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.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Reinhold Niebuhr:
Original sin is that thing about man which makes him capable of conceiving of his own perfection and incapable of achieving it.
Evil is not to be traced back to the individual but to the collective behavior of humanity. 

1.   Job opening: environmental horticulture advisor
2.   Manahatta 2409 - imagining ecological sustainability Dec 20
3.   Letters needed to unseat Fish & Game Commissioner
4.   Life on the Brink:  Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation
5.   The Butterflies of the Presidio exhibit
6.   Green Fire wins an Emmy! / Leopold conference in March
7.   Feedback
8.   Thinkwalks: flood stories/myths
9.   Large, old trees disappearing worldwide
10. We are grains of sand, lost in births’ secret treasure trove
11.  Mushroom walk in Pacifica Dec 29
12  San Bruno Mtn walk Dec 22
13.  Map listing all SF’s privately own public open spaces
14.  Shop online with &
15.  Help SaveTheFrogs win $20,000/poetry contest winners
16.  Serengeti Story: Life and Science in the World’s Greatest Wildlife Region
17.  A new species of fly discovered in downtown LA! / Let’s hear it for coyote bush
18.  Editorial on our weird and dysfunctional economy
19.  New element discovered - maybe it will help economy function


University of California Cooperative Extension
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Environmental Horticulture Advisor
Serving San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa
and Santa Clara Counties
AP #12-02

Location Headquarters:  San Mateo County, Half Moon Bay, California

CLOSING DATE: To assure full consideration, application packets must be received by January 31, 2013 (open until filled)


2.  Mannahatta 2409
A talk by Eric Sanderson on imagining ecological sustainability in the context of climate change

The Studio for Urban Projects hosts a talk by Eric Sanderson, creator of the Mannahatta and Mannahatta 2409 projects.  We invite you to join us for this special event on Thursday, December 20 at 7 PM.

Studio for Urban Projects
917 Bryant Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Served by Market Street transit lines to Civic Center or MUNI lines 19, 27 and 47 to SOMA. Secure bike parking available on-site.

Please RSVP to Suggested donation $5-$15

Eric Mills:
Might you be able to include in an upcoming alert?  Everybody's telling me the Kellogg's confirmation is a done deal.  I ain't buying it.  The fat lady hasn't sung yet.

The confirmation hearing of Fish & Game Commissioner Jim Kellogg is now scheduled for WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 9, 2013 before the Senate Rules Committee chaired by Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).  Other members are Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield), and two just-appointed members Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Bill Emmerson (R-Riverside).   Assemblymember Ben Hueso's AB 2609 becomes law on January 1, 2013.  It establishes qualifications for F&G commissioners, bringing the Kellogg re-appointment into question.
LETTERS OF OPPOSITION TO THIS UNFORTUNATE APPOINTMENT ARE NEEDED NOW.  Please write to Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), chair, Senate Rules Committee, The State Capitol, Sacramento, CA  95814,  with copies to the other members.  (NOTE:  Letters carry more weight than emails.)                                     
Some letters to the editors of local newspapers would also be helpful, too.  Yours?
Background - Jim Kellogg has already served 10+ years on the commission--time for some new faces.  Kellogg has repeatedly stated his belief that spent lead shot in the environment is not a problem for either condors or other wildlife, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary; voted in support of the unethical use of the electronic duck decoys called "roboducks," opposed by the majority of hunters; and recently declared the invasive striped bass to be "a California native species" (patently false--the striped bass is a major predator of our endangered salmon and Delta smelt).  More than once Mr. Kellogg has attempted to silence speakers at the podium, a violation of the Brown Act and common courtesy.  More recently, at the Dec. 12 Commission meeting in San Diego, he voted to drop discussion of the live animal food markets issue and instead send the issue to the State Legislature, a major abdication of duty.  (Commissioner Richard Rogers also sold us out on this one.)

