green, or ‘Green?’ Part Three

This is what ‘mitigation’ looks like, BEFORE it dies. Note the quack- and velvet grass, long since lovingly pulled by me.

It would have been easy, upon the death of the plants in the Mitigation Plan, for me to have said ‘&*%$# THIS!’ and gone on to just do whatever I want.  After all, once my $5,000 Survival Bond was encumbered and locked away for five years, I don’t have it, can’t use it, and can’t get it back until the Politicologists say so; I might as well just kiss it goodbye.  There are plenty of beautiful plants that would look right at home in my forest and clearing, and unlike Northwest Native plants they are easy to come by.  But I want my five grand back and so I quest for Native Plants.

Acquiring the correct Northwest Native plants for my property reminds me of shopping for men’s suits.  There is a world of great clothes out there, but in my size (52 long, if you’re interested) I can have whatever I want, as long as it is a Navy blazer.  Twenty years ago, shopping for NW Natives might have entailed hours on the phone with far-flung specialty nurseries and a lot of driving around; thanks to the internet, it now involves hours online with far-flung specialty nurseries and a lot of driving around.  Or I can have Evergreen Huckleberry, which fortunately I like…I’m not a fan of Navy blazers, however.

Not that I think the quest is necessary.  From my neighbor the forester (‘You can’t mitigate a clearing’) to the man from the Washington Native Plant Society (‘What harm could an azalea or hosta cause a forest?’), most plant people I come in contact with think the restrictions I am under go a little far.  The case for a more reasonable view is made perhaps as eloquently as I have seen by Noel Kingsbury: the ‘polemic (for native plants) can overwhelm the science.’  I know a little of Mr. Kingsbury, though I’ve not read the sources he makes reference to; still, he is British and undoubtedly sounds extremely intelligent when he speaks, and his ideas are very similar to mine.  Therefore he is an Authority.

Even more interesting, perhaps, are the comments below his essay.   For those who controvert his points, their anecdotal views are that animals and insects prefer their natives to their other plants, that their natives perform better in their growing conditions than their other plants, that when faced with the choice between native and non-, they choose the native.  Without intent, these fine folk have made themselves the exceptions that prove Mr. Kingsbury’s rule: they have a choice, and they choose some native plants to go with their other garden flora.  Their plants are not all native.

Oregon boxwood–delicious, if you are a deer

Mr. Kingsbury advances the view that in the debate between

Regular Boxwood -just as delicious…but cheaper, readily available, and therefore much easier to replace after it gets eaten

Native and non-native plants, Nature itself cannot really tell.  While I tilt at Paxistema myrsinites windmills all over creation, I probably could just plant a common boxwood, $3.95 for my choice of one out of a thousand at the Orange Apron Store.  Not only can Nature not tell, I don’t think it cares.  Don’t believe me? Take a look around.  Nature is EVERYWHERE: it’s that crow eating out of my dumpster, just beyond my office window; it’s that owl, crunching the bones of a Mountain Beaver in the woods beyond my clearing.  But look a little closer…that’s an Eastern crow, an invasive that followed the grand expansion of dumpsters into the West, and the owl?  Barred owl, expanding far beyond its native territory.  Probably because they are completely badass.  And the Mountain Beaver, well, it’s Native…but fat on the hybrid Asian Rhododendrons in my front yard.  There is nothing unspoiled about Nature.  It is not Wilderness…but then again, neither is Wilderness.

Next, green or ‘Green?’ Part Four: Cultivating Nature, the contrivance of Wilderness, and why I am the only person who can do what I am doing, and the City should be glad of it

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7 Responses to green, or ‘Green?’ Part Three

  1. Out of curiosity, what are you supposed to be “mitigating” anyway? What was theoretically destroyed when your home was built?

    • calvincaley says:

      Ha ha! A fine question indeed. The Mitigation Plan was/is a part of the construction planning and permitting for building our home. The ORIGINAL plan was created before the home was built, and the plants on that plan were planted about a week after the foundation pad was cleared and poured. The footprint of the home is about 1,150 square feet, and only about 8 feet beyond the pad was cleared; the total area the house, driveway, and front yard occupies is roughly 2,200 square feet–about 3% of the total lot. Soooo…after the home was built, the City came back for final inspection. Before signing off on occupancy, they decided (in combination with the Planner, a private contractor that they required the builder hire, and whose services were paid for out of the construction budget) that the number of plants in the plan needed to double; that the Mitigation period needed to be extended by almost a year and a half; and asked that a cash bond be encumbered in amount equal to the replacement cost of all 289 plants in the updated plan ($5,000). All of this came as a complete surprise to me and to the builder (who I purchased the project from). The area behind the home–what would typically be understood as ‘backyard’–was a CLEARING in the woods before the house was built (we came to the site a number of times before construction began). Clearing for construction entailed the removal of ONE timber tree, a Douglas Fir of about 18″ in diameter (that is the tree in the sunlit photo); there were also about a dozen or so alder saplings and vine maple scrub, and the usual mix of salal, sword fern and such. All the plants from the Mitigation Plan were planted in the undisturbed forest understory next to the home, and what was apparently an attempt to fill in the clearing and seal us into the home with giant trees and spiny shrubs planted right against our tiny outdoor patio and foundation wall. I am financially responsible for the survival of 289 native plants, but of the original plants only about 30 or so lived through the first year.

  2. What is the area your home is built in? a wetland? an old growth forest? a secondary forest? What was it about your site that it required mitigation? From your comments and an earlier blog post I remember, there is obviously Douglas fir, alder, vine maple and moss growing natively there. Is there an identified plant community that these species belong to? Do you have photos of the original site, before clearing for construction began? (Planting almost 300 plants – native or not – into an already established, functioning ecosystem seems…less than ideal.)

    • calvincaley says:

      Gaia gardener, you are preachin’ to the choir. My home is on an acre and a quarter of second-growth forest; the property (the entire area of approximately 18 square miles, really) was largely clear-cut through the 1930’s and 40’s. My property is bordered on one side by a Class One wetland, the house sits right at the very front of the property 42 feet from the street and in back is a large-ish (12,000 or so S.F.) clearing that existed prior to the building of the home. On our visits to the site prior to construction, we did take a number of photos; unfortunately, we had no idea at the time that a photographic record of the site might one day be useful, and so for the most part the pictures are of various trees, stumps, and such. Beauty shots.

      The existing vegetation on the site is cedar, hemlock, Douglas fir in relatively small numbers and mostly Bigleaf maple with red alder and vine maple forming the understory. There is plenty of salal and sword fern in the shrub layer and a great deal of moss, liverwort, and selaginella at ground level. My explorations have revealed small communities of Oregon Box, Oregon Grape, Trillium, False Solomon’s Seal, and in some areas near the wetland, Trapper’s Tea. Native blackberry, Salmonberry, Snowberry, and Red flowering currant pretty much complete the picture. I do not know if there is an identified plant community, but I would generally refer to it as typical Northwest Second-growth Forest, and very much like it can be found at the side of virtually any road for miles and miles around here. It is in no way ‘special.’

      The ‘theory’ behind the principle of mitigation, or the actual Mitigation Plan itself, is a mystery to me. Were I to hazard a guess, I would say that prior to the incorporation of my city, County development regs were pretty lax. Want to build a 1,500 or 3,000 home subdivision? A couple of stormwater retention ponds and you’re good to go. In the true spirit of NIMBY’s everywhere, the City incorporated largely because the subdivision dwellers didn’t want to see more subdivisions (it’s not working, by the way). That explains the mitigation, to a degree. The Plan itself? Eh. The Planner’s notes indicate ‘an effort to create greater diversity on the property.’ Most of the plants on the plan were what I would call “wetland scrub,” plants that you might generally find at the wet-to-moist margins of a swamp. Bitter cherry, Beaked hazelnut, Scouler’s willow and Pacific Willow, and as I have remarked a number of times, Bigleaf Maple right at the foundation of the home and a number of Pacific Crabapple abutting the patio. There were 10 cedars as well, but inexplicably planted in the most open areas of the clearing.

      In my discussions with the Planner, I pointed out that there were a lot of very large stumps on the property and the surrounding area. They are hard to miss: 6 – 10 feet high and wide, half rotten (so Doug fir and/or Sitka Spruce, probably, cedar doesn’t rot like that), and essentially all 50 -75 feet from each other–gives you a sense of the size of the timber harvested from this land. Initially, I promoted the notion that we should figure out why it was a clearing, and failing that my suggestion was that since it was once forest, if the clearing had to be filled, shouldn’t it mimic FOREST? I never got a straight answer, as she had bachelor’s degrees in a couple things and a masters in another, and that is all she told me when I questioned her decisions. The wetland plants which were planted in the middle of the clearing died in less than a year in the anemic clayey hardpan, much of the other plantings were browsed to the nub by deer, quite a few just plain washed out of their shallow depressions from runoff, and I moved the cedars to just inside the forest margins where they now thrive, because cedars want to be sheltered until they outcompete their neighbors. Somehow I knew that without three college degrees in plant-y stuff. The whys and wherefores of the Plan will remain a mystery to me, other than my belief that the Planner had an agenda and that she and the City Planticologists seemed to resent my being there; City ordinance is fairly murky here, as the City awards itself the right to do these things with ‘determination of action to be made on a case by case basis.’ I take this to mean statutory authority to make it up on the spot.

      The area between my house and the wetland is on the original plan as “Wetland Buffer;” this is an area of about 90 feet across, creating a triangle of Bigleaf Maple and undergrowth (and including the tail of the old logging road where it meets what is now the street). About half the plants went into this area, despite having been completely undisturbed by construction. The plants in the Plan didn’t like forest as much as they didn’t like clearing, and this is the area where the cedars now live. I did not, and do not understand why the original plant choices did not replicate existing vegetation.

      Your remark that planting into an existing ecosystem is less than ideal speaks directly to why I am writing these things. The BEST course of action might probably have been to just leave everything be. Another would have been to use the same plants as existed on the property. I do not have the choice to do the first, as that would be the ultimate rebellion and certainly result in the loss of the survival bond money. I choose to do the second, with a slight deviation for plants observed growing within a 3-5 mile radius of my home, as compiled in field notes from the Washington Native Plant Society. To be sure, there is plenty of room for conversation and opinion on the topic: one native plant provider told me I should perform the “restoration” of the property by clonally propagating my plant material directly from the property to assure genetic consistency; Mr. Kingsbury, who I have referred to elsewhere, has written a number of books on the topic of ecology and seems to hold an opposing view; or my neighbor across the street who could not get a permit to build the patio they wanted and so excavated a good portion of the intersection of wetland and lake to pour a great concrete slab, choosing a $10,000 fine over not having what they wanted. While I might myself believe that both the concept of mitigation and the Mitigation Plan to be arbitrary and capricious, I like to think there is a middle ground across this spectrum of thought, and also like to think that I am on it.

  3. Janet Currie says:

    Hey Calvin – I was a friend of Charles Knighton for many years. I recently (December) sent him an e-mail through this site, but have not heard back. I also notice he has not updated his section of this web-site since November, so I am concerned if he is alright. Please let me know, if you can. Thanks. Janet Currie

    • calvincaley says:

      Janet, I have noticed that also and he has been on my mind. My acquaintance with Charles is through his website, we shared a number of emails last spring on the subject of native seed propagation and the wild harvesting of native plants. He is very generous with his time and information, and though we have never met I found myself liking him a great deal. He told me that his daughter was his webmaster, from the eastern part of Canada, I think (Toronto?) and that he performed his internet activity essentially by proxy through her. I will check my email folders for his and her email address and forward them to you directly if I have retained them. That someone who knows Charles personally is concerned makes me concerned also. Best,Calvin

  4. Pingback: Confined dining | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

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