Food Empowerment Project: food production, supermarkets, and local communities
Chilis on Wheels: Not just another food truck
VAPA: Vegan outreach to vets and humane training for vet students
But, wait, there’s more....
Halloween costume idea - be mysterious, adorable, & irreplaceable.
Be a bat!
What’s small, furry, adorable, full of mystery and yet extraordinarily useful? According to Gabriel Reyes, it is the bat! Now a researcher for the US Geological Survey, Reyes fell in love with bats when he was an undergrad and took an elective class in bats. He ended up writing his Master’s thesis on the social behavior of migrating bats. The rest is, as they say, history or, in this case, research.
“It was the challenge of studying tiny, nocturnal animals that are silent,” according to Reyes. Bats are not birds, as one might think, despite their flying skills. They are actually mammals, complete with fur and live young fed on milk. Not only are they the only flying mammals, but also they comprise 20% of all species of mammal. There are 1,408 recognized bat species and probably more hiding from us.
Bats are just about everywhere.
Bats are on every continent except Antarctica. Their behaviors reflect the diversity of their species.
Many bats do live in the classic cavernous roosts, where they hang from the roof of a cave or mine, in the hollow of a burned out redwood, or in an abandoned building. But others are crevice roosters, seeking out protected nooks and cracks in trees, rocks, cliff faces, and buildings. Some species overlap in their choice of roosting locations, and many species are flexible, utilizing what’s available.
Many bats gather in maternity colonies in spring and summer; for example, in some species there can be 20 mom bats in one tree. To view a more impressive number, visit the Yolo Bypass under the Yolo Causeway on the way to Sacramento, where hundreds of thousands of Mexican Free-tailed Bats gather in an enormous maternity colony. To be really impressed, visit Texas where there are maternity colonies of 4 to 5 million bats.
Ponds are great places to see bats, as they fly over the water not only to dip in their tongues to drink but also to catch aquatic-emerging insects as the luckless bugs hatch. Bats will fly several miles each night to forage or to find water.
Bats such as the Yuma myotis are found near ponds, streams and other open surfaces of water. Other species forage where forests transition to meadows or other open space. California myotis eat tiny insects. The Mexican Free-tailed Bat is an open air forager -- flying hundreds of feet in the air to catch moths and other tasty treats. Gleaner bats pick bugs off of leaves and can detect moths or beetles. They either eat while on the wing or carry dinner back to their night roost to dine in. Pallid bats are the toughies of the gleaners - they track, attack, and eat scorpions.
Enter the Hoary bat.
Reyes’ favorite bat is the hoary bat. He finds them very beautiful with “amazing fur, frosty colored with a mane.” In fact, their furry mane has earned them the nickname of “sky lions.”
You may remember our article on bird migration. Surprisingly, some bat species migrate, too. Bats can fly high and long -- the Air Force keeps track of animal strikes and has recorded a hoary bat strike at 8,000 feet elevation.
Hoary bats are long-distance migrators. Many may spend the winter in Mexico, although they have been recorded in other locations. They mate during the fall migration. Reyes says that science is not yet sure how they decide to get together, but one possibility is that the males congregate in an area and the females may choose their mates. Hoary bats, and most species in our area, are not monogamous; it is more like speed-mating.
The female hoary bats have developed a neat trick that all us girls might envy -- after mating they can delay implantation until they are sure they will have shelter and food to raise a family. This means hooking up in the fall and then deciding to get pregnant months later during the spring migration.
Both sexes of hoary bat migrate, but they have different migratory patterns. In the spring, the males seem to fly a shorter distance. The females flap on up to Canada to maternity sites where they have their babies (known as pups.) Other species of bats that stay put may have one pup, but hoary bats usually have two. Migration is an effective long-term survival strategy, but it also involves risks compared to staying in one place; the heir and the spare help to compensate for those risks. Once settled in, the new hoary bat family hangs together on a tree in what Reyes describes as, “a perfectly adorable round ball of mom and babies.”
One way to tell where a bat has been is to measure the stable isotopes in their fur. Isotopes are forms of atoms with different numbers of neutrons. In the hydrogen atom that is part of the water molecule (H2O) the proportion of isotopes varies according to the source of the rainwater. As rain falls, the isotopes in the water enter the food supply. Bats feed on the food and the isotopes enter their system. Bats molt in the summer. So their new coat of fur matches the isotopes of the region where they spent their summer vacation.
Enter the scientists. They catch a hoary bat in California, trim a tiny bit of fluffy fur from it, run it through tests, and detect the isotopes, which they can trace back to the original rainwater location. Using this process, scientists have found evidence of individual hoary bats migrating over 1,200 miles.
The loneliness of the long-distance bat . . .
Mexico to Canada may seem a long way for such a small critter, but some bats are thought to have embarked on a much more difficult journey. In Hawaii, the only native land mammal is the Hawaiian hoary bat. A few times in the misty past, a hoary bat got lost and flew across the Pacific to Hawaii. Hoary bats cannot land on water to rest, so she would have been airborne for her entire journey. We can imagine the relief when she saw the emerald green of the Hawaiian Islands below them.
The future of bats is in danger.
In the eastern United States many species of bats roost in large groups and are being endangered by white-nose syndrome. This fungal pathogen awakens bats from hibernation during the winter and causes them to burn through their fat stores to early and eventually die. Unfortunately, white nose syndrome is spreading from the concentrated eastern populations across the United States.
Out west, according to at least one study, hoary bats may have declined. It is more difficult to track the cause because of the challenge of tracking bat populations that are so inconspicuous and secretive. However, one culprit could be the development of wind energy. Those giant turbines may look like they are turning slowly, but the outer edge of the blades can be turning as fast as 100 mph, killing bats during migration.
It seems that once again, like the giant desert solar arrays in in our previous article, what may seem like an environmentally-positive solution can have unintended, negative consequences. Researchers are working with the wind energy companies to find a solution to this dilemma.
Bats are not only cute but also useful.
Bats perform ecosystem services of which many of us are not aware. The pest control services of bats have been valued at billions of dollars a year. Bats regularly munch on agricultural pests and on forest pests. Loss of bat populations means higher crop losses and more pesticide use. It also means loss of human comfort and the possibility of the spread of diseases - one bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour!
