The Headbonker’s Ball

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FROM: Orion Magazine

by Matt Jenkins / Photographs by Kim Steele

AMID THE 150-YEAR-OLD GRAVESTONES of a Gold Rush–era cemetery in downtown Sacramento, Jaime Pawelek spends at least one day a month searching for roving spirits. They are tiny and fiendishly quick, and they are not always on their best behavior.

Take the diminutive headbonker. Properly known as Anthidium maculosum, the headbonker is a California-native bee species. The males are fiercely territorial and unafraid to take on intruders bigger than themselves. “I saw one run off a honeybee earlier,” says Pawelek, a University of California, Berkeley, undergrad whose freckles have been drawn out by the blazing August sun. “It knocked right into a honeybee and chased it out.”

Headbonkers have, on occasion, even chased Pawelek and other researchers: the bee earned its epithet after one male (which, unlike the females, don’t sting) repeatedly bounced itself off the forehead of one of Pawelek’s fellow students. But viewed close while gently held between two fingers, headbonkers are striking creatures, tiny knots of concentrated metabolism. Their eyes reveal themselves to be entrancing pools of green, prismatic fire.

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Such are the hazards and rewards of an effort led by Pawelek’s boss, a UC Berkeley entomologist named Gordon Frankie, to better understand and conserve California’s native bee species. A bearded, inveterate wearer of flowery Hawaiian shirts, Frankie ticks off the names of the eye-popping, Mardi Gras–worthy parade of characters that his team is studying: headbonkers; Agapostemon texanus, whose females are metallic green and have a stately mien; Xylocopa varipuncta, whose males look uncannily like thimble-sized teddy bears (merely describing them brings Pawelek to the brink of swooning); and Melissodes, a genus whose males have a risqué penchant for group sleepovers in cosmos flowers, to name just a few. From afar, it’s difficult to differentiate between the dozens and dozens of species buzzing around the streets and buildings of northern California’s cities. Up close, however, each species reveals its own surprising attributes.

In fact, much of Frankie’s work focuses on bees not in rural areas but in cities. As urban and agricultural development in California has obliterated the native bees’ natural habitat, many of the state’s more than fifteen hundred species of natives have adapted and persevered in cities. Urban environments have proved biologically richer than the vast expanses of rural, agricultural land in California. “It’s like a reservoir of genetic material in these urban environments,” Frankie says. “All [agricultural areas] have is dirt and the crop that farmers want, and then they bring in bees in a box,” creating what he calls “a monoculture in bees.”

In the aftermath of Colony Collapse Disorder and the subsequent disappearance of imported European honeybees from their hives, native bees offer another possible means of crop pollination. But Frankie is concerned less with the bees’ agronomic utility than with buttressing their foothold in California’s cities and with reconnecting the state’s human urban dwellers with the native bees that have persisted, largely unnoticed, in their midst. He is laboring to convince gardeners to see their yards as something more than a bunch of flowers and to repurpose their gardens as food sources for the animals that carry out the ecologically vital process of pollination in the city. That effort feels something like the campaign to create World War II victory gardens — but this time in the service of conserving biodiversity.

FOR YEARS, FRANKIE — who has been researching bees at various sites throughout California since the mid-1970s — would return from the field to his office at Berkeley without giving much thought to urban bees. “But I used to walk around the neighborhoods here, and I noticed that something was going on,” he says. After a colleague brought him a sample of bees from a nearby park, Frankie realized that there was tremendous diversity in the urban environment. “That’s when we started to see that we’d been missing something here all these years.”

That was the start of the Urban Bee Project. Frankie and his colleagues ultimately identified eighty-two species of bees in the Berkeley area, and Frankie began thinking about how to bolster habitat and food sources for bees in the city. In 2003, he started an “experimental bee garden” in an empty lot a block from the university. The garden now stands prominent in a neighborhood of three- and four-story apartment buildings that, on a sunny day, has all the blazing intensity of a car dealer’s lot.

“When we started this garden, it was bare dirt,” Frankie says. “We walked in here with dwarf sunflowers and cosmos, and the bees followed us in.” Since then, Frankie and company have been using the garden as a sort of test vehicle to determine which plants — and what mixes of flowers — are most attractive to native bees.

“We have a really good idea of what works now,” Frankie says. Today, the experimental bee garden has a smattering of non-native plants that the bees like, but the team has discovered that native bees are six times more likely to visit the native plants with which they have evolved.

Salvias, or sages, seem to be manna for native bees, but the list of sure bets runs long and includes California poppies, buckwheats, seaside daisies, goldenrod, coreopsis, chamomile, and palo verde trees, among many others.

“The relationship between the bee and the plant is specific enough that you can say, ‘Poppies are going to attract these kinds of bees; salvias are going to attract these kinds of bees,’” Frankie says. “That’s one of the more exciting findings that’s emerged from our studies — that we can actually predict what you can find in your garden, if you plant the right plants.”

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ONE OF THE MOST RECENT ENLISTEES in the effort to make more room for bees is Sharon Patrician, a regal sixty-six year old who tends a section of the Sacramento cemetery called Hamilton Square. Dressed in capris, a floppy straw hat, and a bright yellow shirt, Patrician is an able raconteur of the graveyard’s stories: about how, in the 1800s, the graves had to be fenced to keep out the cattle that would graze here; about the enterprising individual who excavated cadavers and parceled them out for science — only to eventually be laid to rest here himself; and about the young widow of a Gold Rush financier who, as Patrician puts it, had him “installed” in grand fashion before going on to burn through his amassed millions. “We know,” Patrician says, with her eyebrows shrewdly arched, “where the bodies are buried around here.”

As she works in the cemetery garden, Patrician occasionally crosses paths with visitors who clearly have been drawn by the place’s macabre allure. But one day two summers ago, she happened upon a bearded man in wraparound sunglasses who was carrying an insect net and wearing a Hawaiian shirt. “When he told me what he was doing, I was just thrilled,” she says.

Frankie convinced Patrician to let his research assistants, like Pawelek, use the cemetery as a place to do bee counts and determine how frequently various bees visit promising varieties of “target plants.” He also helped Patrician make the garden a place where bees can get more of what they need to thrive.

For a native California bee that has finally emerged from hibernation, a typical garden can be as perilous as Dante’s nine circles of hell. Synthetic pesticides can be lethal to bees, and classic garden staples can mean starvation. “Roses,” Frankie grouses, “are horrible”: the petals of domesticated rose blossoms are bunched too tightly to allow the bees to get to nectar and pollen.

The professor has turned into a sort of Johnny Appleseed of bee-friendly plants. He frequently looks for promising candidates in local nurseries and rustles up seed in the wild to grow out for gardens. At least once a month, he visits each of seven study sites spread throughout the state, including a four-day road trip to cities along the central and southern California coast, and distributes plants to gardeners along the way.

Frankie encourages gardeners to plant varieties of flowers that will bloom successively throughout the entire year. “We have seasons of bees,” he says, noting that by watering and by cutting the dead heads off flowers, gardeners can push their plants through consecutive seasons to provide various bee species with a continuous source of food. “If [gardeners] do their gardening correctly, you can get extended flowering out of a lot of the species that you couldn’t get in the wild,” Frankie says, pointing up the example of encelia, a bush sunflower. “It usually only flowers in April, and then it conks out. But if you water it and tend to it, the damn thing will flower all year.”

In the Hamilton Square garden in Sacramento, Sharon Patrician is trying out a desert willow that Frankie brought her. “This has been a new learning experience for me,” she says. “All the plants, I’m familiar with. It’s just that I didn’t think about growing them as a particular food source.”

MATCHING FLOWERS to the bees’ dietary requirements is just one trick. Another is providing bees with suitable places to nest. Unlike hive-dwelling honeybees, most natives nest alone in the ground — and need patches of bare ground in which to dig their nests. It’s almost impossible for bees to nest in turf, but Frankie reserves a special vitriol for what he calls mulch madness: “Bees cannot dig through mulch,” he says, “and they can’t dig through what we call Black Plastic Insanity” — plastic sheet mulch. “These mulchers,” he says with exasperation, “are getting crazy.”

Patrician admits to being a recovering mulcher herself.

