Are Superbloom Visitors Loving Wildflowers to Death?
As Tourists Seek Out Rare Ecological Event, Some Fear Impact on Environment
After the particularly wet rainy season this past year, California is in the midst of a superbloom, an event where millions of dormant wildflower seeds across the state blossom in an awesome show of natural beauty. As visitors go out and witness this rare ecological event, some fear the effect they will have on these temporary environments.
“Overuse and over-visiting in off trails especially compacts soil and kills wildflowers and the seeds that would ideally have been produced that year,” said Joan Dudney, assistant professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara. Dudney specializes in forest disturbance, seeing the effects of human activity on the environment.
“If they [nature parks] don’t have enough employees, protocols, and constraints in place to help guide traffic and where park visitors can go, then we start to see areas that are overrun with tourists wandering through fields, trampling all the wild flowers,” Dudney said. This, in turn, reduces the ability of these superblooms to occur again after big rainfall events, according to Dudney.
Cassy Buckley, a member of Patrol 38 at Figueroa Mountain, saw firsthand the effects of visitation on the wildflowers this year. “The visitors come up and they try to be respectful of nature, but they do end up making trails through the wildflowers,” Buckley said. “It was not bad this year; this year, people were pretty respectful,” she later added.
The U.S. Forest Service currently prohibits the creation and maintaining of new trails on the lands it operates in.
Although serious damage can be inflicted by tourists to these ecosystems, Dudney finds that superblooms positively influence public opinion toward environmentalism. “I think overall there’s a really positive effect, too, of the exuberance about the superbloom. I think that’s really important to cultivate in a sustainable way to help protect these ecosystems. We don’t really care about them if we don’t connect with them,” Dudney said.
Buckley reported higher amounts of visitors than usual during the peak of the superbloom. However, as the flowers naturally dry up under the California sun, park visitation returns to baseline. “There’s not really a superbloom up there [Figueroa Mountain] anymore,” Buckley said.