On the Omnipresence of POST: A native Palo Altan reflects

Let’s start with a bit of autobiographical information. I like to consider myself a devout outdoors enthusiast, and a profound appreciation for nature sits at the very core of my identity. My awe of the great outdoors and what it has to offer has so far dictated my preferred recreational activities (which include hiking, sailing, and camping), my academic focus (I’m studying Environmental Science and Geography at UC Berkeley), and (hopefully) my future career. My family has always been very outdoor-oriented, and I was very fortunate as a child to enjoy my fair share of camping, hiking, and backpacking trips — a tradition that I’ve continued into adulthood. And perhaps most importantly: I am a true Bay Area native, having grown up in Palo Alto and now living in Berkeley.

My family and I (age 7) enjoy the beach / Photo credit Nicole von Kaenel

My family and I (age 7, on the right) enjoy a beach day on the San Mateo coast / Photo credit Nicole von Kaenel

So why am I telling you all this? Despite my history of living and playing in the Bay Area and my deep fondness for open spaces, I was shell-shocked when I learned about the sheer volume and expanse of lands protected by POST when I recently joined this organization as the Communications Intern. Surprisingly, I had no idea that so many of the parks I’d grown up with have a history with POST. As I scanned the POST projects map for the first time, I was overtaken with emotion — surprise, nostalgia, a bit of shame in my lack of local knowledge, and a radiating pride at working for such a successful land trust — as I recognized name after name from my favorite childhood outings, from back when I didn’t have a clue about conservation easements or land acquisitions or resource management. These property names came alive with memories: sights and experiences from my childhood — and beyond — that I’ll attempt to share with you here.

James Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, the destination of field trips both with my elementary school class and as a family to study the fascinating tidepools, contains POST-protected Pillar Point Bluff, which was officially transferred to the reserve just three years ago in 2011. I always spent the first fifteen minutes of every visit to the reserve racing my sister to be the first to spot a living crab (it had to be alive!).

I show off my highly-developed fashion sense back in 1998 while enjoying a day at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve / Photo credit Vincent von Kaenel

I show off my highly-developed fashion sense back in 1998 at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve / Photo credit Vincent von Kaenel

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, where my family drove on weekends to indulge in the sweeping views of both urban and natural Bay Area landscapes, was created after POST transferred 635 acres of the property to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District in 1981.

My very first banana slug kiss — a rite of passage, I was told, for a true Californian — occurred at the (partially POST-funded!) David C. Daniels Nature Center in Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, itself associated with several POST-protected properties.

Little me and small animals - squirrels on the beach, banana slugs at Skyline - always had a special connection / Photo credit Vincent von Kaenel

Little me had many close-up encounters with small animals – squirrels on the beach, banana slugs at Skyline… / Photo credit Vincent von Kaenel

Pigeon Point lighthouse, which we would use to proudly show off our beautiful California coastline to my visiting European grandparents, sits right next to Whaler’s Cove, where POST halted plans for a motel in 2001 and later transferred the secluded beach and bluff top to California State Parks.

My sister and I enjoy a walk on Montara Beach with our grandparents in 1996 / Photo credit Vincent von Kaenel

My sister and I enjoy a walk on Montara Beach with our grandparents in 1996 / Photo credit Vincent von Kaenel

Pearson Arastradero Preserve, where I’d go on mountain-bike trips with my dad, contains a 13-acre island of land saved by — guess who — POST in 2002. My dad spent this precious father-daughter time trying to scare me (to no avail) with stories of rattlesnakes and mountain lion encounters, which, to my great disappointment, never materialized.

There are so many more memories I can ascribe to POST-protected lands. It’s the spirit of POST and the dedication of this community to preserving our beautiful local landscapes that has painted the background of so many of my happiest memories. It was my constant contact with these pristine open spaces as a child that fueled my love for nature and seeded in me a sense of responsibility towards protecting what has brought me and others so much joy. These memories and this sense of duty are an essential part of the legacy of POST, for me and for tens of thousands of other Silicon Valley residents.

