Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012-02-28 "Woodpecker tapping spurs study, wonder" by Donna Beth Weilenman from "The Benicia Herald"
 Solano County has its share of woodpeckers, said Monique Liguori, executive director of the Suisun Marsh Natural History Association and its wildlife center.
Residents sometimes hear the birds tapping rapidly against the side of a tree. A few of the larger members of the avian clan, such as the pileated woodpecker — a large, crested bird — pound like a jackhammer.
Their tapping against tree trunks is called drumming, and a woodpecker can hit the bark as often as 20 times a second, Liguori said. Those drumming sessions can occur as often as 500 to 600 times a day.
The impact can reach a deceleration of 1,200g, she said. That means the bird’s beak collides with the tree at 1,200 times the strength of gravity. The birds have been known to drill into concrete to make burrows.
By comparison, commercial airline passengers experience up to 1.5g. Space Shuttle astronauts felt 3.5g, and professional pilots performing aerial acrobatics may train to survive up to 10g.
Roller coasters deliver about 4g, and a dragster can give its driver a horizontal g measurement of 5 or more when it accelerates.
But woodpeckers are taking direct hits to the head, on purpose. If a person is hit on the head at 4g to 6g, he or she may lose consciousness. That same person will have a concussion with a single deceleration hit of about 100g, Liguori said.
How woodpeckers can pound on trees without knocking themselves out has puzzled both birdwatchers and scientists, and in the past few years researchers have used computer simulations to learn how the birds survive their self-inflicted impacts.
Sang-Hee Yoon and Sungmin Park of the University of California-Berkeley studied video and other scans of the bird’s head and neck, and published a report Jan. 17, 2011. “They’ve found that there are a few factors that give the woodpecker this unique ability,” Liguori said.
For instance, the bird’s beak is hard, but elastic. It has a springy tongue-supported structure, called a hyoid, that is made of a sinewy substance and extends behind the skull.
The bird’s skull and cerebrospinal fluid work together to to suppress vibration, researchers have learned. And the birds hammer in a straight line, avoiding any rotation injury.
Scientists are using their findings to develop shock-absorbing systems, particularly for skulls, but with other applications as well, Liguori said.
Yoon and Park focused on suppressing damage to micromachined devices, and tested a woodpecker-inspired protection system using an airgun bullet fired into an aluminum wall, she said.
Their design prevented damage to some enclosed electronics, despite impacts reaching 60,000g.
According to their report, the failure rate of the shock-absorbing system inspired by woodpeckers was 0.7 percent. Conventional protection made of hard resin failed more than 26 percent of the time.
Flight recorders also have benefitted. They can withstand shocks of 1,000g.
But woodpeckers have other design features that intrigue scientists, Liguori said.
They have special feathers that cover their nostrils to filter out wood chips and other debris. Their tongues are three times the length of their beaks and extend to the back of their heads, and are either barbed or sticky so the birds can reach into their drilled holes to capture insects.
Liguori said local birdwatchers have a variety of woodpeckers and their relatives that they can observe as the birds drum away.
Not only can area residents find the crow-sized pileated woodpecker, but also the smaller acorn, Nuttall’s, hairy, downy and occasionally a Lewis’s woodpecker as they drill away into bark or other surfaces, hoping either to dine on insects or create a new home.
Also in Solano and Napa counties are northern flickers and red-breasted sapsuckers, she said; it’s uncommon to find a yellow-bellied sapsucker here, though they have been seen in the area.
Higher elevations are homes to white-headed, black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers, Liguori said.
The Suisun Marsh Natural History Association and its wildlife center is a recognized nonprofit volunteer organization dedicated to the rescue of native California wildlife and the preservation of the Suisun Marsh. It accepts donations.
In addition to wildlife rescue and release programs, the organization, 1171 Kellog St., Suisun, provides educational programs, field trips into the marsh and presentations at the wildlife center.
Anyone finding an injured or orphaned wild animal or bird in Solano County may call the center at 707-429-4295.
The wildlife center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, which will expand to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in summer.
Its website is www.suisunwildlife.org.

ACORN WOODPECKER. Kim Cabrera photo

2012-02-28 "Calling Critter Caregivers; Wildlife classes at Suisun center seeking students" by Donna Beth Weilenman from "The Benicia Herald"
Each spring, hundreds of baby birds and animals need a little — or a lot — of human care to survive. But without training, well-meaning people can do more harm than good, a local expert says.
That’s why the Suisun Marsh Natural History Association will again offer its basic wildlife care training for prospective volunteers who are willing to work at the association’s wildlife center.
“If you would like to learn how to care for wildlife and are able to volunteer some of your time, you may discover a whole new skill which can benefit both yourself and our local wildlife,” said Monique Liguori, executive director.
The two-day class will teach a prospective volunteer about wildlife identification, basic care and husbandry and medical protocols, Liguori said.
More than 200 species of wild birds and animals have been handled by the association’s wildlife center. “The work is always challenging and satisfying,” Liguori said.
Some residents may want to learn about animal care, but may prefer to do their volunteering at home. Because some animal babies thrive better in a home environment, Liguori said the wildlife center will train those people so they can provide the necessary specialized care.
“Baby mammals do best when they can receive a dedicated focus and quiet surroundings,” Liguori said. “The spring and summer influx of animals at the wildlife center does not present the best atmosphere for this activity.”
The wildlife center sends those babies home with center volunteers, who may find themselves serving as surrogate parents to infant raccoons, jackrabbits, squirrels or opossums.
The wildlife center has had a baby in-home care program for some time, Liguori said. “We would like to expand this activity to include more of the public.”
An at-home volunteer would be asked to handle only one species at a time, and wouldn’t have to handle more baby animals than is a comfortable number, Liguori said.
“Your only pre-qualifications for this are patience and good common sense about animal husbandry,” she said. She explained that “animal husbandry” means feeding, care and cleanliness.
“We will provide the training, reference material and, of course, the babies,” she said.
The center has species specialists available to guide a volunteer who has questions about an animal’s care, she said.
“It is hard to convey the feeling of satisfaction that you can have by nursing a new critter into the world,” Liguori said.
“Not only do you receive the experience of direct contact, but you can know that nature has been assisted by your actions.”
The center’s basic wildlife class, for those willing to volunteer, will take place from 7-10 p.m. March 6 and 8.
Those interested in at-home care volunteering may call the center to register.
The wildlife center, 1171 Kellog St., Suisun City, can be reached at 707-429-4295. Its website is www.suisunwildlife.org.

VOLUNTEERS at Suisun Wildlife Center, right, release a group of kites back into the wild following rehabilitation. One kite, below, paused for one final look back at his caregivers. Suisun Wildlife Center

