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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
Portrait of the Bay
Your Brain on Nature Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro Coastal Trail at Franklin Point
Photo Photoby byCait CaitHutnik Hutnik
Tule Tule elk elk stand stand proud proud at at Coyote Coyote Ridge Ridge Open Open Space Space Preserve, Preserve, overlooking overlooking the the Coyote Coyote Valley Valley
Coyote CoyoteValley Valleyisisthe themost most critical criticalwildlife wildlifelinkage linkage remaining remainingbetween betweenthe the Santa SantaCruz CruzMountains Mountainsand and the theDiablo DiabloRange. Range. To Tolearn learnmore morevisit visit openspaceauthority.org/ openspaceauthority.org/ preservation/wildlifelinkage.html preservation/wildlifelinkage.html
Coyote CoyoteValley Valleylooking lookingeast eastto tothe theDiablo DiabloRange Range Photo Photoby byStephen StephenJoseph Joseph
When we buy a river, it belongs to everyone. We buy land exclusively along rivers. Why? To conserve vital habitat and ensure our rivers stay open to hikers, birders and wildlife watchersâ€”people like you who know the value of healthy streams and public access. Most of all, we do it for the river. Please support our effort on the Big Sur coast, where we are working to conserve a mile of the Little Sur River (pictured here where it meets the Pacific) and improve trail connectivity between the ocean and the Ventana Wilderness. Visit www.westernrivers.org or call us at 415-767-2001.
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past lives of the east bay hills Old Giants and Lost Treasure Historical yarns from the forthcoming Lost Worlds of the San Francisco Bay Area tell of two East Bay communities that arose and then disappeared in the 1800s: the redwood logging camps in the Oakland hills and the coal mining towns around Mount Diablo. by Sylvia Linsteadt
Courtesy of the California Historical Society
the bay A Portrait of the Water Body That Binds Us It goes without saying that the San Francisco Bay is our region’s defining feature. It’s part of our identity. And yet many of us spend little to no time in it and know even less about it. Bay Nature’s Eric Simons dives in and asks why. by Eric Simons
brain + nature = health The Science Is More or Less Settled Getting out in nature is good for us. Even doctors are prescribing it and teaming up with local park districts to get more people outside. But what is it, exactly, about nature that heals us? by Alison Hawkes
Feedback from our readers
14 Conservation in Action
Letter from the publisher
The many hues of parrot mushrooms by Anna Towers 9
Currents • What will this winter’s weather bring? • New research on albino redwoods • Mammal March Madness (without basketballs) • Bay Nature’s new, mobile-friendly Trailfinder • Ancient fossils found near Calaveras Dam • Signs of the Season: Call of the Pacific chorus frog
Orphaned sea otters are reared by surrogate mothers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium before being released into Elkhorn Slough. by Elizabeth Devitt
On the Trail
16 San Mateo Coast
Franklin Point & the California Coastal Trail Año Nuevo State Park is best known for its elephant seals, but the less-visited northern part of the park contains rare and beautiful coastal dune and prairie habitat, as well as beaches and dramatic headlands and a segment of the California Coastal Trail. by Nate Seltenrich
Elsewhere Eliot Trail, at Sears Point; Creeks to Peaks Trail, San Francisco; Hillside Natural Area, El Cerrito
44 First Person
Rue Mapp: Doubling Down on Black Joy in Nature The founder of Outdoor Afro, a group that connects African Americans with nature, talks about an outdoor upbringing and the role of “healing hikes” during times of crisis. by Rue Mapp 61 Ask the Naturalist
Why do tule elk drop their antlers? by Michael Ellis
62 Naturalist’s Notebook
Toxic algae in our local lakes by John Muir Laws
visit us online at www.Baynature.org
by david loeb
bayview letter from the publisher wo days after the recent election, I was flying from San Francisco to New York for a family visit, traveling from one liberal urban coastal bubble to another, leapfrogging the vast “red” center of the nation. Of course, from the air, it didn’t look red at all. In fact, it was a spectacularly clear and cloudless autumn day all the way across the country, and from my window seat I could see practically every mountain range, every river and lake, every farm, every small town, every power plant, every clear-cut, every road, every sensuous rumple in the landscape along that route to the East Coast. We are so blessed to have such a vast and beautiful country: so varied in landforms, so rich in nature and rich in resources and rich in people. Why, with all this wealth and beauty, had we opted for the siren song of fear and exclusion? After the flight, I took the train from the Newark airport to Penn Station and emerged into a rush hour sea of people of all ages, hues, dress, hairstyles, and demeanors. Moving through that high-energy multiethnic crowd—commuters, vendors, schoolkids, tourists, buskers—felt uplifting and empowering, an indirect but defiant rebuke to the anti-inclusionary rhetoric and the “fear of the other” that had, temporarily at least, won the day on the national stage. It reminded me that while a significant minority of the country may be holding
contr ibuto rs Elizabeth Devitt (p. 14) is a freelance “science journalist” based in Santa Cruz. She draws on her “first” career in veterinary medicine to write about the links among animals, people, and the environment. Michael Ellis (p. 61) is a Santa Rosa–based naturalist who leads nature-related tours with Footloose Forays (footlooseforays.com) and waxes eloquent for KQED’s Perspectives series. Alexander Fox (p. 9) is a Bay Nature editorial intern. John Hersey (p. 38) is considered one of the founders of digital illustration. He is the principal of John Hersey Illustration in Larkspur, California, where his clients
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on to a vision of an illusory past greatness, the majority of us are ready to move on and look forward. Just as an ecosystem is healthier when it supports a diversity of plants and animals (and lichen and slime molds and bacteria), so our communities are healthier when we not only tolerate but embrace a diversity of people. Of course, we in the conservation community have not been leaders in this regard. So we’re grateful for a new generation of conservation leaders such as Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro (who speaks to us in these pages) and Jose Gonzalez of Latino Outdoors (to be profiled in our July issue) and Uriel Hernandez of Canopy (one of Bay Nature’s 2017 Local Heroes who will be honored at our annual awards dinner on March 26 and will appear in our April issue). This seems more critical now than ever, as we’ll need an all-hands-on-deck approach to protecting both our natural and our human communities over the next four years. San Francisco Bay is Exhibit A in this regard. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating (see Eric Simons’ expansive meditation on the Bay in this issue): The Bay is healthier now than it has been at any time in the past 50 years. And that’s because people in this century decided to work together across disciplines and institutional boundaries to reverse the damage done over the previous two centuries. It also bears repeating that these people who worked together, and are still working together, are from the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and—yes—even the government. And if we (continued on page 7) include Sony, Bandai, Le Monde, Wired, the Times of London, Swatch, the New York Times, Newsweek, and Benetton. His work has been exhibited at SFMOMA. Naturalist and illustrator John Muir Laws (p. 62) is the author of The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds and teaches nature observation and illustration. johnmuirlaws.com. Sylvia Linsteadt (p. 22) is a writer, artist, and certified animal tracker living in the North Bay. Her work—both fiction and nonfiction—explores the realms of deep ecology, history, and myth. David Liittschwager (p. 28) is a freelance photographer living in San Francisco. He is a contributing photographer for National Geographic, among other
BayNature Exploring, celebrating, and understanding the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area
Volume 17, Issue 1 January-March 2017 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 Laney Ennis Board of Directors Christopher Dann, Catherine Fox (President), Tracy Grubbs, Bruce Hartsough, Reed Holderman, David Loeb, John Raeside, Bob Schildgen, Nancy Westcott Volunteers/Interns Alexander Fox, Jacqueline Gauthier, Mary Helen Rowell, Elizabeth Smith, Kimberly Teruya, Benjamin Whiting, Alexander Yee 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)email@example.com Editorial & Business Office: 1328 6th Street #2, Berkeley, CA 94710 (510)528-8550; (510)528-8117 (fax) firstname.lastname@example.org baynature.org issn 1531-5193 No part of this magazine may be reproduced without written permission from Bay Nature and its contributors. © 2017 Bay Nature Printed by Commerce Printing (Sacramento, CA) using soy-based inks and alternative energy.
Cover: A group of kayakers returning from a paddle out the Golden Gate on a December afternoon pass by Cavallo Point in Sausalito. [Diane Poslosky]
magazines, and author of multiple books. In 2008, he was honored with a World Press Photo Award. Lauren McNulty (p. 21) is a former Bay Nature editorial intern. Claire Peaslee (p. 13) is a naturalist, writer, editor, graphic designer, and improvisational theater artist whose home is Point Reyes. Ann Sieck (p. 21) is dedicated to helping people with disabilities, including those using wheelchairs, find parks and trails they can enjoy. baynature.org/asiecker. Elizabeth Smith (p. 10) is a Bay Nature editorial intern. Anna Towers (p. 8) is an amateur mycologist and photographer who runs the blog thefriendlyfungus.com.
want to keep this remarkable act of collective imagination and restoration going through the next four years, we’ll have to defend our model of region-wide collective action. And that includes the regulations that have put the brakes on development in wetlands, and the publicly funded science figuring out effective strategies for restoration, and the public agencies managing the restored wetlands for people and wildlife, and the public-private partnerships taking proactive steps to protect the Bay shoreline from climate change and sea level rise. Keeping all of this on track over the next period won’t be easy, but it is more necessary now than ever. So for those of us still reeling from the election, here’s some modest advice: Take time this winter to visit your local section of the Bay Trail and take pride in the abundance and diversity of wildlife you’ll see along the trail. And find comfort in the similarly abundant and diverse array of humanity sharing the trail with you. (bay view: continued from page 6)
letters Dear Editor, I enjoyed reading the rich and varied fare in the October–December issue of Bay Nature. However, I was nonplussed to see the article on fishing in the East Bay parks (“A Fishing Expedition”) refer disparagingly to Point Pinole Regional Shoreline as “a dollop of parkland in Richmond.” Dictionary.com defines “dollop” as a noun meaning: 1. a lump or blob of some substance or 2. a small quantity. At over 2,400 acres, Point Pinole is the largest shoreline park on San Francisco and San Pablo Bays. Bruce Beyaert, R i c h m o n d Dear Bruce, We’re sorry you felt we disparaged one of (y)our favorite East Bay parks! The word was meant to capture how the Pinole peninsula looks on a map or satellite photo like a “dollop” of land spilling into the Bay. We stand corrected! —Editors
Talk about Natives! Get the word on our speaker series. February 2: California Sonoran and Mojave Desert Plants March 2: Calochortus Pursuits April 6: Restoring Tidal Wetlands May 4: Tour of the Menzies Garden
Programs start at 7:30pm at the County Fair Bldg. in Golden Gate Park
— Come to Bay Nature’s 2017 Local Hero Awards Dinner —
THE TIDE IS TURNING Celebrating San Francisco Bay & Our Local Conservation Heroes Sunday, March 26 | 5:30 – 8:30 pm
Remarks by Sam Schuchat, Executive Officer, California Coastal Conservancy LOCAL HERO AWARD RECIPIENTS: Conservation Action: David Lewis, Save the Bay
Environmental Education: Rebecca Johnson & Alison Young, California Academy of Sciences
Youth Engagement: Uriel Hernandez, Canopy
© Cris Benton
UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center, 1675 Owens Street, San Francisco $175 per person | baynature17.eventbrite.com | RSVP by March 19
A benefit for Bay Nature Institute //
INFO: JUDITH@BAYNATURE .ORG / 510-528-8550 X105
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parrot mushrooms Just when the skies gray and the cold rains begin to fall in the Bay Area, legions of tiny fungi start to grow, bursting with color. The rain signals underground networks of white filaments, called mycelia, that it is time to reproduce. The parrot mushroom (Gliophorus psittacinus) in particular loves the damp dark days of winter. It’s a flash of color amid redwood and bay forests if you can spot the tiny fruiting bodies. They often start out green and then mature to the orangish-pinkish yellow shown here. But they can also be bright yellow and red, and there’s a rare blue variety from Humboldt County, hence the name. German mycologist Jacob Schaeffer described the
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parrot mushroom in 1774, but the species didn’t settle into its current genus Gliophorus until 2013. And it could be in for more changes, as scientists now believe with further study G. psittacinus may turn out to be a complex of more than one species. The term “Gliophorus” is derived from the Greek words glia meaning “glue” and phoros meaning ”bearing.” G. psittacinus is slimy! With a viscid cap a mere 1 to 4 centimeters across, the parrot mushroom is common in the Bay Area, growing alone or in groups, in moist soil, moss, or humus, from late fall to early winter through spring. It is odorless and, while not toxic, not particularly tasty either.
p h ot o g r a p h a n d t ext by a n na t owe r s
news & notes from around the bay
Unprecedented Winter Weather
Humboldt County Convention & Visitors Bureau
After three years of outrageous extreme winter weather in California—drought, heat, the Pacific Ocean’s warm “Blob,” and El Niño—it seemed like 2017 might bring a return to normal. Not so fast. For most of the fall, when things typically cool down rapidly in the far north, temperatures in the Arctic instead remained stuck at unprecedented highs—in some cases as much as 35 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Sea ice that usually forms in the long frigid darkness actually melted in November, and the warmth stunned meteorologists and climate scientists. It’s another event no one has ever seen before and that’s likely to have implications for weather around the world … we just don’t know what they’ll be. For example, says UCLA postdoctoral fellow Daniel Swain, author of the WeatherWest blog about California weather, an unusual rain pattern in late October and an unusual cold spell in mid-December might have happened in part because warmer air in the Arctic pushed cold air to the south and strengthened the jet stream over the North Pacific. But it’s much harder to know exactly what role Arctic warmth plays in influencing our overall winter pattern. The pathways by which sea ice and snow cover 2,500 miles away might affect us are “convoluted,” Swain says. “It really might be important, but it’s hard to model—you’re dealing with processes over all kinds of spatial and temporal scales in regions where we don’t have a lot of data. The Arctic is changing so incredibly rapidly that it’s hard to keep up—there’s no precedent in our observational record.” So we could see another rainy winter. We could see a cold winter or a warm winter. And it might be influenced by this never-before-seen thing happening in the Arctic, or perhaps this weird thing happens in the Arctic and we don’t notice it at all. For now, NOAA’s Northern California winter outlook remains quiet: an above-average chance for slightly warmer weather than usual, and equal chances for above or below average rainfall. —Eric Simons
NOAA GEFS, via tropicaltidbits.com
New Science to Understand Redwood Ghosts Albino redwood trees, first documented in 1866, have been a mystery for as long as we’ve known they were out there. More than 400 albino redwoods have been found in California and the Pacific Northwest, with the greatest concentration occurring in Santa Cruz County. They sprout from the roots of a normal parent tree and typically aren’t more than 10 feet tall. A genetic mutation causes them to lack chlorophyll, which, apart from turning them white, means they cannot make their own food. So to survive, the albino redwood shares nutrients from the roots of its parent, and therein lies an evolutionary mystery: (continued on page 10) Why would a healthy j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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humor & news
Mammal March Madness (without basketballs)
mammal march madness champion!
salt marsh harvest mouse
Part animal trivia, part science education, and part hightension live storytelling over social media, “Mammal March Madness” will claw through its fifth year of competition this spring. The event pits mammal against mammal in theoretical showdowns, as imagined and narrated by a group of biologists to an audience of thousands following and contributing to the drama on Twitter. Not surprisingly, the virtual event has taken off in the Bay Area. As in the college basketball tournament, 64 mammals are seeded into brackets, and followers try to predict the winners in advance. Battles between mammals take place to the (theoretical) death, or retreat, based on the organizers’ knowledge of biology and scholarly articles, which are sourced for curious fans at the end of each Twitter dispatch. The last mammal standing after two weeks of competition—in last year’s case the tundra wolf—“wins” its picture on a (virtual) Wheaties box. Katie Hinde, an associate professor studying mammals at Arizona State and creator of the blog “Mammals Suck… Milk!”, leads the four-person team that decides the outcomes of the showdowns. Josh Drew, one of the contributors and an ecologist and conservation biologist at Columbia University, says the event is meant to “showcase the importance of biological and ecological diversity in a way that’s sneakily engaging.” Battles unfold in under a half-hour, with new tweets advancing the story min-
photo by bjorn erickson/usfws
Could this be the 2017 winner?
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ute by minute. To start, the biologists introduce the competitors and reference conservation status, cool science, and, if applicable, animal live cams. During last year’s opening round between a sea otter (our local species!) and a pocket gopher, for example, the discussion included a YouTube video of otters using tools, a Wikipedia page on the origin of the term Anthropocene, a link to an article in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases on otter mortality, and a plug for John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts’ classic Log from the Sea of Cortez. This year viewers will be allowed to lobby for inclusion of their favorite animals—consider sending in suggestions for a Bay Area species! Follow the entire competition on Twitter in March with the hashtag #2017MMM or check out Mammalssuck.blogspot.com for archives of past competitions and more information. —Elizabeth Smith
(continued from page 9) tree have a shoot that doesn’t appear to confer any advantages to the parent tree? In 2010, Zane Moore, a botany undergraduate student at Colorado State, saw a KQED Quest feature on the mystery of the albino redwoods and was inspired. Moore (who’s now a graduate student at UC Davis) wondered why redwoods wouldn’t just shed their albino shoots in the summer, as they generally do with branches and needles that aren’t pulling their weight. “Somehow, a significant number of the albinos are making the cut in summer,” Moore says, “and that suggested to me that they might be serving some function.” Moore’s collaborator, arborist Tom Stapleton, first tried to grow albino redwoods from cuttings of part-green, part-white trees, but over three years all the new growth was green, Moore says. He started to wonder what the difference might be between the wild conditions under which the albinos were appearing and the lab conditions in which they refused to grow. So he and Moore analyzed the tissues of wild albinos from 11 sites spanning Mendocino, Sonoma, and Santa Cruz counties. The analysis revealed high concentrations of heavy metals like nickel, copper, and cadmium. Perhaps, Moore and Stapleton thought, albinos were extracting toxins from the soil. In 2017 they’ll test the idea with an experiment in which they cultivate a group of half-albino, half-green redwoods in a greenhouse and then dose half the group with toxins like those that were found in the wild albinos. In a year, they will be able to evaluate whether the two groups of trees grow differently—and perhaps begin to solve the century-old mystery of these ghosts of the forest. —Alexander Fox
new & old
Presenting Bay Nature’s All-New Trailfinder more to come) of varying lengths and levels of difficulty. If you know what part of the region you want to explore, just zoom in on the map and check out the selections in that area. Or if you have a particular activity in mind, such as bird-watching or admiring wildflowers or beachcombing, you can limit your search to hikes that offer those opportu-
Are you itching to take a hike in the Bay Area, but not on the same trail you’ve walked oh so many times before? Then you’ll be happy to hear that Bay Nature is launching an all-new mobilefriendly online Trailfinder on February 1, 2017. Go to baynature.org/trailfinder, where you’ll find a map of the region, displaying more than 180 hikes (with
nities. This new version of the Bay Nature Trailfinder was crafted by our friends at GreenInfo Network to be mobile-friendly. And by the way, we’re looking for a few adventurous people who would like to help us add new hikes and trail descriptions; if you’re interested in becoming a Bay Nature Trailblazer (what a great excuse to go hiking all the time!), please drop us an email at trails@ baynature.org. —David Loeb
In the remote canyons east of Milpitas, scientists are digging up a treasure trove of marine fossils that tell of an era 20 million years ago when a shallow sea extended throughout much of today’s California. More than 800 specimens have been recovered in the last three years from sandstone deposits on the site—including ancient whale bones, megalodon shark teeth, and scallops the size of dinner plates—as earth-movers recontour the land to prepare for the reconstruction of Calaveras Dam, a project of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The work is part of a major seismic upgrade to the nearly b ay n at u r e
century-old infrastructure supporting the city’s Hetch Hetchy water supply. Among the noteworthy finds is a hippolike creature, Desmostylus, that sported forward-facing tusks and weighed in at over 400 pounds. Paleontologist Mark Goodwin of the University of California Museum of Paleontology says the whale skeletons, both baleen and toothed, appear to be relatively small, though he’s not sure if the individuals were young when they died or if the taxa were small. The fossils have gone straight into protective casts until the SFPUC reaches agreement with a research institution to make it the repository.
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“It was probably once a thriving seaway with a robust food chain supporting a number of marine animals,” says Lisa White, a Miocene expert at UCMP. The fossils will help piece together a more complete picture of what lived in and around that ancient ocean, she adds. That is, once they’ve reached their final resting place. — Alison Hawkes
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
Ancient Whale Bones and Megalodon Shark Teeth Unearthed
signs of the season
Staking out territory with sound
It’s February, and the night is soft. A high stratus blanket filters the moonlight and moistens your eyelashes. Wet season has been under way for three months now, and soils are saturated. Shallow water stands in boggy slumps, roadside ditches, and semi-permanent mud puddles. Such are locales for a great late-winter expression of Croacking like his reproductive success depends on it, a Pacific chorus frog in Napa amphibian fecundity: the County inflates his enormous throat sac, February 2010. annual gathering of countless Pacific chorus frogs to breed. A small but iconic member of our bioregion, the tiny frog is widely recognized and loved for its “rib-it” call. While its name may have changed (from Hyla regilla to Pseudacris regilla and from Pacific tree frog, which many people still say, to Pacific chorus frog), the species’ presence in our winter soundscape holds a timeless resonance for humans. When hundreds or thousands of males occupy a pond, to compete for the company of somewhat fewer females, and night temperatures dip no lower than 51 degrees Fahrenheit, a burst of new rainfall will set off a pulse of tree frog calling and breeding. If you are listening (often haplessly if you live nearby), you are apt to hear a sudden drop to utter silence. Something has alarmed the singers. Then, soon enough, a single frog voice chimes, then several more, then quickly dozens to many hundreds or several thousand—and all at once the collective din swells to vibrate your diaphragm and rib cage as well as your ear bones. For a creature that weighs only about two grams, this little amphibian—collectively—has plenty of heft. The males emit their two-note “advertisement” calls to try and attract the silent females. Essentially they are using sound to establish how much space each male can claim around a pond. A flashlight might reveal a dense lineup of bright pearlescent globes along the water’s margin—the inflated throats of male tree frogs holding air for the next chorus. Each female lurking in or near the water makes her choice of a calling male and approaches him to mate. But the close-packed males may continue competing, using a second kind of call to repel their rivals. Their “encounter” call is a shrill trill—and while males use it to establish territory amid the crowd, it actually repels females! Adding to the chaos, physical conflict can occur between males, with individuals grappling for space and dominance. Ultimately, the purpose for all this activity rules the night. Once a female approaches a male, he abandons his song territory and wraps her from behind, in a position called amplexus; then the female propels them both into quiet, shallow water, where she deposits batches of eggs on aquatic vegetation or other substrates. The male emits sperm to fertilize the multiple clusters of eggs—hundreds of prospective new chorus frogs. Then the female leaves the party (the pond), and the male resumes advertising for another chance to mate. This seasonal crowd-sourcing of next-generation froglets occurs after each burst of saturating rain that’s followed by warm night temperatures. There can be two such pulses
Michael F. Benard, www.mister-toad.com
The Call of the Pacific Chorus Frog
(each several nights long) of chorusing and breeding in February, another two in March, and possibly one in April. Pacific chorus frog abundance is due to the species’ successful breeding strategy and ability to survive in developed areas with water, its resilience in the face of fungal disease afflicting other amphibians, and the survival of wetland habitat despite massive land-use change. The frogs are found from British Columbia to Baja California, from the coast eastward to Montana and Arizona, and from sea level to 10,000 feet in the Sierra—where there is gradation among forms currently recognized as separate species. Where do the chorus frog crowds go when ponds begin drying up? Outward to a distance of several hundred yards—or up to a half-mile away! Supposing that each tiny individual travels just a few inches in a single bound, how many reps must he/she perform to travel 1,000 yards? As dry season advances, skin-moist creatures such as salamanders and frogs must surround themselves with dampness. Like other amphibians adapted to our Mediterranean climate, chorus frogs seek out wet niches in the landscape. Many make use of rodent burrows, where soil moisture persists and invertebrates—their food—abound. And true to the species’ long-standing common-name identity, these tiny frogs do occasionally climb high in the coastal conifer forest. Web cameras placed in bald eagle nests atop trees so tall they scrape the fog for moisture have documented chorus frogs hopping about capturing insects. Individual frogs may continue to sing occasionally throughout the year, with a lone voice emanating from the woodshed or a folded deck chair, a sweet reminder of the frog frenzy that marks a mild California winter. —Claire Peaslee
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by elizabeth devitt
Sebastian Kennerknecht, pumapix.com
conservation in action
Sea Otter Adoptees Boom in Elkhorn Slough
Sea otter mothers are known for their attentive care of their young. Here, a female carries a napping pup on her belly in Elkhorn Slough near Monterey Bay.
It’s low tide at Moss Landing and the mudflats add a sulfur scent to the salty air. Cormorants, gulls, pelicans, and a smattering of shorebirds ignore our small motorboat puttering through the calm waters of Elkhorn Slough, an estuary that winds east through farm fields. To my left, a sea otter rolls onto his back, slurping the length of a red, fat innkeeper worm like a strand of spaghetti. Ahead, a dozen more otters float on their backs, wrapped in ribbons of eelgrass to tether themselves against the tide. The slough, roughly halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey, is a sea otter boomtown. More than a hundred of these small marine mammals (somewhat bigger relatives of river otters) make their home in the seven-mile stretch of salt marshes and shallow waters. Compared to the nearshore Pacific waters where most southern sea otters live, this estuarine environment gives both citizen and academic scientists a chance to observe them closely. A couple of decades ago, less than two dozen male otters used the slough, notes Ron Eby, my boat pilot. A retired naval officer, Eby watches otters here and collects data for scientists as a b ay n at u r e
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volunteer. Those males had come up the coast from Big Sur, he explains, descendants from a colony that survived after hunters had killed off most southern sea otters by the early 1900s. In their heyday, more than 16,000 southern sea otters ranged from southeastern Alaska to Baja, California. An international fur seal treaty in 1911, along with federal laws and the Marine Mammal Protection Act put in place in the 1970s, was meant to help those populations rebound from the fur trade. Only recently have they started to succeed. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists count otters annually and use a three-year running average as the official measure of their abundance. The threeyear average in 2016 was 3,272, a number that topped the delisting threshold of 3,090 for the first time. Before qualifying for delisting, however, the otter population must exceed that threshold for three consecutive years. “The news is both good and bad,” says Tim Tinker, a USGS biologist who leads the annual otter census. “The overall numbers are up, but their range isn’t increasing. The edges of the range, between Davenport and Half Moon Bay
in the north and from Pismo Beach to Point Conception in the south, are the engines of expansion. Those engines are stalling, so there is reason for concern.” Fifteen years ago the otter population in the slough faced its own expansion problem. Without females, there wasn’t much hope of increasing the population. Around that time, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program took in a pregnant young female, suffering from seizures, that had been stranded along Monterey’s coast. Although Toola’s seizures, caused by a parasite, were successfully managed with daily medications, her pup was stillborn and she couldn’t go back to the wild with a neurologic disease. Primed for motherhood, Toola willingly adopted a 2-weekold orphaned pup known as #217 after they spent time together in a private pool. The pup thrived, and after it was released into Elkhorn Slough, survived for more than a decade. At the same time Toola’s surrogacy began, another of the aquarium’s resident female otters, Joy, also adopted a pup (#209), even though she hadn’t been
@ Monterey Bay Aquarium
how long that might have taken, says Tinker, who generated a model to sort out the aquarium program’s contributions. “What is clear is that this growth was greatly accelerated by the surrogacy program,” he says. More important, according to Mayer: “Now we have the means to reliably rear orphan pups and release them back into the wild. If these methods are repeatable in other areas, this could wind up being a very valuable tool for conservation.” As the otter population grew in Elkhorn Slough, scientists discovered more about them, thanks in part to volunteer teams led by Eby and his otter-spotting partner, retired law enforcement officer Robert Scoles. Those citizen scientist observations really help, notes Kerstin Wasson, the research coordinator at Elkhorn Slough Reserve. “People who spend hours outside, getting to know a place and its patterns, can really change how we see the habitats surrounding us,” she says. In one study, preliminary results show the slough is truly home for about 140 otters, a finding at odds with the prevailing idea that otters were nearshore coastal residents that just visited the estuary. Then again, why would they leave? Without blubber to insulate them from the cold water, to stay warm the otters rely on their dense coat and a daily caloric intake equal to at least 25 percent of their body weight. In the slough, food is abundant and easy to find. With easier foraging, the otters maintain better body condition, with less effort, than their nearshore kin. It turns out that sea otters are also good for the slough. Flanked by agricultural fields, the water runoff is rich with fertilizers, making the estuary prone to algal blooms that can create a deadly shade for seagrass. The otters set Monterey Bay Aquarium staff and surrogate sea otter mothers care for orphaned pups until they can be released into the wild.
pregnant and wasn’t lactating. Those first successful adoptions laid the groundwork for a new way of rearing orphaned pups with surrogate sea otter “moms” instead of relying solely on human caregivers, says Karl Mayer, the animal care coordinator for the aquarium’s sea otter program. Even with surrogates, raising an otter pup is hard work. In the wild, female otters tend their pups for at least six months, rarely letting their offspring out of sight. At the aquarium, a team of people care for the baby otters almost around the clock until the pups are eating solid food. The caretakers wear dark cloaks and face shields so the young otters never get used to seeing people. By eight weeks of age the pups have shed their natal coats—a pelage so buoyant the pups float like corks, says Mayer—and are ready to meet their otter “mom.” Then the surrogate takes over, teaching the otter pup how to find food, groom, and other staples of otter upkeep, until the pup is ready to be released into the slough at around seven months of age. Since Toola’s first pup, in 2001, there have been 40 successful releases. The survival and reproductive rates of surrogate-reared pups mirror those of wild-raised sea otters in Central California, as well as of the Elkhorn Slough population. At least eight females have survived and reproduced, Mayer notes. But the biggest finding was that the surrogate-reared otters and their descendants account for over half the current population in the slough. That growth in the slough might have happened without the surrogate program, given that female otters already lived in coastal areas to the north and south and could have eventually found their way to the estuary. But it’s unclear
Karl Mayer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium releases a male sea otter into Elkhorn Slough in 2013.
off a cascade of effects that lead to a healthier ecosystem, according to a study led by UC Santa Cruz researcher Brent Hughes. In this multilevel “trophic cascade,” more otters eating more crabs, enables more algae-eaters to survive and keep the eelgrass beds clean, which allows them to flourish. Even this watery Garden of Eden has limits, though. The otters are nearing the carrying capacity of the slough, so the population needs to grow somewhere else. Males usually colonize a new habitat first and are eventually followed by females, but the process can be slow. What’s been stopping them? White sharks, biologist Tim Tinker says. Sharks aren’t the only mortal problem sea otters face; they also die from infectious diseases, parasites, and seafood toxins. However, especially at the southern end of their range, from Estero Bay (north of Morro Bay) to Point Conception, more than 50 percent of stranded otters show lethal white shark bites, according to a study Tinker has led. In areas with an eightfold increase in shark bites the otters’ death rates exceed birthrates, so their local populations are declining and range expansion has stalled. The success story in the slough has people wondering what southern sea otters could do for other estuaries: perhaps help restore the salt marshes of San Francisco Bay, where the animals once lived in large numbers. The thought lights up Eby’s face. “Wouldn’t that be incredible to have sea otters back in the Bay?” he says. j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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on the trail
Looking north, the rocky headland of Franklin Point juts into the Pacific. Rare dune and coastal prairie
William K. Matthias
stretch north and east along Highway 1.
on t h e san m at eo c oa st
franklin point and the california coastal trail by Nate Seltenrich On a deserted weekday afternoon, this sliver of Año Nuevo State Park feels fixed and immutable even as the wind and waves blow and break. West of Highway 1, the land slides from shifting dunes into prairie and scrub and then drops off precipitously, exposing ocher-colored bluffs that meet the Pacific. Brown pelicans glide by overhead and young male b ay n at u r e
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elephant seals hump from the surf onto crescents of beach in small coves. Just a few miles north of the popular elephant seal rookery, the landscape appears all but untouched save for a narrow, unsigned stretch of the California Coastal Trail (CCT). That 1,200-mile trail from Oregon to Mexico, whose completion is mandated by California law, threads
through the northern coastal sector of the park. The two-and-a-half-mile Atkinson Bluff Trail doubles as the local segment of the CCT, and it was called “magical” by two California Coastal Trail Association ambassadors who raised awareness for the trail last summer by hiking and biking its length. “The sight of dune flowers in full bloom against the teal sea…soothed our souls,” ambassadors Morgan Visalli and Jocelyn Enevoldsen wrote. I decided to check out this part of the trail on a recent warm fall day. To reach the northern end, I parked at an unmarked dirt turnout off the west shoulder of the highway, about a half-mile north of Rossi Road. The signed Franklin Point Trail runs perpendicular to the pavement, heading straight toward the shore less than half a mile away. I was joined by Toni Corelli, a botanist who knows the coast; she lives blocks from the beach in Half Moon Bay to the north. Together with colleagues from the Coastside State Parks Association and California Native Plant Society, she coauthored the 2013 book Plants and Plant Communities of the San Mateo Coast, a spiral-bound, full-color guide to the region’s flora. “This is a unique area,” Corelli says, “because it’s so separated from Highway 1.” In few places between San Francisco and Santa Cruz is there so much protected land west of the highway. Our plan is to hike from the car to the rocky outcropping at Franklin Point, south along Atkinson Bluff Trail near to where Whitehouse Creek spills into the Pacific, then east along the South Whitehouse Creek Trail toward a second car: Barely more than a mile as the crow flies, and fewer than three on foot. “Here you have this amazing biodiversity, some 400 species of plants—both native and nonnative,” Corelli says. After walking along a sandy singletrack up and over the first in a series of rolling back dunes, we find ourselves approaching an almost imperceptibly
among the few still blooming in mid-October. These are wetland indicator plants, suggesting, along with the topography, that water is not far beneath our feet. “Juncus lescurii,” says California Native Plant Society member John Rawlings, who has also come along for the walk. The stiff, dark-green stems of San Francisco rush grow in intermittent stands along the path. The plant brings a textural richness to the landscape with its cylindrical stems and tidy bunches of brown to yellowish flowers, emerging along the length of the stalk rather than at the top. In fact, the upper half of the stalk is technically a scale, or modified leaf, that looks almost identical to the stem below. “Rushes and sedges and grasses are really conspicuous elements of the coastal habitat,” Rawlings says. (I’m reminded of the mnemonic “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have joints.”) “They’re not showy in the way that some other monocots are,” he adds, “and often people don’t notice them because they all just look like green grasses.”
lakes, and even atop beach dunes. A perennial that spreads vegetatively via rhizomes, it grows to three or more feet in height. Some other local rushes (there are about nine here), like toad rush, are diminutive annuals, meaning they must set seed every year to survive and are more susceptible to displacement by invasives. We follow the San Francisco rush through the riparian zone over a succession of foredunes toward a calm cove where the ocean meets a sandy beach. (For those who want an uncrowded broad stretch of beach to walk, head north from here.) Along the way we pass beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis), a native to the Pacific coast that has been distributed as far as South America by migrating birds. The plant, which bears a tasty fruit, is also a parent of the garden strawberry we commonly eat. In the 1700s F. chiloensis accidentally hybridized with another strawberry and we’ve been cultivating the offspring ever since. Corelli also points out yellow sand verbena (Abronia latifolia), an herb snaking
rush growing at Franklin Point.
Botanist Toni Corelli is surrounded by San Francisco
across the sand that bears bunches of small yellow flowers from March through October and is conspicuously dusted with sand that clings to the plant’s sticky hairs. A lot of plants entrap soil this way, and a study of A. latifolia revealed that the gritty sand helps deter the hungry caterpillar of the whitelined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) from eating its otherwise succulent leaves. Eventually a caterpillar will eat the sandy bits of the plant, but at the cost of grinding down its sharp mandibles. Not all relationships at Franklin Point are quite so equitable. With little to constrain its growth here except eradication, nonnative European beachgrass is well entrenched. The species competes with native American dune grass for beachfront property along much of the Pacific coast, and it usually wins. While both are adapted to a harsh life on low-nutrient, windswept coastal sand, reproducing through thick underground rhizomes and airborne seeds, the two grasses are easy to distinguish. American dune grass (Leymus mollis) grows up to four feet tall in loose and scattered patches that anchor shifting sand and block coastal winds. European
San Francisco rush grows along much of the immediate California coast and potentially as far north as British Columbia, in both fresh and saltwater marshes, on the shores of creeks and
shallow depression in the land. At my request, Corelli begins naming names. Arroyo willow, she says, brushing her fingers over elongated leaves. Western goldenrod, whose yellow flowers are
San Francisco rush flowers have spiraling pink stigmas and grow directly from the plant’s pointy green stalk.
beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria) does the same things but better, spreading more aggressively in dense clumps that can cover dunes like a layer of sod. This not only crowds out native species that j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park
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Ben Pease, peasepress.com
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Atkinson Bluff+CCT Map 12/3/16 v41 (rotated 20 degrees)
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Steve Zamek, featherlightphoto.com
makes it valuable, an open growth pattern, has also left it vulnerable to habitat loss. California State Parks is now turning the tables on the invasive European grass by burning it and then applying herbicide to individual plants. Staff scientist Tim Hyland says European beachgrass could be gone from the area in as few as five years, ensuring natives have more space to occupy. Continuing down the coast along the Atkinson Bluff Trail from Franklin Point, where 270-degree views frame
depend on the pockets of space left by American dune grass, but also alters the topography by creating taller, steeper, less mobile dunes, like miniature mountains among rolling hills. Ironically, European beachgrass was introduced in the early 1900s for precisely this purpose: to stabilize coastal dunes near roadways and buildings. And while American dune grass is no slouch—it has been employed for wheat breeding and hybridization due to its robustness and high adaptability—the same quality that
Look for black oystercatchers feeding among the rocks on small crustaceans.
the Pigeon Point Lighthouse to the north and protected beaches of Año Nuevo Point to the south, we soon enter a third habitat: coastal bluff scrub. (Corelli’s book lists nine habitat types, in all, along the immediate San Mateo County coast.) Poison oak and squat California sagebrush grow here, as well as coyote brush. The notoriously impenetrable landscape fostered by that shrub was long kept at bay here by the Quiroste tribe, who occupied a significant village just east of here and actively managed the land around modern-day Año Nuevo for at least 1,000 years or more. They burned these terraces annually to aid seed collection, ensure good harvests, and keep grasses down for easier hunting. California State Parks reignited the practice in the 1970s, initially to eradicate an invasive plant called gorse. Today the parks department conducts biennial burns of Cascade Field—a 150-acre parcel bordered on the west by the bluff ’s edge and on the east by Highway 1—to conserve what little is left of the coastal grasslands. Among the plants benefiting are a handful of native bunchgrasses rarely found all in one place along the coast, including purple needlegrass (the California state grass), maritime brome (a perennial related to the invasive yet endearingly named hairy chess), and California oat grass (whose range extends as far inland as the Sierra). Another is tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa), a species whose coastal range reaches down from Alaska and peters out around Monterey, not far south of Año Nuevo. The limiting factor is likely temperature: Adapted to cool, moist climates, in Central California this grass
northern beaches, too.
in all—including wildflowers that provide an explosion of color April through mid-May. “That grassland has the most spectacular wildflower shows left, at least in the Santa Cruz District of California State Parks,” Hyland says. “You can go out and see acres and acres and acres of wildflowers in a good spring. You don’t see so much of that around here on the coast anymore.” Beyond conversion to scrub, another way to permanently lose native grassland is to plow it for agriculture, the fate of many prairies along the California coast, Hyland says. “Once you kill a coastal prairie, you never get it back.” Cascade Field and much of the area around Franklin Point has been grazed—first by Spanish and later by Mexican and American ranchers—but never plowed. Grazing has less impact on the seeds in the soil, allowing native plants to persist. Even with the European beachgrass, the iceplant, the pampas grass, and other nonnatives scattered throughout northern Año Nuevo State Park, these trails offer a vision of what the coast looked like before Europeans arrived,
Eric LoPresti (2); @Steve Maton
many places at all, really,” he says. “It’s a historic landscape.” A broad fire road marks the southern edge of the burn area, toward which coyote brush creeps from the other side, faithful to the laws of succession. This doubles as an exit route for hikers, leading from the cliffs to the parking lot where our second vehicle awaits. But the hike needn’t end there. The Atkinson Bluff Trail continues south, tracing the cliff ’s edge for another mile or so before heading back inland toward the highway via the Cascade Creek Trail spur. At this point the California Coastal Trail technically follows the shoulder of Highway 1. The beaches and bluffs ahead, from Cascade Creek to the Año Nuevo State Park Visitor Center, are closed to the public to protect the park’s The mandibles of the lined year-round resident sphinx moth caterpillar elephant seals. South before (above) and after of Año Nuevo, the (below) eating the yellow CCT continues, sand verbena plant, along following the with a lot of gritty sand.
Año Nuevo State Park, but some make their way to the
Elephant seals are abundant in the southern part of
shoulder of Highway 1 through the remainder of San Mateo County. It doesn’t return to true trail until Waddell Beach, two miles south of Año Nuevo Bay. The CCT is a work in progress. The notion of establishing a continuous pedestrian route the length of the state was included in the original legislation that created the California Coastal Commission in 1976, but the CCT didn’t receive a state mandate for completion until 2001. Two years later, a report ordered by the California State Legislature determined that the project could be completed at a cost of $322 million. That sum accounted for trail construction, right-of-way acquisitions on private land, and highway corridor improvements to safely accommodate an adjacent trail where no other routes exist—though it didn’t come with a timeline. Seventeen million of those hypothetical dollars were designated for San Mateo County. To date, about 700 miles of trail have been incorporated into the system statewide. Of these, 400 miles have been marked with CCT signs. In rural southern San Mateo County, south of Half Moon Bay, the trail is only about one-third complete and essentially devoid of any official signage. From Half Moon Bay north to Daly City the trail is about two-thirds developed, most of which is signed. North of Atkinson Bluff and Franklin Point, the CCT continues along a beach before realigning with the
says Michael Vasey, a lecturer in the biology department at San Francisco State University and director of the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. “It’s a relatively intact landscape, so it has these natural communities that once characterized the coast and are now not encountered in
relies on fog to maintain an environment more characteristic of its northern and high-altitude distribution. Here, where the Pigeon Point Lighthouse long alerted fogbound ships to the presence of land, is one such place. Amid the bunchgrasses grow a variety of other plants—more than 200 species
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The California Coastal Trail passes through Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, a few miles
Morgan Visalli and Jocelyn Enevoldsen, mojocoastwalk.com
north of Franklin Point.
shoulder of Highway 1 at the state park border. Here Año Nuevo meets Cloverdale Ranch, a property purchased by the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) 20 years ago. An inland portion of the 5,638-acre parcel was transferred to nearby Butano State Park in 2000, but the stretch west of the highway remains in POST’s hands and is effectively closed Visiting from Holland, Hermien and Hubert Reijnders
Nate Seltenrich is a Bay Area-based, awardwinning independent journalist specializing in science and the environment.
Sally Rae Kimmel, flickr.com/photos/sallyraekimmel
hike the Franklin Point Trail.
to the public. Most of the bluffs, just inland of where a trail could go, are currently leased to a dry-farming operation growing pumpkins and peas. Beyond Cloverdale Ranch, a couple more miles up the coast, is another state park holding at Pigeon Point, where the well-preserved 1871 lighthouse and meandering bluff-top trails (not to mention a youth hostel with outdoor hot tub) draw crowds. Given the allure of this historic
and scenic corridor, the state Coastal Conservancy, which leads development of the CCT, is eager to build a connection through Cloverdale Ranch and close a key gap in San Mateo County. “We’re looking forward to working with POST to evaluate the opportunity to design and eventually construct a trail,” says Tim Duff, who oversees the conservancy’s work on the CCT. “It will be fantastic. It’s a beautiful coastal terrace, and that’s why it’s the highest priority for us to work on the south coast of San Mateo County.” Seven miles separate the Pigeon Point lighthouse and the Año Nuevo visitor center, where 35,000 people embark on guided walks every winter to see elephant seals during pupping season. Franklin Point and Cascade Field lie in the middle of these destinations, a brief expanse where millennia of human and natural history are still playing out between the road and the shore.
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Creeks to Peaks Trail
Hillside Natural Area
Just over a year ago, a 140-year-old levee abutting San Pablo Bay was breached to flood 1,000 acres of former hayfields, an exciting moment in a decades-long restoration project undertaken by the Sonoma Land Trust. The Sears Point wetlands, which are now part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, intend to provide wildlife habitat and mitigate flooding as sea levels rise. Now the Eliot Trail runs through the site for 2.5 miles on the old levee that protects the railroad and remaining lowland fields. The view across San Pablo Bay takes in Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo’s peaks, two bridges, and the towers of San Francisco. Low tide is the time to see how the new wetlands’ terrain is mounded to calm waves and help sedimentation restore the shallows where pickleweed and cordgrass will someday make habitat for endangered Ridgway’s rails and salt marsh harvest mice. These plants are sparse at present, and the curb appeal of this new neighborhood might make a cautious curlew reconsider, but judging by the great egrets spaced along the shore, the fishing is good. Hundreds of avocets and sandpipers forage on exposed mud or fly in synchronized clouds, and cormorants gather on tiny islands. I always hope to sight a river otter, but a rapidly retreating disturbance in the still water was probably a large bat ray, another sign that prey species have populated the new wetlands’ muddy bottom. details: Trailhead is opposite Lakeville Highway at Highway 37. No dogs...or drones allowed! And no shade either. Bikes welcome; benches, toilets, and a walk-in boat launch furnished. [Ann Sieck]
It is hard to believe, as you duck under the canopy of willows next to the burbling Islais Creek, that you are in almost the exact geographic center of one of the world’s greatest cities. But if the Creeks to Peaks Trail in San Francisco begins amid riparian scenery, the end of the 1.8-mile trail at the summit of Twin Peaks reveals the full urban picture. In that way, this hike can feel as much like a trip through time as through the city. The trail starts in Glen Canyon Park and heads north. After passing a new playground and community center, it winds into a thicket of willows along one of the few remaining aboveground sections of Islais Creek. Red-tailed hawks nest in the area and can usually be spotted soaring over the grassy canyon slopes; butterflies and juncos flit through the trees. The canyon narrows after half a mile, and there’s a steep climb to busy Portola Drive and across the street to Twin Peaks Drive. Another climb, first on the road and then on a steeply sloping trail through coyote brush and lupine, takes you to the summit. No matter 1 how many tourists have 3 exclaimed over it, the pan2 orama from Twin Peaks is always breathtaking. details: Glen Canyon Park is five blocks west of the Glen Park BART station (pick up sandwiches for a Twin Peaks picnic at Cheese Boutique on nearby Chenery Street), or park on Elk Street near the canyon. Dogs allowed on leash. This is not a wheelchairaccessible trail. sfrecpark.org/route/ creeks-to-peaks [Eric Simons]
The El Cerrito Hillside Natural Area— 104 acres of open space with sprawling views of the Bay—and its champions have some long-awaited good news. Once bifurcated into north and south sections, separated by streets and private property, the park pieces are now connected by an 8-acre parcel of land purchased last March by the city of El Cerrito. There is at last the “opportunity to take a really long hike” within the park, says David Weinstein, president of the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers. One can hike from a southern entrance on Schmidt Lane more than a mile north to Motorcycle Hill, only having to leave parkland once, to cross Potrero Avenue. But if you just want to explore the new section, formerly known as Madera Hillside Open Space property, Weinstein recommends a half-mile walk beginning at the stairs between 1540 and 1560 Madera Circle. The stairs lead to the Madera to Ridge Trail, built by dedicated Trail Trekkers volunteers. Walk downhill to the slightly wider Madera-Julian Trail. The trail is flanked with what Trail Trekkers volunteer Tom Gehling calls “pioneer patches,” where Pacific aster, yampa, and purple needlegrass have been planted as part of an ongoing plant restoration. Continuing north along the Madera-Julian Trail you come to pretty Wildwood Creek. The trail continues through Monterey pine trees, planted by Boy Scouts in the 1960s, before intersecting the Julian Steps. Climb the Julian Steps to return to Madera Circle. details: Visit ectrailtrekkers. wordpress.com for more hikes and maps. [Lauren McNulty]
d i s c o v e r m a n y m o r e t r a i l s at b ay n at u r e . o r g /t r a i l f i n d e r j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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This spring Heyday will publish Lost Worlds of the San Francisco Bay Area, a coffee table book of vignettes by author Sylvia Linsteadt. Each essay is researched but also an act of historical imagination. We have excerpted two stories here about the extractive history of redwood logging in the Oakland hills and coal mining at Mount Diablo. Today both areas are parks, protected and restored by the East Bay Regional Park District and open to the public.
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of the East Bay Hills By Sylvia Linsteadt
The Last Days of Oakland’s Redwoods here is a quality of silence under redwood trees that cannot be named. It is not just the floor of thick, orangeneedled duff and how it absorbs all footfalls into its own quiet, nor is it simply the way the light changes, softening and darkening to a cadence more candle than sun. It is not size alone either, though the great old giants in the Oakland hills originally reached more than thirty feet in diameter, thriving on slightly more inland sun and warmth than their coastal kin. To be in the presence of living things so enormous is its own conversation with the deep time of this earth, and therefore an intense encounter with all that is mysterious and vast. The quality of quiet peace that descends when you enter a redwood grove comes from the sum of all these together, the way trees create their own world of sound and light and time. Because of the way they grow—close and thick—and gather fog in their branches and drip it down to their roots, the climate in a redwood forest is cooler than all surrounding areas; they, in a sense, engineer their own weather. And because of the acidity of the soil they create with their leaf humus, and the strength of their shallow but thick roots, only a select community of other plants can grow in redwood shade. To venture into that spiced and
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ancient grove is truly to step into an older rhythm of time, one made by the trees themselves. Such silence lasted for millennia. In the hills east of Oakland, a pocket of ancient and enormous redwoods thrived just where the ocean fog reached and rested, in a small band spanning the ridge from present-day Redwood and Leona parks east to Moraga—roughly five square miles of dense, old-growth forest. Because redwoods crown sprout from stumps and the roots of fallen ancestors, the age of such a forest is almost inconceivable—while a 32-foot broad, 300-foot tall tree might represent a millennium of vertical growth, the genetics and rootstock below might span many thousands, if not millions, of years. But it took little more than fifteen years, from 1845 to 1860, for crews of loggers to level the entire forest. Even many of the stumps were dug out and cut into cords of firewood or shingles, preventing the next generation from crown sprouting around its old grandfather. Only one original tree remains today, a twisted runt of an old-growth redwood, ninety-three feet tall, growing miraculously out of a rock on a cliff face near Merritt College and probably too difficult to reach, or to catch as it fell, for loggers to bother. Long before they were logged, the redwoods along the ridge were well known by sailors. Two giants, called the Navigation
Courtesy of the California Historical Society
An old railway track used to haul lumber runs through a redwood forest in Northern California. By the early 1860s, the old-growth redwoods in the East Bay had been felled and logging activity had shifted to the Santa Cruz Mountains and Northern California.
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Trees, stood at the edge of a grove, silhouetted stark against the horizon, and were first recorded by British navy captain Frederick William Beechey in 1826. He discovered that in order to avoid colliding with Blossom Rock, an underwater island visible only at low tide, and safely land in the San Francisco harbor he must line up the tip of Yerba Buena Island with “two trees on the top of the hills too conspicuous to be ignored.” When the Navigation Trees were logged after 1855, the army blew up Blossom Rock in order to avoid shipwrecks. Oakland’s enormous redwoods were not easy trees to fell, due not only to their size but also to their location up steep and roadless canyons. A handful were cut here and there before 1850, mainly by two French carpenters in the early 1840s who hand-milled the wood and transported it down from the hills on small boats that navigated the streams, then across the Bay to the small settlement of Yerba Buena (later San Francisco). But mostly the woods were quiet, especially after 1842, when John Sutter began milling wood in the Sierra and at Fort Ross, which he’d just purchased from the Russians, dominating the lumber business in the area for several years. But then the year 1849 tolled its heavy golden bell and, flooded by gold-hunters from all over the world, the little town of Yerba Buena swelled beyond anyone’s reckoning. San Francisco—as the little town was rechristened—was “lusty and inflammable” in the words of twentieth-century chronicler Sherwood Burgess, and it had a voracious appetite for wood. Finding gold panning less lucrative on the whole than they’d thought, weary forty-niners were soon rushing up to the hills
Courtesy of the California Historical Society
Antonio, which was shipping many tons of redwood lumber up and down the Bay each day by the early 1850s, soon became the Port of Oakland, and the city of Oakland grew quickly around it. Virtually all east-west roads through Oakland were planned in relation to the logging camps in the hills and were used by mule and ox teams to drag wood down out of the forest to the port. The old-growth redwoods became the new
C. C. Curtis, courtesy of the California Historical Society
An oxen team similar to those that dragged lumber out of the Oakland hills.
The remains of a giant sequoia tree cut down in 1892 in Northern California. The old redwoods of the Oakland hills rivaled even the giant sequoias of the north in girth.
and joining makeshift logging camps, where the arrival of the first steam sawmill on Palo Seco Creek jump-started a new era of redwood lumbering in the East Bay. More and more towns pushed up out of nowhere like mushrooms, demanding wood—Martinez, Benicia, Lafayette. The lumber port at San b ay n at u r e
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towns of the East Bay and much of the city of San Francisco (including its famous cable cars) all in what, to the trees themselves, must have felt like no more than a single inhalation of time. Roads and steam mills make the whole undertaking sound orderly and staid, but in truth the logging of the East Bay redwoods had all the characteristics of the gold rush about it and was undertaken by many of the same men. These were men “with a talent for exploitation unseen in this country before.” Really, it was a savage and devastating free-for-all, each mill operator and his men racing all competitors for access to virgin stands of trees. In no time there were ten sawmills, nine of them steam powered, one powered by water. According to the diaries of Joseph Lamson, owner of a lodging house and a liquor and grocery store deep in the redwoods from 1853 to 1855, the mill workers were a rowdy, rough-dealing, hard-drinking lot, often called the “redwood boys” or the “redwood rangers,” like some band of terrible and legendary outlaws. They would materialize suddenly out of the thick forest to exact their own form of justice, particularly over the loss of property. In one instance, two hundred and fifty of them emerged from the woods and surrounded the Oakland home of a man they suspected of stealing three oxen from the sawmill operator Hiram Thorn (after whom Thornhill Road in Oakland is named). They threatened him with lynching, and marched up and down the surrounding streets, rifles at the ready, shouting that they would “lay the town in ashes” if the man didn’t fork over payment for the lost oxen by the following day. Indeed, their menace was such that it took the intervention of the mayor, Horace Carpentier,
$ mount diablo coal mines t is hard to imagine what the miners felt when they came up out of the heart of Mount Diablo at dusk. It is hard to imagine the kind of darkness they held their small candles and oil lamps to all day, or the weight of so much mountain above their heads. Humans are not meant to spend a day—let alone days, year after year—deep underground. Emerging into the soft breeze above ground at the end of each shift must have been a very sweet and simple kind of miracle. Coal was discovered beneath the northern flanks of Mount Diablo in 1859 when a local rancher struck a vein while cleaning out one of his springs, and disgruntled argonauts weary of gold panning flocked to the site, ready to make a steadier profit by this dark treasure. Family after family followed, not only old gold rush diggers, but immigrants seeking work from all over the world—Wales and Italy, Germany, China, Scotland and Australia, Mexico, Canada, Austria. They planted trees from their home countries—black locust, cypress, tree of heaven, pepper tree—like prayers: that they too might grow roots and branches and flourish here where it was dry, here where at night the sky was huge and
Courtesy of the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Edna Gibble Collection
and his offer of money out of the city’s own coffers, to set the matter straight. Lamson’s diary descriptions of a rattlesnake barbeque and the infamous Hannah—a “Kanaka Lady” who rode bareback through the redwoods in her straw hat and calico dress amusing the men—begin to sound slightly fantastical, cloaked in the extravagance of bandit legends. And yet his notes are the only remaining firsthand record of this strange and violent time, impressions scrawled at the far edges of settled society, and must be taken as such. There, cloaked in the old darkness of redwoods, the logging camps seemed to become a kind of no-man’s-land, where only the toughest customers ventured. By 1854, the biggest trees were gone, and by 1860, all the mills had closed down. The hills were a ragged quilt of stumps. The delicate root systems of the shy understory plants, such as redwood sorrel and trillium, were so damaged by the ravages of oxen teams and the deep furrows made by the trees they dragged behind that even today, few sorrel or wake-robin communities have returned. All the redwoods now protected within Redwood Regional, Sibley, Anthony Chabot, Leona Canyon, and Joaquin Miller Parks are a spry young thirdgrowth generation, tiny in comparison to their ancestors, and lonesome too. No longer do giant California condors nest in their boughs, nor do grizzly bears come padding down through the orange-spiced duff in the dead of night to steal oxen from the pens of loggers. And the silence of redwood forest, though still palpable if you venture up a side canyon, far from any trail, has lost something of its pulse. These young trees, only a century old at most, now stand within the confines of human time. It will take thousands of years for them to become ancient giants again, with the span of stars in their embered bark.
Miners gathered near the Central Mine in Stewartville in 1888.
speckled and strange and the coyotes howled. Five towns were sparked into existence by the mountain’s coal, growing up quick as flame around the three seams on Mount Diablo’s foothills. The towns were Nortonville, Somersville, Judsonville, Stewartville, and West Hartley, all stark against the steep, dusty hills. They clustered in separate valleys around the coalfields, though each was within easy walking distance of the next on footpaths and narrow roads that led up and over the dry hills. Nortonville was the largest (with nine hundred residents by 1870) and the most centrally located of the five, with Somersville next beyond the eastern ridge. Stewartsville lay further east beyond Somersville, and the smallest two settlements, Judsonville and West Hartley, were built all the way at the furthest eastern edge of the mines. It must have seemed, to the chamise and sagebrush and manzanita that grew on the ridges, as though the five mining towns were slapped up overnight. One day dry hills, the next day clapboard butcher’s shop, boardinghouse, post office, a dozen little Victorian cottages with sapling trees from around the world, growing fast. By a count taken on February 26, 1870, 315 men worked the veins in the Mount Diablo coalfields, from coal cutters and miners to engineers, underground foremen to minecart drivers and furnace men. There were twelve mines total, accessed by steep shafts and tunnels, and centered around three primary veins: Clark, Little, and Black Diamond. Despite the darkness that the miners endured day after day digging coal inside the mountain, there was a lively brightness to the towns that belied the grim reality underground. Walking home down the mountain, swinging their round lunch pails and stretching in the gentle evening, the men might have caught a whiff of baking bread—fourteen loaves twice a week!—made by Amelia Ginichio at her family’s boardinghouse on Italian Hill. Or they might have glimpsed the white horse named Jim making his rounds throughout Nortonville with grocer and cart to drop off food and supplies requested in the morning. Maybe, going their separate ways on paths through the foothills, some of them were passed by a speeding horse and cart—midwife Sarah j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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Black Diamond Mines outside Nortonville circa 1880.
a candlestick inside a can (called a bug light), or an oil wick lamp affixed to the front of a cap. The Rose Hill Cemetery attests to the danger of work in the mines, as most of the burials are either of young men—such as the eleven lost in an 1876 explosion caused when loose coal dust was ignited by a seep of methane four hundred feet deep in the mines. Otherwise, most of the graves belong to babies lost to childhood illnesses. Still, work was work, and Mount Diablo’s young, subbituminous coal was abundant, occurring in great, dark layers, so that from the 1860s to the early 1900s, four million tons were hauled up to the light and burned in Northern California. Mount Diablo coal lit the woodstove of virtually every home throughout the Bay Area, warming the feet of mining investors and dairy lords, prostitutes and laborers and bakers alike. Every factory, steamship, ferry, and mill around ran on the stuff too. By the 1870s, trains came and went daily, crossing five miles each way on tracks as straight as an engineer’s ruler, from the foothills of Mount Diablo to the banks of the San Joaquin River delta. Less than fifty years after the first coal was dug, the towns and coal mines were virtually empty. A flash of digging, dancing, praying, loving, and striving over barely two generations—and then nothing. Families followed the coal, and a new mountain far up north in Washington provided a finer, bituminous variety. The Columbia Steel Corporation discovered silica near Nortonville in the 1920s, and started mining the deep, thick sandstone beds for foundry sand. Soon enough, glass-worthy silica was uncovered near Somersville, and by the 1930s, the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company was shipping the raw minerals for glassware to their Oakland bottle-making factory. Still, the towns were never fully occupied again, and far below, deep down in the heart of the mountain, the coal remains, untroubled by human hands. We are playing with fire when we dig out the hearts of mountains. We are playing with fate, with faulty lanterns held aloft. But people being people, there will always be dancing between, and dozens of loaves of fresh bread. Courtesy of the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve
Rose Hill Cemetery in the hills between Somersville and Nortonville.
Courtesy of the California Historical Society
Norton inside—rushing off to attend a birth. In the course of her life, the wife of Nortonville’s founder was said to have delivered six hundred babies without losing a single one. Down in the towns there were barbershops in which to clean up, billiard saloons in which to unwind, and for those miners who wished to further their education, there were evening classes offered by local schools. Many men religiously attended these classes, even after a ten-hour day underground, especially those who had left school for the mines when they were only boys to help support their families. Fraternal organizations abounded, from the Sons of Temperance, the Masonic lodge, and the Grand Army of the Republic, to the Ancient Order of United Workmen. According to visitors, the Mount Diablo coal towns were positively lively; Somersville boasted two excellent hotels with room for up to one hundred boarders, several stores, and a billiard saloon, not to mention a very good public school system. And for all the men working underground, there were nearly as many wives, daughters, or mothers working above ground. Women ran suffrage societies and worked as postmistresses, schoolteachers, and hotel proprietors, not to mention the daily work of tending house, garden, and livestock. For those with loved ones in the mines, no doubt this daily work was often accompanied by a small prayer—that another dusk would arrive without incident underground. There were periodic tunnel cave-ins, as earth and stone collapsed without warning in great sighs of mountain weight. Sometimes, loose coal dust was ignited by a spark or candle flame, causing devastating explosions, or carts loaded with coal snapped their ropes, crushing whoever happened to be behind them. The insides of mines are laced with sudden seeps of deadly gas (called damps by miners: firedamp, blackdamp, whitedamp, stinkdamp, afterdamp), which cause asphyxiation, explosions, or both. Miners were equipped with flame safety lamps, which served as both light and warning signal, but according to a report in an 1874 edition of the Contra Costa Gazette, the light was feeble compared to other lamps that the men used, and many were willing to risk their lives rather than bother with the inconvenience and unease of poor light far down inside the earth. Many preferred the simplicity of
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Why many of us overlook one of the most remarkable stories of the 21st century
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by Eric Simons | Photographs by David Liittschwager
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1. High Tide t 8:25 a.m., 40 minutes to high tide on a late September Sunday, a dozen recreational swimmers jump from the back deck of a boat into the water a few hundred yards west of the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. Their target is a crown of rock called The Needles, 1.5 miles away on the opposite side of the channel. Kayakers, paddling against a light chop, herd the swimmers into small groups. Wet-suited limbs begin to flash and lime-green caps bob as the flood carries everyone under the bridge and into San Francisco Bay. On board the support boat, a converted water taxi called Heron, spectators cheer on family members and then crowd the railings to admire the scenery. Terns, gulls, and pelicans soar overhead. Porpoises break the surface, trailing the wake as the boat drifts bayward. Everyone has a camera out as the sun rises behind the arching span of the bridge. It is a perfect Bay moment. In a National Geographic feature on the Bay in 1981 the writer Cliff Tarpy announced from the bridge that “here, I had found, this great bay offers its finest vantage point.” While it’s probably not so much a secret today that the Golden Gate offers a splendid view, it’s still the finest place to think about the entirety of the 21st century San Francisco Bay. Draw whatever line you can through the incredible diversity of this region: Everything springs from here where the water comes in. From this same spot, European explorers described the vastness of what seemed to them an inland sea. “A wonder of nature, and may be called the port of ports, on account of its great capacity,” the Spanish priest Pedro Font wrote from near Fort Point in 1776. “A broad sheet of water, sufficiently extensive to contain all the British Navy,” the English captain Frederick Beechey wrote from his anchorage just inside the Golden Gate in 1826. The modern Bay is still the defining feature of the Bay Area, but it often feels considerably less a wonder of nature. Bridges, freeways, and tunnels have shrunk most sense of grandeur. Almost the entirety of its shoreline is human-made. Even in documents celebrating the Bay, the primary way to engage with it seems to be riding a bike along a fennel-lined, dusty levee trail overlooking a tumble of tide-stained rocks. b ay n at u r e
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Above The Embarcadero in San Francisco during a seven-foothigh king tide, in November 2016.
right Striped shore crab, 1.5 inches wide.
