Wild Iris Bloom, Santa Ynez Mountains

The wild iris are abloom now in the Santa Ynez Mountains.

This particular flush shown may be the best bloom in many years, coming after the Thomas Fire of 2017 cleared the way, and a month after the torrential record-setting rains of early January. Flowers love fire and rain.

Wildflowers are one of the great signifiers of seasonal change in Santa Barbara County, which otherwise appears largely unchanged throughout the year.

We don’t have big temperature swings or wild weather fluctuations or heavy snowfall or swaths of deciduous trees turning the mountains fiery hues.

Our seasonal markers in Condor National Forest are more subtle and easily missed and overlooked.

A lush, fleeting explosion of vivid color.

But only a patch here and there.

Before dryness and summer heat shrivel it all once more to drab earthen hues for most of the year.

Related Posts On This Blog:

Seasonal Change In Wildflower Fields of Figeuroa Mtn

Fire Poppy

Thoughts On Rare Lily Ojai Fritillaria and Indian Fire

Chocolate Lily

Baby Blue Eyes Wildflower

Figueroa Mtn Wildflowers II

Figueroa Mtn Wildflowers

Carrizo Plain Wildflowers

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Claw Marks In the Tiny Tank

I went for a walk to a tiny tank high on the mountain.

The rain had fallen for days, for hours non-stop, in amounts not common around this neck of the woods. Records were set.

And so we have to get out now to see what the forest looks like now, because it’s the most rain we’ve received in a mighty long time.

Right now is the best time to hike Los Padres National Forest, for the exceptional rainfall and it’s radical transformation of the droughty land.

Wind buffeted the ridge, nearly strong enough to toss a body off balance.

The 60 days following the torrential rains are here now. And will come only but once.

This land is not the same place year round for the dearth of precipitation through long warm summers.

Who knows when it will rain much again?

We’re already halfway through February, typically one of our wettest months, and yet no rain has fallen. We hope for a March miracle. But now, we go.

Rain brings change and big rains after long droughts bring big change.

Miss it and it’s like a surfer missing a great swell. You gotta be there when it fires.

Sometimes, it only happens once every ten years or more.

You get one opportunity.

In brief lulls the water settled and the claw marks were revealed.

Water levels in creeks and rivers will not be as high in two months as they are now.

The flush of nutrient-dense herbs and edibles is now.

Flowers are blooming now.

The forest is swelling in volume and sprouting furiously right now. And all the creatures.

Two months from now will be a much different story.

That moment in time that is right now will be gone forever.

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Hiking Is Not A Crime; Done Dirty By Diktat

“What does accessibility mean?

Is there any spot on earth that men have not proved accessible by the simplest means—feet and legs and heart? …

A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for Godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches—that is the right and privilege of any free American.”

—Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Apparently the Forest Service threw wet noodles against a wall to see what might stick as justification to close the entire forest.

Their parboiled arguments are foolish and have fallen flat.

They threw the entire boiling pot against the wall trying everything they could think of and made a tremendous hot mess of it.

Incredibly, they said the people are a threat to the forest and the forest is a threat to the people.

Incredibly, they said the people are a threat to the forest and the forest is a threat to the people.

And so under threat of violent force, and exhibiting a remarkable strain of ham-fisted prior restraint, they declared from on high that the forest and the people must be separated for 60 days. 

The Stubbs diktat:

Pursuant to 16 U.S.C. § 551 and 36 C.F.R. § 261.50(a), and to provide for public health and safety, the following act is prohibited within the Los Padres National Forest. This Order is effective from January 13, 2023, at 12:00 PM through March 14, 2023 at 12:00 PM.

Going into or being upon any area of the following National Forest System administrative

a. Monterey Ranger District
b. Santa Lucia Ranger District
c. Santa Barbara Ranger District
d. Ojai Ranger District
. . .
Christopher J. Stubbs
Forest Supervisor
Los Padres National Forest

When we look to the law, 16 U.S. Code § 551, to see the basis upon which authorities claim power to bar the public from public lands, we see its clear intent is the protection of forest and wilderness areas from wanton destruction and plundering. 

This law does not apply to the people they have deployed it against, the common walker of the public wood, who poses no threat of destruction or depredation whatsoever. No threat!

From Cornell Law School:

16 U.S. Code § 551 – Protection of national forests; rules and regulations

The Secretary of Agriculture shall make provisions for the protection against destruction by fire and depredations upon the public forests and national forests which may have been set aside or which may be hereafter set aside under the provisions of section 471 [1] of this title, and which may be continued; and he may make such rules and regulations and establish such service as will insure the objects of such reservations, namely, to regulate their occupancy and use and to preserve the forests thereon from destruction;

And so we must ask in disgust:

How does the common hiker pose a threat of destruction or depredation, that they must be prohibited from entry?