According to the August 2, 2010 SANTA ROSA PRESS DEMOCRAT ("Ocean protector gets tossed overboard"), Mr. Kellogg's 30,000-member plumbers union gave Gov. Jerry Brown $100,000 that year; $500,000 to the State Democratic Party; and $1.023 MILLION to the Gray Davis recall campaign....The best commission that money can buy?  The article also notes that Kellogg's union is the only one that donated--$25,000--to Prop. 23, the oil industry-backed initiative that would reverse California's law to reduce greenhouse gases.  Our wildlife deserves better.  Mr. Kellogg skipped the October 2012 commission meeting to go elk and deer hunting in Nevada, Montana and Canada, according to the 10/3/12 CONTRA COSTA TIMES ("Love of hunting defines East Contra Costa outdoorsman").   So much for priorities.  The legal status of the wolf in California was on the agenda that day, an important vote, and Kellogg should have been present. These hearing dates are set months in advance.  (NOTE - Kellogg has said that he would  "shoot a wolf, but you sure wouldn't see a photo of it"--an allusion, presumably, to Commissioner Dan Richards' infamous Idaho mountain lion hunt.  Anyone who thinks Kellogg is an improvement over Richards is sadly mistaken.)
Nine environmental and animal organizations signed a joint letter to Governor Schwarzenegger in 2006 opposing Kellogg's appointment:  Natural Resources Defense Council (Kate Wing); Defenders of Wildlife (Kim Delfino); Sierra Club (Paul Mason); The Ocean Conservancy (Warner Chabot); Surfrider Foundation (Joe Geever); California Coastkeeper Alliance (Linda Sheehan); The Ocean Conservancy (Warner Chabot); Heal the Bay (Heather Hoecherel); Animal Protection Institute (Camilla Fox); and the Humane Society of the U.S. (Mike Markarian).  They need to do another, either individually or jointly.  If you're a member of any of these organizations, urge them to send a letter opposing Mr. Kellogg's confirmation.
Please also ask California's HSUS Legislative Director Jennifer Fearing to submit a letter of opposition:; tel. 916/992-3667.    But for her efforts (well-intentioned though they were), Dan Richards would still be president of the commission.
Meanwhile, all other organizations and individuals should be submitting letters of opposition ASAP.   Also write to Gov. Jerry Brown, asking him to rescind the Kellogg appointment.  Richard Rogers' term expired months ago; Dan Richards' term expires in January 2013.  The Governor now has the grand opportunity to appoint THREE highly qualified people to this currently-dysfunctional body.  (Note:  In 140 years, there have been only TWO women appointed to the commission--and both were soon forced off for political reasons.)
Write to Gov. Brown & all state legislators c/o The State Capitol, Sacramento, CA  95814.
Eric Mills, coordinator

Tackling the Taboo:
Leading environmental activists and scholars take on population in new book 
Book review of Life on the Brink:  Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation
(University of Georgia Press, 2012)
By Leon Kolankiewicz

When it comes to human overpopulation and the war it is waging on nature, the American environmental establishment has been AWOL for several decades.  Now comes a refreshing new anthology published by the University of Georgia Press that seeks to remind environmentalists of all that is at stake and make them reconsider their dereliction of duty. 

...population isn’t ignored because it’s boring or passé, but because it touches on a plethora of compelling but emotionally-fraught and politically divisive issues, including sex, contraception, abortion, immigration, ethnicity, race, religion, culture, language, and limits to growth.  While the environmental establishment opted to avoid population and being called nasty names, it cannot avoid overpopulation’s many environmental impacts.

In Life on the Brink:  Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation (University of Georgia Press, 2012, ), co-editors Phil Cafaro and Eileen Crist have marshaled a veritable who’s who of environmental and conservation leaders, scholars and activists in a collection of essays that tackles this touchy topic head on.  Cafaro is a professor of philosophy at Colorado State University, president of the board of Progressives for Immigration Reform, and the author of two prior books on environmental ethics. Crist is an associate professor in the Department of Science and Technology in Society at Virginia Tech and author of Earth Ethics in an Age of Crisis.

In their essays for Life on the Brink, Californians for Population Stabilization advisors and other Californians offer the rest of America not just cautionary tales but sound advice.  

In the anthology’s brilliant epilogue, environmental philosopher Phil Cafaro poses the provocative and potentially offensive question, “Is Humanity a Cancer on the Earth?”  He writes:

Forty years ago, at the dawn of the modern environmental movement, it was common to hear humanity’s rapid population growth spoken of as “cancerous”…

The notion of “humanity as cancer” grated. Who wants to think of themselves, or their children, as part of a sickening, life- threatening disease?  Many of us know people who have suffered from cancer.  The whole way of speaking seems in bad taste.