Bats are not scary.
Let’s deal with the bad press you might have read about bats. First of all, bats getting in your hair -- not likely. Bats are excellent navigators, using both sight and sound. However, if a bat gets in your home and you stand in the middle of the room, guess where the bat will fly trying to get out? In the broadest open space and over your head. So - stand along the wall, open some windows or doors, and all should be well.
Wild flying bats do carry rabies but only a tiny number of them are rabid - .001 to 1%. Still, be cautious! I found a lot of information about dealing with errant bats at the Bat Conservation International website.
There is much more to learn about bats.
It may seem like we know everything about bats, but that is far from the case. Currently, Reyes is studying our local bats right here on Mount Tamalpais. He is collaborating with One Tam and the Golden Gate Park Conservancy to provide data to land managers to develop recommendations for studying and protecting bats. They would like to learn more about the distribution and habitats of the 13 local bat species in Marin and especially whether or not their populations are stable, increasing, or decreasing.
How does one track a small, elusive, night-time critter? Reyes uses acoustic monitoring to identify the different species. He mounts a bat detector on a 20 foot pole; the bat detector records the echolocation calls as the bats fly about. The calls are compared to calls referenced in bat-call libraries in order to identify each species.
Another tool is tiny radio transmitters. They don’t work well for long-distance migrants, because the small battery runs out of juice; however, for local research they are invaluable. The transmitters are glued to the bat; the batteries and the glue both last less than two weeks, at which time the transmitter falls off. During those two weeks, the researcher runs around with an antenna, tracking the location and path of that particular bat.
Reyes’ research is not yet complete - stay tuned!
You can help bats to survive and thrive.
According to Reyes, “Bats are a huge component of our natural diversity and wildlife. While they may be difficult to observe in the wild, learning about them and appreciating them is a good step to promoting their conservation.”
As individuals, we can help by putting up a bat box. Bats are curious and will line up alternative locations to their current home. If something happens to their habitat, they may then move in to your bat box. If you provide home for even one bat that results in one pup, that pup may live over 30 years. So your bat box is making a contribution to the bat population that will have an impact over time.
An online search turned up information about bat boxes - what makes a good bat home, where to install it, and certified bat box companies - at Bat Conservation International (BCI.) You can also learn more about bats and rabies.
Learn more bat facts:
Watch a great introductory bat talk by Reyes:
And get that Halloween bat costume ready!
This land is your land...
Our National Forest System comprises over 188 million acres of forests, all of them managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). About 20 million acres of those forests are in California. Since 1980 the Forest Service has been required to come up with plans every 15 years to manage them. These plans are the best opportunity for input into how your forests are managed. Right now, the plans for two nearby forests you may have visited, the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests (2.1 million acres combined, stretching from Yosemite almost to Bakersfield), are under review.
Faced with the complexity of dealing with 2.1 million acres of forests, streams, watersheds, and habitats, I contacted Vicky Hoover, a local Sierra Club member. Hoover has been involved with the Sierra Club since the 1960’s, working on issues from planning California outings to editing the Alaska and Wilderness newsletters. Nowadays she employs her considerable energy working to get more support in Congress for two bills to fund deferred maintenance in our national parks and to expand protected wilderness areas. But she also keeps up with our California forests.
The specific goals of the current forest plans for the Sequoia and Sierra forests are described in detail in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released in June for public review. The Draft EIS presents a range of alternatives for managing both forests and analyzes the environmental, social, and economic effects of the plans. A Draft EIS was first published two years ago, but after much public comment, the Forest Service decided that the plans needed revision. As a result, the current Draft EIS has more information on fire management (not a surprise given the events of the last two years), ecological integrity, and sustainable recreation and designated areas.
The Draft EIS outlines five alternatives -- five choices for the direction that the Forest Service will go in its care and feeding of these forests. I’m not going to go into them here -- they’re all in the (1,900 plus) pages of the report (as well as additional reports for background data.) However, it is clear that a great many people have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what would be the best approach to protecting the major resource that is our forests.
Where do you come in? Reading the Draft EIS and commenting on it are of course the preferable choice. But most people, short of the serious forest fanciers, have neither the time nor the background to do this effectively. So I turned to Hoover for her suggestions.
The wilderness designation is the strongest protection our laws offer for keeping lands wild. Hoover would like to see more wilderness areas added to the National Forests. She suggests supporting Alternative C, Passive Restoration, and also asking that this alternative be strengthened by recommending that more areas to be protected as wilderness. With our population and development pressures, the sooner we can preserve our wild lands, the better it will be for future generations.
Congress has to designate the lands, but the forest plans are the first place to start this process. If a government agency such as the Forest Service recommends the addition of wilderness lands, then those recommendations weigh heavily with Congress. According to Hoover, these two new plans are woefully skimpy on any wilderness recommendations.
Here are just a few of the areas that are worthy of wilderness designation. In the Sierra National Forest, the Hite Cove Trail area is known for its beautiful wildflower displays and hiking trails. This could become part of a brand new South Fork Merced Wilderness. Adjacent to the Sequoia National Forest, the Domeland Wilderness West Addition provides a more remote wilderness experience, with pinyon-covered mountains and flowing streams, challenging terrain, and mixed vegetation.
Other suggestions: For the Sequoia National Forest, Hoover recommends also adding the Golden Trout Wilderness Addition, Stormy Canyon, Oat Mountain and Cannell Peak.
For the Sierra National Forest, the most important areas to ask the agency to recommend as wilderness are the Kings River-Monarch Wilderness Addition and Devils Gulch-Ferguson Ridge. But, while you are at it, you might as well throw in Sycamore Springs, the San Joaquin River-Ansel Adams Wilderness Addition, and Bear Mountain.
Written remarks from the public (that’s you!) asking for protection is vital to getting these areas approved. If you have visited any of these areas and can speak personally of your experience, that will have an even greater impact.
According to Hoover, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”
Comment closes on September 26, 2019. Speak now or wait another 15 years for the next plans. Your choice. . .
You can submit comments online using a form, by email or by snail mail.
For an easy-to-understand introduction, view the webinar.
Policy wonks can find the Draft EIS on the Forest Service website under Forest Plan Revision Documents—Sequoia and Sierra National Forests:
If navigating the federal bureaucracy becomes overwhelming, contact Hoover and she’ll help you sort it all out.
“This land is your land and this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”
Photo © Kevin Emmerich
Massive solar arrays - bright for our future or cloudy for the environment
Solar power seems like a slam-dunk for being environmentally benign, but some solar projects are not as completely beneficial to the environment as they are portrayed. One problematic type of project is an immense bank of solar panels built on public land, far from those who need the power.
In the past, the American desert was sometimes considered merely a scenic landscape with little other value. Today this flat, cheap-to-lease public land is very attractive to large solar and other development projects. This is the case with the Gemini Solar Project proposed for U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas.
I learned about this project from Laura Cunningham, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch, a non-profit dedicated to protecting our deserts and public lands. Cunningham is a field biologist; she grew up in the Bay Area, studied paleontology, zoology, botany, herpetology, and natural resources management at U.C. Berkeley, and worked as a contract biologist for various development projects. One part of her job was to walk a project site, map the plants and animals that live there, and find ways to relocate or otherwise preserve those species.
As a result of her direct experience with the environmental damage inflicted by large-scale developments, Cunningham has spent the last ten years opposing certain projects. The mission of her group is no bull-dozing in the Mohave Desert ecosystems.
Our public lands are being exploited with little protection for the ecosystems that live there. The BLM gives developers permission to bulldoze thriving plant and animal communities based on the premise that damage to an ecosystem can be mitigated by translocating (moving) threatened species to another area. This does not always work.
Our government leases out our public land for low prices, compared to what a private landowner would charge. Tax incentives are often added to the deal.
The area selected for the Gemini Solar Project is one such landscape. How big an area are we talking about here? The Gemini Solar Project will occupy over 7,100 acres of prime desert habitat. That is an area almost seven times the size of Golden Gate Park or one-quarter the size of the City of San Francisco.
America’s desert lands are extremely vulnerable to ecological disturbance. They have survived because they have remained virtually untouched by large-scale development for thousands of years. Desert lands may appear vacant, but they are full of life, both above ground and under the surface.
The desert has developed a biological soil crust within which live algae and blue-green fungi, all part of the web that sustains life there. Construction of the Gemini Solar Project involves clearing this land and grading it flat, damaging the upper layer of soil. The Gemini Solar Project Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) shows a picture of a 23,500 pound, 250 HP “heavy duty mulcher” as possible mowing equipment (EIS, Vol 2, page 21). This is not your grand-dad’s lawnmower.
Protected species such as desert tortoises, kit foxes, and burrowing owls may be moved out or shooed away but no such luck for the other residents. Heavy grading equipment will crush and plow up burrows, destroying the homes of kangaroo rats, pocket mice, ground squirrels, iguana, lizards, and even tarantulas. Habitat will be shredded and plowed under - Joshua trees and wildflowers alike.
Roadways will be cleared, graded, and paved. Concrete drainage channels, detention ponds, berms, and spillways will be installed to control the runoff during rainstorms. Posts to support the panels will be pounded into the ground. Massive transmission lines will be installed. The entire area will be fenced off, with fences from ground level up to 8 feet tall with concertina wire on top.
Even the relocated tortoises (over 300!) will be negatively impacted. Just like people, tortoises don’t always do well when evicted from their homes. Many never adapt and wander the desert, stymied by fences, until they die from dehydration or are eaten by predators such as coyotes -- who watch the translocations with great interest.
Those tortoises that do survive have to deal with an unfamiliar terrain and competition from the current residents. Males in particular have difficulty finding a mate. The local tortoise girls prefer the boy-next-door to a stranger. And the hometown boys will fight to defend their territory. Although a tortoise-on-tortoise fight is not going to garner the same ratings as American Ninja, it can still result in injury or death for the defeated male.
Land that links habitat areas is known as a connectivity corridor. Most species need to be able to travel to vary the gene pool and preserve the genetic flow (health of the gene pool.) Too much in-breeding can cause a population decline. The Gemini Solar Project and its fences are right in the middle of a connectivity corridor between prime tortoise habitats.
In addition, there are huge cumulative impacts across the range of all desert tortoise habitats from other solar and wind projects and even military base expansions.
How serious are these impacts? Desert tortoises are dying throughout their range; they are in what Cunningham described as an extinction spiral. Yes, this is serious.
Birds are not immune to the damage wrought by construction. Nests in low bushes may be spared during construction, but all of the habitat surrounding the nest will be removed, making it more difficult for the adults to feed their young. After the young have fledged, work crews will clear out the remaining nests and bushes. With their homes completely destroyed, the birds will have to move to other areas, where they will be in competition with the resident birds, putting stress on both populations.
Birds will be in further danger once the solar panels have been installed. The bright reflective surfaces, so close to the ground, look like a large lake from the air. Nevada is part of the Pacific Flyway, and although we don’t think of water birds flying over the desert, actually many do - on their way to the Salton Sea or the Great Salt Lake. What happens when a tired, thirsty bird sees what they think is a large body of water below? They fly down to it - very fast. And crash into the panels, usually resulting in the death of the bird.
We need to pull back and look at the big picture in our efforts to be green. Here are some alternatives to the massive desert solar arrays:
Aggressively support insulation of homes and businesses and purchase of energy-saving appliances and lighting.
Aggressively promote and fund distributed solar. Install solar panels right where the energy will be used - on top of houses, parking lots, commercial buildings. Protect the panels from shadowing with tough new legislation. On a recent BART trip to Walnut Creek, I saw miles of roofs but very few solar panels on top of them. Why is that?
If massive solar farms are absolutely necessary, build them much closer to the urban centers that will be using the power; for example, brownfields (polluted sites) and farmland that has been degraded by overuse or under which the water table has been sucked dry. (Do we sense a pattern of environmental destruction here?)
We have entered an era in which there is a cost to the environment from every new project, no matter how well intentioned that project is -- whether it is building sea walls against the rising oceans or installing ‘green’ projects on public lands. This environmental cost should be factored into every project that purports to be beneficial, so that comprehensive planning can occur and long-term decisions can made based on all the potential impacts.
The Gemini Solar Project will supply power to California as well as Nevada. We all have a stake in how this is done. Cunningham suggests that readers look over the Gemini Solar Project EIS and comment. For the sake of habitat and biodiversity, support the NO PROJECT alternative. If you feel that it is imperative to build this project, then the All Mowing Alternative is better than the Hybrid (Partial) Mowing Alternative.
To comment on the Gemini Solar Project EIS, go to:
www.blm.org Type in: gemini solar eis. Click on the first topic: Nevada - Las Vegas FO - DOI-BLM-NV-S010-2018-0051-EIS Click on the left hand side: Documents. Click on lower right: “Comment on document” . Note that you need to select a chapter and section in the EIS on which to comment. (Be patient. This is the federal government . . . )
OR you can contact Cunningham, and she will help you to navigate the site: bluerockiguana at mail.com
Learn more about what is going on in our deserts on our public land at:
Katherine Howard is a local open space and environmental advocate.
The financial toll for sea level rise will be enormous, says California bay champion.
(© Alces Images)
Are we in over our heads?
Recent news stories feature vivid pictures of record-breaking flooding across the United States. These stories make dramatic evening news coverage, because they show extreme damage in simple before and after pictures. But there is another story around flooding that is not as dramatic - at least not yet - but it is going to happen, and it is going to happen all over the world. That is the unavoidable inundation that will be caused by sea level rise.
To learn more about the potential impacts of sea level rise (known to its friends as SLR), I spoke with Arthur Feinstein, Sierra Club California State Conservation Chair and champion of bays and estuaries in California. (See our past articles for more on his work.) Feinstein and a Club sea level rise Task Force have just finished developing a set of positions for Club members to follow when addressing sea level rise issues.
Yes, climate change is causing melting glaciers and disappearing ice packs. The oceans are warming, and that leads to thermal expansion. The net result is that the levels of our oceans are definitely rising.
Sea level rise is happening every day, but it is so gradual that most people are not aware of the enormous risk that it poses to the future not only of those of us who live along the coasts but also to the ecosystems on which we depend.
Various government and international agencies have released reports on expected SLR over the next 100 years. By 2050 it is expected that the oceans will rise steadily about 1.0 to 1.5 feet. Scientists say that there is nothing that can be done about this rise; it is locked in, and it is going to happen. After 2050, the amount of SLR will be both faster and more unpredictable. No one is certain how soon the ice in the Arctic, Antarctica, and Greenland will melt. Final predictions for SLR now go as high as a 10 foot rise by 2100. And this is just when the oceans are relatively calm.
Added to the impact of the rise in the static levels of the oceans is the impact of dynamic amplifiers. They include major storms with wind waves, storm surge, nearby river discharge and other events that can add on to SLR by contributing to the erosion of beaches and cliffs and the consequent flooding. According to at least one research paper, dynamic amplifiers can increase the impacts of flooding by up to seven times.
The coming SLR events will result in not only damage to the coastline and destruction of wildlife habitats but also in the loss of homes, businesses, and the infrastructure on which homes and businesses have come to depend.
Let’s start with habitat. The shallow waters along our coasts are the nurseries for ocean life. According to Feinstein, the tidal marshes, mudflats, sea grass, and kelp beds support 70% to 90% of commercial fish and shellfish species. In addition to providing the food that is much of the basis for the ocean web of life, these living coastlines are effective at sequestering carbon from all those decaying plants. (Do you recall that intense odor at low tide? That is life in the making.) Tidal marshes also help to control flooding and inundation by slowing up storm surges. They purify water, trap impurities, and hold in mud. This in turn influences temperatures and helps cool the air.
Sea Level Rise threatens all of this life as these habitats drown in deeper waters. Loss of coastal habitat will impact fisheries in the deep oceans. At the same time as agriculture is impacted by rising temperatures inland due to climate change, another food source - ocean fisheries -- will be depleted. And as the carbon sequestration these coastal habitats now provide is lost, Greenhouse Gases will increase, resulting in further global warming.
However, if the oceans rise slowly, and if there is room for the wetlands to move inland, then the sea life might gradually adapt.
That is why Feinstein recommends that coastal land be set aside to allow the oceans to gradually inundate new coastal areas over the next 30 years and, with luck, the plants and other life will move inland as the oceans rise.
After 2050 other processes may have to be employed to preserve the viability of coastal waters in the face of faster changes in their depth.
The need to plan for creating new living shorelines is resulting in some interesting policy reversals. The Bay Conservation and Development Committee (BCDC) was originally formed to protect San Francisco Bay from rampant filling during the mid-twentieth century. Today, BCDC is considering rewriting its guidelines to once again allow Bay fill in order to adapt to the rising levels of the Bay. For example, at the newly recovered salt ponds, mud could be added to raise the elevation of the sea bed to allow for shoreline habitat to re-establish itself at the new coastlines.
But establishing new coastal habitat at higher elevations depends on having vacant land along the coast to inundate. In areas where there is no undeveloped land next to the existing shorelines, there is a whole other set of problems that must be dealt with.
Here things become sticky. In principle, we need to allow for open space inland for the rising coastal waters . This may mean saying “no” to new development. At the least, new development should plan for the eventual incursion of the ocean, and property owners should plan ahead to remove the new structures when that happens.
What happens when there are homes and businesses already located in harm’s way?
There are no easy solutions for land that is already developed. One key phrase you will see in coming years is “Managed Retreat,” or permanently clearing out occupants (that’s people) and structures from coastlines that are going to be inundated. As you can imagine, proposals for Managed Retreat have already drawn storms of dissension in some communities. Homeowners are reluctant to give up a place they have lived in and loved for many years, and which may be their major financial investment.
Lots of questions to ponder here. As the oceans rise, should there be government buy-outs? Should new property owners be treated differently than those who lived along the coast before SLR became a possibility? Some low-income communities were forced into areas that are close to the coast but were not considered desirable at the time they were established. Their homes may be their only resource. What happens to people whose only nest-egg is their nest? Should compensation be given based on income or property values? Or would flat rate compensation be fairer to everyone?
In addition to the impacts on homes and businesses, the financial toll for SLR on surrounding communities will be enormous. Consider the impact on infrastructure - roads, railways, harbors, airports, power plants, wastewater facilities may all be flooded out. How will this be dealt with and paid for, on top of the need to help local homeowners and business owners?
In case you were thinking that SLR could be solved with sea walls, think again. Building a sea wall around your home may protect you for a few years, but in the meantime, it will increase wave action on your neighbor’s house. And, eventually, how will you get home at night? Canoeing to Trader Joe’s may feel authentic, but it will lose its appeal after awhile.
Wave action against sea walls often precludes healthy marine habitat in the nearby area. Sea walls around a city are expensive not only to build but also to maintain. And one breach means disaster - think New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Sea walls also require concrete; manufacturing concrete adds to Greenhouse Gases. And so with building sea walls the cycle of climate change builds upon itself.
As in most of the environmental challenges we now face, there are many questions and no easy answers. Feinstein advises keeping an eye on news items and attending public meetings that will be held to deal with this. Ask for a living shoreline whenever this is mentioned. Sea level rise is a problem that is very much not going away, and we will have to plan for it and adapt to it in the future.
To learn more:
For the truly wonky among you:
Katherine Howard is a local open space and environmental advocate.
Sustainable Fashion Week International San Francisco show, 2019 SF Earthday, gown by Christina Cree. (© Alces Images)
Clothes make the earth go round . . .
This Earthday I attended the San Francisco festival, held this year in the Mission District. I saw some wondrous clothing made from recycled materials. I wondered how important clothing is in the whole reduce/reuse/recycle continuum. So I called our “Waste” expert, Ruth Abbe. Abbe is the chair of the Sierra Club California Zero Waste and Recycling Committee and was our advisor for the “Ghost of Christmas Presents” column last winter.
It was no surprise to learn that Abbe has definite ideas about how to save the earth through our clothing choices. In fact, the whole subject of textiles is now prominent in sustainability circles. According to the World Resources Institute, it takes over 700 gallons of water to make one cotton T-shirt. This is enough drinking water for one person for 2.5 years! Other resources used are fertilizer to grow the cotton for a natural fabric or oil for a synthetic fabric, as well as various chemicals used in processing and dying the fabric, and the energy for the manufacture and shipping of the T-shirt. But even with all of the energy that goes into making it, it’s not like we wear that T-shirt until it falls off our bod’s.
With the advent of Fast Fashion, manufacturers started providing low-priced clothes, made with cheap fabrics, poorly cut and stitched, and often exploiting local communities environmentally and even using child labor. Fast Fashion produces clothing quickly to sell new ‘looks’ to consumers (that’s us) each fashion season. Garments are worn a few times and then tossed away as the next fashion cycle rolls through. Worldwide, over 80 - 150 billion garments, depending on the source you check, are produced each year.
After the owner tires of the message/style/ color/whatever, that 700-gallons-of-water T-shirt may be recycled, donated, or just dumped. According to CalRecycle “more than 1.24 million tons of textiles were disposed in California landfills in 2014. Textiles are the sixth most prevalent material type in the overall disposed waste stream and comprise 4 percent of landfilled waste.”
OK, so you have decided to re-examine how you clothe yourself. Don’t worry, you don’t have to glue together snack bags, like the talented designers did for the Earthday fashion show gown in the photo. You have lots of options.
1. Want to buy something new? Buy Slow Fashion. Return to quality materials, quality craft(wo)manship, and classic styles for your basic clothing pieces. They’ll last longer, and, really, you’ll look better in them.
2. Want something unique even if a bit pricey? Look for designers who now emphasize minimum or zero waste in clothing design-- whether it is in the amount of fabric used or taking scraps of fabric and creating one-of-a-kind clothing from them.
3. Want to support companies that make zero-waste part of their mantra? Companies such as Patagonia have programs to make it easy to repair, to buy used, or to trade in their clothing. When the article of clothing is worn out, you can often return it to the company, so the item can be recycled into new fiber and fabric.
4. Want to investigate manufacturing practices more deeply? Look into the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an improbable joint venture of Patagonia and Walmart aiming to improve manufacturing practices worldwide for sustainability and for social impacts
5. Want the adventure of the hunt? Get thee to thy local thrift shop -- you will often find better fabrics, better work(wo)man ship, and budget-friendly prices when compared to mainstream retailers.
6. Want to have a broader selection of ‘gently used’ (i.e., second hand) clothes to choose from? Online consignment stores offer used name-brand clothing at discounted prices.
7. Want to choose the best fabrics for the environment? This choice is easy -- go for natural fibers such as wool, cotton, and linen. They can be recycled into rags (see below). They can be composted. If done right, they will eventually break down and return to their natural components. Avoid synthetics such as nylon and polyester, which will break down into synthetic microfibers. We think of ocean pollution as fishing line or plastic bottles (see our 2018 articles on plastics in our oceans), but synthetics in clothes break down eventually. And they never, ever go away. Science is just now exploring the possible impact of these fibers on animal and human health. According to Abbe, microfibers have been found in the French Alps! And in wine and beer! Now, this is getting serious. There are a few microfiber filtering products out there - filters you attach to your washing machine or filter bags for your clothes. These are new products. Do some online searches and decide what is right for you.
8. Want to learn to be more self-sufficient while being environmentally conscious? Repair the clothes you own! Don’t know how? There are fix-it clinics and repair fairs. You can learn to fix a hem, sew on a button, and darn your sweaters or socks. Abbe learned darning at one of these clinics, and was delighted about repairing tiny moth holes in a favorite sweater -- and her repairs were completely undetectable.
9. Want to know what to do if that T-shirt is still in good shape but no longer reflects your values (or your changing body shape -- just sayin’, we all deal with that eventually). Donate good clothes back to that thrift shop you visited earlier. Go to Recycle Where to find locations to donate clothes in good condition and those shoes, belts, and purses that can’t go in the garbage company’s Blue Bin.
10. Want to know what to do once that beloved T-shirt is worn beyond repair? In San Francisco, put recyclable, clean but unusable fabric items in a clear plastic bag (sorry - someday we’ll get away from those pesky plastic bags), then in the Blue Bin. Rips, holes, single socks are okay here.
11. Want to know where worn fabric goes? One use is in cotton industrial wiping cloths. You’ve seen these for sale at big box and paint stores. Rags are better for cleaning than microfibers -- and, of course, as the microfiber cloths break down, they end up back in our water supply and in the ocean. Rags are also used in shoddy pad -- the underlayment for carpeting and under the floorboards of cars. Some clothing is recycled into clothing! The fabric is separated back into threads and ends up as new fabric. Learn more through SMART - The Secondary Materials And Recycled Textiles Association.
As is often true, the simplest action is the most effective. The best way to cut down on clothing waste is to just not buy as much. You’ll save time, you’ll save money, and you’ll help to save a bit more of the environment.
Katherine Howard is a local open-space and environmental advocate.
SMART - The Secondary Materials And Recycled Textiles Association - https://www.smartasn.org/
Sustainable Apparel Coalition - https://apparelcoalition.org/the-sac/
(© Alces Images)
It’s Earthday 2019 - What can li’l ol’ you do to save the earth?
From its birth in the 1970’s Earth Day has provided an opportunity for people to participate in local, national and international events devoted to protecting our environment. Legislation has been passed, lawsuits filed, petitions signed, and articles written on the topic ‘save the earth’ (over 1.4 billion Google search results). Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the world is going to hell in a human-woven hand basket, we can find inspiration and ideas about what each one of us can do to take a small step towards shrinking our own ‘ecological footprint’ (25 million search results.)
To find out what local environmentally-oriented folks are doing, I put out a request to members of the Conservation Committee of the SF Group of the Sierra Club. These volunteers are all working to enact environmentally beneficial policies and practices, but they also try to use them in their daily lives. Here are some of their ideas:
ONE SMALL CHANGE MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE:
“Change out your light bulbs to LED’s. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint and save money, too. “ (John Rizzo)
There are over 21 million search results on ‘incandescent vs. LED bulb comparisons,’ but we’ll make it easy. The simple dollar website has basic charts on how much energy can be saved by upgrading your light bulbs. One incandescent bulb might use 60 watts; a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) might use 14 watts. Compare this to an LED that gives the same amount of illumination but uses 10 watts. Now go around your home, count the number of bulbs, and multiply by 50 watts (savings over incandescent) per bulb. Not only will you save energy, but also, even with the higher purchase price of the LED’s factored in, you will save money over the life of the bulbs. LED’s last a very, very long time. LED’s are often subsidized by the government - look for rebates and special offers.
“Make a contribution to any one of the candidates running for president who supports the ‘Green New Deal’ [110 million search results]. Due to game-changing advances in clean energy, addressing climate change is now almost entirely a political problem, not an economic burden. Early money is the most important money, and the race for next President of the United States will be critically important in making the slingshot maneuver needed to give our children hope for prosperity.” (Hunter Cutting)
CARS FIGURED LARGE, UBER AND LYFT ALSO:
“Drive less. That includes in Ubers or the like. Walk, bike or take the bus a little more than you would have.” (Vicky Hoover)
“ . . . walk, bicycle, or take the bus as much as you can -- leave your car in the garage and certainly don’t call for an Uber or a Lyft. In fact Muni uses less than 2 percent of all energy expended on transportation in SF.” (Sue Vaughan)
“If you have a car, think about how you might travel occasionally without it. For a meeting in S. San Francisco last weekend my choices were 60 minutes of driving to cover the 40 miles there and back home. Or, take public transit which would take three times as long. I always bring reading materials and also enjoy looking out the window while leaving the driving to someone else. Learning about a different bus route in San Mateo County will come in handy in the future. If you like to go to malls, the 122 line starts at Stonestown and stops at Westlake and Sierra Monte Shopping Centers. As a senior, the cost of the ride was only $1. “Keep it in the ground” is a popular phrase in the environmental movement when talking about fossil fuels. More than 2 gallons of diesel were not burned and spewed into the atmosphere with just this one trip.” (Barry Hermanson)
TAKE CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT WHILE GAINING A NEW COMPANION:
“We’ve just rescued 2 animals (a puppy and a kitten) from the SPCA, and we are trying to incorporate every environmentally friendly product that comes with having indoor pets. Thus far, we have: Biodegradable puppy potty-training pads; Biodegradable kitty litter; Pet toys made from recycled materials; Recyclable/reusable pet food containers.” (Kim-Shree Maufas)
Other pet hints -- keep your cat healthy and non-avian-homicidal by keeping her/him indoors. (According to a 2013 study, cats in the continental U.S. kill 1.4 to 3.7 million birds a year . They also run into all kinds of trouble outdoors.) Spay or neuter your cat to cut down on the over-population, and for heaven’s sake, don’t dump pets in the wild - take them to a no-kill shelter. Otherwise, they suffer and so do all of the other critters out there from these introduced, non-native predators.
ALWAYS GOOD - PLANT A TREE:
“If you have the space - plant a tree, or many trees. Preferably an organically grown sapling. Trees sequester carbon dioxide, provide habitat for a host of other species, and help regulate water flows among their many ecological benefits. Some day, if I have the time and money, I dream of acquiring a tract of degraded land somewhere and planting a forest.” (Rupa Bose)
AN EASY WAY TO SAVE WATER:
“ . . . A practical recommendation to save water is to use your washing machine on the ‘express’ on ‘delicate’ setting, which is half the time for a usual load (save water, save money, save time) - same for a dishwasher (for those who have one- use ‘quick time’ setting).” (Linda Weiner)
Do you run the water in the sink to get it hot? Put the excess in a pitcher and use it to water plants.
GO AFTER THOSE PESKY PLASTIC BAGS:
As we learned in a prior interview, only 9% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide. Look around and see what you can do. Plastic bags at farmers’ markets? Tsk. Tsk. Take your own cloth bags. Catalogs that arrive encased in “recyclable” plastic? Write a quick note to the publisher. And my favorite bug-a-boo -- The SF Chronicle arriving in a plastic bag every day, 365 days a year - even on sunny days. Call them and ask, “Please do NOT use a plastic bag, unless it is raining. Please use a rubber band instead.” (It prevents blowing around.) 415-777-7000. Warning: It may take a few calls to get the message transmitted to the people who do the actual delivery work. Persevere! (Author)
AFTER WORKING HARD TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT, TAKE A BREAK AND:
“ . . . try to replenish your spirit every day by exposure to nature - even if it’s five minutes walking by a park (not only is it peaceful, but studies have shown it reduces depression). “ (Linda Weiner)
AND MOST POETIC
“Walk in a forest or along the shore, a reminder of what we’re working to save.” (Becky Evans)
You can meet these folks in person, along with other members of the Conservation and Executive Committees of the SF Group, by attending the meetings at 6:00 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month. Meeting locations alternate between Park Police and Mission Police Stations. Go online to learn more about the SF Group. https://www.sierraclub.org/san-francisco-bay/
Click on About Us/Leader Resources/Chapter Leadership/ San Francisco Group and voila!
••• March 2019 •••
Illustration of Bar Headed Geese. (© Alces Images)
In spring, a young bird’s fancy turns to thoughts of love — and flight
Back in October, in “As the Crows - and other birds - fly,” we learned from bird expert Eddie Bartley about which birds migrate and where they go. Some birds travel hundreds, even thousands of miles. How can something so small perform such an athletic task, often with little or no rest along the way and without a Smartphone to look up directions on? I called Bartley back, and here is what I learned.
In spring, as the days start to get longer, birds’ bodies start to undergo changes. Just as teenagers experience hormonal changes, so too do birds. Every species of bird, and even within individual bird populations, has different physiological modifications caused by hormonal change. Unlike people, birds experience the changes every year and within a short time frame. Imagine going through puberty every year!
The bird’s hypothalamus triggers hormones in the pituitary gland. Hormones affect future egg-laying and stimulate the thyroid. Thyroxine affects the growth and pigmentation of feathers. Males develop more color to impress the girls. The adrenals are stimulated; testosterone and estrogen production are increased. And the part of the brain that controls singing is stimulated. (Hey-ba-by! Hey-ba-by!)
In addition to raging hormones, pancreatic enzymes trigger eating behavior. The birds start to stuff themselves, a condition called hyperphagia (over-eating). As the bird gorge themselves on whatever they can find to eat, they layer on fat. The pancreas produces more insulin, increasing the concentration of blood sugar.
These extraordinary changes are happening to birds right now. The medium and long-distance migrants - the birds in the tropics, Mexico, and the southern United States - are bulking up for the Big Push north. They are waiting for their nesting territory to thaw out and then they will start their spring migration.
But birds can’t watch the weather channel to find out what is going on in the home nesting area. The Big Push is triggered by the photo-period, the amount of daylight every day. Photo-period is a more reliable indicator of what is happening in another part of the world than the local weather in the birds’ wintering grounds. Scientists have proven this by experimenting with giving birds different photo- periods and observing how the birds react to the change in the amount of light during the day.
As the days get longer, the birds’ sex organs increase in size and the muscles associated with long-distant flight bulk up. By the time the increasing daylight tells them to leave, birds must be in peak physiological shape.
Local weather does, however, play a part in when the birds decide to take off on the Big Push. In North America in the spring, there are more low pressure zones and the winds blow counter-clockwise. Birds will catch the northbound winds on the edges of these low pressure zones. For example, in California as the days get longer and the temperature climbs, birds will ride the winds to head north.
Fall migration is in many ways a mirror image of the spring changes. In the fall, as high pressure builds, the winds come from the northwest and the birds use them to aid in their southbound flight.
After the mating and nesting season are over, the birds don’t need the sex organs, and the organs reduce in size. Kidneys also reduce in size, because they are not needed as much during the migration.
Hyperphagia still occurs. Shorebirds can double their weight. Imagine if you went from 150 lbs. to 300 lbs in a few months. As the birds fly, all that newly acquired fat gets burned off.
In spring or in fall, how do birds find their way across hundreds or even thousands of miles of land and sea? According to Bartley, they follow a wide variety of clues due to the unique abilities with which they are born.
Birds that fly during the day can see polarization patterns that let them locate the vposition of the sun, even on cloudy days.
Songbirds navigate at night by star maps. Researchers have placed them in planetariums and then rearranged the star maps to see which direction the birds go. (And no, I don’t know who cleans up after all this.) Songbirds get so restless at night that the Germans have a word for it - Zugunruhe or migrating restlessness. Songbirds need the stars, and they won’t migrate when it is cloudy. They also depend on tailwinds to help them travel long distances.
Many birds are diurnal and migrate during the day. Swallows, swifts, and raptors all benefit from the thermal uplift during the warmer daytime hours.
Some birds migrate by using landmarks such as mountains and rivers. They get better at it as they gain more experience. Ducks and pelicans travel in flocks, sharing the knowledge of the more experienced birds.
Doves and pigeons navigate photo-magnetically, using magnetic material at the base of their bill to detect the magnetic patterns of the earth. This same geo-magnetism is used by salmon to return back to their place of birth.
Some birds may even be able to navigate by scent. This would be especially helpful in finding an island in a large body of water, where there are no distinguishing landmarks.
How far and fast can birds go? Again, there are as many answers as there are birds.
A barn swallow might travel 90 miles in a day. A red knot might travel 90 miles or up to 600 miles in a day. A hawk might travel 10 miles one day and 300 miles the next day. Hummingbirds make an amazing journey across the Gulf of Mexico. The ruby-throated hummingbird travels 500 miles non-stop in an epic one-day journey.
Migration speeds also vary widely. Most birds (90 %) fly at 15 to 45 mph. (Yes, that’s miles per hour.) In general, larger birds fly faster, and all are affected by the direction and speed of the wind. Songbirds travel at 10 to 30 mph. Raptors may lolligag around or get motivated and travel at 20 to 45 mph. Waterfowl such as ducks and loons travel at 30 to 50 mph.
Wing loading affects how high and far birds can fly. The loading is calculated by a complex formula involving the weight of the bird compared to the surface of the wing and other factors. You’ve probably noticed that some birds have a hard time getting off the ground and others soar easily. Wing shape and size all affect how easily a bird takes off, how high they can fly, and how long they can stay afloat in the air.
With differing flight capabilities, it is not surprising that birds have their own preferred air corridors as they migrate.
Among songbirds, 75% travel at elevations of 500 to 2,000 feet. Raptors range from 700 to 4,000 feet. Waterfowl travel from 1,200 to 4,000 feet. Shorebirds can fly at 1,000 to 13,000 feet elevation. Bar-headed geese fly over Mt. Everest and have been seen by aircraft at 30,000 feet. These geese have specialized hemoglobin that can store higher amounts of oxygen.
Even if we cannot always see them, birds can see us - or rather, they can see our building lights.
According to the Golden Gate Audubon Society website, birds that migrate at night can be drawn off course by tall, lighted structures along their flight path. Drawn by the bright city lights, birds sometimes collide with buildings or rooftop structures. At the speed they are travelling, these collisions are usually fatal. Other times the birds will circle a lighted building until they drop from exhaustion.
Over 200 species migrate through the Bay Area in the spring and fall. Turning off unnecessary lighting at night not only saves energy costs but also saves the lives of these wayfarers as they wing their way over our sleeping neighborhoods.
Ask your company to participate in Lights Out for Birds. Lights Out is a voluntary program where building owners, managers, and tenants work together to ensure that unnecessary lighting is turned off during migration periods. Spring migration dates for the Lights Out program are February 15 through May 30.
Bartley reminds us that all this wonderful information gathered by scientists applies to the birds they have observed. Birds may be part of a flock, but just as with people, there will always be birds who fly to a different drummer.
In addition, a lot of migration is not detected by us. At the Raptor Observatory, Bartley watches birds that eventually fly so high they can’t be seen against the blue sky. Bartley suggests, “Just go out and admire it wherever you can.”
The Real Dirt-y Dozen
12 Do’s and Don’ts for great garden soil health
Last November in “Dishing the Dirt at Thanksgiving,” we interviewed soils aficionado and Sierra Club Loma Prieta Soils Committee co-Chair Anne Stauffer about soil health and how important it is to growing your Thanksgiving meal. I expect that you all sat around the holiday dinner table, digesting your food along with the article, and asked yourselves, ‘Well, how about my home garden? What can I do to be more environmentally aware as I garden?’
It just so happens that Stauffer has some easy tips you can use for a flourishing home garden. Here are her twelve Do’s and Don’ts for great soil health for your garden:
1. Don’t Use Herbicides and Pesticides.
Herbicides and pesticides kill not only “bad” critters (aphids, snails, slugs) but also the “good” ones (earthworms, ladybugs, bees, butterflies, birds, and on and on.)
2. Don’t Compact Your Soil.
Lay out paths for people to walk on. Every time you walk through a garden bed, you are squishing the tiny pockets of air and water that soil microbes have formed and need to survive. Yes, soil life-forms need air and water, too!
3. Don’t rake up leaves, pine needles or other debris.
OK, maybe we are too late with this suggestion this year (unless you are a laid-back gardener.) But think of your leaves and pine needles as free organic mulch! Leave the leaves. (This may not apply to roses and some other plants if diseases are present, but for the most part, this is a good rule of thumb.)
4. Don’t dig or till unnecessarily.
Digging and tilling disturb and can even kill soil fungi, worms, and other beneficial microbes. Make planting holes just big enough for the plant’s root ball.
5. Don’t use synthetic fertilizers.
Did you know that synthetic fertilizers actually harm soil health? Plants become dependent on the fertilizer, and their roots stop working with soil life-forms. The soil microbes that would naturally nourish your plants then die off or move away — and you are stuck buying more synthetic fertilizer.
6. Do get rid of that lawn. Try California natives instead.
California native plants thrive in our soils and dry climate. Natives also support California’s endangered bugs—butterflies, grasshoppers, beetles—and therefore the birds, lizards, and other creatures that eat those bugs.
7. Do encourage fungi in your soil.
Soil fungi work with and “extend” roots, maximizing plants’ ability to draw nutrients from the soil. Mulch and organic compost help with this. See more below.
8. Do plant cover crops.
Cover crops nourish and rebuild depleted soils by adding vital plant nutrients and increasing soil aeration. Some cover crops are sweet peas, fava beans, California lupine, California barley, wheat, and wild rye.
9. Do grow numerous, diverse plants.
Stauffer says that, “the greater the diversity and number of plants, the healthier the soil.” Deep-rooted perennials, such as many native California grasses, are especially beneficial. They extend throughout a larger area of the soil and form networks with more fungi, bacteria, and microbes.
10. Do use organic compost.
You, too, can make rich, organic compost at home using food scraps, yard cuttings, and shredded newspaper. Many websites give instructions for this free source of soil nutrients. Apply the finished compost to the surface of your soil and cover with lots of mulch (see #12.)
11. Do make compost extract to quickly improve soil health.
You can use your organic compost to make a liquid extract fertilizer. Stauffer’s recipe: “Add a few trowels of organic compost to a bucket of water, stir vigorously, and promptly pour it around your plants.”
12. Do add mulch, mulch, mulch.
Apply a few inches of organic mulch to your planting beds. Leave a three-inch mulch-free diameter around each of your plants to prevent plant diseases. Mulch helps to moderate soil temperature and saves water. As the mulch breaks down, it provides food for all those underground critters so important to soil health.
As you nourish your garden, you are nourishing the earth as a whole. Healthy soil helps clean the air, holds up to 30% more water, and nurtures strong, beautiful plants, whether in acres of cropland or in your own small backyard.
Lessons we learn in our gardens show us the way to helping care for our Mother Earth.
Kathryn Howard is an Open Space and Environmental activist
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