Reflections on Interconnection in a California Coastal Prairie
By LandPaths Staff
August 7, 2023
by Miles Sarvis-Wilburn
Stewardship Field Specialist
It’s a Thursday morning in July, and I’m pulling Yellow star thistle alongside LandPaths’ stewardship staff and volunteers at Bohemia Ecological Preserve.
Why this particular task? Well, bird nesting season is well underway and so forestry work is on hold. Trails are often compacted and difficult to cut. Seasonal creeks run dry. This means, summer is the time for grasslands.
The grasslands at Bohemia Ecological Preserve are California coastal prairie, a protected and unique habitat that contains an incredible amount of species diversity. We tend them to protect and support native perennial bunchgrasses like California Oatgrass (Danthonia californica), Blue Wildrye (Elymus glaucus), Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis), and Purple Needlegrass (Stipa pulchra). These grasses are talented at sinking carbon, retaining water, and acting as hosts for many insect species. And while they once covered much of the coastal landscape, they are also under threat from development, non-native species, and other challenges of modernity.
Yellow Star Thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), an annual herb that crowds out native species, is one of those threats. Volunteers and staff at LandPaths have been pulling Yellow Star Thistle for seven years now, and we have seen a fantastic reduction in populations across the preserves though there is still work to be done. Each one of these wily and prickly plants disperses thousands of seeds. It flowers during the summer and is therefore easy to spot; pulling it before it goes to seed makes a huge impact on its population levels.
As I finish my sweep of a hillside, I turn and look towards the south. Below me, the truck used by the stewardship team is packed with bags of thistle pulled by the crew working on the hill. At that moment, I hear the sound of children playing down at the creek, campers from LandPaths’ Owl Camp, ringing across the grasslands and forest.
The counters yell out to each other, counting down from ten for a game of hide and seek. Their calls echo up the canyon like waves across a pond. I pause, before moving on to the next patch of thistle, and think to myself how wonderful it is to build a relationship with the land across seasons and through time.
And it’s even more wonderful to do this while hearing the joy of youth who may not have regular access the land, to know that this tending of the grasslands on the hill above directly affects the days of those at the creek below, and to be reminded that land stewardship is an ongoing process with a lasting impact. And the hope is that those campers by the creek will become Young Stewards, eventually tending the land alongside us.
Just as LandPaths’ Owl Camp breaks down the barrier between youth and nature, land stewardship breaks down an invisible barrier between people and the land. To hear children connecting with nature and each other as we tend to the health of the grasslands is a reminder of how porous that barrier truly is. From grasslands to volunteers to Owl Campers to the insects on the California oatgrass, everything is connected. Really, there’s no barrier at all.
Join us for a Yellow star thistle star party & potluck on Friday, August 25 from 5pm – 9pm. We’ll be pulling Yellow star thistle in the early evening then staying to eat and look at the stars. A different vibe for a Friday night! Bring your friends! Sign up here.
" Just as LandPaths' Owl Camp breaks down the barrier between youth and nature, land stewardship breaks down an invisible barrier between people and the land. "