One of the cathedrals in Southern California is being desecrated!
In this case, it is not a work of humans being defiled, but a work of God: the Vernal Pools of the Mesa de Colorado on the Santa Rosa Plateau.
For perhaps thousands of years or longer, the Vernal Pools have been a magical place. Some amazing (and endangered) creatures and plants live through hot dry summers as eggs and seeds in what looks like only a parched grassland. Then the rains come and turn the area into glistening pools of waters. Within days, the eggs hatch and the pools become teeming with life. The transformation is so unbelievable that one of the animals is called fairy shrimp, since they seem to appear out of nowhere.
The animals quickly grow, mate and lay their eggs in their short 4-8 week life spans, and the pools begin to dry up in the spring. The plants then take over, producing stunning displays of color even as the pool still contains water.
Southern California used to have thousands of such pools, but nearly all have been lost to development. Only 13 remain in all of Riverside County! The Main Vernal Pool and two smaller pools on the Mesa de Colorado here are the largest of these. All 13 of these pools are also unique among all the pools in Southern California. These pools are the only ones formed on basalt, the outpourings of an 8 million year old volcano. Nowhere else can such pools be found.
The Main Vernal Pool is also uniquely available to visitors. A boardwalk has been constructed at the edge of the pool, allowing visitors to follow the development of these special animals and plants throughout the lives. As such, the Main Vernal Pool offers an estimated 40,000 visitors per year a glimpse into one of Nature's special works.
The Santa Rosa Plateau has been forever set aside as an Ecological Reserve, to preserve these treasures. For the last two decades, people have been able to leave the influence of man and enter the world of Nature, essentially untouched by human hand.
The Mesa de Colorado, which contains the Main Vernal Pool and two others, was not completely preserved. A handful of parcels remained outside the Reserve, which were offered for sale in the last year. (Beyond those parcels, the steep sides of the Mesa effectively isolate the Plateau from farther parcels.) Unfortunately, no preservation organization was made aware of the desecration that will now result from building upon those parcels.
These parcels are critical parts of the ecosystem for those pools. The parcels immediately abut the two smaller pools, and the drainage from these parcels helps form the pools. The parcels constitute about half the drainage area for one pool, and about two-thirds of the drainage area for the other.
The first home is now under construction in November 2000. As its skeleton arose, the huge impact that these homes will have on the Mesa de Colorado is now clear. The large house looms over the Mesa de Colorado, destroying the solitude of the former wildness. The house can even be seen from the main pool, leaving no spot untouched by its presence! (Photos to be supplied on 11/12/00.)
If homes are built on all these parcels, people visiting the pool will park at the street in front of these residences, instead of along the remote access road within the Plateau. The large homes will be forever in sight along the entire hike to the Pool. Photographers wishing to capture one of Nature's stunning scenes will have homes polluting the picture. Power lawn mowers, power blowers, etc. used on those properties will completely destroy the solitude now found on the Mesa. Trash trucks and other components of "civilization" will rumble up and down the road just outside the Reserve, destroying the feeling of remoteness formerly enjoyed by visitors.
The solitude and remoteness visitors now enjoy on the Mesa de Colorado will be lost forever.
Visual and aural pollution is bad, but it only affects the aesthetics of humans. Far worse is the ecological disaster for the pools and the Reserve that development of these parcels will bring. Homes bring people who alter the landscape drastically. Here are some of the major affects that can be predicted:
- People will plant non-native species, which will bring their own weeds, that will colonize the Reserve.
- People bring pets, who inevitably will trespass onto the Reserve, altering the natural balance of plants and animals there. There is a reason no dogs are allowed in the Reserve: many animals will no longer forage or live in an area where there is a scent from dogs. Cats are well-known to be ferocious predators of native species, seriously disrupting the ecological balance.
- The creatures of the Reserve, who don't pay attention to the boundaries of the Reserve, will die as they wander into the yards of these home-owners.
- These homes will probably have septic tanks and watered landscaping, which will drastically alter the flow of water into the Reserve. The extra water will flow directly into the two vernal pools next to those homes, forever altering the balance of Nature there.
- The landscaping of those homes will undoubtedly at times be fertilized and sprayed with pesticides. Both the fertilizer and the pesticides will end up in the vernal pools, and will upset the ecology.
- The nitrogen-rich runoff from the septic tanks and landscaping may cause algae blooms in the pool, which disrupt the entire vernal pool cycle. Worse, if the runoff is large enough, the vernal pools will die, and be replaced by year-round pools that cannot support the endangered vernal pool species.
We have learned that vernal pools are not disconnected from the lands surrounding them. For example, the plants depend on pollinators such as native bees that live in the lands surrounding the pools, including on these home sites. The development of these home sites means that half the circumference of these pools will now be lost, with perhaps irrecoverable damaging effects on the pools.
It is a shame that these properties have not already been added to the Reserve, but perhaps it is not too late. Only one home is under construction, and some of the lots are still for sale. Perhaps somehow the remaining handful of lots can be purchased before building starts, as well as the lot with the current construction.
Then perhaps one of the cathedrals of Southern California can remain a place to worship the marvels of God and Nature forevermore.
Copyright © 2000 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 6 November 2000.