Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012-01-31 "Love of birds takes flight at annual festival held at Vallejo's Mare Island" from "Vallejo Times-Herald"
In celebration of birds, art and Mare Island, the 16th annual Flyway Festival, a three-day event centered on the former naval base, will unfurl soon.
This year's festival, celebrating the return of shorebirds, geese and hawks to the Bay Area, is Feb. 10-12. It includes nature walks, bird-watching outings, wild bird demonstrations, and art and photography exhibits.
Some Mare Island features, such as St. Peter's Chapel, will be open for tours.
"It's an unusual mix of history and nature resources -- that's the draw of Mare Island," event organizer Myrna Hayes said.
Many events take place in Building 223, at 500 Connolly St. on Mare Island.
A popular feature, Hayes said, will come from Native Bird Connections, a wild bird rehabilitation and education center based in Martinez. The center's staff will give its live birds shows at regular intervals on Saturday and Sunday at the Wildlife Expo.
A new event this year will be the screening of "Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time," by filmmakers Ann and Steve Dunsky who work at the U.S. Forest Service on Mare Island.
The first showing is 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, immediately after the art show and reception. The movie also will be screened at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11.
"Aldo Leopold is credited with being the founder of the modern habitat environmentalist movement," Hayes said. "This is definitely a big opportunity to show off an award-winning movie made by local Vallejoans," she added.
Other highlights include bird trips to Skaggs Island, the most recent addition to the San Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, plus trips to other bird-rich areas in Solano and Sonoma counties.
Another popular outing will be the self-guided wetland stroll along the San Pablo Bay Walking trail. Other Mare Island hikes include guided walks through the Navy's first ammunition depot.
Participants also can walk on the new wetlands trails along the Napa River in American Canyon. Beginners bird walks for children and families are at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, starting at the parking lot at Eucalyptus Drive and Wetlands Edge Road.
Most festival activities are free; some require pre-registration. For more information and directions, call (707) 249-9633 or (425) 279-3502 or visit www.sfbayflywayfestival.com.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

San Pablo Bay ecological hotspots

Sonoma Coast State Park - Willow Creek Trails map
(click on the image for full resolution)

2012-01-28 "Muir Woods National Monument upgrades" by Carl Nolte from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Winter has returned to Muir Woods, a famous redwood forest only 11 miles from the Golden Gate. The first rains of the new year produced new life in Redwood Creek, which flows through the woods. Even a handful of steelhead and coho salmon have returned from the Pacific Ocean to spawn at the base of trees more than a thousand years old.
But Muir Woods National Monument is an ancient forest with modern problems. The park had 834,356 visitors in 2010, more people than the population of San Francisco.
They all came to see a stand of big trees in a park that is less than 1 square mile. And a vast majority of them - more than 70 percent - came by private car, producing epic traffic jams and a hunt for the elusive parking space that made the approach to this tranquil forest look like a shopping mall parking lot at Christmas time.
Most summer days, and even on warm winter days, cars have to park far down the road in Frank Valley, and visitors face a long hike up a public road before they even get to the woods.
 This year, the National Park Service is taking steps to increase public transportation to Muir Woods and has embarked on a program to improve what it likes to call the visitor experience. It is a new day at Muir Woods, which became a national monument in 1908, "preserved forever for public use and enjoyment."
 Old parking lots have been moved, trails paved with asphalt have been replaced by wooden walkways and benches, the visitor center has a new look, there are new signs to explain the ecology of the woods. Even the food service has been upgraded, emphasizing healthy food, much of it locally produced.
"We have decided to unpave paradise," said Mia Monroe, the supervisor of Muir Woods National Monument.

A forest canopy -
One of the first steps was to move a parking lot away from the main entrance to the woods. It seemed odd at first to try to improve parking by eliminating a parking lot, but the old lot was turned into a sort of meadow - "a break in the forest canopy," said Brian Aviles, a senior National Park Service planner. Now, groups have a place to gather, to wait for friends, to watch the wildlife "or to take a deep breath," Monroe said.
 Muir Woods is off the beaten path, several miles from Highway 101. About 20 percent of visitors come in tour buses, and, until 2005, when the Park Service contracted for shuttle buses from Marin City and the nearby Manzanita parking lot, there was no public transportation.
 Shuttle buses run every 20 minutes from May to about September. Last year, that was not nearly enough to handle the crowds.
 Aviles said the Park Service hopes to increase the service so that a bus leaves every 15 minutes in summer, or maybe every 10 minutes on peak days. Starting in May, the Park Service also will run buses that will connect with ferryboats in Sausalito.
 Because the roads leading to Muir Woods are narrow and curvy, only small buses can be used. There are not many signs telling where to catch the buses, so visitors, many of them foreign tourists, don't even know the bus service exists.
 Last year was the best yet for the shuttle buses, but only 47,000 people rode them. The price was right: $3 for adults, $1 for seniors and kids.

New boardwalks -
Once inside the woods, the boardwalks lead deep into a gentle valley ringed with old-growth trees. Muir Woods was never been logged, though some of the trees bear the scars of fires that raged centuries ago.
 The woods endured pretty much untouched until the turn of the 20th century, when Rep. William Kent bought the forest to prevent it from being cut down to make way for a reservoir. He gave it to the United States. It was accepted as a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt and named in honor of John Muir.
 "This is not just an old-growth forest, but a conservationist story," Monroe said.

1,021 years old -
One of the most popular displays is a cut slice of a redwood that fell in 1930. Scientists marked important dates in human history on the tree rings: 1492, 1776, the California Gold Rush of 1849. When the tree fell, it was 1,021 years old.
 "You always get a feeling of scale here," said Monroe. "It comes from being near very tall trees and very old trees. There is a feeling of tranquillity, as well."
 There is also new life among the old trees. On a walk in the woods last week, visitors came upon a group of six men and women, all wearing hip waders and carrying long wooden staffs. The group, led by fishery biologist Michael Reichmuth, had been checking Redwood Creek for signs of spawning fish.

Evidence of fish -
 There was a lot of concern about the dry winter. The fish usually turn up in Muir Woods about Thanksgiving, but this fall, the creek was too low. The fish - steelhead and coho salmon - come from the North Pacific, through the surf at Muir Beach, into a small lagoon there and then swim 3 miles or so up Frank Valley to Muir Woods where they spawn.
 Reichmuth said they didn't see many fish - four steelhead, two coho "and two others we just got a glimpse of." But it was encouraging, he said, to see that the fish had returned again to where they first spawned.
Today, a group of volunteers will be weeding, planting native plants, and tending to trails and the forest floor during the annual Muir Woods Earth Day.
 Visitors walked quietly through the woods, posing for pictures next to the big trees, asking the rangers questions, sitting on benches and just looking. Liz Pritchard was there with her family, all passengers on the British cruise ship Aurora, bound from England around the world. They were only in California for a day.
 They couldn't pass up Muir Woods, they said. The biggest trees in all England are only half the size of these. "It's mystical here," Pitchard said. "I think these woods are fantastic."
 Winter is the time for Bay Area people to visit Muir Woods, Monroe said. "Come in midweek, if you can, come on our full moon walks, when the woods are open at night.
 "You will hear the owls hoot, watch the moonlight in the woods. You will have the woods to yourself."