Yet environmentalists back then at least had the clarity to realize that overpopulation was a problem, and the courage to say so.  Today we are ever so much more sensitive, well behaved, well spoken.  And we are failing utterly to protect wild nature or future human generations from overpopulation.

Cafaro eschews this sensitive, well-behaved and all-too-well-worn path and proceeds to excoriate growth-worshiping economists and their dogmas.   “Modern economic theory reads as if cancer had found a voice,” he observes acidly.   

Life on the Brink is recommended for all who truly want to save an America and an Earth worth living on.  As the clear-eyed Cafaro cogently writes, the contributors to this anthology:

…are committed to the idea that the human race can be more than an ever- gaping mouth swallowing the world.  We want to work toward a future in which humanity limits its appropriation of the biosphere, and wild nature continues to flourish.  In this way, I believe, we stand up for what is best in humanity.

Life on the Brink:  Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation can be ordered at or the University of Georgia Press,

"The Butterflies of the Presidio” by Liam O’Brien and Matt Zlatunich is a culmination of years of work for a book recently published by the Presidio Trust. All the original work is for sale.

The exhibit continues at the Thoreau Center For Sustainability in the Presidio (1014 Torney Avenue - at Presidio Blvd.) through January 31st. Gallery Hours: M-F 9am-5pm.


6.  Steve & Ann Dunsky:

Hi Jake,
I love the use of the Leopold quotes in the newsletter!
By the way, Green Fire recently won an Emmy!  You can read about it on the Green Fire website.

Also, we're having a big Leopold conference at Pt Reyes Station in March.  It is part of the Geography of Hope series.

We'd love your help in encouraging people to attend.
Info can be found here:


7.  Feedback

Alice Mosley:
Dear Jake,
Thanks once again for a rivetting and informative newsletter.
Not only interesting, but highly helpful are the entries under the "potpourri" from Scientific American.

What do your readers think of the article "Why I Won't Get a Colonoscopy"? It always seemed to me that if you were lucky enough to have reasonable medical insurance in this country, you were pushed into being "over-medicalized" - while many of the most crying health needs of the poor, un- and underinsured go unmet.

How much would it cost for you to publish a hard copy of your newsletter?! (I'm old school.)

Thanks for the feedback, Alice.  It helps me to know what people appreciate.  Scientific American potpourri, eg.  In all these years, no one has said they liked this feature.

By coincidence, my doctor had just recommended that I get my second colonoscopy when this item appeared and made me question whether I should.  I am naive and trusting by nature and tend to believe everything a doctor tells me.  Only in my older years has it even occurred to me to question.

And I’m flattered that you think these newsletters are worth printing.  Just for starters, the backbone of the newsletter is timely events, and it would make no sense to publish those.  You are the second person to advocate this very thing, and I was stunned when I heard it the first time--that someone would think that’s a good idea.  Won’t happen, for a number of reasons (I just gave one), but I’m flattered all to pieces that two people think well enough of it to propound the idea.



Come sign up for new walks & hikes at Three more in December and a few in January and March are on the calendar now.

Flood stories: Humans who lived around here before the arrival of Europeans told of the world flooding when it was created.

I wonder whether that mythology comes from the 300 foot rise of local coastal waters, when the ice caps of the Ice Age became liquid 12,000 to 9,000 years ago. That is just about when evidence shows an influx of human settlements.

Another feature of those folks is that they had a huge stuff-yourself-with-eggs feast during the season when murre eggs were available on the Farallones Islands. These islands are 20 miles offshore. Murres are easy to scare off and the eggs are easy to collect. When Europeans did arrive, there were battles among immigrant groups for egg turf. Chickens weren't plentiful during the mining booms.

I love thinking about how the rising seas made the birds' nesting areas safer and more distant from predators. With their tule boats, ancient humans had to paddle out progressively farther into the ocean to get eggs. I wonder how this arrangement over spans of generations affected creation myths and relationships to the sea, with the cliffs* at the shore becoming remote (yet visible) islands. (*Farallones means cliffs, I guess.)

