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.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Seven billion - and counting
When one guy sees an invisible man, he's a nut case; ten people see him, it's a cult; ten million people see him, it's a respected religion. -Richard Jeni

1.   Water reform planning measure qualifies for San Francisco November ballot
2.   Knowland Park update
3.   Mesopotamian wetlands survived Saddam Hussein; under threat from Turkish dam
4.   Native garden care month-by-month - two talks in San Jose
5.   Dan Gluesenkamp named ED of California Native Plant Society
6.   Brilliant Sky by Jean Joubert
7.   Without bees we face food shortages and collapse of green and flowered world/bumble bee conservation
8.   Migratory Dragonfly Short Course Aug 11
9.   What it means to live without plastic/businesses learn from children/free rain barrels for Oakland
10. Gourmet pancake breakfast & native plant sale July 29
11.  SF's signature parks & hidden gems - public may submit photo entries
12.  Feedback: tree pruning et al
13.  History matters--pass it on
14.  Singapore, a walking city

1.  Water reform planning measure qualifies for San Francisco ballot

Voters to decide whether to create water recycling and restoration plan

A ballot measure that calls for San Francisco to develop a long-term plan to reform its water system will appear on the San Francisco ballot for the November 6, 2012 election, according to the San Francisco Department of Elections. The measure, known as the Water Conservation & Yosemite Restoration Initiative (available for review at would require the city to develop a long-term plan to increase local water supplies, recycle more water,  and reverse  environmental damages caused by the system over the last 100 years.

The measure qualified for the ballot after the campaign submitted 15,836 signatures of San Francisco residents to the Department of Elections.  9,702 valid signatures were required.

"We have successfully crossed the first hurdle on the way to the creation of a 21st century water plan for San Francisco," said Mike Marshall, leader of the campaign.  "The next hurdle will be to ensure that voters aren't fooled by the intense misinformation campaign being waged by those who support the environmentally-damaging status quo."

If passed, the measure will:

- require San Francisco to create a water conservation task force
- require the task force to present a plan to voters for greater water conservation and restoration of Yosemite National Park
- give voters approval power over any recommendations through a charter amendment that will appear on the November, 2016 ballot.

"Contrary to recent reports by some local media outlets, passage of the ballot measure this November will not change San Francisco's water system, will not drain any of the nine reservoirs in the system, will not affect San Francisco’s right to water from the Tuolumne River, which is the primary source of San Francisco’s water supply, and will not cost billions of dollars," Marshall said. "What it will do is create a plan to move San Francisco from last place to first place in responsible water management, and to end the environmental damage that our current, outdated water system is causing every day to Yosemite National Park.  It’s just a plan -- nothing more, nothing less."

The Water Conservation & Yosemite Restoration Initiative is endorsed by the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Nevada Alliance, Foothill Conservancy, Forest Issues Group, Friends of the River, California Water Impact Network, EcoEquity, Endangered Species Coalition, and the Planning and Conservation League. In addition, it is supported by three former superintendents of Yosemite National Park, two former Secretaries of Water Resources for the State of California, two former executive directors of the Sierra Club and Rev. Sally Bingham, Environmental Canon, Episcopal Archdiocese of California.

NOTE: High-resolution images, b-roll, and other resources are available upon request.

(Emphases mine, JS)

Excerpt from San Jose Mercury- News story:
Critics also argue that residents who live outside San Francisco in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties should be able to vote on the future of Hetch Hetchy. That argument could well end up as a bill in Sacramento or Washington, D.C.

Art Jensen, CEO of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, which represents the cities besides San Francisco that receive Hetch Hetchy water, said: "This debate has been around for 100 years. A decision of this significance should be put not just to the voters of San Francisco, but to all of the customers of the system."

(Even better, what about the whole nation voting?  After all, it's theirs--it's a national park.  We'd win that one, hands down.  JS)


2.  Dear Knowland Park Supporters,

We continue to introduce new people to Knowland Park and its wonders. Every time someone new visits the Park, they are astonished when they hear about the zoo’s plan to build out this development. Of course, this is because most of the people that come on walks with us are genuinely interested in conservation. They can’t believe the zoo is so shortsighted and determined to build on top of such important natural resources and animal habitat. As more and more people discover Oakland’s best-kept secret Park, the one the zoo and city apparently conspired to hide from the public, they are horrified at the plans.

Unfortunately, the zoo has not yet signaled any willingness to modify its plans.

This week on our website, Laura Baker discusses the California Department of Fish and Game and its important role in issuing the essential permits that would allow the zoo to “take” (kill) threatened Alameda Whipsnake as part of constructing the development. She describes the multiple roles this important environmental protection agency plays. See her post at

One important point Laura makes is that, unlike the politicians and planning commissioners who made decisions in some cases without ever having even walked in Knowland Park or seen it, the regulatory agencies actually do site visits in which they examine the natural resources that will be affected by a development. As a result of their investigations, as Laura notes, “Agency staff can suggest changes to plans or projects and recommend additional avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures.” So your state tax dollars are supporting a true environmental oversight agency that is charged with protecting our natural resources no matter what local politicians decide. Let’s hope they do their job well!

Please share the word about Knowland with your friends and neighbors, explore the Park, and share our website which has lots of information for those who never even knew the Park existed. Send us your ideas! And please continue to contribute whatever you can to our efforts by sending a check to our Treasurer, Lee Ann Smith, 111 Shadow Mountain, Oakland, CA 94605. Make checks payable to CNPS (California Native Plant Society) and put “Knowland Park” in the subject line. Or donate on our website:

(I post this item because several years ago the California Native Plant Society hosted a talk by a researcher who worked at restoring the Mesopotamian wetlands that Saddam Hussein had tried to destroy by diverting the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  The wetlands and its people were both unique--plants and animals that occurred nowhere else in the world, and they supported a human culture that had lived there for millennia.  They lived in houses that floated.  Hussein was successful in drying it up and driving the people out, but an enormous restoration effort was well on its way when I lost contact with the subject.  The dam Turkey wants to build could put a strain on these efforts, possibly even doom it.  And the historic city of Hasankeyf in Turkey would be under water.  Scholars vouch for its World Heritage status.  JS)


Nature Iraq is supporting the petition to UNESCO to protect Mesopotamian heritage

The Marshlands of Mesopotamia are on the Tentative List submitted by Iraq to the World Heritage Committee in 2003, but since then no further steps have been taken.
In order to conserve the tremendous cultural and natural heritage of Mesopotamia the UNESCO must make an effort by putting pressure on the governments of Turkey not to build the Ilisu Dam and on Turkey and Iraq to nominate Hasankeyf and the Mesopotamian Marshlands for their list of World Heritage Sites.
We would like to ask you to sign the petition.


4.  Talks coming up in San Jose libraries by local author Helen Popper. Her book is the first of its kind to talk about native garden care month by month, with content inspired by attending monthly meetings of the California Native Plant Society Gardening With Natives group. The book is beautifully illustrated and has an evocative, inspirational style. Dr Popper is a knowledgeable, accessible speaker.

A lecture (and book signing) by Helen Popper

July 25, 6:30 PM: San Jose West Valley Branch Library, 1243 San Tomas Aquino Road, San Jose, CA 95117, (408) 244-4766.
August 7, 6:30 PM: San Jose Cambrian Library, 1780 Hillsdale Avenue, San Jose, (408) 808-3080.

In late July and early August, we have lectures based on the latest book about maintaining your native plant garden. The book begins with October, when much of California leaves the dry season behind and prepares for its own green “spring.” Helen Popper provides detailed, calendar-based information for both beginning and experienced native gardeners.

Hear about each month’s gardening tasks, including ongoing tasks and those specific to each season. See different planting and design ideas, and learn about core gardening techniques, such as pruning, mulching, and propagating. An essential year-round companion, this beautifully written and illustrated book nurtures the twin delights of seeing wild plants in the garden and garden
plants in the wild.


5.  Dan Gluesenkamp named executive director of the California Native Plant Society

Most recently, Dan served as Executive Director of The Calflora Database where he led the organization in developing exciting new tools for conservation, research, and appreciation of wild California plants. Dan first fell in love with California plants (and CNPS) at UC Santa Cruz, and earned his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley studying the ecology of native and invasive thistles. He has a long history with California plant conservation and research, with on-the-ground experience restoring native habitat as Director of Habitat Protection for Audubon Canyon Ranch and with leadership roles in the California Invasive Plant Council and Bay Area Early Detection Network. CNPS members may remember Dan’s recent Fremontia article telling the story of discovery and conservation of the last wild Franciscan manzanita, available here.

(So we'll lose Dan and Asha from San Francisco.  They're going to miss our cool fog.)


Brilliant Sky

Never between the branches has the sky
burned with such brilliance, as if
it were offering all of its light to me,
to say – what? what urgent mystery
strains at that transparent mouth?
No leaf, no rustle . . . It's in winter,
in cold emptiness and silence, that the air
suddenly arches itself like this into infinity,
and glitters.

This evening, far from here,
a friend is entering his death,
he knows it, he walks
under bare trees alone,
perhaps for the last time. So much love,
so much struggle, spent and worn thin.
But when he looks up, suddenly the sky
is arrayed in this same vertiginous clarity.

~ Jean Joubert ~

(Trans. by Denise Levertov, In
The Gift of Tongues, ed. by Sam Hamill)


7.  To The Best Of Our Knowledge (NPR) 07.15.2012 (was 08.28.2011)

Bees are responsible for forty percent of the food we put in our mouths.  It sounds astonishing, but without bees, we could find ourselves facing food shortages and a collapse of the green and flowered world.  In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge,  a peek inside the world of bees, from the once-in-a-lifetime mating flight of the queen bee to the California almond agri-business, where most of the bees in North America go to work.  And, the poetry of bees.

From Xerces Society

Please visit the bumble bee conservation pages of our website for more information on how to identify these species. If you think you've found one of them, please snap a photo and send it to

Hillsboro, Oregon
August 11, 2012
10:00 AM to 4:30 PM
Dragonfly migration occurs on every continent except Antarctica. In North America, huge numbers of dragonflies can be seen flying south in fall along both coasts and through the Midwest, but these migrations are still poorly understood. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP), Xerces Society, and U.S. Forest Service International Programs are pleased to announce an upcoming Migratory Dragonfly Short Course in Oregon. This full day training will provide an overview of dragonfly life history, ecology, and migratory behavior, and train participants to identify key migratory species and contribute data to ongoing MDP citizen science research projects.


Intended audience:
This course is intended for anyone interested in dragonflies and in contributing to our growing knowledge about dragonfly migration in North America. Whether you are a novice or a pro when it comes to dragonflies, please join us for this fun and informative event to become a volunteer monitor and help us explore the amazing but understudied phenomenon of dragonfly migration!

This course will cover the topics of dragonfly life history, ecology, migratory behavior, and citizen science monitoring and will include both a morning classroom and afternoon field component. Click here for a detailed agenda and more information about this course.


9.  The Watershed Project

Shampoo and All
Tips for a Plastic-Free Life
What about shampoo? That's one question that comes to mind when contemplating what it really means to live a plastic-free life. Executive Director Linda Hunter recently spoke with writer and activist Beth Terry about her bold decision to avoid all plastic products.
Read More

Chinatown Businesses Learn from Children
Riparian Lab Teams with Cycles of Change
Find out how pint-sized environmentalists are changing business practices in Oakland's Chinatown.
Read More

FREE Rain Barrels for Oakland Residents
Save Water, Protect Our Creeks

You can play a key role in preventing creek erosion and flooding while conserving water & harvesting rain to keep your yard and garden green! The City of Oakland is offering FREE rain barrels and tanks for residents. Take advantage of this exclusive offer while supplies last!
Read More

Gourmet Pancake Breakfast & Native Plant Sale
Popular annual fundraiser for San Bruno Mountain Watch
Sunday 29 July, 8.30 am to 11.30 am
Mission Blue Native Plant Nursery
Brisbane, California

Not all thistles are created equal... Our very special Brownie Thistle, Cirsium quercetorum, is a California endemic (found only in California) and is visible on San Bruno Mountain and other sites in San Mateo County. Our non-native, and very invasive, Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus, is unfortunately present too. So be on the lookout for the low-growing Brownie Thistle on your next hike - and you'll agree that even a thorny thistle can be beautiful!


11.  The Harvey Milk Photo Center is currently looking for entries to their new Off the Beaten Path exhibit that is scheduled to open at McLaren Lodge and Park Aid Station (office of NAP) in the fall. We are looking to see if you or other natural area enthusiasts might be interested in submitting some of their photos to be displayed. The deadline for the call of entry is August 8th.

Off the Beaten Path: Celebrating San Francisco’s Signature Parks & Hidden Gems
Exhibition Dates: October 13th–November 30th, 2012
Opening Reception: Saturday, October 13th, 1–4 p.m.
Location: McLaren Lodge, 501 Stanyan Street (at Fell),; Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.

San Francisco Recreation and Parks and Harvey Milk Photo Center present Off the Beaten Path, a photography exhibition showcasing San Francisco’s signature parks and hidden gems, which will take place at the beautiful and historic McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park.

We’ve opened up our call for entry to members of the general public for a $25 fee. Submission is free for all Photo Center members, San Francisco Recreation and Parks, San Francisco Parks Alliance, and San Francisco Arts Commission employees.

Call for Entry Guidelines:
Send up to 10 of your best images that meet the below specifications — low-resolution JPEGs or links are fine — by August 8th at 8 p.m. Up to two images per person will be chosen by a panel of judges. The submission deadline for final, framed work will be announced shortly.

We are looking for work showcasing the large variety of green spaces our city has to offer, from popular destinations such as Golden Gate Park, Dolores Park, and Alamo Square Park, to vast, lesser known parks, including Glen Canyon Park and John McLaren Park, as well as mini-parks and hidden stairways nestled throughout town. People, pets, sunrises, sunsets, rain, sun, fog, wildlife, vistas, cityscapes, trees, meadows, and macros — we’d like to see it all. Color, black and white, digital and film photography will be accepted.

More information can be found at


12.  Feedback

On Jul 18, 2012, at 10:24 AM, Bert Johnson wrote:
Hi Jake, I loved the recent discussion on mistletoe.  As I recall, I think that morning doves and perhaps band-tailed pigeons love to eat the berries.  Perhaps a bird expert will respond and confirm this, as well as include any other kinds of birds which eat the berries as well.  The berries are extremely ornamental, looking like white pearls in pendant clusters in winter, growing on cottonwoods, willows, oaks, walnuts and other hardwoods. I am becoming increasingly annoyed by the growing number of tree pruners who completely "sanitize" urban trees by removing all their dead wood,etc. and often thin them so excessively
that birds are afforded little privacy (roosting) and nesting sites.  These incessant pruners also likely remove the mistletoes in the process.  In my observation, birds prefer denser tree canopies, not thinner...especially birds such as night herons.  Your newsletter is a treasure chest of knowledge and inspiration.  I learn more from it than I do any other scientific newsletter, so congratulations Jake!  The world is lucky to have you
Hello, Bert:  I don't know what birds eat the mistletoe berries, but I know that's the way it gets around.  Perhaps cedar waxwing is one?  Seems I saw a painting of one with a mistletoe seed stuck on outside of its bill.

I was told that birds try to wipe the sticky seeds off their bills and the seed sticks to the limb, thus in effect 'planting' it.  Nice strategy of the mistletoe, otherwise the seed would get excreted onto the ground, which is inhospitable to mistletoe.

Pruning:  That is one of the several ways the gods have of tormenting me.  I love trees, and their architecture is one of the contemplative pleasures of
life.  Except in San Francisco.  Here a well-pruned tree is almost an oxymoron.  I walk a lot and, being of a compulsive nature, I am mentally pruning all the trees I see, often spending time looking up into them to decide which limbs need removal of modification.  Why do I--who has more on his platter than I can cope with--spend so much time on a totally feckless impulse that will lead nowhere?  Compulsives are helpless victims.  The tree is calling for help and this is the closest I can come to its aid.

So San Francisco could use some of those "sanitizing" tree pruners you have over there, because we have no mistletoe in the city.  More doings of those gods, who mischievously mismatch problems and solutions.

Thanks for the fan mail.  Every time I get downhearted and depressed at the state of the world and our seeming inability to help ourselves--and wonder why in hell I put this newsletter together, with its accompanying eyestrain and back strain--in floats a piece of fan mail that cheers me up and keeps me going.  It's almost as though readers can sense when I need a fix; they always come through.
Hi Jake, I got a kick out of your response.  It's okay, I prune trees to shape too.  I guess I wasn't specific enough though.  Over here, and the  pruned trees I am talking about, the work is not be done or performed by experienced or trained arborists.   The trees are instead thinned and headed into ridiculous proportions, often making them appear naked and butchered.  These trees are not being sensitively and aesthetically Ted Kipping does.  He is a pro. But these pruning guys are amateurs and unfamiliar with growth habits and the tree species's needs.  Most of these people are the guys who get a business license from the city, start a "landscape" business, and then proceed to improperly and incessantly prune trees to death, the same people that mow lawns excessively, and trim shrubs excessively, even though the trees, shrubs and lawns do not require "weekly" grooming, if you know what I mean.  Anyways, I love your newsletter and you are a pro, one of the best I know in the business.  Keep it up please, as I will be lost without your words of wisdom and knowledge.  In addition, I am also a compulsive like you, always looking at people's backyards and city landscapes and also making landscape corrections in my mind.  It's just the way we are, and okay I think!
Oh.  Darn.  I thought for awhile that there may be more than a handful of professional tree pruners in the Bay Area--wildlife considerations set aside for the moment.  Now you have dashed my illusions.  You perfectly describe the pruning of 95+% of San Francisco trees.  I wish I could stop looking at them in my peregrinations around the city.

While occasional trees, especially those badly pruned in the past, are a challenge to good pruning, most pruning is simple and easy to perform:  Trees almost tell you how they want to be pruned (if they need pruning at all).  Just look at its natural shape; even young ones already have the basic structure it intends to follow.  You know "phone trees"?  People know how to draw those, but they have trouble seeing the pattern in the original.
On Jul 20, 2012, at 9:07 AM, Bert Johnson wrote:
So far as gardening ventures go, people are using noisy leafy blowers instead of rakes or brooms (which is what I used throughout my entire working career at Botanic Garden).  Blowers are noisy, polluting and should be outlawed, so far as I am concerned.  Couple the blower with incessant noise from chainsaws, power trimmers, weedeaters, etc. and the assault on our eardrums and lungs becomes even worse.  So, this is why I am so distraught.  Where is the "green" message in the gardening world, encouraging us away from the use of noisy and gas-polluting power equipment.  Do Gardeners know how to use a rake, broom, hand pruners, loppers, etc. anymore?  What is happening?  And, is anyone trained by experienced Gardeners anymore?  It seems that the world of gardening and landscaping, which used to be an art taught by experienced and knowledgeable people has now become a free for all for "wrong" gardening practices and sensitivity.  Loud power equipment noise is not only annoying to humans, but also the the wildlife living in our gardens.  The last message I want to leave you with is this, and it is magical.

When I used a spring leaf rake in the Botanic Garden to rake leaves or debris off our paths, the jays would respond to the noise of the rake dragging by mimicking its sound, which I found to be very comical. Obviously, they were not annoyed by the sound of a scratchy rake on the ground.  I wonder how they respond to the sound of a high-piched leaf blower?  I think you know where I am going here.  I am just of the old-fashioned type of thinking, that power and noisy equipment is not only dangerous to our ears and lungs, but also allows pruning and shearing fanatics to destroy and "over-prune" a landscape too quickly,
which I see happening everyday and all around me.  These things tend to destroy bird and insect habitats in the garden, when performed by inexperienced and amateur gardeners and so-called landscapers.  There, I feel better now to get this off my chest, and I thought you might appreciate it, being that you are a wise and long-experienced Gardener.  But, I am also open to suggestions from you, as to help me deal with these frustrations better.   Thanks for the ear Jake.
Our reactions and ideas on this subject are identical.

I can't match your jay story, but my next-door neighbors mow their lawn with an electric mower--which is an improvement, but still an obnoxious sound.  Their two dogs, which follow them around like shadows, love it, especially when the guys come out in the garden.  Except when they're mowing--they go indoors until the mowing stops.  I call that good taste.

But you almost need to be an animal to have good taste nowadays.


13.  Make sport history

“The destruction of the past…is one of the most eerie phenomena of the late 20th-century.  Most young men and women at the century’s end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in.”

So said Eric Hobshawm in his history of the 20th century, Age of Extremes.  For despite the evidence—millions visiting heritage sites, reading history, even watching history, vast numbers in Britain inhabit a world that lacks any deep connection with the past.  In an attempt to close up this cultural lacuna, a consortium of heritage groups has launched “History Matters—Pass it On” (

It couldn’t come too soon.  For the inherited ties that once bound people to their pasts—sense of social class; an active religious faith; a tight-knit labour market; a culture of storytelling; strong political movements—have now widely broken down.  And, somehow, they need to be rebuilt.

For some, this lightening of the past has been a source of liberation.  Mind-forged manacles have been cast asunder and communities inhibited by tradition freed by the forces of modernity.  But for others, this disconnection from the past has given rise to a profound sense of dislocation.  As a result, we live in an age consumed by questions of identity with much of the debate the product of an absence of history.

Those hoping for a way out from their disembodied existence are the individuals who turn to the internet to research their genealogy, join civic trusts, and watch television history to place themselves within a sweep of time.  The British government seems keen to have (yet another) debate on this topic.  But it’s time for it to walk the walk.  Between 2001 and 2006 the government increased funding for sport by 91%, compared with just 26% for museums, libraries, and archives.  Well this summer, from Gelsenkirchen to Wimbledon, we have witnessed what a sound investment that was.  And the Olympics promises to consume even more.

Maybe it’s time to focus on what we excel at and what more people are interested in:  history, not just sport.  Tristram Hunt

Guardian Weekly 14-20 July 2006

(The 'I' is not me, JS)

Singapore is a fine city! I’ve traveled to well over 100 countries, and my all-time favorite walking city is Singapore (aka Garden City): clean, safe with lots of places to seek shelter from rain/sun elements (trees, plus awnings are required on ground level of buildings abutting sidewalks), open green spaces and many yummy places to eat along the way! CNN reports that Singaporeans are the world’s fastest walkers, thanks to “wide pavement that was flat, free from obstacles and sufficiently uncrowded to allow people to walk at their maximum speed” (  When walking is such a pleasure, it's easy to be physically fit.

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