Friday, January 27, 2012

2012-01-27 "Napa Solano Audubon Society group plans field trip to Skaggs Island, west of Vallejo" from "Vallejo Times-Herald"
Bird lovers will get a rare chance to go onto the closed Skaggs Island west of Vallejo on Highway 37 during a special field trip Saturday, Feb. 4.
The Napa Solano Audubon Society will lead the field trip which lasts from 7:30 a.m. to about 2 p.m. This is an opportunity to view raptors, including short-eared owls and hawks.
Dress accordingly as the weather dictates and bring binoculars, water, snack and lunch. Participants will enter and exit as a group. The gate will be locked and no one will be able to leave early.
A former naval base, Skaggs Island is now part of the San Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, and all traces of the military buildings and housing have been demolished and cleared from the land.
To participate and get carpool information, visit www.napasolanoaudubon.com.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2012-01-25 "Vallejo MIT students plant trees at Lynch Canyon" from "Vallejo Times-Herald"
It could have been a landfill if all went as planned 30 years ago.
Instead, Lynch Canyon Open Space served as a vibrant outdoor classroom to dozens of Mare Island Technology Academy students Tuesday -- and it gave them a chance to get a little dirty.
"I thought I was going to get dirtier," said Raquel Rodriguez, a 12-year-old seventh-grader who was busily digging a hole on the side of a hill where she and her classmates planted rows of native seedlings.
The outing was part of a partnership between the Solano Land Trust and MIT teachers Laurie Guest-Mackay, Stephanie Morgado and Samantha Johnson. Tuesday was the third MIT field trip this year to the grassy hills between Vallejo and Fairfield.
The first and second field trips were focused on birding and the inventory of trees, respectively, while the third involved the planting of about 40 native valley oaks, blue oaks and California buckeyes.
Many, like seventh-grader Khamryn Clark, 12, were careful to save the worms from the sharp ends of shovels and other tools.
"Worms are awesome," she said as she added another to a gloved hand that already held several of the wriggling creatures.
The three teachers, who between them teach subjects that vary from physical education, astronomy and environmental science, picked students from every grade at MIT Academy for the program. The North Vallejo charter school incorporates both a middle and a high school.
"This is really an enriching experience," Guest-Mackay told the students just before their trek.
The trip included a two-hour hike through Lynch Canyon's fog-laden and mud-caked trails, culminating in an introspective break for drawing and journaling.
"We saw a dead snake," said Hector Delacruz, a 12-year-old seventh-grader as he ate his lunch with friend Kyle Kokal, 13.
Kyle and Hector often forged ahead of the hikers, helping point out sights such as the soaring red-tailed hawks and the lowing cows that still roam the hillside. Solano Land Trust volunteers also gave a lesson on the three types of trees the hikers were going to plant.
Sue Wickham, Solano Land Trust program manager, encouraged the students to come back and water their seeds and seedlings in a month or so.
Guest-Mackay and the other teachers hope the partnership between MIT and the Solano Land Trust will continue -- she and Morgado have even became docents for Rush Ranch Open Space in Suisun City so they can take students there without a Land Trust docent.
The field trips and restoration program are funded by the California Coastal Conservancy.
Lynch Canyon, once owned by Gen. Mariano Vallejo, had been used to graze cattle for the last century. A garbage company purchased the property in the 1980s with the intent of building a landfill, but Solano County residents voted the proposal down.
The Solano Land Trust bought the property in the 1990s. Lynch Canyon is closed to the season, but we will reopen for weekends starting March 17. For details, visit www.solano landtrust.org.

Kaililia Barbon, 11, left, and Mary Manzano, 12, sixth-graders at Mare Island Technology Academy, clear dirt in preparation of planting an oak tree Tuesday at Lynch Canyon Open Space. The restoration project was the culmination of three field trips to the canyon, operated by the Solano Land Trust. (Lanz Christian BaƱes/Times-Herald)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012-01-24 "Habitat Restoration and Enhancement at Copeland Creek" by Gary Miltimore, Natural Resources & Sonoma Outreach Director
Conservation Corps North Bay (CCNB) is restoring the segment of Copeland Creek from Commerce Blvd to upstream of Snyder Lane in Rohnert Park. The work is being done in partnership with the Sonoma County Water Agency through grant funding from the California Natural Resources Agency,
This project will remove 10 acres of overgrown exotic vegetation such as Acacia, Himalayan Blackberry and Privet and replant the area with native riparian grasses, bushes and trees. This will enhance critical habitat, offset vehicle emissions, and provide additional wetland mitigation.
Copeland Creek parallels a multi-use trail frequented by students from over 15 education facilities including Rancho Cotate, Phoenix and El Camino High School, Technology High School, Sonoma State and local citizens.
“Walkers, runners and bicyclists feel safer now that we have opened up the line of sight down to the creek and have commented on the enhanced aesthetic value which has created a more ‘park-like’ setting,” Crew Supervisor Emily Byrnes observed. “The corpsmembers are able to hear on a daily basis the public’s appreciative comments and are able to reflect on the positive impact they are making in the community.”
This portion of Copeland Creek is owned by the City of Rohnert Park.  The Sonoma County Water Agency has an easement to maintain the channel for flood control in accordance with federal and state permits issued for its Stream Maintenance Program.  According to Water Agency Director Shirlee Zane, “this project helps to achieve the Water Agency’s goals of improving and maintaining flood protection while at the same time helping to establish a native riparian canopy.  This canopy will help to shade the channel which will improve water quality in the creek which supports steelhead.  Other benefits of the project are increased public safety as a result of improved visibility and sightlines.”
Since September of last year, CCNB has treated 23 acres of riparian habitat and removed 800 yards of chipped invasive plant vegetation. This multi-year, multi-phase project is expected to continue to spring of 2014 with maintenance and monitoring.
 Conservation Corps North Bay is making a difference in the youth that participate in their comprehensive job training and education programs. In addition to earning above minimum wage paid job training, corpsmembers are enrolled in the John Muir Charter School housed at the CCNB facility in Cotati. They spend 32 hours a week building their job skills and employability through conservation and community based projects while they focus an additional 10 hours on attaining a GED or High School Diploma. In addition the Corpsmembers receive individualized supportive services through a career counselor onsite. Included in the services are job search, resume building, interview skills, and applying to continuing educational opportunities.  CCNB assists them with the transition into the job community and local opportunities in Sonoma County.
Jake is our newest graduate of the CCNB program and is in the last stages of transitioning from the program with Corps-to-Career support. He has worked for CCNB since July of 2010 and developed many job development skills on both the Recycling Crew and the Natural Resources Crew. Working as a team, the onsite Recycling Crew collects CCNB bins filled with recyclables. Jake works on this team to perform the delivery and collection, processes the recyclables and operates the baler.  While on the Natural Resources Crew, he assisted on habitat restoration projects that reconstructed trails, planted natives and constructed willow walls to prevent erosion. He has earned the Wood Chipper Certification as part of his job training. Educationally he has passed the GED and went on to earn his High School Diploma. As a part of the Education Awards Program (EAP), he has earned thousands of dollars to continue his education at the Santa Rosa Junior College.

Copeland Creek

2012-01-24 "Mountain Lake's gunk to be cleared in Presidio" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
It is a good thing that nobody attempts to swim in Mountain Lake.
The 4-acre pond on the southern boundary of the Presidio of San Francisco is sloppy with toxic gunk.
The mud at the bottom of the 8-foot-deep body of water is saturated with lead, pesticides and oil that has drained off Park Presidio Boulevard and the adjacent golf course and flowed into the lake through storm drains.
 The Presidio Trust, which oversees the lake, has known about the hazard for more than a decade, but regulatory hassles delayed the cleanup. This week, a $9.5 million plan to clean the sludge will be presented to the public.
"It needs to be clean," said Dana Polk, a senior adviser and spokeswoman for the Presidio Trust. "It's impacting the aquatic health of the lake."
 A panoply of complicated and expensive schemes is being considered to remove the tainted sediment, including draining the lake and scooping out the silt. Most experts favor traditional dredging, which is the trust's preferred option.
 A two-hour community workshop will start at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio to discuss the various proposals.

Water for Indians -
 Mountain Lake, which scientists say is 1,700 years old, is one of the few remaining natural lakes in San Francisco. The Ohlone Indians are believed to have used it as a source of freshwater. The earliest written record of the lake comes from the 1776 diary of Pedro Font, a padre on the famous expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza.
 "This place and its vicinity has abundant pasturage, plenty of firewood, and fine water," Font wrote. "Here and near the lake there are yerba buena and so many lilies that I almost had them inside my tent."
 The fine water and fertile grounds were ripe for exploitation. The Spanish grazed their cattle in the area, and in 1853, a 3,500-foot-long tunnel was built next to the lake in a failed attempt to bring water to the developing city of San Francisco.
 Invasive eucalyptus trees were planted everywhere, and in 1897, the U.S. Army began siphoning water out of the lake to, among other things, irrigate its newly built golf course.
The lake, which was once 30 feet deep, shrank by 40 percent when Park Presidio Boulevard was built through part of the lake bed in 1939. Dirt and excavation spoils were dumped into the basin.
Lead from car emissions seeped into the lake for decades until leaded gasoline was phased out beginning in the 1970s. It combined with petroleum hydrocarbons from motor oil and accumulated on the lake bed along with pesticides flowing in from the golf course.
 The preferred cleanup plan, which will be helped along by a $5.5 million contribution from Caltrans, involves dredging about 4 feet, or 11,500 cubic yards, of sediment from a barge that would be either floating on the lake or sitting on the shoreline. The waste material would be dried and trucked to a landfill.
 Michael Boland, the chief of planning, projects and programs for the Presidio Trust, said the dredging will serve the dual purpose of deepening the lake.
"It's now too shallow to stay healthy," Boland said. "The best thing about this restoration is that it will take out sediment, and we will be able to regrade the lake bed. Our goal is to get it to a minimum of 14 feet deep."

