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A N E X P L O R AT I O N O F N AT U R E I N T H E S A N F R A N C I S CO B AY A R E A

Least Terns Take Off

Genetic Engineering for Conservation

Redwoods 2.0

New Places to Pitch Your Tent


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CONVENE – COLLABORATE – ACT The 3-day Deep Ecology Collaboratory takes place October 21-23, 2016 at the Rancho El Chorro Conference and Retreat Center, which sits on a beautiful 250-acre nature reserve in the heart of San Luis Obispo County. With the guidance of our topic leaders you will take part in creating the Deep Ecology Manifesto to address the climate change and biodiversity crises on a political, social and scientific level.

Collaboratory Topic Leaders Include: Bill McKibben – author, educator, and founder of 350.org (via Skype) Eileen Crist – educator and co-editor of Gaia in Turmoil and Life on the Brink Jerry Mander – Founder of the International Forum on Globalization and Program Director at the Foundation for Deep Ecology Dave Foreman – co-founder of the Wildlands Project and author of Man Swarm and Rewilding North America Stephanie Mills – lecturer, activist, and author of Whatever Happened to Ecology? William Ryerson – founder and President of Population Media Center Joe Bish – Director of Issue Advocacy at Population Media Center

October 21-23, 2016 San Luis Obispo, CA Sponsored by

In Partnership with

FOUNDATION FOR DEEP ECOLOGY

The Casson Family Trust

Biodiversity First!, Inc.

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(805) 548-0597 info@ecologistics.org www.ecologistics.org

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Santa Lucia Chapter


contents

july–september 2016

Features 26

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A TERN FOR THE BETTER The Califor nia least ter n gets a shot at survival on the East Bay shoreline The endangered California least tern has been getting a major boost from two rather odd nesting habitats, shaped by humans, along the shoreline of the East Bay: An abandoned navy runway on Alameda and a recently constructed island in the middle of a wastewater treatment pond in Hayward. In both places, volunteers are playing a key role in ensuring that the birds and their nestlings survive and thrive. –by Chelsea Leu

Jason Holley

Rick Lewis

Sebastian Kennerknecht, pumapix.com

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WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE REDWOODS? Forging a design for the redwood forests of the 21st century For over a century, conservationists have worked to save redwood forests by preserving a dwindling number of old-growth trees and groves. But now the focus is shifting to stewardship of the forests we have—mostly second- and even third-growth—to help them become the old-growth forests of the future. A large forest tract in the Santa Cruz Mountains owned by a trio of conservation organizations is becoming a laboratory for redwood conservation 2.0. –by Joan Hamilton

re - codin g for conservation Can gene drive technolog y slow the advance of invasive species? Recent developments in biotech give humans the ability to not only alter the genes of an organism, but to propagate that alteration through a population. Sounds pretty scary, especially given our propensity to mess up things with our technology. But what if we could use these nonlethal methods to eradicate populations of invasive species and thus enhance biodiversity? Should we at least give these technologies a closer look? –by Alison Hawkes

Departments 4

Bay View

Letter from the publisher

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Letters

Feedback from our readers

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Opening Shot

Close encounters: Looking into the eye of the whale

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Currents

• Mapping social trails • Making wind power safer • Romeo and Juliet al fresco • Tree heart attacks? • Drakes Estero cleanup • Signs of the Season: A closer look at sand

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Conservation in Action

On the Trail

Camping Out on Working Lands in Western Sonoma There are only a limited number of places for overnight camping in Bay Area parks. But a trip to Salmon Creek Ranch shows the potential for expanding such opportunities by connecting outdoor enthusiasts with ranchers who have open space to share. by Sabine Bergmann

Surfing the Bay’s disappearing sandy beach ecotone with an endangered plant and a pioneering ecologist by Eric Simons

14 Ranch Recreation

19 Elsewhere

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San Francisco Green Connections Network; Crockett’s Alexander Park; UC Santa Cruz Arboretum

First Person Malcolm Margolin’s Beautiful Life A conversation with the former publisher of Heyday Books and Bay Nature co-founder by Eric Simons

53 Ask the Naturalist

How do marine mammals sleep? by Michael Ellis

54 Naturalist Notebook

Clicking cicada by John Muir Laws

visit us online at www.Baynature.org


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by david loeb

bayview letter from the publisher

Diane Poslosky

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o doubt about it; there’s something awe-inspiring about old-growth redwood trees. I think it has to do with our expectation that growing, living things be at a certain scale. So when we encounter a 1,500-year-old, 300-foot-tall redwood with a circumference of 70 feet—or a 200-ton adult blue whale for that matter—it trips a switch into the realm of awe. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that our region’s longestrunning conservation campaign is the one to save the redwoods, which began in 1899 as these magnificent trees were being cut down at an alarming rate. This movement has long focused on efforts to slow old-growth logging and preserve the remaining groves of these majestic trees, which grow in a fairly narrow coastal strip from southern Oregon south to Big Sur. But now, virtually all the old-growth redwoods have either been protected or cut down. More than 95 percent of our redwood forests consist of trees that are “new growth” and are devoid of the complexity and biodiversity harbored in oldgrowth forests. So what’s to be done? The organizations established a century ago to protect redwoods—Sempervirens Fund and Save the Redwoods League—have begun to pivot their efforts toward managing the redwood forests we have today to become the old-growth forests of the future. And this will entail more than acquiring

contr ibuto rs Andrew Alden (p. 11) has been writing on geological subjects, from the outer planets to the Bay Area, since 1997. oaklandgeology.wordpress.com. Donna Almendrala (p. 34) is a cartoonist, illustrator, and designer with a degree in chemical biology. Graelyn Brashear (p. 7) was a reporter with C-VILLE Weekly in Charlottesville, NC, and is now earning her MA in journalism from UC Berkeley. Jason Holley (p.32) is a professor at Art Center College in Pasadena. His clients include Rolling Stone, Time, and

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redwood properties and leaving them alone. In order to support the process of logged forests maturing into old-growth forests, these groups are looking at more active management that includes—perhaps counterintuitively—limited logging, both to open up windows for greater growth by the remaining trees and to fund this expensive stewardship and monitoring work. We take a look at this innovative process in the story “What’s Next for the Redwoods?” (page 26). Of course, humans have been actively “designing” the surrounding environment for eons: Think of the burning practices of California Indians to slow the “natural” succession of grasslands— which provided much of their sustenance—into scrub. So it’s not surprising—though it was unintentional—that this issue’s three feature articles take up the phenomenon of humans actively designing nature, though in these cases, the goal is to repair human-caused damage. One article focuses on successful efforts by the East Bay Regional Park District to create nesting habitat—a “tern island”—for the endangered California least tern in the middle of a waste treatment pond in Hayward. Environmental engineering that offsets the loss of habitat due to shoreline development is something that everyone can get behind. Much more controversial are efforts to protect the breeding population of the rare ashy storm-petrel (a diminutive gray seabird) on the Farallon Islands. Currently on the table is a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to use (continued on page 5) rodenticide to the New York Times. Kaitlyn Kraybill-Voth (p. 10) is a former Bay Nature intern studying Earth Science at UC Berkeley. Michael Ellis (p. 53) is a Santa Rosa–based naturalist who leads nature-related tours with Footloose Forays footlooseforays.com. Lauren McNulty (p. 19) is a Bay Nature editorial intern. Naturalist and illustrator John Muir Laws (p. 54) is the author of The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds. johnmuirlaws.com. Grant Peters (p. 10) is studying journalism and environmental studies at Ohio University and is a Bay Nature

BayNature Exploring, celebrating, and understanding the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area

Volume 16, Issue 3 July–September 2016 Publisher David Loeb Editor in Chief Victoria Schlesinger Editorial Director Eric Simons Contributing Editor Alison Hawkes Research Editor Sue Rosenthal Copy Editor Cynthia Rubin Design Susan Scandrett Advertising Director Ellen Weis Associate Director Judith Katz Marketing & Outreach Director Beth Slatkin Office Manager Jenny Stampp Information Technology Manager Laurence Tietz Development Associate Katy Yeh Board of Directors Christopher Dann, Catherine Fox (President), Tracy Grubbs, Bruce Hartsough, David Loeb, John Raeside, Bob Schildgen, Nancy Westcott Volunteers/Interns Drew Baldwin, Ali Budner, Brianna Contaxis-Tucker, Samantha Cook, Lucy Kang, Andrea Laue, Grace Lee, Grant Peters, Isabel Soloaga, Ruby Solomon, Lena Smith, Kim Teruya, Benjamin Whiting Bay Nature is published quarterly by the Bay Nature Institute, 1328 6th Street #2, Berkeley, CA 94710 Subscriptions: $62.95/three years; $45.95/two years; $25.95/one year; (888)422-9628, baynature.org P.O. Box 92408, Long Beach, CA 90809 Advertising: (510)813-1903/advertising@baynature.org Editorial & Business Office: 1328 6th Street #2, Berkeley, CA 94710 (510)528-8550; (510)528-8117 (fax) baynature@baynature.org baynature.org issn 1531-5193 No part of this magazine may be reproduced without written permission from Bay Nature and its contributors. © 2016 Bay Nature Printed by Commerce Printing (Sacramento, CA) using soy-based inks and alternative energy.

Cover: California least tern breaks the surface of the water by the Hayward Shoreline after catching a small fish. [Jerry Ting]

editorial intern. Elizabeth Rogers (p. 8) is a Bay Nature editorial intern. She posts photos of interesting snakes on Instagram @prettiest_unicorn. Ann Sieck (p. 19) is dedicated to helping people with disabilities, including those using wheelchairs, find parks and trails they can enjoy. baynature.org/asiecker. Lena Smith (p. 10) is a recent graduate of Occidental College and Bay Nature editorial intern. Ruby Solomon (p. 7) is an undergraduate at the University of San Francisco and Bay Nature editorial intern.


letters Dear Editor: I read your interesting piece about wolves in Bay Nature’s April-June issue, and I too have wondered whether wolves were part of our early ecology.  My interest was piqued because I have a quote from a pioneer visitor to Marin County in 1849-50 in which he described wolves howling at night in the camp he shared with a group of about 35 men who were building a sawmill.  That campsite was at one of the major creeks that drains Mount Tamalpais. The men were from western Maryland, a mixed group of farmers and merchants. I presume they would have been able to recognize a wolf, as wolves apparently were native to their home territory, but of course distinctions between eastern wolves and western coyotes might have been unfamiliar to them.  Still, they were camped for several months, and the “wolves” visited regularly—the men probably had sufficient opportunity for good visual assessments.  The quote comes from a letter sent home to Maryland and excerpted in a local newspaper, the Howard Gazette and exterminate invasive house mice that are overrunning portions of Southeast Farallon and attracting burrowing owls, who then feed on the petrel eggs as well. But what if we could get rid of the mice, or other invasive species, without poisons, using genetic engineering instead? Scientists could create a mouse that would produce only male offspring and thereby breed itself out of existence in just a few generations in the island’s closed ecosystem. This is not being proposed currently, but those of us who have grave concerns about tinkering with the genetic code of living organisms need to at least consider this as an alternative to the other two unattractive options: the widespread use

(continued from page 4)

General Advertiser, of March 16, 1850—that is, it’s a personal and contemporary observation by a participant, not a generalized report.   The letter was dated January 24, 1850, datelined “Camp Balto.,” and included: “I am now writing (late at night) in our tent, which is our private apartment, annoyed by the howling of the black and other wolves, which infest our camp regularly, but dangerous only when met in large parties.” I’m a member of the Heritage Preservation Board in the City of Larkspur and have been researching this group of men for several years. They had organized as The Baltimore and Frederick Mining and Trading Company, and erected their large and modern steam sawmill in what became “Baltimore Canyon,” a two-mile drainage on the eastern face of Mount Tam about two blocks south of what is now the city’s downtown. Richard Cunningham, Larkspur Correction Obi Kaufmann created the illustrated maps for the story on the BerryessaSnow Mountain National Monument in the April–June issue. We regret that his name was misspelled. of poison on wildlife-rich islands, or the certain demise of the ashy stormpetrel (or some other threatened species elsewhere). I don’t have the answer, but our work on “Re-coding for Conservation” (page 32) has challenged me to start learning about this new technology and consider its implications. We’d love to hear what you think and spark a good conversation by inviting you to share your thoughts at facebook.com/baynature. In the meantime, summer is a great time to enter the “realm of awe” by taking a hike through a shady redwood forest or taking a whalewatching tour to see the record numbers of humpbacks and blue whales foraging off our coast this summer. j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 6

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opening shot

Close Encounters

Humpback whales, known for their acrobatic displays as they breach the surface and for their haunting underwater vocalizations, are showing up along the California coast in larger numbers and closer to shore than usual. In May, humpbacks were sighted repeatedly inside the Golden Gate, a rare occurrence, and have been visible from the coast most of the spring. Marine experts say that the abundance of whales could be due to changes in ocean currents and temperatures, which may concentrate schools of anchovies—favorite foods for the humpbacks—closer to the coast. Alternatively, depleted stocks of forage fish and krill could be forcing the whales to cover more territory to find a meal, making them more visible. Underwater, humpbacks are just as dramatic as they are at the b ay n at u r e

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surface. Few of us get to see these displays, but Carmel-based photographer Bryant Austin captures breathtaking encounters with whales around the world, including this humpback calf in the waters of the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. Over a period of weeks, Austin dives near a group of whales until they’re comfortable around him. Only then will he approach close enough to take such intimate shots as this one that appears on the cover of his book Beautiful Whale (Abrams, 2013). (Austin travels abroad for his whale portraits as only scientists can obtain permits to get this close to whales in U.S. waters.) Several local outfitters run whalewatching trips throughout the summer to see humpbacks and blues. For a partial list, go to baynature.org/whalewatching. b rya n t au s t i n , s t u d i o c o s m o s . c o m


news & notes from around the bay

currents

caliparks.org

Elizabeth Pepi: KQED

Solving Social Trails with Tech

Azalea Hill in the Marin Municipal Water District looks flush with life. A winding dirt pathway leads past hillsides that are a chipper shade of green. As the trail slopes down toward the Alpine Lake reservoir, side paths shoot off into the greenery. Here, says MMWD Ranger Matt Cerkel, is where a problem creeps into this idyll. These side paths are so-called “social trails,” and while they might take you to interesting places, they’re not necessarily safe for people or good for the environment. Hikers and cyclists can get lost. And they can cause significant damage, such as trampling and fragmenting native habitat, disrupting wildlife, increasing erosion, and filling creeks with sediment. For a ranger like Cerkel, part of the battle to keep the watershed lands healthy lies in keeping people off social trails. “There is actually quite a bit of research and planning that goes into a trail before we make it official,” Cerkel says. “The land is inspected to make sure there is as little disruption as possible to the natural ecosystem. All of this is ignored when people just go ahead and make their own trails.” Cerkel’s struggle has become much harder over the last decade with the widespread use of web-based maps that include information from a multitude of sources unrelated to the agencies that manage parks. As a result, digital maps often don’t—or can’t—distinguish between authorized and unauthorized trails, so they unwittingly encourage hikers down trails that park rangers would prefer they avoid. For example, OpenStreetMap (OSM), a comprehensive open-source map of the world editable by anyone, is the source for maps on websites like FourSquare, Pinterest, and Strava. Hence, a social trail on OSM will spread into the world far beyond the ability of a small agency like the Marin Municipal Water District to keep up. Multiply that by the 11,800 parks and open spaces managed by nearly 1,000 agencies in California alone, and you get an idea of the problem. Last summer, San Francisco-based Stamen Design launched a new park-finding app called CaliParks (Caliparks.org) that uses OSM data. Cerkel noticed that the app’s maps displayed social trails, and he brought it to the attention of then-Stamen project director Dan Rademacher, who had led the development of CaliParks. To fix the social trail problem in CaliParks, Rademacher knew you’d have to fix OpenStreetMap, because when someone makes a change to OSM, apps using the latest OSM data will reflect that change. That’s why park managers can’t just delete the trails they don’t like: Anyone can just edit it back into OSM. To remove a social trail, all the potential editors would have to see it and then choose to leave it off. Stamen joined local outdoors technology company Trailhead Labs in a hackathon last fall to address the problem. They came up with a filter that when tested removed 19 social trails from OSM’s (and by extension CaliParks’) publicly visible map of the Mount Tam area, while leaving in the map’s data for editors, developers, researchers, or agencies to see. Although OSM community editors have since changed the precise method of tagging trails that Stamen proposed, the impact remains the same: Anyone editing A screenshot from Stamen OSM can learn about social trails Design highlights social and help solve the problem, and trails (in pink) in the the rest of us will be better off Mount Tam Watershed. for it. —Ruby Solomon

Safer Wind Power in the Altamont Pass? The Altamont Pass, in the foothills of the Diablo Range, has the dubious distinction of being the country’s deadliest wind power installation for birds. Wind companies are now dismantling thousands of obsolete turbines on the pass and replacing them with newer and safer models, a turnaround that’s been lauded by conservation groups who have fought for decades to make the industry more bird-friendly. But one of the largest wind companies, Altamont Winds, has rankled conservation groups by moving ahead with plans to place a new generation of wind turbines in the pass before confirming they’re sited safely for birds. “Even if you put in better equipment, if it’s in the wrong place you’ll kill birds for another 50 years,” says Cindy Margulis, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. In the 1980s, about 7,000 turbines were built on the 60-square-mile swath of rolling grassland. The same strong and steady winds that make the area a prime spot for generating power also make it a key migratory route and foraging area for raptors and other birds. Monitoring between 2005 and 2013 found that the turbines kill an (continued on page 8) average of 43 golden j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 6

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currents

culture & news

eagles annually, as well as hundreds of American kestrels, burrowing owls, and red-tailed hawks. For years, wind companies have been “repowering” their operations by replacing aging, faltering turbines with more efficient ones. A few dozen of the new turbines can produce as much electricity as hundreds of the older, smaller models, and it’s expected that having fewer turbines will lessen the number of bird strikes. Conservationists, though, have been frustrated at the slow pace of change. In 2005, several California Audubon chapters sued wind companies and Alameda County over bird fatalities in the pass, eventually reaching a settlement to halve the number of bird deaths by 2009. The most dangerous turbines were removed, and many more were idled in the winter months, when the highest numbers of deaths are typically recorded. With permits expiring, all the oldgeneration turbines will be removed by next year, says Sandra Rivera, an assistant planning director with Alameda County. But Altamont Winds didn’t take part in the legal settlement. Earlier this year, Alameda’s East County Board of Zoning Adjustments approved permits for Altamont Winds to build 27 new turbines on the condition that it conduct further bird impact studies. The company will eventually have to meet the same bird safety standards as other wind companies before it can build, Rivera says. Not everyone is satisfied with those assurances, including California’s deputy attorney general who says that Altamont Winds has too much wiggle room in siting its turbines. Company officials did not reply to requests for comment. As of May, Altamont Winds’ permit was in the hands of Alameda County’s board of supervisors.—Graelyn Brashear

Andrea Laue, sparebeauty.com

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We Players Perform Romeo and Juliet Al Fresco On the rolling lawn of Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, set between the imposing Italianate villa and oak woodlands, actors of the San Francisco-based theater troupe We Players stumble around with eyes closed. The rehearsing actors are learning to open their other senses to the surroundings in preparation for their entirely outdoor performances. “There’s no backstage for us,” says Ava Roy, the founding artistic director of the group. Through its outdoor performances of Shakespeare classics, We Players works to make perception—through smell, sound, and touch—an active experience for the actors and audience alike. This summer the group will perform Romeo and Juliet on the grounds of the historic Petaluma Adobe, focusing on integrating nature into the whole theater experience. For one of the pivotal scenes of the play, the ball in which Romeo and Juliet b ay n at u r e

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first meet, the actors will all be masked, each mask carefully sculpted to represent a species native to the area. “There’s been almost too much serendipity between the actors and their animals,” Roy says referring to the likeness of individuals and their assigned creature. In researching their animals, from mountain lions to California quail to moths and hummingbirds, the actors have incorporated the unique behavioral patterns and movements of their chosen animals into their understanding and performance of the characters. Even the costumes that will be used in the final production were made with nature in mind: Each will be dyed with colors sourced from native plants. “It’s about getting feedback from a space,” Roy says—a way of enhancing the classics with an appreciation for the unique landscapes of California. —Elizabeth Rogers


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currents

science & restoration

A Tree Heart Attack 1. Leaves When it’s hot, leaves lose more water to the atmosphere, increasing tension on the tree’s vascular (xylem) system to replace it.

Kaitlyn Kraybill-Voth; kaitlynkraybillvoth.com

3. Trunk Increased water tension can lead to air bubbles entering the tree’s xylem in the leaves, roots, or trunk.

2. Roots Roots surrounded by dry, drought-stressed soil, also increases tension on the tree’s hydraulic system.

4. Xylem “Hydraulic safety margin” is a measure of how much tension a tree can bear before bubbles block the water flow in the sylem. Past that point, lethal embolisms can occur.

More than 29 million trees have died in California during the past four years of withering drought. With dry periods expected to be more common in the future, scientists want to know which trees are most vulnerable. A team of researchers led by William Anderegg at the University of Utah analyzed 33 tree-mortality studies from around the world to come up with answers. Just as you can identify high-risk disease factors in humans, Anderegg’s group found, you can identify traits that increase a tree’s risk of suffering a lethal embolism—a phenomenon “akin to a tree heart attack,” Anderegg said in a press release from the National Science Foundation, which partially funded the research. The predictive traits all had to do with the way trees move water internally. When conditions in the air and ground are dry, tension builds within a tree’s vein-like xylem system. When the tension gets too great, air bubbles can enter the xylem, partially or completely blocking the flow of water in the same way a human embolism blocks the flow of blood through a vein. What makes trees most prone to fatal heart attacks? Some of it has to do with lineage. In Anderegg’s analysis, gymnosperms, such as redwoods and pine trees, were as likely to die from drought as angiosperms, such as oaks and aspens, but for different reasons. Gymnosperms have strong xylem that can withstand high tension, but less ability to cope once the tension does rise to a damaging level. Angiosperms have lower tension thresholds but better tolerate stress in general. So to predict which trees will suffer in drought from embolisms, says Stanford environmental scientist Chris Field—a past collaborator of Anderegg’s—you’d have to look at both a tree’s characteristics and its environmental context. Not so different from human health. —Grant Peters

Cleanup of Non-Native Species at Drakes Estero This summer the National Park Service will remove an assortment of plastic mesh bags, plastic mats, racks, and cement anchors from the waters of Drakes Estero, the remaining infrastructure left by Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which the park service closed in December 2014 after a ten-year highly publicized battle. All of the buildings along the shore have been removed now— except for one that will remain permanently—leaving the trickier task of cleaning up the estero’s waters. The cleanup had been on hold through the spring, so as not to disturb the estero’s large population of harbor seals during their pupping season. But with the season now over, NPS spokesperson Melanie Gunn says the park service will move forward with the cleanup as quickly as possible to stop the spread of two nonnative species: the Manila clam (Venerupis philippinarum), which was once farmed alongside the oysters, and a species of tunicate called carpet sea squirt or marine vomit (Didemnum vexillum). b ay n at u r e

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The farmed clams were grown inside sealed bags, but Gunn says park staff have seen young clams in the estero, suggesting they’ve already escaped. The clams have the potential to become invasive if they begin to reproduce, Gunn says. Unlike the clams, the sea squirts were unintentionally introduced into the estero. However, the racks provided a perfect home for these formless invertebrates, which need a hard surface to latch onto. They will lose much of their preferred habitat when the racks and anchors are removed, but they have also been observed growing on rocks and native eelgrass in the estero. Pulling out the racks is bound to disturb and remobilize the sea squirts, so there is a chance they could spread and find new homes nearby, Gunn says. Following the removal of the oyster farm’s equipment, divers will visually monitor the estero for the two species to determine if they have been successfully removed. —Lena Smith


signs of the season

Magnified 200 times, these grains tell an ancient tale

poets have said, more than once, that gazing at a grain of sand can evoke a whole world. Geologists respond that one grain of sand is like one face in a crowd, individual but not very informative. But a tiny pinch of sand has enough grains to tell the story of a whole landscape. To the trained eye, this specimen of coarse beach sand from Point Reyes, magnified 200 times, is a microcosm of northern California’s distinctive shoreline. Rocks crumble under wind and weather. Once rock particles are reduced to between 1/16 mm and 2 mm in diameter—larger than silt but smaller than gravel—they’re deemed sand. Then rivers grind and water erodes the grains, gradually removing the softer minerals. In this way sand evolves from a youthful complexity to a mature simplicity. The bright colors in the photo signal that this is an immature sand, located near the rocks that gave rise to it. Sand from McClure’s Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore The consistency of these grains marks magnified 200 times using a 3D microscope the specimen as a beach sand. At beaches the constant ocean waves wash sand back and forth, endlessly milling the grains toward roundness and sifting them by size. Even though some of these grains are young and jagged, while others are more worn and rounded, all are roughly the same size. In geological terms, they are well sorted. Just from this sand’s appearance, geologists can readily picture a place much like Point Reyes—a coast with strong surf, near sea cliffs bearing a variety of rock types. Most of the California coast has relatively dark, immature sand. But the details in this sample tell us more, showing several types of sand grain derived from specific sources. The clear and white grains are crystalline quartz, a ubiquitous mineral whose hardness, toughness, and resistance to chemical breakdown make it the king of sand. Only other hard minerals can coexist with quartz for long. The clear, fresh quartz is from granite and the frosted, stained quartz is recycled from sandstone—a rock made of compressed grains from an ancient beach. The opaque yellowish grains are feldspar, a common mineral found in granites along with quartz. Softer than quartz (it’s the typical mineral in non-scratch cleansers), feldspar is often found in immature sands. The translucent yellowish grains are chert, a rock derived from the microscopic silicabased skeletons of single-celled marine diatoms. Chert is harder than feldspar (California natives made stone tools of it) and stands up to quartz. Its color ranges from cream through red to black. The dark grains are mostly chert, colored by whatever organic matter the rock incorporated as it hardened under the ocean floor, but a few of them may be resistant black

Gary Greenberg, sandgrains.com

Stories in Sand

currents

minerals like magnetite. The variegated grains are bits of finegrained granite, still crumbling into separate particles of quartz and feldspar. The presence of these so-called lithic grains is a telltale sign that their source is nearby. Specialists in forensic geology can study bits of sand from a crime suspect’s shoes or tire treads and determine where it came from, sometimes with uncanny precision. The grains in this sample closely matches the rocks on the northwestern face of the Point Reyes peninsula— where granite outcrops at Tomales Point give way southward to sea cliffs exposing chert of the Monterey Formation (which bleaches with exposure from black to white) and sandstone of the Laird Formation. The abundance of lithic grains and chert points to a location in the northern part of the peninsula. And what of that single green grain? Note two things about it: It’s rare, and it’s very well rounded. These traits point to a more distant source on the California mainland, east of the San Andreas fault, where the rocks of the Franciscan Complex dominate. The Franciscan’s metamorphic rocks feature green minerals ranging from soft chlorite to gem-quality jade. The color and fabric of this lone straggler best match the mineral actinolite, common in Sonoma County. It was likely washed to the Pacific by the Russian River, then carried south by the prevailing California Current to this Point Reyes beach, joining its cousins from the Pacific plate west of the fault. —Andrew Alden beach sand and geology walk

Saturday, August 6, 10:00am-1:00pm Join Bay Nature and geology expert Andrew Alden for an exploration of the sands and geology of Rodeo Beach. Space is limited and registration is required. Sign up at baynature.org/field

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Eric Simons

conservation in action

An Emissary of the Bay’s Forgotten Beaches To get to the exceedingly rare plant called California sea-blite you go down to the east shore of San Francisco on an unmarked industrial road, past warehouses and jumbled rail lines. Cement plant rock-crushers roar, grinding Canadian gravel to fuel the city’s construction boom. A black tanker rests on a weed-lined rail spur, its side stamped in white: INEDIBLE TALLOW. A concrete road divider marks the end of the industrial area, and then in the shadow of the rock piles the waves sigh over a small crescent marsh with a view of the Bay Bridge and Oakland. On a sandy rise about 10 feet from the water’s edge sprouts what looks like a plantation of waist-high green pipe cleaners. Over these, the freelance coastal ecologist Peter Baye pauses. This is one of only three small populations of endangered, once-extirpated sea-blite (Suaeda californica) around San Francisco Bay and a trigger for a wide-ranging, ambitious tangle of ideas that Baye holds about protecting life on earth. These ideas come out rapid-fire, b ay n at u r e

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Baye’s mouth racing his brain to get the words out before he digresses again. There is the value of an “off-brand” marsh, the “taboo” of endangered species, the unexpected beauty of ugly habitats, the “idolatrous concepts” of wetlands that cause us to “mislead ourselves” into “thinking that virtuous actions are the goal of conservation”—as we stand over the sea-blite it all pours out, unpunctuated streams that merge into Baye’s self-described “perverse interest in recovering Suaeda where it originally was.” Baye wears jeans, wirerim glasses, and a gray wool beanie in the style favored by the Cousteaus. A former staff scientist at both the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he is considered one of the leading architects of coastal conservation in Northern California. He helped design a futuristic “horizon-

Freelance coastal ecologist Peter Baye takes a closer look at seeds gathered from California sea-blite at Pier 94.

tal levee”—for which he won a Bay Hero award from the Bay Institute in 2016— and a 1,000-acre restored tidal marsh at Sears Point in Sonoma. He was a contributing author on three of six science foundation chapters in a major 2015 report called The Baylands and Climate Change: What We Can Do. Twenty years ago Baye latched onto an anonymous plant that had been extinct in the San Francisco Bay for decades and, in the face of overwhelming bureaucratic and public indifference, has worked doggedly to bring it back. Peter Baye saw something bigger in the case of the sea-blite. Today, from the mud at our feet, spring the spiky green tendrils of a defiant attack on marsh idolatry—and on the way we think about endangered species. California sea-blite thrives in the narrow strip of ecotone sandy beach on the bay edge of tidal marshes. In Southern California’s Morro Bay, the only other place it lives, it is a climber of fences, driftwood, and dunes. On longer time scales it is also a lateral mover, riding the back of the constantly migrating beach. “Suaeda is literally surfing,” Baye says; “it’s just very slow-motion surfing and the wave composition is sand.”

At Pier 94 on the industrial east shore of San Francisco, the California sea-blite thrives.

