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.

Friday, August 31, 2012


"How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself?  If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox.  One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse.  There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions.  You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light."   Barry Lopez

1.   Defensive Plants: Sticky Resins, Milky Saps, and Potent Poisons  Thurs the 6th
2.   More chemical warfare among plants
3.   And more: elderberries vs insects
4.   Yet more: monarch butterflies, and how to attract them
5.   Birds: restoration at Pier 94/lights out for fall migration/family event the 9th
6.   CA Invasive Plant Council Symposium - early signup deadline Sept 7
7.   Feedback: Knowland Park/Drakes Bay oyster farm
8.   Thinking about nothing - powerful brains weigh in on the subject
9.   30-year plan to study America's ecology is about to begin - a very big deal
10. You've been waiting to hear: Paul Ryan on deer hunting/value of fact-checking
11.  LTEs:  In paralyzed thrall to a market economy, ruthless as a dictatorship

California Native Plant Society meeting - free and open to the public
Defensive Plants: Sticky Resins, Milky Saps, and Potent Poisons
Speaker: Margareta Séquin
Thursday 6 September, 7.30 pm
San Francisco County Fair Bldg
9th Avenue & Lincoln Way in Golden Gate Park

Plants had to defend themselves since their emergence millions of years ago. Myriads of insects and snails feed on them, and larger herbivores devour fresh, green leaves and juicy stems. Being mostly anchored in place, plants had to evolve elaborate defense mechanisms to survive the challenges. Most plants have structural defenses, in the form of tough skins, thorns, or sharp spines. Through time plants also evolved a great diversity of defensive substances, in the form of strong odors, bitter saps, sticky resins, or potent poisons.  Plants are masters at chemical defense.

During this presentation we focus on families of chemical plant defenses and look at some characteristic examples of defensive plant substances combined with plants they are found in. This will include native California plants as well as some nonnatives. We’ll examine what is typical of the molecules that compose strong leaf odors, gums and resins, soapy saponins, or the famous alkaloid plant bases (no previous chemistry knowledge required!). We’ll also remember that plant defensive substances have been the origins of many medicines for humans.

Margareta (Greti) Séquin has a Ph. D. in organic chemistry and is a plant enthusiast. She has taught organic chemistry, natural products chemistry, and chemistry for non-majors at San Francisco State University for more than twenty years, and has also led numerous field seminars on the subject of plant chemistry. She is a docent at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley. Margareta Séquin is the author of the book The Chemistry of Plants: Perfumes, Pigments, and Poisons, published by RSC (Cambridge, UK) in April 2012.

(If you would like to come to dinner with the speaker before the meeting, let me know.  JS)


2.  Yo, buddy, outta my space

"All the plants of a given country are at war with one another."       Charles Darwin

The following was excerpted from Science News 17/3/07

Chemical warfare

Certain plants are picky about the company they keep.  Once established, walnuts, for instance, create a virtually barren border of ground around them.  Many other plants aren't quite so antisocial.  They permit numerous species into their neighborhoods, while barring a few plant types.

Chemical defenses play a major role in determining which plants flourish in woodlands, meadows, farms...Although this herbal warfare has been recognized since Biblical times, its study is still regarded as a relatively young and immature field of science...Only in the past few decades have scientists focused on the chemical warfare underlying botanical stand-offishness.  They've demonstrated that many plants manufacture compounds that sicken or kill intruders.

By inhibiting crop growth, "allelochemicals undoubtedly cost world agriculture billions of dollars annually.  By understanding chemical-defense mechanisms, we could put them to work to benefit agriculture," (said a researcher).

The findings on allelopathy explain, in part, why some crops do better when they aren't continuously planted in a field, but are instead included in a rotation cycle with sorghum, mustards, or other plants.  Scientists have recently found that some of the most effective of these alternative species produce abundant weed-killing chemicals.

Some plants produce allelochemicals that simultaneously poison weeds by three or more mechanisms, all different from those employed by commercial herbicides.  Moreover, a single chemical may poison in more than one way.  Because it's unlikely that weeds will quickly overcome multiple vulnerabilities, allelopathic weed control may keep its potency longer than existing single-action commercial chemicals do.  "With allelopathy, our guiding philosophy is simple.  Learn from nature."