Public dumping ground -
There are other problems, Boland said. For decades, Mountain Lake has been a dumping ground for nonnative species, including goldfish, bullfrogs, turtles known as red-eared sliders and, in 1996, an alligator.
Former San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner Editor Phil Bronstein made headlines that year when he was prevented from entering the water and trying to wrestle the wayward reptile from the murky depths, which probably would have posed a bigger threat to his health than the alligator.
 Shortly after that, one of the lake's two resident swans - affectionately named Daisy - died. A necropsy found high levels of lead in her liver. Hundreds of dead carp and catfish would die every summer during the 1990s when oxygen-sucking algae blooms formed on the lake.
The Presidio Trust has been working for a decade planting native grasses, cutting groves of litter-prone eucalyptus trees, and enhancing the surrounding habitat. Pesticides are no longer used on the golf course.

Catching runoff -
 The plan now is to restore wetlands near the lake and build bio-swales, or basins, to catch the runoff from the surrounding highway and neighborhoods and allow it to percolate into the ground. Biologists would like to reintroduce native species, such as the pond turtle, to the lake.
 "Our goal is to make this lake as natural as possible," Boland said. "Eventually we would like to restore some of the native fauna, but we will have to first educate some of the neighbors to not drop their former pets into the lake."
 The draft remedial action plan for Mountain Lake is scheduled to be released for public comment in mid- to late March. Final approval by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control is planned for April, and the muck work is expected to begin in the spring or summer of 2013.
Learn more about tainted sediment
Public meeting: The Presidio Trust and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control will outline the options for cleaning up Mountain Lake at a community meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Golden Gate Club, 135 Fisher Loop, San Francisco.
Walking tour: The public is invited to walk with naturalists who will explain the Mountain Lake enhancement project. The tour will be begin at 4:30 p.m on Feb. 22 and at 10 a.m. on Feb. 25 at the south shore of the lake, near the playground.

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012-01-16 "Rare rock formation a hidden treasure; But no public access yet to Sonoma County gem" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
At an old mining camp in the mountains above Cazadero in Sonoma County is a Mars-like panorama of steep crumbling red slopes, bizarre mineralized formations and green serpentine rock.
The 11-square-mile area, called the Cedars, is a mysterious land of one-of-a-kind geological phenomena next to the Austin Creek State Recreation Area and Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve that almost nobody in the Bay Area knows anything about.
 That’s because it’s almost impossible to get there — yet it is a land rich with possible answers to many scientific questions, and it may be a potential source of information for climate scientists searching for a way to fight global warming.
 Recently, a Chronicle reporter and photographer rode in a caravan of four-wheeldrive vehicles that crossed Austin Creek seven times as it wound its way over thickly forested hills and past dilapidated homesteads to reach what conservationists agree is a remarkable landscape that must be preserved.
 A conservation easement was purchased on some of the land, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management now owns 2,000 acres in the center, but the vast majority of this important geologic region is private property, subject to the whims of the owners.

 Privately owned lands -
 Seventy seven percent of the rugged hills and woodlands are owned by ranchers, outdoorsmen and homesteaders, whose parcels range in size from 40 to 700 acres. The core area, where the mineral deposits and odd calcium carbonate formations can be seen, is 8 miles as the crow flies from the nearest parking area and accessible only via a winding dirt road that is often impassable.
“There is no legal access, which means we have to work collaboratively with the owners and partners to develop a plan for the area,” said Roger Raiche, a botanist and landscape architect, who with his partner, David Mccrory, just completed the sale of 500 acres in the main canyon that the BLM will control.
 “Easements are limited to docent-led tours or scientific study,” said Raiche, who is actively working with several nonprofit land-preservation groups to protect the rest of the 35,000 acres that conservationists have named the Cedars Conservation Region.
 The tour of the canyon illustrated why so many are so eager to preserve the land. The rocky, mineral-rich oasis is essentially a giant block of the igneous rock known as peridotite that was squeezed up through the earth’s crust over the past 200 million years. The giant upwelling relieved intense pressure inside the earth and allowed the exposed rock to expand.
 The steep, crumbling cliffs are the result of that expansion. They are also, geologists say, one of the best examples in the world of a rare metamorphic transformation — the peridotite from the earth’s mantle is changing before our eyes into the signature green rock known as serpentine.
 “I see this as a kind of Shangri-la, a hidden treasure,” said Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust.
The ongoing metamorphic process has caused a chain reaction of geologic wonders. Spring water filled with white calcium carbonate bubbles through fissures in the rock, creating large crystalline formations that line pools and form undulating patterns along Austin Creek, including a spectacular 5,000-year-old snow-like sheet that flows over a waterfall.
 The deposits are an example of carbon sequestration in nature, experts say, a potential source of information for scientists fighting global warming.
 “Here is nature (sequestering carbon) for us,” said Mccrory, who co-owns a landscape design business with Raiche. “Geology and geo-chemistry experts are really interested in these springs.”

 Unique plant species -
 NASA scientists are particularly intrigued, Mccrory said, because the highly alkaline springs harbor uniquely specialized microbes that may offer clues to how life could form on otherwise inhospitable planets.
 The weathered hills, which are high in magnesium, iron and chromium, are also home to five species of orchid and at least eight plant species that don’t exist anywhere else, including the Cedars manzanita.
 Although remote, the Cedars region was known to early homesteaders who first moved into the area in the 1880s. The central portion, known then as Red Slide, was considered uninhabitable and was, for the most part, ignored until World War I, when a chromium mine was established.
The area was officially named the Cedars sometime in the 1940s, a name that some locals had used for decades on the mistaken belief that the abundant cypress trees were cedar, Raiche said. The mines were abandoned after World War II ended and America no longer needed domestic chromium.
 Raiche said he first visited the property in 1981. He and Mccrory bought the 500 acres in 1999 and have sought to preserve the area’s unique features ever since.
 The Sonoma Land Trust joined the effort to preserve the area six years ago. The trust purchased 45 acres in 2007 and, in December, used $160,000 from the Resources Legacy Fund to pay for a conservation easement prohibiting development on 160 acres of privately owned property in the area.

 Guided tours -
 Save the Redwoods League brokered the $600,000 purchase of the Raiche-mccrory land this past fall and transferred title to BLM, which already owns 1,500 acres in what conservationists call “the core serpentine zone.”
 The bulk of the money for the purchase came from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the California State Coastal Conservancy. Raiche and Mccrory still own 20 acres where the mines used to be.
 The land trust is working with the owners and other partners to set up guided tours of the property, but unlimited public access may never be possible.
“We need some time to balance research with public access and come up with the institutional arrangement for it,” Benson said. “The role of the land trust is to preserve the larger Cedars region in cooperation with the land owners and protect the ecology of the region for a long time. The value of this is in the flora and fauna here, the mineral springs and the biology, which is delicate.”

Photos by Brant Ward / The Chronicle


Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012-01-15 "Colorful Monarch butterfly has been scarce, experts puzzled as to reasons" by Irma Widjojo from "Vallejo Times-Herald"
Many lepidoterists, or butterfly enthusiasts, should anticipate an exciting winter: Monarch butterflies are expected to make a come back after a disconcerting decline in population.
About 15 years ago, one could drive in the winter by the small park by St. Peter's Chapel on Mare Island and find a few of the the trees had suddenly turned color.
The hue was caused by clusters of Monarch butterflies perching on the cedar and eucalyptus trees.
"They used to hang on the leaves, groups of them," said Wally Neville, a Vallejoan wildlife enthusiast. Neville worked on Mare Island for more than 30 years until his retirement in the early 2000s.
However, in the past decade, the number of the orange-and-black butterflies has dwindled to the point of extinction on Mare Island. The cause of the decline is a mystery, even to experts.
The Mare Island Heritage Preserve offers guided bird watching tours, but volunteer manager Myrna Hayes said she no longer even bothers mentioning the possibility of seeing the Monarch butterflies.
The Xerces Society tries to track the number of Monarchs seen along the California coast during the winter. Its findings are not optimistic.
The butterfly population has fallen by 90 percent since 1997, said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director. The Xerces Society is a nonprofit, Oregon-based organization dedicated to protect wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat.
The Monarchs aggregate on the coast of California and Baja California, Mexico, during the winter before dispersing to breed in spring, Jepsen said.
The organization's data has no data recorded for Mare Island since 1994.
"It's difficult to get volunteers to go out to the site where they don't even see the butterflies anymore," Jepsen said. In 1994, only 50 Monarchs were recorded on Mare Island.
Neville still goes to the island regularly to look at birds, as well as to seek out the disappearing Monarchs.
"We've seen individuals recently," Neville said. "Not the large number that we had seen in the past. We haven't seen those in more than 10 years."
There have been many theories about the butterfly's disappearance.
Jepsen said the most dominant theories are the lost of the breeding and overwintering habitat for the butterflies. The milkweed that the caterpillars feed on and the trees where the butterflies gather during the winter have been increasingly destroyed by construction and development, she said.
Art Shapiro, a professor of evolution and ecology at University of California, Davis, has studied the butterfly for many years.
"There have been definite trends," Shapiro said. "They are baffling, and we do not understand it."
He said there is a change in the breeding trends of this particular species. He agreed that there was a pronounced downward trend in the number beginning in the mid- to late-1990s, bottoming out last winter.
"To try to give an explanation, I would just be waving my arms," Shapiro said. "We don't have any hard evidence for the explanation."
He said the trend could be blamed on many factors, including climate change and diseases.
However, he said, things might be looking up this winter.
"We are expecting to see the number to be better this year," Shapiro said.
The Xerces Society has also recorded an increase in the Monarch population this winter, even though Jepsen was quick to point out that the number was no where near where it was in the early 1990s.
During a recent interview on Mare Island, Vallejo's Neville pointed out about five Monarchs fluttering in between the eucalyptus and cedar trees by the St. Peter's Chapel.
"That's promising," he said while looking through his binoculars. "At least we get to see a few of them today."

Monarchs at a glance -
* Danaus plexippus
* Wingspan: About 4 inches
* Weigh: Less than half an ounce
* Life span of an adult butterfly: Mostly four to five weeks
* The Monarchs migrate over generations from Canada and the United States to the center of Mexico and back.
-Source: World Wildlife Fund

Wally Neville looks through his binoculars searching for Monarch butterflies up in the trees at the park by St. Peter's Chapel on Mare Island. Neville is a member of the Audobon Society, and used to work on the island for more than 30 years. (Irma Widjojo/Times-Herald)

Friday, January 13, 2012

2012-01-13 "Honeybee problem nearing a ‘critical point’" by Claire Thompson
Anyone who’s been stung by a bee knows they can inflict an outsized pain for such tiny insects. It makes a strange kind of sense, then, that their demise would create an outsized problem for the food system by placing the more than 70 crops they pollinate — from almonds to apples to blueberries — in peril.
Although news about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has died down, commercial beekeepers have seen average population losses of about 30 percent each year since 2006, said Paul Towers, of the Pesticide Action Network. Towers was one of the organizers of a conference that brought together beekeepers and environmental groups this week [http://www.sacbee.com/2012/01/10/4177304/beekeepers-are-critical-to-economy.html] to tackle the challenges facing the beekeeping industry and the agricultural economy by proxy.
“We are inching our way toward a critical tipping point,” said Steve Ellis, secretary of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board (NHBAB) and a beekeeper for 35 years. Last year he had so many abnormal bee die-offs that he’ll qualify for disaster relief from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In addition to continued reports of CCD — a still somewhat mysterious phenomenon in which entire bee colonies literally disappear, alien-abduction style, leaving not even their dead bodies behind — bee populations are suffering poor health in general, and experiencing shorter life spans and diminished vitality. And while parasites, pathogens, and habitat loss can deal blows to bee health, research increasingly points to pesticides as the primary culprit.
“In the industry we believe pesticides play an important role in what’s going on,” said Dave Hackenberg, co-chair of the NHBAB and a beekeeper in Pennsylvania.
Of particular concern is a group of pesticides, chemically similar to nicotine, called neonicotinoids (neonics for short), and one in particular called clothianidin. Instead of being sprayed, neonics are used to treat seeds, so that they’re absorbed by the plant’s vascular system, and then end up attacking the central nervous systems of bees that come to collect pollen. Virtually all of today’s genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonics. The chemical industry alleges that bees don’t like to collect corn pollen, but new research shows that not only do bees indeed forage in corn, but they also have multiple other routes of exposure to neonics.
The Purdue University study [http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0029268], published in the journal PLoS ONE, found high levels of clothianidin in planter exhaust spewed during the spring sowing of treated maize seed. It also found neonics in the soil of unplanted fields nearby those planted with Bt corn, on dandelions growing near those fields, in dead bees found near hive entrances, and in pollen stored in the hives.
Evidence already pointed to the presence of neonic-contaminated pollen as a factor in CCD [http://grist.org/industrial-agriculture/2011-04-06-should-pesticides-be-banned-protect-bees-USDA-scientist-pettis]. As Hackenberg explained, “The insects start taking [the pesticide] home, and it contaminates everywhere the insect came from.” These new revelations about the pervasiveness of neonics in bees’ habitats only strengthen the case against using the insecticides.
The irony, of course, is that farmers use these chemicals to protect their crops from destructive insects, but in so doing, they harm other insects essential to their crops’ production — a catch-22 that Hackenberg said speaks to the fact that “we have become a nation driven by the chemical industry.” In addition to beekeeping, he owns two farms, and even when crop analysts recommend spraying pesticides on his crops to kill an aphid population, for example, he knows that “if I spray, I’m going to kill all the beneficial insects.” But most farmers, lacking Hackenberg’s awareness of bee populations, follow the advice of the crop adviser — who, these days, is likely to be paid by the chemical industry, rather than by a state university or another independent entity.
Beekeepers have already teamed up with groups representing the almond and blueberry industries — both of which depend on honey bee pollination — to tackle the need for education among farmers. “A lot of [farm groups] are recognizing that we need more resources devoted to pollinator protection,” Ellis said. “We need that same level of commitment on a national basis, from our USDA and EPA and the agricultural chemical industry.”
Unfortunately, it was the EPA itself that green-lit clothianidin and other neonics for commercial use, despite its own scientists’ clear warnings about the chemicals’ effects on bees and other pollinators [http://grist.org/article/food-2010-12-10-leaked-documents-show-epa-allowed-bee-toxic-pesticide-]. That doesn’t bode well for the chances of getting neonics off the market now, even in light of the Purdue study’s findings.
“The agency has, in most cases, sided with pesticide manufacturers and worked to fast-track the approval of new products, and failed in cases when there’s clear evidence of harm to take those products off the market,” Towers said.
Since this is an election year — a time when no one wants to make Big Ag (and its money) mad — beekeepers may have to suffer another season of losses before there’s any hope of action on the EPA’s part. But when one out of every three bites of food on Americans’ plates results directly from honey bee pollination, there’s no question that the fate of these insects will determine our own as eaters.
Ellis, for his part, thinks that figuring out a way to solve the bee crisis could be a catalyst for larger reform within our agriculture system. “If we can protect that pollinator base, it’s going to have ripple effects … for wildlife, for human health,” he said. “It will bring up subjects that need to be looked at, of groundwater and surface water — all the connected subjects associated [with] chemical use and agriculture.”

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Vallejo Convention and Visitors Bureau says Saturday looks like it is going to be a great day to check out the Second Saturday Access Day at the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve.
The day will feature a couple of great hikes.
One at 9:30 a m. and a second one at 3:30 p.m.
2012-01-12 "THE LATEST BIG BROTHER DIATRIBE" letter by Peter Mennen of St. Helena to the editor of the "St. Helena Star"
Editor: I sighed and groaned as I read through Stuart Smith’s latest diatribe against any new tyrannical Big Brother edict that threatens to remove his God-given right to do whatever the hell he wants, whenever the hell he wants to, and damn the consequences for the rest of us. This time the objects of his wrath are the town’s few remaining, utterly irreplaceable heritage oaks and other critically important native trees, some of which have been growing here since the Revolutionary War and are, to many local and tourist eyes, St. Helena’s most beautiful and memorable landmarks (“Tree decisions should be left up to owners,” Jan. 5).
Their leaves also happen to be — though Stuart doesn’t know this — the essential food source for the larvae of a multitude of pollinator species (well over 500 on the oaks alone) that local farmers and gardeners depend upon to fertilize most fruit and vegetables. As a further downside, if we lose our native maples, redwoods and grand old oaks, the town’s bug-eating native songbirds and the small animals and deer that survive on each fall’s acorns will starve and disappear. Oak trees in particular have inestimable value, far beyond their beauty; they are one of the keystone species that hold the world together, and if people like Stuart Smith continue to believe we don’t depend on nature, some day soon when the pollinators are gone, they’ll have nothing left to chew on but the shreds of their once-gigantic egos.
“Poor Stu,” I said to myself as I read his letter. “Still stuck in the ’60s” … the 1860s, that is, when a big chunk of American society believed the words “private property” extended to everything around them. People like Stuart begrudge every inch of control they’ve lost since then, when the sad truth is: If only they could have kept their selfish appetites in check, the world would still be a beautiful place, and the rest of us wouldn’t be put in the unpleasant position of having to help them do what’s right.
Indiscriminately despoiling the Earth and ruining life for the rest of Creation in the name of “Liberty!” is not what America’s founding fathers had in mind. So here’s my wish for the New Year: That Stu Smith and his spoiled-baby buddies will finally grow up and cease being a vexatious problem their frustrated neighbors are tired of dealing with.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012-01-11 "Redwood City metal recycler cited for polluting bay water" by Will Kane and Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered a Redwood City metal recycling company to stop loading shredded metal onto ships bound for China after inspectors found PCBs, mercury, lead and other dangerous pollutants leaching into San Francisco Bay.
Sims Metal Management, one of the largest metal shredders in the Bay Area, was accused Tuesday of violating federal clean water laws and ordered to halt loading operations until workers seal a conveyor belt that was spilling toxic metal powder.
The Sims Metal scrap yard, which leases a parcel of land from the Port of Redwood City, dismantles cars, metal products and home appliances and loads the material onto ships. EPA inspectors discovered during two visits that the company was discharging PCBs, mercury, lead, copper and zinc into Redwood Creek, which flows into the bay.
The toxic pollution escaped because there was no protective covering on the conveyor belt that was used to move the material from the wharf to the ships, said Jared Blumenfeld, the agency's regional administrator. As a result, the metal dust blew off the top or fell off the sides of the belt and found its way into the creek, he said.
The work, he said, "is not done in a way that protects the environment."
Sims, which claims to be the largest metals and electronics recycler in the world, loaded an average of 22,000 tons of shredded material per vessel onto 20 ships between July 2010 and June 2011. That material was sent to ports around the world, including China, where the metals are melted down and used to manufacture new products that are often sold in the United States.
Soil samples collected from around the plant in August showed unusually high levels of toxins and heavy metals, said EPA officials. Levels of toxic PCBs in the creek were 10,000 times what would be expected in soil, while lead and copper were 10 to 15 times greater than acceptable levels.
Inspectors also found shredding residue, scrap metal and other industrial debris in soils and sediment that could come into contact with bay water.
Daniel Strechay, spokesman for Sims Metal Management, said the shredder has been operating for decades without problems.
 "The area of the port that is the focus of EPA's order is located in a shared-use ship-loading area outside Sims' shredder facility, and is not affected by the day-to-day shredder operations," Strechay said. "Steps are currently being taken to control any debris from the company's ship-loading operations."
It isn't the first time the company has been accused of spewing toxins. The recycling company was cited by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District after a 2007 fire at the plant sent towering columns of smoke into the sky. In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accused the scrap yard of allowing fibrous automobile shredder residue to blow or drift into wetlands around Bair Island, 800 feet downwind of the facility.
 The manager of the preserve said toxins, including mercury, lead, PCBs and petroleum hydrocarbons, were endangering wildlife, including the federally listed California clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse, and delaying the proposed addition of 140 acres to the refuge.
 Strechay said company officials are doing a survey to determine what material is on Bair Island.
"We will work with all affected parties to remedy the conditions identified by EPA," he said. "As recyclers, the health and protection of the environment is core to our business, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that."
Blumenfeld said Sims is cooperating with inspectors.
"I would put them in the top category of people we've worked with," he said. "They really want to do the right thing."
Sims Metal is expected to submit a cleanup plan by Monday, well before the 30-day deadline, Blumenfeld said. The company will have to pay for the cleanup of all toxic materials from Redwood Creek within one year, implement storm-water pollution prevention measures and sample discharges every month throughout the winter and spring, according to the order.
"I would put them in the top category of people we've worked with. They really want to do the right thing."
2009-06-14 "Home gardeners can help pollinators; How to turn your garden into a paradise for pollinators" by Erle Nickel from "San Francisco Chronicle"
As Bay Area gardeners wander nursery aisles carefully choosing flowers and vegetables for their treasured patches of dirt, they need to keep more in mind than pretty colors and summer salads. Consider the honeybee. And butterflies, moths and beetles, even flies.
 These pollinators are dwindling in number and the efforts of home gardeners are needed to help change that course.
 "Honeybees disappearing." "Commercial crops endangered due to colony collapse disorder." The headlines have become familiar, and the dangers they trumpet are real.
It is estimated that pollinators are needed for reproduction of 75 percent of the Earth's flowering plants, and in North America honeybees enable production of more than 90 commercially grown crops, according to the National Academy of Sciences.
UC Davis entomologist Robbin Thorp, an expert on native bees, says the Western bumblebee was once common from Monterey County to southern British Columbia. "They are virtually undetectable in those areas now," he said. "We're disturbing, destroying and altering the habitat where the native pollinators exist. Urbanization and extensive use of pesticides are major causes."
These are reasons enough to take steps to reverse the trend in declining pollinator populations, but as Laurie Davies Adams, executive director of the Pollinator Partnership in San Francisco, says: "We need to examine the larger picture when it comes to the study of pollinators. Planting native plants for pollinators strengthens local habitats, bolsters watersheds and helps local fauna, all of which contribute to healthier national and international ecosystems." After all, she said, pollinators travel through the landscape without regard to property ownership or borders.

Resources and tools -
* The Pollinator Partnership is a nonprofit organization working with science, government and environmental groups and providing educational resources and tools to gardeners, farm owners and states.
* One of the more helpful resources on the group's Web site is a ZIP code locator to identify which pollinators and plants populate specific microclimates. The group's goal is to restore biodiversity to local and national landscapes, with a focus on adding native and pollinator-friendly plants.
* As agriculture and urban development have led to habitat fragmentation and loss, the group has expanded its work with the state's farmers, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
The group has adopted Bailey's Ecosystems mapping, created by the Forest Service, using its research to understand the connections between climate and vegetation that affect the diversity of pollinators in the environment. Studies of the state's habitat allow private and governmental groups to understand the dangers that threaten both the natural biodiversity of habitat and health of pollinators in our California coastal chaparral forest region.

Political action -
The Pollinator Partnership is active on the political stage as well, playing a significant role in lobbying for a $20 million provision in the farm bill to study colony collapse disorder and other pollination-related matters. It also oversees the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. This alliance of pollinator researchers, conservation and environmental groups, private industry and state and federal agencies has been instrumental in focusing attention on the plight of pollinators and the need to protect them throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Meanwhile home gardeners can play a vital role by putting out the welcome mat for pollinators (see "Creating the ideal environment").
 "By providing the essential habitat requirements - food, water and appropriate shelters - urban gardeners can create corridors that encourage pollinators to visit," Adams said.
 Adding a patch to the floral quilt that reinvigorates the local landscape will help ensure a vibrant and diverse environment for animal and human alike.

Creating the ideal environment -
There are simple but important steps even the weekend gardener can take to attract more pollinators to the garden.
-- First, identify common pollinators and the plants they feed on.
-- Plant small stands of these native flowers where possible. Try to plant flowers that bloom at different times of the year so pollinators will have food throughout the year.
-- Consider planting host plants to provide food and habitats for common Bay Area butterflies.
-- Where possible have fresh water sources available. Don't forget to provide places of shelter for ground and twig dwelling bees. To continue to survive, bumblebees need habitats such as abandoned rodent burrows for their nests and queen hibernation sites.
-- Avoid use of pesticides and herbicides. They can be harmful to beneficial insects such as pollinators, the wildlife that depend on the plants they pollinate, not to mention the health and safety of humans. Consider using an integrated pest management system to control pests.

Resources -
-- The Pollinator Project provides a variety of information and educational tools, connections to all the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign partners, specific ways to help the pollinators cause, and free products like pollinator posters. pollinator.org.
-- Find the California Coastal Chaparral Forest chart at links.sfgate.com/ZHHE
-- "The Forgotten Pollinators," by Steve Buchmann (Island Press; 1997)

Meet the pollinators  -
 Specific pollinators and plants have evolved to serve each other. The hummingbird, for example, is uniquely qualified to pollinate tubular flowers. Here are familiar local pollinators and the plants they feed on. Seek them out at your local nursery.
There are more than 4,000 species of native ground and twig nesting bees in the United States, 60 to 90 of them in Northern California. With increased habitat, bees could play an even more vital role in crop and flower pollination.
 Other valuable native bee pollinators include the solitary California carpenter bee, which nests in wood, and the metallic sweat bee, which builds underground nests.
Bay Area favorites -
-- Honeybee (Apis mellifera)
-- Western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis, pictured)
-- Yellow-faced bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenskii)
-- California carpenter bee (Xylocopa californica)
-- Metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon sp.)
Plants they love -
-- Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
-- Cosmos (cosmos spp.)
-- Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum incanum/montanum)
-- Cyrilla racemiflora (a good container plant)
-- Woolly blue curls (Trichostema lanatum, pictured)

Butterflies and moths -
The Bay Area provides a habitat for a host of butterflies and moths. Butterflies such as the anise swallowtail, red admiral, painted lady and common buckeye are attracted to gardens and woodlands containing brightly colored flowers that are flat enough to land on, as well as water sources and open spaces such as rocks or earth to sun themselves on.
Moths are attracted to sweet-smelling, pale-colored flowers that open in the late afternoon or evening.
Loss of native habitat affects butterflies in two ways. Plants that serve as host plants, such as milkweed, which the monarch butterfly needs to survive, are less available. And food sources for a variety of butterflies have become diminished or bloom out of sync with their migration schedules, meaning there's less food when they need it most.
Bay Area favorites -
-- Anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon, pictured)
-- Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
-- Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)
-- Common buckeye (Junonia coenia)
Plants they love
-- Floss flower (Ageratum corymbosum) for attracting clouds of monarchs
-- Lantana (lantana species, pictured)
-- Butterfly bush (buddleia species)
-- Angel's trumpets (datura or brugmansia species) - loved by moths

Hummingbirds -
 Hummingbirds are drawn to brightly colored, tubular flowers and those with considerable nectar. Interestingly, hummingbirds can see the color red while bees cannot. Keep an eye out for the Anna's hummingbird (our most frequent resident), the black-chinned hummingbird and Costa's hummingbird.
Bay Area favorites -
-- Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna, pictured; most common in the San Francisco area)
-- Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)
-- Costa's hummingbird (Calypte costae)
Plants they love -
-- Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa, pictured)
-- Red larkspur (Delphinium cardinale)
-- Firecracker beardtongue (Penstemon eatonii)
-- Red salvia (Salvia splendens)
-- Woolly blue curls (Trichostema lanatum)

Beetles, flies and bats -
These pollinators are often overlooked but can play an important role. Though not as efficient or choosy as the major pollinators, beetles are known to pollinate large, strong-scented flowers. Flies are generalists of the pollinator world but according to the Pollinator Partnership are more attracted to small flowers situated in shade. Bats aren't active pollinators here in the Bay Area, but in the Southwest they feed on agave and cactus. The long-nosed bat's elongated tongue allows it to extract both pollen and nectar from these sources.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012-01-07 "Summer in winter means hard times at Tahoe" by Kevin Fagan from "San Francisco Chronicle"
South Lake Tahoe --
It's summertime at Lake Tahoe.
The calendar doesn't show it. But just about everything else does - and that's not good for most people trying to make a buck up here.
Lines are out the door at ice cream shops, the miniature-golf course is bustling, and mountain bikers are tearing up and down the parched mountainsides under balmy skies.
Nowhere, however - at least from the shoreline - can you see snow.
And that's the problem.
For snow, you have to drive back into the trees and up the bare-dirt hillsides to the ski resorts. There, machines have created enough artificial frozen whiteness to keep nearly 20 percent of the ski runs open, according to the Tahoe City Visitors Center.
That's great for diehards here for the novelty of T-shirt skiing in 60-degree weather - they are sliding down the slopes in just enough numbers to keep those resorts open. But for the thousands of people who come from all over the world each winter to work the resorts and the little businesses, like ski rental shops, that depend on them?
Not so good.
This is ski and snow-play season, not mountain-biking season, and those lines at the mini-golf course and its summery ilk are not nearly long enough to make up for all the winter tourists who are staying home.

'So weird' -
"I went hiking to Fallen Leaf Lake today and got great sun," Charles Dollwett, a builder from Santa Rosa, said as he pulled the handle on a poker slot machine at Harrah's casino. "It was gorgeous, just like summer.
"Trouble is, I came here to ski and there's no skiing for me," said Dollwett, 51. "I need 5 inches of powder; the man-made stuff doesn't do it for me. What is going on here? It's just so weird."
There hasn't been a snowfall here since Dec. 15, and that was a sprinkling so small it barely registered, said Jan Null, a meteorologist who runs the private Golden Gate Weather Services. In fact, this December was the second-driest in the northern Sierra since 1920, besting only 1989 when a slightly smaller fraction of an inch of snow fell, Null said.
The official snowpack count taken near the lake Tuesday by the state Department of Water Resources showed virtually nothing on the ground.
"The only reason we still have our doors open is because Heavenly (ski resort) makes more snow than anyone else and it's just up the road from us," said Robert Cole, owner of the Rock House Ski & Snowboard Rental shop, which is not alone in sporting a "Pray 4 Snow" sign.
"It's sad when it's like this," Cole said. "It's tough on the town."
His shop was empty the other morning, so he hit the Heavenly slopes himself.
"Skiing down the run with dirt and boulders on either side was like going down ribbons of hope," Cole said. "I don't think everyone realizes how nice the skiing still is. They just read the weather report and think nothing's going on."

Mini-golf fun -
Back down at the shoreline, it's nothing but good times at the Magic Carpet Golf peewee wonderland, where the cement dinosaurs and dragons are usually buried in several feet of snow by now.
Owner Karen Franceschi shut the place on Nov. 1 as always, but when the sun kept right on beaming, she reopened on Christmas Eve. The doors haven't stopped swinging since.
"There are so many people who made ski trip reservations and can't cancel them, so we give them something to do," Franceschi said. "Good for them, good for us."
Karla Olson, 45, of Fallon, Nev., said she couldn't believe her good luck when her 14-year-old son spotted Magic Carpet's "open" sign as they drove by.
"Finally, something else to do," she said as she knocked her ball through a fake cave. "We're here for our ski week, but the slopes are so empty we only took three days there.
 "People have nothing to do. You can't just sit in your hotel room and watch TV."
For those hankering for grown-up golf, the nine-hole Old Brockway Golf Course in Kings Beach is happy to oblige.
The course has been around for 87 years, and this is the first time anyone can remember it being open after mid-November. Granted, the ball often shoots across the brown grass like a greased cannonball. But it's still golf.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Garrett Good, head golf pro. "People are doing skiing and golfing on the same day. Who'd have believed it?"

Wedding bell blues -
For CeCe Beatleston, no snow means less love. But she's making do.
Beatleston owns the Tahoe Mountain Wedding Chapel, and this time of year she specializes in weddings on sleighs, on snow-carpeted mountain peaks and on snowmobiles that zip between trees for mobile vows.
Her motto, painted on the side of the chapel, is "Better off wed than dead."
 So far this winter, Beatleston has had about a dozen cancellations, and business overall is down 20 percent. That's not catastrophic yet, considering she grinds out about 400 weddings a year.
 But with tourism in the dumper and about 15 percent of her nuptials coming from couples spontaneously dashing in to tie the knot, "I'd sure like to see some snow," Beatleston said.
"You come to get married at Tahoe for the scenery, let's face it," she said. "And brides in particular want that scenery to be just the way they want it. So if it changes, that's not good.
"I converted one of my snowmobile weddings into a beach wedding just a few days ago, but that won't work for everyone. I just tell people we're only limited to your imagination."

Get creative -
Nancy Kerry, spokeswoman for the city of South Lake Tahoe, said hotel occupancy in the area is running at about 25 percent, compared with 70 percent in good times.
 "There's actually some construction work that normally wouldn't be happening now because of the weather," Kerry said. "Our city crews were able to finish our new Lakeview Commons park on the shoreline, when we weren't expecting to do that until spring."
But even the stray carpentry job isn't enough to absorb the estimated 5,000 people who have poured in, as they do every winter, to work at the 15 downhill ski resorts and half-dozen cross-country fields around the lake. With skeleton staffs at the downhills and none at the closed-down cross-country spots, there are a lot of people biting their nails.
"We're all doing the snow dance, hoping to make those skies turn white," said Tim Blummer, 25, as he downed a brew at Whiskey Dick's bar, which is drawing boom crowds of unemployed ski resort workers.
Blummer usually spends his winters tending ski jumps, but this year he's been picking up gigs parking cars while he waits for the slopes to open. He's not about to blow town, though.
"You just wait and see," he said. "You can't force the weather to fit our artificial deadlines, but when it comes, this is going to be the most amazing winter you ever saw. It'll be great."

An overview of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Wednesday, January 4, 2012.
Photo: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

Skiers ride up a lift in search of man-made snow at Heavenly.
Photo: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle
2012-01-07 "Christmas trees to help fish in Fremont lake" by Carolyn Jones from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Santa will make one final swoop through the Bay Area today, bringing gifts to some of the region's tiniest, most helpless residents.
Volunteers plan to drop about 1,000 leftover Christmas trees into a lake in Fremont to create a habitat for baby fish, who have been struggling for years in Bay Area reservoirs.
"We're jump-starting the ecosystem," said Jon Walton, owner of Walton's Pond fishing tackle shop in San Leandro, one of the event's sponsors. "This helps the entire food chain, from microorganisms to the great blue heron."
The project is led by the East Bay Regional Park District, which has been collecting Christmas trees every January for about 20 years to give to the fish. Volunteers tie the trees together with rope and drop them to the lakebed.
The trees provide two services: a place for juvenile bass, sunfish, bluefin and other fish to hide from predators and a food source for a variety of critters that live in and around the lakes. Algae grows on the tree limbs, bugs live in the algae, fish of all sizes eat the bugs, and birds eat the fish.
The program has had a huge impact on the East Bay's reservoirs, said the park district's fisheries manager, Pete Alexander. Most of the reservoirs are man-made and have fluctuating water levels, making underwater plant life almost nonexistent. Lack of underwater vegetation leads to a dearth of bugs and habitat for smaller fish.
The district continually stocks the lakes, but ideally would like more fish to reproduce and sustain their populations naturally.
Christmas trees are a key part of that process, he said.
"We're essentially taking a two-dimensional habitat and making it three-dimensional," Alexander said.
In the lakes where the district has already dropped Christmas trees - Del Valle, Chabot and the Quarry lakes - biological diversity has increased dramatically, he said. Del Valle, for example, in Livermore, now has a plethora of osprey, herons, kingfishers and river otters, due in part to a healthy fish population. There are even some bald eagles.
The Christmas tree idea originated with the California Department of Fish and Game at least 20 years ago, and has been successful at reservoirs throughout the state, said Dave Highland, Fish and Game fish habitat specialist.
"With a lot of these man-made lakes, you're left with lakebeds that look like the surface of the moon," said Highland. "So people started at looking at ways to create habitat so fish could make it to adulthood."
Today, Rainbow Lake in Fremont will be the Christmas tree beneficiary. Because the lake level is low, volunteers will drag the trees to the exposed lake bed. When the rains come, the trees will become submerged.
The trees are donated by Christmas tree vendors. The district can't use trees donated by the public because they often contain stray bits of tinsel, flocking or chemicals added to keep the trees green.
Douglas firs make the best fish habitat because they're the bushiest, Alexander said. The trees generally last five years underwater before they disintegrate, and the park district drops in another batch.
Fishermen have seen a noticeable difference in the Christmas tree-laden lakes.
The fish are bigger, healthier and more plentiful, Walton said.
That's why he, his staff and customers are regular volunteers at the annual Christmas tree drop.
"We noticed over the years that the juvenile fish weren't surviving because they're prey - they had nowhere to hide," he said. "So we thought we'd better start putting some habitat back in the lakes. It's a chance for us to give something back to the fisheries."

Joe Sullivan (left) and Joshua Porter unload some of the 1,000 Christmas trees at the edge of Rainbow Lake in Fremont. Volunteers will help with many more today.
Michael Macor / The Chronicle

Cinder blocks, hold down Christmas trees when water levels are higher in the spring and summer months, that have been placed some eight years ago, at the Quarry Lakes Regional park, in Fremont, Ca. on Friday Jan. 6, 2012.
Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle

Pete Alexander, district fish manager, on Friday Jan. 6, 2012, walks along a line of Christmas trees that have been placed some eight years ago, which are underwater during the spring and summer months, at Rainbow Lake at Quarry Lakes Regional Park, in Fremont, Ca.
Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle

A Heron along a line of Christmas trees, on Friday Jan. 6, 2012, that have been placed years ago at the Quarry Lakes Regional Park, in Fremont, Ca.
Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle

Joshua Porter unloads some of the 1,000 Christmas trees at the edge of Rainbow Lake at Quarry Lakes Regional Park, on Friday Jan. 6, 2012, in Fremont, Ca.
Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2012-01-05 "Photos: What America looked like before the EPA"  by Jess Zimmerman
In 1972, the year-old EPA had photographers traverse the country to document the (often dire) state of the environment. This project, Documerica, was "the visual echo of the mission of the EPA," according to one photographer. Now, 40 years later, archive specialist Jerry Simmons has unearthed the photos [http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/04/a-photographic-blast-from-the-past/] and put them online at the National Archives website [http://www.archives.gov/research/arc/topics/environment/documerica-topics.html] and on Flickr [http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/collections/72157620729903309/]. It's a time capsule of life before the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
 Some of the photos show positive action -- a "city farmer" in Boston, for instance, or a guy riding his bike to sidestep fuel shortages. Some record daily life, and some of them show that even without federal protection, a lot of America is still pretty beautiful. And the rest ... look like this. (Click the photos for more information.)




Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012-01-03 "Socks help with fisher research" by HEATHER HACKING from "Chico Enterprise-Record"
OAKHURST — A wildlife research team is encouraging new life for old socks.
In early December, four fishers (relatives of weasels and wolverines) were released to land owned by Sierra Pacific Industries in Stirling City. That event is part of a re-introduction of the animals, which have been absent from nearby forests for about 100 years.
Research is also currently taking place in the southern part of the Sierra Nevada, in areas near Yosemite and Merced, in the Sugar Pine watershed, near Bass Lake. Forest thinning has been taking place for fire management, and researchers through the U.S. Forest Service are watching closely to see how this affects the Pacific fisher.
Along the way, Rick Sweitzer, UC Berkeley wildlife biologist, learned that the best way to attract fishers is to hang meat in old socks.
The animals, as well as bobcats, mountain lions, gray fox, coyote and squirrels, will climb up a tree for the meat. Motion detectors then activate cameras which capture images of the animals.
A yard stick is placed nearby for measurement.
Black bears are the most common to snack on the socks. Fishers are the second-highest feasters.
Sweitzer was loading up a cart each month with 250 pairs of socks, with costs quickly adding up.
His idea was that mismatched socks had to be easier to come by.
Since then, his co-worker Anne Lombardo got the word out with Yosemite High School and the socks began rolling in. Word also got around on a few blogs on the Internet, Sweitzer explained.
"We're really into recycling," he said. In fact, the researchers have permission to harvest road kill deer, which is a big hit with the animals the biologists are tracking.
"We're always throwing deer in the back of trucks." A fist-sized ball of meat is placed in the socks and nailed to the trees. For added allure, scent is purchased from a trapping supply company," Sweitzer said.
At any time there are 65-70 cameras in place in that region, he explained, with four- to-five socks per unit.
"We go through a lot of socks."
At times, he might have two carts filled, which does solicit some funny looks from shoppers, he said.
With the word spreading, he got back from the holidays and there were 30 boxes of donated socks ready to go. Even socks with holes can be mended, and all will be dyed dark colors.
He said he doesn't really care whether people wash them first. They'll be washed. Plus, the smell of meat will overpower any residual foot stench.
He said the photos are fun for researchers to review, often capturing fishers swinging from the trees.
Part of the research also includes trapping the fishers in boxes, and then affixing radio collars. Thirty five fishers are tracked.
This is similar to the research being done in the Stirling City area, which includes 39 fishers reintroduced over the past four years.
Sweitzer's research starts at the Merced River to the north, to the San Joaquin River, covering 600 square miles.
What is learned from this project will help with other reintroduction fisher projects in the state.
The Pacific fisher is a small, nocturnal carnivore that perches and dens in large, old-growth pine and oak trees, information about the project said. Once widespread across the high elevation forests of the Sierra Nevada and in the coastal mountains of northwestern California, fishers are now only found in two small isolated populations. One group lives near the California-Oregon border. The others are in the southern Sierra Nevada.

Comment by Jim Brobeck:
"The Pacific fisher is a small, nocturnal carnivore that perches and dens in large, old-growth pine and oak trees"
Unfortunately SPI is the leader in converting forests into even-aged plantations, eliminating old growth trees of every species.

A fisher is seen trying to pull bait from a sock on a tree in this photo.(Contributed photo)
2012-01-03 "Feather River open to steelhead trout fishing"
OROVILLE — For some, a day off in the new year means rest or recuperation. For others, you gather your gal, your pug and a pole and head for the river.
Jan. 1 marked the opening of steelhead fishing along some stretches of the Feather River.
Other dates and locations for fishing steelhead are listed at www.dfg.ca.gov, then searching for "steelhead."
Mark Prentice, of Chico, has been hooking steelhead for 30 years, unless the water has been too high, but the numbers of the fish has been down in recent years. Anglers must use barbless hooks, but Prentice likes to catch and release.
Steelhead are rainbow trout which have spent time in the ocean, he explained. They're "firmer and feistier."
On Monday he said about 25 people had hooks in the water along the area where he and his girlfriend Debbie Wright took their pug dog Hayley.
There were even more people the day before, he said.
Early in the season is the best bet, and Prentice and Wright talked with people from Lake County, Marysville and Red Bluff.
Fil Torres manages Oroville Outdoors, which caters to fishermen. He'd been working and didn't have actual experience on the river to report.
There are a lot of rules for steelhead, Torres said, and the best bet is to check the regulations before putting in a line.
On this stretch, only hatchery fish are allowed to be taken, and can be identified because their andipose (top/middle) fin has been removed.
Near his shop it's allowed to fish from the Table Mountain bicycle bridge to the Highway 70 bridge until July 15, he said after consulting his guidebook.
Steelhead are present in the river all year, he said, but the closures allow the fish to be protected during other times.
Fishing in warmer months means the fish have been "molested for five to six months," Torres said.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011-01-02 "Richardson Bay atoll renovated as nature preserve" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
An all-but-forgotten island in the northwest corner of Richardson Bay has become a testing ground for the notion that a functioning ecosystem can be built out of human excavation refuse.
 The name Aramburu Island may conjure up exotic images, but the 17-acre atoll on the east side of Strawberry Point is really just a giant pile of dirt scraped off a hillside and dumped unceremoniously by a developer into the bay.
 This decidedly unromantic mound of soil, named after a former Marin County supervisor, is now being transformed into the utopian vision of the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary, which is using $2.4 million to create a nature preserve and wildlife refuge surrounded by shoreline habitat.
 "We are hoping to provide super-high-quality habitat for shorebirds, migrating birds and harbor seals, and we are also hoping it will stop erosion, which will improve water quality in the bay," said Brooke Langston, the executive director of the audubon center in Tiburon. "Once the island is restored, it will also provide protection from sea-level rise for homes along the bay."

New shoreline -
Workers removed invasive plants and trees from the island last summer and fall, and created an entirely new rocky shoreline around the island using thousands of cubic yards of sand, gravel and shell substrate barged in from dredge projects in San Francisco Bay.
The idea is to replace the silty, eroding mud that surrounds the island with natural soils that harbor the bugs, worms and crustaceans that shorebirds prefer and harbor seals favor for basking.
 Workers removed nonnative weeds, ice plant and acacia, and the Audubon center is growing native seeds collected along the shores of Richardson Bay, an ecologically rich estuary surrounded by Sausalito, Mill Valley, Belvedere and Tiburon.
 High school volunteers were out pulling weeds and picking up trash last week, but the bulk of the restoration work is expected to be finished next spring and summer. The plan, Langston said, is to plant the seeds during the first rains next year.
 "We are changing the topography of the surface of the island and creating a living shoreline," she said. "As sea level rises, the beach will react to it by moving upland."

Accidental opportunity -
It is an unusual opportunity borne out of the general ignorance of environmental issues that existed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. That was when an artificial peninsula known as the Strawberry Spit was created out of material dredged from navigational channels. Upland soils excavated during development of the adjacent Strawberry Point were then piled on top, leaving an entirely unplanned and unnatural landscape.
 In the late 1960s, the abandoned spit became a popular haul-out site for harbor seals, with as many as 30 percent of the San Francisco Bay population taking refuge there. The seals gradually stopped using the island, most likely as a result of human disturbances and the silting over of an adjacent deepwater channel. The last seal was seen on the island in 1985.
 In 1987, a 165-foot channel was dug through the northern end of the spit, creating a 34-acre island, which was named after former Supervisor Al Aramburu, an early member of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
 The island, which is owned by Marin County and managed by the Marin County Department of Parks and Open Space, was supposed to become a wildlife preserve as mitigation for a nearby development, but it has been sitting there untouched for a quarter of a century. Half of the island eroded over the years, and the upland area became overgrown with nonnative plants and grasses.

A rediscovery -
 Langston said she knew little about Aramburu until sick and dead birds began washing up there after the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill, a subsequent sewage spill and then an outbreak of avian cholera.
 "It was the first time we started paying attention to it," she said. "It was potentially good habitat ... so we went to Marin County and proposed a restoration."
 The work is being bankrolled by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Marin Community Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Money for the project is also expected from the Cosco Busan spill settlement.
 Langston said she expects to see a major increase in the number of shorebirds and songbirds and is hoping the harbor seals return after a new deepwater channel is created on the southern end of the island for them.
"We don't get many opportunities to create new nature," said Langston, whose organization is required to monitor the island ecosystem for five years after the work is done, "so this is a really exciting, thrilling opportunity."

Environmental researchers Brooke Langston (left) and Lara Martin dock their boat at Aramburu Island.
Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle

Research technician Lara Martin (left) and Brooke Langston, executive director of the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Tiburon, gather litter on Aramburu Island, which is being transformed into a nature preserve and wildlife refuge. "We don't get many opportunities to create new nature," says Langston, whose group will monitor the island ecosystem.
Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle

An osprey flies from a pole on the island.
Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle

Audubon Center workers are gathering bay soils to be transferred to other areas of the island to promote foods for Pacific seabirds.
Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle

A sign naming the preserve and a large No Trespassing sign are the only signage on the island.
Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle