Leaving the boat is traumatic. The Caribbean is a whole different world than we were used to living — and it now feels like home more than California. However, we had to make one last trip to our house in Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains, east of Los Angeles, to put it on the market. Every time we return to Big Bear, we see major differences and not necessarily for the better. When we moved up here in 2004, California had been in drought for 6 years and the lake was at an all time low, 17 feet low. But we had a big winter that year with snow and rain alternating that filled the lake (and our house) to overflowing. We had one more big winter since but all the rest have been extremely dry. California is still in major drought and Big Bear is drier than ever. In fact, the overflow side of the lake (east of Stanfield Cutoff) is completely dry. I don’t know if that has ever happened before. Big Bear Lake now has a sizable beach surrounding it where there were no beaches before. Every year we had white pelicans that came during the summer to that part of the lake, but this year they had to go to the main lake. There is no small island in the middle there, so not sure if they are breeding. We are in crisis. Not because of the pelicans, but because California has way more people than we have water to supply them with. Here is a slideshow of the pictures I took driving up to our house in Big Bear and along our bike ride to the lake. Below it is an explanation of the changes in the ecology that I am witnessing. If you don’t want all that (boring) information, enjoy the pictures.
Whether you believe climate change is the cause or not, the environment here is undoubtably changing. Invasive species are becoming more frequent without people intending to introduce them. Some examples are the quagga and zebra mussels that travel via the ballast of cargo ships, the fungus that causes white nose syndrome in bats that just made the jump from the US east coast to the west coast (possibly spread by shoes of tourists), and the beautiful and fragrant wild mustard that lines the roads up the mountain to Big Bear. Considering where they grow, wild mustard seeds likely travel by car. As beautiful as it is, being an invasive species, it poses a threat to the local ecology. It is illegal to pick it and bring it up the mountain to decorate your yard. Speaking of illegal yards, no new lawns can be planted and watering existing lawns is restricted to nighttime hours.
While California was in drought before we bought our house in Big Bear, the susceptible trees were ravaged by the bark beetle. California’s fire suppression policy left the forests overcrowded and the drought left them susceptible so, when the bark beetle killed the trees, our forest were ripe for wildfire. In 2003 our fears were realized; the San Bernardino Mountains burned like they had never burned before. Since then, the Department of Forestry has been removing dead trees, conducting controlled burns, and thinning the forests. Yet, driving up to the house I see dead or dying trees interspersed throughout the forests and large areas of dead trees, some already burned again. It is such a depressing sight to watch our forests die, so it made my heart happy to see the lupine and other wildflowers showing signs of life even as the life is being sucked out of our trees. Yucca is, of course, a desert plant and has no trouble blooming. California poppies are indigenous and managing to survive during the drought. They are not as numerous here, but it is glorious to see them blooming.
Our mountain looks dry and thirsty and I wonder where the wildlife is getting their water. We have black bears, coyotes, mountain lions, wild donkeys, and many other animals that are being challenged. We already lost our gray squirrels from a mange that spread throughout the population. On the bright side, we have seen a few gray squirrels returning to Big Bear this trip. It is not all doom and gloom, but it feels shocking after spending 2 years in the Caribbean! Since I am not writing a research paper, I’ll stop here. Hope I didn’t bore you too much. But please, conserve water. And, if possible, add a shallow pool or bird bath in your yard to give wildlife a little assistance.