a stand of Ponderosa Pine in the “lakes”. That in itself, not to mention the “dry lakes”, forced me to hike up to the top (no easy hike) and see for myself. I needed to conduct independent research for my Senior Thesis at U.C.S.B. as an Environmental Studies major, and I was certainly interested in studying the plants of the entire county, so I came up with the idea of writing a flora for Dry Lakes Ridge.
Twenty or 30 years before, such as study would have qualified as PhD. material, but the bar had been raised. I had nothing but support from the U.S. Forest Service (except they wouldn’t let me drive my Jeep to the top) and my major professors. Time was the only real challenge.
2. Before you even reach the Dry Lakes region the climb up to the ridge is a bear. What type of habitats dominate this slope? What are your favorite plants to observe as you catch your breath? Any advice for the first time climbers?
It climbs up a southern exposure that is dominated by chaparral plant communities (we now call them vegetation alliances). The chaparral in this area, near the highway, is dominated by Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) and at least two species of Ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius and C. leucodermis).
At the top of the steep part the vegetation changes to a manzanita-dominated chaparral, dominated by Transverse Ranges Eastwood Manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. mollis), which is a low-growing shrub compared to the Chamise and Ceanothus. These plants are adapted to the summer drought conditions and shallow soils. The slopes here are covered in white, cream, and blue when these dominant shrubs are in full bloom. When climbing this part, I also am pleased when I come upon a small root parasite, Chaparral Broom-rape (Orobanche bulbosa), which you don’t see very often.
3. You finally make it to the top and things change drastically. You classify the habitats as “wetlands” and “uplands”. What are you theories on how this unique area formed and why there is such botanical diversity? Do you have a favorite of the various sub-communities represented?
that you can smell when you walk on them before you notice them otherwise.
4. Everyone loves finding rare stuff. The book notes there are no endangered species is this still the case today? What are your favorite less-than-common plants on the ridge? In the 30 years since your original observations have you noticed any significant population increase or decrease? Anything brand new? Anything disappear?
Dry Lakes Ridge was the first place any botanist had found it in Ventura County. It is a root parasite and closely related to the Chaparral Broom-rape. It seems to be stable at its one known spot at the eastern end of the easternmost basin. I always visit this plant when I go up there. The iconic plant of the mountain is the Ponderosa Pine.
The population on Dry Lakes Ridge is a relict from the Pleistocene when the climate was wetter and colder. The number of trees has decreased significantly since I first visited the summit basins. Many where killed during the 1985 Wheeler Fire. Climate change that results in higher average temperatures and lower rainfall on Dry Lakes Ridge will eventually result in the extirpation of this species from the ridge. I always find something “new” when I go back, but that is most likely a result of finally seeing something rather than a species colonizing the ridge for the first time; that is, except for invasive exotic species.
5. Your final recommendations in the publications are for the forest service to officially protect the Dry Lakes Ridge and to cease expansion of the fuel break. Did any of this occur? Do you still feel the same way, is the region in worse or better condition since thirty years ago?
Thank you David. If anyone is interested in attending on Saturday contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-6045