There is, in many places, the heady aroma of bacteria digesting in the mud. “San Francisco Bay enters most of our lives as an obstacle to pass over as quickly as traffic-choked bridges allow,” begins a short pamphlet called “An Introduction to the San Francisco Estuary” written by marine scientist Andrew Cohen and published by three prominent Bay conservation groups in 2000. “Although this beats earlier attitudes—when we saw the Bay mainly as a dumping ground, a dam site, or a pit to fill in and pave over—we remain largely oblivious to one of the most remarkable wild resources in urban North America.” A remarkable wild resource, still. The reason I had given for joining the boat with the swimmers was that I wanted to understand the ecological nature of the modern Bay, and I wanted to watch people tune into the essential wildness of a place most of us take for granted or disregard. Regular Bay swimmers told me that submerging in the water grants a different perspective on the place, stripping away the humanconstructed artifice and revealing the powerful, elemental force of nature that beats beneath the surface. Swim often enough, one Aquatic Park regular said, and you begin to feel the pulse of tides and currents. You feel the phases of the moon. Your skin, heart, and lungs grow hardened to immersion in cold
water. I thought about that as I shed layers on the 80-degree morning, then watched swimmers climb into the boat shivering uncontrollably, their shaking hands spraying coffee, after 45 minutes in the water. But it was a different image that ended up staying with me. While we drifted beneath the majestic bridge and the spectators took pictures, I watched the organizer, a swim coach from San Francisco named Leslie Thomas, run in circles around the boat, one eye on the swimmers, one eye on the boat traffic, ear glued to a walkie-talkie, radio tuned to the Coast Guard. It was a typically busy Sunday. Another group of swimmers, in white swim caps, was crossing the Golden Gate from Baker Beach. A catamaran trailed behind them, and a group of stand-up paddleboarders out of Aquatic Park trailed the catamaran. A line of sailboats raced out from behind Alcatraz. A Zodiac with four hunched fishermen drift-trolled under the bridge’s north tower. The Coast Guard expected a 22,000-ton oil tanker to depart Richmond for the Golden Gate around 8:30. Thomas ran back inside the boat and I followed the curve of the bridge toward the skyline of San Francisco. It is obvious that people have transformed the land around the Bay. But we have transformed the Bay itself nearly as much, and that seems considerably less obvious. This carefully managed exercise in open
San Francisco Bay enters most of our lives as an obstacle to pass over as quickly as trafficchoked bridges allow… we remain largely oblivious to one of the most remarkable wild resources in urban North America.
water swimming, planned in five-minute increments, monitored constantly by a dozen other people, and approved by the federal government, was a glimpse at the modern nature of the San Francisco Bay. There is still wild nature to immerse yourself in, but you have to plan for it, and you have to share.
2. low Tide n the massive humming warehouse in Sausalito holding the Army Corps of Engineers’ Bay Model, I’m perched over a replica of the Emeryville shoreline watching the Bay breathe. The three-dimensional scale model represents one-thousandth the area of the real Bay. A computer-controlled pump pushes water in and out of the system to create roughly accurate but sped-up tides, one real-life hour every 36 seconds. The molded crescent shoreline before me lies exposed for the moment like dry aquamarine clay. The water, sparkling under the Bay Model’s bright overhead lights, has retreated a few feet to the Bay Bridge run-up. Even with this pace the tide changes direction imperceptibly. First the clay glistens; then it slips under the glass sheet of the incoming tide. In the last few seconds the water slithers to the edge of the Bay Bridge toll plaza. Then, with a sigh of the pump, it rolls back. Every 14.9 minutes here is a full tidal cycle: inflate, deflate, inflate, deflate. Ecologists sometimes compare the Bay to kidneys, because its wetlands filter water, or to a heart, because it’s so connected to the rest of the region. But if you watch it move in this way, it becomes irresistibly a set of lungs. In real life each breath takes place over six hours and 450 square miles. Picture the Bay at slack low tide in the late morning. Dogs and kids play on the exposed sand at Crissy Field. Commuters watch birds pick over the vast exposed mudflat running along the approach to the Bay Bridge. The mud crackles and oozes in wetlands in Alviso, Sears Point, and Hayward. Slowly the water rises. Over the next six hours 640 billion gallons of water, slightly more than the volume of Mount Everest, pour in through the Golden Gate. The Bay expands, adding 50 square miles to the surface area of its water. The mud disappears. Pannes and marsh depressions fill, turning the dusty pickleweed into a kaleidoscope of red and green studded with jewels. The birds float or seek cover in the high marsh. Salt marsh harvest mice climb and cling to the upper stalks of marsh grasses. And then the tide slackens and reverses. The Bay exhales. All that water runs out the Golden Gate. The mudflats, marshes, birds, and mice emerge again. In thinking about the Bay and its future, the first question that comes up is just what you mean by j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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“the Bay.” What does a place with such incredible diversity have in common no matter where in it you are? It has the tides. The best natural definition is that the Bay is this process. The Bay is not water but a breath, a force, a change. American and European settlers fought almost from the day they arrived to deny the impermanent essence of the Bay. Much of the public’s tepid interest in the wild Bay today comes from the inaccessibility of its shoreline, from generations of beavering humans whose priority was a stable, fixed border for the water. The Bay’s breathing today is constrained by a dirt-and-concrete jacket people fitted for it. Now the shared vision of the hundreds of scientists, engineers, and planners who work on the Bay is to break up the jacket. The shared hope is that this will also awaken in Bay Area residents an appreciation for the natural rhythm that’s been hidden from them, and so make the Bay something more than a negative space to drive over. At a onetime commercial salt pond labeled SF2 at the west edge of the Dumbarton Bridge, you can glimpse a small manifestation of the scientific vision. For nearly a century, a bayshore levee running off to the south of the bridge protected a 252-acre basin for salt making and blocked any connection to the tides. In 2003, the federal government bought the pond, a tiny b ay n at u r e
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above Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge as seen from outside the refuge headquarters in Newark, looking southwest.
right The underside of a Hedgpeth’s Dorid nudibranch, one-half inch long.
part of the 15,000 acres of salt ponds it purchased as a part of the ambitious South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. In 2009, engineers upgraded the levee, adding tidal gates to control the flow of water into the pond behind it. They redesigned the basin with permanent water areas, bird refuge islands, and snowy plover habitat. A mudflat and pickleweed marsh formed on the Bay side of the levee. They built a trail on the levee, adding elevated platforms for birdwatching. John Bourgeois, the director of the salt pond restoration project, walked me down the levee recently, and what arrested his attention was the birds. It was an ebb tide, and we watched the water draining out of a pond. There were thousands of birds floating there, and every so often a flock of dozens would hop over the levee from the draining pond onto the tidal mudflat. Eventually, Bourgeois told me, the deep water area would be nearly empty and all the birds would be out hunting on the mudflat. Then the tide would reverse and the birds would all flock back the other direction, until the mudflat was submerged. The birds do this all day, Bourgeois says, back and forth over the levee as the tides swing, like nature’s yo-yo. The birds follow the rhythm of the breathing Bay. Yet people often think the Bay is lifeless. It is muddy, so you can’t see into it. Even if you could, many of the bigger animals that live in it are an
unappealing brown. “The Bay, when you live around it, you look at it, it’s not like you’re in a location with a glass-bottom boat where you can go out and be excited,” says Marilou Sieff, the executive director of the Marine Science Institute in Redwood City. The MSI offers summer camps for kids based on the Bay and on the ocean, and Sieff told me she usually has to call parents to ask them to enroll their kids in the Bay classes. “Most people don’t know what’s down there,” she says, “so they see it as a mystery, or devoid of life.” Which, if you think about the human relationship to the Bay, is perhaps the core challenge. “The salt pond restoration project aims to bring back some of the bay’s lost wetlands, but it cannot restore the lost connections between the bay and its people,” the historian Matthew Booker concludes his 2013 book Down By the Bay. SF2, a part of the San Francisco Bay Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, lies directly across the street from the Facebook campus. Two other ponds nearby are now mid-restoration, and in another 10 years One Hacker Way will be gripped on three sides by pulsing, thriving bay lands. There will be birds everywhere, trails and viewing stations everywhere. But will anyone visit them? Right now, Bourgeois told me, hardly anyone ever does. Lines of gleaming white tech shuttle buses pour over the Dumbarton Bridge every morning or line up on Marsh Road to oviposit their workers into the headquarters. Tourists take selfies in front of the Facebook sign. On a nearly perfect Friday afternoon Bourgeois and I parked in an empty parking lot and hiked undisturbed on a deserted trail, just the two of us and a solitary birdwatcher peering through binoculars from one of the viewing platforms.
3. High Tide he flood tide creates an entirely different Bay. The sheet of water grows bigger by the size of Manhattan. Fish and invertebrates emerge to stretch out into their increased domain. But from the human point of view the water is so muddy it’s almost like the rising tide is rolling a cover over the surface. The flood tide obscures, rather than exposes, the life of the Bay. So try this thought experiment: Say you drop a big white china dinner plate into the middle of the central Bay and leave it there for a year. You pull it out, and what’s it look like? The answer is: It is absolutely infested with life and looks like Rasputin’s beard after a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I know this because the Exploratorium has a carbon dioxide buoy floating just off Pier 15, a big cylindrical white thing with a bottom like a dinner
One Hacker Way will be gripped on three sides by pulsing, thriving bay lands. There will be birds everywhere, trails and viewing stations everywhere. But will anyone visit them?
plate, and once a year they haul it up to clean it off, and last year when they did this they invited along a bunch of naturalists to catch and tag all the critters. Out of the twisted profusion of life on the buoy they identified several dozen species. Crabs, worms, anemones, nudibranchs, mussels, squirts, and algae. California Center for Natural History naturalist Constance Taylor exclaimed over the human-like qualities of stalked tunicates as her hands turned red from peeling algae off the buoy. Stalked tunicates are “snot blobs,” Taylor said, but they are really surprisingly human-like snot-blobs. “It has a ganglion,” she told a group of gawking schoolkids. “It has intestines. It has a stomach. Of all the things on this buoy, this is the closest related to us. So you can say ‘hello cousin’ every time you see one.” Nearby, Exploratorium staff had posted a whiteboard so passersby could write down questions. “At which point did we evolve from snot blobs into capitalist pigs?” someone soon scrawled in green marker. “Follow-up,” the next question read, “have we evolved from snot blobs … ?” There are theories of art appreciation that suggest that humans gravitate naturally to bold colors and big shapes. Perhaps that explains the quiet SF2 trail, or why Muir Woods and Yosemite have created hundred-page crowd control plans for their millions of visitors while the 30,000-acre San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, 60 times the size of Muir Woods, hosts half that number. A necessary part of loving the Bay is appreciating the diverse, weird, resilient creatures that make a life in it; there are no big colorful trees here to appeal to the beginner. Instead we have snot blobs with ganglia, plainfin midshipman fish that sing, monkeyface eels and excessively slimy tonguefish, “northwest ugly clams” (Entodesma navicula), and a bewildering variety of marine worms.
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Once, California Academy of Sciences invertebrate curator Christina Piotrowski told me, researchers studying a kind of polychaete worm—a class of annelids common in the Bay—realized that the one worm they were viewing in a single square meter was in fact six sibling species, previously undescribed by science. If you can look past the name, worms really connect you to the mysteries of the deep. “Who cares about polychaete worms?” Piotrowski says. “Well, they eat a lot of things that need to be eaten, and a lot of things that we eat eat them, and that’s why they’re important. But they are small and brown.” The collections at the Academy hold more than 700 species from the water and mud of San Francisco Bay alone, and “that is likely to be only a fraction of what is there,” reports the Academy’s book Animals of the San Francisco Bay. If you look at the Bay right now and wonder what’s going on under the surface, the answer is that even to many scientists, it’s a mystery. It is bursting with life, and yet our grasp on the nature of that life is as tentative as it can possibly be. How did people who for generations have so carefully managed the shape of the Bay lose track of what actually lives in or around it?
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If you look at the Bay right now and wonder what’s going on under the surface, the answer is that even to many scientists, it’s a mystery.
4. low Tide t a spring low tide a careful observer would just see the ripple caused by Blossom Rock. The size of three soccer fields at a depth of 24 feet, Blossom Rock once rose to within five feet of the surface, directly in the path of boats. “As soon as a ship passes the fort, she enters a large sheet of water, in which are several islands, two rocks above water, and one under, exceedingly dangerous to shipping,” noted the American surveyor Cadwalader Ringgold in 1849. Trailing a weight overboard to mark bottom depth wouldn’t help a navigator avoid it, Ringgold wrote, since the rock rose so steeply. In 1866, Congress ordered San Francisco’s Chief of Engineers, an Army lieutenant colonel named R.S. Williamson, to destroy Blossom Rock. It gave Williamson $50,000 and generous leeway in the selection of dynamite. In October 1869, a contractor went out and blew the top 20 feet off of Blossom Rock. If you look at a bathymetric map of the central Bay now, you can see the stump, a belly button a half-mile northeast of Pier 39. As the draft on subsequent generations of ships has become deeper, so subsequent generations of engineers have continued to blast away at the top of the outcropping.
John Muir, the champion of American wilderness, had arrived in San Francisco one year before the destruction of Blossom Rock. Muir would later make a home on the shores of the Delta and devote his life to saving mountain rocks 200 miles away. “Idealizing a distant wilderness too often means not idealizing the environment in which we actually live, the landscape that for better or worse we call home,” writes William Cronon in his famous Muir critique “The Trouble With Wilderness.” The Bay started to form only about 10,000 years ago, as glaciers melted and rising seas flooded through the Golden Gate to drown a landscape of river valleys and gentle rolling hills. It’s “very likely,” writes historian Matthew Booker, that people arrived before the Bay did. The Ohlone, living around the Bay in one of the densest populations of people in North America, considered the estuary a commons, hunting, fishing, harvesting, trading, building dams, and gathering salt. Early white settlers saw the Bay shore and waterways as a source of vast private wealth; 19th- and 20th-century Americans as an unstable danger to be tamed in the name of commerce; late 20th-century Americans as a damaged environment to be saved. The Bay remains essential in the 21st century. But its utility is found in infrastructure that’s invisible unless it breaks: sewage treatment, shipping, transportation, pipes. Our food comes from the Central Valley, our fish comes from the ocean (the last real Bay fishery, herring, sends most of its catch to Japan because there’s little demand in California), and the canneries and shipyards are closed. There is little left to connect people to the Bay except aesthetics—and the modern American aesthetic appreciation of nature is still deeply inspired by Muir’s Romantic wilderness ideals. So what will people think two generations from now, when sea level rise makes the Bay a threat again? Among the many things nearly lost in the genocide of the Ohlone peoples was a cultural view of nature in which the Bay was both useful and sacred, wild and human. “It’s natural beauty and commerce, and those being allowed to coexist,” says Vincent Medina, a Muwekma Ohlone and outreach coordinator at the magazine News from Native California who has led a modern revitalization of the Chochenyo language. Medina describes the welcoming smell of the salt at the site of the East Bay village of his ancestors. In posts on his blog, “Being Ohlone in the 21st Century,” he describes gathering food from Bay marshes and San Lorenzo Creek. But he also describes sitting in traffic on the Bay Bridge and thinking about the way his ancestors in their tule boats crossed to visit San Francisco. His ancestors would throw clamshell beads into the Bay to appease spirits; Medina stops and pays
left Pier 1 in San Francisco.
right Pickleweed growing near Pond SF2 in Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
below A polychaete worm, 2 inches long.
five bucks at the Bay Bridge toll plaza. The Bay has its own story, he says, and past or present it is always a celebration of people and nature together. “The Bay is living,” he says, “like people. It changes, like we do. It’s been hurt, and damaged. And the Bay—like us— has persevered.”
5. High Tide long the northeast edge of San Francisco, the rising tide slaps at the edge of the Embarcadero. Each boat wake sends the water surging over the top, spray crashing on the breakwater and little rivulets of water draining back into the Bay. It’s just a normal high tide today, but in a king tide you might see this entire walkway flooded. Outside, the surge rolls against the wall. Inside the Exploratorium’s steel-and-glass Fisher Bay Observatory on Pier 15, landscape architect and UC Berkeley instructor Nate Kauffman begins his future-of-the-Bay stump speech with a black-andwhite photo of a wood table and a quote from the table-maker, woodworker George Nakashima: “The live edge is not only a creative force but a moral idea.” Kauffman then pivots to an illustration of San Francisco Bay, its shoreline blazing with gold. “We have a hell of an edge to work with,” he says. Every Bay Area resident has a mental image of that familiar contour, the outline of the Bay. But that shape is human-created by generations of people who j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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wanted a static, predictable shore. A 2016 San Francisco Estuary Institute report suggests that 82 percent of the Bay’s edge is human-made, in the form of levee, berm, embankment, or transportation structure. Thinking about the shoreline as a “line” denies the essential shifting nature of the Bay and has done us no favors, Kauffman says. This is not a static place, and now most everything we’ve built on the assumption of stasis is at risk. For the last century the average sea level measured at the Golden Gate tidal gauge has risen by about two millimeters per year. By midcentury, that rate is expected to accelerate sharply. Conservative projections now call for around one meter of sea level rise
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below Looking north across the Ravenswood wetlands, part of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project
right Skeleton shrimp cling to a colonial tunicate, 1 inch across.
by 2100. The less optimistic projections seem to be nudged higher every few years, but if the world emits the same amount of greenhouse gases over the next century as it does now, we could see as much as nine meters of sea level rise. Over the last 20 years around 10,000 acres of marsh have been restored to the Bay, with another roughly 20,000 planned for restoration. It is now apparent that this effort is doomed. Absent additional protection, 96 percent of the Bay’s restored tidal marsh habitat will drown by 2100. “This is not science based off of some sophisticated theorem,” Kauffman writes in a booklet of future Bay illustrations that represent the Live Edge Adaptation Project. “It is a math problem a
seventh-grader can do.” Kauffman joins scientists and planners in proposing a number of nature- and people-friendly solutions. Barrier beaches and tidal marshes provide natural protection against sea level rise, so Kauffman draws landscapes where people gather around campfires on sandy Bay beaches, separated by lagoons from bird-sheltering tidal marshes that keep pace with the rising sea on a constantly replenishing bed of reclaimed sewage. Eelgrass beds and oyster reefs provide valuable habitat and slow storm surge, scientists believe, so Kauffman says we should “redeploy oysters.” These aren’t just functional dreams, he says, they’re a designed, constructed,
The idea of the Bay as a project to imagine, a natural system hauled onto a workbench to be modified to suit human aesthetic and functional preference, sounds hubristic. But it is more or less the only choice.
managed improvement with human use front and center. “What if the Bay was somewhere you wanted to go at night?” he often says. The idea of the Bay as a project to imagine, a natural system hauled onto a workbench to be modified to suit human aesthetic and functional preference, sounds hubristic. But it is more or less the only choice. Because marshes and barrier beaches also need time to establish themselves, we have a window now to build up natural protection against sea level rise, or by the end of the century we will have to build hard walls and lead what the engineers call a “managed retreat” from the shoreline. “It’s binary,” Kauffman says. “Do something or hand a diminished Bay to the next generation.” The bad news: It will require a lot of money to build the Bay up in a responsible way. Measure AA, a first-of-its-kind parcel tax approved by 70 percent of Bay Area voters in June 2016, will bring in $500 million over the next 20 years. But AA was not a panacea. John Bourgeois likes to say he could spend the entire amount in a day, and he’s not the only project manager hoping to build a better Bay shore. Even more, AA will only mark a turning point in the human relationship to the Bay if people appreciate the nature its funding helps restore. While Bay proponents have celebrated the passage of AA as proof that the relationship is on the mend, Bay Area residents loved nearly every bond or tax measure on the ballot in June 2016—30 of 32 parcel tax or bond measures on the ballot in the Bay Area passed. Pre-election polls often show that almost everyone says, when asked, they love the Bay and want it to be clean and healthy. But the specifics are less convincing: The same polls generally show that voters found sea level rise protection and access to the Bay the least compelling reasons to vote for the measure. The other bad news: Almost any scenario for solving the sea level rise conundrum in a naturefriendly way involves filling in the Bay. And almost all regulations governing the shape of the Bay exist to prevent fill. Meanwhile, the natural sediment flow into the Bay is drying up, too, as water diversions in the Delta cut the supply of freshwater that reaches the lower estuary. Bay Institute chief scientist Marc Holmes says that for the South Bay especially the solution to sea level rise is obvious: use sediment to fill around the Bay edge of all the restored marshes and create what scientists tend to call “horizontal levees.” But as Kaufmann likes to say in his presentation, the pilot horizontal levee project near the mouth of San Lorenzo Creek took six months to build and four years to permit. “Everyone’s trying their best within (continued on page 48) the phone booth of what they’re j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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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.
We know that spending time out in nature is good for us. But why? What does science have to say about it?
brain = healthy nature
by Alison Hawkes | Illustrations by John Hersey
It’s one of those picture-perfect days and I’m on a shuttle bus with a group of parents and kids heading to Lake Chabot Regional Park in Oakland. Getting here on a Saturday morning included rushing through breakfast, dressing squirming kids, squeezing in errands, driving to the wrong location—argh!— and finally arriving at an outpatient clinic of the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland. A dozen other parents were there, settling their kids. I wondered about their harried mornings and checked my phone—a text from my husband said the kids were happily making a mess of the kitchen. Then Dr. Nooshin Razani, a big-hearted pediatrician on a mission, called the group together and, before we boarded the shuttle, asked us to rate our stress level on a scale of 0-5. Okay, mine: 3 or 4 (could be worse, I thought). “Take a deep breath,” she urged. “I give you permission to not answer your phone for three free hours.” Soon we exit the highway into the rolling, golden hills leading to Lake Chabot Regional Park and a 5-year-old boy announces, “I’ve been to a lake before!” Razani’s goal is for her patients to make time in nature a regular part of their lives. The vast majority of them live below the poverty line and Razani, herself a busy mother of three as well as a clinical researcher, strongly believes spending an afternoon at the lake is worth their time and effort. And so, in partnership with the East Bay Regional Park District and the Regional Parks Foundation,
she’s spearheading these monthly outings, known as the SHINE (Stay Healthy in Nature Everyday) initiative, to make visiting parks easier for the socioeconomically disadvantaged families who use her outpatient clinic. “A lot of people have the idea that it’s a luxury, and [that] it’s almost patronizing to people who have more basic needs if we start talking about nature,” Razani told me. “No one is saying, ‘Go to a park and you won’t need to feed your children anymore.’ But there’s an unbelievable amount of stress on families, and there’s one source of help that’s pretty effective and available in the community.” Soon we’ve disembarked and Razani waves us over to a stand of redwoods. “Everybody, come to the trees,” she projects in an authoritative doctor voice. “These trees are doing their work right now. Within five minutes in the trees, our heart rate goes down and within 10 minutes our brain re-sets our attention span.” The day in nature begins with a free lunch, and then the group, led by a park district naturalist, heads to the lake, pausing on a boardwalk to pick blackberries before striking out along a trail. Nature is restorative; that’s practically a truism to anyone who loves the outdoors. The effects start within minutes and can be long-lasting, even transformative, when nature works on us over the course of days or weeks. Scientific research now j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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Mona Koh, East Bay Regional Park District
confirms what we already know: We become more relaxed, instead of, drug prescriptions, elevating time outdoors to a more open and friendly, and more creative, with better memory medical necessity. In Razani’s practice, the SHINE initiative helps ensure that patients get their medicine. and concentration, after being in nature. Nature lowers blood But what is it, exactly, about nature that heals us? As pressure, reduces stress, and bolsters our immune system. the healthcare industry tries to put theory into practice, In fact, the benefits from contact with nature are now so scientists seek a fundamental understanding of the mindwell documented that they’re showing up on the health care body mechanisms at work during our time outside. I’ve been industry’s agenda, and protecting nature can be seen as a public contemplating this question, and as I walk along with the health strategy. SHINE group at Lake Chabot, I feel the surroundings begin The American Public Health Association now urges health to seep into me— the touch of the wind on my skin, the practitioners to advise patients to spend more time in nature for exercise and play, and has called for more green space in school yards, medical facilities, and The benefits from contact with nature are now in urban design. Meanwhile, an international so well documented that they’re showing up on movement called “Healthy Parks, Healthy People” has taken root in more than 30 countries. the healthcare industry’s agenda. The Bay Area chapter— a partnership between the National Park Service, EBRPD, and the Institute at the Golden Gate— is focused on getting people at crunch of a rock underfoot, the perfume of the California bay high risk for chronic disease into parks, and offering them free laurels, all bring back memories of backpacking in Northern tai chi and yoga classes, guided walks for families, and other California with my husband long before the kids came along. I activities there. Razani and doctors around the country are glimpse the lake, expansive and shimmering, through openings writing their patients “parks prescriptions” along with, or even in the trees, and all my senses attune to the stillness of this place. It’s in this sort of simple experience that scientists have Kids get creative in nature at Redwood Regional Park during a Stay Healthy in Nature started to find answers. Everyday (SHINE) outing.
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In 1984, biologist Edward O. Wilson popularized the term “biophilia,” Greek for “love of life,” in his book of the same name. Wilson writes that “to explore and affiliate with life is a deep and complicated process in mental development … our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hope rises out of its currents.” He posits that the human mind, while shaped by the modern world, is deeply rooted in the natural conditions that our species evolved in. And so, for example, we are evolutionarily drawn to bodies of water and living landscapes because they signal to us the nourishment and shelter that sustained us for millennia. Some of the early scientific research backing up Wilson’s ideas came from a husband-wife team of psychologists at the University of Michigan, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. In the 1980s they began testing their theory that “restorative environments,” particularly in nature, could renew one’s capacity to pay attention. Based on preliminary research that a wilderness camp experience was psychologically transformative for youth, the Kaplans proposed that our brains fatigue when our attention—a mental muscle, of sorts—is overtaxed, leading to impulsive and irritable behavior. The antidote: Spend time in a place where attention is less directed and stimuli are “softly fascinating,” allowing our brains to rest, wander, and feel transported. While there are clearly other ways to achieve such moments— a Beethoven symphony, standing in St. Peter’s Basilica, or meditating in a dimly lit room, to name a few —nature is (ideally) accessible in the small moments of the everyday. In one well-known study, Rachel Kaplan found that
others. It’s well understood that the PFC is also active during rumination, in particular the subgenual area, a region that displays increased activity during periods of sadness and can run amok by turning the normal process of self-reflection into a depressive state. And so Bratman and his team decided to put the brains (and the bodies, of course) of 38 healthy, urban
Mona Koh, EBRPD
office workers with a window view of natural scenery felt less frustrated, more patient, more enthusiastic about their jobs, and reported higher life satisfaction, as well as better overall health, than those without a view of nature. “Thus, a view from the window might be called a micro-restorative experience,” Kaplan writes. “One that provides a brief respite to one’s directed attention. Even in a moment’s glance one might feel that one is far away; the snow on the tree, the changing colors of the leaves, the bird barely visible in the bush all draw one’s attention effortlessly and provide the sense that one is somewhere else. Even such a brief opportunity to recover one’s attentional capacity might be expected to enhance competence and cooperativeness.” Kaplan’s ideas have been borne out in cognitive studies. Memory researchers have found that people who walked through an arboretum scored better when asked to repeat a set of numbers backwards than those who walked an urban route. And in a recently published study of 94 high school students in Illinois, those in classrooms with windows overlooking greenery scored significantly higher on attention tests and physiological stress recovery measurements than those with no window or with a window that looked out onto a barren landscape. “The body of work is pretty convincing that something differs in how the environment impacts our cognition and our [feelings],” says Gregory Bratman, a biopsychologist at Stanford University. Looking to answer “how,” Bratman and other scientists have homed in on the prefrontal cortex— the brain’s command and control center, responsible for a vast array of higher-level thinking, and the area where short-term memory resides, along with our ability to pay attention. It turns out that modern life, with its constant sudden events— alarms, pings, cars bearing down on you at crosswalks — and almost nonstop multitasking, is pretty hard on the PFC. And, unfortunately in this context, the PFC’s built-in novelty bias draws our attention to the million little distractions that, say, smartphones offer, at the expense of sustained, focused effort. This constant mental multitasking ramps up the production of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline. While the Kaplans and other researchers have studied attention fatigue and recovery, Bratman is focused on the phenomenon of rumination, a particularly maladaptive pattern of thinking that can lead to depression and other mental disorders. Rumination entails dwelling on the causes and conditions of one’s distress without looking for solutions. Everyone ruminates to some extent, some people more than
Dr. Nooshin Razani, of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, plays with her patients at an East Bay regional park, showing how joy and nature can go hand-in-hand.
adults to a test. He randomly split the group in two and each spent 90 minutes walking in two drastically different settings. One group walked alongside a steady stream of traffic on El Camino Real; the other walked the grassy slopes of The Dish in the foothills above Stanford’s campus. Before and after the walks, Bratman and crew measured blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex using an fMRI brain imaging device as well as gathered self-reports on rumination with a questionnaire. “I wanted to see if environmental differences play a role in increasing and decreasing this type of thought pattern,” he says. Sure enough, the team found that a walk around The Dish correlated with a statistically significant decrease in blood flow to the subgenual area, indicating less brain activity there; participants also reported less rumination. Those who walked along busy El Camino had little to no change. The results led Bratman to conclude that a nature experience can impact this neural pathway in the brain, and that access to preserved open spaces like The Dish may be a critical resource for improving the “mental capital” of urban areas. “By no means do I say that nature cures depression,” Bratman says. “But as we continue to urbanize, the question becomes more and more relevant to more and more people: What are the repercussions if we don’t bring nature into the city or conserve it outside of it?” Working alongside conservation biologist j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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Razani also worries about our alienation from the natural world. She says children in Western cultures spend half as much time outside as their parents did when they were young, and the typical American adult spends 90 percent of his or her life inside buildings. In urban living “there’s a lot of feeling of isolation and a lack of belonging,” she adds. Not only can the outdoors bring people together, but the aesthetics of nature, in contrast to urban landscapes dominated by hard, flat surfaces, can likewise change our outlook. Scientists have been studying a universal aspect of nature that seems to please us to no end— fractals. These self-repeating patterns, found in everything from the spiral of a snail’s shell to the branching of trees, provide both order and a high level of complexity to nature. A fractal is a shape in which, when you look at a small part of it, the small piece has a similar— but not necessarily identical— appearance to the full shape. A tree, for example, may have a large trunk, then a couple of main branches, then more branches of the next size, and many, many more twigs. “There’s some regular, repeating amount of detail regardless of how close we look at something. We have evolved to make sense of that,” says Jonathan Wolfe, a visual neuroscientist and founder of the Fractal Foundation, an organization seeking to increase curiosity about natural systems and mathematics. There’s also a roughness, or imprecision, in the way fractals appear in nature (as opposed to a fractal created with a ruler or on a computer). It’s this roughness, present at all scales, on a natural object that may hold our fascination. Participants in another recently published study were asked to contrast pictures of tree branches and grass fields to pictures of a modern building, each at various levels of magnification. The researchers found that people perceived the magnified natural images as more visually complex and they freely viewed them longer than they did the building photos magnified at different scales. The researchers concluded that the higher degree of fractal complexity in the natural images held people’s interest longer. b ay n at u r e
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Jayms Ramirez, jaymsramirez.com
Gretchen Daily, a pioneer in the field of “ecosystem services,” Bratman is hoping to further the case that nature is valuable for its psychological benefits and can serve to augment other mental health treatments. In further research, he’s trying to isolate some of the “active ingredients” in natural environments that impact our psychology, using a controlled laboratory setting to pit birdsongs against car horns and vehicle exhaust against the smell of trees.
