Monday, March 23, 2009

Vegetation Sampling at McKenzie Preserve

I had the opportunity to participate in a vegetation sampling workshop held last week in Prather (outside of Fresno). It was cohosted by California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and Sierra Cascade Land Trust Council (SCLTC), of which Nevada County Land Trust (NCLT) is a member, and was held at a preserve owned by the Sierra Foothill Conservancy (SFC). Whew, that's a lot of acronyms!

The preserve was amazingly beautiful. Here's an excerpt from SFC's website:

The main body of the McKenzie Preserve consists of grassland and oak woodland sloping upward toward the basalt lava table lands which give the preserve its name. The preserve includes a significant portion of one of the flat-topped tables that are visible from the road. In the spring, rain water collects in the table’s low spots, forming vernal pools. Since the basalt is impermeable, these pools hold water for several weeks or months until it eventually evaporates. The pools provide habitat for rare plants and rare crustaceans which “come to life” in the presence of the water. When the pools dry up in late spring, these interesting organisms take on new forms (such as seeds or cysts) in order to survive the rest of the year.

The first day was spent partially in a classroom, learning about Rapid and Relevé assessment methods, and then outside in a field of popcorn flower (Plegiobothrys spp.), practicing the Relevé method. In my years of living around Fresno, I've never seen the popcorn flower so profuse. It looked like snow on the ground, intermixed with the dark gold color of fiddleneck amongst the blue oak savanna.

The second day we hiked to the summit of the table top. This was less than a mile, but it was all uphill (both ways!) with an elevation change of 1100 feet! You can see from the pictures the increase in elevation as we climbed and our eventual destination on the table top.

The table top was a rioting mass of wildflowers in bloom, including lupines (Brewer's and Pixie), California poppies, California goldfields, and gold carpet. We did a relevé on a stand of pixie lupine (Lupinus bicolor). We also did a rapid assessment on the band of meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglassii) surrounding the vernal pool.

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