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2012-02-21 "Yosemite's alpine chipmunk seeking cooler habitats" by David Perlman from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Backpacking scientists from UC Berkeley have gathered compelling evidence that the warming High Sierra climate is pushing still another animal species to seek cooler habitats amid the higher regions of Yosemite National Park.
Their new study, tracking changes in the home range of a single chipmunk species during the past 90 years, follows many other recent reports by field biologists that salamanders, field mice and ground squirrels, among others, also have been driven by rising temperatures to seek new homes at higher elevations in the park.
The new evidence for the effects of global warming comes from a study of the alpine chipmunk (Tamias alpinus) that Emily M. Rubidge, 36, a former UC Berkeley graduate student, carried out during four recent summers. Rubidge camped, hiked and surveyed the chipmunks among the talus slopes of Yosemite's higher mountains, where the animals live and rear their young.
Back in 1914, a famed Berkeley field biologist named Joseph Grinnell led a team of naturalists surveying the lives and habitats of virtually every animal living in Yosemite at that time. His tissue samples, plus 2,000 pages of notes, provided the details that Rubidge and her colleagues used to discover how much higher the chipmunk species has moved its home range.
Grinnell's time temperature records in the park also show that Yosemite has warmed by 5 degrees, she found.
Grinnell reported in 1914 that the lowest elevation in the park where he and his team could find the alpine chipmunks living was at about 7,800 feet. Today, Rubidge and her colleagues report that they have found none of the same chipmunk species living anywhere lower than 9,629 feet - a change in elevation of well more than 1,800 feet.
Back in the laboratory at UC Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology - where Grinnell was the founding director long ago - Rubidge and her colleagues also discovered that the move toward higher elevations has significantly narrowed the genetic diversity of the animals since Grinnell's time. That development, a kind of "genetic erosion," has led many other species on a long downward slope toward eventual extinction.
To analyze those genes, Rubidge obtained cell samples from tiny ear clippings she took from 146 chipmunks that she trapped and released as she moved her campsites up toward 10,000 feet.
 Her report on the changes in chipmunk habitat and in the animal's genes was published Sunday in a new refereed journal called Nature Climate Change. The study is part of a long-range UC Berkeley project documenting many changes in the animal life of Yosemite today compared with the Grinnell survey's reports of nearly a century ago.
 Rubidge's team was led by UC evolutionary biologist Craig Moritz, who also leads the Grinnell Resurvey. Other co-authors of her report included James L. Patton, Marisa Lim and Justin S. Brashears of UC Berkeley and A. Cole Burton, who is Rubidge's husband and a wildlife ecologist at the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute in Canada, where Rubidge is now an independent consultant.
2012-02-21 "Demolition of Cuttings Wharf cottages alters area’s zoning" by Peter Jensen from Napa Valley Register
The 23 low-income cottages on Cuttings Wharf Road have been razed and almost all of the scrap debris removed, but what the future holds for the site is unclear.
Demolition of the cottages, which stood for decades and provided residents some of the cheapest rents in Napa County, began last month and was expected to wrap up last week. On Monday, five people were at the site removing the last of the wood debris.
Most tenants paid less than $350 a month in rent, but were evicted in 2011 after the county found that the cottages weren’t up to safety and building codes. Owner Kenneth Moore decided to demolish the buildings instead of bringing them up to code, saying the repairs were too costly.
Once the residences were demolished, the property lost its zoning as a residential site — which had been grandfathered in — and its zoning reverted to agricultural watershed, says Larry Florin, the director of the county’s Housing and Intergovernmental Affairs Department.
Moore didn’t respond to attempts to contact him on Monday about what he has planned for the property. Attempts to reach former residents were also unsuccessful.
Napa resident Curtis Hayes was fishing on a dock at Cuttings Wharf on Monday, and said he lamented the evictions and demolition of the cottages.
Hayes said he’s been fishing at Cuttings Wharf for 40 years, and sometimes encountered former tenants. He said he found them to be nice people.
“It’s kind of too bad,” Hayes said. “The people who lived in the houses lived there a real long time. They were all kind of sorry to see the places go.”
The loss of the cottages hasn’t put a dent in business at the nearby Moore’s Landing restaurant, owner Carl Larsen said.
“Business has been unbelievable,” said Larsen, who took over as owner at the start of this year. “It’s tremendous.”
Larsen said a side room that once had a pool table in it has been renovated to include televisions and more seating for bar patrons and diners. He has plans to renovate an outside area so it could potentially have live music, he said.
“It’s been gangbusters,” Larsen said.
Larsen said Moore also owns the restaurant’s building, but he hadn’t heard what Moore has planned for the cottage site.
Hayes said he supported it being rebuilt, but considers that unlikely.
“It would be neat to see them rebuilt, but I don’t see that happening,” Hayes said. “All they did was lose a bunch of low-income housing. I don’t know where (the tenants went). I’m sure they’re all paying more rent these days.”

