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May 25, 2019
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Cotati honors and appreciates CRPUSD district’s good news in May SMART to offer free rides... Sheriff’s canine apprehends convicted felon RP votes to restrict fireworks Planning Commission approves hotel CHP to check motorcycle safety in local area SSU Police make arrest in sexual assault case An offer has been made and accepted on Rohnert Park’s corporate yard Rohnert Park caregiver arrested Burglary suspect found with firearms May CalFresh month celebration Promotions in the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety Homelessness spikes in RP Home delivery changes Fresh faces on the CRPUSD board 73rd Miss Sonoma County competition held at Spreckels Straus Family Creamery moving to RP TAG building grand opening Newsom’s vision “cradle to career” RP Downtown project underway Schools, facilities and bonds: Plans but no money DUI driver crashes into 7-1 Teen arrested for shooting at RP Bad air quality cancels sports Official election winners as projected by the VOICE  RP swears in new council member 2018 local stories which made history ArtStart brings art to the RP Senior Center Holocaust piano now in Cotati CRPUSD seeking a new superintendent Superintendent search begins Cotati Council moves ahead Fun family Christmas events in Cotati Cougars’ season comes to a tearful sad conclusion CalFresh clients get Feb. benefits early Rohnert Park Station Ave. update Cuts suggested for school district The “Healing Wall” comes to Sonoma County Cotati memorializes victims Rohnert Park considers firework restrictions Dr. Dominguez and Hawkins named as director and co-director for Hanna Institute University Elementary School to host Maker World at SSU Animal Shelter League of RP receives grant Cotati Council reshuffles seats Help save lives by donating blood New laws on purchasing and concealing handguns Fencing in Sonoma County School district leaders tackle 1.9m deficit School district seeking new superintendent Cotati protests CASA compact School district balances budget More high density in Rohnert Park Put down your phone April is distracted driving awareness month The Community Voice endorses candidates DA’s office awarded DUI Prosecution Grant Rohnert Park kid joins TCU El Camino graduates Rohnert Park Council says we don’t need another agency Rancho students excel in Poetry Out Loud  SC public safety heroes of the year Don’t drive with an open container Traffic concerns top RP survey SSU Equestrian looks to go national Brace yourself for mosquitos Station Avenue project Frightful, fun, free Halloween activities Cougars crush Ukiah Election projected winners November 6, 2018  Sonoma Clean Power offers no-cost energy upgrades Rancho advances to semifinals RP’s n­ew Director of Public Safety A stand-off with barricaded, suicidal woman ends safely in RP RP has a new director of public safety Mackenzie leaves SMART RP officers spent Sat. car chasing A shimmer of hope against the angry heavy sky SSU to host North Bay Women of Color conference Rancho’s TAG building, now a reality Mayors of So Co write angry letter Dodd’s college student food bill passes Public invited to give input on Downtown RP Site School board candidates voice opinions Woman stabbed on west side of RP LandPaths connects people to protected land Tech High Girl's Soccer Undefeated champions! 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The forest at your feet

By: Wade Belew
June 2, 2011

As Stewardship Coordinator for the Cotati Creek Critters, I became interested in native grasses several years ago when we wanted to add understory plants to complement our creek restoration plantings of trees and shrubs.

I turned to the California Native Grasslands Association to learn more and attended a conference and several workshops. I found that native grasses were important, but surprisingly uncommon, despite the fact we’re surrounded by grasslands.

Why should we care about native grasses or grasslands? Despite their small stature, grasses are ecological powerhouses in plant communities throughout the State.

Grasses are the biological threads that weave the canvas on which is painted the biodiversity of California. Grasses are very productive, providing forage and seed for a wide array of wildlife. This precious energy is passed through the food web, such as, when a rabbit is eaten by a golden eagle or coyote.

Only two percent of native grasslands remain after about two centuries of impacts from invasive weeds, agricultural conversion, development, mismanaged grazing and fire suppression. Let’s examine these impacts and effects on native grasses, and how that, in turn, affects us.

Invasive weeds have been introduced since Spanish cargo ships dropped off livestock and ballast, which consisted of soil that inadvertently carried seeds from far away places. Grasses and other plants were intentionally planted for forage or other uses.
Most grasses native to California adapted to our Mediterranean climate as deep-rooted perennials, meaning, they live year after year.

Some can live for five to10 years, or even for 100 years or more. Most of the invasive grasses are annual, completing their entire life cycle in one year or less.

The fibrous roots of native perennial grasses can grow as deep as 10 or 15 feet and provide many benefits over the shallow-rooted annual weeds. Probing roots break into subsoil and routinely die off, leaving organic matter deep in the soil profile. This process sequesters atmospheric carbon and helps convert subsoil into topsoil. It also opens up channels for rainwater to infiltrate instead of run off the surface.

Annual grasses grow fast and tall, outcompeting the slower-growing native perennials for sun and soil resources. At the end of the rainy season, the annual non-native grasses die and further smother native plants with a thick thatch layer.

It is analogous to the tortoise and the hare. The native perennials are the tortoise, slowly chugging along, but in it for the long haul. Annuals are like the hare, a quick burst of energy, but nothing sustained over the long term.

Converting grasslands to agricultural crops is common because grasslands typically have highly developed, fertile soil. All of the grains such as corn, wheat, rye and barley are grasses, so it makes sense they would thrive in grassland soils.

Development, whether residential, commercial, industrial or public works projects permanently extirpate grasslands and other native plant communities.

California was historically grazed by large herds of elk, pronghorn and deer foraging vast grasslands. Besides naturally-occurring fires started by lightning, there’s evidence to suggest Native Americans regularly burned grasslands, which also improved forage for their game animals.

Grazing and fire are now recognized as an important disturbance regime benefitting grasslands by discouraging brush, eliminating thatch and cycling nutrients. Livestock grazing occurs on 40 percent of the state and is an important economic resource.

In an effort to be economically competitive, commercial pasture can be overgrazed, resulting in soil erosion, compaction and loss of fertility. Eliminating grazing is problematic too, as invasive annual weeds often dominate in these situations.

If you would like to learn more about this subject, please join me for a workshop entitled “Introduction to California Grasslands and Grass Identification” on June 11 at 9 a.m. at Pepperwood Preserve northeast of Santa Rosa. You can learn more about this event and other workshops offered by the California Native Grasslands Association at www.cnga.org.

Wade Belew is president of the California Native Grasslands Association and stewardship coordinator of Cotati Creek Critters.