(“I used to mulch four inches deep,” she grimaces.) But she has since allowed the grassy paths between the graves to become the turf equivalent of a threadbare rug, with large patches of bare dirt. “For the bees who nest underground, the paths are perfect because they don’t get disturbed — we’re not ripping up the pathways or anything like that,” she says. “And in the spring, you’ll see these little tiny holes in hard ground” where newly emerged bees have crawled out to the world above.

After a female bee emerges from the nest in which she was born, she typically lives only three to four weeks. She will mate almost immediately. “The males emerge first,” says Robbin Thorp, a colleague of Frankie’s who is an emeritus professor at the University of California, Davis, “so they’re Johnny-on-the-spot when the females come out.”

Once they’ve mated, Thorp says, females will “forage a little bit, just to get some flight fuel — some nectar — in their system, and then they’ll start digging a nest.” Below ground, a bee will hollow out individual brood cells for each egg that she’ll lay. Then she will leave the nest again to collect the food she’ll use to nourish her offspring. The bee travels from flower to flower gathering both pollen and nectar, and pollinating plants as she goes. The sugary nectar provides energy, while pollen provides concentrated amounts of vitamins, protein, fat, and oils. “It’s the staff of life for the developing larva,” says Frankie.

Inside the nest, the mother fashions what Frankie variously refers to as “pollen loaves” or “bee bread.” She packs one into each brood cell, lays an egg on top of the loaf, and then seals off the chamber and moves to the next brood cell. Once the wormlike larvae hatch, they spend up to a year underground feeding on their pollen loaves. As winter nears, they slow their metabolisms and “hold over” in a pre-pupal stage. Then, as the weather warms again, they pupate, transform into fully formed bees, and emerge into the world aboveground, to begin the cycle anew.

FRANKIE AND HIS COLLEAGUES have launched a website with recommendations for bee-friendly plants and garden practices (http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens), and they’re also working on a book, due out in 2009. Several Bay Area nurseries have put together their own menus of bee-friendly plants, and gardeners like Patrician are spreading the word to visitors as well. “I’ve begun to incorporate into my spiel that people really should be planting things that benefit the urban wildlife,” she says. “If the insects disappear, we’re in a big heap of trouble.”

Still, she says that there’s an uneasy tension — even among members of the board of directors that oversees the cemetery — between the impulses to maintain a garden that’s good for bees and a garden that looks like what people expect. “They’ve been at me to come in here and sod all these paths,” Patrician sighs. “And I say, ‘No way. Over my dead body. I will not . . . sod . . . these . . . paths.’”

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Back at the experimental bee garden in Berkeley, Frankie concedes that the study of urban bees is still very much in its infancy. In the past, they “collected bees at study sites, made a list, and that was it,” he says. “There’s a small [body of] literature on diversity already, but no one is yet starting to make any sense out of it.”

He also admits that the effort to popularize bee-friendly gardening can be at odds with the 1970s-era Sunset magazine vision of California, which still holds some currency among many of the state’s residents. Partway through an abbreviated rant, Frankie’s ire settles on the “low-level gardening culture” in the city of Paso Robles. “All they’ve got there,” he says, “is dried-up lawns and privet hedge” — a plant he describes as “an awful thing you put in the ground when nothing else will grow.”

As Frankie talks, he’s occasionally interrupted by Pawelek’s exclamations as various bees fly in and out of the garden (“Ooh! Baby halictid!”). That’s the sort of engagement that Frankie hopes more people will develop as they tend to their own gardens at home. “If somebody puts a name on a bee and tells you a little bit about it, I think there’s a lot of aesthetic pleasure in knowing that you’ve got a bee, and you can see it in your garden,” he says. “People want to have a story that goes with it, and it’s our work to tell people what these stories are.”

Frankie and his team have taken their bee-awareness program into local elementary schools, giving presentations in which the highlight is invariably the point at which kids learn how to identify male bees and catch them with their hands. Watching Frankie talk about how stingers work, it’s easy to imagine him standing before a gaggle of eight year olds. “The stinger is an egg-laying apparatus,” he says. “If [the females] wanna lay an egg” — he makes a motion like he’s turning an imaginary knob on the side of his head — “they turn on the egg-laying thing. If they wanna send down venom to sting somebody” — he dials the other way — “venom!”