Sunday, February 19, 2012

2012-02-19 "Bohemia Ranch with waterfall saved from developers" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Two nonprofit conservation groups struck an innovative land deal last week that will permanently protect from development a forested 862-acre tract with a large waterfall in western Sonoma County.
The rugged area, known as Bohemia Ranch, is a picturesque landscape full of rare plants, redwood trees and a 30-foot waterfall next to the famous Bohemian Grove, between Occidental and Monte Rio.
 The $1.45 million deal, by the Sonoma Land Trust and LandPaths, will create a 554-acre nature preserve and include conservation easements over the entire property.
 "We have preserved the best and most sensitive habitat from development," said Bob Neale, the stewardship director for Sonoma Land Trust. "It's just spectacular property that is definitely worth saving."
The Sonoma Land Trust purchased a conservation easement that removed all development rights over four of the six parcels using money donated by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The other 352 acres were sold by the owners, Ted and Phyllis Swindells, to a family, which will be allowed, under the easement, to build up to two homes.

Public access -
The Swindellses signed over ownership of the 554-acre Bohemia Ecological Preserve to LandPaths, which will manage the property and provide public access through trail and habitat restoration parties, camping and outdoor recreation programs.
 The Swindellses and the Parish family, which bought the other two parcels, have agreed to provide $100,000 in seed money for the management and stewardship of the preserve. No public money was spent to complete the transaction, which closed escrow Wednesday.
"In these fiscally constrained times when not only existing parks are closing, but new parks and nature preserves have little chance of being formed, I feel both euphoric and humbled that we were able to complete this deal," said Craig Anderson, the executive director of LandPaths, which will have to raise 90 percent of the money it will need to manage the property over the next 10 years. "We are relying on the model we created, 'People Powered Parks,' to help us build new infrastructure, fundraise, advise us and keep an eye on the place."

Spawning grounds -
LandPaths will still be allowed under the easement to harvest up to 10 percent of the marketable timber on the property every decade.
 The land is marked by serpentine soils, rare plants, steep cliffs and the signature waterfall. Redwood and Douglas fir dominate the eastern portion and three creeks flow through the property, including Dutch Bill Creek, where coho salmon and steelhead trout spawn.
 The area supports a wide range of birds and wildlife, including the northern spotted owl, osprey, the pileated woodpecker, northwestern pond turtle and dusky-footed wood rat.
 "Going into the center of the property is like going into Middle Earth," Neale said. "It's quiet and serene and just lovely."

13 years in the making -
The Land Trust has been working with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and community activists for 13 years to acquire the property, which is also known as Waterfall Park.
Previous owners were going to sell to a logger, who was planning to clear-cut about 74 acres and harvest timber on about 380 additional acres. News of that plan prompted conservationists to try to buy the land and create a wilderness park. Rallies were held, and there was a sold-out benefit concert by former Grateful Dead musicians Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh and rocker Sammy Hagar to raise money for the purchase by the Open Space District.
 A $2.5 million offer was made at the time, but the owner sold it to the Swindellses instead. Ted Swindells said there were methamphetamine labs, bare gullies from four-wheel-drive vehicles, pot farms and erosion when he took charge of the property in 1999.

2 pot farms found -
A second effort to create a regional park failed in 2010 when the money couldn't be raised. Negotiations on the current deal have been going on ever since.
 This past year, two pot farms were found on the property, a problem that the new custodians hope to eliminate.
 "We've got 25 people showing up with shovels Monday to work on erosion," Anderson said. "We're going to continue on from there."

Friday, February 17, 2012

2012-02-17 "Central Valley reps bill would upend water rights" by Carolyn Lochhead from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Washington -- Representatives from the Central Valley pushed legislation through a House committee Thursday that would upend the state's system of water rights, deploying the federal government to extract water from Northern California farms, fisheries and cities to send to farmers in the valley.
The action by the House Natural Resources Committee came the same day that the House voted to require the federal government to usurp California's governance of its coastline by requiring offshore leasing for oil and gas drilling.
Neither bill is expected to become law, given strong opposition from California's Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
But the water bill, HR1837, is a major salvo by Central Valley lawmakers, most of them Republicans but including Rep. Jim Costa, D-Hanford (Kings County), in a pitched, emotional battle over who gets water in a state whose antiquated water system is straining under the demands of a burgeoning population, a declining ecosystem and the nation's most productive farm sector.
Among other things, the legislation would halt restoration of the San Joaquin River, leaving as much as 40 miles of the river dry, restore irrigation contracts and override fish and wildlife protections in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
"Plain and simple, it's a water raid on the delta," said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove (Sacramento County), who waged trench warfare in the committee by offering more than 20 amendments. All were defeated, but Garamendi said he was "laying down a track of information that will be useful later."