3.  More on plant defenses
JS email to entomologist Leslie Saul:

I have two blue elderberries of different genetic stock.  The leaves of both get perforated every year, but one is so heavily hit that it doesn't cast much shade. The other is only moderately chewed.  (Perhaps that is because I keep drastically pruning it every year to keep it down in size; the vigorous new shoots are hardly chewed at all.)

Question:  Who is doing this, and how do they travel so far?  Nearest elderberries are on Mt Sutro, across the wide canyon down which 7th Av goes.  As bee flies it is at least a half mile.  How do they find my garden?
Hi Jake,
 Insects are excellent chemists and excellent at picking of chemical olfactory plumes in the air sometimes only one particle per million but the capability varies per species. Do you have a picture of the leaf damage?  If not take a digital picture and email it to me and I will show it around up here to the specialists

Mind you, I am not complaining about the chewed leaves; to the contrary--I invite wildlife into the garden and this elderberry is functioning like a good native by supporting insects, birds, et al.  JS

Critical for Monarch Butterfly Conservation

Milkweeds are rightfully celebrated for their role as host plants for monarch butterfly caterpillars, but they are much more than just food for monarchs.  With abundant, high quality nectar, milkweeds support a diversity of pollinators such as native bees, honey bees, beetles, wasps, and hummingbirds.

You can help conserve monarchs by planting milkweeds and other native wildflowers that provide nectar throughout the growing season.

In many areas of the country it can be tricky to find milkweed seeds or plants. In 2010, the Xerces Society began working to increase the availability of milkweed seed in several southern states where monarchs breed in the spring and summer. In collaboration with native seed producers, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and community partners, we're producing new sources of milkweed seed for restoration projects that benefit monarchs, pollinators, and other wildlife.

(JS:  We don't have milkweeds growing naturally in San Francisco.  However, some of them do well here, such as Asclepius speciosa.  And you stand a chance of a monarch laying eggs on its leaves.  Here is a story:

In the early 1970s Strybing Arboretum was growing it in the native section--now the Arthur Menzies Garden of California Native Plants--and there were dramatically-colored monarch caterpillars on it.  The education director at the time was John Kipping, who excitedly brought a group of school kids to see this fulfillment of the butterfly story he had regaled them with in the classroom.  To his horror, the gardener did what all good gardeners of the time would do:  sprayed them with DDT.

Note of caution:  it spreads by underground roots, but they are not difficult to control.)

Golden Gate Audubon Society
WHAT: Lend your hands in support of local birds
WHERE: Pier 94 in San Francisco
DIRECTIONS:  Take Third Street to Cargo Way turn left onto Amador St., an industrial road which turns right. The address is 480 Amador St in San Francisco (an office trailer for a neighbor). Turn into the gravel parking lot before the chain link fence. Just ahead you will see a small light blue sign next to white barriers. This is the entrance to Pier 94.
Public Transit: Use this Pier 94 map.
WHEN: Saturday, September 1, 2012 from 9:00am-12noon

Lights Out for Birds - Fall Migration
With fall migration underway, please turn off unnecessary lights or pull window coverings to participate in the Lights Out for Birds program. Ask your employer to turn off workplace lights too. Click here for more info.

Presidio Family Bird Count - Sept. 9
Did you know that the Presidio is a birding hotspot in the Bay Area? Kids and their families will join experienced birders in teams on different routes throughout the Presidio. After an easy one-hour walk counting observed bird life, groups will return to El Polin Spring to tally their numbers during lunch. The day will be topped off with presentations of the day’s numbers by…kids! (Last spring the count was 50 different birds.) Come at 11 am for the main event or 10:30 for “binocular boot camp and birding basics."
RSVP to or (415) 561-4449.



October 11-13, 2012 - (pre-symposium Habitat Restoration Workday Oct. 10)

Wine County Double Tree Rohnert Park, CA

The Cal-IPC Symposium brings together natural resource managers, research ecologists and volunteers stewards to discuss the latest information in wildland weed research, control techniques, prioritization, program design, and policy. Join us this year in Sonoma County!

As wildland stewardship faces a century of change, our special sessions at this year's Symposium look at working across time, across landscapes, and across taxa. Plus sessions on new techniques, field research, and developments at the statewide level. It's a great line up! Saturday field trips visit local weed removal projects or areas of scenic interest, and give attendees another opportunity to mingle with colleagues and local experts. This year please join us to visit Mt. Tamalpais, northern Napa County wildlands, a pollinator-friendly farm, or Sonoma County restoration hotspots!