My summer at POST so far has helped me evolve my love for nature into a grounded, evidence-based understanding of the value these open spaces have for both humans and wildlife of Silicon Valley and beyond. Needless to say, next time I witness someone’s first banana slug kiss — and I know there will be a plethora of chances — I will remember how POST helped make mine possible. So here’s to POST, an enlightening summer internship, and the re-discovery of my very own backyard!

Manon von Kaenel
Communications Intern

Science and conservation: stories about snakes, birds, and pumas

Did you know that the favorite prey item of the iconic endangered San Francisco garter snake is the equally-iconic threatened California red-legged frog?

Or that 18 of the 70 mountain lions living in the Santa Cruz Mountains have GPS trackers?

Or that the grasshopper sparrow and savannah sparrow can be used as indicators of a healthy grassland, and their population numbers can help inform a holistic ranch management plan?

These fascinating factoids are all findings of ongoing scientific research taking place on or near POST-protected properties. Some of this research was presented to a group of our volunteers at a recent science-themed training event at POST-protected Cloverdale Coastal Ranches.

Richard Kim presents his research / Photo credit POST Staff

Richard Kim presents his research / Photo credit POST Staff

“It’s a great opportunity for the public and volunteers to get an understanding of what kind of science is being conducted on conserved open space,” POST volunteer and event attendee Doug Kalish says. “I think it’s important for everyone to recognize that this is valuable land that doesn’t have to just simply be set aside only for hiking. We can decide, on the basis of data and science, the appropriate uses of land that can help the ecosystem.”

If there’s just one golden nugget of wisdom to take away from the July 7 event, it’s that scientific research provides valuable insight for land management decisions, and can demonstrate how uses of the land, like properly managed grazing and agriculture, can support healthy working landscapes that benefit both wildlife and humans. All three researchers featured at the event made this point clear.

The diet of a San Francisco garter snake

Richard Kim, of the United States Geologic Survey and San Francisco State University, brought a live California garter snake to illustrate his research about the closely related and threatened San Francisco garter snake’s diet, which includes the endangered California red-legged frog and the toxic Pacific newt (!). Habitat protection for the San Francisco garter snake, via POST’s stewardship initiatives and a recent focus on strategic grazing, has long been a priority at Cloverdale, where an estimated 200 of the snakes live in the property’s unique wetlands and ponds.

“It lets us know why we’re doing what we’re doing,” says POST volunteer Kelly Runyon, who has helped restore habitat for the California red-legged frog on Cloverdale, about learning about endangered species like the San Francisco garter snake.

Richard Kim displays a San Francisco garter snake / Photo credit POST Staff

Richard Kim displays a Coast garter snake / Photo credit POST Staff

Mountain lions and other carnivores in a fragmented landscape

Justine Smith, a doctoral student at the University of California Santa Cruz with the Santa Cruz Puma Project, discussed how a fragmented landscape and more frequent mountain lion-human encounters (remember when a mountain lion spent more than nine hours hiding in a bush in Mountain View earlier this year?) can affect puma feeding behaviors and subsequently disrupt the food web. She and her fellow researchers study the Santa Cruz mountain lions by closely monitoring their movement and feeding activity via GPS trackers and camera traps. Their research suggests that increased contact with humans may cause mountain lions to feed on smaller more nocturnal prey such as opossums or raccoons, causing them to compete with mesopredators such as coyotes and foxes.

Justine Smith speaks about mountain lions to POST volunteers / Photo credit POST Staff

Justine Smith speaks about mountain lions to POST volunteers / Photo credit POST Staff

Grassland birds and holistic ranching

Carlie Henneman, from Point Blue Conservation Science, then explained the importance of grassland birds and native grasses on ranch land. She has helped TomKat Ranch, the grass-fed beef operation next to Cloverdale, develop a holistic management plan that incorporates grazing strategies aimed at conserving native perennial grasses that not only provide important habitat for local wildlife such as the grassland savannah sparrow and grasshopper sparrow, but are actually more resistant to drought and better adapted to grazing than more widespread invasive annual grasses.

