Thursday, January 31, 2013

Remembering the 2003 Cedar Fire While Taking my Swedish Driver's License Test

I recently took a Driver's Road Test over here in Sweden and had an experience which brought the Fire & Health news headline into focus. The News headline was on a study of a possible health issue maybe many don't normally consider if they are some distance and seemingly un-effected by immediate fire danger and it's aftermath consequences.  In other words they probably consider themselves as a mere spectator more than anything else when such a catastrophic event takes place locally. Yet that smoke and other resulting toxic fumes can have a huge impact on health as I have personally experienced. The Cedar Fire personally touched my health almost a year afterwards.
Wiki Photo

October 2003 Cedar Fire crosses the I-15 freeway
onto Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar
The Cedar Fire was a human-caused wildfire which burned out of control through a large area of Southern California in October 2003. The blaze was driven by Santa Ana Winds and burned 280,278 acres, 2,820 buildings, and killed 15 people including one firefighter. It was the largest recorded fire in California history. The Cedar Fire was one of 15 fires throughout Southern California in October 2003 burning at once. The collection of fires burned 721,791 acres of land. The Cedar Fire forced the evacuation of the main air traffic control facility for San Diego and Los Angeles, shutting down all commercial air traffic in the area and disrupting air traffic across the United States. It was started by Sergio Martinez of West Covina, California, who claimed he was hunting in the area and had become lost. At first he stated that the fire was started accidentally by a gunshot, but later said he started the fire to signal rescuers. He was convicted of lying to a Federal Officer and sentenced to six months in jail. The total cost of damages from the 15 fires in October 2003 was around 2 billion dollars.

The article in PhysOrg and other journals brought home the very personal reminder of how deadly to one's health these mega-fires can be even when a long way off. Here is the link and forward: 


"Pollution from forest fires is impacting the health of people with asthma and other chronic obstructive lung diseases, finds a study in Biomed Central's open access journal Environmental Health. This study uses data from pharmacies and dispensaries to measure the increase in drugs needed to alleviate symptoms associated with pollution."
Indeed, I remember the morning I found out about the fire. My sister called around 5:00 in the morning saying she was told by authorities to evacuate her Lakeside place and move the horses out. She parked all her vehicles across the street from us and we stayed glued to the televisions set most of that day. That was Sunday and Monday was a work day. They were advising everyone to stay at home for health reasons, but I went to work. The company gave everyone the day off, but I wanted to work. Smoke and ash was thick everywhere, but I felt I was alright because I had one of those temporary paper dust masks you see body shop guys wearing when they're sanding the the Bondo with a power sander. I know it was dumb. It did keep the heavy dust out, but you could definitely feel the effect of the gases in the air. I went home before lunch. It was to much. There was no immediate effect, but from that time on through next summer there was a continual haze which hung in the air back then. The main reason was because the Rainy season of 2003/2004 was lousy as far as rainfall totals. Nothing really washed away all that piled up ash from Octobers fires down the flood channels to the Pacific Ocean. So every time the winds or even just a slight breeze kicked up, there was this constant grey haze in the air that you could get away from and it had a cough effect on many people.

Smoking-Induced Acute Eosinophilic Pneumonia
It was interesting that the article referenced in the link mentioned problems with people who already had health issues. But I think more work should be done on how it can create health problems with folks who previously had no health issues. For me it was miserable all that year long at work. I hated it when the dust kicked up. Even my eyes would get irritated. Then in the Hot Summer of 2004 around the 1st of August it happened. I got pneumonia and the temps had been in the high 90s Fahrenheit, or close to 40 Celsius. Who would have believed it. I had never had it before and thought this was something only caught in wintertime. I was out from work for almost 5 weeks. Even when I could come back, it really took another three months to get over the ailment. Interestingly you can Google cigarette smoke induced pneumonia and find all kinds of references, but I have found nothing on Forest Fire smoke effects. After that experience, my lungs were never the same. When I moved over here to Sweden after getting married, that summer I got what I thought was pneumonia again, but was in reality a form of bronchitis brought on by my wife's two cats. I have always had an allergy to cats all my life, but not with this type of response. I was laid up for a couple months. 

Now suddenly last week while taking my ridiculously expensive Swedish Driver's License driving test, I was required to take an alcohol breath test before we started off down the road and had to blow into a device that would click when the blowing test was finished, but it wouldn't click. I tried several times and no click. The instructor went ahead and did it for me so that the car would run. I also suddenly realized that I no longer have the deeper lung capacity I always had. I ran out of breath before the device would click and I could sense & feel this. Clearly there is more to damaging brush fire smoke fumes on all people than those who would commonly fall under a government at risk list. Hopefully one day they test this out. Watching the News of all the air pollution over in China, I can only imagine what's going on with the average person's lungs there in Beijing. 

Image: Living in a Toxic World
Well, if you are old enough here, remember what it was like in Southern California in the 1960s and driving in L.A. smog congestion ? True, often times today, this smog backs up all the way to the San Bernardino Mountains where it becomes an Inland Empire problem. Still the smog persists, but not as bad as the old days. In some ways it is equal, but only because the population is greater. Can you imagine how bad it would be with 1960s emissions technologies still running the show ? That's where China and India are now, among other third world countries. An interesting point on that smog level in the mountains in the Los Angeles photograph. Notice the smog elevation level against the mountains ? Mountain of the pine forests in Southern California no longer extend lower as they once did. True, these mega-fires have taken a toll on forest cover, but smog was always a continual problem. San Bernardino Mountains have lost numerous Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pine to smog damage. They simply need clean air, most living things do. A former Wildlife Biologist, Tom Roberts, up in Idyllwild in the early 1980s predicted that Idyllwild would loose most of it's pines and his recommendation would be the Giant Sierra Sequoia Redwood as a replacement. Fortunately this hasn't happened YET!

Now getting back to Mega-Fire emergency warnings and heading these. It's also important that you definitely head these warnings even IF you think or feel you know better. I understand the people who want to protect property, but that was a decision you made and knew the consequences of when you first chose to live in these areas. Don't risk either your life or some rescuers life for your stubbornness. You can buy new things, but you can't replace yourself, family and/or your health.

Other Reference Reading:
Science Daily, July 2012: Gas from Pollutants, Forest Fires at Potentially Toxic Levels

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pot Farmers Leave Scars on the Land, so do Professional Land Managers

Credit: University of Miami
Recently, a couple months back that is, the News reports came out around the Autumn of 2012 that revealed how environmentally destructive California's numerous Pot Farms can potentially be to the all the State Parks and National Forests. The problem is that the Farmers behind these Pot Farms are recklessly clearing land, creating illegal diversion of streams and other creeks for irrigation purpose, there are countless uses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides which pollute both land and water and kill wildlife. And of course not to mention all the trash and other refuse they leave behind on the land itself. But it's the land clearing that has the longest lasting impact. It may take over a century for the scars to disappear and even that is never a guarantee. Disruption of the mycorrhizal grid system underground may put off any healthy growth and recovery. 

A couple days ago, Biologist Richard Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute posted a picture of an area of the Hwy 74 Idyllwild Grade that I hadn't seen in a while. This was after I had posted some historical photos taken from the Riverside County Museum website of old pictures of the San Jacinto Mountains on his page. We were making comparisons to how the land has changed from the past up to the present day. Here's the map he posted of the region on that Hwy 74 that crosses Strawberry Creek.

Credit: Richard Halsey & Google Maps

You can actually go to Google Maps your self and play around with this map, but there are some interesting features of scars on the landscape I wish to point out. First the ones hidden, but visible on closer inspection.

Google Maps

Strawberry Creek Bridge on Hwy 74
Now as you look at that map, here is an explanation for you to get your bearings. This Satellite is looking down from East (at the bottom) and west (at the top of the map). Strawberry Creek is that loop in the Highway 74 at the top. The green densely vegetated strip from that loop in the highway us Strawberry Creek coming out of Idyllwild in higher elevations on the right side of the map. This is a close up link of the loop in the Highway 74 HERE . Now if you zoom out and on a wider angle and follow the Creek on the map north towards the direction of Idyllwild which would be moving up the creek away from the highway, there is an old homestead dirt road on the west side of this creek. It's blocked off with boulders and cannot be accessed by vehicle. The road finally dead ends at a large Canyon Live Oak Tree. Now on that map, take a visual across that creek (you'd be heading east if on foot) from that point and look up the mountainside on Google Earth and magnify the image by clicking on the Zoom feature. You should see this here -> a terraced hillside Pot Farm or at least a very old one. You can actually Zoom in much closer and get a better idea of the scars left by the Pot Farm Terracing Details from I believe decades ago, although it still somehow looks to be in use still from the vigorous plant growth. You will see all the trails leading up to it and leading away in other directions. Possibly some trails are escape routes or even irrigation corridors for siphoning off water from Strawberry or some other upper elevation creek or water source which is necessary for the gravity feed scheme of irrigation. I remember this from way back a long time ago, but it is interesting that the physical damage done still remains. I couldn't find any news from the raid if there was one. Maybe this is still being used, I have no idea. But I often pick up these type anomalies from time to time when I'm searching for things that intrigue my curiosity on a topic of nature. 

In San Diego County I also use to run into these Pot Farms, active or abandoned. Some I found on Guatay Mountain off of Olde Hwy 80 when I went searching for some viable Tecate Cypress (Cupressus forbesii). Guatay Mountain is about as old growth a plant community you'd ever want to bushwack in. This area has a strange reputation for never being burnt in a large brush fire. That would certainly explain the very old growth of all Chaparral which look more like trees than common brush. Last time I was there before moving here in 2005, I found that someone had cut a fresh trail into the first grove of Tecate Cypress above the Highway. Along the way I saw freshly buried white 1&1/2 inch PVC irrigation pipe. Hmmmm, needless to say I didn't stay long. Stuff like that spooks me. To bad, because that area had some of the most beautiful old growth healthy looking Tecate Cypress trees I've ever seen and the seed source was wonderful. Oh well, some descendants are now in El Cajon in scattered localities. *smile*

Would you like to know what what else you'll find in those old growth forests of Tecate Cypress up on Guatay Mountain ? Well, when you are out bushwacking up there in and around the existing forest pockets, you will stumble upon numerous examples of small Tecate Cypress seedlings of varying ages throughout the area, just like the one here in the picture by the U.S. Forest Service. Yes I know, I've heard all the old wives tales repeated on how ONLY FIRE can cause or trigger germination and that is why prescribed burning is important and necessary for these areas. This untrue philosophy is often parroted by an ignorant public who often comment on fire stories in the Newspaper headlines. Never underestimate the power of propaganda. But so much for that theory when you see these seedlings for yourself. Yes, of course the Cypress cones do burst open and release perhaps millions of seeds which produce possible 10s of 1000s of seedlings which will all compete for later establishment and regenerate a new forest. But that doesn't explain the seedling presence in these old growth Tecate/Chaparral settings. Perhaps the cones open during extremely hot weather periods. But I also saw the first time I was there some little small grey brown bird pecking at some of these cones. Unfortunately I have no clue as to what type of bird it was. However, perhaps some seeds do escape and make their way to just the right location and germinate successfully. I do know that the bird however, wasn't a ScrubJay or Woodpecker. Those would be the obvious choices. But it was interesting to find all manner of differing aged Tecate Cypress in an old growth setting as this.

Photo Credit: Riverside County Museum
Idyllwild Grade Rd at the turn of the century. Notice the horse drawn wagon  navigating the old dirt road and passing along what looks to be a previous brushfire ? No doubt some Cowboy flicked his home made Clint Cigar stub into the bush when he was through with it. Humans never change. Also notice the thick complete cover of the old growth chaparral which still exists in this photo before any government mismanagement policy of firebreak construction. Okay, back to the Dry Creek Canyon of the San Jacinto Mountains and the old Idyllwild Grade Road at the turn of the Century. We could say the same thing about land scaring that was done a century ago and still present. The present Land Management practices have not changed much from those old historical fire and land management policies  which at the time thought to be  the Good Science, but in reality nothing more than ignorant science of almost a century ago. Newer findings have proven these methods to be a waste of both time and money. Much of the early and present day control or prescribed burns are done in the middle of nowhere fare away from any housing or other commercial development. There are no immediate threats to civilization where there are only wildlife present. 

Former Idyllwild Biologist
Tom Roberts
now retired
and Author
I remember back when I still lived up in Idyllwild. I became friends with Steve Raybould who was the prescribe Burns boss who lived in Alandale north of Pine cove and Wildlife Biologist, Tom Roberts who as always at odds in some political infighting going on within the forestry. Tom was responsible for much of the restoration of grasslands back into Garner Valley which if you saw an old photo of it when it was horribly mismanaged, looked more like a sandy wash you'd see in the deserts below. He also was instrumental with building that wildlife pond at the east end of the Valley in between Fobes Ranch Rd and Morris Ranch Rd on the north side of Hwy 74 and across the other side of the creek bed. I noticed on the Google satellite photo that the pond is now dry. It was somehow spring fed before, but things change. I also notice that just next to it in the photo is some Equestrian Club. Probably those Horseback riders based in Anza, called the Adenostoma sparsifolium Adventurers! *smile* Below is a quote from an interview of Tom and why he left the forest service who he was always at odds with and their *cough-cough* business partners who wanted to develop the mountains even more, like putting the present Anza Hamilton High School in the middle of Garner Valley. I remember sitting in his office in the old U.S. forest Service building which is now the local paper TownCrier headquarters, and listening as he related some of the stupid idiocy the Forest Service was becoming. In fact the book author interview below pretty much sums up some of the stuff he and I talked about back then. 
Reporter Mary Rees: 
"Why did you leave the Forest Service ?"
 Tom Roberts:
"The Forest Service was getting very politicized during the Reagan years. It was frustrating to be in a conservation position in any agency that had become very commodity-driven. Most of the Forest Service employees are driven by a stewardship mission to wisely use the resources. You can log old growth trees if you leave some of the trees for the spotted owls; you can graze cattle if you leave enough forage for deer to eat. But there was pressure to over-utilize both."
Tom Roberts must be 66 years old by now. He was 63 at the time of the 2010 interview and his latest book release. "Drake's Bay". He and Steve Raybould co-authored a couple of Forest Service publications together. I don't know what ever became of Steve, he was transferred to Los Padres National forest region. But here are some examples of their work with the understanding of things at the time related to prescribed burns. Things sure have come a long way since then. And yet with newer understanding with how nature works, the old school ideology prevails. The report has mostly to do with safety and protection more than anything. I will say one thing. Tom and Steve were always critical of the California Division of Forestry and their mismanagement of Control Burns which were well known for getting out of control and damaging precious habitat and destroying natural processes of tree movement into Chaparral country. I'll have a post on that when I come out to visit in April. Prime example is up on Keen Camp Summit on Hwy 74. There is actually a side by side example of Prescribe Burned land next to a 1982 wildfire Mountain Center burn which was mostly on private land ownership. The private land was left untouched, and by that I mean no trees planted to replace any lost. There are quadruple the large Jeffrey Pine and Coulter on these lands where Ceanothus chaparral grew up around the trees, than the Forest Serviced Managed lands. Do a quick Google at Jct hwy 74 & Keen Camp Rd which leads to "Living Free Pet Sanctuary" and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Photo Credit: Riverside Historical Museum
Same Idyllwild Grade Rd (Hwy 74), but now notice all the extensive firebreak construction. Idyllwild is surrounding by an extensive network of firebreaks. In the 1990s, a brushfire which started in Bee Canyon which is down stream from this photo in the distance and to the right caused a major evacuation of Idyllwild. No amount of firebreaks would have saved anything. They actually got lucky with a shift in wind from the west to a southeasterly monsoonal flow which pushed the fire back onto itself. Still, the prescribed burn and firebreak construction meant absolutely nothing in the end. 

Photo Credit: Richard Halsey
These scars almost never heal and scaring of canyon ridge lines offer nothing of value in the wilderness areas of Chaparral country within any National Forest. A firefighter would have to be an idiot to make a stand in such a location, especially given these later day Mega-fire weather conditions which have been exacerbated by the climate change variables. These older scars from the historical photos from Riverside Historical Museum are still present as you can see for yourself on a drive along hwy 74.
Here is the latest Fire Management and Chaparral Controversy subject matter that Chaparral Biologist Richard Halsey has been presenting to the public. This link is the report by the California Board of Forestry & Fire Protection. 
"Vegetation Treatment Program Environmental Impact Report" (VTPEIR)
Further reference reading on Land mismanagement and scaring of landscape

Chaparral Institute: Fire Science
Chaparral Institute: Protecting Your Home From fire
United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner Eastern District Of California Environmental Charges Filed In Marijuana Cultivation Cases
Are California's Pot Farms Bad for the Planet?
Ventana Wild - "The Fire Scar"

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Who Knew ? Trees are not only Good to Inspire You, They are Necessary for Your Health and Well Being

Credit: Me!
Gunnebo Estate in Göteborg Sweden where I visited last Spring. Evidence indicates how important trees are in the environment and to human health. Who knew that euphoric feeling you get when you surround yourself within such an environment was actually good for you and not just your imagination ? Of course this is nothing new and no one needs any science report to convince them of the truth of this fact. However, earlier in 2011 the online journal Science Daily had an article titled:
Green Environments Essential for Human Health, Research Shows
Now newer research as reported by the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station suggests that Trees and Human health go hand in hand. Funny, this is something gardeners and landscapers have known all along. There is no doubt that more study is needed as to some of the mechanical components of just how all of this works, but clearly people in such a healthy forested or at least vegetative environment health-wise fair much better. When I look at some cities around the globe that are jam packed with human beings and the total lack of any type of vegetation and the misery suffered in those areas for various reasons, it makes you wonder the "What If ?" or "Who Knew ?" questions!

Credit: Dan Herms Ohio State University
A tree lined street in Toledo, Ohio in 2006,
 before emerald ash borer infestation

Credit Dan Herms Ohio State University

Three years later in 2009, after the invasive
 spread to the neighborhood.

The Relationship Between Trees and Human Health Evidence from the Spread of the Emerald Ash Borer

Portland, Oregon January 16, 2013. 
Evidence is increasing from multiple scientific fields that exposure to the natural environment can improve human health. In a new study by the U.S. Forest Service, the presence of trees was associated with human health. 
For Geoffrey Donovan, a research forester at the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, and his colleagues, the loss of 100 million trees in the eastern and midwestern United States was an unprecedented opportunity to study the impact of a major change in natural environment on human health. 
In an analysis of 18 years of data from 1,296 counties in 15 states, researchers found that Americans living in areas infested by the emerald ash borer, a beetle that kills ash trees, suffered from an additional 15,000 deaths from Cardiovascular disease and 6,000 more deaths from lower respiratory disease when compared to uninfected areas. When emerald ash borer comes into a community, city streets lined with ash trees become treeless. 
The researchers analyzed demographic, human mortality, and forest health data at the county level between 1990 and 2007. The data came from counties in states with at least one confirmed case of emerald ash borer in 2010. The findings -- which hold true after accounting for the influence of demographic differences, like income, race, and education -- are published in the current issue of American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 
"There's a natural tendency to see our findings and conclude that, surely, the higher mortality rates are because of some confounding variable, like income or education, and not the loss of trees," said Donovan, "But we saw the same pattern repeated over and over in counties with very different demographic makeups." 
Although the study shows association between loss of trees and human mortality from cardiovascular and lower respiratory disease, it did not prove a causal link. The reason for the association is yet to be determined. 
The emerald ash borer was first discovered near Detroit, Michigan, in 2002. The borer attacks all 22 species of North american ash and kills virtually all of the trees it infests. - The study was conducted in collaboration with David Butry, with National Institute of Standards and Technology; Yvonne Michael, with Drexel University; and Jeffrey Prestemon, Andrew Liebold, Demetrios Gatziolis, and Megam Mao, with the Forest Service's Southern, Northern, and Pacific Northwest Research Stations."
(SOURCE): Tree and human health may be linked Contact: Jeffrey Donovan, (503) 808-2043,

Media Assistance: Yasmeen Sands, (360) 753-7716,

Despite Reports to the Contrary, Invasive Plants will Cause Natives to go Extinct

Credit: James Cornwell
Native plants on a California reserve. Most natives are on mounding islands where they are trying to hang on. Once the mycorrhizal network grid system within the chaparral plant community has been replaced by a bacterial one, this actually favours the invasive annual weeds which thrive in such an environment. The California natives simply cannot compete. Sadly, it's not just the ignorant activities of the early cattle ranching pioneers who deliberately made an irresponsible business decision to alter the chaparral & oak woodland landscape to a grassland-scape using foreign grass species from Europe to feed more cattle than the land could support, but also the irresponsible actions today by what should be educated & informed Forestry Officials utilizing bad science to control mega-fires through a  proven flawed method called prescribed burns that have actually exacerbated the problem causing invasive weeds to spread rapidly.

California Chaparral Institute

Photo: Maureen Gilmer

See Link Below:

Tamarisk, helpful to settlers, but pest in the long run

There is a war raging across the planet to stop the invasive species  from other countries from invading other lands. There is no country or region of the planet which has not been effected. For example, for all you south-westerners who demonize the Tamarisk for destroying 10s of 1000s of acreage of riparian habits in your desert regions, you should know that your beloved Mesquite is a horrible  invasive species in Asia and Africa where Tamarisk comes from. Both trees are wonderful plants in the correct balanced setting, but put the blame where it really belongs, on human idiocy, not the plants. Agribusiness in the United States had the bright idea years ago to bring Tamarisk over to the desert regions to create windbreaks. In their ignorance they never once utilized their powers of observation to consider the actual resources available around them that nature creates natural barriers like the Mesquite Mounds which could have been replicated by the constructing of large berms running for miles along fields and/or along roads and railway right-of-ways with various native mesquites, palo verdes ironwoods, etc. 
Southern Xinjiang Railway
The example of utilizing a berm next to a railroad by use of heavy equipment has been done in China as the photo to the right proves. Extend this further back and plant with southwest natives and an artificial Mesquite dune could have been created for further height next to the Coachella Valley Southern Pacific or Interstate 10 right-of-ways. But it's the Mesquite from the southwest that has ruined the landscape in Africa and India where it has spread like an invasive weed, thanks to the bright idea of the United Nations (another inept made made organization). Here is what the Invasive Species Council based in Australia had to say on this matter.

"Aid agencies face pressure to provide quick solutions to long-term problems, so they recommend plants that thrive on degraded lands - in other words, plants with the attributes of weeds," Mr Low said today.
"Mesquite, a prickly firewood tree heavily promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, is now causing great suffering in Africa, where it is invading farmland and national parks."
"Sudan has passed a law to eradicate it, and Kenya and Ethiopia have declared it a noxious weed," Invasive species Biologist Tim Low said. 

Lately I've noticed, in the face of Climate Change and Global Warming alarm, that there are a number of movements out there trying to downplay the dangers of change and invasive species as not being all that bad and we should accept the inevitable. We should learn to live with these consequences and adapt to the change. That is bunk. I'll never except human stupidity and make excuses and concessions for it. There has even been an attempt to downplay the bad role that invasives will play in destroying native species from their traditional habitats. Yet a new study came from the University of Toronto, shedding light on the reality of the serious situation and exposing the falsehood of that propaganda.

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Ecologists at the University of Toronto and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) have found that, given time, invading exotic plants will likely eliminate native plants growing in the wild despite recent reports to the contrary. 
 A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reports that recent statements that invasive plants are not problematic are often based on incomplete information, with insufficient time having passed to observe the full effect of invasions on native biodiversity. 
 "The impacts of exotic plant invasions often take much longer to become evident than previously thought," says Benjamin Gilbert of U of t's Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and lead author of the study. "This delay can create an 'extinction debt' in native plant species, meaning that these species are going extinct but the actual extinction event occurs hundreds of years after the initial invasion." 
 Much of the debate surrounding the threat posed to biodiversity by the invasions of non-native species is fueled by recent findings that competition from introduced  plants has driven remarkably few plants to extinction. Instead, native plant species in invaded ecosystems are often relegated to patchy, marginal habitats unsuitable to their non-native competitors. 
 However, Gilbert and co-author Jonathan Levine of ETH Zurich say that it is uncertain whether colonization and extinction dynamics of the plants in marginal habitats will allow long-term native persistence. - "Of particular concern is the possibility that short term persistence of native flora in invaded habitats masks eventual extinction," says Levine. 
 The researchers conducted their research in a California reserve where much of the remaining native plant diversity exists in marginal areas surrounded by invasive grasses. They performed experiments in the reserve and coupled their results with quantitative models to determine the long term impacts of invasive grasses on native plants. 
"Invasion has created isolated 'islands of native plants' in a sea of exotics," says Gilbert. "This has decreased the size of native habitats, which reduces seed production and increases local extinction. It also makes it much harder for native plants to recolonize following a local extinction." 
"Our research also allows us to identify how new habitats for native flora could be created that would prevent extinction from happening. These habitats would still be too marginal for invaders, but placed in such a way as to create 'bridges' to other habitat patches," says Gilbert. 
The findings are reported in the paper "Plant Invasions and Extinction Debts" in PNAS Early Edition this week. The research is supported by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Packard Foundation. -
Credit: James Cornwell
Once again take note of the Chaparral islands which were referred to in the above article. Many of these chaparral islands also contain a native type of bi-colored sunflower called "Tidy Tips" which are also endangered as seen here in yellow on those mounds. This is the beautiful green time of year in California chaparral country. The lush looking meadows are however mostly made up of annual non-natives which will dry up and turn brown in summer. It's these plants which burn like gasoline during mega-fire season and it's generally the chaparral which gets the blame. Modern government mismanagement practices and policies have made this spread of invasives far worse as the latest article in  the online journal "Our Amazing Planet" and interview with Richard Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute  have revealed. 
OUR AMAZING PLANET: "Fighting Fires: You're Doing It Wrong"

Credit:  Benjamin Gilbert

Many long time native Californians will remember this plant from the old days when they were once plentiful. The flower is called "Tidy Tips" (Layia platyglossa) and they were heavily growing on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon when I was growing up as a kid in the 1960s. Unfortunately there is not a single plant existing up there any longer. I know because when I visited California in 2011, I made a deliberate attempt to look for it. What I remember most about the thick patches of them which grew interspersed with California Buckwheat & Coastal Sagebrush which also contained some Sea Lavender, was the biodiversity of insects, especially the butterflies population varieties which were very heavy. They too are now gone.

Credit: Me!!!
The beautiful bicoloured "Tidy Tips" were always thick and dense at the top of this street where that SUV is now parked, all the way halfway up this mountain. The yellow you now see is a mix of non-native MustardStar ThistleFoxtail grasses and so forth. Other than the coastal sage scrub, most annual wild flowers are long gone, including the Blue Bells which use to sprout the next spring after a brushfire. Above that parked SUV is a naturalized Palo Verde Tree which volunteered from a seed source of a 50 year old Palo Verde tree to the far left of the SUV, but which is out of the picture. I'll give that one a pass.
Further references:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How the Major Historical World Empires Have "Ruined the Earth"

Credit: NPR
An aerial view of the Suncor oil sands extraction facility on the banks of the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada, in 2009. Scientists say contaminants found at the bottom of lakes in Alberta are from air pollutants from the facilities responsible for producing and processing tar sans oil. By all means read the story and click on the radio link on that page from the link below.
Deep In Canadian Lakes, Signs Of Tar Sands Pollution
The photo above of Suncor's Oil Sands Operations in Alberta Canada is certainly something very well known in the News Reports these day. While there is certainly much focus on the land desecration, water contamination and potential for eventual end result of air pollution, this wasn't necessarily the first things that came to my mind when viewing the photos and reading the article. Although the article from "npr" is informative and certainly exposes the usual irresponsible behavior by some of this world's largest Industrial Corporations, but there was something else that caught my eye in the next photograph. Take a long hard look at the photo below and what outstanding feature do you see that is rarely addressed. You'll have to look real hard. If it was a rattlesnake, you'd be dead by now. Yes of course the Oil Industry and it's obsession with continuing it's monopoly of energy production is always there. Of course the consequences of pollution in the form of higher CO2s  (everyone's flavourite topic) resulting in warmer Temps seems to be the main focus, but again, even those are minuscule compared to what is present in the background inside that photo. It's that tree line in the background which covers the entire picture from left to right. I often wonder if people really do comprehend the vast amount of forest land destruction destruction that is going on and whether all vegetation disruption is truly accounted for by those who create the data and charts which illustrate the historical magnitude of the problem.
The Shell Oil Jackpine Open Pit Mine uses trucks that are 3 stories tall, weigh 1 million pounds and cost $7 million each. There is explosive growth in the oil field areas around Fort McMurrayAlberta, Canada.
Credit: NPR
I suppose it's easy to miss. It's simply a thin looking charcoal gray line, looking more like some meaningless vibrational resonance frequency on a Richter-Scale chart. Unfortunately people today have short attention spans and failing memories of what the natural world use to look like. Some younger generations have no clue as to what the natural world once looked like because it simply no longer exists in many areas as it once did. Even being shown some of the  historical pictures, it's still hard to impress upon them the grave seriousness of the problem. On my other blog I have documented what Science has actually discovered about how a healthy forest  is the ultimate climate driving mechanism with all of it's various complex weather modification components. Proof of this is the present Geo-engineering technologies which replicate what trees, shrubs and other vegetation actually accomplish. The Earth in the past has been able to put up with a lot of misuse and abuse. In the past most of the devastation took place in localized geographical locations. So changes to climate were mostly micro-climate oriented, from which recovery could be much more possible. Today however, countless localized disruptions taken together as a whole over the past century, have now influenced the Earth's climate on a macro level which now has proven to have effected the entire global weather mechanism. Suddenly, there is no easy fast fix. That's why so many stupid  "Fit-It-Pill" approaches have been suggested as a desperate quick fix. The Geniuses on this planet know full well it takes time to rebuild these natural systems back to their former glory, but economies cannot be touched for fear of riots and discontent in the streets. So real solutions to changing behavior are not really ever presented on the table other than the usual lip service for the public record to show they cared.

Let's look at some of the historical disastrous Empire building and maintenance issues problems from the past and compare them to today's Global World Power which is basically the USA/Britain alliance. Not long ago and I believe it was last year, the reports came out about just what killed off the Mayan and Aztec Empires. True the Spanish came and finished them off completely, but they were in decline before that and the reason was deforestation followed by severe drought which destroyed their agriculture. Do your own Google and you'll find several studies that came out last year. However for a short clip from NASA on this explanation, please view the video below. Seriously, you've got a minute & 22 seconds.

Credit Wiki

Bonito Pueblo
The Anasazi geological regions of the American Southwestern area called the Colorado Plateau also holds some pertinent clues as to their gradual demise and eventual downfall and collapse. There is a huge evidence for deforestation on that Colorado plateau area, though it may be difficult to believe when you visit this area today. Mostly it is a high desert scene, but at one time was forested by Ponderosa Pine, Pinyon Pine and Juniper. However none of these trees exist in many of these areas once formerly covered with such vegetation. A major clue comes not only from the timbers used in Pueblo construction, but also the now ancient abandoned Packrat Middens which are a collection of local site vegetation and objects. Many of these contain Pinyon needles and Ponderosa Pine cones along with other vegetation debris which indicates a wetter climate. Today mostly the vegetation covered is Silver Sagebrush.


Cyrene Libya
Getting back to Empire Building, the Ottoman Empire deforested tremendous amounts of land for utilizing wood to run their Empire's Steam Train Locomotives which connected the empire from extensive distances. The demise of Cedar of Lebanon & Aleppo Pine forests which were once vast are now today only a fraction of their former glory. But constant changing of Empires or world powers of Assyria, Babylon, Egyptian, Medo-Persia, Greece and finally Roman world empires all took their own toll. If I could just focus on the Roman Empire and a major part of it's reason for it's collapse. All World Powers are desperate for wealth creation in order to maintain their status as 'THE' prevailing World Power. Rome was no different and in many ways some of the things they did were similar to the present. But prior to Rome there was a small but powerful Kingdom of Carthage and a leader named Hannibal who fought against Rome early on. He used Elephants in his military campaign. While there is speculation and debate as to the actual breed of elephant, there was no doubt and evidence of a species of elephant in North Africa. Of course these are now extinct, along with other Savanna animals and the forests which once existed in Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. Again, back then North African was a whole different place. Sub-Tropical and Mediterranean Oak Savanna dominated along with coniferous forests in mountain regions, the remnants of which still exist in smaller geographical pockets. But Rome had ambitions of Empire Building for which Oak Forests made for excellent Ship Building for moving merchant goods and troops throughout the Mediterranean. Incredibly there are similarities to the ancient Roman Empire and the present Anglo-American world power. Take a look at this link and a quote below.
BBC News: "The Role of Deforestation in the Fall of Rome"
Deforestation in Warfare 
Finally, conquering generals such as Julius Caesar often found that native tribes in Gaul or Britain would simply escape them by running off into the forests and launching surprise attacks when they tried to set up camp. To solve the problem, many generals simply took the easy route and burned down the forest. Many thousands of acres were cleared this way by Caesar alone.

Operation Ranch Hand

Is it just me or does anyone else see an uncanny similarity by the Pax-Romana  Empire and the present ruling Pax Americana Empire to the Vietnam War and the use of Agent Orange ? There are numerous examples of deforestation, but one wonders when all the historical data is tallied, what exactly is considered deforestation criteria other than the usual logging estimates ? Are all the wars and the forest fires included on those lists ? At the present moment there are once again devastating wildfires in Australia. Every year the same situation exists in the southwestern United States. Are these also included as deforestation ? How about the millions of acres burned in Russia a couple years ago ? Here's a new one. Are all the irresponsible land management policies of prescribed or control burns included ? How about Brush mastication by means of grinding, chain pulling, bulldozing etc, are these also included on those lists ? Then of course there are the usual irresponsible land management practices of millions of private landowners with weekend farms or Ranchettes ?  All of these vegetation systems are mechanisms by which our planet's entire climate structure and mechanisms are based, aside from the usual Natural Laws of physics like the Coriolis effect, High & Low Pressure centers etc. If you don't believe that forests are the reason for much of Earth's cloud formation and rainfall creation, the Google for yourself ALL of the Patents of the globes major Weather Modification Companies and the innovations they have created which mimic how nature accomplishes these things, but on a more condensed or concentrated level.

The big problem today is that the present world (USA/Britain) power is probably the last the Earth will ever see. Expansion on our globe is complete and there is basically nowhere else to explore and conquer. All that the former Imperialistic Colonizing countries can now do is manipulate the present regimes in 3rd world lands they once dominated over who are still rich in natural resources. And it's these resources which will continue to keep the present world power's economy afloat, for a while longer anyway. As the links showed, the Romans depleted their Empire's dominion of it's easiest to obtain raw materials with the technologies they had available to them at the time. No doubt their various actions across their empire did create bad localized weather anomalies which were devastating on Agricultural endeavors. And it is Agriculture more than all else that will control people's lives more than any luxury goods business ventures. Hmmmm, isn't there a  Henry Kissinger 1970  quote here somewhere ? Of course, GMOs are a whole other issue in the power grab game! But now getting back to actual subject of our above post News Report of the devastating effects of the Oil Sands/Shale Industry Operations, it doesn't appear like things will get better anytime soon. Here is a quote from a recent News article on the status of Oil or Tar Sands Projects:
BBC News: "US oil production 'to jump by a quarter by 2014'
The US will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest oil producer "by around 2020", an International Energy Agency (IEA) report predicted at the end of last year.
In fact, global oil production will rise, thanks to the discovery of shale oil.
 "Total oil production is about to rise," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, told the BBC.
 "We estimate total oil production to reach about 100 million barrels a day, about 20 million higher than today. 
"This growth comes from unconventional [shale] oil." 
 The discovery of shale oil means global oil production will not peak in the next 20 years, Mr Birol added. 

(Photo: Peter Essick)
A nature environmental photographer who specializes in global warming shots snapped these amazing aerials of the Athabasca Oil Sands, a crude oil mine that underlays much of the the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada. The mine extracts tar from the sands to create synthetic oil. Don't worry though, those trees weren't a total waste. Somebody somewhere made some quick cash off the deal.
Can anyone fathom how destructive such an increase in this Tar Sands industry will have on Earth and it's ecosystems ?  Pumping oil was one thing. A hole bored into the earth in multiple locations along with the usual contaminants is certainly bad enough. But wholesale strip mining on a scale that makes old time mineral strip mines look like gopher holes by comparison. How long will it take nature's weather mechanisms for grow back and be fully functional once again ? Could any of this wholesale removal of forests had anything to do with the horrendous droughts in North America last year ? And will there truly be any improvement on those evil CO2 releases that they fight about at some of their bogus Climate Change Conferences where they usually argue about who's economy is going to out perform the others ? Does anyone believe the Nations are really serious about Climate change ? Is there as yet any historical precedent to prove they will change their Economy first at any and all costs for the sake of Earth's natural environment ? No! Too bad none of their Ideologically driven ambassadors include people with  the same opinion as Roman Poet Caecilius Statius (220 BC-166 BC) who said, 
"We plant trees not for ourselves, but for future generations."
Reading References: 

Encylopedia of Earth: "Mediterranean conifer and mixed forests"

BBC News: "The Role of Deforestation in the Fall of Rome"

University of Tennessee: "The Mysterious Disappearance of the Anasazi "

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pesticides and Parkinson's: UCLA researchers uncover further proof of a link

credit: UCLA Newsroom
Study Suggests Potential New Target in Fight Against Debilitating Disease. The fertile soils of California's Central Valley has long made it famous as one of the nation's prime crop growing regions. But it's not just the soil that allows for such productivity. Crops like potatoes, dry beans and tomatoes have long been protected from bugs and weeds by the fungicide maneb, and the herbicide paraquat which have been linked to Parkinson's Disease. Now another chemical cousin, Benomyl is suspect.

By Mark Wheeler - January 03, 2013

For several years, neurologists at UCLA have been building a case that a link exists between pesticides and Parkinson's disease. To date, paraquat, menab, and ziram - common chemicals sprayed in California's Central Valley and elsewhere - have been tied to increases in the disease,  not only among farmworkers, but in individuals who simply lived or worked near fields and likely inhaled drifting particles. 
 Now UCLA researchers have discovered a link between Parkinson's and another chemical, benomyl, whose toxicological effects still linger some 10 years after the chemical was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 
Even more significantly, the research suggests that the damaging series of events set in motion by benomyl may also occur in people with Parkinson's disease who were never exposed to the pesticide, according to Jeff Bronstein, senior author of the study and a professor of neurology at UCLA, and his colleagues. 
Benomyl exposure, they say, starts a cascade of cellular events that may lead to Parkinson's. The pesticide prevents and enzyme called ALDH (aldehyde dehydrogenase) from keeping a lid on DOPAL, a toxin that naturally occurs in the brain. When left unchecked by ALDH, DOPAL accumulates, damages neurons and increases and individual's risk of developing Parkinson's. 
The research is published in the current online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Parkinson's disease is a debilitating neurodegenerative disorder that effects millions worldwide. It's symptoms - including tremor, rigidity, and slowed movements and speech - increase with the progressive degeneration of neurons, primarily in a part of the mid-brain called the substantia nigra. This area normally produces Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that allows cells to communicate, and damage to the mid-brain has been linked to the disease. Usually, by the time Parkinson's symptoms manifest themselves, more than half of these neurons, known as dopaminergic neurons, have already been lost. - While researchers have identified certain genetic variations that cause an inherited form of Parkinson's, only a small fraction of the disease can be blamed on genes, said the study's first author, Arthur G. Fitzmaurice, a postdoctoral scholar in Bronstein's laboratory.

 "As a result, environmental factors almost certainly play an important role in this disorder," Fitzmaurice said. "Understanding the relevant mechanisms - particularly what causes the selective loses of dopaminergic neurons - may provide important cluse to explain how the disease develops."

Credit: Science Daily
I remember in the 1980s staying at friends house on 40 acres west of Brawley California and being woken up by early morning aerial spraying by Crop Duster Planes. The fumes were sickening as they drifted over to their property. Who knows what the product used and how bad it truly was. I guess Cesar Chavez was right all along, wasn't he ? My great uncle had Parkinson's Disease. Now I wonder how he may have been exposed.

Past Research on this subject:

High Risk of Parkinson's disease for people exposed to pesticides near workplace.

Study first to implicate pesticide ziram as possible cause for disease By Mark Wheeler May 26, 2011
Pesticide Exposure Found to Increase the Risk of Parkinson's Disease

Study finds exposure may have occurred years before symptoms appear By Mark Wheeler April 20, 2009