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Spring Preview : Record Rains Have Given Nature a Jump Start


THE REGION — The extraordinary rains of winter decidedly washed away the drought. And this spring, it's going to pour even more: grasshoppers, deer, fleas, poppies, pollen, rats, mosquitoes and maybe even rattlesnakes.

Within the region's natural and human web, the drought-quenching rains are triggering untold reactions, some to be seen next year as well.

Without a doubt, entomologists and exterminators say, Glendale-area gardeners and the back- yard barbecue crowd will encounter more bugs in the next few months.

To the delight of hikers and the dismay of allergy sufferers, vegetation will be lush from the mountaintops to the valley below, including a plethora of wildflowers the likes of which have been unseen for perhaps a decade.

At the same time, the danger of wildfires will increase in the hills and canyons, where the rains have fueled a thick growth of grasses that can rapidly convert a spark into a torrent of fire.

Yet the rains have dramatically lessened the risk of brush fire in much of the water-saturated San Gabriel Mountains, said Rich Hawkins, a fire officer with the U.S. Forest Service. The precipitation level at Mt. Wilson has reached almost 60 inches, nearly three times the norm for this time of year.

Glendale has logged 30 inches of rain this season--more than twice the normal amount--and about 10 inches more has fallen in La Crescenta and other foothill areas.

At Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge, it has already rained more than 38 inches this season. Although the rains caused some erosion problems and worried gardeners that it might inflict blight on camellias, the intense moisture turned out to be a boon to both the perennial and annual plants. "They've done just beautifully," said Steven M. Cohan, gardens director.

The persistent rains, however, did delay by three weeks the planting of flowers, including tulips, that make up part of Descanso's spring show, which starts Friday and runs until April 18. Still, Cohan said the work will be completed by today and the show, thanks to the rains, "will make the biggest spring statement in Los Angeles."

All the rain also has created "conditions favorable to every kind of wildlife out there, both avian and mammal," said U.S. Forest Service biologist Bill Brown of the Angeles National Forest.

Birds and animals, he said, will flourish because their habitat has increased and so has their food supply. "When you provide more in terms of living space and food, they do quite well. It's just like humans," he said.

"We're not going to see droves and droves of snakes or other species coming down into the foothills being a menace to people, though you will see some of that," he said.

Having more food and water and a better place to live will also mean an increase in breeding and reproduction.

For example, a water-deprived, unhealthy doe in the past might have rejected a buck's advances with signals that are akin to saying, in effect, "Not tonight, dear, I'm too thirsty."

Now, there will be no excuses. Naturalists predict that deer will reproduce next fall and winter in record numbers.

One insect already has become quite visible: the mosquito, which has few enemies outside of the slap of an irritated human hand.

Culex tarsalis, a variety of mosquito that normally does not show up in abundance until late spring, already is out in full force, said Sue Zuhlke, manager of the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito Abatement District based in Irwindale.

This year without question will be worse than last year, she said. And mosquito breeding "is not going to slow down. There's no way."

One sure deterrent, however, is the mosquito fish, a minnow-sized fish that thrives on mosquito eggs and larvae. Mosquito districts are distributing the fish to people who have ornamental ponds.

Like mosquitoes, many other insects "react very rapidly to an increase in moisture," said Altadena entomologist Robert H. Crandall.

"Aphids can take advantage of the water and multiply like nobody's business," he said. "They can be born pregnant. If you're born pregnant, you kind of got a real jump on things."

The bounty of aphids will probably fuel an increase in their enemy, the ladybug, he said.

Grasshoppers too will profit from the prolific plant life. By next year, he said, there probably will be even more grasshoppers and the emergence of some rare species of blister beetles. "Many, many insects will be collected that hadn't been collected for years," he said.

Ants have already been marching in droves to get out of the rain, said Jesse Andrade, a pest service manager for Great Western Termite and Pest Control Inc. of El Monte.

"We're seeing a big increase in business because of all the rains," he said, explaining that ants retreated to the dryness of houses.

And rats are on the rise, Andrade said. When exterminators responded to complaints during the drought, "we'd only find two or three rats" in a house. But now, he said, "we're pulling out 10, 12, 14 rats."

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