Oakland high school students whitewater rafting down the South Fork of the American River in 2014 as part of the Sierra Club and UC Berkeley’s research on the effects of feeling awe in nature.
Other studies of our response to fractals look at brain waves. Electroencephalograms (EEGs) record different types of synchronized electrical pulses as the masses of neurons communicate with each other. Brain waves are like the “musical notes” of the mind (they are even measured in hertz) that change according to what we’re doing and feeling. Delta waves are slow and loud, like a drumbeat, and are generated in dreamless sleep, while the higher-frequency beta waves dominate our waking consciousness when we are engaged in external cognitive tasks. In between are alpha waves, present during quietly flowing thoughts, deep relaxation, and some meditative states. Several studies out of Sweden using EEGs have found that alpha waves tended to surge when people viewed imprecise (rough) fractals and were less present when they viewed artificial (exact) fractals, indicating that the fractals found in nature are especially soothing. The studies have also determined that fractals with mid-range complexity, which happen to be common in nature, bring about high alpha and beta waves, pointing to a complex interplay between different parts of the brain. The alpha waves suggest a restorative and relaxed state and the beta waves a processing of the fractal’s spatial properties. The researchers explain that “what makes nature so suitable for attention restoration is the mix of variation and predictability in its visual patterns.” An artificial fractal might be too predicable, while a natural fractal pattern might have “a more optimal mix of order and variation that is effortless to attend to but is still interesting enough to hold the attention.” Caroline Hägerhäll, the Swedish researcher who conducted the EEG studies, says that the human eye easily scans mid-range fractals. “The ease of processing and the aesthetic appeal of (continued on page 52) [mid-range] visual fractals might be due to
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Love Your Parks
Doubling Down on Black Joy in Nature by Rue Mapp This essay was produced in partnership with the Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies (LENS) at UCLA.
Rue Mapp is the founding executive director of Outdoor Afro, an Oakland-based organization that connects African Americans with nature.
Rue Mapp, outdoorafro.com
There were copters overheard all day. I was at work in Outdoor Afro’s office in downtown Oakland in the days after the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. It was a really tense time in Oakland, as it was in many cities around the country. The city was bracing for violence. I’ll never forget that moment. Personally, I felt that I didn’t want to go out and be in the streets and be a part of that kind of response. But I knew that my work had to do something. I was walking to my car, feeling like I needed to get away from downtown. And then the answer came. And the answer was nature. The voice in my head said, “You do nature, Rue. That’s your lane.” So the next day I got on the phone with Outdoor Afro leaders around the country and some of our partners. We decided to do what we called “healing hikes” in the days to come. That first time, the leaders in the Bay Area gathered in a clearing in the Oakland Hills and took some time to ground ourselves. We did some yoga poses and really set our intentions for what we wanted to create and be a part of that day around healing. Then we started hiking. We worked our way down into a beautiful redwood bowl and wound up
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walking along a stream. We were sharing and listening to each other. And I realized, we were doing something that African Americans had always known that we could do. And that was to lay our burdens down by the riverside. Coming out of that experience, we shared with one another our resolve for how we would do something different in our neighborhoods, in our homes, in our workplaces, to effect change. We’ve continued to do healing hikes, while remaining sad that the reasons for doing them persist. We did a series of healing hikes after Orlando to bring our communities together, people who want to get together and just try to make sense of the world as it is today. And nature provides that platform for it to happen. I’ve been asked a lot about Outdoor Afro’s role in the movement for black lives. Our response has been to double down on black joy in nature. This is the new narrative that we want to continue to shout from the rooftops. It’s about finding our story in nature. We find compelling stories that help people feel a deeper connection to our outdoor spaces. We’re also reactivating some of the things people might have done when they were children, with a grandparent or a caregiver, connections and community they may have lost, but can regain today. I am also always impressed by the amount of our history that’s contained in some of the places that we visit. The story of Outdoor Afro really begins, for me, in my own family. When my father migrated from East Texas to California after World War II, he brought with him a passion for the In 1978, Mapp’s parents celebrated their 40th anniversary at the family’s Clear Lake property.
outdoors. We lived in Oakland, but he invested in a small piece of land in Lake County. We had cows and pigs. I learned to hunt and fish. It became a place where we connected with nature. But it was also a place of deep connectivity between our family members. We had all kinds of celebrations and cookouts. And for me, as a child, the land was a laboratory. I was able to see stars that I couldn’t see at home in Oakland. I was able to monitor the life cycle of the tadpole that became a frog in the creek nearby. I could ride my bike along country roads, hearing only the sound of my own tires on the pavement. We had a bountiful garden, and there was a synergy between our home in Oakland and the ranch. We did harvesting, canning, preserving, and smoking. We had meat, fruit, and vegetables that we laid up for winter and we enjoyed very much. But it wasn’t just hands on the land and a superior environmental education, it was a lifestyle. My dad was the architect of the space, and my mom was the hospitality of it. There was a standing invitation to come rap on the door. You were not only welcome, but there was plate of food for you. It was a really happy way to grow up. And it planted the seeds of both hospitality and nature that are at the core of Outdoor Afro now. When I was 20, I decided to build on my outdoor connection by joining an Outward Bound course in the Sierras. I had lots of experience in the outdoors, but I had never climbed a mountain. As I was packing and trying to save money, I decided not to bring some things, like a headlamp. I thought, “I have a flashlight, why do I need a headlamp too?” It seemed a little redundant at the time. Little did I know we’d be doing a night climb. And when the sun set, I found myself starfished on the side of a mountain slope that I could not see anymore. I could feel it. But I couldn’t see anything above me or below. And I completely broke down. I didn’t think that I could go on. But the instructor called down to
James Edward Mills, joytripproject.com
me and he said, “Rue, trust your feet.” Those words helped me get steady and solid and remember that I had something deep inside of me. And I dug in and got to the top. That was a big moment of revelation, for me, when I understood nature as a powerful teacher. And at the precipice of adulthood, living on my own for the first time, it was exactly the lesson I needed to learn. I’m still trusting my feet. Sometimes I don’t know what just happened. Sometimes I don’t know what’s ahead. But I can dig in and move forward. It all came together for me in 2009. I was divorced, with three children and an unfinished undergraduate degree, when I decided to go back to school. I was blessed to have really good mentors who asked great questions of me at UC Berkeley. I was pondering graduate school, when one asked me the question that I think everyone should be asked, and that is, “If time and money were not an issue, what would you be doing?” I opened my mouth and my life fell out. I said, “Oh, I’d probably start a website to reconnect African Americans to the outdoors.” Two weeks later, Outdoor Afro was born. Outdoor Afro began as a blog. We grew up on Facebook and Twitter. I put out a call and many voices responded. As I wrote and posted photographs about all of the things I loved about the outdoors, all of the experiences that I had growing up in my family, and sharing the experiences I was continuing to have with my children, people said, “You know what? I actually love nature too.” People who looked like me, people who were in my age group said, “I love nature.” I realized then that what we had was a problem of visual representation, because we weren’t seeing our images reflected back to us in the mainstream outdoor-oriented magazines of the day. The audience that emerged—African American women between the ages of 35 and 44—had been ignored. And they’re an amplifying audience because they
don’t show up alone. And they make decisions for generations in a household. I found that when you get a black woman outdoors for a group event, she’s going to come with a child, she’s going to come with a partner, she’s an aunt, she’s a caregiver, she’s active in her church or sorority. These women make up about 70 percent of Outdoor Afro now. I had no idea what an Outdoor Afro leader was going to look like when I first put out a call on social media asking, “Who wants to be an Outdoor Afro leader?” I thought I was looking for the wildlife biologist, the NOLS-certified instructor, or people who had long, professional experience in the environmental education field. But I found that our best leaders were the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, people who came from all kinds of professional backgrounds. They are human rights attorneys, real estate professionals, college lecturers, preschool teachers—you name it. We now have more than 60 leaders in
Rue Mapp in Yosemite National Park during the annual African American National Park Event in June 2014.
28 states around the United States, who are connecting 17,000 people a year to outdoor experiences right in their own backyards. The thing that they all share is a fire in their bellies to connect people to nature. We also began looking at the obstacles African Americans face in getting outdoors. We conducted some surveys and discovered some revealing results. Gear is huge. Not understanding the things that they need—why they need them, or what they might already have in their closets so they don’t need to go out and purchase—is a daunting barrier. Fears and perceptions about safety are very, very important. It’s crucial that people feel safe in the outdoors. And lack of transportation is a significant problem. Sometimes nature experiences are so close but so far away, especially if you don’t have access to transportation or you’re j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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60 leaders since its launch in Oakland seven years ago. Shown here, Outdoor Afro leaders gathered in Yosemite National Park for training.
relying on public transportation on weekends, when access is limited. It’s also true that the outdoors, especially remote wilderness areas, have not always represented safety. We have a legacy in this country of terror that has occurred in the woods, under the cover of night. So it’s no wonder that we’ve found, in our experience with Outdoor Afro, that people feel more comfortable connecting with nature in groups rather than alone. And then there is the stress that many of us feel in our lives, no matter who you are or where you live. We’re over-scheduled. We don’t know how to fit nature experiences into our lives. The number one reason African Americans are not getting outdoors is time—or rather the perception that there is not enough time to get outdoors. So at Outdoor Afro, we are working to respond to each of those issues and provide solutions for these challenges that people either perceive or that are, indeed, very real. We often do things that are not so physically active—the things that human beings have been doing from the beginning—like sitting around a fire and sharing our stories. A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to try to reconnect with really wild nature myself. I get outdoors a lot, but I had not spent much time in capital-W “Wilderness” since I climbed that mountain in the dark. And the Sierra Club invited me along on a trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It was a magnificent experience that gave me a new level of appreciation for the wild. b ay n at u r e
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Soon after we landed and unpacked, a grizzly bear reared up from the brush surrounding our remote campsite. And we did the things that humans do when we’re confronted with wildlife like that. We tried to reason with the bear. “Go away, bear. You don’t want to be here, bear.” But we were terrified. I know I was terrified. This was definitely no Yosemite bear. This bear might not have ever seen human beings before. He may have been just as curious about us as we were afraid of him. And then, with a whiff of the northern air, he disappeared. It was at that moment I realized that we were in that bear’s wild. We were not significant. If the bear had decided to enjoy us for lunch that day, the wild would roll on in its strength, its resiliency. That moment pushed the reset button on my humanity. And I know I am better because of that encounter with the wild. When I got home I thought a lot about that wild. I wondered how does the experience that I had in the bear’s wild relate to what’s happening in places like East Oakland, where people connect with the outdoors in lowercase “wild” ways, if they can at all. They’re not investing thousands of dollars to go to remote areas like the Arctic. And they may never be able to do that. Both the uppercase Wilderness and the lowercase wild are vital. I realized then that we missed an opportunity about 50 years ago, when the Wilderness Act and the Civil Rights Act were passed in the same year, 1964. Rue Mapp and her father, A.C. Levias, in 1978.
I began asking people who were around at that time, “Were there conversations happening between these two caucuses?” And the answer I heard has always been, “No.” I’ve come to believe that had we, at that moment, come together and realized that the crucial conversation is about protecting vulnerable places and vulnerable people, then we might have a very different environmental and conservation movement today. We’ve learned many, many things over the years. Three things stand out for me. First is relevancy. We have to foster ways that outdoor experiences can meet people where they are and reflect and tell their stories. Second is leadership. In the beginning, I was really focused on participation. But it’s leadership that matters. It’s leadership that engages adults who, like I was in my mid-30s, are interested and willing to invest their time in becoming leaders in the outdoors and bringing along their community. And then, finally, it’s about the long view. There is now a growing clamor for diverse participation in the outdoors. As a result, we often want to rush people and organizations ahead. But this is really about a generational shift that is under way. It’s one I look forward to. So when our work is done there’s not going to be a big parade down Main Street. There will not be balloons falling from the sky. No. It’s going to be a quiet moment. We will look up and we’ll see all people participating in the outdoors. And it will be no big deal. Just us. In the outdoors.
Rue Mapp, outdoorafro.com
Courtesy of Outdoor Afro
Outdoor Afro has spread to 28 states with more than
Support California sea otter research and conservation programs. Make a tax-deductible donation on line 410 of your state income tax return, or ask your tax preparer to do it. Learn more at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Tax-Donation or www.seaotters.org.
(the bay continued from page 37)
allowed to do,” Kauffman says. Nonetheless, most everyone agrees this is doable. Consider Measure AA a starting point instead of an ending point. Bay Area voters have funded wetland restoration and sea level rise protection, and out of that perhaps established a first-of-its-kind regional common purpose. “I think it’s fair to say engaging in something as big as a regional ballot measure changed the game for us,” says Save the Bay Communications Director Cyril Manning. “We have the ability, as an organization and as a region, to tackle these monumental problems with monument-scale solutions.”
6. slack Tide
or the last few years I’ve been taking my young daughters on monthly walks at the small sliver of marsh at Heron’s Head on the southeastern shore of San Francisco. The trail, created by the Port of San Francisco out of Bay fill that was originally intended to become a shipping terminal, runs twothirds of a mile out into the Bay. Lash Lighter Basin, a narrow tidal inlet and a dilapidated wharf, separates the trail from a recycling warehouse where gulls scream from rooftop solar panels. India Basin curves off to the south into the ruins of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and what was once the world’s largest crane. American avocets wade in the marsh lagoon, oystercatchers pick along the rocky banks, and one of only three living populations of federally endangered sea-blite in the Bay sprouts just off the trail. My daughters and I measure seasons and the pulse of the Bay by the breathing of the water, the
movement of the birds, and the color of the pickleweed. At last year’s statewide September Coastal Cleanup, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department Director Phil Ginsburg gave a pre-cleanup speech to thank us Heron’s Head volunteers. He called us smart for choosing the Bayshore over the crowded cleanup at the more charismatic outer coast. Because what we understood, he said, was the vision. This stretch of military-industrial-complex-victimized shoreline between Pier 94 and Candlestick Point could in the next few decades become San Francisco’s second Crissy Field. In all, nearly two miles of Bayshore will be revitalized. It will host a mix of uses, from housing developments to parks and wildlife refuges, in keeping with the best traditions of the Bay’s human and natural mosaic. I found that idea stuck with me, like the image of the swimmers under the Golden Gate. A fundamental part of my narrative of the natural world is its decline since my youth. The pastures and open fields where I played as a kid have been almost entirely developed. I’ve seen forests cleared, creeks filled, and landmarks erased by strip malls and sprawling tract homes. But on a bad-news globe there’s a blessing in thinking local. My urban daughters, growing up in the heart of San Francisco, are going to have a counter-narrative to tell. When they’re my age they’ll be able to say that the beach they started visiting before they could walk has improved in their lifetime. The southeastern San Francisco Bayshore will be less polluted, more open, more natural, more popular, and more appealing. While the story in (continued on page 50) so much of the world is one of inevitable
sem·per·vi·rēns (n.) always living, forever green
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Thank you for all you do to protect Bay nature!