Six thousand years ago Suaeda species surfed a coastal plain that stretched from Mendocino in the north to San Diego in the south to the Farallon Islands in the west. A few hundred years

Eric Simons

by eric simons


California sea-blite had been absent from the San Francisco Bay for 30 years when Peter Baye first re-planted it here in the 1990s. It now lives at three sites around the Bay, with more introductions planned.

pick a plant or animal, and you “save” it. But single-species thinking depends more than it should on the charisma of the species at hand and gives less space to the idea of the ecological processes that will matter more in determining the future health of the world. “If you read the act, it does not say we’re going to make a zoo and populate it with all these preserved species,” he says. “The basic purpose of the act is to work with the ecosystem.” When wetland ecologist Katharyn Boyer arrived at San Francisco State in the mid-2000s, Baye pointed her to the potential of underappreciated, emblematic sea-blite. Boyer and her graduate students have since taken the idea from Baye’s head and grounded it in reality. They have scouted potential new locations for sea-blite, studied its nutritional needs, and grown seedlings in the lab. In April, they planted 45 new plants at Pier 94 to compare nutrition and sea-blite growth there and in Morro Bay. Reintroduced sea-blite now lives in two other places around the Bay, and a sea-blite recovery team led by Boyer plans to apply for funding this fall to complete the resurrection. Boyer has always been intrigued by the results of a lab experiment showing that sea-blite thrives on eelgrass detritus. The two species might succeed or decline together, she says, pointing the way back to the big picture—bringing back the ecosystem. What else might the sea-blite be friends with? Boyer considered endangered Ridgway’s rails and salt marsh harvest mice, both of which rely heavily for protective cover on grindelia—a plant that doesn’t fare well with droughts or sea-level rise. Sea-blite could also provide high-tide refuge here, and with its succulent leaves and climbing ability, it is far better adapted to both drought and sea level rise. “It was just this light bulb,”

Boyer says. “It would be such an attractive way to go forward, trying to introduce a rare species but thinking about it from a much broader community or ecosystem level.” Many popular de-extinction efforts are moon shots, meant as much to stoke the human imagination as to repair ecological damage. The sea-blite represents a different definition of inspiration, Baye says, one that considers healthy relationships beautiful and works with species we have at hand to achieve them. And so, for considerably less effort than it would take to bring back the mammoth or reintroduce the grizzly bear, Baye, Boyer, and company could recover one endangered species, support several more, highlight a forgotten landscape, and help protect against sea level rise. “There’s more potential there than we realize,” Baye says. “If this works—and it makes sense that it would—hey, that would inspire me.”

Rachel Diaz-Bastin, racheldiazbastin.com

ago sea-blite still thrived on 22 miles of beaches around central San Francisco Bay. The beaches are now almost completely gone, and with them the sea-blite. The last known local collection occurred in San Leandro in 1958; when Suaeda californica was added to the Endangered Species list in 1994, there had been no confirmed reports of it in San Francisco Bay since 1960. It had passed from mind so completely here that the listing, written by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ventura office to cover the Morro Bay plants, didn’t even consider the possibility of a reintroduction in San Francisco Bay. Baye had been studying the historical botany of San Francisco Bay when he first came across records of the sea-blite. (The name “blite” applies to all 110 members of the Suaeda genus and comes from the Latin for spinach.) That it had been widespread in the Bay, had been wiped out along with most of its home, and had been forgotten as soon as it went extinct here, all caught his attention. He took vacation time to admire the plant in Morro Bay. When he joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1997, he pushed for a Suaeda reintroduction in the San Francisco Bay. It was possible, so why not? He was motivated also by its link to a neglected piece of the landscape. Beach habitat has “trailed in the restoration caboose” all these years, Baye says, and while we’ve restored thousands of acres of tidal marsh, there’s been no matching commitment to bringing back the sand. It’s good habitat, Baye adds. Beaches adjust themselves naturally to shifting waterlines, meaning they could buffer sea level rise in front of many otherwise doomed-to-be-drowned marshes. This potential should be front-and-center, Baye says. Which led him inevitably to: What if you viewed the sea-blite as a sort of anchor species whose reintroduction would necessitate the recovery of an overlooked habitat? And here, Baye concludes, is one problem with the way the Endangered Species Act is administered and perceived. Most people think about it in terms of single species: You

weird, ugly, rare

“How we feel about an animal affects its survival,” the writer Jon Mooallem says at the end of a 2014 TED Talk. “Our imagination has become an ecological force.” If rare life needs our storytelling to survive, it’s a perilous proposition for the world’s uncharismatic plants and animals. This series, funded by the Foundation for Environmental Journalism, showcases the stories of species it’s hard to tell stories about, along with the people who love them anyway. Read more at baynature.org/ biodiversity. (Sage grouse, above)

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View of the Salmon Creek watershed east of Bodega

camping out on working lands in western sonoma by Sabine Bergmann An hour before April’s first sunrise, I wriggle out of my sleeping bag and unzip my tent flap to the chatter of birdsong. I listen for a moment—between the phrases of a robin’s song, there’s an owl hoohooing—but I don’t pause long. Here in the grove of redwoods that marks Camp Site 1 at Salmon Creek Ranch in western Sonoma County, it’s cold enough to get me moving, shuffling through the leaf litter toward the meadow bordering my campsite. From there I’ll be able to pick a route up the hill to catch the sunrise. Standing in the damp grass, I assess my options: A web of trails branches up into the forest to the right, but they look too dark. A wide, grassy route b ay n at u r e

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follows the creek behind me but won’t take me uphill. Before me, the rocky, fern-flanked road I drove in on the day before looks promising. That’s my choice—and as a bonus it means I’ll see the animals. Two thirds of my way up the hill, as the first rays of sunlight pierce through the Douglas fir canopy, I get my wish. Here come two large beige dogs barking at me as they lope along the fence line. Behind them is a group of knobby-kneed goats silhouetted by the sun. Shaggy-haired cattle trot along the driveway, which stretches out for another mile or two. Pausing at the fence at the top of the hill and looking east, I can see to

Bay; New Zealand bred Kiko goats find morning forage on Salmon Creek Ranch.

the next tree-lined ridge of hills and the valley between us cradling the fog. Most of my view is of sloping pastures, pale green in the morning light. The hills and meadows along Salmon Creek are almost entirely ranchland and have been for generations. In their midst are tiny towns like nearby Bodega. The rocky ocean inlet of Bodega Bay is just four miles west of here. Standing at the high point of Salmon Creek Ranch, I realize that this is my favorite kind of backyard camping, where the backyard isn’t mine and it stretches for 400 acres. I found my camping site at Salmon Creek Ranch through Hipcamp, a business that facilitates camping both on public and private land. Private landowners may list any site where campers can “connect with nature.” Some of the sites are so remote you can only access them by kayak; others offer tipis and yurts for shelter. At Salmon


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Creek, the two campsites are traditional: picnic tables, Porta-Potties, fire rings, and sheltered spaces for pitching tents. Salmon Creek Ranch is a far cry from camping in wilderness, but I see plenty of wildlife: Hawks glide over the pastures; red-winged blackbirds flit by in flashes of color. While the dogs are on alert for bobcats and mountain lions and coyotes, I watch ravens perch along the duck pasture fences—they’ve been known to sneak in, steal eggs, and fly off with them wedged in their beaks. I walk over gopher holes that show signs great blue herons were hunting their denizens, and catch a glimpse of a garter snake slithering through the grass. Sure, there are cattle and domesticated ducks and dogs—the place is a ranch. But it’s more than that. “It’s what we call the middle space,” Alyssa Ravasio says. Ravasio is the CEO and founder of Hipcamp, and she laughs in recognition when I tell her the ranch had the feel of wilderness, despite harboring people and livestock. “For too long we’ve looked at land use as binary,” she says, referring to protected and nonprotected areas. “We’re either going to not touch it, like there’s a glass pane between us and the land, or we completely exploit it. But we don’t have to destroy everything we touch. We’re an important part of the ecosystem.” What she means is that we haven’t separated these lands for conservation, but there’s room to protect what’s wild within them nonetheless. Perhaps the middle space—private land with conservation potential—can remind us how to live better with the land. Perhaps it can teach us what it means to be an important part of an ecosystem.

They’re so smart! They ingratiate themselves. The dogs think they’re just a new duck in the flock. They [ravens] hop around like, ‘Yeah, I’m a black duck.’ But they kill. It’s horrible.” “Any ideas on how to stop them?” “It’s an ongoing experiment,” she says with a sigh. The Brabyns have several experiments under way, including the use of Hipcamp. Since Salmon Creek Ranch first posted its campsites on the Hipcamp website in October 2015, hundreds of campers have pitched their tents in the ranch’s redwood groves.

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ask her about the red-haired cattle I had encountered on my morning walk. “Those are Scottish Highlanders,” Lesley confirms. “They’re curious little puppies. Sometimes they come down to the campsites to say hi. Just text me if they bother you.” It’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone refer to a cow as a puppy. But when I think of the Highlanders—with their comically long manes flopped over their faces—the term seems appropriate. As it happens, Lesley is also raising a puppy litter of the dog variety, and she invites me to come play with them in the patch of grass behind the farmhouse. That’s an easy yes. As the pups flop around in the sun, Lesley explains that these Anatolian shepherds, a heritage breed from Eastern Turkey, have been bred to chase any animal that doesn’t belong with the livestock. (Including writers who wake up early to catch the sunrise.) “It’s a nonlethal method of predator control,” she says. The nearest puppy makes a tight turn, back legs sliding sideways and front paws splaying out in the grass. I ask Lesley if there are any intruders the dogs miss. “The ravens. They’re the worst!

The next mor ning Lesley invites me in to the farmhouse for coffee, and I meet her husband, John, a New Zealand transplant who infuses our conversation with full-bellied laughs. He tells me about the ranch’s partnership with the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District, which is rehabilitating the aptly named Salmon Creek so that coho will return. The creek runs from the hills near Occidental through the ranchland of Bodega Valley—including Salmon Creek Ranch—and eventually winds its way out to the Pacific. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has

Lesley Brabyn stands in the grove of redwoods with her hands on her hips. Afternoon sunlight is streaming in, highlighting wisps from the mop of brown hair she wears piled on her head. I at Salmon Creek Ranch are advertised through Hipcamp.com and supplement the landowners’ income.

Phillip Lee

Two private campsites set within the redwood forest

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to complete in an hour. I make my way through the forest, along wide leaf-litter tracks through the undergrowth of ferns and grass, past thick trunks of redwoods and bay laurels and Douglas firs. Thickets of silver-green lace lichen dangle from low-hanging branches. My path skirts the perimeter of the forest, heading for the spot marked “Upper Ducks” on my map. My strides are interrupted half a dozen times by rough-skinned newts, which wiggle unhurriedly through rivulets of water on the path. It’s sunny today, but the March showers have enlivened the creek and left parts of the path muddied. A couple of rock outcroppings dominate the hillside, looking like moss-covered sentinels. Robin calls echo through the forest. The trees offer shelter from the wind, which is now whipping around the open sections of the property. Soon, the gently sloping path pops out of the tree cover; it follows the fence that leads to the upper duck pen. Ever watched a hundred ducks waddle at once? It’s mesmerizing. And loud. The wind picks up. Goats munch grass in their pastures; a hummingbird perches on a bush. I head down the driveway and the fern-flanked road to

sale of their meat, and ducks for their eggs, on Salmon County farmer’s markets.

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Sunlight falls through the forest canopy as I make my way along one of the ranch’s hiking trails—remnants of logging roads from half a century ago. The trails wind through the forested half of the ranch, each one short enough

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tr ail released spawning coho into the creek for the past four winters, but the salmon need a healthy watershed to spawn and survive, and that’s where the Gold Ridge team comes in: They conduct surveys and restoration efforts along the riparian corridor, asking permission from landowners to do so. Not all the ranchers along Salmon Creek are open to the installation of “debris structures” in the creek, which create habitat refuges for the young salmon smolts, or annual visits from survey teams—but the Brabyns welcome Gold Ridge. “They go snorkeling in the creek!” John erupts into laughter. “But John, the creek is only ankle deep.” “Oh, there are pools,” John smiles. “The results are pretty encouraging, they say.” While John and I chat, Lesley runs throughout the house, ferrying papers and coffee mugs. She drops a one-anda-half-inch-thick Cal Fire flora and fauna survey of their property on the coffee table. In addition to fire safety guidelines—half of Salmon Creek Ranch is forest—it contains lists of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and trees on the property. I notice both native gray and nonnative red foxes on the list, and John tells me of the mother red fox and cubs Lesley caught nibbling at the duck feeders when they moved the flock last year. Lesley runs back to the living room, holding a handwritten card. “This is from the Audubon Society last year. It says…two of the species

seen, red crossbills and goldencrowned kinglets, were life birds for most of the team!” Lesley flips through some more papers and produces spreadsheets that she has compiled (“OK, so I’m a little neurotic!”) of the last five years of the Audubon bird counts. “The numbers,” she hands me the sheets, “are increasing.” I glance at the rows of jays, larks, sparrows, hawks, and owls. “And then there are the migrating birds!” Lesley waves her arms. “Huge clouds of birds, thousands of them up there in the driveway—” “Huge noise,” John adds, chuckling. “—and I can’t even describe it.” Lesley’s eyes go soft. “It’s just clouds of them, and they’re all—oh my God, it’s just beautiful. It’s… incredible.”

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camp. Back in the meadow, flattened tire-prints lead the way to the creekside trail, which is bordered with pale blue forget-me-nots. The path hugs Salmon Creek, occasionally widens into fields dotted with dandelions, and at one point dips down to a sandy creek crossing. The water is crisp and clear, cool on the feet. Back at camp, the sun-dappled redwood grove is perfect for hammock napping. I sway beneath the Sequoia sempervirens, staring up at their spires, watching the wind usher in the clouds. The blue sky fades—the clouds will mask the glitter of stars from the night before, and the Pleiades will rise

Salmon Creek begins in the hills above Occidental, flowing west until it empties in the Pacific Ocean, passing through Salmon Creek Ranch on the way. It supports steelhead trout, coho salmon, and California freshwater shrimp.

invisibly over Salmon Creek. It’s my last night on the property, so I make sure that dinner is a special one: The goat sausages roasted over an open fire are made from meat that comes from the herd up the hill (the ranch sells goat, beef, and eggs onsite). I pile logs high in the fire pit, until the fire’s hot enough for fat droplets to sizzle out of the sausages and onto the coals—hiss, hiss, hiss. Then I drag a picnic table over, so I can eat my sausages by the fire. For all the times I’ve eaten “farm-to-table,” this has got to be the first time the table has been at the farm. The Bay Area’s rangelands are an essential component of what makes the Bay Area one of the most biologically diverse metropolitan areas in the world. Annie Burke, deputy director of the Bay A gaggle of Embden geese waddle down the road at Salmon Creek Ranch.

Area Open Space Council, a coalition of 65 organizations working to conserve open spaces, tells me that about 150,000 acres of rangeland are already protected under conservation easement and 585,000 more are protected through public agencies and land trusts. But private landowners have many more—1.3 million acres. Those lands are the new frontier of conservation. “That’s one of the biggest shifts that’s happening in the Bay Area conservation community,” Burke says. “We’re moving from land acquisition to land stewardship. For 20 to 30 years there was a lot of work to buy land and protect it in perpetuity, but there are only so many more huge properties to buy.” Burke says the best place to start with private land is to look for properties that connect protected areas, like the properties that line Salmon Creek. “I think there’s progress in the Bay Area to build a bridge between the working lands community and open space conservation,” Burke says. “There is pushback, but there’s more than one kind of conservation, and if we’re not paving over these open spaces, then I say we’re winning.” j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 6

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Scottish Highlander cattle, including this young bull, are raised on Salmon Creek Ranch.

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“It was perfect.” “What was perfect about it?” I ask. “Well… it reminded me of New Zealand, where I came from,” says John. The hills and the forest. The ferns. The trees. And it’s close to the sea.” “You can even hear the waves break, when the wind blows a certain way,” Lesley says. Both Lesley and John knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives on a working farm, and they looked all over: New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, Sweden. “But here,” Lesley says, “is as beautiful, if not more so, than those places.” I can see how this couple fell in love with Salmon Creek Ranch and the pastures around it—the landscapes are breathtaking. The livestock are part of the beauty, specks of black and white and brown amid the green. “We don’t want to have to sell or develop the land,” Lesley says. “But as a farmer, you’ve got regulations, weather, predators—everything in the book— stacked against you. And the cost of land is so high!” “Does Hipcamp help?” “Of course,” she says. “It’s another income stream, which is really important, because we’re trying to make a living off this ranch. But there’s more to it than that. We feel very fortunate to have this property, and we like sharing it with people who appreciate the beauty, the

Reporter Sabine Bergmann looks out over the ranch and Salmon Creek watershed

quiet, the isolation of it.” I tell Lesley that on Salmon Creek Ranch I feel something very different from isolation. In fact, I feel an intimacy with the land, one that grew out of the stories and experiences she and her husband shared with me. “There’s history here,” she says. “A lot of people who own these ranches have been here for generations. If your cow gets out they’ll help you get it back. They know that back in ’38 the stream flooded; they know that’s the year the bridge washed out. They have all these stories. These families are connected to this land.” That’s what I sense on the ranch: connection.

I don’t want to leave. I’m lying belly down in the grass, watching an orange-chested robin hop around about an arm’s length away. The breeze whisks the trees and rustles the buttercups. I listen to the creek gushing behind me. I lie still as cool waves of air pass over my back. While I lie in the meadow, the sun peeks over the hill. My first morning I rushed up that hill to catch the sun, but this time, it’s the sun that catches me. Sabine Bergmann is a freelance writer, Spanish

instructor, and aficionado of Berkeley’s Cheese Board pizza. Read her blogs, publications, and updates on her forthcoming book Jaded Altruism at sabinekbergmann.com. Salmon Creek Ranch (salmoncreekranch. com) is open for ranch tours once a month. Hipcamp.com lists numerous private camping options.

salmon creek ranch tour and hike Saturday, July 23, 10:30am–1:30pm

Phillip Lee

Join Bay Nature and rancher Lesley Brabyn for a tour of Salmon Creek Ranch followed by a moderate hike with a naturalist and a picnic on the property. Space is limited and registration is required. Please sign up at baynature.org/field

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Green Connections Network The San Francisco Planning Department’s Green Connections Network promotes nonmotorized travel to natural places around the city, and among its efforts has mapped 24 routes, including 115 miles of streets, intended to provide opportunities to see a particular sort of wildlife. Some sightings are pretty surefire, like the western gull; others—such as the anise swallowtail—are longer shots. Traffic calming and bicycle and pedestrian improvements are part of the network goals, but some routes are calmer, and offer a great deal more nature, than others. Route 23 visits coyote territories, following Park Presidio Boulevard’s densely wooded buffer strips into Golden Gate Park. Lush undergrowth provides inviting thickets where any number of creatures might hide, and evidence of ground squirrels suggests plentiful prey. Though a redtailed hawk spiraled above a meadow near Stow Lake, we saw no wild mammals. This route continues south to McLaren Park. On a cold gray day later in the spring, we tried Route 15 in Golden Gate Heights, where a chain of small native plant gardens in parks and green spaces provides habitat for the tiny green hairstreak butterfly. No insects at all were braving the cutting wind, but it was inspiring to see the volunteer-maintained patches of seaside daisy, coast strawberry, and other plants that have kept the butterflies breeding in San Francisco for ten years now. details: Downloadable maps and information about each route are in the “Ecology Guide” on the project’s website, at sf-planning.org/green-connections. Most are entirely accessible by public transit and make fine one-way hikes or bike rides. —Ann Sieck

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UC Santa Cruz Arboretum This is not the first stop one thinks of making in Santa Cruz, and that may be why it’s such a peaceful place to enjoy a stroll or a picnic. With 148 gently rolling acres, it’s much larger than most botanical gardens, intended as a living museum devoted to stewardship of the world’s biodiversity through research, education, and the conservation of rare, endangered, and extraordinary plants—worthy goals, supported by volunteers and fund-raising, including onsite plant sales. While some areas, like the Aroma and Rock gardens, are meticulously landscaped and carefully tended, other parts of the gardens representing Australia, New Zealand, South Africa specimens and California natives seem unweeded. Rough meadows of annual grass lap around grand old trees and bizarre flowering shrubs, giving them a feral character and suggesting a fantasyland, or even another world, both similar to and very different from ours. Negotiating the maze of trails by following signs for a 1¾-mile “World Tour,” I was frequently charmed by graceful long views and curious details. There’s a condominium for cavity-nesting bees! Phalanxes of hummingbirds appear to have arrived in a heaven of giant blossoms. And in addition to a number of permanent sculptures, this summer there’s “Art in the Arboretum,” a strategically placed exhibit of works by nine local artists. To see them all would be a focus for an ambitious hike. details: Admission is $5; pleasant picnic tables are in the gardens, and the gift shop has a restroom. —Ann Sieck

Alexander Park At the heart of the small town of Crockett, on the southern shore of the Carquinez Strait, sits the even tinier Alexander Park. The tree-shaded hillside with pretty views and grassy picnic area make for a nice detour before you head down the road to explore the shoreline George Miller Trail or enjoy a day of art and antiques in nearby Port Costa. A cement path through the park leads to a flight of stairs connecting to trails on the park’s forested hillsides. Near the top of the stairs, well-established Matilija poppies bloom with enormous white flowers, reminiscent of the days when gardeners cared for flowers that spelled out C&H on the hillside. Since 1906, the company C&H has processed imported cane sugar in Crockett, and the company once cared for the park. A shady trail lined with eucalyptus trees leads to a panoramic view of the Carquinez Bridge; on a clear day, the hills of Marin peek through from across San Pablo Bay. Although palm trees are planted in the picnic area below, native trees such as coast live oak grow amid pockets of 3 sunshine up here. A steeper incline passes by what was formerly the C&H company house but is now privately owned. The trails were built in the 1960s by C&H gardeners, and side trails lead to Crolona 2 Heights Drive above the park. It’s possible to combine trails to make a pleasant quarter-mile loop. details: At the corner of Pomona and Rolph Avenue, with street parking. Restrooms in the community center when open. —Lauren McNulty 3

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exploring the east bay regional parks

This story is part of a series exploring the natural and cultural history and resources of the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). The series is sponsored by the district, which manages 119,000 acres of public open space in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

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by chelsea leu

Human-created habitat in Hayward and Alameda gives the endangered California least tern a shot at survival.

Rick Lewis (2)

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omewhere along the Hayward Regional Shoreline, on a patch of marshy land covered with pickleweed, salt grass, and invasive mustard, I’m trying and failing to catch a glimpse of the California least tern. I’m not here alone. Julian, an East Bay Regional Park District intern, has accompanied me, and he’s already seen glimpses of three or four least terns through his binoculars. On the short but circuitous drive through the park’s network of tidal ponds, Julian pointed out a few of the many, many birds wheeling through the sky or flying low above the water: American avocets, western sandpipers, great egrets, a Canada goose strolling along the side of the road. But those aren’t the birds I’m looking for. The California least terns only arrived at Hayward a week earlier, and there are now supposedly 20 of them in the vicinity of an island about half the size of a football field, situated within a pond of

reclaimed and treated wastewater. District staff calls this oblong, three-quarters-of-an-acre landmass Tern Island, even though the name currently feels like a cruel misnomer. I train my binoculars on the cloud-speckled sky, hoping that one will fly into my field of view. They’re very small birds, Julian tells me almost apologetically, the smallest terns in North America. “They’re not the most accessible species,” he says. On this blustery late April morning, I can console myself with the fact that the terns aren’t out in full force yet, and won’t be for a couple more months. And my bad luck aside, the birds are difficult for even the most avid bird-watcher to see—we passed through multiple padlocked fences to reach this secluded spot, and Julian won’t let me get any closer to the island than the bank we’re currently on. In June, when the East A pair of endangered California least terns tend to their hatchlings on “Tern Island” near the Hayward Regional Shoreline. Barely visible, the beak of a second chick pokes out from beneath its parent roosting to the left.

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Bay’s least tern population peaks, the nearby Alameda Wildlife Reserve, where another colony has grown, will host an event called Return of the Terns. The colony’s caretakers will open the site to the public for a single day, bringing busloads of people to marvel at the sight of a 700-bird-strong flock calling to each other and feeding their young. But before then, the terns need to fly up from Baja California and Central America, perform courtship rituals, pair up, build nests, lay eggs, and raise their chicks. Eventually, Julian sets up a scope and trains it on a least tern sitting obligingly still on a tiny landmass nearby. It looks like a smaller copy of the Forster’s tern sitting near it—black-capped head, orange beak, white body. It also looks a little bored, completely oblivious to the fact that humans all over the Bay Area are now rooting for it to find a mate, procreate, and successfully raise baby terns—because its species depends on it.

Rick Lewis

It may look unassuming, but the Hayward colony is “a feather in the East Bay Regional Park District’s cap,” says Dave Riensche, the park district wildlife resource analyst who manages Tern Island. And no wonder: Of the 5,000-or-so breeding pairs of least terns in California, Hayward hosts around 80. But the colony is one of the top producers of least tern fledglings in the state. In 2014, it had the top fledgling/pair ratio: about 1.42 fledglings per pair. The state average hovers around half a fledgling per pair. “Our birds are making three times that,” Riensche says. That’s unusually good news for a bird that’s been on both the federal and state endangered species lists since they were created. When the California least tern, an endangered subspecies of the more ubiquitous least tern, was listed by the federal government back in 1970, the population was down to 600 pairs as a result of habitat loss, non-native predators, and disturbance. Forty years later, the population is ten times as large, and 41 least tern breeding sites are scattered throughout California. Most of the colonies are south of San Luis Obispo, near Los Angeles or San Diego. Alameda and Hayward are outliers, the two least tern colonies at the northernmost extent of the birds’ range.

Least terns hunt small fish while flying low over the water. A tern dives quickly toward the surface with its beak open and snaps up its prey before fully submerging in the water.

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The mastermind and driving force behind Hayward’s Tern Island is Dave Riensche, but no one really calls him that. Instead, they call him “Doc Quack,” a nickname he says comes from “fowl behavior at an early age.” (When pressed for details, he declines to say more.) “People don’t know me by my real name,” he says. “Even law enforcement calls me Doc Quack when they stop me.” Riensche has worked at the East Bay Regional Park District for 27 years, and the idea for Tern Island has always been at the back of his mind. The genesis of the island lies with Riensche’s former professor, Howard Cogswell, an ornithologist and former member of EBRPD’s board of directors. “He took me under his wing,” Riensche says. He remembers Cogswell telling him that he needed to create a least tern colony. “They really need your help,” Cogswell said. That point came for Riensche in 2001, when he finally gathered up enough funding and energy to start constructing the island at Hayward Regional Shoreline. After years of studying the terns’ natural history, Riensche formed a plan to create an environment that would boost the birds’ ability to reproduce—a sort of avian lovers’ resort. He chose an island in a tactical location: close to a restored marsh in the shoreline and a strong tidal marsh fishery to feed the terns. Over the course of four years, more than 5,000 staff and volunteers have spent time laying down weed barriers and covering the mound with 165 tons of camouflaging oyster shells and sand, bucket by bucket. By 2005, the island was ready for the terns. “It’s a good site,” says Meredith Elliott, a biologist at Point Blue Conservation Science, a nonprofit that works with the Northern California least tern colonies. The terns have hardly any of their natural habitats left in California, but the island replicates it—a sandy, flat isolated patch of land, free of plants and surrounded by water. “They don’t have to go far to get food because it’s right next to the island,” Elliott says. “They can get food, bring it back—perfect.” By the end of 2005, there were eight nests on the island, following several nesting attempts foiled by predators. Then, starting in 2007, the numbers shot up. And in 2012, the colony saw a massive influx of least terns when kestrels and falcons attacked the nearby Alameda colony. Tern Island averages around 80 pairs a year—that year, they had 200. “I kid you not, it was beak-to-tail tern nesting,” Riensche says. “Unparalleled.” During that time, he’d stay up late making tern nest markers and eating pizza. “You go to sleep thinking you’re a tern,” he says. Cogswell died in 2006, just as Tern Island was starting to take off. “Since then, the colony’s just flourished,” Riensche says. Twenty miles northwest of Hayward, the Alameda tern colony is the biggest in northern California, and it’s here that least terns were first spotted in the Bay Area, in the 1970s. The site then was part of an active U.S. Navy base. Least terns are odd that way—they flee or get defensive at the slightest human or animal provocation, but seem to have no problem with cars, buses, or large aircraft screaming directly overhead. In fact, they seem to prefer airports. “The navy did a lot of weed


control as well as predator control,” says Elliott, “because they didn’t want their planes running into big geese and whatnot out on the runway.” Two of the biggest colonies in the state are on military land in Southern California—Naval Base Coronado and Camp Pendleton, an active Marine Corps base. Nowadays, the tern colony at Alameda is nearly 10 acres of decommissioned airfield, a gravel area between runways that hosts around 350 breeding pairs a year. Along with Hayward, it’s one of the highest producers of fledglings in the state, says Susan Euing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who manages the site. Riensche and Euing suspect that the success of the two colonies is linked, maybe even genetically. It’s likely, for one thing, that the least terns from Alameda kick-started the colony in Hayward. “Hayward is like the successful little brother or

Mary Riensche

they’ve adapted to their size: They live in groups, where more of their eyes can monitor their surroundings, and their eggs and chicks are camouflaged extremely well against the sand. The stakes are high, Riensche says. If a predator spots them, it doesn’t end well for the baby terns. “Peregrine falcon? It’s a

(Clockwise) Volunteers empty buckets of sand and oyster shells to create nesting substrate on Tern Island in 2001. Tern decoys encourage terns to nest; Dave Rienche’s son, four years old here, helped build them. Park District naturalist Dave Riensche, a.k.a Doc

sister to Alameda,” Riensche says. Accordingly, the humans minding the terns are also connected. Riensche and Euing have been collaborating since around 2007—in fact, Euing trained Riensche how to perform a walk-through survey on his new colony, a meticulous process that involves months of instruction from a permitted biologist. The two have also collaborated with Meredith Elliott: In 2012, they wrote a paper on the terns’ breeding success at the two colonies. When I chat with Riensche, he dubs Euing, Elliott, and himself the “Ternsketeers.” In some ways, it’s totally unsurprising that California least terns are endangered—they’re one of those delicate animals whose needs are uniquely at odds with human development. They nest on undisturbed, remote sandy beaches devoid of plants—which just so happens to be the sort of place real estate developers like too. “Terns are visual animals,” Elliott says. If their ability to sight predators is obstructed by weeds, they simply won’t build nests in that area. There aren’t too many places like that anymore, and the ones that do exist are manmade: At both Hayward and Alameda, humans thoroughly weed the colonies—each and every year—before the terns get there. They’re a challenge to study, too. Least terns are small, and

Doc Quack

Hillary Van Austen/EBRPD

Quack, surveys Tern Island.

smorgasbord. Red fox? Little hors d’oeuvres. Gulls? They’ll eat until their crops are so full they can’t move.” The eggs are so well camouflaged with speckles that it’s very difficult for untrained eyes to see them. Doing a survey of a colony, Riensche says, “is like walking through a minefield.” During tern season, Euing and Elliott perform surveys of the Alameda colony twice a week, early in the morning. Stepping carefully, they note the locations of the terns’ nests, the nests’ contents, how many chicks there are, and signs of predation— missing feathers or body parts. The terns, needless to say, don’t enjoy the intrusion. “It’s hard because you want to be thorough and you want to go slowly, but you also don’t want to be in there for a super long time and disturb the terns,” Elliott says. Some of the terns simply leave their nests and walk away. Others fly up and begin alarm calling, or they dive bomb the scientists by swooping at their heads or attempting to defecate on them. Elliott’s favorite response, however, is from a tern they’ve affectionately dubbed “Stalker Mom” (though they’re not sure if it’s male or female). “Stalker Mom employs both air and ground attacks,” she says. “She’ll flutter right above your head—we’re talking within a foot of your head, it’s close— j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 6

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form of an island constructed solely for their sake, has a simple answer for his colony’s success: “Passionate people live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we’ve still got natural places around us,” he says. “People care about that.” The ultimate goal—the endpoint of the work of Riensche, Euing, Elliott, and all those volunteers—is to get the least tern populations to be self-sustaining, so they can increase their numbers without quite so much human effort. And eventually, as with all endangered species, everyone wants the least tern to be taken off the list. But while overall numbers have gone up since the species was federally listed in 1970, and despite the success of the two northern colonies, the individual colonies’ populations are still up and down every year. “Different predators show up, we have issues up here with algal blooms, which could affect the fish supply, El Niño could affect the fish supply, we don’t know how it’s going to go year to year,” Euing says. “We’re doing as much as we possibly can.” For the foreseeable future, the terns are staying endangered. Riensche has more concrete worries about the future of his terns. The island is eroding away at an alarming rate—losing, by his calculations, ten feet in circumference over the last decade, thanks to wind and wave action from the tide. “It’s disheartening to put up a fence with 30 volunteers, and a year later, it’s all eroded into the water,” he says. “If we could stop the erosion, my hair wouldn’t be quite as gray.” In an ideal world, Tern Island would be expanded and surrounded by a riprap slope, a zone of small rocks around the island that would prevent the waves from eating away at it. The park district is currently looking into ways to restore the surrounding Hayward Marsh; depending on how quickly a decision is reached, that plan could include expanding and stabilizing the island. The success of the least terns here, as Riensche knows full well, is a passion project gone right, a testament to what can happen when enough people care very, very much. Everyone, it seems, has his or her own tern story, and no wonder—they’re charismatic, even goofy. “The birds come on this epic migration of thousands of miles, they come to this same place every year, they have to expend so much energy to get here, then they’re going to pair up, dig a few scrapes in the ground, put their eggs there and raise their babies,” Margulis says. “Next thing you know the eggs hatch and the babies are flying—it’s like, God, you know? A miracle of nature to watch that.” Riensche puts it more succinctly. “It’s beautiful,” he says. “It’s just pure beauty.”

Rick Lewis

Rick Lewis

squawking at you the entire time. When she gets tired of the air campaign, she’ll return to the ground and walk behind you, in front of you, beside you—all the time being very close to you (again, within a foot or so), wings out in a threatening position, and yelling at you.” The best part of studying these endangered birds is having one practically threaten to peck your eyes out. The terns do seem to inspire a particular devotion in the people who work with them. Both colonies have attracted an enthusiastic corps of staff and volunteers to help fulfill the terns’ specific needs. At Alameda, Euing’s set up something she calls Tern Watch: Volunteers park their cars a little ways from the colony and watch for predators in three-hour chunks. “I love it,” says Cindy Margulis, executive director of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. GGAS helps funnel volunteers to Euing, and Margulis herself has been volunteering at Alameda for seven years now. During her dawn shift, Margulis takes notes on the weather, wind, any predators she spots, and the colony’s behavior. “Sometimes a gull will fly over the colony like they’re looking for someone’s eggs to eat, and the birds will chase them off and sometimes grab the gull’s tail feathers,” Margulis says, laughing. “They’re tiny little birds, but they’re brave.” Over at Hayward, Riensche dispenses patches to the volunteers who help weed the island, install new shelters, and fix the chick fence. “We don’t want them if they don’t have passion,” he says. Riensche himself is usually out on the island three

times a week during tern season. He gets there an hour before sunrise (“when bad things happen,” he says) and watches for predators. Then he rows himself onto the island (Above) Within a few days of hatching, proper in a small boat and chicks explore the nest site area and then does his own survey of the begin to fly roughly three weeks after colony, checking up on the birth. (Right) Clay shelters placed by terns that have come to stay on volunteers on Tern Island offer the chicks the island he built for them. refuge from predators. Maybe the draw is the narrative surrounding the birds. “If you think about it, you’ve got this bird that’s migrating thousands of miles to come to the middle of a metropolitan area to breed, and that’s the bird’s best hope for the future,” Margulis says. “That’s a little terrifying.” But Riensche, the guy whose passion for the birds is physically manifested in the b ay n at u r e

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Chelsea Leu is a freelance writer and erstwhile Bay Nature intern, currently based in Berkeley.


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Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont


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Sebastian Kennerknecht, pumapix.com

what’s Next for

A bold new design for the redwood forests of the by J o a n H a m i lt o n

eading a tour of the San Vicente Redwoods, Nadia Hamey hops up onto a four-foot-diameter redwood stump surrounded by other tall trees. “I didn’t know you were logging trees this big,” I say. The forest is shady, quiet, and spacious. Hamey sweeps away the fresh red sawdust with her hands and counts more than 100 rings. “This is a crop-size tree,” she says. “Cutting it releases the smaller trees so they can eventually be harvested, too.” The two organizations that own this property are conservation leaders here in the Santa Cruz Mountains some 50 miles south of San Francisco. And—contradictory as it may seem— they are logging California’s most iconic tree, not for profit, but as part of a long-term rescue strategy for the region’s redwood forests. According to the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League, only 120,000 acres of unlogged, or “old-growth,” redwood forests are left in the world, mostly ensconced in local, state, and national parks in northern California. That’s an area a little larger than the city of San Jose. But the state also has 1.5 million acres of forest in which almost all the redwoods b ay n at u r e

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have been logged at least once. (About 300,000 of those acres are in the Bay Area and Santa Cruz County.) Those forests are a new frontier for redwood conservation organizations, which up to now have mostly focused on saving the old-growth forests. In 2011 two local conservation organizations, Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) and Sempervirens Fund, purchased San Vicente, one of California’s “working” redwood forests and also the largest remaining block of privately owned forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. After several years of planning, they’ve now begun carefully felling some of the medium-size redwoods on one part of the property to finance an innovative restoration and preservation plan on the rest. Eventually, POST and Sempervirens spokespeople say, more than half of San Vicente could look and function like an old-growth forest, with dead trees, natural openings, plenty of healthy, hulking redwoods, and complex layers of plant and animal life—everything from trillium to Townsend’s bats. This is forest conservation 2.0—a plan for the rest of the redwoods.


Sebastian Kennerknecht

the Redwoods?

21st century is forged in the Santa Cruz Mountains A Major Conservation Tar get

San Vicente’s 8,532 acres have been producing logs and limestone since the early 20th century. Some of the logs were used to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. The limestone was used for making cement. By the 1920s, most of the best redwoods—some more than 250 feet tall—had been hauled away. But logging resumed in the 1950s and continued as a secondary source of income for a succession of cement company owners. Today, the property is crisscrossed by 72 miles of dirt roads. There’s a former train station deep in the forest with tunnels blown out of rock. The deep canyon created by a huge limestone quarry has never been reclaimed. Yet despite these scars, San Vicente is still biologically rich and wild. Facing the Pacific Ocean, it’s a vast, well-watered chunk of coast that contains, in addition to recovering coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), a field guide’s worth of wildflowers, shrubs, and other trees. Mountain lions, peregrine falcons, and coho salmon are (Upper left) Forester Nadia Hamey kneels on a redwood stump in the “working forest” section of San Vicente Redwoods. The tree was recently cut as part of a program of low-intensity logging to support the long-term restoration of the forest. (Upper right) Sunlight filters through the canopy of mid-size second-growth redwoods in the “restoration reserve” at San Vicente Redwoods.

hanging on here, along with some 90 ancient trees that were spared the axe because of remoteness or oddities in their wood. For years, the threat of McMansions and other development had loomed dangerously close to this property. And for years, conservationists have eyed it for its natural values and as a big chunk of a grander vision: what Sempervirens Fund calls the Great Park, a 125,000-acre expanse of redwood-dominated forest that stretches from Silicon Valley west to the Pacific Ocean and from La Honda south to Santa Cruz. Shortly after the 2008 recession, POST and Sempervirens raised $30 million to purchase the property from the multinational building materials company CEMEX. In the old days, they might have closed the deal and handed their prize over to the state parks department. But these days the state doesn’t have the capacity to take on new parks. So the two land trusts realized that they would have to hold and manage the land themselves and that they would have to do it together: It’s simply too big a lift for just one organization. If they should ever sell, a conservation easement purchased for $10 million by Save the Redwoods League—a critical part of the complex multiparty deal to acquire the property— j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 6

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Restoration Reserves: Nudging the Forest B ack

Our first stop is in one of the restoration reserves, where some of the project’s toughest the coast, as shown in this undated photo from the early 1900s, which also shows the devastation caused by decisions are being made. We walk down a shaded the logging. road littered with chubby tanoak acorns and ensures that San Vicente will remain undeveloped forever. framed by the trunks of slim second- and third-growth coast “Humans came in and messed things up,” says Sempervirens redwoods. Generally redwoods don’t need much help from humans. land conservation director Laura McLendon. “We want to They’re patient. With come in and repair the damage.” their tolerance for shade, their resistance to fire, The Forest Steward and their long—someIt’s one thing to say you’re going to sustainably manage a times over 2,000-year— life spans, they can property. It’s another to actually get out on the ground and do it. outcompete every tree Enter forester Nadia Hamey. An ecological thinker who cares around them. about fish and flowers as much as trees, she knows these woods “They can have 500 like no one else. She’s planned and executed timber cuts on this years packed into one property since 2008, made hard-hatted descents into its mine foot in diameter,” Hamey shafts and limestone karst caves, led field trips for botanists, and says. “And then, when taken researchers out to listen for marbled murrelets. conditions are right, Pulling up invasive plants as we walk, Hamey describes her [they] start growing evolution from outdoorsy kid to conservation-minded forester. rapidly. They can have 40 She grew up in British Columbia, where her father was a forester years’ worth of rings per and her mother a habitat protection officer. Near her home on inch and then three years Vancouver Island, she saw ancient forest clear-cuts that extended Laura McLendon of Sempervirens Fund and per inch.” from ridgelines to the sea. “I couldn’t agree with those pracforester Nadia Hamey consult a detailed project With all the logging map for San Vicente Redwoods. tices,” she says. and fire suppression So she left home to study forestry at the University of this property has endured, however, the redwoods here could use California at Berkeley with the goal of learning how to manage “a nudge,” Hamey says, back toward conditions that prevailed forests more sustainably. After school, a stint at the university’s before European settlement. That’s the goal in the nearly 4,000 research forest, and a couple of timber company jobs farther acres of the property designated as restoration reserves. north, she moved to Santa Cruz County in 2006. There, working How does she know what those pre-colonization conditions for the Forest Stewardship Council–certified Big Creek Lumber were? “Stumps are a good clue,” Hamey says. She shows us an Company, she found “a different attitude about how logging area with huge redwood and Douglas fir stumps that were likely should be conducted.” cut in the early 1900s. Today, about 10 to 30 stumps and about Today she’s an independent forester, working on several 300 live trees—including tanoak, redwoods, Douglas fir, and properties in the region including as property manager at San Coulter pine—populate each acre. Those 300 trees (with trunks Vicente. She shows me a thick white binder, two years in the ranging from more than two inches to several feet thick) cover an making, that describes the plans developed by POST, Sempervirens, and Save the Redwoods. They’ve divided San Vicente’s 8,500 acres area a little smaller than a football field. Thinning them will help into three categories: “preservation reserves” (11 percent),“working the rest of the forest grow back more vigorously. forest” (43 percent), and “restoration reserves” (46 percent). They’ll Then there’s the question of which species—and which Logging began in San Vicente Redwoods in 1910. A network of train tracks was built to carry the lumber down to

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Sebastian Kennerknecht

Courtesy Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

leave the preservation reserves alone, except for maintenance work like weed control and shoring up roads and culverts. In the working forest, they’ll do extremely careful commercial logging. And in the restoration reserves, they’ll try to coax the hodgepodge of species there today into a thriving redwood forest. I ask if the goal is to create the old-growth forests of the future. “It’s a little lofty to say that,” Hamey says. “But we can put this land on a trajectory to be better habitat sooner.”


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individual trees of those species—will get the axe. Because loggers have preferred redwoods, that once-dominant species has lost its footing on this part of the property to the less commercially valuable tanoak and Coulter pine, a tree that mostly grows in Southern California. Tall, dark-barked Coulter has spiky cones that weigh up to 11 pounds—the heaviest of any pine’s. As Hamey points out, the Coulters don’t belong here—they were grown, along with nonnative Bishop pine, in a nursery that used to be adjacent to the property. “They are naturally regenerating, which is a bummer,” Hamey says. “So part of the restoration effort has to be to liquidate the Coulter pine.” Tanoak may take a hit in the restoration reserves as well. It’s a native species with many ecological benefits, but past logging of redwood has left thick “dog-hair” stands of tanoak just above the road. She plans to cut down some of these trees, dabbing a short-lived herbicide on each stump so it doesn’t resprout. She’ll leave some of the carnage in place, providing the forest with more downed wood and (upright) snags. Rotting wood can shelter a Noah’s ark of birds, lizards, salamanders, and other small animals, organisms that are just as much a part of a healthy redwood forest as the trees themselves. Another way to deal with overgrown thickets is fire. “This is a fire-adapted plant community,” Hamey says. “If you don’t have fires, the redwoods become incredibly choked.” The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) has agreed to ignite prescribed burns at San Vicente when conditions allow. Hamey happily envisions small fires “skunking along the forest floor,” removing small trees and brush. To protect nearby properties, the landowners have established corridors up to 100 feet wide where large trees loom over a more-or-less naked forest floor. These are “shaded fuel breaks” where CAL FIRE could keep a prescribed burn—or a wildfire—within bounds.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

parent tree. She’ll likely reduce the number of trees in this cluster “and pick some winners.” Winner-picking is wickedly complicated. As redwoods grow, they tend to lose their lower branches. In a crowded forest, almost all the branches with needles—and therefore all the trees’ photosynthetic capacity—are in little tufts at the top. In restoration reserves, Hamey is trying to space redwoods in ways that would make more room for lower branches with needles and speed up the redwoods’ growth. As she cranes her neck to look upward, she also considers where a logged tree would fall—how it would affect other trees and plants, and whether the forest needs the wood standing or on the ground. She considers the angle of the sun on a tree’s south side. If sun hits the base, the redwood might sprout, worsening the crowding. She likes big trees with broken tops, which can be a good thing for wildlife. “Redwoods have all kinds of funkiness,” Hamey says. “They have cavities in the middle of the trunk. They have random platforms and reiterated tops. We even think about launching trees into other trees to create some of that. Or blowing up the tops to get a candelabra shape.” I raise my eyebrows at the thought of blowing up trees. “We

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William K. Matthias, wkmphoto.com

haven’t done any of that,” Hamey says with a grin. “But we’re trying to create complexity.” Which, of course, makes her job more complicated. “I can’t do this work for eight hours a day,” Hamey says. “It hurts my neck and fries my brain, because I’m thinking of so many things.” Restoration forestry has shown promising results in logged-over redwood forests at Del Norte Redwoods State Park in Northern California and in other kinds of forests around the world. But there’s no oops-proof recipe for bringing back a redwood forest here. So for starters they’ll experiment on a small scale—just 50 acres on their first restoration reserve—see what happens, and adjust accordingly. Where they are making indelible decisions among the trees, “we’ll try three or four different intensities and methods,” Hamey says. “We don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.” Earlier, I’d asked one of Hamey’s bosses, Sempervirens’ Laura McLendon, if she’s nervous about the weight on her shoulders. Do we really know enough about natural processes to

Forester Nadia Hamey studies trees in the restoration reserve to gauge which could be cut down to achieve the project’s conservation objectives.

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The now-closed CEMEX plant sits along the coast and Highway One, just north of the town of Davenport. The open hills behind the plant are part of the recently protected Coast Dairies property (managed by BLM). Behind them are the forested hills and valleys of San Vicente Redwoods and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

try to improve a redwood forest with herbicides and chain saws? How is this effort different from those of well-intentioned foresters in earlier eras who made a mess of things by promoting wrongheaded theories like fire suppression? “We’re different because we know that we don’t know,” McLendon says. “We want to learn.” Not everyone agrees that thinning redwoods is a good idea. “It worries me that people are making decisions for the forest,” says ecologist Will Russell of San Jose State University. Fixing roads and controlling invasive species is essential, but redwood thinning is counterproductive, he says: Given enough time, redwoods can thin themselves. “We don’t know which ones are going to become the dominant ones,” Russell adds. “There may be factors we can’t predict: the opening of a gap in the forest later, a change in the availability of resources.” Russell acknowledges that thinning redwoods will create bigger trees faster. It’s a standard technique used in timber production. “But why is this important? Sometimes small funky trees end up being the most valuable ecologically.” A member of Sempervirens’ science advisory committee, Russell has studied parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains where redwoods were cut around the same time as at San Vicente. The parks he surveyed reached tree densities equivalent to those in old-growth redwood forests in 80 years or so. The resulting redwoods weren’t as big as the old-growth trees, but their numbers were about the same. Given the multiple rounds of logging here, San Vicente hasn’t had 80 years to rest. Would it be wiser to stand back and let nature take its course? It depends on what kind of forest you want, says Emily Burns, director of science at Save the Redwoods. “The species composition at San Vicente has really shifted over time, from redwoods to other species. And with the impediments


the younger forests are facing today, we don’t think that they’ll recover into the large, old redwoods that we want.” Does she think speed is important? “I think about species like marbled murrelets,” Burns says. “One of the things they lack is nesting habitat. If we can get more big trees that are suitable for nesting grounds in the next hundred years, it’s worth the investment.”

30-inch trees per acre. For a group like Sempervirens, which has been in the business of preserving redwoods for 116 years, this is a revolutionary way of thinking. Cutting the forest in order to save it? “Context is everything,” says Reed Holderman, who was Sempervirens’

This small redwood grove has an old-growth stump in the middle; two second-growth stumps in the foreground (cut about 20 years ago); two medium size second-growth trees on the left; and two skinnier shoots on the right, candidates for restoration thinning to promote growth of the two larger trees.

Hamey measures the diameter of a redwood tree in the working forest to gauge the number of board feet of lumber the tree might yield.

executive director at the time the property was purchased in 2011. “At the bottom of the recession we were trying to protect the largest single property in the Santa Cruz Mountains and also find a way to maintain and steward it. How do you make a living, breathing sustainable redwood forest ecosystem? Our strategy is landscape connectivity—connecting critical pieces—so it can sustain itself like it did before most of it was cut down.” In the land trust business, money for land acquisition is easier to find than money for land management. After raising $30 million to buy the property, “we knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of help from anyone to restore and steward it,” Holderman says. So Sempervirens and POST decided to think about their role in a new way. “Huge parts of California are managed as industrial forests,” says Paul Ringgold, formerly of POST and now managing the San Vicente conservation easement at Save the Redwoods League. “If and when the companies that own these lands decide they can no longer profit from them, they’re going to put them up for sale. We think the main issue is to secure these lands as forests that will remain forever.” To a layperson, San Vicente’s working forest doesn’t look much different from the rest of the property, with its tangle of tanoak, some lofty, furrowed Douglas firs, and the occasional stand of medium-size redwoods. As we walk up a road, I ask Hamey how long it will take to reach the site of last summer’s commercial logging. She points to an ordinary-looking copse of redwoods about (continued on page 42) 50 yards to our right. “We took one Sebastian Kennerknecht

By afternoon we’re in the working forest, the place that helps pay the bills. While the goal on the rest of the property is to move toward old-growth conditions, the goal here is to do no harm— and, of course, to make enough money to fund the project’s restoration and maintenance work. Standing beside a medium-size redwood, Hamey whips out a wooden ruler called a Biltmore stick to measure the tree’s diameter. She’s looking for what I’ll call a $400 tree: a straight redwood about 120 feet tall and about 30 inches in diameter that would yield about 1,000 board-feet of lumber. At current prices, that tree might be worth $800 or so. Subtracting expenses for planning the harvest; cutting, transporting, and milling the tree; and mitigating damages, the landowners would net about $400 from the sale of that tree. In the summer of 2015, POST and Sempervirens contracted with Big Creek Lumber to selectively log 10 percent of the working forest. They spared all the oldest trees (some over 200 years old), while felling some hefty 90- to 120-year-old trees with “a light touch”: retaining key wildlife trees, repairing roads and culverts, leaving ecologically useful woody debris, and expanding buffer areas around streams. While removal of up to 7,000 board-feet per acre would be allowed every 15 years under state and local logging regulations, the landowners have chosen to remove less than half that amount—the equivalent of three

Sebastian Kennerknecht

Working Forest: Logging with a Light Touch

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by A l i s o N h AW K E S * i l l u s t r at i o n by ja s o n h o l l e y cartoons by donna almendrala

re-coding for conservation

We can now alter the genomes of invasive species to slow their advance. Every year, as summer turns to fall, the mouse

population on the South Farallon Islands explodes to plaguelike densities, numbering 490 mice per acre, among the highest found on any island in the world. The scientists who live and work there describe the assault of the invasive house mouse as a kind of purgatory in the otherwise stunning, windswept smattering of rocky islets and sea stacks 30 miles outside the Golden Gate. ¶ “At night they would be everywhere,” says Peter Pyle, a wildlife biologist who spent more than 20 fall seasons living at the research station on Southeast Farallon Island. “I had them crawling on top of me at night and in my hair. I tried to mouse-proof the house but we’d catch 50 mice in the night.” ¶ Besides making scientific research on the Farallones a harrowing experience, the common house mouse, Mus musculus, has substantially disrupted the island ecosystem—spreading the seeds of invasive plants, eating the endemic Farallon camel cricket as well as a species of daisy called maritime goldfields that provides critical nesting material for birds, and indirectly causing

But should we?

the demise of the island’s breeding population of ashy stormpetrels, a California bird of special concern. ¶ It’s a familiar story on islands all over the world where rodents—prolific feeders and breeders—are a leading cause of extinctions. Massive efforts have been undertaken to kill invasive rodents and usually involve broadcasting rodenticide; other options, like trapping mice or releasing biological controls in the form of snakes or cats, have been ineffective. ¶ In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 6

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initiated a plan to exterminate the Farallones mice. The plan, as it now stands, includes deploying helicopters to spray a rodenticide-laced bait throughout the steep, rugged terrain—on the nine problematic southern islands comprising 121 acres—to reach all the mouse burrows. For the treatment to succeed every mouse must be exterminated; a single pregnant female could lead to the quick regeneration of the population. The agency addressed the risks—non-target species might eat the bait,

mouse predators might be poisoned, toxins might drift into the marine environment, helicopters could disturb birds—and came up with a plan to mitigate them. Although scientists have been largely supportive of the plan, a vocal segment of the public has come out against using poison on wilderness lands and causing the mice to suffer. The project now sits in limbo because of lapses in federal funding; in the meantime the mice keep eating and procreating. But what if there was another way to do this dirty work? At North Carolina State University, neurobiologist John Godwin was scrolling through his news feed and came across an item about the Farallones mouse project as the rodenticide plan was first announced. Godwin works with Mus musculus as part of his research into animal behavior, and he’s long been interested in the genetic divergence among mice that have stowed away to islands. It struck him there might be a genetic solution to the Farallones mouse problem, or if not there, on some other island b ay n at u r e

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suffering its own version of mouse Armageddon. “I thought ‘This is the kind of place you would probably want to go—a remote island surrounded by white sharks with very strictly controlled access,’” says Godwin, a former field ecologist. At NC State, Godwin had colleagues working at the cutting edge of genomics. Entomologist Fred Gould has been bioengineering a mosquito whose modified genes prevent it from transmitting malaria and dengue fever. And David Threadgill, a geneticist now at Texas A&M, studies cancer using house mice as models. Fortuitously, Mus musculus is not only one of the most widely distributed mammals on earth but a longtime staple of laboratory research, and in 2002 it had become the second mammal, after humans, to have its genome decoded. As a result, scientists know a lot about what makes a house mouse tick, genetically and behaviorally. Godwin and his colleagues began discussing a novel research question: Could they genetically engineer a house mouse that would breed itself out of existence if set loose on an island? The first step was to contact USFWS’s refuge manager for the Farallones. But in a conference call it became apparent that the agency wanted a faster and more straightforward method for solving the islands’ mouse problem, according to Threadgill. Still, the conference call introduced the NC State team to Karl Campbell, the program director for Island Conservation, a Santa Cruz–based nonprofit that specializes in ridding islands of invasive species. IC was involved in the Farallones mouse project in its early stages. Campbell perked up at the prospect of developing a bioengineered mouse for island eradication work; he had already been thinking along those lines.“I knew it was potentially possible, but I didn’t have any contacts in the field,” Campbell recalls. “I was all over it pretty quickly.” Scientists have long dreamed of controlling species by tinkering with their genes, but it’s only in recent years that advances in molecular biology have supplied them with a surefire method. Arguably the biggest development has been the discovery of a technique for editing genes at precise locations called CRISPR-Cas9, pioneered in 2012 by UC Berkeley molecular biochemist Jennifer Doudna. Besides raising hopes of curing cancer and congenital diseases and the specter of “designer babies,” CRISPR-Cas9 has scientists talking about everything from ending world hunger with drought-resistant crops to putting a stop to malaria by creating disease-proof mosquitoes, or even mitigating climate change with biofuel-producing yeast. Whether or not the technology delivers in all these cases,


CRISPR-Cas9

is a major scientific breakthrough that provides a cheap and easy means to alter almost any gene in any sexually reproducing species—which is both exciting and scary, considering that the ethics of deploying it have not been ironed out. The field of conservation has been similarly intrigued by the possibilities. Imagine redesigning an endangered species to give it a better chance of survival. Or how about bringing back an extinct species like the woolly mammoth, or some approximation of it, by inserting genes recovered from frozen specimens into an elephant genome? Or take an invasive species like the house mouse on the Farallones—what if it could be humanely exterminated by engineering a male that can’t produce female offspring? These aren’t theoretical scenarios anymore. In places around the world, scientists are pursuing such projects, though they are in the early stages. Along with creating enough safeguards so that the risks associated with unleashing a

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eradicated them all. Rodents, you might say, are his specialty. He’s led projects to eliminate rats and mice from 12 Galapagos islands. (He’s also, by the way, worked in California on San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands, to boot out feral cats.) All that time spent in the field has made him a practical man looking for practical solutions. He explains his current undertaking in the Galapagos to remove black rats and house mice from Floreana Island with rodenticides. It’s the hardest invasive mammal removal project he’s ever undertaken because, unlike in all the others, people inhabit Floreana. Small children would have to temporarily leave the island and livestock would have to be corralled, lest they ingest the poison, and all this has to be done with unanimous community support. “But Floreana is nothing. Floreana has 140 people,” he says. “There are thousands of other islands we would love to be working on that are way bigger and way more complex than Floreana. And so if we’re challenged at this level to even

odwin and his colleagues began discussing a novel research question: Could they genetically engineer a house mouse that would breed itself out of existence if set loose on an island?

bioengineered species into the wild don’t surpass the benefits, scientists need to gain society’s approval, and that of the regulators as well. After all, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) already evoke the public’s ire when it comes to food crops and pests. Ryan Phelan and her husband Stewart Brand, the cofounders of Revive & Restore, a project of the San Francisco–based Long Now Foundation, have been trying to catalyze the “genetic rescue” of species as an outgrowth of their work to bring back the woolly mammoth, passenger pigeon, and other extinct species. “It’s gathering momentum,” says Phelan, a self-described social entrepreneur. “What I hope is that conservationists figure out how to make this a new tool in their tool kit and that they use it cautiously, judiciously, appropriately, and with a lot of thought and a lot of input from ethicists, the public, and biologists.” Karl Campbell meets me at Island Conservation’s headquarters across the street from Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz. He’s flown to the U.S. for a few days from the Galapagos Islands, where he’s spent the better part of two decades ridding the chain of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador of invasive mammals, which have taken a toll on endemic species like the Galapagos tortoise. Cats, rabbits, donkeys, goats, pigs, rats, mice—Campbell has

be working on the simple end of the spectrum with these islands, then you know it’s a real long shot to be considering other places.” In 2011, faced with the prospect of running out of islands where rodenticide is a feasible solution, he launched an effort at IC to look for alternatives that are socially acceptable, are easy to deploy, and hit the chosen species hard without collateral damage to other species. “What really floated to the top of the list was these genomic tools. They fulfilled all those criteria we were looking at and possibly more,” he says. “And when we looked around and asked who’s working on this, there was no one.” But the theoretical underpinnings were there. Techniques for creating gender distortion in a population, the so-called “daughterless” approach, had successfully skewed insect populations in laboratory tests and had even been found possible with lab mice. It was a big moment for IC to move into the domain of scientific innovation, and for Campbell the goal of the new genetic technology is complete eradication of a local population of invasives rather than a more limited form of control that would require revisiting the same spots over and over for the foreseeable future, much like the work of pulling up French broom from the hillsides of Mount Tamalpais. Once Campbell connected with the NC State team, it was only a few months before they cohosted a workshop in Raleigh and laid out the issues. Top of the list was how a bioengineered j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 6

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mouse would spread its daughterless genes quickly through a wild population. The whole concept of autocidal genes seems to be so disadvantageous to a species as to fly in the face of evolutionary theory. In evolution, many genes—the sections of DNA that are responsible for all of our traits—are passed along through generations and spread within populations because they presumably help a species in some way. While an individual has a 50/50 chance of inheriting a given version of a gene from either parent, those that increase an individual’s chance of survival and ability to reproduce are more likely to get passed along to the next generation. But scientists have also identified something called “selfish genetic elements,” nicknamed “selfish genes,” that advance their likelihood of inheritance regardless of how useful, or even harmful, they may be to the organism. These genes have evolved in a variety of ways and in countless organisms to beat the inheritance odds by as little as 50.001 percent to as much as 99 percent. They’re so ubiquitous as to be “a universal feature of life,” according to Austin Burt, the evolutionary geneticist who identified a means to exploit selfish genes in 2003. Scientists could, Burt found, artificially bind a gene with a desired trait to a selfish gene and then insert the package into the sex cells of an organism. Once they’re attached to each other, the selfish gene would effectively shuttle the desired gene into a population by increasing its probability of being inherited. The technique is called a gene drive— and is proving potentially useful in this burgeoning field of conservation genetics. This is where the CRISPR-Cas9 system comes in handy. While gene drives occur naturally all the time, they vary in every species and can be difficult to identify. CRISPR-Cas9, a b ay n at u r e