Water held in trust -
Garamendi said the valley lawmakers are attempting to "obliterate all the environmental laws of the state and federal governments and simultaneously override the California Constitution," whose public trust doctrine holds that all the waters of California are held in trust by the government for the people of California.
Feinstein and Boxer wrote a letter to the committee chairman stating their strong opposition, saying the bill would waive endangered species protections and attempt to provide more water to the valley "without accounting for where the water will come from or what the impacts will be."
Sponsored by Republican Reps. Devin Nunes of Tulare County, Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Jeff Denham of Merced, with support from Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove (Sacramento County) and Democrat Costa, the legislation cleared the House committee on a 27-17 vote.
Republicans said the legislation would "end California's man-made droughts, bring jobs and water supply certainty to the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys and decrease reliance on foreign food sources."
Costa said that with the world population headed to 9 billion, "the production of food and fiber is a security issue not only for us but for the world."

Stands no chance -
But he conceded that the bill will never be enacted, saying Feinstein's participation was not sought, even though he said she has been "a champion trying to fight for water in our valley," often to the consternation of Bay Area Democrats. Costa said the bill "will never bring a single drop of water to our valley."
Cynthia Koehler, legislative director for California water for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the bill was the boldest attempt to pre-empt state water law she has ever seen.
"There is a fairly significant question about whether it is constitutional," she said. "Congress could say to every state, 'You cannot touch any water rights to preserve fish and wildlife for any purpose at all.' "
House members from the valley blamed their area's high unemployment on water shortages. Denham challenged Democrats to "come to Mendota and see the 40 percent unemployment rate."
But the Pacific Institute in Oakland concluded in a recent study on the effect of the recent state drought that chronic unemployment in the Central Valley was mainly the result of the housing downturn.

A matter of rights -
McClintock negotiated an agreement from fellow Republicans to preserve local water rights to protect his Sacramento district from the original bill, which put those rights in question. He argued that the legislation does not trounce states' rights.
Instead, he said it upholds individual rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which makes it a duty of Congress "to protect the property rights, including water rights, of every citizen against encroachment" by the state, including water he claims was expropriated to protect fisheries and "cavalierly dumped into the Pacific Ocean."
Garamendi said the bill fails to develop any new water sources and simply moves water around, violating "160 years of history, regulations and water rights. The measure "adds to the conflict without resolving the underlying problem."
Costa defended amendments to grant 900 more acre feet of delta water to Kettleman City, a tiny, isolated farming town in Kings County, and raise Shasta Dam by 15 feet. Republicans warned that the Shasta amendment was an earmark and would "poison" the overall bill, so Costa withdrew it. The Kettleman City earmark stayed.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Never underestimate the power and inflluence of one person in the cause to save Earth's teeming life...
This man from Sonoma Valley in the San Pablo Bay Area is a "Hero of Life"!
2012-02-12 "Rodney Jackson on a mission to save the snow leopard" by Meredith May from "San Francisco Chronicle"