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The California Invasive Plant Council has been supporting professional and volunteer land stewards since 1992. Join us! Resources and membership information at www.cal-ipc.org.
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Eric Simons with his daughters at Heron’s
(the bay continued from page 48)
Head Park in San Francisco.
decline, the Bay offers us a salve. We can look at it today and imagine how it could, and will, be better. And on this local scale we have the power to ensure that future happens. “We can do it,” Kauffman says. “The San Francisco Bay Area is poised to be an international leader.” Late last fall I went for a walk at Heron’s Head with my youngest daughter in the backpack. It was the tail end of a breathless fall heat wave and the water sat still in the lagoon. A few birds were out, willets and sandpipers picking along the water’s edge, and I realized suddenly that the water was as clear as I’d ever seen it. I could see the seaweed splaying out below the surface, and the muddy bottom two or three feet deep, and I knew that it would be no real challenge to swim here. In the same moment of realization I also put a name to, on a more visceral level, all of my unspoken fears of the dirty, muddy, unknown Bay. I’ve read the reports about improved water quality; I know the “Pulse of the Bay” report in 2015 calls the status of the water for swimming “excellent at most Bay beaches”; I know that Heal the Bay scores an A+ for the mouth of nearby Islais Creek. But I was still afraid to fully commit to that brown water. So I came up with a half-measure. A few weeks later I left work
early and headed over to the marsh. In the parking lot I changed out of my jeans and into a swimsuit and neoprene boots. I padded out the trail to the rocky breakwater at the end of the path, and climbed over the concrete steps where my girls and I usually stop and turn around. It was empty and quiet out here but for a lone fisherman casting from the shore in the glare of the sinking sun. Off in the distance, the just-greening crown of Mount Diablo rose over the East Bay Hills. I picked across the rocks, down to the water’s edge. At 4:15 p.m., 40 minutes to high tide, I stepped into the Bay. The water felt cool on my legs. Rockweed and sea lettuce brushed my knees. I pushed out past the last rock, to where the bottom dropped away into deep mud, and stood still. I listened to the waves, and the birds. The recycling facility turned on with a roar, a crunch, and an echoing metallic crash, causing the gulls on its roof to scatter angrily into the sky. Then it turned off again. Waves rippled on the shore behind me, while the water swirled around my waist in a cautious embrace. Eric Simons is Bay Nature’s editorial director and grew up in the East Bay.
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openspacetrust.org/ourhome 11/30/16 10:37 AM
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this resonance with the eyes’ physiological behavior,” she says. We eventually reach a bend in the path that crosses a dry streambed. The children climb across the thick trunk of a fallen tree. There’s a lot of laughing and posing for pictures. A culvert under the path becomes a tunnel to explore with Razani in the lead. It’s a joyful and social moment. “It just feels so good to be outside,” says Ramses, an eighth-grader who recounts long hours in school and with homework. “Yes, there’s bees and other animals, but I like seeing all kinds of things — like the redwoods are tall and mysterious.”
Feelings evoked outdoors represent another area of study that examines how time spent in nature can lead to healing. One such feeling is awe— that intense and otherworldly feeling that comes when we’re faced with something so vast that it transcends our preconceived notions of the world. Craig Anderson, an emotions researcher at UC Berkeley in the field of positive psychology, is an expert in reading faces and body language. His research leads him to conclude that while cathedrals, charismatic people, and great music can all inspire awe, nature doles out the most reliable moments of it, from summiting a mountain to observing the papery wing of a butterfly. “Colloquially, it’s something that blows your mind,” says Anderson, a New Mexico native who loves staring at the big night sky.
For the last three years he’s sent raft-loads of Oakland teens from underserved communities, as well as military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), down the South Fork of the American River on the theory that being battered about by the force of a raging river might cause a shift in their lives. He’s trying to understand that change by recording the rafting experience with a GoPro suction-cupped to the front of the boat and pointed at the faces of the paddlers. The boat bobs up and down, and they scream as the rapids crest over the raft. He watches the rafting footage in 10- to 20-second frames to code the emotions. The whitewater study is ongoing, but the data is already revealing some interesting findings. Anderson says the trips are having lasting effects on the emotional states of the participants, with veterans having a 30 percent drop in PTSD symptoms a week later. He’s also finding that the hormones in raft-mates change by similar amounts, so much so that Anderson says he can predict which people rafted together just by looking at their before-and-after hormone levels. “So, whether it’s through emotional expression or physical touch or teamwork, somehow they’re syncing up physically as well. I think the social component of it is going to be a big part of the story.” The Sierra Club is supplying the military veterans and much of the funding for the whitewater rafting study. Club Outdoors Director Stacy Bare, himself a military veteran, suffered from PTSD and suicidal thoughts when he returned from active duty. He dreams of a future when kayaks and (continued on page 54)
一漀琀栀椀渀最 愀搀搀攀搀⸀⸀⸀ 一漀琀栀椀渀最 洀椀猀猀椀渀最
In Range We Trust 글
嘀攀最愀渀 昀爀椀攀渀搀氀礀 ☀ 最氀甀琀攀渀 昀爀攀攀℀ 匀栀愀爀攀 愀 最氀愀猀猀 漀昀 愀眀愀爀搀ⴀ眀椀渀渀椀渀最 眀椀渀攀 昀爀漀洀 䄀洀攀爀椀挀愀ᤠ猀 昀椀爀猀琀 漀爀最愀渀椀挀 眀椀渀攀爀礀⸀ 伀爀 最椀瘀攀 愀 最椀昀琀 漀昀 伀爀最愀渀椀挀 圀椀渀攀 䌀氀甀戀 洀攀洀戀攀爀猀栀椀瀀℀
䄀氀眀愀礀猀 昀愀洀椀氀礀ⴀ漀眀渀攀搀 ☀ 漀瀀攀爀愀琀攀搀 匀椀渀挀攀 㤀㠀
䘀 刀 䔀 夀 嘀 䤀 一 䔀 夀䄀 刀 䐀 匀 㠀 ⸀㜀㘀 ⸀㌀㜀㌀㤀 䘀爀攀礀圀椀渀攀⸀挀漀洀⼀渀攀愀爀ⴀ礀漀甀 b ay n at u r e
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Photo © Dave Gordon
Join us as we continue our fight and celebrate a healthy and vibrant future for the Bay. We’re honored that Bay Nature will recognize Executive Director David Lewis with its 2017 Local Hero Award for Conservation Action.
BLUE — April 22, 2017 www.savesfbay.org/blue
Today, in the face of rapid change and greater challenges, Save The Bay is broadening its scope to be an even more effective advocate for San Francisco Bay. Business-as-usual is not an option. We know we can achieve transformational change within a generation, because we've done it before. Join us!
Bay Day — October 7, 2017 www.bayday.org
Celebrate the Bay on Earth Day! Join David Lewis and other Bay lovers on a sunset cruise on San Francisco Bay.
Bay Day is a day for people from across the Bay Area to come together to celebrate our most treasured natural resource.
“If you can only plant one tree, plant it in a city.”
— David Nowak, U.S. Forest Service Researcher
Twenty years of bringing nature into neighborhoods through planting, tending, and celebrating trees. DIG IN WITH US AT CANOPY.ORG. j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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(the brain continued from page 52)
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Find out how you can support the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring new life to the West Coastʼs largest and most important estuary.
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hiking boots are covered by medical insurance like any other durable medical device, and when going outside into nature is given the same legitimacy in promoting health as a doctor visit. “I’m not saying we’re going to do away with pharmaceuticals,” he says. “But over time we can reduce costs significantly and create a healthier, more empathetic, pro-social country through time outside.” In the meantime, he adds, the nature research needs to be further nailed down with larger and longer-term clinical studies that have all the components of scientific objectivity. “We have to figure out how to do a double-blind randomized controlled trial.” With support from the EBRPD, Razani has conducted her own research to demonstrate how time outdoors works in the messy context of her patients’ lives. “All this research has been done on nature and health and there’s this real movement in health care, but no one had done the bench-to-bedside work,” she says. In 2015, she enrolled 78 parent-child pairs to spend time in nature three times a week for three weeks. She then randomly divided the group in two, offering one group an additional organized weekly SHINE outing while the other group visited parks independently. At the beginning of the study, a week after its conclusion, and then two months after that, Razani collected information on a range of well-being indicators: questionnaires, saliva swabbing for a common (continued on page 56) stress enzyme, physical activity with a
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Day Pass, $15 per person Children FREE (12 and under)
Tickets available at the gate or in advance on eventbrite.com (Search for “McCormack Ranch”)
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Help Save Burrowing Owls!
JOIN US in our fight to save local burrowing owls, conserve birds and wildlife, and preserve urban and suburban habitat.
(the brain continued from page 54)
pedometer, and adherence to
the program. The results: Stress levels dropped for the majority of participants in both groups, according to cortisol levels and a validated questionnaire. Two months after the study ended all participants reported they were still visiting parks, and the independent group averaged four visits a week, even more than they agreed to during the study. The patients with access to the SHINE group, however, uniquely had significant declines in loneliness. Razani was surprised by her findings. “We thought no one would listen to us. They don’t listen to us on lifesaving medication, so why would they go to parks just because I told them to?” she says. “I learned that it’s a very valuable conversation and empowering. The next step is to do it bigger.” Back on the trail, we’ve turned around at the streambed and we start heading home, a canopy of tree branches overhead. The kids have a list of items to spot and are busy making a game out of looking for spiderwebs and clouds and other common treasures in nature. Razani chats with me about a deeper aim in her work: to not only help her patients feel better as they connect more with nature, but eventually act to protect it. Healing humans and healing the environment go hand in hand. Alison Hawkes is Bay Nature’s contributing editor. To find out more about the Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative go to ebparks.org/Page548.aspx.
Your All-Season Resort in the High Sierra
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345 Shoreway Road, San Carlos Mon – Sat: 7 to 5, Sun: 8 to 4
We’ve moved! Visit us at 345 Shoreway Road, San Carlos
Our human legacy can be measured by the landscapes we leave behind. Please visit bigsurlandtrust.org to learn more about our work and how you can help.
If they don’t know about nature, how can they protect It?
Discovery Youth in Nature Program
YOU can give them science lessons and nature hikes to connect the next generation with nature. Please donate to connect students with nature! (925) 449-8706 • TriValleyConservancy.org
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COMMUNITY ACTION for land and each other
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OUTDOOR ADVENTURES AWAIT
AT LOS VAQUEROS
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Youth for the Environment and Sustainability (YES)
Saturday, February 25, 2017 @ 10 a.m. Bay Area Metro Center • 375 Beale Street, San Francisco Learn more at sparetheairyouth.org
Join hundreds of students like YOU. The Youth for the Environment & Sustainability (YES) Conference is a program of Spare the Air Youth, a partnership of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Registration is now open for the premier environmental conference for Bay Area high-school and middle-school students! j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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California Flora Nursery
Growing California Natives since 1981
Just North of Santa Rosa at Somers & D St, Fulton
Join us for an adventure!
Specializing in California Native Plants and Habitat Restoration Services
The Watershed Nursery
601 A Canal Blvd., Pt. Richmond www.thewatershednursery.com
DISPERSAL Seed Pod Photography Exhibit by Anna Laurent
Fibigia clypeata C
January 17 - 30 | 10 am - 4 pm A
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Y BER ELE K
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www.ospreypeak.com Inverness, CA 94937
University of California Botanical Garden
ERSITY o f
Enjoy the Tranquility of Osprey Peak Bed & Breakfast!
m a r k e t p l a c e
botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu | 510-643-2755 200 Centennial Drive, Berkeley, CA 94720
ask the naturalist m i c h a e l
Todd Pickering, toddpickering.com
q: Why do tule elk drop their antlers every year? Teresa, El Cerrito a: First, what is the difference between horns and antlers? Horns are permanent, they grow from their base up, and both males and females may have them. Many domestic animals like goats, sheep, and cattle have horns. Antlers, on the other hand, are borne only by the male members of the Cervidae (deer) family, including moose, elk, deer, and caribou (with female caribou being an exception to this male-only rule). Antlers grow from their tips, and they fall off and regrow every year. They are made totally of bone, whereas horns are a core of bone surrounded by a sheath of keratin, the same material as fingernails. Antler growth and shedding are closely associated with changes in day
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length. Light travels along the elk’s optic nerve to the pineal gland deep in the brain. Changing day length stimulates the pineal gland, starting a cascade of events that increases or decreases blood levels of the male hormone testosterone. In early spring, as the days start to get longer and male elk have low levels of testosterone, they drop their antlers and almost immediately begin to grow a new set. Over the next few months, increasing day length and testosterone levels cause many changes in male elk—thickening of the neck, aggressive tendencies, an increase in sperm production, and the hardening of the new antlers. As they are developing, antlers are somewhat spongy and covered by a soft, moss-like skin, called velvet, that provides nutrients and oxygen to the growing bone. When people say an elk is “in velvet” this is what they mean. By late summer the antlers are fully developed and the elk rubs the velvet off on small branches, often stabbing at bushes and occasionally digging them up and then prancing around wearing bushes like gigantic hats on their antlers. Antlers are secondary sexual characteristics. They have no function in the day-to-day survival of the animal. But they do send a very clear message: “Not only am I a healthy vigorous buck capable of supporting myself, but I have secured A tule elk antler found at Drakes Estero in 2010.
enough extra nutrients to grow an especially large set of antlers. I am one tough dude!” This message is both an invitation to females and a warning to other males. To mate successfully a male elk must dominate other males. Usually all that’s necessary to assert dominance is a raised head, erect hairs, and a rut-snort or two. Occasionally battles between competing males do take place, and antlers clash, but such scrimmages rarely result in injury. After the breeding season is over, testosterone levels drop. That causes a weakening in the tissue and bone at the antler base (pedicel) to the point where the antlers simply fall off. This process can happen quickly; antlers that are firmly attached one day can weaken and fall off within 24 hours. Even when shed, the antlers still play an important ecological role, as they become sources of calcium and phosphorus to small animals that gnaw on them. But why drop those antlers just to reinvest all that energy the following season? No other mammal can naturally regenerate any lost organ, let alone anything as large and complex as an antler. Scientists have puzzled about this for years and there are several theories but no consensus. Perhaps regrowing gives elk an opportunity to replace antlers that have been damaged. Unlike horns, antlers are brittle, and antler symmetry is important for dominating other males and getting access to females. Also unlike horns, which grow continually, antlers can’t elongate after they have hardened, so annual regeneration allows them to increase in size as the elk themselves grow in physical size. It could be that antlers are simply an evolutionary accident. It just happens that antlers evolved in the unique lineage of the deer family and horns evolved in a different mammalian line. My personal favorite hypothesis is that males exhausted and emaciated by the breeding season look like healthier females when they don’t have antlers, thus throwing off predators hunting weakened males. But frankly we just don’t know why tule elk—and other Cervidae—drop their antlers. j a n ua ry – m a rc h 2 0 1 7
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