Saturday, August 27, 2016

An off topic pet peeve

It drives me crazy to ask for water in a restaurant and have it come with a slice of lemon in it. When I order water, friends, in unison, will add "NO LEMON!" before I can. I know. In the scheme of all that can go wrong in one's life, this is silly. There are floods, fires, earthquakes, Zika, the Presidential campaign, what the hell is the big deal about a lovely slice of lemon in an icy glass of water?

First of all, I don't like the taste. I don't like bits of pulp drifting around in my water like mosquito larvae in puddle. I like water cold and crystal clear. But my main gripe is I don't know where that lemon has been. Was the skin washed before it was sliced? If not, what happy little, water-loving pathogens are swimming laps in my glass of water?

Ha! Vindication is mine! I'm not crazy, you lovers of lemon-in-my-water drinkers are.

You Should Never Ask For a  Slice Of Lemon In Your Drink 

Alice Sholl for Yahoo Health

Researchers  "found that almost 70% of those samples produced some kind of microbial growth, and included 25 different microbial species. . . Restaurant patrons should be aware that lemon slices added to beverages may include potentially pathogenic microbes.”

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reposting of a blog by Maya Khosla

I know Maya Khosla from when she was a presenter at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference a number of years ago.  Last week, a mutual friend sent this blog post of Maya's. I contacted her and asked to reprint it. It's been driving me nuts that every newscast about the fires here in California, and elsewhere, all refer how many acres have been "destroyed." Houses, businesses, and lives can be destroyed, but given time, the land rebounds, and there are native species that thrive after a fire. I hope you'll take the time to read this. It will give you a new perspective on wild land fires.
By Maya Khosla, posted on April 25, 2016

Fire Works

How valuable are forests of the American West that have experienced wildfire? With over 10 million acres that burned across the region in 2015, that question has sharply gained in prominence. Many of us understand that an average of 30 million acres burned annually in wildfires of the 1920s and 1930s – and acreages were even higher during prior decades (according to U.S. Forest Service records). 
Even so, the sheer power of today’s visuals often pose a challenge in accepting that wildfires –  with all their natural variables including low, medium and high severity – have been an integral part of western ecosystems for eons. 

                                    Rim fire spotted owl. Credit: Maya Khosla
The curious conservation biologist who hikes through post-fire forests will inevitably be rewarded with a number of sights that attest to their high ecological value. A more focused way to understand the forests is to venture out in search of rare birds. In 2014 and 2015, teams of biologists worked on protocol surveys to quantify the nest density of black-backed woodpeckers, which are increasingly rare in the Sierra Nevada-Cascades Region. With their glossy black backs, the woodpeckers are ideally equipped to live in burned forests abundant with high densities of snags (standing dead trees), each of which quickly grows rich with wood-boring beetle larvae – the woodpeckers’ preferred food source. Also colonized by bark beetle larvae, the “snag forests” support Lewis’s, pileated, hairy and white-headed woodpeckers, sapsuckers, northern flickers, nuthatches, an astonishing bustle of wildflowers, buzzing insects, song birds and other wildlife including deer, bears, and even Pacific fishers. Mornings are little short of dazzling.
The teams of biologists who began their surveys in 2014 were led by Dr. Chad Hanson (Director, John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute) and senior biologist Tonja Chi. For a thorough study, both burned and unburned forest plots were randomly selected across national forests of the Sierra Nevadas. Surveys were conducted in triplicate, within 300-hectare plots. Each plot contained three 100-hectare subplots, making it convenient for three biologists to survey one subplot at a time. 
                                                 Black-backed woodpecker.
Preliminary results indicate that nesting black-backed woodpeckers are found almost exclusively in recently burned forests. The woodpeckers are also found in unburned, “beetle kill” forests (with snags that are abundant with beetle larvae).  In both forests, the common denominator for black-backed woodpeckers is high densities of snags. True to their reputation as keystone species, the woodpeckers provide nests for a host of other birds including mountain bluebirds, western bluebirds, wrens, nuthatches, mountain chickadees and even for squirrels. During the 2015 surveys, team members also documented other rare birds in the post-fire forests, including the northern goshawk, California spotted owls, and Williamson's sapsucker – all in post-fire forests.
These forests typically include areas that have burned with high severity (where most trees turn into snags), moderate severity (anywhere between one quarter and three quarters of the trees had turned into snags) and low severity (where it’s mostly the understory that has burned). While fires may scorch large patches, many trees charred by the flames remain alive at the crown. They flush with new growth soon after the burn. However, post-fire forests are still misunderstood and routinely logged, so they are highly threatened habitats.
                                                 Pileated woodpecker
According to many experts, fire and black-backed woodpeckers are inextricably linked. The long-term black-backed woodpecker study will continue through the 2016 field season and is anticipated to corroborate results of existing data from other sources, and to provide valuable data about the woodpecker’s habitat uses.  Solid estimates of the Sierra Nevada-Cascades population of black-backed woodpeckers are also expected to result from the study. 
Many other observations are revealing the high value of post-fire forests. A year after the King Fire in El Dorado National Forest, carpets of conifer seedlings were observed rising from the ashes along with three rare plants. One of them, the longfruit jewelflower (first described by Glen Clifton and Roy Buck in 2007), had never been sighted in El Dorado before. Two years after the 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest, vast areas with mature pines that were presumed dead had bounced back to life. Seedlings were popping up everywhere in the high-intensity burn areas. 
Authors Jon Keeley and others demystify the abundance of regenerating plants by explaining the “fire-generated chemical stimulus for germination” found in many plant families.” An exciting new book, The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature’s Phoenix (edited by Dominick DellaSalla and Chad Hanson), gives us dozens of examples of the high biodiversity found in post-fire forests, and an ever-increasing number of studies are speaking reams about the value of forests after wildfire.