Carlie Henneman talks about grassland birds / Photo credit POST Staff

Carlie Henneman talks about grassland birds / Photo credit POST Staff

“All of us that volunteer on POST land can be better stewards if we learn to recognize what we would otherwise miss on the land,” Kelly says. “Now, we might go to a new property to kill pampas grass, and come across a fair amount of native grasses on the slope. It would be important to let the rancher know about the natives so they don’t overgraze, for example.”

For more photos of the event, please visit our Flickr account.

Manon von Kaenel
Communications Intern

Correction 7/23: The first version of this post mistakenly reported that Richard Kim had brought a live San Francisco garter snake to his presentation; instead, he had brought a California garter snake. The text has been changed to reflect this.

Inspired by Nature: Origami Wildlife

Origami is the art of paper-folding. Though it is most commonly associated with square-shaped paper, it can use any size or shape, and can even involve cutting or glue. It is an amazing art process where nothing is lost or gained, but simply transformed. When I was 12 years old, I found an origami book in my house and started folding from it, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Brush Rabbits origami / Design and photo credit Tammy Dong

Brush Rabbits origami / Design and photo credit Tammy Dong

Shortly after folding from books, I started designing my own models. Almost all of my pieces are folded from a single uncut square. I enjoy hiking, birding and observing the natural world around me, so I am frequently drawn to nature and wildlife as my subjects.

My approach to creating these models is not to make them completely accurate or to capture every detail, but to make them so expressive that they almost come alive. For me, it’s a tough balancing act between retaining enough familiar details so the end result is recognizable, and deciding which characteristics to emphasize or over-exaggerate to give it personality. All this from a square sheet of paper with no cuts—it’s quite the process!

In 2013, I went on a camping trip to the Marin Headlands and was rudely awakened in the morning by a loud covey of California quail. Their bobbing plumes and cartoonish mannerisms made an impression on me, so I designed my quail to look almost like a cartoon character.

California quail origami / Design and photo credit Tammy Dong

California quail origami / Design and photo credit Tammy Dong

Another one of my recent pieces was inspired by birding, a little closer to home. I always see white-tailed kites while walking around the Stanford Dish Trail—they are fun to watch because they tend to hover in place for long periods of time in search of prey. I wanted to capture how they look almost angelic hovering in the sky in the distance.

White-tailed kite origami / Design and photo credit Tammy Dong

White-tailed kite origami / Design and photo credit Tammy Dong

To see more of my origami, visit my website at tdoart.weebly.com. I will be updating it regularly with whatever new creations I come up with while exploring the Bay Area’s many protected open spaces.

Tammy Dong
Land Intern

The Bird’s Nest: Yosemite through a First-Timer’s Eyes

Five weeks into my summer internship with POST, a mountain adventure came calling. How could anyone say no to a trip—my first—to Yosemite? Twenty years and this native Californian was bound for the state’s crown jewel. The indigenous name for the Yosemite Valley is “Awahnee,” which loosely translates to “Place of a Gaping Mouth.” I’m not sure if the original tribes meant to describe the vastness of the gorgeous gorges, with waterfalls streaming down from the bluffs, or my own face as my eyes feasted on the view.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park / Photo Credit Dinal Chheda

 Half Dome / Photo Credit Dinal Chheda

Everything from the colossal, auburn trunks so big you can’t even wrap your mind around them—let alone your arms—to the tiniest of creatures, like the ant we saw carrying home a bee across a giant boulder, all of it brought me pure happiness. On a clear day, you can make out the fine outline of our own Santa Cruz Mountains. Yosemite leaves nothing wanting. Its vistas put my iPhone panorama lens to shame, and its rich geologic and cultural legacy transports a history major like myself to a mental candy shop (or an ice cream parlor, better yet). Legends have traversed its fields and paved the way for millions of visitors year after year. John Muir is the most famous of Yosemite’s (European) forefathers but Abraham Lincoln also walked these grounds, even planting a signature tree among the hallmark redwood groves. It was our 16th president who gave Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the Golden State in the midst of the Civil War “upon express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort and recreation.” It was the first time the federal government had set aside land for preservation, setting the precedent for Yellowstone in Wyoming to become the first national park in 1872.