When Frankie makes his four-day trips down the coast and back, he frequently cruises neighborhoods to look for promising gardens. In the town of Soquel, near Santa Cruz, he happened across Kimberly Carter Gamble, who, acting on intuition alone, had assembled a menu of plants in her home garden that was perfect for native bees. “I first saw this garden on a foggy day, and I knew it was gonna be good,” Frankie says. “We finally had a chance to go out on a good day, and it was just dynamite. It was just abuzz with bees.”

Gamble says both the flowers and the bees have proven to be star garden-party attractions. “I had this tower-of-jewels this year — it grows in a very blatant spiral as it opens up — and I think there were sixty bees at a time,” she says. “It was a particularly fun one, because the bees were so laden with the pollen that they could hardly take off.” This year, on Frankie’s recommendation, Gamble is going to work linaria, coreopsis, and bidens into her garden.

And so goes Frankie’s quest: braving the perils of the headbonkers and reeling in converts to the belief that a garden can serve a bigger purpose than simply prettying a yard. Frankie says that every time he makes a visit to someone’s garden, he learns more about how to see the world as a bee does.

“You know when you walk into a restaurant and you can tell within a matter of seconds whether or not it’s any good?” he says. “Same thing with a garden: you walk in and you say, ‘Hup! They got this, they got that. Let’s stay a while. Let’s see what happens.’”

Matt Jenkins is a freelance writer and contributing editor to High Country News. He writes from Berkeley, California. He is the editor of A People’s History of Wilderness. Reproduced with writer’s permission.

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The BLOB

groundwater

Water is a contentious issue in the Western US. Not until this year did California start regulating the usage of underground resources. The aquifers and surface water are the same systems. The point is there is far less water available than was previously thought. Four hard years of drought have frightened farmers in the Central Valley and caused rationing in many places in the State. The bulk of the water supplying Southern California comes from the Colorado River, just renegotiated, via the town of Needles input, which serves several states. This water is allocated by Paul Matuska, Water Conservation and Accounting Group – Manager, from Colorado, at the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Ground water is theoretically already allocated before it reaches underground. This spring, California’s water agency reported that half of the States’ local authorities were not complying with the law. California’s new groundwater legislation now does require local authorities to develop sustainable groundwater plans by 2020. The resistance was so fierce by the agriculture industry that it barred any State attempt to count the groundwater withdrawals. How can one manage what is not measured? Arizona is in more dire straits than California. Lake Mead is at it’s lowest level since the construction of Hoover Dam.

There are many ways now that the water source is mismanaged: farming subsidies for water intensive crops (almonds), leaky infrastructure and allowing individual farmers to draw, without regulations, from the underground sources on their own land. The two sources, above ground and underground need to be connected.

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This is where climate change is so drastically affecting this resource. The warming temperatures do not allow for adequate snow-pack that provides water throughout the summer in a gradual method, feeding streams and reservoirs. The warming of the Pacific Ocean, this year four degrees above normal, has created a caldron of sorts. The frequent storms reaching powerfully damaging results, just recently in Mexico with Hurricane Patricia, the third strongest in history world-wide.

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The Naysayers to this trend do not heed the science. The warm weather and dry climate have created a “Blob” (a large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of North America) in the Pacific. This has disrupted the food web of marine life, pushing tropical fish up to Alaska and creating a algal sea blooms. The Blob has rendered shellfish toxic, shutting down fisheries in Washington, Oregon and California. And sadly, a closure of this writers’ favorite food, Dungeness crabs.

El Nino

The predicted El Nino affects weather world-wide, from droughts in Australia to Africa – their worst in forty years! The storms will become more potent over time. The combination of El Nino, The Blob and climate change has caused acidification and the bleaching of coral throughout the world, killing reefs and habitat for many marine species. Hawaii is the most affected. The oceans expand with heat; this will result in a growing level of local flooding, costing much more than the purported cost by many conservatives to “doing business as usual.”

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The meteorologist who gave them name Blob, at NOAA’s cooperative institute at the University of Washington, Nicholas Bond, feels “that this will have monstrous implications. Hey… this is the consequence of messing around with the climate.”

Aftermath of Hurricane Patricia, Mexico

Aftermath of Hurricane Patricia, Mexico

The Urban forest that is New York City

Callery Pear trees in bloom

Callery Pear trees in bloom

I lived in that jungle for nineteen years.  During that period, I owned a home on Riverside Drive and 77th Street, on the Upper West side. During that period, a tree died in front of our Whitestone building.  I undertook the task of getting one tree replanted there.  I learned that there is only ONE man in charge of planting trees in Manhattan, the department that controls this is titled Manhattan Forest Department, and being the determined New Yorker, I hounded his voice mail until one was placed in front of my home. It took months!  I built a boxed-in wood frame to hold dirt and moister from four by fours, and watered it faithfully. The replacement tree was the renowned London Plain tree that adapts well to polluted environs, like London.  It flourished under my care, and lives to this day.

Jill Hubley's NYC Street Trees map shows off the 52 species of trees that grow along New York City's streets, map by Jill Hubley

Jill Hubley’s NYC Street Trees map shows off the 52 species of trees that grow along New York City’s streets, map by Jill Hubley

Starting in May 2015, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation will begin a five to seven month-long street census to locate and identify the species of every street-side tree.  There are 592,130 street trees (52 species) in New York.  Queens has the  most trees, honey locusts, rarely found in the Northeast, are found in great numbers on the streets of Manhattan. Callery pears, a invasive species from China, are all over the region, particularly in Staten Island (but they smell like rotting fish, chlorine or semen).

New York now plants just 20 or 30 Callerys per year, while literally thousands are lost to attrition (from storm damage and such). Jeremy Barrick, the deputy chief of forestry, horticulture and natural resources at the Parks Department, expects the Callery to lose its number 3 spot in the 2015 census. He anticipates a total Callery count of roughly 30,000—a 50-percent decline from 2006.

The Callery pear is an invasive species that has taken over many of New York’s sidewalks, map by Jill Hubley

The Callery pear is an invasive species that has taken over many of New York’s sidewalks, map by Jill Hubley

Even when it comes to species you might expect to find in New York—such as oak, maple, and elm—the Parks Department chose to plant Asian cultivars instead of North American ones. “There’s only one oak species on the list that isn’t from Asia—and it’s an English oak, native to Europe,” says Doug Tallamy, a wildlife ecologist from the University of Delaware.

The solutions to this  linear planting scheme are actually quite easy to implement. Many of the Asian cultivars can be replaced with a North American counterpart—such as Chinese elms with American elms, or Japanese and Norway maples with sugar maples. Tallamy dismisses any grumblings that native species are too big or too difficult to grow as nonsense. “We have native species that are smaller that we can still grow—we just need to start planting them.”

Promenade in Bryant Park, London plane trees, platanus acerifolia, in midtown

Promenade in Bryant Park, London plane trees, platanus acerifolia, in midtown

Rich Hallett, an ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, cites plans to integrate the data on a digital platform that can be updated in real time and act as a “living document.”

There are other factors impacting ‘greenification’ of our urban areas.  In San Francisco, the resident population in the ‘outer Sunset and Richmond’ (which is virtually treeless) do not favor trees, and have been reported to kill them with scalding water because they feel they are ‘dirty’ and need maintenance.

So it is not everyone who wishes to promote tree propagation in the US.

Special thanks to Neel V. Patel of Wired Magazine for his inspiring research.

NOTE: All maps in this post developed by Brooklyn web developer (and amazing artist) Jill Hubley

The Demise of Bivalves and Shell Creation

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The acidification of Oceans is well documented.  Many species are unable to survive the increase of acid occurring so the ability of the Oceans to absorb carbon dioxide is radically diminishing.  One of the drastic affects of this process is the inability of the bivalves to create shells.  This was exacerbated by the National Park Service’s decision to close a very important supplier in Northern California of these delicate creatures, Drakes Bay Oyster Farm-the largest of the lot and provider of up to forty percent for the other companies.  In 2013, they raised eight million oysters.  An oyster can filter up to forty gallons of water a day.