Flood-infused mythology could also come from the occasional megastorm "atmospheric rivers" that repeatedly flooded low valleys and river canyons throughout the state. Distinct megafloods can be seen as thick silt layers from overwhelming runoff in undisturbed California lakes. This method shows giant flood events in A.D. 212, 440, 603, 1029, 1418 and 1605. The 1861/62 floods were huge but the silt traces are complicated by immeasurable mining tailings. And there must've been some fairly big storms between these times, too.

I've been reading Kim Stanley Robinson's alternate history novel, The Years of Rice and Salt. The floods of 1862 play a big part in the chapter called Gold Mountain, causing revolutions in the story and a lot of sloshing in my brain.

With the resurgence of sea level rise, and the expected increase in major storm frequency, I got to thinking: I wonder how flood stories will play out and be passed along. I had to write to you about it. It's more than the usual Deep SF Facts series, mostly as personal catharsis, I guess. Please forgive my indulgence. Plus I hope you find it informative, provoking your own imaginative scenarios of past and future water.

Joel:  It’s unlikely that you don’t already know this, but I say it anyway, just in case:  Flood myths are near-universal in widespread cultures, and many (most?) of them strongly resemble the Noah story.  I’ll leave it to others to expound on the why of flood myths, or what purpose it served.  JS


Large, old trees disappearing worldwide

Largest trees provide distinct ecosystem services.

But perhaps God needs the longing, wherever else shall it dwell,
Which with kisses and tears and sighs fills mysterious spaces of air -
And perhaps is invisible soil from which roots of stars grow and swell -
And the radiant voice across fields of parting which calls to reunion there?
O my beloved, perhaps in the sky of longing worlds have been born of our love -
Just as our breathing, in and out, builds a cradle for life and death?
We are grains of sand, dark with farewell, lost in births' secret treasure trove,
Around us already perhaps future moons, suns, and stars blaze in a fiery wreath.

~ Nelly Sachs ~

(Translated by Ruth and Matthew Mead, in A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now, ed. by Aliki and Willis Barnstone)


11.  Mushroom Walk in Pacifica

Dr. Bill Freedman will lead a mushroom walk around the lower reaches of San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica on Saturday, December 29 at 11 am.  We will meet inside the Visitor Center at that time to hear and see an overview of the fungi before we set out into the crisp air.

Dr. Freedman serves as the head of the toxicology committee of the Mycological Society of San Francisco.

Heavy rain cancels this walk.

David Schooley, founder of San Bruno Mountain Watch, will lead his popular Founder's Hike on December 22, and the 4th Saturday of each month.
David has devoted decades of work to preserving the mountain and sharing it with others. His knowledge of the mountain and his love of nature will touch those who hike with him.
These monthly hikes will be in great demand and will be limited to 12 participants. You must SIGN UP IN ADVANCE at the online hike signup page, or contact the office by email or phone.
For more information about all of our hikes, click here.
All hikes meet at the San Bruno Mountain Watch office at 10am and usually last until 1:30pm.
Directions to our office in Brisbane at 44 Visitacion Avenue, Suite 206 (upstairs).

San Bruno Mountain Watch

San Francisco Planning Department

A map listing all of the city's Privately Owned Public Open Spaces (POPOS) is now available.

POPOS are publicly accessible spaces in forms of plazas, terraces, atriums, small parks, and even snippets that are provided and maintained by private developers. Most of them can be found downtown.

To learn more, visit the program's site:

Shop Online with and SaveNature.Org.

‘Tis the season to shop online!  Not only does this allow you to stay away from the busy traffic and crowded shopping centers but it also enables you to make the world a better place. This year please consider using during your online shopping to support SaveNature.Org.  The process is easy! All you need to do is register and then every time you search the web, shop online or dine out, will donate a penny or small percentage of the cost to SaveNature.Org. is the easiest way to make a difference.  Please register at today and enjoy the gift of giving!


15.  You can help SAVE THE FROGS! win $20,000...we're only 200 votes out of first place!

SAVE THE FROGS! is currently in 2nd place in the Envirokidz contest that would win us $20,000 for our Save The Frogs Day efforts! You can vote daily through Dec 15th. Please vote and spread the word, thanks!!! Note that you need a Facebook account to vote and you cannot vote through a mobile phone.

