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Crossing the Sonora

 Saguaro Cactus

From a certain perspective, the Lesser Long-Nosed bat is just another seasonal migrant making the journey from Mexico to the United States this spring. Like many others they cross the dry Sonoran dessert seeking opportunity, and like some others they travel only at night. But the opportunity that this bat seeks could not be called the American Dream, and it does not have to go far to find it. Just across the US border in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument grow the Saguaro and Organ Pipe Cactus that these Chiropteran’s covet. The bats feed on the nightly blooms of the Organ Pipe and Saguaro, and in doing so pollinate the plant’s flowers. Because of the night-blooming nature of these cactus’, this relationship of mutual survival is unique, crucial and fragile.

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The Sonoran desert is home to many unique relationships like that of these cactus and Lesser Long-Nose, and in 1976 the National Monument was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve However, the park’s position as a busy corridor for both wildlife and people travelling between the United States and Mexico has created a complicated situation for the local population as well as the US Government. Some argue that increased traffic from tourists, migrant crossing and Border Patrol enforcement has already had a negative effect on wildlife. Whether this is the case or not, it is hard to argue that a new eighteen foot tall border fence will be without impact for man or wildlife. Indeed, many in the environmental community have already raised concerns ongoing border fence renovations will have long term effects on the biodiversity of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. For now there are no plans to renovate the existing border fence in the Organ Pipe National Monument, but as one of the main hubs of cross-border movement in Western Arizona, one cannot count out the possibility.The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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Springtime in Fire Country

Like a pellet from a sling shot April has launched springtime onto California whether it is ready or not. In some places rivers are still running high, and while a few eager beavers have inaugurated another season guzzling Lime-a-Ritas at their favorite swimming hole, most remain in their garages, putting the finishing touches on chrome toys, sucking diesel fumes and grinning in anticipation of the coming frenzy. This weekend’s uptick in temperature on the North Yuba river inspired yuppie supper parties of immense proportions, where wines of Napa and Sonoma flowed freely and the sounds of Steely Dan echoed into the night.

But these are the lucky places, and even the most fume-choked Californians are beginning to realize they are fewer and farther apart each year. Many in the sun dress and fedora crowd of Southern California were disappointed this weekend to learn that runoff ash continued to muck up the creek behind their favorite winery. Of course, this disappointment was quickly put in perspective by the cranky minority who drove through two hours of traffic over twenty miles only to find their own favorite had been burnt to the ground.

While passing through the Los Padres forest of Coastal Southern California recently I was reminded of the fickle and progressively worsening state of wildfires in my home state. Only one year before I had visited the area amidst an impressive super bloom of wildflower life. Now, exactly one year later, the same places that had teemed with verdant greenery and wildflowers were hillsides dominated by blackened Manzanita trunks over the grey and brown of Miocene sandstone.

The Thomas fire of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties burned over 280,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,000 structures, making it one of the most destructive fires in California history. Perhaps even more alarming than the damage though was the fact that the Thomas fire burned from December 2017 to mid-January 2018, placing it squarely outside what many consider the traditional ‘fire season’. One can’t help but wonder what the coming summer will bring.