May 28, 2008

Really Really Free Market and Reclaim the Streets, This Saturday!

The Really Really Free Market is this Saturday from 1-5 in Dolores Park. The gift economy in action, RRFM is for everyone. Everything is free: No buying, no selling.... and no leaving your shit behind for someone else to lug to Community Thrift.

I have some decent stuff to get rid of over the next two months. RRFM is the place to do that. And while I need to off-load way more than I should pick up, I'll be back to looking for headphones. I stopped for a while because my Ipod was finally dead, no battery left. But this weekend my super generous clients gave me their extra nano. I swear I pulled weeds about an hour longer than I physically desired today because I had tunes. Hell yeah, I love my clients.

RRFM coincides with Reclaim the Streets, which also meets at 1pm in Dolores Park this Saturday. Renters Rise Up! We hate 98, 99 is fine. Ugh, we're taking to the streets in no small part because of an evil (I rarely use that word, search it in this blog if you don't believe me) California proposition that would end rent control. No on 98! And while I'm casting political aspersions, I hate the California initiative process. Direct democracy requires an informed citizenry, that's something we don't have. Grrr.

In other news:
I am wrapping up the Green DogWalks project with a community reportback at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center on Thursday, June 12th. It's a night of learning and envisioning a new dynamic among stakeholders in our natural areas.
And speaking of great clients, two of my favorite dog walking clients, and their radical humans, are moving to London in the Fall, too. How crazy is that? I really hope that I can live in decent proximity to them so that I can walk those pups!

See you in the streets (or in the park for RRFM).

May 15, 2008

Weeding for Butterflies

This is Twin Peaks on many typical SF days, enshrined in fog. I'm working up there in Mission Blue Butterfly habitat, but these are not normal SF days: It's truly hot. Wtf? As in Where's The Fog???? I actually had to come down early today because my water got so hot that it wasn't helping regulate my temperature, even when I poured it on my neck and wrists. Crazy.
But there can be no rest for the weeders, as this heat means that the seed of my target species, invasive radish and mustard, are drying out fast and falling. I have to proceed strategically, southern slopes of highly diverse areas first. Miss. Blue habitat areas take precedence over the rest.

Have you met this endangered creature, who calls San Francisco home? Listed through the Endangered Species Act in 1976, the Mission Blue Butterfly relies on lupine as its larval food plant. Mustard and radish encroach on the grasslands of Twin Peaks, one fragment of habitat that Miss. Blue and her lupines continue to call home.

Mustard and radish are invasive, damn near the opposite of endangered. Garden varieties reverted to wilder states, these plants lack natural limits in this environment. As they spread, the diversity of plant life and ecosystem function decline. Insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals all need habitats that offer variety in their structure (height, density, texture, durability). If a wave of mustard, french broom, cape ivy, eucalyptus, oxalis, radish, or ehrharta washes over a landscape, we often end up with one species dominating an area formerly shared by several species. With a decline in plant diversity, you can expect a decline in animal diversity. Some species can make use of invasive plants, but others cannot.

Since invasives have a leg up (or maybe a leaf), someone has to help out the indigenous species. That's what I do. I don't water or prune plants. I just keep space available for local species. Sometimes I get to collect their seed, help raise them in a nursery, and plant them to reclaim space. But mostly I weed.

May 12, 2008

Loving My Library

The SF Public Library system is pretty nice. I love my Excelsior branch, which is about 2 blocks from my flat. Overly worried about how I will adjust to life in London, I've started reading my grad school books early. I'm not the fastest reader so I want to absorb them once now in case I get overwhelmed.
This strategy is also helping me decide whether or not to buy these books for school, or to hope that I can check them out in London. For now, the library is perfect. Glancing at my list I searched "The Future of the Wild: Radical Conservation for a Crowded World" and found that there was a brand new copy not only in the system, but sitting at my branch library (Adams, Jonathan). I tried that title because it's striking and I was hoping to learn some crazy shit that might blow my mind. I searched, "Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions" because I've heard about this book over and over but never read it (Quammen, David). A not so new copy of this book was sitting at my branch library. Two for two.

I stopped there because, like I said, I'm not the fastest reader. The Adams book was great, but I would have loved it more if there had been some maps. As it is, "The Future of the Wild" convinced me first that I want to work on open space issues in the desert southwest (consistent with my interest in border issues and desert plant communities). When Adams directed my attention to the swamps of the South, I weighed mosquitoes against dust, rattlesnakes against cottonmouths. (Forgive me conservation colleagues for using the much maligned "swamp" over the preferred "wetlands". Okefenokee will always be a swamp.) I needn't have made these comparisons, because after I read about Yellowstone, I was convinced that I could and should work in either Montana or Wyoming.

Thank you SF Public Library for reminding me that our planet is complex and exciting. I've moved on to "The Song of the Dodo" and am just about convinced that I'll never really understand evolution unless I do my studies on an island. Crap, the only things that don't excite me are suburbs and golf courses at the moment.

Speaking of exciting, I'm theoretically healed from my January neck injury. So I'm returning to work at the Twin Peaks natural area this week to remove invasive wild radish and mustard from some steep, windy slopes. Hell yeah!

May 5, 2008

Time to Talk about Water, Again

This weekend I went to the California Geographical Society's conference in Chico, California. I presented my research on sustainable dog walking and heard some pretty rad papers, too. By far the highlight of my weekend was the restoration field trip to Big Chico Creek Ecological Preserve. Field director Paul Maslin led an amazing hike during which I learned about the role of fire in management, water runoff techniques, and two new, exciting ways to kill invasive broom (a power wench and quartering plus weed wrench). I would love to work with the folks at Big Chico Creek Ecological Preserve, maybe I'll look into doing some research there or something.

On the way to Chico I drove (in a friend's hybrid, thanks Jen!) through the Central Valley, observing the farmland and vegetation. The day before I left I read that California had the driest March/April in recorded history and that the Sierra snow pack (our summer water source) is at 67%. That's dismal in a state of 36 million people. The past three rainy seasons have been pretty erratic. We had huge rainfalls in 2006, low in 2007, and low again in 2008. Urban agencies like East Bay Municipal Utilities District are already preparing to impose water rationing.

If you've been reading this blog for very long, then a lot in this post is a repeat of previous info. I think it's super important stuff though, so here goes:
I'm a proponent of water rationing rules like watering late or early, no car washing or lawn watering. I actually think most of these rules should be permanent in some way. We have to be realistic about our landscape here: green summer lawns are not a sustainable option in most of California. Blake and I are devoted to using gray water for the garden this summer and that's working out great so far!

But while I support water rationing of household users, I was really annoyed to see all of the agricultural waste as I was driving through the Central Valley. About 80% of California's water use goes to agriculture. The number one water use in California is irrigated pasture, number two is alfalfa. I can't eat either one of those and I choose not to eat the product that they're grown for (beef). The third use of water in California is rice. Now I do eat rice, but the majority of our rice goes to dog food and beer in California. I also question the wisdom of creating wide surface area rice paddies in our arid climate, where evaporation rates necessitate constant irrigation. The fourth highest use of water in California is cotton, which we also do not eat.

I don't dispute the signs the line I5 claiming that "Farmers Feed America". Our society's choice to consume so high on the food chain, as in beef, pork, lamb, and chicken) is as much to blame for our water woes as the wasteful methods of big agriculture in California. But seeing spray head irrigation systems watering fields in the middle of a hot day just makes me want to scream. If urban and suburban lawn lovers can't water in the middle of the day, then why can big agriculture toss our precious water into the air during the peak period for evaporation? What the fuck? California has multiple water laws that give agriculture some crazy cheap prices for water. These cheap prices make it more economically efficient for big agriculture to waste water with old irrigation systems rather than moving forward into drip irrigation. We have loads of technological advances to make agriculture less wasteful, but our huge subsidies don't require these upgrades or other sustainability changes.

It's been a dry year already. I watched tractors leave plumes of dust drifting behind them. Plumes, not just a tractor height trail, but 75 foot high columns of dust. These particles suspend in the air of the valley, creating huge air quality issues. Oi.

I'd like to say that I love and appreciate our farmers. And there are some amazing folks out there leading the industry to sustainability. I'm not solely blaming farmers for water waste. I see this as part of that trend in low funding for conservation. We need sustainable farming not only for our land but also for our jobs. We've got Schwarzenegger proposing more dams, but we could save loads of money and water by helping our farmers make their crops sustainable. Creating more supply will not create prudent use of water. It's the wrong idea.

We're all responsible for making these changes in water policy happen. Did you know that 10% of water use is in leaks? Or that it takes over 2,000 gallons of water to make a serving of steak but only 36 for a serving of soybeans. Or that it takes 3-5 liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water? We can all do something. Post your ideas or resources. I'll start with referring you to the Greywater Guerrillas.