In the beginning this blog was centered on San Francisco parks and open space issues with special emphasis on natural areas and natural history. Over time it began to range into other areas and topics. As you can see, it is eclectic, as I interlace it with topics of interest to me.

I welcome feedback: just click this link to reach me.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Acute fire danger in San Francisco, by Jake Sigg

Everyone loves to plant trees, and we don't like to see them cut down.  But what was considered civic improvement a hundred years ago now appears a bad dream as unanticipated problems surface.  The hundreds of Tasmanian blue gums (Eucalyptus globulus) we planted in the city have been proliferating into the thousands and silently putting on bulk and weight for decade after decade, so that what was hundreds of pounds of biomass became hundreds of tons, then tens of thousands of tons.  Enter an extended drought, to which the tree--from year-round-rainfall in Tasmania--is unaccustomed.

The tree's performance until recent years seemed convincing evidence that the blue gum was adapted to our climate.  However, the 150 years it has been in California is insufficient time for nature to pronounce judgment on its suitability for local conditions.  The freezes of 1932, 1972, and 1990 gave warning that it is unlikely to endure the test of time, as the tree sustained heavy damage in those freezes, while native vegetation survived unharmed.  Now we are experiencing drought, which seems bad but is actually mild compared to others California has seen--some lasting decades or centuries.  Indigenous plants have it in their genetic memory to survive the dry periods (as opposed to higher temperatures, a different subject).

A good place to view the tree's drought problems is along O'Shaughnessy Boulevard in Glen Canyon.  Tree crowns are thinning or dying and leaves are discolored and shedding-- and they were exhibiting these symptoms even in the spring growing season!  The presence of juvenile coppice shoots all along the trunk is a signal that the tree is in trouble.  (Just what causes coppice shoots to form in response to stress is not clear.)  Some of the trees are dead, others will be dying this year, but most will be dying in the next two to three years, a delayed reaction to the concealed internal damage

What we have is a crisis, but one not recognized as such.  Large groves of dead and dying trees present a problem to city government.  If a fire were to start in, say, Glen Canyon, the potential is there for it to develop into a crown fire, where flames reach the topmost canopy.  Long strips of annually-shed bark have been documented carrying fire 12 miles.  Should the groves catch fire--especially if aided by the dry winds commonly experienced from the northeast in October-November (remember Oakland, October 1991.)--the flames and embers could be carried all over the city and even to the East Bay. 

Is this too dramatic a scenario?  Set the whole city afire--a General Alarm fire?  All the elements are present and all it takes is the right combination to produce a perfect storm.  Perfect storms do happen.  Are we willing to gamble on their not happening?

The stress on the trees of Mt Sutro and Mt Davidson is a little less because of copious fog drip and smothering blankets of ivy and blackberry with relatively high moisture content.  However, even here the situation cannot be ignored for long.  We may be lucky and get to the rainy season without a calamity, but the problem of thousands of dead and dying trees is still there.  The City  will eventually be compelled to act.  There are several hundred trees each in the Glen Canyon grove and Bayview Hill, several large groves in McLaren Park, plus smaller groves scattered around the city under various ownerships.  All told, it's well into the thousands (there are 11,000 on Mt Davidson alone).

How can San Francisco come up with the money?  Situations like this is what the Federal Emergency Management Agency was created for.  But FEMA doesn't mail checks on request.  The City must first develop a plan and funds must be applied for.  There is no plan, and none proposed, because the problem is not recognized.  The trees aren't waiting while San Francisco develops a proposal.

I confidently predict that nothing will be done, because a) City government doesn't understand the peril or the problem, and b) it doesn't like controversies.  Another prediction:  If there is widespread devastation, it won’t be anyone’s fault, it will be an act of God.

Keep fingering those amulets and rosary beads.

25 September 2014

Expect accusations that I wrote this editorial because I don't like eucalyptus trees.  I have been writing about my long love affair with eucalyptus off and on since 1979.  On my 1977 visit to Australia (primarily to learn more about eucalyptus) I came back with about 20 books on the subject, most of which I subsequently donated to the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture.  My most recent article was for the Miraloma Park Improvement Club, and can be found in Miraloma Life (February 2014 issue), the Club's newsletter.  

Saturday, February 15, 2014


I abandoned this site for posting my emailed newsletter in October 2013.  I am reopening it as a site for items that are too lengthy for posting in my emailed newsletter.  (If you would like to receive the emailed newsletter, click on link above to send me an email.  For samples of this newsletter, click on past issues posted here from 2011, 2012, and 2013.)

The following was written for Miraloma Life in February 2014, and can be found on its website (URL below)

The Great Tasmanian Blue Gum by Jake Sigg

During my many years as a professional gardener, I became smitten by the genus Eucalyptus. I traveled to Australia in 1977 to get to know these trees better, and spent several days in the field with the world’s top eucalyptologists.

In the latter years of the 20th century I became personally concerned about the deterioration of the stands of eucalyptus trees on Mt Davidson and tried to raise public awareness about it. In 1990 I talked to the Miraloma Park Improvement Club, pointing out that the takeover of the understory by ivy and blackberry was not only destroying the diverse understory plants, but also imperiling the trees. English ivy was climbing 150 to 200 feet into tree crowns, blocking light and stressing the trees by its sheer weight and root competition. The rampant growth of ivy and Himalayan blackberry that occurs as a secondary effect of tree introduction prevents the gum trees from regenerating by seed. Then, as older trees topple or die from old age—which was happening then and is accelerating now—there is nothing to replace them except ivy and blackberry that smothers the understory. Thus, the Mt. Davidson eucalyptus groves are doomed unless they are managed. Untended, the area will eventually become a treeless biological wasteland, of no interest to humans or animals. Fortunately, in 2002 the SF Recreation and Parks Department drafted a management plan to preserve this valuable tree stand.

The Tasmanian blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus, is one of the world’s great trees, but in recent decades it has become the center of controversy. The debate has unfortunately obscured the merits of the eucalyptus and its proper use. In fact, the supposed detriments of the eucalyptus have little to do with the tree itself, but rather with improper siting—planting in inappropriate areas. An oddity of human nature impels us to blame the tree for its negative impacts, rather than the humans who planted it in the wrong place.

Of the approximately 700 species of eucalyptus, the Tasmanian blue gum (the type planted on Mt. Davidson and most places) is among the tallest, and one of the world’s tallest hardwoods. It can reach 150 to 180 feet in favorable sites (250 feet in India), with bole diameters of 8 feet or more. Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, director of the Melbourne Botanical Garden, played a big role in blue gum’s importation into California in the mid-19th century. He had moved from Germany to Australia for health reasons, and became a champion of the genus Eucalyptus. Von Mueller was correct in his assessment of the gum’s suitability for the California climate and its advantage of rapid growth. Fast tree growth interested the timber hungry miners and railroad builders of the 1800s, and that accounts for its widespread planting here. However, it was discovered that the wood was useless for most building purposes, because it seasons poorly, warps and checks on drying, and rots quickly. The tree did grow very well here, but land speculators betting on profiting from its lumber fared less well. Most of them went bankrupt, leaving over much of the California coastal region large eucalyptus stands as memorials to their commercial failure. The extensive grove on Highway 1 at the base of Mt. Tamalpais, climbing out of Mill Valley, is one; others include the University of California at Irvine campus and the East Bay Hills—which, after a disastrous firestorm in 1991, has become the object of heated debate.

Adolph Sutro, who in common with Eastern and European settlers considered the plains and grassslands “barren,” planted large tracts of trees on Mt Sutro, Mt Davidson, and the surrounding Westwood area. The Westwood trees were later cut down to make space for houses. In fact, the Tasmanian blue gum is one of the most widely planted trees on Earth, in part because its ability to consume water surpasses that of any other tree. Mussolini used the blue gum to dry the Pontine Marshes south of Rome, and it has been planted to drain wetlands around the world. However, now that wetlands and water have become scarce resources, many of these plantations are being removed. Water-hungry South Africa is busily ridding its riparian areas of blue gums, and habitat restoration is being accomplished by government funding as well as by volunteers.

For clarity I refer not to “forests” but to “plantations.” These large-scale eucalyptus plantings are not natural forests, which are complex systems that over time change little in overall appearance and function. The blue gum tracts are, rather, plantations installed by humans that lack the self-regulation of natural ecosystems. They are an aggregation of plants from distant parts of the world that did not evolve in association with each other, and there are no “rules” for cohabiting, as there are in natural ecosystems. In artificial plantations, a few plants inevitably come to dominate: Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, poison oak. The multiplicity of plants and the complexity of their interrelations that occur in natural forests are absent in these planted areas. Expertise in forest management is of no help in this artificial situation; they present a gardening problem, and gardeners know this challenge well.

The blue gum’s detractors talk about its negative effects, notably its “rambunctiousness”: a facility for spreading quickly via seed and muscling out other plants by dropping copious litter that smothers them. Thus, blue gums eventually create a monoculture as well as a fire hazard. These are reasons for not wanting the tree to grow in particular areas, but not for hating the species. It is merely doing a good job at what nature so brilliantly designed it to do. The blue gum has its ardent defenders, including those who would not cut down a single tree or thin out trees unless they are dead or a danger, but it would help if these aficionados would inform themselves of the inescapable management problems associated with blue gum plantations, rather than insisting on no management at all, a course that will lead to their demise. Among the often unrealized problems of managing this eucalyptus in aggregate are: (1) The innate self-destructiveness of coastal blue gum groves. Because they drip copious amounts of fog condensation, they create the equivalent of year-round rain. Weedy plants that otherwise would not survive in our dry summer climate do very well in this perennial moisture, forcing out tender and fragile species that create variety and pleasure for humans and food for wildlife. This uniformity makes blue gum groves monotonous and uninviting to humans and animals. (2) Sutro’s plantation replaced a rich ecosystem that evolved with the landscape over eons and has now vanished forever. Because this ecosystem was self-sustaining, “just leave it alone” was a viable option, but leaving a plantation alone is not an option unless we want all the trees to die. Mt. Davidson will have to be managed by humans in perpetuity. Forestry management principles are of little or no value for plantations, which effectively require gardening methods: planting or allowing to grow those plants considered desirable, while controlling undesirable plants that tend to dominate.

Preventing the plantation’s self-destruction requires thinning trees and clearing aggressive understory plants, thereby creating healthier conditions for the trees, and this action, proposed on Mt Davidson by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, is both necessary and desirable. In 1990, my sole objective was to preserve the charms of the Mt. Davidson “forest.” I loved it, especially on foggy or rainy days when it was most seductive, and I was asking only that the understory blackberry and ivy be removed so that a greater variety of understory plants could survive and the trees themselves could reproduce. Twenty-four years later, many of the plant varieties I would have liked to save have succumbed to invasive plants, more trees have fallen or have been weakened by the ivy’s sinister embrace, with nothing to replace them—and management has become much more expensive. Thus, the need for management planning and execution is far more urgent today, both for preservation of the groves and enhancement of understory support for wildlife. Variety is the spice and source of life, and now invasives have been given free rein to the extent that they have reduced the ecosystem to primarily three plants: blue gum trees, Himalayan blackberry, and English ivy.

From a biological point of view, the Mt. Davidson groves have become a wasteland, lacking the rich interactions of plants and animals that make up a natural ecosystem. Diversifying the understory of this plantation by proper gardening management, including thinning and removal of exotic invasives by hand and judicious use of herbicides, will pay huge dividends and ensure the trees’ survival. While not technically a “natural area,” the management of this “naturalistic area” has been assigned to the Natural Areas Program, and the City’s approval of the Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) will allow the Mt. Davidson “forest” to thrive. We must act now or this forest, and the delight it affords to us all, will soon vanish, like the native ecosystem it replaced. For reasons not clear to me, dialogue between the SFRPD and the neighborhoods has broken down. The City's proposed management plan may well be the last chance to save the Mt. Davidson forest. Please don’t let animosity, suspicion, and misunderstanding derail this program.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


If you want to receive this blog via email in the future, click on the above link.  DO NOT PUT YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS IN THE BOX TO THE RIGHT; it doesn't work.

This is the last posting to this blog, based on lack of feedback from it, and from the notices I have posted in last two weeks.  Keeping it up takes too much work for me.  I began it in hopes of making life easier for me, but it has had the opposite effect.

For those who are not currently receiving the emailed version and would like to, click on the above link and provide me with your email address.

John Adams said, "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide."

1.   SF Parks Alliance recruiting members for its Park Policy Council
2.   What we have learned of Sudden Oak Death, Los Altos Nov 1
3.   Props B&C closing day thoughts/We get an LTE from Natty Bumppo
4.   Climate Change Threatens Madagascar’s Towering Baobab Trees
5.   Wild Animals of All Stripes Are Adapting to the Cityscape and Thriving
6.   Feedback: Dialogue (!!!) on immigration
7.   Cruelty and injustice on the migrant trail
8.   SciAm potpourri
9.   Anniversary of Martian spaceship landing Grover’s Mills, New Jersey
10. President John Adams’ birthday today
11.  Fukushima: an Ocean Beach protest
12. Immortal Longings, by Robert Pinsky
13.  The Old Woman Gets Drunk with the Moon
14.  Fingernail Moon picture

1.  San Francisco Parks Alliance is currently recruiting new members for its Park Policy Council. The PPC is a volunteer advisory body to the Parks Alliance on parks and open space issues. We are spcifically looking to create relationships with communities in Supervisorial districts 3, 4, 7, and 10.

I'm reaching out to environmental organizations in the bay area with the hope of finding community members passionate about parks and open space in San Francisco to join our council.

An FAQ with more information on the PPC as well as the application can be found on If you could take the time to circulate this within your organization and community, it would be much appreciated! The application deadline is 5 pm on November 27th.

Sonia Suresh
Program Assistant
San Francisco Parks Alliance
415-621-3260 ext 102

Sudden Oak Death: What Have We Learned
Dr Doug Schmidt, UC Berkeley
Friday, November 1, 2013, 7:30pm
Los Altos Library, 13 S San Antonio Rd, Los Altos

Back in May, we learned about the latest research on Sudden Oak Death (SOD) from the world’s leading SOD expert, UC Berkeley’s Dr. Matteo Garbelotto. We now know a great deal about SOD: we know which pathogen causes SOD, how it came to California, how it spreads, most effective ways for control, containment, and eradication, and – most importantly – how you and I can help. In May, teams of citizen-scientist volunteers fanned out over Los Altos Hills and Villa Montalvo to collect samples of bay laurel leaves for lab analysis. This was part of a massive state-wide citizen science effort called the SOD Blitz covering many counties all over California.

Join us on Fri, Nov 1, 7:30pm at the Los Altos Library to learn about the results of this year’s Blitz, what new discoveries have been made, and how they will influence next year’s Blitz. Dr Doug Schmidt of UC Berkeley will present the highlights of this year’s lab analysis and implications for the future. He will also introduce the new mobile phone app SODMAP Mobile (for iPhone and Droid) which makes the Blitz data readily accessible to the citizen-scientists who helped collect it. Dr Garbelotto and his team will soon publish a paper showing the validity and the usefulness of citizen science data collected through the Blitzes.

Dr Garbelotto’s lab at UC Berkeley is pioneering research  on the causes of SOD and — as more is learned — developing effective solutions for identifying, containing, and preventing this infestation. His lab has trained teams of citizen scientists all over the affected regions of the state to collect specimens according to scientific protocol, map the pathogen, and help contain its spread.

This year’s SOD Blitz surpassed all previous years in terms of attendance and number of samples collected. The success of the SOD Blitz lies in the local citizens volunteering their time to map the SOD pathogen, thus helping direct containment efforts where they are needed. You can make and are making a difference in your own area, and by extension throughout the state. Everyone can help, from high school students to young moms to retirees. Join us, educate yourself, and help save California oaks for future generations.

An additional SOD management training is scheduled Nov 23 @ 10 am at Villa Montalvo in Saratoga: this will focus on the biology and on what to do to slow down the disease. There have been big changes in the recommendations for injections. There will be some new recommendations, plus a training on how to correctly use the mobile apps.


3.  No Wall on the Waterfront

RE: Prop B Feedback
Mr Sigg,

I’m sort of horribly amused by the glossy technicolor adverts I’ve been receiving from the Pro-Prop B bunch. I see kids playing in fountains, young couples running together, dogs wagging their happy tails, people reading and chatting – all on neat, neat green grass and neat, neat gravel paths, albeit privately-owned ones. What I don’t see in these works of art are the proposed buildings! Neither the 134-foot-high ones, nor any other! None! Could it be the boosters are afraid that if the public is shown the true, grotesque scale of these multi-million-dollar condos, they’d reject the proposal as easily as they did the old Freeway, which was only half the height these fellas have in mind?
N. Bumppo

We only have 7 days left to do everything we can to win.

Imagine if you wake up the day after the election next week to discover that San Francisco's beautiful waterfront will be blocked by a wall of tall luxury towers and family recreation areas destroyed because we failed to do more to defeat Propositions B and C.  This election is a toss-up and could be decided by just a few votes.  It's that close.

Don't wake up on Nov. 6th and wish you had done more to help us defeat Props B&C.  Here are three things you can do RIGHT NOW to help us make sure we do everything we can to win on Nov. 5th.

1) Make a final donation to help us send one more No on B&C mailer and run one more No on B&C tv ad before election day.  Put your donation to work by the end of the day by giving online at

2) Volunteer this week by making phone calls to voters, walk precincts, and make our campaign visible citywide.  Come to 15 Columbus Ave. any day or evening this week and we will put you on the phones.  Join us this Saturday, November 2nd at 10:00 AM at 15 Columbus Ave. for GET OUT THE VOTE TO PROTECT OUR WATERFRONT.

3) Send an email to your friends and colleagues to educate them and urge them to vote NO on B&C.  Sample email is below -  just cut, paste, and send it today:

There is one extremely important issue on the November 5th San Francisco ballot I want to ask you to be sure to vote on:  Vote NO on Propositions B & C to protect our waterfront.
Propositions B&C are a sneaky attempt to fool voters into repealing height limits along San Francisco’s waterfront so that one developer can take public land to build a wall of tall luxury condo towers that will block the Bay.  Propositions B and C are strongly opposed by the Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, Democratic Party, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, San Francisco Examiner, Affordable Housing Alliance, and a broad coalition of community groups who are standing together to protect our city’s beautiful waterfront.
The slick ads in favor of these propositions promise new parks but fail to state the fact that two-thirds of their promised new open space and recreation will actually be private and closed to the public.  Their ads also promise new housing but fail to state the fact that the 134 waterfront luxury condos created by Propositions B and C would actually cost $5 million to $10 million each with absolutely no affordable or middle-income housing.
It takes TWO votes to protect San Francisco’s waterfront from the 8 Washington “wall on the waterfront” scheme.  Please vote NO on both Propositions B and C on November 5th.

You can read the propositions and learn more at

Climate Change Threatens Madagascar’s Towering Baobab Trees
By John R. Platt

Image: PHILIPPE MICHEL Getty Images

The Ewe people of Togo, among others in Africa, have a proverb: “Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it.” Indeed, the grand specimens of the genus Adansonia can live more than 1,000 years, with trunks 30 feet across.

Six of the world's eight baobab species are found only in Madagascar. But according to a recent study in Biological Conservation, climate change and human development will soon erode the habitats of two Madagascan species. One may not survive.

The baobab A. perrieri is already scarce—the study's authors spotted only 99 trees in high-resolution satellite images. Because A. perrieri is adapted to specific conditions, climate change could shrink its habitat almost 70 percent by 2080. The second species, A. suarezensis, boasts a population in the thousands, but its range is small. The tree occupies a very particular rainfall niche, which in a changing climate could force its retreat to just 6.5 square miles of land by 2050. Even worse, A. suarezensis may face extinction by 2080. The trees are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Now, perhaps, both deserve critically endangered status.

Scientific American, October 2013


Wild Animals of All Stripes Are Adapting to the Cityscape and Thriving

The new science of urban ecology reveals a surprising trend of wildlife adapting to the cityscape.  By Jesse Greenspan

HOWDY, NEIGHBOR: A Chicago coyote, tagged for study. Image: E. JASON WAMBSGANS Getty Images

Cities are often viewed as environmental wastelands, where only the hardiest of species can eke out an existence. But as scientists in the fledgling field of urban ecology have found, more and more native animals are now adjusting to life on the streets.

Take America's biggest metropolis. As recently as a few decades ago, New York City lacked white-tailed deer, coyotes and wild turkeys, all of which have now established footholds. Harbor seals, herons, peregrine falcons and ospreys have likewise returned in force, and red-tailed hawks have become much more common. Meanwhile the first beaver in more than two centuries turned up in 2007; river otters last year ended a similar exile.

What's happening in New York is by no means an anomaly. Experts say that the adaptation of wildlife to urban areas is ramping up worldwide, in part because cities are turning greener, thanks to pollution controls and an increased emphasis on open space.

In North America, the phenomenon is perhaps best exemplified by the coyote, which colonized cities roughly 15 to 20 years ago. A recent study of the Chicago area found that urban pups had survival rates five times higher than their rural counterparts. “Coyotes can absolutely exist in even the most heavily urbanized part of the city, without a problem,” says Stan Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University. “They learn the traffic patterns, and they learn how stoplights work.”

Other studies have found animals from hawks to opossums reaping benefits from urban life. “We need to be careful about thinking of cities as places that don't really have interesting biodiversity,” says Seth Magle, director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. “Our urban areas are ecosystems, with just as many complex interactions as the Serengeti or the outback of Australia.”

Scientific American, October 2013


6.  Feedback

I have had email dialogue with Patrick Furtado of San Francisco; the following is slightly condensed, and starts abruptly, starting with me:

JS:  First, let me start with something we can agree on:  Your second paragraph, accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy--that we have de facto requested these immigrants to come.  We are guilty on that charge, and I have nothing to say in our defense.  I am not proud that we speak and act like a multi-headed monster.  On logical grounds alone you win the argument.  Truth is, our country is divided and lacks integrity on a great many issues.  Even the Republican Party is divided on the issue, as it contains interests which enjoy the fruits of cheaper labor.

I occasionally reiterate the basis of my views, and why I stick my neck out on this issue:  population, the sheer number of people on a planet that can’t support us at the scale we would like.  That is my bottom line, and I will not budge. 

In my view the world is seriously over-populated and I cannot be persuaded otherwise.  Everything I hold of value in life is being destroyed by too many humans--compounded by the fact that a huge number of them have more money than they can sensibly spend.  Excessive numbers and wasteful consumption is causing degradation of the environment and the quality of life.  You may reply that immigration is only a small part of the problem, and I would agree.  But it is one of the few places where I can act, and we have to start somewhere.

Whatever my faults, I am not a xenophobe.  That term means fear of foreigners (which I don’t), and racism implies a view that some races are in some way inferior or lacking in ability.  On the face of it, that is absurd, and foreign to anyone experienced in the world.  It is the same illogical idea that underpins discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.  It is unfair, cruel, and self-defeating.

But there are other aspects you touch on, and they trouble me, such as the human factor.  You mention escape from extreme poverty, and I am emotionally vulnerable on that point.  Of possibly even greater importance is escape from political persecution.  I would like the world to be without borders and for people to move around freely, and to buy and sell freely.  But there are problems with that, as we know.  Unfortunately, we are not able to let everyone come here who wants to come.  That is a hard fact.  Sorry to dismiss a serious subject with only a few sentences; it deserves more than that, but that will have to do.

Back to that second paragraph, you have convinced me that I should reconsider the term “illegal”.  True, it is illegal; however, the U.S.’s inconsistency and dishonesty makes its use here abrasive.

It is troublesome that an issue of such importance is one we’re not able to talk about.  Such a discussion, free from polarized thinking, would be healthy.  I like my newsletter to talk about issues and to discuss them freely. 

On Oct 18, 2013, at 12:33 PM, Patrick Furtado wrote:
Hi Jake,
It looks to be a little late now to debate the merits of AB 60, as Jerry Brown has now signed it into law. I do not doubt that this will help to improve our street and highway safety with thousands now studying to become safer drivers. It will also go a long way to make California a more inclusive society. I still regret that you took a stand against AB 60 and urged in Nature Notes for others also to do so.

I think it's dangerous and short-sighted for environmentalists to take any harsh stands, or any stand for that matter, against immigration. I too am very concerned about California's growing population and its present and future impact on the environment. However, to take a stand against immigrants, illegal or not, and most often Hispanic, is to risk alienating the people and culture environmentalists in California should most be reaching out to.
The link between immigration and over-population is also not straightforward. Lifting women out of poverty generally (and dramatically) leads to lower birth rates. And increased population does not have to have an equally direct impact on the environment. Over-population always has to be discussed with the footprint impact of each additional individual to the population. In southern Marin County, where I've been working on several stream restorations lately, the impact of the wealthy, mostly white population is large, with giant mansions with few occupants covering the hillsides and large, gas-guzzling vehicles. While the mostly Hispanic service workers live with a much smaller footprint in apartment buildings concentrated in particular locations and line up each morning at the bus stops.

The environmental movement, in order to stay relevant, needs to reach out to Hispanics and all immigrants, whether documented or not. Our state's demographics are changing dramatically and to deny this reality is dangerously misguided. We need to share and teach the principles of environmental ethics and how to access natural areas to the largely Hispanic youth of this state. The environmental movement is too largely white, wealthy, and growing older - exactly the opposite of the state's new demographic.  The net flow of immigration has also slowed dramatically in recent years:
all the more reason for environmentalists to avoid this alienating issue!

Patrick:  I don’t wonder at your reacting sensitively on the subjection of immigrants, as their lot has been rife with mistreatment, injustice, and even cruelty.  As I indicated to you before, I am revolted by the U.S.’s hypocrisy and lack of ability to have a clear policy that would bring an end to some of the injustice and the maltreatment of those who are victims of the U.S.’s inability/unwillingness to deal fairly with them.  It is hard to love your country when this kind of thing goes on.  There is very much about this country that I don’t like at all.  And we consign many immigrants to the bottom of the social ladder, then despise them for being there.  But there is nothing new here--we did that to African Americans for >300 years, and I could add Native Americans, and, and, and...

As to your statements about environmental organizations--all of them have been silenced on the subject by intimidation and political correctness.  They all know that population increase is destroying the very values they espouse.  So environmental organizations are invisible in the ranks of those trying to shine a light on our immigration problem.  The views I propound are my own and don’t reflect the opinions of any organization, other than the ones I post, such as Californians for Population Stabilization.  You say that environmental organizations should reach out to Hispanics and all immigrants; I agree, and they do reach out, so I’m not sure to whom you are speaking.

As I type this, I have just returned from a habitat restoration work party at San Pedro Valley County Park, where the two new rangers are both Hispanic and are the very kind of agency staff I have been looking for for >20 years.  This park has been in severe need of attention, and I finally had to give up my attempts several years ago as I couldn’t find any dedicated people--either staff or volunteers.  Fortunately, things are beginning to look up in San Mateo County Parks, because three of the last four new rangers have been young Hispanics who are keen to do this kind of work, as you imply.  All three are very knowledgeable about plants and animals, they are bright, energetic, and eager to learn more.  I am inspired by them.  It couldn’t have happened at a better time, as I have become at times morose over the possibility of saving much of anything of our natural heritage.  My observations, and what others tell me, is that in general Hispanics have their values straight and are naturally inclined to treasure these things.  Hispanic voting records indicate they place a value on environmental issues. 

To repeat, race plays no part in my thinking; only numbers do.  I agree with you on most of the points you make--to take one example, the impact of the wealthy.  They consume more and pollute more and their destructiveness and lack of connection to the earth is sickening.  What can I do about their stupidity and destructiveness?  I said before that a reason for targeting uncontrolled immigration is because it is something that we can do something about.  Most aspects of population increase are beyond anything I can influence.  Lifting women out of poverty and educating them--certainly.  But I’m not going to wait around until that solves our problem--by itself it won’t; there are several reasons why not--one of them being that the current “prosperity”  (I don’t know what to call it, but there’s lots of money around) will not last.  In fact, the future looks very dark to me.

I have to cut this off for lack of time, but your statement about “net flow of immigration...slowed dramatically in recent years".  Patrick, you know why that happened--the unemployment problem caused by the housing and financial meltdowns.  If the economy improves, immigration will pick right back up again.

Some of my stances may strike you as cold.  I am a student of history, and I look beyond immediate events and trends.  Some things can be foreseen and action taken to avert them.  A soft heart is an asset, but it needs to be guided by a hard head.  I don’t see a lot of thinking happening in this country, only political pressures blowing this way and that.  I am deeply pained by the suffering this causes people who are merely trying to survive.  This country is deeply dysfunctional; that is the problem.

All for now.  Thank you, Patrick, for the opportunity for dialogue--a scarce item on this subject.

Quoting Tim Aaronson of El Cerrito:
I love it when the mantra "Over-population is a global problem" is voiced to argue against controlling immigration-driven U.S. population growth. By this logic we shouldn't fix potholes in America until potholes in the rest of the world are fixed.

Every country in the world has an obligation to keep its population in check. Our immediate purview is the U.S. We should send aid for family planning to places like Nigeria with its unsustainable population growth, but we should not accept as immigrants the masses resulting from their failure to control their numbers.

Central American emigrants

Beastly business

Cruelty and injustice on the migrant trail

Oct 26th 2013 The Economist

The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail. By Oscar Martínez. Translated by Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington

DO NOT be fooled by the strange jollity of the subtitle of this book. The world that Oscar Martínez, a Salvadoran journalist, set out to report on five years ago is so violent, depraved and hellish, you can hardly believe he survived to tell the tale.

At one end of his journey, in Central America, men and women are executed by gangs for reasons no one can understand, forcing those around them to flee for their lives to the one place they think they can be safe, the United States. At the other end, these hapless Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans, after weeks or months evading drug gangs and bandits across Mexico, float up “swollen, soft and pale”, on the banks of the Rio Grande. Even their faith in God—the only thing they had left—was unable to stop them from drowning at the border.

Along the way, migrants are shot dead and thrown off railway boxcars after whatever tiny bundles of money they have hidden upon themselves are discovered and stolen by well-armed gangsters. There are “bra trees” in the desert on the way to California where migrant women’s underwear is hung as trophies by bandits who have raped them in the wilderness.

What makes this courageous book extraordinary is that Mr Martínez sees all this first-hand. He takes eight trips huddled with migrants on the roof of La Bestia (“the beast” of the title), the train that takes them from southern to northern Mexico on the way to America, threatening at any moment to grind them with its steel wheels if they lose their frozen grip on the handholds. He sits among them during hold-ups, and feels the hooded eyes of narco scouts on every step of his journey. He even wades the treacherous Rio Grande to see if there is a safe route across.

But this is not a book about him. In fact, he rarely reveals his personal feelings, except through rugged prose, beautifully translated by Daniela Maria Ugaz and John Washington, that lets the injustice speak for itself. Instead the story of “The Beast” is told from the viewpoint of the migrants “clinging like ticks” to the train’s roof-struts. “A migrant passing through Mexico is like a wounded cat slinking through a dog kennel: he wants to get out as quickly and quietly as he can,” he writes.

Their stories are as vivid as they are shocking; the senseless violence pervading their lives evokes another classic book about Central Americans, but from a different era, Joan Didion’s “Salvador” (1983). “The Beast” is also a work of journalism (Mr Martínez is an editor at a prize-winning online news channel, He weaves in well-sourced statistics on the size of the migrant problem. He pillories Mexican authorities for turning a blind eye (or worse) to the problem. And he deftly depicts the stupidity of much of America’s immigration policy, while explaining its history and showing some sympathy for the cat-and-mouse game played with migrants by border-patrol agents.

Two chilling insights stand out, as Mr Martínez, after abandoning La Bestia, wanders from one side of Mexico’s bloodstained border with the United States to the other. The more America seals off the frontier, the more migrants are forced into a race with drug “mules” for the remaining gaps. That amplifies the violence. Migrants are powerless to report the cruelties they suffer; no authorities want anything to do with them.

Thankfully, some priests along the route offer them food and shelter. The reader longs to hear more about these good Samaritans because they are as rare as hens’ teeth. The journey through Mexico’s backwaters that these migrants take is more lawless and brutal than anything Graham Greene described in the 1930s. So awful, in fact, that after reading “The Beast” you cannot help but conclude that most of them make it not out of choice, but out of desperate need.


8.  Scientific American

TECHMEDIANETWORK: Pediatricians: No More than 2 Hours Screen Time Daily for Kids
The American Academy of Pediatrics' new guidelines also advise against TVs or Internet access in children's bedrooms

QUICK AND DIRTY TIPS: Have We Bred the Nutrition Out of Our Food?
Nutrition Diva: Quick and Dirty Tips for Eating Well and Feeling Fabulous

NOT BAD SCIENCE: Wrens Are So Happy That They Duet, but How Do They Do It?

With the global population projected to increase by 2 billion by 2050, a veritable food crisis is on the horizon. Innovative solutions are needed to increase food production sustainably.

Buy Now:

It was on this day in 1938 that a cylindrical Martian spaceship landed in Grover's Mill, New Jersey, and began incinerating onlookers with an alien heat ray, an event that was covered by the Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations, and that caused widespread alarm and mass hysteria. News of the attack interrupted a program of live dance music, the reports growing more frequent and ominous as the hour wore on, until the New Jersey state militia had been obliterated and three Martian tripod battle machines began ravaging the landscape.

Of course, the broadcast was a hoax, a cleverly crafted Halloween prank composed of simulated on-the-spot news bulletins based on the H.G. Wells novel, The War of the Worlds. The broadcast had been prefaced with the announcement that what would follow was a dramatic presentation by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air, but many listeners missed the introduction and panic ensued. People in New Jersey fled the area convinced they could smell poison gas and see fiery flashes from the tripods in the distance.

It has been estimated that of the 6 million people who heard the original broadcast, more than 1.5 million believed it to be true and more than a million others were genuinely terrified, and contemporary accounts tell of police stations swamped with calls. Within a month there were more than 12,000 newspaper articles on the broadcast and its impact, and as far away as Germany Adolf Hitler is said to have cited it as "evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy." Many listeners sued the network for mental anguish, claims that were all denied save one for a pair of size nine black shoes, by a man from Massachusetts who complained he'd had to spend what he'd saved for new shoes to escape the invading Martians. Welles insisted that that claim be reimbursed.

Welles and the Mercury Theatre were censured, but the broadcast secured Welles an instant, notorious fame. In 1988, Grover's Mills, New Jersey, celebrated its hour of fame by installing a Martian Landing Site monument near Grover's Mill Pond, not far from the remains of a water tower shot to pieces by its frightened residents 50 years before.

Writer's Almanac

(The Martians are back, this time trying to foist a health care plan on us.  To the ramparts!  :-)

It's the birthday of the second president of the United States, John Adams, born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1735. While he was young he kept a diary, filled with his observations of people and events, and he used this technique after he grew up and went to Harvard and became a lawyer—he would make detailed notes on cases and then study them and reflect on them later. He was a good writer and philosopher, famous for the articles he wrote in opposition to the British Stamp Act, articles that linked that opposition to the ideals of the first Puritans.

John Adams said, "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide."


11.  Fukushima
Hey Jake -

Did anyone see THIS PROTEST  on SF's Ocean Beach covered by the news?

-Clare Bell- Fuller

Immortal Longings
by Robert Pinsky

Inside the silver body
Slowing as it banks through veils of cloud
We float separately in our seats

Like the cells or atoms of one
Creature, needs
And states of a shuddering god.

Under him, a thirsty brilliance.
Pulsing or steady,
The fixed lights of the city

And the flood of carlights coursing
Through the grid: Delivery,
Arrival, Departure. Whim. Entering

And entered. Touching
And touched: down
The lit boulevards, over the bridges

And the river like an arm of night.
Book, cigarette. Bathroom.
Thirst. Some of us are asleep.

We tilt roaring
Over the glittering
Zodiac of intentions.

From The Figured Wheel

The Old Woman Gets Drunk with the Moon
by Hailey Leithauser

The moon is rising everywhere;
The moon's my favorite easy chair,
My tin pot-top, my green plum tree,
My brassy buttoned cavalry
Tap-dancing up a crystal stair.

O watch them pitch and take the air!
Like shoo fly pies and signal flares,
Like clotted cream and bumblebees,
The moons are rising.

How hits-the-spot, how debonair,
What swooned balloons of savoir faire,
What purr of rain-blurred bright marquees
That linger late, that wait for me,
Who'll someday rest my cold bones there
In moons that rise up everywhere.

From Swoop. © Graywolf Press, 2013


14.  See beautiful picture of fingernail Moon: