The Trees for the Forest
New book by local nonprofit shines light on our own Monterey pine.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Rita Dalessio has learned to spot a Monterey pine by the elegant circle of cones radiating around the trunk. It’s one of many lessons learned in her seven years working on Coastal California’s Legacy: The Monterey Pine Forest, a new book by Monterey Pine Forest Watch.
The first four chapters offer a wide-lens view of the Monterey pine forest – its human and natural histories, and the future of its conservation.
The Monterey pine is one of the most commonly farmed tree species in the world, comprising more than 10 million acres in places as far-flung as Australia, South Africa and Chile. But its native habitat is actually quite rare, occurring only at five sites from Santa Cruz to Cambria, plus two small islands off the coast of Baja. The core population, or “Mother Stand,” is right here on the Monterey Peninsula.
That makes our local pine forests a reservoir of genetic diversity. When tree farms are decimated by pine canker or other pathogens, their owners must look to the Mother Stand for disease-resistant strains and hardier stock.
And while Monterey pine plantations look like Christmas tree farms, the Monterey pine forest is a biosystem with dependent wildlife. “It’s not about the Monterey pine tree,” Dalessio says. “That only lives about 100 years. But the forest has been around thousands of years.”
In the wild, Monterey pine cones must be opened by heat or fire, and the seeds must fall on just the right kind of soil in order to germinate, explains Carmel Valley ecologist Nicole Nedeff, one of the book’s co-authors.
That can make managing the Monterey pine population a delicate science. But the greater task is managing the forest and its attendant animals, plants and microorganisms – including uncommon species such as the Yadon’s rein orchid – within a mosaic of micro-habitats, from maritime chaparral to wetlands and coastal prairie.
“The pines are the species that define the Monterey pine forest,” Nedeff says. “But the trees aren’t the story. It’s the forest habitat that’s the story.”
Like the Monterey pine forest itself, the book is a collective work.
Four of MPFW’s eight board members – Dalessio, Nedeff, David Bates and Joyce Stevens – scripted the book, with help from contributing editors Linda Smith, Jerry Emory and the late Jeff Norman. The art, too, was a team effort, with photographs and illustrations from dozens of contributors.
The second half of the book constitutes a handy field guide for getting out to the pine forest, including 15 hikes (12 of them in Monterey County), and illustrated flora and fauna appendices drawing from a deep pool of local experts.
The coffee-table-worthy imagery, inviting layout and well-scripted articles are atypical of a self-published book, and speak to the meticulous process that created it. “We went over every comma,” Dalessio says.
MPFW cobbled together the book’s funding through many small donations, including contributions from the Barnet Segal Charitable Trust, Sierra Club’s Ventana Chapter and Pebble Beach Company. That last donor is a testament to the book’s apolitical tone; PBC has historically come under fire for proposing development of Monterey pine forest habitat.
“We wanted it to be a positive celebration of the pine forest. It wasn’t meant to be controversial,” Dalessio says. “The book just says, ‘Do the right thing.’”
Central California’s Living Legacy: The Monterey Pine Forest is available locally at River House Books, Pilgrim’s Way and Carmel Bay Company, all in Carmel, and Wild Birds Center in Monterey, for $22. Proceeds go to MPFW’s education efforts.