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naturally occurring selfish gene found in bacteria, can function as a gene drive in other species—be it in a mosquito, mouse, oak tree, or human. Once placed in a cell’s nucleus, CRISPR-Cas9 will locate and snip out any specified section of the cell’s DNA, and the cell will repair the damage by copying CRISPR-Cas9, along with the desired gene, into the chromosome. A similar process will occur on the other chromosome, assuring two copies of the gene with the desired trait will be passed on to all offspring. In the case of Mus musculus, there are classical genetic studies from the 1970s and ’80s of wild mice caught in Europe that possess a natural gene drive. “That’s where we started to explore,” David Threadgill says. “Could we use natural components present in mice for the conservation work?” It was a tactical move to exploit a natural gene drive system for the project rather than CRISPR-Cas9, which would mean adding bacteria genes to the mouse genome to create a transgenic organism. Threadgill figures a natural gene drive is an easier concept to get past regulators and the public when the time comes for field tests with bioengineered mice. “This is already present in wild populations of mice, whereas CRISPR is artificial.” The natural gene drive system is probably a

little less potent too, not a bad thing when it is introduced into the wild for the first time, he added. It took a while, but Threadgill eventually tracked down a few specimens of these variant mice with the natural gene drive in freezers at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France. “We basically recovered mice that had been frozen embryos and [they] now have a breeding population.” Threadgill’s lab is taking those house mice and pairing the natural gene drive system with a gene known as SRY that determines gender in mammals including house mice. By moving SRY off the male


sex chromosome to the spot on the genome that contains the natural gene drive, Threadgill can make sure all offspring develop male reproductive organs, regardless of whether they have sex chromosomes that would normally result in the development of a female. “If SRY is connected to a gene drive system, then the vast majority of mice will inherit SRY and thus be male.” Although such a daughterless gene drive system has never been built before in a mouse, progress has gone well over the last few years. As of April, Threadgill’s lab at Texas A&M was ready to pair the SRY gene with the natural gene drive system. “This is the last step of the process,” he says. He expects to produce the first fully assembled, bioengineered mouse by the end of this summer. Are we ready for a world where whatever ails wild populations of species (or us) can be “fixed” with a tweak of the genes? Though humans have long made an indelible mark on the genomes of wild species, breeding wolves into dogs and teosinte grass into corn, the precision and rapidity of today’s bioengineering methods raise innumerable possibilities and ethical questions. You could rightfully be ecstatic or terrified, or a bit of both, about the future. What if bioengineered genes drift into another species, or out of a lab and into an unintended population? What happens if a bioengineered organism finds its way back to its native habitat—could that bring about the global eradication of the house mouse, or the mosquito? Or what if a rogue scientist, or a bioterrorist, decides to set loose a bioengineered organism, to hell with the consequences? Even as scientists work on safeguards—like reverse gene drives that can overwrite genetic changes if something goes wrong, or immunization gene drives to inoculate non-target species from an altered gene— it’s clear that regulators and the public need to catch up with the science. A National Academy of Sciences review of gene drives, released in June, cautiously endorsed the technology but advised that more laboratory research and contained field trials be done before releasing a gene drive into the wild. But beyond the white papers and scientific reports, the questions that biotechnology like CRISPR-Cas9 and gene drive systems raise in conservation hit at our philosophical relationship with the natural world. Given that we’ve already made a grand mess of every place on earth, do we dare go to the deepest level of the genome, to the code of life? And what does it mean for a creature to be “wild” when it’s been bioengineered to do our bidding? The Long Now Foundation’s offices at Fort Mason include a bar-cafe called The Interval, which

has a steampunk aesthetic, all wood and metal, with displayed prototypes of the nonprofit’s 10,000-year clock and a floor-toceiling library to jump-start civilization should it ever wink out, like the genetic code of an extinct species. Two taxidermied passenger pigeons on loan from a museum are positioned, lifelike, behind a glass case. Ryan Phelan meets me there and shows off the space. She says she doesn’t see these new genetic tools as all that different from other longtime trends in conservation. “The truth is we manage wilderness a lot already,” she says, noting selective breeding programs, artificial insemination, relocating individuals, and other methods routinely used to bring back a struggling species. Stewart Brand, the founder of Whole Earth Catalog, drops by our table and adds his two cents to the discussion of bioengineering the wild. “It’s the opposite of what synthetic biology wants to do, which is make new amazing things. In conservation it’s, ‘No, we don’t want to do great big amazing things. We want to do tiny, just-enough things and back the hell off.’... All you’re trying to do in conservation is maintain an existing truth.” Tinkering with a gene or two so that nature can rebalance itself may sound like minimal intervention to Brand and Phelan, but it makes others uncomfortable. “My gut-level response is I don’t want people messing with nature any more than they have to,” says Doug Johnson, the (continued on page 46) executive director of the California Invasive

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first person

Malcolm Margolin’s Beautiful Life Interview by Eric Simons “Hey, do you know this story?” This is Malcolm Margolin’s throat clear, his way of checking in with you to let you know a memory is coming. (I wonder if anyone ever says yes.) “There’s a marvelous line,” he’ll say, and then you’re off with a poet laureate, or a Kashaya Pomo healer, or Gandhi’s grandson. The legendary Heyday Books publisher and Bay Nature co-founder, who retired earlier this year, has 46 years of California stories to tell, and says even in retirement he plans to continue to telling them “to anyone who will listen.” From the table at the Heyday office in Berkeley where he’s edited so many manuscripts—next to his cleared-out office—Margolin talked with me about nature, California, beauty, and of course, storytelling. eric simons: At the end of The Ohlone

what Indians can teach us, and after the book is out, I’d like to get together with others not just to study Indian life, but to figure out how to incorporate aspects of it into our culture.

Malcolm Margolin founded Heyday Books in 1974 to tell the stories of California’s diverse cultures and landscapes.

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Way you write, “The irony is that while we look forward to a dimly perceived future when such values might be realized, we have failed to understand that they existed in the not-so-distant past as the accomplishments not only of the Ohlones, but of Stone Age people the world over.” malcolm margolin: When the first Spaniards came up the coast, they were coming through all these Indian territories. They were starving and sick. Rations were reduced to five moldy tortillas a day, and they had begun killing the mules for food. Every morning before setting out, the priest would gather the “crew of skeletons” together and recite the Viaticum, because they expected somebody would die later in the day. Yet all around them were Indians living in relative prosperity. For me, this is a great metaphor. That all around us in these Indian cultures are things we can use, keys to a fuller way of living, ideas that can enlighten us, practices that can transform our daily life, stories that can enlarge our compassion and stimulate our imagination. There’s a hint of how to be human beings in a different way. But it’s encoded in another language, encased in another culture. Traditional Indian life was so different from our life today that we have trouble even imagining that we could learn from them. But we not only can, I feel we must, and now that I’ve got time I’ve begun working on a book about

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es: People understand the world around them through stories. If you extend your metaphor, those bedraggled Spaniards coming up the coast, they didn’t—couldn’t—see the story there. I wonder if we’ve reached that point where these cultures, whose values we can intellectually write down, are such a foreign story to us that we can’t recognize it. mm: Well, these stories are indeed foreign. I’m fond of quoting those wonderful lines by the poet W. S. Merwin, “I want to tell what the forests were like/I will have to speak in a forgotten language.” This is an election year, and while there are clearly differences between those running for office, every one of them—from the ultraliberal to the ultraconservative—seems locked in the same mind-set: Economic prosperity,


indeed disappearing, a case can be made that this makes fog all the more precious and worthy of love. Should we stop loving wildflowers because they are ephemeral? Should we stop loving each other because death is inevitable? There’s that wonderful haiku by Issa, “This world is but a dewdrop world. And yet…” We fall in love when we see the beauty and wondrousness of the other, and that beauty breaks down the door to the heart, leaving us open and vulnerable. We fall in love because we have no choice— it’s the tribute we pay to the world, the price of being fully alive—and we need to accept the consequences. es: You speak often of your search for beauty. But that means something different for you, I think, than for most people. You open East Bay Out with a beautiful essay about Bishop Ranch in San Ramon. East Bay Wonderments celebrates the beauty of seeds and rock walls. While maybe for

The Margolin family in 1983. From left: Jake, Malcolm,

Heather Hafleigh, Margolin Family Collection

most people natural beauty is more like grandeur, starting at Yosemite and falling off from there— not, in any case, to be found in commonplace species or regional parks. mm: I talk, think, and write about beauty all the time. Let me read you something that my youngest son, Jake,

person

makes me unhappy. mm: Whoever gave you the idea that falling in love is connected to happiness? Sure, sometimes it leads to the profoundest happiness a person can know. Other times it leads to unfulfilled yearning, at times to the deepest sadness. If fog is

f irst

defined by material wealth and an ever-growing economy, is not only the ultimate good but the birthright of every American. Am I the only one who yearns for better stories, for a more capacious vision of what it means to be human? Someone, I forget who, once defined insanity as having only one story. To equate happiness so exclusively with the accumulation and individual ownership of material goods is a failure of imagination. And the imagination is where the battle for a healthy environment needs to be fought. If we win in the courts, win in the legislature, create a thousand new national parks, and put hundreds more plants and animals on the endangered species list, but lose the battle for the human imagination, whatever victories we achieve will be temporary. Am I the only one who is becoming increasingly uneasy with a movement that embraces fixity, preserving species and habitats with great effort and at almost any cost, while often denying the inevitability of change? I was in Hawaii a while ago, and I was at the top of this mountain in Oahu where they’re preserving a snail. The amount of effort taken to preserve this snail is nothing short of monumental. It’s a snail! I wish it well. I’m sorry it’s going extinct, I wish it weren’t, and I respect the impulse to save it. But can we really guarantee every species eternal existence? While I agree that we need to expend effort to preserve species and habitats whenever possible, our greater and more challenging responsibility is to preserve the underlying capacity of this world to be fertile, to be beautiful, to change. Change is the great force in the world, inevitable and built deeply into the basic processes of all life. There’s a word in the English language for things that don’t change: dead. Fighting change is fighting life, and in the end it’s a losing battle. es: Is there a secret, then, to falling in love with something and accepting that it will change or even disappear? I mean, I love fog. Scientists tell me it’s disappearing because of climate change. That change

Sadie, Rina, and Reuben Margolin.

said about his upbringing. “My parents always looked at the world through a lens of beauty, whether it was in the relationship with the people they knew, or the gardening that my mother was doing, or the cards we’d make for each other. For both of my parents, their highest level of praise for something that someone said or for a story or an action was ‘Oh, that’s beautiful.’ Beauty in a very broad sense. Beauty above all else: That was instilled in me and in all of us as the goal of life, to identify the beautiful things in the world and then be near them, gather them around you, appreciate them, and pass them on to others.” My main skill is not the creation of (continued on page 40) beauty; it’s the j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 6

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Courtesy of Heyday Books archives

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Malcolm with Mewuk basketweavers and cultural educators Kimberly Stevenot (left) and Jennifer Bates

scene, and was at one time Poet Laureate of the United States. He was at some kind of conference where poets were discussing poetry, saying things like how with poetry you can be “your real self.” b ay n at u r e

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Courtesy of Bill Margolin

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recognition of beauty in the world around me, and that includes the beauty of the human race. I find beauty everywhere, because it is everywhere, and my skills are the skills not of a creator but of a good witness. As for grandeur, I love it, and of course I’m much more profoundly moved by Yosemite than I am by Tilden or Bishop Ranch. But I do find beauty and wonderment everywhere. Perhaps the reason I seem to have this ability to recognize the beauty of the everyday is that I’ve spent almost all my life without a TV, I don’t carry a cell phone, I don’t go to many movies, my head is not filled with advertising slogans, and I read a lot of good literature and poetry. I lead a busy social life, working with others and going to parties, but I daydream a lot and I’m not fighting sensory overload. There’s a poem by William Everson, also known as Brother Antoninus, with the haunting line “The nerve that is dying needs thunder to rouse it.” es: One of the things they talk about in writing classes is that when you write in the first person, you have to answer the question, “Who am I?” Because you’re never fully authentic. Who is the character Malcolm Margolin, and how does it compare to real-life Malcolm? mm: There’s this great story that I heard about Phil Levine. Phil lived in Fresno, where he created a world-class poetry (continued from page 39)

Phil looks around with total disgust and says, “Why be your real self when with a little effort you can be interesting?” Of course I’ve created the character that I am in the pages of the books that I’ve written, the public self that I present to the world. I guess it’s something of a pose. But it’s a good pose. It’s a pose that makes me happy, a pose that makes me productive, and other people seem to like it as well. More importantly, it’s a pose that lets the people around me flourish. I think that’s essential, that people around you flourish. I guess the Malcolm character is a being of my own invention, put together from role models, aspirations, a desire to impress, a desire to shed childhood fears, shames, self-doubts, but I think that’s the way we grow. We put forth an image, not of who we are, but of who we’d like to be, try it on like a suit of clothes, and if we like what we see in the mirror that’s who we become. That said, I think it’s necessary not to be conned by your own act. There’s

Malcolm roomed in Hollis Hall during his freshman year at Harvard in 1958, and later graduated with a degree in literature. He and his wife Rina left the east coast and eventually settled in Berkeley in 1970.

that chilling observation by La Rochefoucauld, “We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” I once had a very clear image of how the character I’d invented relates to the inner self. I was at an elegant party or reception, great wine, delicious food, gorgeous women, world-famous artists, poets, and innovators, an assemblage of some of the world’s most interesting and accomplished people. And I was in top form—witty, telling great stories, the center of attention and the object of admiration. As I was carrying on, my gaze wandered off to a corner of the room where a morose, badly dressed, shy, awkward, and very much alone character was staring at me. “What the hell are you doing here?” I said. “I thought I got rid of you years ago.” He looked at me sadly, and with a voice full of love and tenderness, he said, “You’ve gone far in your life, but please don’t forget about me. I’ll always be in a corner somewhere, and you need me for the fullness of your humanity.”


sem·per·vi·rēns (n.) always living, forever green

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tree over there,” and to the left, “one tree over there.” The answer to my question is clear. I may not be able to see the cut, but I’m in it.

(continued from page 31)

Our tour never made it to the preservation reserves, the most inaccessible and ecologically intact of all San Vicente’s lands. In these watersheds, I’m told, a few big old trees still stand tall, the understory is a little richer in native plants, and if you get up early enough, you might be able to hear the wingbeats of marbled murrelets. The preservation reserves will serve as a benchmark for measuring the success of activities on other parts of the property. They’ll not be subject to any experimentation. In setting the boundaries of the preservation reserves, “we wanted to

Courtesy Sempervirens Fund and POST

Redwoods for the 21 st Century

tion reserves and, in time, the restoration reserves as well will safeguard a version of Sequoia sempervirens that is well adapted to the Santa Cruz Mountains, which are at the drier, southern end of the redwood range. Since the northern end of the redwood range may be drier in the future, thanks to climate change, these redwoods could also prove vital to the survival of redwoods as a species. Without a doubt, a healthier redwood forest here would be good news. Wildlife would benefit—and humans too. A healthier redwood forest with larger trees would collect more water from fog and boost the region’s water supply. It would suck up more climate-altering CO2 (a task at which redwoods excel due to their enormous volume of wood and long life spans). (continued on page 44) And it would mean

Sempervirens and POST are collaborating with the Puma Project (UC Santa Cruz) to document mountain lion presence at San Vicente Redwoods. This trio of pumas passed by a camera trap at 9:00 am on a sunny summer morning.

figure out where the best growing conditions for redwoods are,” says Emily Burns. “We looked at things like slope, aspect, and moisture. We gave those areas a higher priority for protection.” Burns hopes the project’s preserva-

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that a key ecosystem in the Bay Area’s suite of habitats would be around for years to come. “And there’s just the human experience of enjoying the larger forests, the old-growth condition,” Burns says. “People love walking under the tall trees.” Public access and recreation have been part of the plan from the beginning, and an access plan—still in the works—will lay out ground rules and a trail system. The challenge is to find a balance between visitor enjoyment and the project’s logging, stewardship, and research goals. And indeed, amid all the logging and restoring, POST and Sempervirens are using the property as a scientific laboratory to better understand how a redwood forest works. Well-concealed camera traps are part of a collaboration with the Puma Project at the University of California at Santa Cruz to track mountain lions and study their behavior. In another study, scientists are using John W. Wall

(continued from page 42)

The presence of western white trillium is one sign of a healthy mature redwood forest.

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HAVE YOU SEEN ME?

acoustic monitors to document the presence of marbled murrelets. And the Western Cave Conservancy has brought in researchers to study life in some of the property’s karst caves. Thinning skeptic Will Russell will be working on the land as well. With a grant from Save the Redwoods League, he’ll gather data about the prevalence of western white trillium (Trillium ovatum), a flower that tends to show up (along with sword fern, vanilla leaf, violets, and redwood sorrel) in redwood forests that

are recovering from logging. “I’ve seen some trillium on the property in areas of mature second growth,” Russell says, “which is exciting.” Monitoring the species over time, he says, will suggest if any of POST and Semperviren’s interventions are harmful—and which treatments are doing the most good. Rumbling homeward in her pickup at the end of the day, I ask Hamey, who is 38, if she’s sad she won’t be around to see the long-term effects of her work. “I do see some results,” she says. “But all forest management decisions last way beyond a human lifetime. I love that. I feel a lot of pride to be making these lasting decisions.” Joan Hamilton is an environmental writer and editor who produces Audible Mount Diablo (audiblemountdiablo.com), a series of mobile audio tours centered around that iconic East Bay landmark. She also writes regularly about redwoods for Save the Redwoods League and California State Parks.

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Plant Council. Many restoration managers like Johnson—the people on the front lines of reclaiming habitat and battling invasive species— are taking a wait-and-see approach to bioengineering the natural world. Johnson says his group surveyed land managers in California and found that 90 percent of them use herbicides at least some of the time to control invasive plants. They want new tools at their disposal, but Johnson says a tool needs to be proven safe before it’s used. In some cases, maybe even in the majority, advanced genomic tools might be too risky. Take, for example, the Invasive Spartina Project, an effort to remove nonnative cordgrass from the San Francisco Bay using herbicides. Brian Ort, the geneticist working on the project, says a gene drive would be wholly inappropriate there given the close genetic relationship between the invasive Spartina alterniflora and the native variety experts are trying to restore. “We’re looking at two plants that easily form a hybrid. Anything you put into an alterniflora plant could (continued from page 37)

easily get into the native population, and obviously we don’t want that.” Yet then there’s the case of the American chestnut tree, a native to the Eastern Seaboard that’s been decimated by a fungal pathogen. By inserting a wheat gene into the tree’s genome, scientists at SUNY are creating blightresistant trees that could be the first restored forest composed of genetically modified trees. Could a similar effort make California tan oaks resistant to Sudden Oak Death? “I think it’s conceptually possible,” says UC Berkeley forest pathologist Matteo Garbelotto, who is trying to breed a SOD-resistant tan oak the oldfashioned way using genes found within the tan oak’s genetic repertoire. “I think the dividing line for me comes at using native genes versus nonnative. If the process was solely based on genetic resources that are already available to the tan oak, I don’t have a big problem using that because I live day after day on the other side of the coin where all these trees are going to die. But if genes

came from a different organism or tree species, I would start questioning the process. I’m not comfortable with that extreme level of genetic modification.” So far, Karl Campbell says he doesn’t see many downsides to a bioengineered mouse, which in this case would remain genetically 100 percent mouse, though built in a lab. Worse, he says, would be inaction. “You can call it playing God, but the other part of it is, Okay, cool, sit back and wait 30 years before you decide to get engaged. Meanwhile, you’re thousands of species short of where you were and, by the way, by the time you get to this it’s going to be tens of thousands of species.” Though he feels confident, he knows the stakes are high to get it right. “Basically if you screw this up the first time, you will set this [type of effort] back three decades or more.” So the team is treading carefully, “go slow to go fast” is how he puts it. He’s initiating an independent panel that will look at potential pitfalls of releasing the mouse on a small island and then test out

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motivating, this work,” Campbell adds. “My wife asks, ‘When are you going to stop doing this?’ Well, when I’m dead.” Back in Raleigh, John Godwin is getting to know the Farallones mouse really well. He sent a graduate student on a supply boat out to the islands to trap 14 live mice to start a colony in his lab. “So, what we have is Farallones mice breeding here in Raleigh,” he says. “We have them in a mouse barn.” He explains that because of the variation in mouse genomes (one supersize version of Mus musculus living on an island in the South Atlantic eats albatross chicks) he needs to run competition trials between the Farallones mouse and the European strain that’s slated to become the bioengineered mouse to assess its ability to successfully breed. “I jokingly say these male mice will have to have game. If they can’t compete with the local (Farallones) males in this population or if the females won’t breed with them successfully, this is not going to work.” One way around that, Godwin says, (continued on page 48) would be to create

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concerns. As far as picking an island for the first field tests, he says, the place will need a mature regulatory body that can give a gold standard review. And it will probably not be on the Farallones. “Thumb in the wind for social license? It’s likely not there.” IC aims to start field tests in 2020. By then IC has to raise $6 million for the project, and Campbell knows he has to sell his story about islands. Ultimately, it’s an uplifting one. “I don’t often get back to the islands that we’ve removed invasive species on, but the ones I’ve gotten to are absolutely spectacular,” he says. Santiago Island, once free of goats and pigs, saw the immediate rebound of the nearly extinct Galapagos rail. “They were literally everywhere—‘cheep, cheep, cheep’—and just calling and going nuts. You read Darwin’s accounts of the island and you’re like, ‘Okay, I can see it now.’” Rábida Island was cleared of rats in 2011, and two years later two species of land snail appeared that were last seen when the California Academy of Sciences collected them in 1905. “I find it super

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a hybrid mouse with a high portion of the Farallones mouse genome and use it to carry the natural gene drive. That version of the mouse, “wild” enough to breed well, would be crossed with the bioengineered mouse (when it’s ready) and new fitness trials would commence—with the whole project moving over to a high-security laboratory, probably a USDA facility in Colorado. “We want to be careful that they don’t escape and breed with mice living in the walls of the building or something. We’re never far from the house mouse in Western civilization.” Godwin explains more lab trials with mice from a selected field trial location will eventually occur, but for now the Farallones mice are proxies for island mice worldwide: If all goes well with mice, who knows what’s next. Not since his graduate school days at the University of Hawaii, where he studied the population ecology of coral reef fish, has Godwin been involved in a conservation project. “I feel like I’m back to dirty fingernails biology,” he says. “The motivation here is that we’re facing a severe biodiversity threat, and maybe there’s another way to approach this.” (continued from page 47)

Thank you for all you do to protect Bay nature! The California Invasive Plant Council has been supporting professional and volunteer land stewards since 1992.

Alison Hawkes is Bay Nature’s contributing editor. She’s recently written about black-tailed jackrabbits, Measure AA, and tule elk in Point Reyes National Seashore for the magazine. Have thoughts and opinions about Re-Coding for Conservation? Join the Bay Nature conversation about genetic engineering & invasive species on facebook.com/baynature

Pulling French broom in Marin headlands (Photo by Danny Franco)

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support for bay nature

The Bay Nature Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes exploration and stewardship of the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area. Through tax-deductible contributions, the Friends of Bay Nature support this independent voice for local nature and conservation. Listed below are individuals whose donations were received between March 5, 2016 and May 27, 2016. Bay Nature Funders are Friends of Bay Nature $5000+ Carol Baird & Alan Harper Jorgen Hildebrandt

Peter & Sue LaTourrette Jennifer Martin Ralph Mihan Mia Monroe Jim & Sue Mumby Diane Poslosky $2500–4999 Diane & Robert Nancy & Bart Westcott Ross-Leech Julianne Ryan (in honor $1000–2499 of Andrea Mackenzie) Douglas Booth & Don Weden Margaret Simpson Bruce & Leslianne $100–249 Hartsough Craig Anderson & Lee Frances & John Raeside Hackeling Guy & Jeanine Kathleen Anderson Saperstein Lisa Angelot Jake Sigg Marice Ashe & Larry Aleks Totic Orman Tina Batt & Bob Doyle $500–999 Ralph Benson Janet Alderton Julia Bott Angela & Robert Ann & Winslow Briggs Amarante Michael Brumbaugh Elizabeth & Paul Emily Burns Archambeault John Callaway & Trisha Brian Ashe & Cindy Cruse Rigatti Rosemary Cameron Louis Berlot & Joyce Warner Chabot Cutler Catherine Christensen Helen Cagampang Sandra Curtis Kim & Robert Carroll Shari Dagg & Christine Clayton Englar Lehnertz Eric Folmer Sylvia Darr & Terri Elkin Harald & Sabine Frey Bunny Dawson John & Molly Hooper John & Sara Donnelly Karen & Robert Jachens Sharon Donovan Dorothy Kakimoto Marta Drury David Loeb Theodore Eliot Scott Van Tyle Wendy Eliot & Michael Mariquita West Fitzgibbon Claire Eschelbach $250–499 Phyllis Faber Carlene & Stephen Sharon Farrell & Sue Abbors Gardner Tom Anderson Marty Frankel Lee Ballance & Mary Matt Freeman Selkirk Bill & Nancy Grove Janet & Robert Bowen Tracy Grubbs & Richard Meg Conkey & Les Taylor Rowntree Bruce & Joan Hamilton Kim Conner (in honor Trish Hare of Dad’s 89th Daphne Hatch birthday) Pam Jeane Barbara & Barry William Keene Deutsch Shani Kleinhaus Robin Fautley Margaret Kolar Charles Garfield & Marc Landgraf Cindy Spring Beverly & James Lane Patrick Golden Craig Lanway Margaret Graziano Dianne & Steve Mary Ellen Hannibal Leonoudakis Richard & Terry Margaret Levine Horrigan Howard Levitt Mary Hughes & Joe Shelly Lewis Simitian Karen Martin-Keller R. Jones James McBride Judith Katz Hugh McLean Mary Kenney & Joe Mark & Megan Pasqua Medeiros

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Lisa Micheli Julie Moed Barrie & Walter Moore Greg Moore Christine Mueller Cicely Muldoon Robert Newton Julian Orr & Willie Sue Patti Papeleux & Michael Vasey Robert Perlmutter Penny Pollock Deborah & Richard Probst Dan Rademacher & Tamara Schwarz Derek & Janice Ransley Lennie Roberts Danita Rodriguez Ruth Satterthwaite Julie & Ralph Schardt Sandra Schlesinger Barrie Simpson Steve & Wendy Smit Doreen & Vernon Smith Patricia Smith & Thomas Theodores Jeff & Teri Smyly Annie Somerville & Zach Stewart Kathryn Strachota Sally Taylor John & Tik Thurston $50–99 Anonymous (3) Lynn Adams Steve Atkinson Shirley Bentson Marcia Brockbank China Brotsky Leif Brown Annie Burke Brenda Carter Gregg Cook Gordon Copas Patty Eaton & Geoffrey Rimositis Victoria Edwards Ron Felzer Mary Frances Kelly Poh Gil & Lisa Garza Joan Greer Kathleen Hall & Leslie Murdock John Harris Amber Hasselbring Ruth Henrich Carole Hickman Darla Hillard & Rodney Jackson Melissa Hippard Anastasia & Randall Hobbet Virginia Holtz Elizabeth Hook Cynthia Johnson Rebecca Johnson Mike Kahn Alice Kaufman

foundations and institutions that have provided $500 or more over the past 12 months for general support or organizational development. To learn more about how you can support Bay Nature, contact Associate Director Judith Katz at (510)528-8550 x105 or judith@ baynature.org. You can also donate directly online at baynature.org/ donate. Thank you for your continuing interest and support. Kerry King Dave Kwinter Margaret Levine Ling-Te Liao & Joan Primeau Doug McGlashan Eileen McLaughlin Hugh McLean Rebecca Mills Chris & Lauren Monack Betty Nelson Robert Nevraumont Carol Pederson Gil & Pat Raposo Cindy Roessler Margaret & Oscar Rosenbloom Sue Rosenthal Barbara Sandow Christopher Schlesinger Faith & Ralph Schmidt Clysta Seney Lydia Shih-Day William Sollee Terri Sonada & Sarah Wright Elizabeth Suzuki Lin Teichman Jennifer & Marshall White

Amy Wolfrum Alan Yung $25–49 Anonymous (2) Cyndi Bakir Linda & Stephen Barnhart Theresa Bradshaw Elizabeth Brown Deborah Bullock Thomas Chipman Thomas Crane & Deidre Harrison George Crowe Katherine Cuneo Mary Ann & Richard Cuneo Pierre Del Prato Todd Gilens Sue Girard Jim & Ruth Gravanis Russell Huddleston Karla Jones Todd Kolze & Brenda O’Sullivan Elizabeth Littell Michel Maillard Ruth Marshall John Michels Patricia Morgan

Barbara Moulton Robert Muller Sheldon Nelson Pat Overshiner Tracy Rabold Dianne Safholm Ivan Samuels George Sherman Elinor Spellman Rona Weintraub David Wichner Funders craigslist Charitable Fund Dean Witter Foundation Dorothy & Jonathan Rintels Charitable Foundation Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Jewish Communal Fund JiJi Foundation Special thanks Mike Kahn Phil Osegueda Lydia Shih-Day Doris Sloan

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SAVE THE DATE DINNER

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Local brown pelican © Carlos Porrata

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EVENING AT BEAR VALLEY Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres under the trees Music by La Libertà and David Pascoe Centennial celebration dinner  

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ask the naturalist m i c h a e l q: How do marine mammals sleep? And is sleep essential for their survival? a: Sleep is incredibly important to higher vertebrates such as reptiles, birds, and mammals. Continued disruption of sleep—as the parents of newborns and the CIA know well—is a torture technique. And while the function of sleep is not totally understood, we do know that it’s absolutely vital to the health of animals. During a whale-watching trip years ago out of Half Moon Bay, at around 3:30 in the afternoon—just about the time I like to take a nap—I saw a very light blow, or exhalation, from a whale. As we approached, we saw that the whale wasn’t swimming. We turned off our engine and drifted near the stationary whale for over an hour. We watched silently as the animal slowly sank

S O N O M A

e l l i s beneath the surface, disappearing for 90 seconds, resurfaced in exactly the same location, took a very light breath, and then sank back down—over and over. My conclusion was that the animal was asleep. But breathing is not an involuntary autonomic response in whales as it is in terrestrial animals. How can you sleep if you’re a voluntary breather like this whale? Studies of both captive and wild cetaceans have revealed a most fascinating adaptation: Half the brain appears to stay awake while the other hemisphere drops into what we call slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep. There are basically two different kinds of sleep as measured by electrical activity in the brain—REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and nonREM sleep. In non-REM sleep there are

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three stages, each characterized by decreasing frequency of electrical impulses. During stage III (slow-wave sleep), memories are consolidated into the neural network, and essential repair to bodily systems takes place. Studies on captive bottlenose dolphins show that each side of the brain gets a total of about four hours of “sleep” in short stints as the opportunity arises over 24 hours. Half of the brain nods off and the opposite eye closes while the other wakes up and helps the animal survive. This is called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep or USWS. Survive how? This evolutionary transformation allows the animal to safely breathe, consolidate memories, do essential bodily repair, interact with other members of its social group, and stay cognizant of potential dangers like predators or large vessels approaching. But what about pinnipeds—true seals (such as harbor seals) and eared seals (such as California sea lions) that can be found sleeping on land but spend many months at a time in the open ocean? Even though DNA analysis indicates that these two mammalian lineages share a common ancestor, only the eared seals exhibit USWS. But for some reason that remains unclear, true seals do not undergo USWS but are nonetheless very successful at getting the necessary “sleep” in their watery world through bilateral slow-wave sleep and holding their breath. An elephant seal, for example, can hold its breath for more than an hour. Other aquatic mammals, such as the Amazonian manatee, also have been shown to have USWS. REM sleep occurs simultaneously in both hemispheres and is the final stage during the sleep cycle characterized by dream activity, and increased breathing and respiratory rate. The electrical activity of the animal’s brain during REM is quite similar to that when it is awake. While pinnipeds experience something like REM while on land, it turns out cetaceans do not go through REM sleep, so I reckon they don’t dream. It’s 3:30 p.m.—time for that nap essential to my health. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. j u ly – s e p t e m b e r 2 0 1 6

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