The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 7, 2014

The return of the natives

OAK GLEN, Calif. — Protecting the beauty and biodiversity of landscapes is a life’s work for men like David Myers. If the lanky naturalist takes you sightseeing, you’d best wear sturdy boots.

Myers, 62, is executive director and a co-founder of the nonprofit Wildlands Conservancy. The sightseeing on this day will be of the organization’s new garden, one of the largest in the United States dedicated to native conifers and plants.

The Southern California Montane Botanic Garden, which opens May 10, is designed to be a haven for tourists and a center for education programs promoting the protection of the region’s flora and fauna.

“Let me show you the good stuff,” Myers said, leading the way into a grove thick and dark with conifers and carpeted with primrose and ferns.

Framed by soaring peaks and watered by year-round streams cascading through overlapping biological zones — coniferous forests, chaparral, meadows and deciduous woodlands — the 300-acre expanse in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains is home to bobcats, songbirds and arboreal salamanders.

Along a trail to the prized trees, Myers stopped abruptly. “Look up,” he said, smiling and pointing at the swaying spires of incense cedars and Jeffrey pines more than 100 feet in height. “This garden is going to be our bully pulpit for conservation,” he said.

The conservancy, which has raised funds to preserve nearly 1,280 square miles of mountain and desert landscapes across the state, will charge no admission and hopes to attract 50,000 children a year. The garden is on Oak Glen Road, north of Interstate 10 and about 15 miles northeast of Redlands.

The diversity on display took eons to evolve.

Tim Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands and an authority on the flora of the San Bernardino Mountains, says that during the last ice age, about a million years ago, the San Bernardino, San Gabriel and Santa Ynez mountains, which together comprise one of only two ranges that run east-west in the United States, provided refuge for a surprising variety of plants, many of them found nowhere else.

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