John woke up and headed to his morning classes as he looked to the right getting off the 78 freeway. He noticed the whole area was leveled and ready for yet another housing project going up where there once stood a forest. More construction, this is something we see all over the State of California. Just in the last twelve months there have been at least two dozen sites that have broke ground in the North County area. All these sites were no doubt host to some native ecosystem. What happens to these native Flora and Fauna when their ecosystems are destroyed. Do they move on and find a new dwelling? Do they rent an apartment? Or do they die out because the home they have known for thousands of years is abruptly destroyed? What environmental effects occur resulting from this ongoing destruction? Vernal pools are seasonal depressional wetlands that occur under the Mediterranean climate conditions of the West Coast and glaciated areas of northeastern and midwestern states. They are covered by shallow water for variable periods from winter to spring, but may be completely dry for most of the summer and fall (Dexter n.pg). Although they seem small and insignificant, they are an important part of our region’s ecosystem. If continued development wipes out the Vernal pools, it will destroy ecosystems, lead to extinction of indigenous life, and forever alter California’s wetlands.
The few wetlands we have in Southern California are everyday closer to being wiped off our map. There just isn’t much left of these natural areas because of the continuous development of the county. We just keep building an endless barrage of housing developments. Shopping centers are becoming part of San Diego’s natural geography. Our resources are being eaten up by hungry bulldozers and our need for Kohl’s and WalMart mega centers. Soon there will be no wetlands left to speak of. If the wetlands, and by proxy Vernal pools are destroyed there is without a shadow of a doubt no future for its native flora and fauna. This is a serious danger. One thing relies on the next to keep the delicate balance. It is the house of cards theory. We are all linked to one another. San Diego is systematically destroying everything that made it special. For what reason; money, the almighty dollar, that is why.
Vernal pools team with life that can only exist with the pools as their host. Fairy shrimp is one that can be highlighted. San Diego fairy shrimp, Branchinecta sandiegensis, are small shrimp that are 8-14mm long. The fairy shrimp is a habitat specialist occurring only in small, shallow vernal pools, which range in depth from 2-12 in (5-30 cm) and in water temperature from 50-68°F (10-20°C). The species is restricted to Vernal pools in our coastal region and Baja California (Beacham n.pg). Other inhabitants are different species of breeding frogs and toads, salamanders, and Delta green ground beetles. In addition to vernal pools are the wetlands birdlife that use the pools as a food source. Mallard ducks and Egrets are other San Diegans that are affected by our backyard eco-disaster. The plant life that is also threatened include spike rushes (perennial) wooly heads, colusa grass, and calico flowers. With these pools disappearing all these species will go the way of the rotary dial phone.
Charlene Wright, an Instructor at MiraCosta College worked on a Vernal pools research project as a SDSU graduate student in the late 80s trying to help with Vernal pool relocation efforts. This was during the time that they were putting the 56 freeway in; leveling miles of land between Poway and where it meets the Interstate 5 in La Jolla. “How do you just relocate an entire ecosystem, well, you can’t, that’s stupid. You can’t just take different species that have lived in a habitat for thousands of years move them and expect them to survive, it’s just stupid,” said Wright about her time on the project. Wright also spoke of the animal corridor projects. They are trying to build corridors for wildlife so they can move within the confines of San Diego county so they don’t become an “Island” species. Her cynicism about the cavalier way humans treat the planet is a valid one to have. She has worked in the ecological field for most of her life in different facet’s: The Park Ranger service, research field and geography teacher. She has an intimate knowledge of what is happening to our environment locally and globally. There is no doubt in her mind where this asinine behavior is headed on a global scale.“The more you learn, the more disturbed you will be,” said Wright.
In California we don’t let fire take it’s natural course, our environment actually needs these periodic burns to stay healthy. Our present concern is saving property and keeping the natural phenomenon of fire from doing it’s job. Southern California want’s to cleanse itself but we won’t let this happen. Then, when we do get a burn it spreads smoke and debris for miles(Marty n.pg). In its natural order, fire quickly burns high grass. There is light smoke and it burns on. This key component missing is a problem for Vernal Pools and wetlands in general. They don’t get the proper mineral deposits from the natural occurring burns, and when we do get one the all the fuel built up from suppressing periodic burns makes smoke far too thick. It covers flora and fauna and snuffs them out.
Some say that small small pools in the marsh are not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. After all we do have much bigger fish to fry: the hole in the ozone, Fukushima radiation in the Pacific, the polar ice-caps melting, and yes this is absolutely true. We do have a bevy of larger worries that we should be focusing our attention on. There is nothing we can do to save a small species that is behind us on the evolutionary scale. Worry first about our species having homes to live in. Build, Build, Build,! San Diego is the most desirable place to move to and start fresh in the United States. Most would agree that we are more important. There is a good chance loss of vernal pools and wetlands would not affect us. And there is a good chance that most of us would be none the wiser, but that brings us right back to the house of cards theory. The domino effect, a Butterfly flaps his wings; every action has a reaction. This is why people should give environmentalists more ear time, don’t brush them off so quick. We would all like the scenario if Joe construction company was right about the environment impact, but what is the overzealous tree hugger was right about all this What then?
Since the Industrial Revolution started around 250 years ago humankind has embarked on an experiment in the unknown. We have pushed our resources to the absolute limit and continue to do so virtually unchecked. “Environmental agencies and laws like emissions policies are a joke.” (Wright n pg). In the past 50 years we have altered the environment more than any power short of an asteroid or ice age has ever done. The Industrial Revolution has given us a sword to wield against our most valuable asset; our global home itself. The irony in this is that our own species is going to suffer the most from this loss. Yes, many animal species have and continue to suffer from our daily encroachment on their habitats, but we are the most cognitive species of all. It is man who will realize that our time is up when we’ve exhausted every resource around us. What the fuck will go through our minds then
If an entire ecosystem disappears, we won’t be sure what the true effects will be until many years down the line. Little marshy ponds have the potential to drastically change our environment. We can’t be sure that the loss of San Diego’s wetlands affecting the change of our Mediterranean climate won’t be the thing that took us right to the brink. It could be the topper in our climatic saga; the last proverbial straw.
Vernal pools are a small but significant part of our wetlands environment. They host life that will become extinct without them. Many wetland birds rely on them for food. It is a living breathing ecosystem and it is close to being part of California’s past. The life that calls these pools home has been in danger of extinction as well for many years now, but more golf courses, more highways, more cookie cutter housing tracts; still no help for the wetlands of San Diego. California’s landscape used to be a sight to behold, the golden state, the great wonder of the west, it was called paradise by the sea. I think the Eagles may have said it best, “You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.” This is not the first argument you will hear on environmental issues nor will it be the last. This is not the one that will make money hungry developers start thinking outside the box. It is the one you are reading right now though. If you have made it this far, maybe it’s made you think. If this is the case then it has done it’s job. We can’t fool ourselves and think things are going to change, the fact is they are not. Take your eyeshades off San Deaganites. Look what’s going on around you. You can’t be martyr and think you will effect change in this country. It just doesn’t work that way. Just don’t be blind. Don’t pretend things are going to be ok. That would just be an insult to your intelligence.