Save The Frogs Day is extremely popular with schools, and this EnviroKidz grant will enable SAVE THE FROGS to provide Save The Frogs Day event packets to 100 participating schools and environmental groups in Canada, the USA and Mexico. Priority will be given to schools and groups that have held events in past years and demonstrated their competence and dedication towards amphibian conservation. The award would also help us to coordinate and promote the event so that it gets the maximum publicity and participation. Thanks for helping by voting!

2012 SAVE THE FROGS! Poetry Contest Winners
The 2012 SAVE THE FROGS! Poetry Contest received 1,216 entries from 43 countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brasil, Canada, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, USA, Venezuela. Congratulations to the winners! Thanks to all this year's poets for helping to get the word out!
Congratulations to Caitlin Lambert, Age 14, of Waxhaw, North Carolina, Grand Prize Winner of the 2012 SAVE THE FROGS! Poetry Contest, for her poem "Goodbye". Congratulations to Madeline O'Connor, Age 13, of Westerly, Rhode Island, for her poem "Frog Memory". Congratulations to Diana Woodcock of Doha, Qatar, winner of the 18+ age group, for her poem "Tiny Everglades Frogs". The Raffles Institution in Singapore had EIGHT students make it to the final round! This means their students fared eleven times better than would have been expected by chance! Thanks to Frog Poetry Judges Sienne Hayes, Lindsay King and Nicola Biasi.

Read the winning poems here!

(What’s gnu?  For me, it’s new that gnus are the same as wildebeest.  I always assumed they were two different animals.  JS)

Serengeti national park

High plains drifter

Sanctuary for the soul

Dec 1st 2012 | from The Economist

Serengeti Story: Life and Science in the World’s Greatest Wildlife Region. By Anthony Sinclair

NESTLED between the two arms of east Africa’s Great Rift Valley sits a vast plain on which roams an extraordinarily rich diversity of life. Just south of the plain lies the age-old Olduvai Gorge, near where two-legged hominids left footprints in the ash some 3.6m years ago—aeons before their descendant, Homo sapiens, marched out of Africa to encircle the planet. For anyone who has seen this plain, it is hard not to believe that on his way out mankind left behind something of his soul.

The plain is called Serengeti, from a Maasai word for “great open space”, and there are several ways to tell its story. Anthony Sinclair is a scientist who has worked there intermittently since 1965 recording the movement and behaviour of a range of animals—from the aardvark to the zebra. He arrived to study the migration of birds, moved rapidly on to buffalo before focusing on the wildebeest or gnu, a bizarre bearded antelope; its migration is central to the Serengeti’s ecosystem.

The book recounts how he made his remarkable scientific discoveries. For example, to have the best chance of survival about 90% of the wildebeest give birth within a one-month period, and hence need to conceive within a similarly short space of time. Mr Sinclair asks how they synchronise this mass mating, and then, in trying to find the answer, discovers that the beasts’ conception period is linked to the lunar cycle; it shifts back ten days each year for three years and then leaps forward by a month.

This is a tale of hope. The book documents the Serengeti’s remarkable resilience, the close interdependence of its species and their recovery from disasters ranging from the rinderpest virus, which badly affected the buffalo and wildebeest populations before the 1960s (but left the zebras untouched), to the devastating drought of 1993 and the poaching of the 1990s, from which the black rhino, among other species, may not recover fully.

The plain’s populations fluctuate wildly, and probably always have. The elephant, for instance, was abundant in the area in the 1860s until the industrialising West’s demand for billiard balls and piano keys encouraged the ivory trade. By 1913 a hunter called Stewart Edward White could find no elephants at all on the plain. Yet by the 1960s their numbers had recovered to such an extent that there was talk of a cull. And this same cycle has been repeated over the past 30 years.

The author never entirely sheds his academic persona. “Serengeti Story” has more than 300 footnotes. But it is also, as Mr Sinclair says, “a book of stories”, and although the stories consist mostly of tales of human discomfort in the presence of animals, this is no dry textbook. For this (non-scientific) reader at least, it maintains the balance well.

At the centre of the book is a question: how can man ensure that such a place continues to exist? Mr Sinclair is reservedly optimistic, rightly full of praise for Tanzania, which has dedicated 14% of its land to national parks, reserves and conservation areas. But this richly diverse ecosystem is forever on the tipping point to irreversible decay. No sooner does one threat fade than another looms. The latest is a project to build a tarmac road across the north of the park, a plan that risks leading to increased poaching of animals and more human settlement and tree loss within the park. The plan is currently on hold while the government seeks international funding for a longer detour round the south of the park.

For Mr Sinclair the main lesson to be drawn from his years in the Serengeti is that “nothing is ever secure against human greed.” The price of this sanctuary for the soul, as it is for liberty and peace, seems to be eternal vigilance—by men like Anthony Sinclair and Tanzania’s park wardens.


17.  Fly guy

A new species - discovered in downtown Los Angeles!

JS:  Local restorationists have long been aware that the coyote bush, Baccharis pilularis, supports a lot of wildlife.  In terms of numbers of species it may be the world champion.  (That’s my wild guess, based on my limited information.) 

The following item was taken from my archives, and was a dialogue with Laura Baker on coyote bush - from 2010:
Hi Jake,Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed your rhapsody on goldenrods.  In particular, I join with you in your appreciation for those plants that bloom late in the season and the important role that they fill for insects. It's one of the many reasons that I love coyote brush, that much maligned plant that is considered to be a weed by many humans, including native plant lovers.  I recall hearing Dr. Jerry Powell, esteemed lepidopterist whose specialty is microlepidoptera, describe how critical coyote brush is for insects going into diapause.  Not much around to eat late in the season, but coyote brush offers a veritable feast for many different species. 
Thank you, Laura.  Feedback is always appreciated, because I can then learn what appeals to people.  Otherwise I'm flying blind.  Next newsletter you'll be subjected to Thoreau's rhapsodizing about that other autumn bloomer, asters.  (See next item)

Coyote bush?  Yes indeed!!  In my field trips I always overlooked it because it was so common.  But now I make a point of talking about it for the precise reason that Jerry Powell pointed out.  I always mention the study done on the Stanford campus by James Tilden as a PhD thesis in 1948.  I used the figure (please DON'T use this figure, as it may well not be accurate) 319 species of arthropod.  I don't know where I got the figure, so ignore.  However, I do have a listing and summary of his 1948 thesis in my computer.  (The computer's Search couldn't find it, because it is a photograph of a typed manuscript, so there wasn't any digital information for it to find.)  It is a formidable listing of arthropods that goes on for many pages, and I am not about to count them.  Be assured it is a formidable food chain.

Our CNPS chapter is big on wildlife gardening, and we push that at our plant sale.
(Laura Baker) Yes, Tilden's amazing monograph on the insect associates of Baccharis pilularis!  A friend of mine turned me on to this years ago, and I have often quoted it.  One of his conclusions that struck me most deeply was that, of the various groups of associates, the parasitoids had the highest numbers of species and that he found sometimes 3 levels of parasitism in some species.  He reared some of these in the lab.  Imagine the coevolution that has taken place to produce that level of parasitism.  Since Tilden studied only the insects that utilized the vegetative parts of the plant and NOT the flowers, there remains still unquantified the numbers of insects that visit the flowers.

I have a great deal to say about the wonders of coyote brush (or bush, if you like).  It's very disturbing to me to hear the quite primitive level of discussions that go on about it without any reference whatsoever to its role as a fundamental feeder plant for the basis of food chains. Just as oaks are crucial to the gleaning guild of birds in oak woodlands, coyote brush offers up the same diverse repast for gleaners in coastal scrub.

  Over here in the East Bay, it's ripped out by the acre for fuels management, often with foregone conclusions about it invading grasslands--almost never is the term succession used.  According to Jerry Powell, coyote brush is about the only native plant species that can re-succeed into annual grasslands to establish native habitat, at least in this area.  An incredibly important colonizing plant.

It maintains a very high level of live fuel moisture  because of its marvelous adaptations: extraordinary tough, deep roots (that stabilize slopes); volatile oils that cool the surface of the foliage; small, thick leathery leaves that reduce water loss. 

For folks who grow vegetable gardens and utilize biological control for pests, coyote brush is one of the most important plant species grown in the insectary hedges around the garden plots because it maintains such a high number of beneficial insects.

I recall a conversation with Ron Russo, retired Chief Naturalist at East Bay Regional Park District who maintained a high level of respect for coyote brush.  In his Field Guide to Plant Galls of California and Other Western States, he describes in details the species that gall coyote brush.  He said that coyote brush is a tough sell for many folks.  Some find the plant homely, it's extremely common, and its flowers are numerous but small and rather plain.  I find that when one begins to learn something about the intricacies of this plant, it sheds its ugly duckling status and becomes quite glorious to contemplate.

I like this dialogue, Laura.  And it gives me grist for my newsletter--not that I need more in terms of quantity.  Quality is what I'm after, and this will help direct people's attention to the vital subject of the fine fabric that constitutes ecosystems.  We need a lot more awareness on this subject.

I don't know what is happening in the East Bay in terms of fuels mgt.  Your reference to plant succession is an important one that deserves more thought on the part of land managers and restorationists.  In the case of grasslands that have become 100% weedy annual grasses I have advocated turning them into shrublands, because trying to restore annual grasslands with the exceedingly limited resources available today is not feasible, and shrubs--especially coyote bush--provide rich wildlife support.  However, where native bunchgrasses and forbs still exist, I cannot think of allowing shrubs to invade.  As you know, most of our grasslands today are a legacy from the frequent burning regimes practiced by the natives.  In the absence of frequent burning and grazing they are going back to shrublands, and I don't think they would ever come back to grasslands by natural succession.  (This is an immediate issue on San Bruno Mtn, where native and non-native shrubs are invading the grasslands, which are needed for the three federally-listed butterflies.)  Your reference to coyote bush succession was not clear on this point.
December 2012:  I finally took the time to track down the Tilden study referred to above.  I did a quick hand count of the species Tilden listed in his research on coyote bush.  This is a truly phenomenal number of different kinds of creatures living off a single species of plant.  My species count on Tilden’s study:
    29 spiders
    6 mites
    229 insects

Two points need consideration: 
1.  Laura’s statement that these counts were only from the coyote bush vegetative parts, not the flowers or fruits--which would boost the count considerably. 

2.  Many of these organisms (spiders, certainly) were there either hunting for prey or trying to catch prey in webs.  The spiders, then, are not necessarily there because of the coyote bush: it may be that for some of them the kind of bush was irrelevant.  However, the prey may have been there because it was a coyote bush.  It would be nice to have a more in-depth study.

Postscript:  We who are doing restoration bump into a conundrum:  We place a high value on coyote bush, but want to preserve/restore our grasslands/wildflowers.  We try to steer a middle course.  Fortunately, there is a lot of coyote bush relative to the size of our wild areas, so we spend most of our time nurturing the grasslands and wildflowers.


18.  JS editorial:
(I occasionally pillory economists in these newsletters, which gets me into trouble with an economist friend.  I need to explain that I use economist as a shorthand for a complex of decision-makers.  The decision makers are embedded in The System and systems, as we know, resist change.)

Many laypeople have long known that the type of economy we have has built-in flaws that are inevitably going to cause major problems because it is not sustainable.  If laypeople know this, why don’t our leaders and institutions?  Here, in essence, is how I reason:

Suppose, for example, you’re Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.  Further, suppose that you see the contradictions on which this economy is built and know that the course we’re on is futile (unlikely, but this is a fantasy).  You know that to continue tinkering to get it going again will only prolong its dysfunction.  So you issue a statement: 

“The Federal Reserve can continue to keep interest rates at zero and can continue to print money as we have for past 4-5 years without much effect.  But it is destined to fail to provide jobs for all of us, and will continue destroying earth’s ability to provide for us, so we’re going to stop these ineffective actions.  What to do?  Well, you can’t invent another system while the current one is in place, so we’ll let conditions deteriorate until the system crashes.  Then we can start constructing a rational and sustainable system.”’

You see the problem.  The scenario is ultra-simple and silly, but I hope you get the point.  The scenario assumes that the main deciders see the flaws of the system, which they probably don’t.  They have been in the system for so long - all their lives, in fact - that they are deeply imbued with that way of looking at the world, and it would be humanly impossible for them to think outside the system.  Even if somehow--miraculously--they could see it, they are simple cogs in a big machine, and they are helpless--yes, even Bernanke.  The following article is about an influential woman in English government who did wake up.

You know that Britain is in a financial mess when even establishment figures are calling for revolutionary thinking
by Aditya Chakrabortty
Rachel Lomax is practically the definition of establishment: Cheltenden Ladies College followed by Cambridge and the LSE; principal private secretary to then-chancellor Nigel Lawson, deputy governor of the Bank of England for five years until 2008.  Which makes what she said one recent Friday evening all the more startling.

…The former treasury mandarin made no bones about admitting that she had been part of a project of "dismantling a version of capitalism" and replacing it with "Anglo-American neoliberalism".  You'd struggle to get scholars of Thatcherism to speak with such straightforwardness, but here it was coming from one of the era's key backroom players.

And now this co-architect of Britain's economic model as good as admitted that the system she had helped create was broken.  But Lomax had one question: "Where is the revolutionary thinking?"

…the giant hole spotted by Lomax is one she and her colleagues have helped cause, by practicing a narrow, corrupted form of economics.

In their new book, Economists and the Powerful, Norbert Haering and Niall Douglas trace how the most powerful of all the social sciences became a doctrine for helping the rich - with the aid of huge sums from business.  You may be familiar with a version of this critique, thanks to the film Inside Job, which described how some of the best-known economists are in the pay of Wall Street.  But the history unearthed by Haering and Douglas is far more disturbing - because they argue that vested interests have slanted some of economics' most fundamental ideas.

Take the Rand Corporation, an American cold-war institution that the book describes as closely linked to the Ford Foundation, which in turn was closely linked to the CIA.  "It is hard to overestimate Rand's impact on the modern economic mainstream, let alone modern society," write the authors, who tot up at least 32 Nobel laureates with links with the organization, including some of the biggest names in economics.  Yet the economics it promoted assumed a society that was individualistic and rational.  In other words, nothing like society as most of us know it, with its organizations and institutions and cultures.

From there it was a short step to the neoliberal politics everyone knows today: the kind that argues there is no such thing as society.

It is the kind of corruptonomics: "An effort that was generously funded by businessmen and the military in the name of cementing the power and legitimacy of their selves and their beliefs."

What makes this argument so striking is that Haering started off as a "true believer" in economics.  He did his PhD under one of the most eminent academics in Germany, before waltzing off to a highly paid job with Commerzbank.  It took him years of delving into the archives to arrive, reluctantly at first, at the conclusion that the subject he had spent years studying was rotten.

The IMF and the World Bank employ economists from all over the world, but it is striking how many come from so few universities.

This then is at least part of the answer to Lomax's question.  Mainstream economics now preaches a dogma that is particularly agreeable to the elite and has chased most dissenters out of its faculties.  Where's the revolutionary thinking?  I suspect Lomax, and others, will be asking that question for a long time.

Guardian Weekly 07.12.12 (condensed)

Reinhold Niebuhr:
The mastery of nature is vainly believed to be an adequate substitute for self mastery. 

Our age knows nothing but reaction, and leaps from one extreme to another.


Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. By Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson.

Nations fail because their leaders are greedy, selfish and ignorant of history. A powerful analysis that looks beyond the obvious and is full of surprises. (The Economist)


19.  New element discovered.

The heaviest element known to science was recently discovered by physicists.  The element, tentatively named Administratium, has no protons or electrons and thus has an atomic number of 0.  However, it does have 1 neutron, 125 assistant neutrons, 75 vice neutrons, and 111 assistant vice-neutrons, for an atomic number of 312.  The 312 particles are held together by a force that involves the continuous exchange of meson-like particles called morons.

Since it has no electrons, Administratium is inert.  However, it can be detected chemically, as it impedes every action with which it comes in contact.  According to the discoverers, one reaction that normally requires less than one second was extended to four days by the presence of a minute amount of Administratium.

Administratium has a half-life of approximately three years, at which time it does not actually decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which assistant neutrons, vice-neutrons, and assistant vice-neutrons exchange places.  Some studies suggest that its atomic mass actually increases in each reorganization.

Research at other laboratories indicates that Administratium occurs naturally in the atmosphere.  It tends to concentrate at certain points, such as government agencies, large corporations, and universities, and can usually be found in the newest, best appointed, and best maintained buildings.
Scientists point out that Administratium is known to be toxic at any level of concentration and can easily destroy any productive reaction where it is allowed to accumulate.  Attempts are being made to determine how Administratium can be controlled to prevent irreversible damage, but results to date are not promising.

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