El Capitan / Photo Credit to Greg Balzer

 El Capitan / Photo Credit to Greg Balzer

I will always remember my first moment in this sacred place, which I hope to continue exploring for years to come. It would have been a special moment for any visitor, but working for POST that summer, it felt even more significant. I could understand the ecological importance of not only Yosemite but of the other millions of acres California has had the foresight to protect. Every redwood and giant sequoia there is central to the local ecosystem—just as they are on many POST-protected properties. In just a few weeks, my perspective on open space shifted from an abstract understanding of its value to a deep appreciation and gratitude grounded in field observations and direct experience.

Along with a mosquito bite or two, I left Yosemite itching to be back in the shade of a redwood along the Merced River, with the sun streaming down around the sheer face of El Capitan. Fortunately, thanks to the work of POST, I don’t have to make the trek all the way to Yosemite to find splendor in nature. Open space defines the Bay Area. Sometimes it takes a dramatic example like Yosemite to help us remember that.

 

Julia Barrero
Former POST Advancement Intern

Discovering Abundance in Our Own Backyard

It’s 12:20 am when we hear our first bird— a Western Screech-Owl breaking the silence outside Rob’s Palo Alto home. Rob, Josiah and I mount our bikes. I’m nervous. Stretching before me are 110 miles and 24 hours of bird-watching and biking. The three of us have set out to break a national record—the most bird species detected in 24 hours without motorized transportation. Rob set the record the previous week: 172 species right here in Santa Clara County.

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Western Screech-Owl / Photo courtesy of the National Digital Library and the Department of Fish and Wildlife Services

Our first stop is Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, a portion of which was protected by POST. These 3,346 acres are owned and managed by POST’s longtime public agency partner, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Monte Bello is on a ridge, meaning we’ll have to climb about 2,200 feet. But we can’t miss Monte Bello. It has many bird species we can’t find elsewhere: Pileated Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Virginia Rail and Northern Saw-whet Owl top our list. We reach the preserve out of breath, but it delivers. We miss the Pygmy Nuthatch, but get all our other target birds and press on.

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Pileated Woodpecker / Photo courtesy of the National Digital Library and the Department of Fish and Wildlife Services (not the actual bird sighted in this blog)

Our route takes us along Stevens Creek and through San Jose suburbs before we arrive at the bay. We cruise along the shoreline, racking up bird after bird. By 4:00 pm, we are exhausted and ready for our last climb, arriving at Calaveras Reservoir as the sun is setting. We can just make out the record-breaking bird in the dim light, a Bald Eagle sitting on her nest. Back by the bay, we weave along salt-pond levees in the dark, listening for shorebirds we missed earlier. We hear several as the clock nears midnight. The final count: 176 species.

Bald Eagle near nest2-USFWS-NatDigitalMediaLibrary

Bald Eagle / Photo courtesy of the National Digital Library, Department of Fish and Wildlife Services (not the actual bird sighted in this blog)

Two weeks later, Rob and Josiah broke the national record again: 181 species. How is this possible? After all, Santa Clara County is home to Silicon Valley. It hosts no true wilderness, no national park. Nevertheless, our route traversed an extraordinary number of bird habitats, each with unique species. We biked through fresh and saltwater marshes and past lakes and bayshore, salt ponds, riparian areas, coniferous forest, oak woodland, grasslands, and chaparral. Despite sprawling suburbs and industrial complexes, these natural habitats still exist as county parks, preserves and private conservation lands thanks to the committed work of local groups like POST.