Author Bio

Maya is a biologist and writer who worked with the black-backed woodpecker team in 2014 and filmed them in 2015. She has written Web of Water: Life in Redwood Creek and Notes from the Field (Golden Gate Parks Conservancy Press); Tapping the Fire, Turning the Steam: Securing the Future with Geothermal Energy (World Wide Fund for Nature); Heart of the Tearing: Poems (Red Dust Press); and Keel Bone (Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize; Bear Star Press). She has received writing awards from Flyway Journal, Headlands Center for the Arts, Hedgebrook Foundation, and Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation and filming awards from Patagonia, Sacramento Audubon Society (for the Searching for Gold Spot project) and the Save Our Seas Foundation (For the Turtle Diaries project).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Playing Environmental Jenga


Jenga is a game . . . where players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower constructed of 54 blocks. Each block removed is then balanced on top of the tower, creating a progressively taller but less stable structure. The name jenga is derived from a Swahili word meaning "build".   From Wikipedia


Here on the north coast of California, August usually sees all the coves filled with floating masses of Bull Kelp, Nereocystis luetkeana, which is an annual, and food for at least 50 organisms. It covers rocks and washes ashore on the beaches, attracting birds to the flies it draws. Down the coast in Monterey, it's where the sea otters nap. 

This summer the coves look more like this.
photo by Ron LeValley
Bull kelp has been disappearing, presumably eaten by an abundance of spiny sea urchins. Sea urchins are preyed upon by starfish, properly call sea stars, but there has been a die-off of sea stars from what has become known as "Starfish wasting syndrome."

"As voracious predators on the ocean floor, sea stars are ‘keystone’ species that have a large role in maintaining diversity in their ecosystem."

In a study done at the Cornell University , the disease was found to be a parvovirus commonly found in invertebrates.  

"There are 10 million viruses in a drop of seawater, so discovering the virus associated with a marine disease can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. . .Not only is this an important discovery of a virus involved in a mass mortality of marine invertebrates, but this is also the first virus described in a sea star.”

“It’s the experiment of the century for marine ecologists,” said Harvell (of Cornell.) “It is happening at such a large scale to the most important predators of the tidal and sub-tidal zones. Their disappearance is an experiment in ecological upheaval the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

This may be one block too many pulled from the stack.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Act locally, Think globally

Second Chance Rescue started out finding homes for old, mostly small dogs, often ones whose owners had died. It was started in Hayward, California, by Jeanne Mocker and Steve Sapontzis. The idea being that small dogs would be easier to find new homes for, and that there were older people out there who would benefit from having a companion. 

I remember my mother saying, when our last pet died, that she was too old to get another one. I pooh pooh her. Now I am her. I'm not quite at the age where I don't buy green bananas, and I'm as drawn to kittens and puppies as the next person, but to be fair to the animal I take in, it doesn't make sense to adopt a baby anything. (If you've read this blog before, you know I have a 35 year old parrot,  Parrots & PTSD, who can expect to live another 50 years.)

Jeanne and Steve also linked up with animal rescue groups in other counties. For example, the Fresno County shelter couldn't readily find homes for small dogs but could for larger dogs. Steve and Jeanne created a swap program. 

Some of the dogs left at shelters had treatable illnesses, but were virtually un-adoptable. Destine to be euthanized, Steve and Jeanne took them. When they reached eight in number, they decided to attempt to provide medical care for people who wanted to keep their dogs but couldn't afford to treat their illnesses. Then came the recession. People were losing their jobs and homes, and more and more dogs were brought into shelters and humane societies by owners who could no longer afford their pets. Steve and Jeanne realized if they could help low income people keep and care for their animals, fewer would be given up. They linked up with the Fort Bragg Food Bank, and the rest is history. Below is a link to a seven-minute video produced by one of the many volunteers now helping fulfill the needs of low income pet owners on the Coast.

Fundraising efforts and donations have kept this program alive, but Steve and Jeanne absorb most of the cost. To donate, please go to 
and if you know of grants available please let Steve know.