Answer the question, Stubbs. You signed your name to it.

That is outrageous! The Forest Service is treating innocent walkers like thieves and rapists.

If we accept the premise of the expulsion we are currently facing, that in our mere presence we pose an unacceptable threat, than it follows that our public lands might be taken from us at anytime anywhere under the pretense of “preserving the forests thereon from destruction.”

The precedent for this is currently being strengthened with this latest blind closure.

Danny Mac at Noozhawk has informed us these closures appear to be happening more frequently and to be more extensive in total reach. 

Why is this extraordinary law of protection necessary for Los Padres National Forest, but not for other forests across the country?

What makes the Los Padres exceptional from other forests?

Of course, the idea hikers depredate or threaten the forest is silly. 

The Forest Service is operating in a parallel dimension unguided by science and insensitive to public health needs. 

They’re using a law clearly designed in its letter, to say nothing of its spirit, to be employed against bad actors who intentionally harm public lands.

Why the hell are they doing this to us?!

They’re turning this law against the innocent walkers and wielding it like a dull weapon to cleave the people from their land. The wound might be healed someday, but the scar will remain.

I’m never letting it go. And I’m never coming back. The Last Straw.

The despicable treatment of recreationists does not go unnoticed. And we will never forget.

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Hiking Is Not A Crime; Hiker’s PreCheck Forest Entry Pass

Why is the Forest Service treating us like this?

The Transportation Safety Administration treats people differently when conducting security screenings.

Thousands of lives are on the line. Not just on planes. In buildings all across the country. Not throughout any given day, but in any given moment. 

This is deadly serious business. This is truly an issue of public health.

Nevertheless, some security measures are waived for travelers with TSA PreCheck passes. All other passengers must submit to the full rigmarole deemed necessary to protect national security.

The TSA follows risk-based protocols, because not all people represent the same degree of risk and so should not be treated the same.

Treating everybody the same with a blanket policy is not smart nor efficient and sometimes can be counterproductive.

Why shouldn’t the Forest Service when serving recreationists operate with at least as much consciousness and intelligence as the TSA? 

What is sufficient in protecting national security is surely more than sufficient in satisfying our public health needs in the National Forests. 

For those hikers eager and willing there should be a system through which they can apply for and obtain a precheck entrance pass to the public lands when otherwise closed by diktat.

Contraband imagery secreted out of the condemned forest.

“Are you from the trails council,” she asked.

That was the first thing she said when she caught us entering the condemned forest. We had climbed over the top of the closed sign a minute earlier. We hadn’t bothered caring to be sly.

I could tell you her name and link to the County of Santa Barbara page with her details. She would remember our rather long conversation. 

“No,” I said.

She then informed us that the forest was closed.

“Why?” I asked.

And she tried to sell us the company line, saying something about how there were rockslides and wash outs and trail damage. The forest was dangerous.

“Oh. You mean it’s a mountain?” I said sprightly.

She feigned a faint chuckle and gave us a fake smile, friendly like. What else could she do?

The reasons for the closure were ludicrous and I was hanging it around her neck rhetorically like a lead anchor.

Her job was to try and sell the garbage to conscious, intelligent people who could see through the flam from a hundred miles away, with one eye closed, looking backwards over their shoulder through a mirror.

If I had said I was with the trails council she would have let me pass.

Why? The forest is a threat to public health, says Stubbs.

Cell phone snapshot, face to face, Santa Ynez Mountains, January 2023

Do the men whose names we see credited on outdoors photos published in local media outlets possess some special skill set or degree of competency that permits them to enter and move about the closed forest, while the common man is barred from entry for sake of his health?

We know they do not. 

Wearing a fedora with a white strip of paper in the hatband that says “press” does not make them safer operators in the forest than everybody else.

Let the good people do their good work.

But don’t then tell everybody else no based on some fuzzy undefined theoretical generality, a nonsensical excuse.

It reeks of hypocrisy.

Allow me to translate this sign along Arroyo Burro Trail: Welcome to your public lands. Enjoy!

There are all sorts of exemptions to the forest closure.

If you associate with the right outdoors social organizations you can go into the forest legally. Somehow the threat to public health, poof, vanishes instantaneously upon signing up.

The clique is the key to the locked door. Join and you’re in.


Do any of these volunteers possess something special that protects them from the alleged threat to public health? No.

Do they undergo some physical fitness test? Classroom examination? Nope.

What do they possess that sets them apart from the rest of us common folk? 

If there is truly and honestly a problem facing public health should Condor National Forest remain open, then a precheck hikers forest entrance pass is the solution.