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Snowy Egrets © 2014 Larry William

Our day is a testament that conservation does not need to be reserved for remote wilderness; it can succeed alongside humans. As a conservation biologist, I focus on agriculture in Costa Rica. As in Santa Clara County, many agricultural landscapes in Costa Rica still host clusters of native habitat, most often tropical rainforest. This habitat can support substantial biodiversity. About as many bird species are found in forest-filled farmland as in reserves. But when the forest patches are removed to make way for industrial-scale agriculture, the birds disappear. We could imagine a similar situation happening in Santa Clara County. Without our district, state and county parks and preserves, our species list would be much shorter. Maintaining nature alongside humans is critical, not only for us to escape our suburban lives for a bit, but also because of the great ecological diversity and richness of this place we call home.

 

Daniel Karp
Guest Blogger
NatureNet fellow at University of California Berkeley and the Nature Conservancy

My Post in the Ground

I believe we are made better, happier people through a deep connection to the land. I believe that humans are inextricably linked to our landscape—it shapes who we are and who we become. The land is the canvas upon which we live our lives. To me, being grounded means being rooted by a sense of place—feeling connected to a landscape and to a community of people. Land provides certainty in our changing world of shifting ideas and new technologies. The mountains, trees, plants, wildlife and soil will be here long after we are gone, if we care enough to continue to protect these places for those who follow.

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Glacier National Park

I work to conserve land because of my deep love of the western landscape. I’m a fifth-generation Montanan, and I was particularly fortunate to grow up living in a national park every summer of my life. My father was, and continues to be, a seasonal bear management ranger in Glacier National Park. Each June, my family would pack up our ancient rust-red Suburban and drive four hours north from our home in Helena to Glacier Park. The drive would take us along the Rocky Mountain Front, where the mountains are geologically thrust up and over the northern plains in what the Blackfeet Native Americans call “the backbone of the world.” This is still my favorite drive. It is going home for me.

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POST staffer Abigail Adams, Glacier National Park

Our house in those early summers was a government A-frame wood cabin, 12 miles inside the park boundary, situated along a reservoir. It was rustic. The cabin included a woodstove that provided heat on frosty nights, a loft below the ceiling for the oldest of my siblings, a bunk-bed room for the other three of us, a bedroom for my parents, a shower tacked on from the outside and the main room, which encompassed the kitchen, living room and dining room. We also had an outhouse located 250 feet down the hill from the cabin. This outhouse also provided a home for generations of yellow jackets in its double-thick walls. As a kid, I became good at running simply because, upon exiting the outhouse, I had to swing open the door as wide as possible and sprint up the hill before the door swung shut and the hornets exploded. Being chased by hornets makes anyone run faster.

Despite the rustic elements, we loved that cabin. My summer memories are vivid and cherished. I recall a morning when I was practicing my violin and a grizzly bear ambled up the driveway, right outside the pane-glass windows where I was playing. I casually remarked, “Uh, Mom, there’s a grizzly outside the porch again!” Then there was the time my aunt was staying the night on the pullout couch in the living room and a mouse was caught in a trap on the ceiling beam directly above the bed. All we heard was “scamper scamper, whack, smack… Thunk. AAAAAAAHHHH!!!!” as my aunt let out a crazed scream when she awoke to the mouse, with trap attached, falling precisely on her head.

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We didn’t have Internet or even phone access in the cabin, so as kids we read books, played board games and adventured outdoors. We were joined by other ranger kids and we would build forts, construct rafts, engage in rock-skipping contests or hide in the bushes near hiking trails, snapping twigs and making bear noises to try and scare tourists. (Though that ruse never seemed to work.) My parents also ingrained in us a deep respect and humility for the powerful whims of nature. We witnessed and later assisted with many park rescues over the years—everything from people falling into bodies of water, peeling off cliffs while climbing mountains, suffering heat stroke and spraining ankles, to having heart attacks, falling into glacier crevasses and even occasionally, getting mauled by a bear.

Given all these risks, I have always loved the mountains and the sense of awe and freedom that natural landscapes inspire. It was not only the beauty of these places that drew me to work in land conservation, but also the people and the stories that tied me deeply to the land. If the saying goes “it takes a village,” then my childhood in Glacier illustrates that it took a community of people, along with the mountains, to make me who I am. I believe that if we want to ensure that the land we truly care about is conserved in perpetuity, we have to connect people—deeply, genuinely and passionately—to the landscape and to each other.

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The land is our legacy that we leave to future generations. It will continue to provide clean air and water, food, scenic beauty and a place for people and wildlife to thrive, if we care enough to conserve these places. All the laws in the universe will not protect the rambling oak woodlands, the glorious redwood forests, the farmland and the dramatic coastal bluffs—the very elements that make living in this region extraordinary—if we do not have that connection. It is not enough just to save the land. We have to continually underscore the reason why it fundamentally, genuinely, truly, matters.

 

Abigail Adams
POST Conservation Easement Program Manager

 

Celebrate National Trails Day, June 7 on POST-protected Lands!

Need an excuse to go on a hiking adventure this weekend? You’re in luck: Saturday, June 7 is the 22nd Annual National Trails Day! This nationwide celebration, organized by the American Hiking Society, aims to bring together outdoor enthusiasts and couch potatoes alike for a day full of enjoying nature. Whether you prefer to hike, bike, horseback ride, bird watch, trail run, paddle, or volunteer at a trail cleanup, there’s a special event for you! There are several official National Trails Day events organized on or near POST-protected land (listed below), but we encourage you to go on one of our self-guided hikes or another hike close to you.

If you’re reading from outside the Bay Area, find a full list of events nationwide here or visit your nearest National Forest, as admission is free on Saturday the 7th as well.

Remember to always bring sufficient water, food, and sunblock along for your outdoor activities, especially given this weekend’s forecast of sunny weather and high temperatures. Spread the enthusiasm by sharing your weekend trail-adventure photos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Google+ with the #POSThikes hashtag!

Montara Mountain Trail Repair

Hosted by:  The Trail Center
Location: Montara Mountain, Montara State Beach, San Mateo
Time: 8:30am – 3:30pm

Rancho Corral de Tierra

Enjoy breathtaking views of McNee Ranch State Park like this from
POST-protected Rancho Corral de Tierra

Join the Trail Center in improving the Montara Mountain Trail in Montara State Beach, which neighbors POST-protected Rancho Corral de Tierra along the San Mateo coast. Volunteers will work with California State Parks in their ongoing efforts to repair and maintain the popular trail, including root and brush removal and tread finishing. Montara Mountain (also called McNee Ranch) is a northern spur of the Santa Cruz Mountains and offers spectacular views of much of the San Francisco Bay Area from its 1,898 ft summit. RSVP by email at volunteer@trailcenter.org .

For more information, click here.

 

Volunteer Event: National Trails Day, Rancho Corral de Tierra

Hosted by: The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Location: Rancho Corral de Tierra, San Mateo
Time: 10:00am – 1:00pm

Cabrillo Farms wildflowers flowers

Beautiful wildflowers claim Cabrillo Farms on Ranch Corra de Tierra as a home. Go visit them!

Volunteer with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in this family-friendly trail maintenance and restoration project located on Rancho Corral de Tierra, the southern gateway to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The POST-protected 4,000+-acre park contains important and diverse wildlife habitat, vital watersheds, rich farmlands, and awe-inspiring views of the ocean and surrounding hillscape. RSVP here.

For more information, visit click here.

 

Volunteer Event: National Trails Day, Mori Point

Hosted by: The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
Location: Mori Point, San Mateo
Time: 10:00am – 1:00pm

Pillar Point Bluff © 2012 Paolo Vescia

Pillar Point Bluff is about 15 miles south of Mori Point. The ocean is beckoning for a coastal hike!

Join the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy at the coastal promontory of Mori Point on the San Mateo coastline for a day of trail maintenance along the overgrown pollywog path – all ages welcome! Mori Point is across Highway 1 from the POST-protected Shelldance Nursery and offers wetland habitat for red-legged frogs and San Francisco garter snakes, an impressive black sand beach, and stunning views of the rugged coastal landscape and beautiful springtime wildflower blooms. RSVP here.

For more information, click here.

 

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