·         Program and additional information at:

·         Registration discounts for volunteers and students.

·         Registration prices increase after September 7.

·         Continuing Education units will be available from the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation.

·         Can’t attend? You can still submit an entry to the Photo Contest:


7.  Feedback

Laura Baker:
Hi Jake,
As always I am deeply appreciative that you include the Knowland Park Supporter's updates.  One small correction.: in your list of topics, you say that "Knowland Park supporters file suit against zoo."  Actually we filed our ballot arguments against the Oakland Zoo's parcel tax measure, Measure A1, not a new lawsuit.

Becky Evans:
Jake - thanks for featuring the proposed tree cutting on Jefferson Street.  The "proponents" decided against removing all the trees.  Three (I think) will be removed in front of the Argonaut Hotel for disability access reasons; one is unhealthy and another, to allow placement of LED lighting.

Also, Liam O'Brien showed up at the hearing and testified that the plane trees are valuable to a swallowtail butterfly.

Oyster farm:  the link did not show the Coastal Commission letter but a duplicate of the health document.

Thanks for your continuing good work,

This will get you to correct site:


8.  Thinking about nothing

"I view the cosmological constant as the energy of the vacuum, or the energy of nothing.  And thinking about nothing occupies a lot of people.  I try to get my students to think about nothing; some of them are pretty good....According to the principle of quantum uncertainty, particles and antiparticles can appear from the vacuum out of nothing [and] exist for a brief instant of time before disappearing into the vacuum.  So nothing is something.  Sort of a Zen-like quality to nothing."  Cosmologist Rocky Kolb of the University of Chicago, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in January 2011.

"A vacuum is a hell of a lot better than some of the stuff that nature replaces it with."        Tennessee Williams, 1955

“Physics is the thing.  Everything else is stamp-collecting.”
            Ernest Rutherford, born 30 August 1871   

“It’s lovely to live on a raft.  We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and…discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.”  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
"I had been to school...and could say the multiplication table up to 6x7=35, and don't reckon I could ever get any further than that if I was to live forever.  I don't take stock in mathematics, anyway."   Huckleberry Finn

“Nothing puzzles me more than time and space; and yet nothing troubles me less, as I never think about them.”  Charles Lamb

"The brain is a three pound mass you can hold in your hand that can conceive of a universe a hundred billion light-years across."
    Dr Marian Diamond, UCSF

9.  Terrestrial ecology

NEON light

A 30-year plan to study America’s ecology is about to begin

Aug 25th 2012 | Boulder, Colorado | from The Economist

THE phrase “Big Science” brings to mind rockets, telescopes and particle accelerators. When it comes to grand scientific gestures—and the cash that goes therewith—those who wield field glasses and butterfly nets in the name of terrestrial ecology seldom get a look in. Which is surprising, as the habitat they study, namely dry land, is the one actually occupied by humanity. But a group of American ecologists, led by David Schimel, intend to correct this state of affairs. They plan to shake up terrestrial ecology, and introduce it to the scale and sweep of Big Science, by establishing NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network.

Finding the money for this project, which will be based in Boulder, Colorado, has not been easy, but after a decade of discussion and planning, America’s National Science Foundation managed to persuade Congress to earmark $434m, the price of a modest space probe, to set it up. The operating budget will be around $80m a year.

Dr Schimel’s team is thus now starting to wire up the landscape. Ground has already been broken at three sites—in Colorado, Florida and Massachusetts. Eventually, 60 places across the country will be covered simultaneously. Once this network is completed, in 2016 if all goes well, 15,000 sensors will be collecting more than 500 types of data, including temperature, precipitation, air pressure, wind speed and direction, humidity, sunshine, levels of air pollutants such as ozone, the amount of various nutrients in soils and streams, and the state of an area’s vegetation and microbes.

Crucially, these instruments will take the same measurements in the same way in every place. By gathering data in this standardised way, and doing so in many places and over long periods of time, Dr Schimel hopes to achieve the statistical power needed to turn ecology from a craft into an industrial-scale enterprise. The idea is to see how ecosystems respond to changes in climate and land use, and to the arrival of new species. That will let the team develop models which can forecast the future of an ecosystem and allow policymakers to assess the likely consequences of various courses of action.

Tower records

NEON’s researchers have divided America into 20 domains (see above), each of which is dominated by a particular type of ecosystem. Each domain will have three sets of sensors within it. One set will be based in a core site—a place where conditions are undisturbed and likely to remain so—that will be monitored for at least 30 years. The other two sets will move around, staying in one place for three to five years before being transplanted elsewhere. These “relocatable” sites will allow comparisons to be made within a domain.

Every site, whether core or relocatable, will have a sensor-laden tower that reaches ten metres above the existing vegetation. In an area of a few tens of square kilometres around this tower, the researchers will place further sensors in the soil and in local streams, to measure temperature, carbon-dioxide and nutrient levels, along with rates of root growth and the activities of microbes. These sensors will indicate how efficiently different ecosystems use nutrients and water, how vegetation responds to the climate, and how carbon dioxide moves between living things and the atmosphere. That will help those who seek to understand the carbon cycle—and with it, the consequences of greenhouse-gas-induced climate change.

To complement these ground-based measurements, which can focus on only a limited area, the team will conduct aerial surveys once a year at each core site, looking at things like leaf chemistry and the health of forest canopies, and will also look down on them with satellites. In addition, NEON’s researchers can deploy a specially equipped aeroplane, fitted with lidar (an optical version of radar), a spectrometer (to measure chemical compositions) and a high-resolution camera, to assess the impact of natural disasters such as floods, wildfires and outbreaks of pests.

This aerial-surveillance system will be put to the test in a project that started on August 21st, when a team led by Tom Kampe and Michael Lefsky began studying the causes and impact of what has come to be known as the High Park fire. Between June 9th and early July this fire burned across 36,000 hectares (90,000 acres) of Colorado. Dr Kampe and Dr Lefsky will fly NEON’s aeroplane over both the burned area and some adjacent unburned stands of forest. They will record plant species, forest structure, ash cover, soil properties, river sediment and the overall topography of the burned area.

One particular question they plan to address is whether the behaviour and severity of the High Park fire was affected by the spread of mountain pine beetle, a pest that is rapidly overrunning Colorado because its breeding season has been extended by the warming climate. Repeated aerial surveys over the coming years will also give the researchers insight into how vegetation recovers from fires, how the beetles affect this process, how erosion and sedimentation affect the region’s water resources, and whether fire creates opportunities for new species to invade.

So many data, of course, require a lot of number crunching. Indeed, it might be argued that what truly distinguishes Big Science from the small stuff—as astronomers and physicists have known for decades and biologists discovered in the aftermath of the Human Genome Project—is not the amount of money involved but the volume of data that needs to be processed. When fully operational NEON is expected to generate 200 terabytes a year. That is four times as much as the Hubble space telescope, a reasonably big piece of science, churned out in its first two decades.

NEON, then, truly does represent a shift by ecologists towards bigness. No doubt that will change the practice of the subject, just as astronomy, physics and genetics changed when they became big. The days of field glasses and butterfly nets may thus be numbered. But no one doubts that in those other cases, the change was for the better. The chances are, that will be true for ecology as well.


10.  From Eric Mills:

This includes the hunting interview with VP candidate Paul Ryan, which hits the stands on Sept. 4 (DEER & DEER HUNTING).  You might wish to subscribe.  You can bet they'll be following Ryan's career.

Note that Mr. Ryan is a BIG fan of bow hunting, surely one of the most ineffective and inhumane ways of killing animals.  When's the last time you saw a Native American with bow and arrows?

We really need to publicize this.  Fits nicely with Mitt Romney's endorsement/support of rodeo (Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City, 2002 - we met with the guy; he double-crossed us), and his strapping the family Irish setter to the roof of the car for a road trip.  And did you hear Romney last night, in a dig at Obama, making fun of global warming and rising sea levels?  Scary folks, and NOT people I'd want in the White House, for these and many other reasons.

I suppose everyone's aware that Matthew Sculley (DOMINION) was one of the speechwriters for Ryan's presentation at the RNC?

(JS:  I knew you were intending to vote for Paul Ryan anyway :-)


(JS:  Why democracy doesn't work - just like all the other systems.  It's because of us.  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars...)

Kai Ryssdal: Congressman Paul Ryan's speech went about almost 40 minutes or so -- 3,500 words, plus or minus. Pile that on top of the thousands of hours and millions of words of speeches and press conference and plain old remarks that have been uttered this election season and you know what you've got, right? It's a business opportunity -  the rise of the political fact-checker.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Last night, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said this:

Paul Ryan: $716 billion, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.

And recently Senate Majority leader Harry Reid made that Mitt Romney...

Harry Reid: Basically paid no taxes in the prior 12 years.

Statements like these have kept people like Bill Adair pretty busy.

Bill Adair: I would rate that true on the Truth-O-Meter. We've seen a real explosion of fact checking in the last few years.

Bill Adair runs fact-checking outfit PolitiFact. He says, by the way, the claims above are either totally false or at best highly problematic. In the last five years, PolitiFact's staff has grown from two to 36. Another group,, has grown exponentially too. Why? Well it's not because politicians are suddenly fibbing even more. There's just a lot more media outlets reporting more "facts."

Lucas Graves: There is more political messaging now than ever because there are more ways to reach voters and anybody than ever.

Lucas Graves is a research fellow with the New America Foundation. He says the Internet has made fact-checking a lot easier.

Graves: Both in terms of doing research so that journalists, so that journalists can respond very quickly to statements that politicians make, but also in terms of making this info available to the public and keeping records.

But the question is, is it working? Brooks Jackson started

Brooks Jackson: Both sides don't seem to care, they keep repeating claims that have been shown by fact checkers to be false or grossly misleading.


11.  LTEs, Guardian Weekly

Our wild vacillation

The Guardian, along with the professional economic community and our fearless international leaders, seems to vacillate wildly between hand-wringing over the incomprehensible failure of the global economy to snap back to full-tilt growth via the business-as-usual model and the growing certainty that if we succeed, the global economic, environmental and social systems are going to collapse. 

While Larry Elliott discusses China's hope of reanimating (resource sucking) investment by fiddling interest rates and making more credit available (Global economy hits the wall, 17 August), Mitt Romney has selected the multitrillion-dollar debt-slashing Paul Ryan as his running mate, deluded that this is the answer to US financial woes and election victory. In the real world, after posting record profits again, hard on the heels of Barclays Libor scandal and HSBCs drug money laundering, "squeaky clean" Standard Chartered has been caught out in "historic sanction breaches" worth at least $250m.

Taken together with the wars, debt crises and civil disturbance around the world, our conflicted behaviour is surely a sign of a deeply dysfunctional global village. While I applaud our efforts to understand this paradoxical situation, I can't help feeling that we're all kidding ourselves. As good Guardian readers we shake our heads, wag our fingers and write to letters columns on corporate malfeasance, political corruption and rampant economic self-interest. Yet behind our backs most of our fingers are crossed hoping that our own consumerist contribution won't be the last straw that breaks the camel's back.

It's not just business-as-usual model for industry, banking and financial sectors that's wrong: it's the life-as-usual expectation of at least 6 billion of us.
Tor Larsen
Sydney, Australia

• I'm gobsmacked by the torsion, the schizoid incongruence between Hunger for rare earths leaves toxic legacy and Wearable computers? Just wait… (10 August).

Baotou in Mongolia is uninhabitable. Its soil, air and water are putrescent with radioactive sludge and hazardous chemicals generated by the mining and processing of rare earths, essential components of glamorous must-have e-gadgets such as energy-guzzling goggles that enable their users to simultaneously snowboard, receive weather forecasts and emails, change music channels and download their prowess to the internet.

What's fun about a choice whose toxic consequences are excreted on to other humans, other species and the future? Freedom not co-valent with accountability is a self-serving and greedy lie.

Are smart-phones and their ilk in fact terminally stupid? Why aren't they labelled like cigarette packets: "This product irreparably damages the biosphere"?

How do we stand our ground, reclaim agency in the face of our own terrifying nihilism, our ecocidal mania? What cultural, moral and ecological dots do we need to join up if we're not to cannibalise our only Earth? How do we recover from collective disassociation so deep that it's delusional to the point of psychosis?

We're in paralysed thrall to a market economy ruthless as a dictatorship, that would rather crucify lifekind than relinquish power. How do we wake up, break free, go sane? What might a planetary spring look like?
Annie March
West Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.  

      Winston Churchill


The computer is down.  I hope it's something serious.  Stanton Delaplane

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