Biologist Rodney Jackson can pinpoint the moment he transformed from a student of nature to a full-blown conservationist.
While walking along a river in Nepal in 1977, he came upon the skinned carcass of a snow leopard, its front paws curved inward as if in agony, its tail arching skyward like a question mark.
He no longer wanted to simply take wildlife pictures of the endangered Himalayan cat. He knew he would dedicate the rest of his life to saving it.
Jackson photographed the gruesome find, then tracked down the hunter who had killed the animal with a poison spear. He paid $15 for the ice-gray pelt with black rosettes and presented it to Nepalese officials to prove poachers were killing the snow leopard despite international bans.
"I originally went to Nepal after I saw the first pictures of a snow leopard in National Geographic," said Jackson, 67. "It was such a majestic animal, I needed to see one. And I thought I could take a better picture. I left Nepal with an entirely different idea of what I needed to do."
World expert
Today, Jackson is one of the world's foremost experts on the elusive snow leopard, an almost invisible animal that lives on some of the world's highest peaks in Nepal, Pakistan, India, Siberia, Mongolia and Tibet. One of the hardest animals to count, its population estimate is rough: approximately 4,000 to 7,500 snow leopards spread out over half a million square miles of inhospitable habitat.
Along with his companion, Darla Hillard, Jackson runs the Snow Leopard Conservancy from their modest Sonoma home, a shaded retreat decorated with Tibetan art and prayer flags and lorded over by a 17-year-old house cat named Smudge. They share an office behind the house with two desks, two computers and stacks of research files and books reaching to the ceiling.
With no children in tow, they have been able to maintain the same schedule for the past 30 years: About six months a year in Sonoma, and the rest at dangerous altitudes in subzero temperatures.
"Governments can't do this conservation work alone," Jackson said. "I'm convinced guardianship by local communities is the way to go."

3-time finalist -
For the third time, Jackson is a finalist for the prestigious Indianapolis Prize, a $100,000 award given every other September to a conservationist dedicated to a single animal species. Otherwise known as the Nobel Prize for conservation, it's the world's leading conservation prize, reserved for those who can demonstrate a species is more likely to be sustained because of their direct actions.
"Definitely the snow leopard is alive today because Rodney is on the job," said Michael Crowther, president of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, which administers the prize. "There are people who raise money and donate work for the cause, but no one is in his league. He lives a life most people have probably never heard of."
Shortly after they met, Jackson and Hillard were the first to radio-collar snow leopards, tracking their movements with a VHF antenna and earphones on the peaks of Nepal from 1981 to 1984. With the help of hidden film cameras that were triggered by snow leopards stepping on a buried sensor, the couple obtained unprecedented data on the animal's movements and behavior.
During that time, Jackson and Hillard learned that snow leopards are largely solitary and leave scrapes in the dirt or urinate on rocks to avoid one another while passing through the same territory.
"They make a large kill every 15 to 20 days - mostly blue sheep," he said.
But sometimes, when their prey is scarce, snow leopards enter rural mountain villages and kill livestock. When Jackson started his work in the '70s, he met many high-altitude herders who considered the endangered snow leopard a pest worth killing.

B & B program -
Now, the Snow Leopard Conservancy supplies wire mesh to enclose the herders' pens and keep snow leopards out. The conservancy also created a bed and breakfast program in India, where trekkers pay $12 a night to stay with a local family and eat home-cooked meals. They also pay local guides to take them into the mountains to see snow leopards.
"The villages are starting to see that the snow leopard draws the tourists, so it is more valuable to them alive than dead," said Jackson, who estimates that five snow leopards are saved for every pen that's fitted with protective mesh.
Wildlife biologist Jerry Roe of Martinez, who accompanied Jackson on several snow leopard research trips to India from 2002 to 2004, said: "Rodney has a way of connecting with people. Like the wolf is here, the snow leopard is a loaded animal, but Rodney can talk to people in a nonthreatening way. He's not the Westerner coming in telling people how to live their lives."
In a sense, Jackson is doing the same thing he loved to do as a boy in South Africa, following animal tracks after school. His father, a member of the British Royal Air Force, met and married his mother in South Africa. He lived in a thatched house with no plumbing, and entertained himself by hiding in the tall grass to watch antelope and leopards. He once found a nest of guinea fowl eggs and excitedly brought it home, only to have the eggs go putrid and explode.

'Explorers in Africa' -
"It all started with this library book, 'Explorers in Africa.' I was 10, and fascinated by the big game hunter in the book. My parents never went camping, but as soon as I got a car, I was off," he said.
Jackson studied zoology at the British-run University of Zimbabwe. Upon graduation, he got a job mapping wildlife for the Canadian government. After writing several letters to his hero, UC Berkeley Professor Aldo Starker Leopold, Jackson was finally admitted to Starker's zoology and conservation master's program in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
For his thesis, he put radio collars on male fawns in south Texas to discover why a disproportionate number of male versus female fawns were falling prey to coyotes. (Answer: Males were more apt to hold their ground than flee.)
Jackson had originally planned to return from Berkeley to South Africa to study traditional lowland leopards. But then a woman knocked on his door.
Hillard, who quit her mind-numbing planning job with an idea to do environmental work, met Jackson in the late 1970s when she showed up at the Bodega Bay Institute, where Jackson led environmental hikes. He told her he didn't have any jobs available, but he could use her help applying for a grant to study snow leopards in Nepal. He'd been turned down by countless other funders who told him it was impossible to radio-collar a Himalayan snow leopard.
She helped him apply and win the Rolex Award for Enterprise, and he invited her on that pioneering radio-collar trip to Nepal. They had to hike 12 days up a snowy mountain to set up their research camp. Hillard took many of the photos - including one in which Jackson and a Sherpa try to sedate a snarling snow leopard - that wound up in a 1986 story in National Geographic.
With changes in technology, Jackson no longer has to use film cameras or bury pressure pads underground and hope a snow leopard steps on it facing the camera to get a good shot. In Ladakh, India, he worked with a PBS film crew to set up 40 infrared, heat and motion sensing cameras that shoot video as well as stills. They got the first images of snow leopards hunting, marking rocks, mating and footage of a mother with her cubs. In one video, a cat gets so close, its breath fogs the lens. The footage became part of the Nature documentary "Silent Roar: Searching for the Snow Leopard."
Today, Jackson is researching less-invasive methods of studying the snow leopard.
"We are now, in essence, poop collectors," he said.
He has 500 scats collected so far from Mongolia, India and Nepal, and is working with geneticists overseas and at Texas A&M University. By analyzing waste, researchers can determine the gender, age and individual markers for the animal who left it - which can lead them to know which animals are related and get a much more accurate count of the snow leopard population.
He's also collecting hair - by leaving out pieces of carpet with dull prongs and few squirts of Calvin Klein Obsession cologne and waiting for the animal to rub on it.
"They go crazy for the stuff," he said. By analyzing the keratin, he can find out what the snow leopards have been eating in the previous months. He wants to know how much livestock versus prey they consume to determine what effect the predator-proof corrals are having.

Snow Leopard Scouts -
Hillard and Jackson are also teaching Himalayan youngsters in a new Snow Leopard Scouts program how to camouflage digital cameras themselves and e-mail their photos to Sonoma. As the children become more excited about the images they capture, Jackson hopes to turn them into a generation of snow leopard guardians.
When he's in Sonoma, Jackson keeps abreast of snow leopard movements from GPS coordinates sent from the cats' collars to his inbox. He also tests new cameras in the hills behind his home, capturing images of mountain lions for practice.

Coming back -
Recently, he drove his car with the UNCIA personalized plate (scientific name for snow leopard) onto a private organic farm in Glen Ellen, where he has permission to set up hidden wildlife cameras. A half hour's hike uphill brought him to three different cameras, camouflaged in hard cases and secured by bungee cords to branches or hidden in piles of rocks. Checking the digital card, he found plenty of squirrels, dog walkers, deer and skunk, but there were no big cats on the memory card.
Jackson is used to missing the shot. In the first 15 years of his career, he'd seen only a handful of snow leopards in the wild. He's come to think of the snow leopard as a gentle ghost, blending in to the beauty and quiet of the landscape.
"It's almost as if the snow leopard has been imbued by the Buddhist culture it lives in," Jackson said.
Yet that's starting to change. Snow leopards were declared vanished from Mount Everest in the mid-1970s but began reappearing in 2003. Since then, he's seen at least 25.
"They're coming back," he said.

Jackson sets up hidden wildlife cameras on a private organic farm in Glen Ellen. He tests new cameras in the hills behind his home in Sonoma.
Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle