Searching for Happy Landings

The Central Coast of California is a destination spot for thousands of tourists every year. They fly in, relax on the warm, sunny beaches, enjoy their favorite foods, meet with family and make new friends. Rested and replete, they fly on to their next destinations, their feathers shining with new energy and vigor.

California beaches not only play host to black-legged surfers,  golden haired sunbathers and rosy-crested vacation renters. They’re also home to avian tourists, such as Dunlins, White-rumped sandpipers, and Ruddy turnstones.

But all is not well for our feathered visitors. Habitat loss along the birds’ migration routes are making it increasingly difficult for migratory species  to complete their journeys, and it’s not a result of climate change.

“About half of the shorebird species in North America are in decline, primarily due to habitat destruction and degradation. The world’s growing coastal population continues to increase the encroachment of people into shorebird habitat.”

Birds at a Southern California beach: seasonality, habitat use and disturbance by human activity, Kevin D. Lafferty, Biodiversity and Conservation 10: 1949–1962, 2001

Here on the Central Coast of California, shorebird habitat has decreased over 90% as a result of coastal human development. In areas where the shoreline is protected from new development by the California Coastal Commission, human recreation is further disturbing shorebirds attempting to rest, feed and breed on those same beaches.

The growing number of off-leash dogs on beaches are an increasing threat to migratory shorebirds, when they chase and disturb birds attempting to rest and feed before continuing their migratory flights. Although dogs do not remove habitat and infrequently kill birds directly, dog disturbance causes birds to interrupt their feeding and expend greater energy in flight.

Impacts to migratory bird species are a result of the cumulative effects on reproduction and chick survivorship. Birds forced to forage less effectively may not build fat reserves needed by stressed and depleted migrants who must rest and feed to successfully resume their migratory journey. (Lafferty, 2001)

The problem is compounded by the international travel agendas of migratory birds. While many countries protect migratory species passing through their territory, far too many do not, leaving dangerous gaps in which critical resting and breeding habitat is rapidly becoming compromised.

Researchers track migratory birds’ routes to see if they’re venturing through protected areas or destroyed habitats.

Individual countries may protect migratory birds but the great length of their journeys are endangered. Scientific American

Migratory birds ‘lack world protection. BBC

Migratory bird species are dealing with very real physical threats to their survival. International studies of avian migratory patterns must be used to create new protected areas in key locations to allow migratory birds to continue unmolested throughout their global ranges.

California Drought and Anasazi Transformation

    Lots of arm-waving, gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair on the Left Coast these days over The Drought. Of course, those whose interests are served, and pockets lined, by spreading fear of GLOBAL WARMING, and other myths, pound on about how climate change is the cause of The Drought, and, of course, humans are the cause of climate change.

    Rather than sorting through the rhetoric, I decided to ask someone who might know about these things, atmosphere, weather, climate, etc. Here’s what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office has to say about the California drought:

    “The current drought is not part of a long-term change in California precipitation, which exhibits no appreciable trend since 1895. Key oceanic features that caused precipitation inhibiting atmospheric ridging off the West Coast during 2011-14 were symptomatic of natural internal atmosphere-ocean variability.

    So there we are.

    This doesn’t let Homo sapiens californicus off the hook by any means. There’s still plenty of growth maniacs running wildly about the place, ignoring natural limitations of resource availability, planning new housing developments, industrial parks, airport runway expansions, new dams on rivers, if there are any rivers and creeks left untrammeled. No matter what the human problem is, from poverty to urban crime to childhood obesity, growth is the first solution pulled out of the hat.

    It’s time to stroll down to the local haberdashery and get a new hat.

    What’s needed is a whole lot less growth and development and a whole lot more simple adaptation.

    The Anasazi of 12th Century New Mexico figured it out. When times got tough and rain scarce in the Southwest, they abandoned their Great Houses in Chaco Canyon and vicinity and scattered into the uplands, where summer temperatures were cooler, rain more frequent and predictable. They reinvented themselves as Pueblo people and continued to live in place. They’ve lived there for 800 years or so, far longer than the upstart Europeans who repeatedly tried to drive them off or wipe them out, and failed.

   Now it’s our turn to be the Anasazi, if we’re smart enough, if we care enough. The imported European lifestyle just doesn’t work on this coast or this continent. Natural cycles far outspan the puny timescale, unbounded hubris and unrealistic aspirations of American endeavor. If we are to continue as a culture, a prospect looking increasingly doubtful, it will have to be as a very different culture, one which lives as a part of the natural world, not apart from it.

    Not to worry. Those things that can’t go on forever, don’t. Mother Nature bats last. It’s hard and it’s fair.

Where can I take my dog off-leash on the beach in Santa Cruz?

It seems that everyone wants to come to Santa Cruz, California to let their dogs run off-leash at the beach!

Even during the winter, a percentage of visitors to the beaches of Santa  Cruz County are from out of town. It must be the sun… or something. A percentage of those visitors bring their canine charges with them as  well and can’t wait to get their dogs sandy and smelly at the beach. Go figure!

How are they to know – before they get here – that their off leash dogs are not allowed  on Santa Cruz County beaches (except Mitchell’s Cove before ten and  after four)? Or that there are five beaches (Main Beach, Cowell, Natural Bridges, Wilder Ranch and Scott Creek) that don’t allow dogs at all?!

As it turns out, there’s an app for that, or at least, a web site.

Click HERE for the answer to this and other questions at Santa Cruz Off-Leash Beach!

So Long Arana Gulch!

The most egregious example of local bureaucratic cock-ups came to a head today with the ceremonial groundbreaking for the deservedly delayed and much opposed $6 million Broadway-Brommer Bike Road.

Long opposed by real environmentalists, the Broadway-Brommer project has suffered a spotty history over the last twenty years. Originally conceived as a street for cars connecting Broadway in the City to Brommer Street in Live Oak, the project was axed by Santa Cruz City officials in response to environmental opposition. Later, as a paved bike road, the project was again laid to rest by a subsequent City Council.

Nevertheless, City Public Works staff, reluctant to lose out on one-and-a-half million dollars of “free”federal money, revived the moribund project. Over the years, the B-B morphed from a car road, to a Class One Bicycle Commuter route with an enormous bridge spanning Arana Creek, to a curving, up and down bike road with bridges over Hagemann Creek and Arana Creek. Finally, donning funny nose and glasses, B-B was disguised as a “multi-use interpretive trail,” as the overwhelmingly dominant component of the yet to be implemented Arana Gulch Master Plan.

The B-B project follows the historical government tradition of “destroying the village to save it.” Since all of Arana Gulch is declared Critical Habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant, Public Works staff struggled to find some way to justify building a paved road through the fragile species’ only home. City officials had to find some way to make the project “resource dependent” to satisfy California Coastal Commission regulations for development in Sensitive Habitat Areas, such as Arana Gulch.

Thus was born the “interpretive trail.” No, it’s not a different route. Yes, it still paves over critical habitat of an endangered species. But now the project has interpretive signs that will describe what was lost when this Natural Area was drawn and quartered, north to south and east to west, by an 8 foot wide asphalt paved road with two feet of graded shoulder on either side, where nothing will grow.

The Boondoggle took it’s first wee steps this week, kicked into a mockery of life with the traditional celebratory groundbreaking. Scores of brightly bedecked bicyclists joined toothy City Fathers… and one Mother, in the bright noon sun. A massive diesel backhoe supplied the necessary technology, mysteriously idling for no apparent reason, adding it’s diesel fumes to the rapidly accumulating hot air.

To “Balance” this display of bureaucratic excess, Friends of Arana Gulch, a stalwart group of caring environmentalists who have consistently opposed the Broadway-Brommer project lo these many years, arrived in funereal black to mourn the demise of the Arana Gulch Greenbelt. Bearing signs saying, “Good-bye to the Greenbelt,” “Shame,” “Less trees, less grass, less wildflowers, less wildlife,” “Is Broadway-Brommer really needed?” and “Save it, don’t pave it,” the Friends stood in silent vigil for the animals, plants and insects who have no say in the future of their home in Arana Gulch.

The assembled officials donned unfamiliar hardhats, grabbed golden-painted shovels, and, after instructions on which end to point at the ground, posed for the obligatory photographs. They scraped meager scratches into the hard packed earth, gratefully returned the shovels to those who know how to use them, and decanted into the crowd for obsequious self-congratulations. 

Thus the fate of the Arana Gulch Greenbelt was signed, sealed and delivered. No longer a Natural Area, now an incipient Park for human recreation, and a paved shortcut for bicyclists in a hurry, Arana Gulch passes into history along with its sensitive species, unique habitat, its quiet, its open space, its true value. 

Arana Gulch is now just another anonymous feature in the urban development that has inundated the landscape from Moore Creek to Valencia Creek, from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

So long Arana Gulch! 
It was good to have known you.

San Lorenzo Valley Water District eyes cap-and-trade program

The Santa Cruz Sentinel printed this article today, as straight news, not even in the comics section. 

BOULDER CREEK — Surveying will begin next month on about 1,600 acres of land in Boulder Creek, Zayante and Olympia to find out how much carbon those forests contain, with the San Lorenzo Valley Water District hoping to fetch a princely sum in the state’s newly launched cap-and-trade program.

Earlier this month, the district’s Board of Directors approved spending $45,000 on the “carbon sequestration” project, which will be headed by the Alameda-based forestry consulting firm Buena Vista Services. Work is expected to begin within the next 30 days, and “by the fall, we’ll have the inventory number locked down,” said Jim Mueller, district’s general manager. 

That number will be certified by an independent third party, and soon after, the district will be able to enter the cap-and-trade auctions.
During a meeting to discuss the project several months ago, Joe McGuire, a principal with Buena Vista Services, estimated the district’s lands contain up to 850,000 tons of carbon, and that those credits can be sold for a total of $550,000 during the next 12 years. 

Betsy Herbert, the district’s environmental analyst, said the team will take samples from trees in different sites, and that data will then be crunched to get an estimate on how quickly the forests will grow during the next 12 years, she said. The study will be updated in 2025, and every 12 years thereafter, she said.

How much more absurd can this be? The forest is standing there, growing, breathing in CO2 and breathing out O2, as it has for centuries. Now some upstart snert in the water department can make money off it by selling “carbon credits,” as if the Department was responsible for making the trees do their natural thing.
The other side of the story, not included here, is that someone, whoever is buying the “carbon credits,” is buying the right to pollute.
This is why economics is a fantasy discipline. It has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with human audacity. Who would have thought of such a thing but an economist?
Chaining them to the ocean floor is too good for them.

Who Wants High Speed Rail?

The state of California is planning a High Speed Rail (HSR) system from the capital in Sacramento to and from San Francisco and the Bay Area, and south to the Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas. The plan calls for a fleet of 1200-passenger trains traveling at speeds up to 220 miles per hour between these major population centers as an alternative to automobiles, buses, airplanes and existing rail service. Projected costs for the system have ranged from US$43 billion initially, now up to US$100 billion or more.

The avowed justification for this immense project is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) and pollution production from increased automobile and airplane travel in the future, as California’s population increases from the present 38 million to over 50 million in the next 20 years.

High-SpeedTrainTalk: High-Speed Rail: Why are we doing this? reveals the hollow truth behind the myth of high speed rail. Rather than a solution for a documented need for rapid ground level transportation between two large metropolitan areas, High Speed Rail is a political solution in search of a real world problem. There is, in fact, no demand for high speed rail in California, and more important, there is no documented ridership to feed such a system. Proponents of the system project ridership of over 14,000 riders per day at the Merced station, a level that exceeds the total AMTRAK ridership in New York City, an impossible accomplishment for the dispersed population of central California.

The case for High Speed Rail is couched in terms of environmental benefit, claiming that the system would reduce future Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions through the use of an electrically powered rail system, even proclaiming that energy needs could be provided by alternative sources such as wind and solar. This claim is unsupported, in that the majority of California’s electricity is supplied by fossil fuels, with alternatives sources providing less than 12% of the state’s energy.

Furthermore, in a study of “life cycle assessment” of high speed rail, the authors, Horvath and Chester, conclude: “high-speed rail has the potential to be the lowest energy consumer and greenhouse gas emitter only if it consistently travels at high occupancy [~75%] or uses a low-emission electricity source.” The authors also conclude that sulpher dioxide emission levels for high speed rail would be higher than for conventional alternatives and would not be less at any measure of ridership.

Therefore, in any realistic scenario, high speed rail fails in two respects to live up to the promises of its proponents.

As if this were not enough, the construction, operation and maintenance of a high speed rail system through the heart of California would create immediate and on-going environmental damage to critical habitats along the route. Construction of the system would require immense amounts of concrete, which is the greatest source of GHG emissions of any construction activity.

“The proposed HST Alternative alignment options would have the potential to affect wildlife movement/migration corridors in this region, primarily for terrestrial mammals, depending on the selection of a final alignment.” (Horvath and Chester, 2010) Imagine a 1200-passenger train passing through natural migration corridors several times a day at over 200 mph. 

With all of the negative effects of high speed rail, and an evident lack of demand for such a complex and expensive service, who is it that wants High Speed Rail?

The answer, as always, is “Follow the money.”

Proponents of the High Speed Rail project are primarily real estate professionals, including the new Chair of the High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA), and others who would benefit economically from the project. The gerrymandered route proposed by the HSRA just happens to pass through countryside where development would benefit key proponents of the project, including state and federal legislators with property interests.

This comes as no surprise with billions of dollars of “free” federal money available for High Speed Rail, promising that, even if the project is never built, someone will fill their pockets to overflowing with the proceeds.

Rather than the promised energy and pollution savings boon to California commuters, High Speed Rail serves most effectively to railroad public money into private pockets. 

Occupy Arana Gulch

While we’re busy occupying the public sphere, declaring our independence from corporate and government dominance, pause and give a thought to our natural areas that cannot speak for themselves in the public, human forum.

Arana Gulch is a greenbelt, set aside by a vote of the people of Santa Cruz as a natural area surrounded by human development. Arana Gulch is a tiny fraction of what once was a prevalent coastal prairie terrace environment along the Central Coast of California.

Before European humans arrived on the scene some 250 years ago and took over the neighborhood, including the neighbors, Arana Gulch was home to a variety of interdependent species: elk, deer, mountain lions, bobcats, gophers, red-tailed hawks, Coopers hawks, turkey buzzards, swifts, golden-crowned sparrows, field mice aplenty, steelhead, tidewater gobie, several species of salmon, popcorn flower, Molina, Live Oak, willow, Himalayan blackberry, and the Santa Cruz tarplant.

Years ago the tarplant grew by the hundreds of thousands in Arana Gulch, pollinated by a variety of insect species, its seeds spread by grazers such as elk and deer, tiny birds and the winds they fly on. In recent years, land use changes have caused the tarplant to diminish severely, until recently, when discovery of less than forty living plants was a cause for celebration. As a result, the Santa Cruz tarplant was declared endangered by the State of California and threatened by the United States government. In 2002, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared all of Arana Gulch as Critical Habitat for the Santa Cruz tarplant.

Since 1971, the City of Santa Cruz has planned and attempted to build a paved roadway across the sensitive habitat of Arana Gulch, connecting two city streets on either side of the greenbelt, first for automobiles, and, since 1991, for bicycles. The paving would be eight feet wide with two feet of gravel shoulder on either side, carving a twelve foot wide gash across the Critical Habitat for the endangered tarplant.

Friends of Arana Gulch has worked for over sixteen years to stop the city from building this project. Since much of Arana Gulch is in the California Coastal Zone, the City must apply to the California Coastal Commission for a development permit to build this cross-town bicycle connection through Arana Gulch. Friends of Arana Gulch is asking for your help in appealing to the Coastal Commission to stop this development project and produce an Arana Gulch Master Plan that sets City policy to manage the Arana Gulch Greenbelt to restore and preserve this sensitive habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant and all the species that inhabit Arana Gulch.

Go to Friends of Arana Gulch to learn more and sign up to help out.

Tsunami damage at Santa Cruz harbor

The tsunami generated by the 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan ripped through the Santa Cruz Harbor repeatedly for twelve hours Friday.

Dozens of boats sank and many others were damaged, several docks were destroyed and the resulting debris sloshed back and forth through the harbor all day, causing even more damage to boats and harbor facilities.

Harbor officials estimate $15 million damage to harbor facilities.

It’s the Law, Don

In a misinformed editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Don Miller, Sentinel Editor, completely missed the point of the recent California Coastal Commission decision regarding the City of Santa Cruz’s application to build a paved bicycle route through critical habitat for an endangered species, the Santa Cruz tarplant, Holocarpha macradenia.

The editorial is incorrect in several respects. The City of Santa Cruz did not argue that “paving two trails” in Arana Gulch “would be the greater good, publicly and environmentally.” Rather, the City proposed a transportation project in an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area, which is not allowed under the California Coastal Act.

It doesn’t matter that the City worked on the flawed plan for over 15 years. It doesn’t matter that the inadequate alternatives proposed in the Arana Gulch Draft Master Plan Environmental Impact Report were defended in court. It doesn’t matter that a recently proposed alternative route is not considered “safe and accessible” by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission. The Broadway-Brommer bicycle route with paved trails and two bridges across critical habitat for the tarplant, is simply illegal under state law.

What matters is that the City has for years failed to manage Arana Gulch, resulting in eroding paths, illegal campers and endangered species. This is no excuse for the California Coastal Commission to bail them out by approving an illegal project.

The City of Santa Cruz should do the right thing, finally: manage Arana Gulch for the tarplant and all other species, and look elsewhere for their transportation project.