Kevin Lunny, owner of federaaly closed Drakes Bay Oyster Company

Kevin Lunny, owner of federally closed Drakes Bay Oyster Company

After much litigation and pubic outcry, Drakes Bay Oyster Company will close this year after eighty years in existence.  It does reside on federal lands.  All the other suppliers, most notable is the Hog Island Oyster Company on Tomales Bay, depend on them.  Drive up Route One any weekend day, and the road is congested with cars parked cheek to jowl up the entire coastline.

Publisher enjoying the spoils of Drake's Bay Oysters. Photo by Shaun Fenn

Publisher enjoying the spoils of Drake’s Bay Oysters. Photo by Shaun Fenn

Like New York, documented in the wonderful book Oysters, San Francisco was awash in oysters as the settlers arrived.  They were a mainstay in the diets, including being sold from carts on the streets, but before too long they were depleted by overfishing. Oysters began to be ‘seeded’ by the mid-1850s.  This hatchery process is very delicate and concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, starting with microscopic larvae, it has become a very scientific process.

Acidification of nautilus seashells

Acidification of nautilus seashells

Humans are dumping seventy million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day.  Oceans absorbs about a third of it.   The Ocean is now thirty percent more acidic than it was two hundred years ago.  It is not the acid that prevents the oysters from growing shells, but the concomitant lack of carbonate ions in the water.  They need these ions to build their shells.  This is compounded in the Pacific Ocean by the upwelling of water that has spent 30 – 50 years in depths that have absorbed more carbon dioxide from decomposition in the Ocean.

Ocean Acidification diagram

Ocean Acidification diagram

When oysters are grown in the vats as larvae, adding pH-raising chemicals can control water conditions.  But when it is time for them to be set out in the Ocean for one to two years to mature, they are vulnerable to the vagaries of the conditions.  Seeds are now at a premium and the suppliers cannot meet the demand. One of the largest, Whiskey Creek, produces only 25% of its demands despite the buffering of the pH.  Furthermore, the seeds are much less healthy and fewer survive to maturity.

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Woman shucking oysters on the waterfront

UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab partnered with Hog Island in 2012 to collect data on the water conditions. This author grew oysters in Tomales Bay for a few years in a community program with the intention of starting a commercial fishery.  The governmental restrictions were too onerous to overcome.  In contrast to Marin County, Humboldt County, to the north, is assisting farmers to develop fisheries; in fact Hog Island is starting a hatchery there now.

17 vintage postcard italy fishing boat catania

In only fifteen years, according to the respected publication, Nature, acid levels will increase to a level of no retreat that will not be able to support oysters, as well as other shellfish – clams, mussels and snails.  If India continues to dig deeper for dirty coal without regard to emissions as they have stated, and the GOP win their battle for the XL Pipeline shipping sludge that is twenty percent more polluting while taking three gallons of water for one gallon of sludge to produce, stripping forests – the conditions of the fisheries will be extinct by 2050.

Oyster feast. Photo by Kim Steele

Oyster feast. Photo by Kim Steele

The West Without Water

Water Sortage Central Valley

Water Shortage, Central Valley, CA, photograph by Kim Steele

I have been concerned of the scarcity of water for many years. In fact, the images illustrating this posting were shot several years ago while trying to place an article in various publications about the handling of the limited water supply in the West.  To no avail.

Aquaducts

Aquaducts, photograph by Kim Steele

Fisheries have also played a factor in the distribution of water to the Central Valley as well.

Sacramento Delta Water Controls

Sacramento Delta Water Controls, photograph by Kim Steele

The water crisis has become so acute that several entire counties in the Central Valley, the breadbasket of the United States, will receive NO water this entire year.

Harvesting Tomatoes Central Valley (Winters) CA

Harvesting Tomatoes Central Valley (Winters) CA, photograph by Kim Steele

Some farmers elect not to plant, but the nut trees needing water each year and are dying. California is one of the few states that does not monitor the underground water supply.

The aquifer of the central United states is sharply diminishing.  Places like Las Vegas are  a misguided effort to bring water to a desert.  Los Angeles started the trend at the turn of the Century.  Concerns were  expressed from the beginning, see this publication from the Department of Water and Power in the 1930’s.

Department of Water and Power, 1928 – Nature39 pages
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Grand Coulee Dam

Grand Coulee Dam, photograph by Kim Steele

The West Without Water documents the tumultuous climate of the American West over 20 millennia, with tales of past droughts and deluges and predictions about the impacts of future climate change on water resources. Its authors ask the central questions of what is “normal” for the West, and whether the relatively benign climate of the past century will continue into the future. Their answers are derived by merging climate and paleoclimate research from a wide variety of sources. Although the  cycles of drought have been experienced for thousand of years, much to the aplomb of the nay-sayers climate change.  In fact, there was a monstrous drought for fifty years in the Medieval period.  1976 was also a very severe drought period. So there have been these fluctuations, but the consumption of the water we do have is about 10% above our annual supply. Unfortunately, the book does not address other contributing factors, like the acidification of the Pacific Ocean which  shapes our weather here in California and the United States, creating the La Nina, and El Nino which is due this winter.
More here.
B. Lynn Ingram, Professor, Earth & Planetary Science and Geography,
UC Berkeley; Co-author, The West Without Water
Frances Malamud-Roam, Senior Environmental Planner and Biologist, Caltrans; Co-author, The West Without Water
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Shasta Dam, photograph by Kim Steele

Shasta Dam, photograph by Kim Steele

Selling Our Fish…and our future…

Oyster farming in New Orleans

Oyster farming in New Orleans

I have watched the dwindling of the fisheries for many years. Spending many years on the Eastern Seaboard, especially New England, I witnessed the exhaustion of cod, and the almost decimation of the famed Maine Lobsters. Trying to be responsible, according to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium ‘approved list’ is a challenge. This recent OpEd in the New York Times, by Paul Greenburg (author of the forthcoming book, American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood) speaks to one of my heartfelt concerns, and an issue for the future of our fisheries environmental sustainability, and the American economy. I am Seattle boy, a fisherman, an oyster farmer, and an environmental activist. I play by the rules, only take what I can eat, throw back the undersized, update my fishing license regularly. We recently saw the movie, The Grand Seduction, which was charming, and would have been funny except for the premise–a town that goes to great lengths to seduce a physician into relocating to a small hamlet in Newfoundland, as all residents are on welfare due to a cod fishing ban…all in order to attract a petrochemical waste recycling plant which would employ the residents, the town needs a resident physician.

The state of fishing affairs goes right to my heart. I urge all to read the OpEd via the link below, to read the book, and to post any comments about this subject.

Alaskan Cod Fishermen

Alaskan Cod Fishermen

From The New York Times:

“In 1982 a Chinese aquaculture scientist named Fusui Zhang journeyed to Martha’s Vineyard in search of scallops. The New England bay scallop had recently been domesticated, and Dr. Zhang thought the Vineyard-grown shellfish might do well in China. After a visit to Lagoon Pond in Tisbury, he boxed up 120 scallops and spirited them away to his lab in Qingdao. During the journey 94 died. But 26 thrived. Thanks to them, today China now grows millions of dollars of New England bay scallops, a significant portion of which are exported back to the United States.”

“As go scallops, so goes the nation. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, even though the United States controls more ocean than any other country, 86 percent of the seafood we consume is imported.”

“But it’s much fishier than that: While a majority of the seafood Americans eat is foreign, a third of what Americans catch is sold to foreigners.”

“The seafood industry, it turns out, is a great example of the swaps, delete-and-replace maneuvers and other mechanisms that define so much of the outsourced American economy; you can find similar, seemingly inefficient phenomena in everything from textiles to technology. The difference with seafood, though, is that we’re talking about the destruction and outsourcing of the very ecological infrastructure that underpins the health of our coasts. Let’s walk through these illogical arrangements, course by course…”

Oyster fisherman

Oyster harvesting

I have heard it said that all natural fisheries  will be extinct by 2050.  No wild fish.  This has already happened to many common species, like wild salmon on the West Coast.  It earns a very high premium due to it’s rareness and flavor.  Mr. Greenburg’s OpEd piece is well worth the read, especially the financial machinations of the produce being fished and shipped back and forth.  The loss of favor seems to be the future for many of the foods we take for granted, such as the tomato.

Now the South China Sea is under fishing siege by China's over-reaching claim to its waters

Now the South China Sea is under fishing siege by China’s over-reaching claim to its waters

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea…Isak Dinesen

From Endangered Earth: “There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List, and 16,306 of them are endangered species threatened with extinction. This is up from 16,118 last year. This includes both endangered animals and endangered plants.

The species endangered include one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List are in jeopardy of extinction. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation. In the last 500 years, human activity has forced over 800 species into extinction.

The current rate of extinction appears to be hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of times higher than the background rate. It is difficult to be precise because most of the endangered species which are becoming disappearing species have never been identified by scientists.”

The loss of a beloved friend has US thinking about where we go from here.

We’re old enough to get cranky about the old days and old ways, but young enough to have hope. Hope for the past, hope for the future, and seeking a present that pulls with it to propel this planet to a healthy sustainable future.

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Floating schoolhouse, designed by NLÉ

Winning design from the Design Museum London–Designs of the Year finalists for 2014. This schoolhouse is a prototype structure designed by NLÉ for the historical lagoon-dwelling community of Makoko. Its innovative design is intended to accommodate social and physical changes due to global warming and increasing African urbanization.

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Foldscope, designed by the bioengineering Team headed by Manu Prakash, Stanford University

A Stanford University research team designed a pocket-sized microscope for malaria research. The Foldscope is assembled from a sheet of paper, and costs approx. $2 to manufacture. Foldscope is constructed from a single piece of cardboard, with all the necessary parts including optics (inexpensive mini-spherical lens), an LED and mirror built-in. Construction is as simple as tearing each part from the template and matching the pieces based on color.

A sample is mounted onto a standard microscope slide and placed between the paper layers of the microscope. The user then holds the sample up to their eye and uses their thumb and forefinger to adjust focus by flexing and sliding the paper platform. Magnification achieved is 2000x that of the human eye.

Prakash: “These are literally built out of paper, tape and glue, and they are as good as research microscopes that you can buy…I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free.”

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Macrobrachium leptodactylus

A freshwater shrimp (Macrobrachium leptodactylus) from Indonesia found once in 1888 and never since has been declared extinct as of 2013. The area where the shrimp was discovered has been victim to habitat degradation and urbanization. 28% of freshwater shrimp are threatened with extinction; ten percent are used for human consumption.

Jonas Dahlberg's memorial design

Jonas Dahlberg’s memorial design

Artist Jonas Dahlberg has been selected to create official memorials at the sites of the 2011 Norwegian massacres carried out by right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik. Using the landscape and vista as his statement, the 43-year-old artist has sliced a three-and-a-half-metre-wide slit into the Sørbråten peninsula, which faces the island of Utøya where Breivik killed 69 people. It marks a “symbolic wound” in the landscape. One hundred cubic metres of the stone cut from Sørbråten will be transferred to the governmental quarter in Oslo, where another memorial will mark the spot where a car bomb was detonated.

There is an electric fire in human nature tending to purify – so that among these human creatures there is continually some birth of new heroism. The pity is that we must wonder at it, as we should at finding a pearl in rubbish. ~John Keats

La nascita di Venere, painting by Sandro Botticelli

La nascita di Venere, painting by Sandro Botticelli

I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. ~Sir Isaac Newton

Drake's Bay CA, oysterbeds, photograph by Kim Steele

Drake’s Bay CA, oysterbeds, photograph by Kim Steele

This post is dedicated to the legacy and memory of Rena Obernolte. The origin of the name Rena is Hebrew, meaning “Melody” and  “Peace.”

As a mother, partner, friend, and as a scientist, Rena excelled far beyond her important environmental work. Rena was a Marine Biologist with a Bachelor’s degree in Aquatic Biology from UCSB; and a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from SJSU. Marine repopulation in numerous places in the U.S. is a reality due to the work of Rena, her partner Bud Abbott, and her world of aquatic ecology.

There was only one Rena. From those of us who had the privilege of being part of these happiest years of your life, the beauty of your time here and your voice…

Never, ever to be forgotten…

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Rena Obernolte, at work in San Rafael Bay, CA