The Forest Service cannot honestly tell us such a pass is somehow unworthy and insufficient when the federal government secures the entire nation following such thinking. 

The pass would provide forest access to people for whom there is no reasonable basis for exclusion.

Those people of lesser interest outdoors would be fine waiting out the closure period. Most Americans at large are not conscious to any of this and so don’t care one way or the other.

Such a system, I would posit, would tend to self-select for the most able-bodied people who are of lower risk; the most enthusiastic people wanting a pass to get into the forest during a closure would tend to be the most experienced and of the least concern.

Surely such folks would be at least as safe in the forest as those people that sign up with a trail maintenance group or a group that monitors sensitive cultural sites. 

And of importance as well, the pass would provide an opportunity for the Forest Service to save face, and to stop the hemorrhaging of social capital and trust that’s been pouring from their self-inflicted wound caused by the nonsensical blanket closure.

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County Dumps Debris In Sensitive Habitat Off-Limits To Recreational Spearfishermen

An angelshark swimming up Goleta Beach Slough, a State Marine Conservation Area.

David Bacon pinned a righteous note to the bulletin board over at Noozhawk decrying the dumping of tons of sediment from local creeks into Goleta Bay.

Santa Barbara County has options for where to dump excess mud and debris after major rains, yet they choose Goleta Bay apparently because it seems to be the easiest to get dump trucks and bulldozers into and out of.

In doing so, they turn a thriving ecosystem into a wasteland, drive away wildlife, and take food out of the mouths of underprivileged children and adults.

Can you tell I’m upset? I sure am! And this isn’t the first time. The county has done this repeatedly, each time we have a wet winter that causes mudflows.

Bacon did not mention the federally listed, critically endangered southern steelhead in this particular article, which we know transit through Goleta Bay and into the slough and up into local creeks.

Signs noting the presence and protection of the steelhead are posted around Goleta Beach Park and fishing for them is not allowed.

Bacon has previously written of this: Goleta Slough Flowing to the Sea Opens Up Possibilities for Steelhead

We’ve seen the steelhead in the creek through the years. I’ve made it a point to bring the kids and check a certain creek in a certain place every winter, rains providing, to search for the fish once the waters clear from runoff sediment. 

The steelhead do come, but so few and never often.

We wonder what the fouling of the bay has done and might do to the steelhead, and everything else. 

With the torrential rains this may be the best season in a decade or more for the steelhead, but for the murk in the bay from being artificially infused with muck.

Goleta Slough is a State Marine Conservation Area.

In addition, in further recognition and protection of the important biological systems at play here, the law also prohibits spearfishing or even the possession of a spear within 100 yards of the slough mouth.

That means, by my reading, 200 yards total of shoreline surrounding the slough is protected and off-limits to spearfishing due to its biologically sensitive nature.

At least, this is what authorities tell us in justifying the restrictions.

Bacon has previously noted, “Goleta Slough can serve as a major spawning, feeding and nursery area for numerous fish, including such favorites as halibut.”

Halibut is what I’m after, but not there, as per the law. 

Men once speared running steelhead with pitchforks in the mouth of the Santa Ynez River: Native Steelhead Of Yore.

Likely today’s prohibition against even so much as possessing a spear near a creekmouth stems from those old days of excess, when supply seemed limitless and restraint unnecessary and we knew much less about how it all worked.

We understand how times have changed, and that it’s probably best to let the slough alone as a nursery.

Instead, harvest those fish elsewhere, in other habitat that can better absorb the pressures of constant human activity, while sustaining healthy wildlife populations.

The common man can see the commonsense reasoning upon which the law is founded.

We can understand the law, but not why the County acts contrary to its spirit.

We live with restraint for sake of conservation, but then here comes Santa Barbara County dumping tons of dirty debris into the ocean and waters we have been told are too sensitive to sustain as part of the local recreational spearfishery. 

We recognize the County faced an extraordinary event in the dangers and burdens of heavy rainfall and as such chose to act with extraordinary measures.  

Yet, as a result, none of what we have been lead to believe regarding conservation now seems to matter a whit, as they drop a biological bomb’s worth of sediment and muck into the sea.

We can see the mudline in the Santa Barbara Channel from the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

A thinking person cannot help but wonder how spearfishing for halibut 75-yards down-shore from the slough mouth harms or threatens the fishery in any measurable way, while the mass dumping of muddy sluice for days on end does not matter.

We come to wonder why the rules appear to be applied most heavily against the least among us treading most lightly, and not at all to the most powerful whose footprints are the heaviest and the largest.

A spearfisherman wonders why, for conservation’s sake, it is illegal for him to harvest dinner for his family from the same waters the County has then chosen to use as a dump.

Related Post On This Blog:

Halibut Surf Fishing

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