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San Diego County, California

Plant Nerds on Volcan Mountain

August, 2019

August turned into a plant nerd month on Volcan Mountain. From tiny plants to big trees. The Volcan Mountain Foundation is energized by a handful of emerging partnerships.

Early in the month, VMF had researchers from SDSU's Soils Ecology Restoration Group (SERG) up on the mountain -- an energetic and enthusiastic group of self-described "plant nerds". They met with VMF Executive Director, Colleen Bradley and VMF Conservation-Stewardship committee co-chair, Dr. Michael Lang. Having largely worked along coastal and desert areas around Southern California, the SERG team was excited to explore the mixed conifer forests and oak woodlands of the Volcan Mountain uplands. They were especially looking forward to seeing Volcan's big cone Douglas firs -- a rarity at the southern end of its range on Volcan.

We were all excited to see another of Volcan's rarities -- San Felipe Monardella (part of the mint family) -- in flower, and also see so much native milkweed in bloom. Our native milkweed is only found at high elevations, and is an important food source for monarch butterflies.

As VMF and SERG explore partnership and research opportunities, responding to the very concerning degree of oak mortality that Volcan and nearby upland areas are experiencing is a high priority. Controlling the goldspotted oak borer -- introduced through movement of firewood in the early 2000s and since contributed disproportionately to a dismaying loss of oaks – along with oak propagation and restoration will also contribute to wildfire fuel reduction, resiliency to wildfire and overall forest health. Oaks are a keystone species that a large variety of wildlife depend on.

Our long-time partners, the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the San Dieguito River Park, are part of a shared effort to address oak mortality and forest health on Volcan and its foothills.

With this past winter's abundant rains, the local mountains are experiencing a mast year, or mast seeding, with conifers producing copious amounts of cones. In partnership with a geneticist at the US Forest Service, a member of VMF's Conservation-Stewardship committee and Ambassadors Circle, Cody Pettersen, is leading cone harvesting for big cone Douglas firs on VMF's upper parcels near the south end of Volcan, as well on another 300 acres near the north end of the Volcan Mountains. The harvested cones will be propagated by the forestry service for future big cone Douglas fir restoration efforts.

As the month comes to a close, another new partnership with the San Diego chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS-SD), developed by VMF Conservation-Stewardship committee co-chair, Valérie Cournoyer, has resulted in an upcoming rare plant survey on Volcan scheduled for Sunday, September 1. As described by CNPS-SD President, Justin Daniel, "(VMF's) Volcan Mountain Nature Center and trails above it are about as wild as the Peninsular Range gets so close to civilization." This brings another excited group of "plant nerds" to Volcan Mountain and an opportunity to reinforce the understanding of Volcan's uniquely biodiverse habitat.

For more information about the Volcan Mountain Foundation and events and activities on around the Volcan Mountains, visit: VolcanMt.org