Dec 18, 2009

I'll Let George Monbiot Say It for Me

I've been following COP15, though I cynically put very little faith in the process. I guess I can't be too disappointed then with the current state of things.
This piece by George Monbiot captures the gist of it.

Nov 8, 2009

Climate Justice Actions on November 30th

Save the date: There will be climate justice actions on Monday, November 30th across the US to apply some pre-Copenhagen pressure. In San Francisco we'll meet at 11:30 at Justin Herman Plaza. The actions will move to other locations in the financial district, targeting financial and energy corporations lobbying at Copenhagen (COP15). We've researched the players and a local list is forthcoming, emphasizing COP15 players engaged in carbon trading and carbon intensive capitalism.  In other words, the banks and energy companies that are making money off of changing the climate.

One of the messages of these actions is "Our climate is not your business". We want to let these companies know that profiting off of climate change (by selling carbon futures or dirty energy sources) is abhorrent. We want to make people aware of the dangerous actions of these corporations, and their efforts to lobby at COP15.

If you know anything about the Compact then you know that I do think that personal lifestyles matter in conservation and sustainability. There's a lot of debate about whether our municipal consumption is relevant when we know that agriculture uses most water and industry most energy. I say they both matter. I spend a lot of time tweaking my personal consumption because I recognize my own power to either accept the gluttonous lifestyles pushed by corporate capitalism or to participate in solutions. But I also want to apply direct pressure to the corporations and institutions profiting from these lifestyles.

Sure, we can make sustainable choices in some areas of our lives. But can you choose to hook up to a wind powered grid over a coal powered grid? Can everyone afford sustainable choices? Hell no. If you've ever bought organic produce or recycled toilet paper then you know what I'm talking about. Not everyone can make these choices, and even if we did, it our personal options won't solve all of our problems.

So I hope you can find an action near you. I'll post more about the SF actions when we have details. Join us on your lunch break if you can't take the whole day off. And be in touch if you want to help with organizing or outreach.

Oct 22, 2009

Climate Actions This Saturday, October 24th

You've probably heard about the global day of climate actions taking place this Saturday, October 24th. Organizers are pushing the 350 ppm theme. 350 refers to the amount of carbon dioxide we can afford to have in the atmosphere. We're around 390 and desperately need to reduce that level to 350 in a very short time period. We can absolutely do this, given there is political will. Ahead of December talks in Copenhagen, we need to push the powerful into accepting this reality.

As one who often feels discouraged by a lack of action on this issue in the US, I'm eager to see how this mobilization plays out. In SF I'll be joining a bike ride tracing future sea level. There are several other events here, including a walk for farm animals and your typical rally. There are actions all over, some of which are coordinated through this website. There might be others that are not affiliated with this group. Find one near you.

Also worth noting is the Great Climate Swoop that took place this week at the Ratcliffe coal fired power station in the UK Midlands. Props to that energetic and clever crew. I definitely miss that dedicated attention to climate change.

Oct 19, 2009

Into Sequoia

After the fieldtrips I got into Sequoia National Park with some new found friends. We camped at Potwisha, highly recommended by locals we met at the conference. Conveniently, a star gazing talk started right next to our site! Presented by a park staff member with the fanciest laser pointer ever, this talk was a great reminder of another way to love nature. Flood lights at the KOA had obscured any stars peeking through the cluttered atmosphere in Visalia, but the dark in Sequoia gave the stars ample opportunity to shine, twinkle, and even shoot. We had ascended above the smog, which we learned had been accentuated by a 300-ish acre fire in Sequoia NP. We saw constellations, Jupiter, and the Milky Way, talked of myths and legends, and breathed a little deeper. Crossing the road later for more open sky, my posse saw a fairly massive mule deer before we lay back on the ground for more star gazing with water rushing below and critters noisily creeping in the woods.

Nature is restorative ... for me and many others. I slept well and awoke feeling fresh and smiley. One friend took off that morning, leaving 4 of us to explore the park. We drove through the Great Forest, admiring the massive Sequoia's, which adeptly shade the forest beyond the capacity of my point and shoot camera. At the Lodgepole visitor's center park staff confirmed that the Lakes Trail is a great choice, calling it "the best trail in the park". It's worth mentioning that park staff and locals in the Southern Sierra/Tulare County always steered us right on this trip. We were pressed for time and got the best advice!

We drove on up to 7,000 feet to park at Wolverton. After a snack we set out to see as many of the lakes as we could manage in a day hike. I've never hiked at such high elevation and was immediately getting my ass kicked. At times the dry trail required us to walk fairly far apart lest we inhale loads of dust. With an experienced marathoner leading the way, I felt less than fit but was truly enjoying the area. We couldn't have been going for more than 20 minutes when we saw a black bear, the first wild bear I've ever seen.

He hung about for ages, gnawing on sugar pine cones downslope. We took loads of pictures and gawked as he climbed the slope in our direction, crossed the trail and sniffed for more food. As resolute lovers of wildlife, we stood still and quiet as he started to walk toward us, perhaps curiously. Eventually, when he was about 30 feet from us, Price wisely, loudly said, "That's enough". Relief and disappointment mixed with persistent wonder and eagerness.

Seeing the bear so early in the hike made the shallow, dust-laden breaths worthwhile. Besides charismatic megafauna, there were hawks and other birds overhead, swift chipmunks, and the occasional lizard. Lichens, mosses, downed trees and fungus brought amazing color to the forest. Bits of melting snow remained in evidence of the elevation. Again, my camera, particularly when combined with my skills, doesn't do the scene justice.

We climbed beyond the dusty trails of the denser forest into an area dominated by granite outcrops and boulders. Boldly colored lichens grasped the granite and sparse conifers made the trail evident ... until we reached a spot that was just rock. We hiked to a terminus over-looking a long valley. I sat on the firmest looking boulder I could find and waited while my new friends looked for the trail. Much to my relief, we had missed a turn on the way to the Watchtower, which we reached soon thereafter.
Without trees to abbreviate the horizon, I had a bit of vertigo hiking along this overlook. Luckily the hike leveled out a bit along this rocky section of trail. I'm not great with heights but I got through this pretty well, maybe because I had no spare oxygen for anxiety. The views were expansive, stunning. Trees in the valley below looked so small and lichens colored the granite.

Oct 17, 2009

Field Trip to Atwell Island and Kaweah Oaks Preserve

As part of the California Invasive Plant Council Symposium I went on a field trip to Atwell Island, owned by the Bureau of Land Management, and the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, owned by the Sequoia Riverlands Trust. Both of these sites are in Tulare County, west of the Sierra between Fresno and Bakersfield in the Valley.

Given that Atwell Island is in a very dry area, even for the Valley, you might wonder how it got its name. The site was once part of Tulare Lake, an important wetland for birds, fish, and other wildlife. As part of the Pacific Flyway, Tulare Lake offered migrating birds a needed respite on their journey over the Valley. Management today aims to restore critical habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox, the Tipton kangaroo rat, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard, and one other lizard that I can't remember.

The area has changed dramatically since the reign of Tulare Lake, which was drained for agricultural use like many wetlands. Water diversions are used for irrigation, timing and directing the release of water to suit water-sucking crops such as cotton and alfalfa. Deep wells have also been sunk to extract groundwater, causing subsidence as well as ensuring that there is no water lingering at the surface in this former wetland. Irrigation methods leave much of the soil laden with salt, eventually driving them out of productivity.

The Atwell Island project reclaims retired farmland for restoration of critical habitat. Our tour of the site was amazingly instructive, particularly if you are interested in the intersection of agriculture and conservation. The land managers cannot convert all of the site at once, in part because they don't have enough seed to propagate native plants on all 7,000 acres at once. So they move slowly, converting about 400 acres per year at the moment. So there are still many fields with crops, such as alfalfa. They also used timed grazing to keep shrub density at a level that is suitable for the small focal species, which need a fair bit of bare ground (a common feature of desert habitat).

One of the coolest things about exploring the shrubs was finding a correlation between their genera and those found in salt marsh. Though the Atwell Island shrubs are in a very dry environment, they share with salt marsh plants a high tolerance of salt. I met these genera (Sueda, Atriplex) last fall in salt marshes in the Norfolk Broads. Seeing new species of them in a completely different environment was incredibly cool (despite the hot, dusty day).

I was really impressed by the whole project, especially when I heard about the efforts to reach out to the local community. The project has resulted in the hiring of a teacher through the summer months to work with local kids on science and environmental education. The use of grazing retains a culturally relevant use of the land, often important in generating local support. The development of a wetland site will create an amazing opportunity for local people to enjoy local and migratory wildlife, as well as a spot that isn't perpetually dry and dusty. I can't wait to go back when they have more of that element in place.

The Kaweah Oaks Preserve is a 320 acre gem of oak woodland, open pasture, and riparian habitat. In contrast to Atwell, a non-profit owns and manages the preserve, employing grazing and fire to maintain habitat values. Here the bedrock is much closer to the surface, keeping the water table higher. This has allowed the persistence of the oaks and riparian plant-life. The rarity of this habitat in the area makes it all the more important to the local wildlife.

Our tour explored the use of herbicide and biocontrol to manage invasive plant species. I felt like I learned a great deal about biocontrol, though I'm still not an advocate. I was stoked to hear that most efforts employed prescribed burns and timed grazing. Again the management kept a culturally relevant activity on the land, and the manager clearly had a great relationship with the farmer.

We saw some really amazing grasses, including clonal perennials and saltgrass. The latter has visible salt crystals on the blades, enticing grazers and eliminating the need for a manufactured salt lick. The shade of the oak groves gave us a fantastic break from the sun and dust as well as a chance to hear some really loud, persistent birds. We saw a migration of turkey vultures overhead, at least 25 of them soaring on thermal gusts very high in the sky. In the mix was a red-tail hawk according to the clever birders carrying binoculars.

This preserve is open to the public and I recommend it if you're in the area. Check the website for details. The land manager was really helpful after the tour when we asked him about getting into Sequoia National Park. He recommended the Lakes Trail, which we hiked on Sunday. It was a great call, backed up by park staff at the visitors center, who called it "the best trail in the park". I'll put pix up from that hike in a day or so.

Oct 13, 2009

Dispatch from the ... Rain?

Oddly, it's pouring today in San Francisco and many other areas of California. After spending several dusty days in the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra, I'm pretty stoked to see this early season rain outside my window. I can't help but analyze it from the weed worker's perspective, hoping it's a solitary event that will be followed by several warm, dry weeks. That might crash some of the invasive annuals that will sprout in the coming days.  However, as this is a heavy rain and we had a small one in September, they might be getting a boost.

Returning to the dust, things got better in Visalia about 2 hours after I wrote the last post so I'm going to back way up and spend a couple of days writing about this trip. I'll start with traveling from the Bay to Tulare County and get to Sequoia in a few days. Stay tuned for some pretty pix of the trees, lichens, lakes, and even bears.

I caught Amtrak in Oakland around 10AM on Wednesday with my bike and camping gear. The ride north along the east side of the bay offered fantastic views from the seats upstairs. I saw a coyote, squirrels, and waterfowl as we chugged past open water and salt marsh. Between fragments of beautiful bay habitat were large factories poised to take advantage of the harbor and railroad. Though most appeared purposefully nameless, I recognized the ever-polluting Chevron refinery and a PGE power station. Only a sugar factory had the temerity to associate its name and logo with its old industrial building and accompanying emissions.

When the train entered the valley the scenery became less enchanting. Agriculture replaced wetlands. Smog blurred the horizon in all directions, erasing topographical features in its apocalyptic haze.

I got off the train in Hanford to ride 15 miles to a KOA camp in Goshen. Large trucks losing dusty silage roared past in the opposite direction, washing me with debris and dangerous gusts. The flatness of the road hardly compensated for the fast traffic, dirty air, and rough shoulder. At least it wasn't hot!

Arriving at the KOA camp nearly 2 hours later was a relief. As I propped up my bike to go into the office a woman on a bike with cheerful purple and white streamers rolled up. We started talking and by the time I had registered we realized that we were both going to the Cal IPC conference. I deposited all of my gear in Beth's car and we rode toward Visalia to get some dinner and what turned out to be margaritas the size of a baby's head. I was so lucky to meet Beth at the campground. We were able to cycle back from the conference together each night, which made the dark, 8 mile journey a lot easier to travel. Especially when you add in all 3 flat tires between the 2 of us. I'd point out that both of Beth's were caused by puncture vine, as though the invasive plant knew we were in town to discuss the eradication of pesky plants. Seriously, how crazy is that?

Oct 9, 2009

Dispatch from the Smog

I'm in the valley. I'm really close to the Sierra, but cannot see it. The horizon is smog in all directions. It's gross. I've almost given up on going to Sequoia, as the air quality really makes cycling more difficult here. It's flat as a pancake in Visalia but my throat and lungs are not stoked. It's also easier to give up on going to the mountains when you can't see them. Maybe they're not there.

I presented my paper yesterday, and was a little off my game. Oh well. I've actually never been that nervous before a presentation. I'm usually quite comfortable with public speaking. Again, oh well. Frankly, I don't think folks are super interested in my research if their attraction to my fabulously beautiful poster is any indication. Most of the symposium is based in biology, which I find really instructive as my work really isn't biology. And nearly everyone is working on big big sites, projects, parks, etc. So my urban research is a bit niche. All the more reason to share though, I think. The student chapter of Cal IPC is pretty rad, too. Definitely the most useful bits for me have come from their end.

Still, I got some nice feedback and have learned new things. Unfortunately I missed the climate change session this morning. Oh, Murphy's Law. I hit something on the bike path last night, which meant that I had a flat when I woke up. I loaned out my hand pump recently and the person who borrowed it happened to break it. So try as I might, I could not get enough air in to my tire. So I had to walk my bike 8 mile from the KAO camp to a bike shop in Visalia. Amazingly no fewer than NINE cyclists passed me on the path, none of whom offered assistance. One who I encountered at a light, actually would not let me use the pump that was clearly attached to his frame. Needless to say, I do not love Visalia.

However, as I walked through town, a friendly cyclist saw me and stopped. I was only a couple of blocks from a shop at this point so I walked on with his directions. Although the mechanic was not in at Wilson's Cyclery, I liked the place. I had to go to Sierra Bicycle Werks eventually. I needed a mechanic because the wheel was clearly damaged when I hit this weird protrusion on the bike path. I would have seen a mechanic today whether I could have pumped the tire or not, basically. The service was fast, friendly enough, and affordable. I'd recommend either spot if you need bike help in Visalia.

On that note, while I do not like Visalia, I do like the KOA. The owners are very nice folks! So if you're passing through, it's friendly, safe, and clean. Except the air, but you can't blame Linda and her husband for that.

Oct 7, 2009

Off to Visalia and Sequoia NP!

I'm about to head to BART with my bike for my trip to the California Invasive Plant Council Symposium in Visalia. I'll go to Oakland to catch Amtrak. I'm taking that to Hanford, where I'll get off to ride 15 miles to a KOA camp in west Visalia. That's about 8 miles from the conference, so I'll have to do that distance each morning and afternoon.

When I finish with the conference on Saturday, I'll prob couch surf in Visalia for a night before I bike 30-40 miles into Sequoia National Park. It's foothills so that ride is going to kick my ass. But I should get a couple of nice days in there before I have to head back out, crash in Visalia/or Koa, then ride the final 15 miles back to Hanford for another train.

It may sound convoluted, but it's the only way I could work out to get into the park on my own steam. Hitching might be an option, but I was worried about getting back out. Now I know I can make my own way.

My panniers are loaded with the weirdest stuff. For example I have pinstripe pants for the conference, which I'll wear with my hiking boots b/c there's no room for fancy shoes. Best bit is definitely the meter long poster tube that I have to secure somehow. I'm hoping to find a rideshare back to the Bay Area for my poster! I'll try to get some pix of my bike to share. And I'll definitely get some of Sequoia.

Oct 3, 2009


By Round-Up I mean a gathering of loose ends, thoughts. Not the herbicide, but I'll start with weeds anyway.

I'm heading to a conference in Visalia, Ca next week to present my research on the recovery of urban habitat fragments following removal of two very aggressive weeds. I'm going to be just 30ish miles from Sequoia National Park. However, there's no mass transportation to the park from anywhere nearby unless you're there during peak season, when a shuttle has some limited stops. I'm going to have to hitch, which is less worrying going from Visalia. But when I think of trying to return to Visalia to catch the coach to get to Amtrak (seriously, it's that convoluted), I get a little worried. Is anyone going to be in there on a Thursday in the middle of October to take me back to mass transit?

I just can't imagine getting so close to this amazing place, to which I've never been, and missing it. Not to mention, I need the feedback from nature. I took a few weeks to celebrate, then got right back in to tweaking the presentation of my research for this conference, producing slides, a talk, a paper of that talk, and a poster. These are all good steps given that I want to publish this work.

But I want to go to Sequoia NP for a break! I want to access "America's Best Idea". Anyone else watching the new PBS special, "National Parks: America's Best Idea"? You can watch them at that link right now, which is how I'm seeing them since I don't have a TV.

If you noticed the paper I posted from my course, in which I critique the protected area (park, national park, reserve) approach to conservation, then you know that I was looking forward to this series. It's as personally divisive for me as I anticipated. The scenery is beautiful, when they're not zooming in and out of an historic photograph of some colonialist character (note that I've only seen the first two episodes). And the history is interesting, even when I'm disappointed in its portrayal.

So far this series tries to acknowledge the complete injustices of white European settlement across the continent. It presents diverse perspectives from people alive today while trying to tell an old story which is obviously biased in the historical representation by information that largely comes from that colonialist class. Ok, they try. But how they can say in one breath that tribes were pushed out of this park, then that park ... then resolutely switch back to celebrating the parks with nationalist fervor is beyond me.

I'll get more into that after I've seen them all. For now, I'm looking forward to watching the rest, especially as I try to access a National Park, which is purportedly open to everyone. How do urban people, particularly those of us who cannot afford cars (not that we all want them), get to these places? We may love them, need them, pay for them, but do we get to use them?

One more thing! I read a great piece about consumption and population by George Monbiot on Alternet. Check it out.

Sep 8, 2009

I'm so excited!

I finished my conservation degree about a week ago! I'm determined to celebrate for as long as possible. As I'm barely employed, I'm finding this entirely doable. Celebrating involves being available to hang out with friends. I've been really unavailable for the past year, so this is a welcome change. Though perhaps some of my friends will be a bit overwhelmed by my repetitive proclamations: "I'm so excited!".

I'm slowly coming back from the dissertation abyss. I wrote every intelligent thought I've had over the past 4 months in that document. I printed two copies and mailed my intelligence to London. I feel like it's casually making its way back to me in new forms. I'm reading about topics that do not include weeds or urban habitat fragments. It's weird, but terribly pleasurable.

Since this is seemingly going to be a slow process, I'm going to refer you to Deia de Brito's article on graywater for the Bay Area Monitor. I love graywater. Although my "system" (meaning bucket and pitcher carried to the garden) is very low tech, we've managed to get through the summer w/o ever using the hose on our vegetables. Enjoy the piece and I'll get back soon. Perhaps with a Compact update as several of the founding group are going up to Cazadero for some weekend fun. I'm so excited!

Aug 19, 2009

Conservation Everywhere, or Just over There?

I posted this paper on the advantages and disadvantages of protected area and landscape scale approaches to conservation in August. I originally posted it in installments as I completed my thesis. Here I've put the darn thing together in one post to make it easier to read. The PBS special "The National Parks: America's Best Idea",  encouraged me to post this critique of protected area approaches to conservation. It might be a bit academic, but I find the topic stimulating. Hope you do, too.

Conservation Everywhere, or Just Over There?
As nature conservation organizations and ambitions have spread across the globe, so has a reliance on protected areas for the conservation of biodiversity. The establishment of protected areas often includes the designation of a piece of land for natural or biological conservation purposes. This progression has created a paradigm in which many people perceive nature and conservation to exist within finite areas. Species depend upon processes that extend beyond the boundaries of protected areas, leading conservationists to consider land/sea-scape approaches. Landscape scale conservation seeks to protect biotic and abiotic features of large, contiguous swaths of landscapes or ecosystems, as well as the processes contained within them.
New valuations of nature, in terms of ecosystem services for example, increase interest in landscape conservation. The impending threat of climate change underscores a need for ecosystem resiliency to maintain broad-scale ecological functions. These conservation goals have proven elusive under the protected areas paradigm as evidenced by continued habitat loss despite an increase in area designated for protection (Adams, 1996). Because protected areas cannot fully encapsulate ecosystem function, conservation must extend to the land/sea-scape scale. Given the considerable challenges to such broad scale conservation, protected areas will remain important nodes of conservation, with efforts radiating outward from core habitat areas, such as national parks. The spread of conservation efforts to the wider landscape allows for the maintenance of ecosystem function within a greater land area. Furthermore, broad-scale conservation extends the value of nature and wildness beyond traditional parks by allowing for the holistic interpretation of nature’s existence in the very landscapes in which people live.
Modern protected areas, partially defined by state control and active management, often follow the example of U.S. national parks (Phillips, 2003). Areas of land deemed worthy of conservation for reasons biological, aesthetic, or cultural are placed under legal protection to ensure the persistence of such resources. Threats to charismatic landscapes and fauna, such as over-hunting of important game animals, have often lead to such designations, creating a somewhat reactive process of land protection (Wright and Mattson, 1996). This state initiated, often nationalistic, process has spread widely, producing protected areas on every continent. The designation of seascapes and freshwater bodies for conservation purposes has lagged behind terrestrial efforts.
Along with the proliferation of reserves and national park systems has come the development of related organizations and agencies. These players influence the definitions of terms relevant to this discussion (Table 1). Bodies such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and the World National Parks Congress lead debates on land management in protected areas (Phillips, 2003). Non-governmental organizations also engage in protected area development by influencing regulation and acquiring land for conservation. This system has resulted in the designation of land in wealthy, western countries as well as those lacking the financial resources for solely state sponsored conservation (Brockington et al., 2008). These trends raise issues of equity and resource distribution in an era when the services provided by nature have tangible global implications.

Table 1. Definitions relevant to protected area and landscape scale approaches to conservation.

Protected Area
Physical land area with legal protection for conservation that allows for the management of resources
Phillips, 2003
Landscape Scale Approach
Conservation strategy that seeks to protect biodiversity and ecosystem processes on a broad scale. Includes traditional protected areas but also extends to the wider landscape. Also referred to as ecosystem or broad scale conservation.
Weeks, 1997
Includes biotic and abiotic features as well as processes within. ‘large, somehow coherent pieces of the land and waterscape’
Weeks, 1997: 33
Ecosystem Function
The interactions of biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem. These processes yield ecosystem services.
Dickinson and Murphy, 2007
Single Species Approach
Conservation Strategy that focuses on the protection of a single species. Usually rare or threatened, though perhaps also used as a proxy for the protection of other resources within a given area.
Weeks, 1997
Keystone Species
Species with a high impact on ecosystem function relative to its population size.
Noss and Soule, 1998

Even as shortcomings of protected areas have surfaced, theories on the advancement of conservation goals emphasize the importance of core conservation areas in which human activity is limited (Franklin, 1993; Holdgate and Phillips, 1999; Boyd et al., 2008). The landscape scale approach frequently acknowledges that protected areas will continue to play a crucial role in themaintenance of biodiversity. Organizations such as the Wildlands Network advocate defragmenting and rewilding at a continental scale, building on existing core reserves (Taylor, 2005). According to proponents of landscape scale conservation, reserves fail to fully protect the ecosystem processes and functions (Table 2) that give rise to biodiversity (Adams, 1996; Trombulak, 2003). The currency of ecosystem processes and services in conservation has gained strength, particularly following the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2006). Climate change scenarios further illustrate the need for resilient, fully functional ecosystems for the perpetuation of biodiversity and human lifestyles.
Table 2. Examples of ecosystem processes protected by a landscape scale approach to conservation. Adapted from Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2006.

Ecosystem Process
Example of Resulting Services
Water Cycling
Water purification, water storage, flood retention
Nutrient Cycling
Maintenance of productive soils
Energy Cycling
Contribution of oceanic currents to terrestrial temperatures, photosynthesis
Community Interactions
Pollination, air purification, photosynthesis

Influential Paradigms and Theory
While people prize parks and reserves, the defining of areas for conservation somewhat trivializes the wider landscape in terms of natural value. Epitomized by the American wilderness ethic, the romanticizing of parks disregards the persistence of the wild, of natural processes and biodiversity, in even urban areas (Cronon, 1995). Hinchliffe (2007: 53) argues that ‘so-called wild and domestic settings … are not in themselves wild or domestic. They are hybrid forms’. The view of the landscape as a hybrid offers a more holistic, human inclusive interpretation of nature than traditional protected area paradigms. Brockington et al. (2008: 10) describe the emergence of ‘mainstream conservation’ as a movement that ‘has allied with capitalism’ in its pursuit of protected areas and control of natural resources. Capitalist infiltration of nature conservation is also reflected in the top down, state based control of many protected areas. Alternative approaches to ecosystem management, such as those proposed in the Caracas Action Plan, include decentralized and bottom up efforts that allow for anthropogenic activity in various zones of use (Figgis, 2003). Efforts to include stakeholders in broad scale approaches have delivered various permutations of community based conservation -- a relatively new approach to conserving nature. These trends attempt to correct for some shortcomings of protected areas, while acknowledging their importance in terms of conservation goals.
Along with these societal paradigms, scientific theories influence protected area and landscape approaches to conservation. Researchers have used island biogeography and the species area relationship to critique the efficacy of protected areas in the maintenance of species diversity (MacArthur and Wilson, 1967). Descriptions of reserves as islands of habitat have led to calls for corridors and stepping stones between these fragments to increase connectivity. Holistic conceptualizations of the landscape have delivered theories such as bioregionalism and watershed or ecoregional conservation planning (Phillips, 2003). Species targeted approaches to biodiversity conservation also plays an important role in the development of protected areas. Umbrella and keystone species concepts are recommended as foundations for the furtherance of broad scale conservation (Noss and Soule, 1998). Building on all of these theories, optimistic visions of the possibilities for conservation include rewilding, which recommends the reintroduction of large ungulates and top tier predators to systems such as the intermontane West in the U.S. (Noss and Soule, 1998). New research on this range of theories continues to inform protected area management and inspire the push for landscape scale conservation.

Protected Area Advantages
By exploiting the charisma of a place or particular species, conservationists have ensured the legal protection of pieces of land, such as Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. (Wright, 1996). Legal status for parks may preclude economic exploitation of an area or include planning restrictions that limit the development of roads and buildings (Table 3). Such measures hinder private exploitation of market-valued natural resources, including timber and wildlife, within the boundaries of parks (Brockington et al., 2008). Active management of protected areas allows for the identification and mitigation of threats and impacts. As opposed to private land holdings, public ownership or administration of protected areas delivers a system in which land use and management are more easily or cohesively bent to the aims of nature conservation. In countries where private property regimes dominate, this paradigm for protected areas also increases the potential for public access to ecologically diverse landscapes, enhancing opportunities for nature education and outreach.
Furthermore, covering more than 19.6 million square kilometers of land and sea, protected areas deliver some biodiversity conservation objectives (Gaston et al., 2008). Boyd et al. (2008) find that protected areas provide some protection to most threatened tetrapods, indicating that protected areas have an important role to play in the conservation of biodiversity. Ballantine and Langlois (2008: 38) find that ‘protection from human disturbance’ can foster
Table 3. Examples of legal measures for protected areas.

Desired Effect
Fishing Regulation
Prevent over-fishing within marine and freshwater ecosystems. Assists in the maintenance of trophic balance.
Hunting Regulation
Prevent over-hunting or poaching of species. Benefits the conservation of threatened species as well as community interactions within ecosystems.
Roadless Rules
Prevent further habitat fragmentation in protected areas. Also prevents increase in tourist pressure by limiting access to sensitive areas.
Limits on Resource Extraction
Prevent removal of resources (timber, minerals, etc) within protected areas. Prevent disturbances associated with such extraction including pollution, soil erosion, and road construction.
Agri-Environment Schemes
Reduce harmful land uses adjacent to protected areas.

multiple, complex and often ecologically important’ changes in marine reserves. Robust protected areas also provide necessary resilience to and refuge from climate change for many species of conservation interest (Watts and Davis, 2007). Core conservation areas have led to creative thinking about ways to link habitat remnants. Efforts to build on the successes of conservation have led to the merging of reserves such as Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park, which became the world’s first International Peace Park (Zinkan 1992). In considering the victories of protected areas, issues of temporal and spatial scale arise. Although much conservation research focuses on national parks, the contribution of urban and regional parks in the maintenance of biodiversity and open space for ecosystem processes should be considered in any holistic appraisal of protected areas (Savard et al., 2000). Smaller parks and reserves contribute to local quality of life and provide potential linkages for gene flow and wildlife movement.
Protected Area Disadvantages
While protected areas present many opportunities for nature conservation, disadvantages to this approach abound. The finite perimeters of reserves do not reflect the more fluid nature of the species and processes that protected areas seek to conserve. Reserve boundaries, like those of states, are frequently political constructs rather than natural divisions along environmental gradients (Adams, 2003). International and intra-national boundaries prevent the holistic protection of ecosystems as legal entities define parks within their respective territories. These ground facts confound land management by constraining data and resource sharing. Whereas the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park stands as one example of international cooperation, the southern border of the U.S. demonstrates the complexity of natural resource conservation across international boundaries. Eight-five percent of the state of Arizona’s border with Mexico is federally protected, indicating that conservation resources abound in the region. Efforts to control the U.S.-Mexico border in terms of human immigration has led to massive disturbance in the form of road building, wall construction, and stadium lighting across a fragile desert ecosystem (Segee and Neeley, 2006). Border control efforts within these parks exemplify the way that political boundaries, including those placed around protected areas, fail to conserve nature from the local park level to continental scale conservation efforts.
Additionally, the selection of areas for protection has led to significant resource management challenges. Hansen and Rotella (2001) critique reserve selection criteria, noting that the process has not led to equal representation of all landscapes, but has rather proceeded with a bias toward climatically severe and high elevation environments. The utility of lower elevation land to human populations has precluded expansive acquisition of the ecosystems contained therein, thus indicating a need for alternative conservation strategies. While many parks contain sensitive species, the ecosystem functions that support them often extend beyond the reach of the park (Newmark, 1985). Therefore, pressures outside of the park can affect species and processes within a protected area, reducing its overall utility to nature conservation. For example, upstream contamination of a river will deliver pollutants to protected areas downstream. Similarly migratory species may suffer impacts when they leave reserves (Holdgate and Phillips, 1999). The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands requires a significant range, and despite species driven legal protections, cannot be safeguarded by existing reserves (Povilitis et al., 2006).
Besides the political and ecological disadvantages of protected areas, reserves present social challenges. Reserve establishment has at times led to displacement of indigenous populations, altering lifestyles and increasing poverty levels by pushing people into market-based economies (Brockington et al., 2008). Displacement leads to pressures at the edges of protected areas, again limiting conservation utility as pressures beyond the legal framework of the reserve impact resources within. Government corruption can exacerbate the impacts of protected areas on indigenous communities, leading to resource allocation inequities as land tenure regimes shift to accommodate mainstream conservation objectives (Murombedzi, 2003). Recently, community based conservation programs have sought to ameliorate these impacts, in part by extending conservation to the wider landscape.
Landscape Scale Advantages
Because protected areas fail to fully protect species and ecosystem processes, the landscape scale approach became popular in the 1990’s. This approach attempts to incorporate biophysical gradients in land management strategies (Newmark, 1985; Weeks, 1997). Advocates of landscape conservation suggest connecting existing protected areas to create networks of contiguous habitat, facilitating the maintenance of ecosystem function. Terrestrially, this approach often requires less land purchase or acquisition, instead emphasizing cooperation with private land owners. Efforts to designate marine protected areas appear to assert the ecosystem approach with the Convention on Biological Diversity(2004) suggesting that reserves incorporate all ecological processes.
Conservation of ecosystem function is of growing concern as climate change scenarios solidify the need for robust landscapes in the provisioning of life giving ecosystem services such as clean water and air (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2006). The ability of species to adapt to climate change, through movement, will also depend on the existing connectivity of reserves and reserve networks (Hansen and Rotella, 2001; Araújo et al., 2004). Besides climate change resiliency, habitat defragmentation increases the potential for rewilding with large ungulates and top tier predators by overcoming the range and migration limitations of traditional protected areas (Noss and Soule, 1998). Where protected areas often suffer from arbitrary boundaries, broad scale conservation units are delimited by ecological gradients, such as watersheds (Clark, 1999). Ribbons and stepping stones within these units defragment existing islands of habitat, enhancing ecosystem processes. In theory, broad scale conservation holistically seeks to enhance ecosystem processes in all available land.
Furthermore, landscape conservation demands the inclusion of people as a part of nature. This social component encourages decentralized conservation efforts. By extending conservation objectives beyond the boundaries of protected areas, this approach optimistically assumes that ecologically valuable landscapes persist in areas where anthropocentric land uses exist and may even dominate (Phillips, 2003). Groups such as the Wildlands Network have developed continental scale visions for the establishment of wildlife linkages with corridors, buffers, and transition zones across a multiplicity of land uses (Noss, 2003). Such visions of conservation opportunities at all scales stands in contrast to traditional notions of national parks as signature areas for protection.

Landscape Scale Disadvantages
While the theory of landscape conservation rectifies many pitfalls of the protected areas approach, application proves challenging. A lack of scientific research at the ecosystem scale hinders conservation planning and land management decisions (Clark, 1999). The landscape scale approach assumes that the conservation of ecosystem processes will also protect the species found therein. However, perfect ecosystem function may not fully conserve biodiversity in the absence of single species management strategies (Chan et al., 2006). Selling ecosystem scale conservation as a means of maintaining ecosystem function for anthropogenic purposes may not deliver a public equally supportive of biodiversity conservation if such values become oppositional. If landscapes are monitored for processes, then species loss could occur without triggering changes in management. Land managers will invariably seek to retain species under the ecosystem approach, but species loss is one potential effect of planning ‘at a scale unfamiliar to most protected area managers’ (Phillips, 2003: 28). Identification of threats to sensitive features proves more difficult without management by a responsible agency. Lack of confidence in the science behind landscape scale conservation also affects funding of such schemes. The current economic climate exacerbates funding concerns, likely discouraging land managers from taking risks with constrained budgets.
Whereas scientists and land managers often seek holistic ecosystem conservation, transboundary conservation requires political will and resource sharing. Finding agreement among relevant agencies on the definition of ecosystem management has also slowed application of this approach (Simberloff, 1998). According to Weeks (1997), agencies have different mandates, often managing for a different result or product. This prevents the application of holistic ecosystem scale conservation, which should seek ‘the greatest natural integrity that can be achieved’ (Weeks, 1997: 34). Furthermore, demanding scientific rigor in decentralized conservation efforts may prove impossible. Adams (2003) describes a case study in which a conservation organization used improperly sourced seed for habitat re-creation. By attempting to include more stakeholders, the broad scale approach likely sacrifices a certain degree of purity in the application of science to land management. Furthermore, the time required for conservation planning will lengthen with the incorporation of more stakeholders.
Following the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2006), attempts to monetarily quantify ecosystem services have gained popularity within mainstream conservation. Through the emphasis of ecosystem services, landscape scale conservation may reinforce capitalism, a system that has historically thrived on the exploitation of natural resources and labor. Some conservationists have argued that monetary valuation of ecosystem services will create incentives to leave ecosystems in place (Balmford et al., 2002). Alternatively, placing a price on nature may also lead to exploitation by those who can afford to pay. Nelson et al. (2008) describe the potential for conflicts over maximizing one ecosystem service, carbon sequestration, to the detriment of another, biodiversity. In a paradigm where all ecosystem services have a monetary value, the results of such debates favor capitalist aims rather than nature conservation. However, alternative valuations of ecosystem services also exist, should mainstream conservation find alternative currency for their promotion. As ecosystem scale conservation urges integrated and equitable natural resource protection, perhaps it also serves as a vehicle for alternative, qualitative valuations of ecosystem services.
The Scientific Foundation for a Landscape Scale Approach
Given that protected areas and species driven legislation fail to fully protect biodiversity and ecosystem processes, new strategies are required. Mounting pressures on nature – human population, climate change, rampant development – demand aggressive, holistic attention. The landscape scale approach does not preclude the management of protected areas or single species, but rather builds on the lessons learned from these strategies. Under this rubric, integrated land management increases conservation potential.
As strategies have shifted toward the landscape approach, new tools and methodologies inform planning and land management Gering et al. (2003) recommend additive partitioning over the species area relationship in the assessment of beetle diversity at the landscape scale. Current research also integrates ecosystem dynamics, single species data, and anthropogenic impacts in models predicting the outcomes of conservation strategies. Rigorous models, such as those developed for marine ecosystem planning by Crowder et al., address the lack of science cited by early critics of landscape scale conservation (2008). Modeling of protected area performance under climate change stress both support the expansion of conservation to the landscape scale and indicate place and species specific management strategies to allow for translocation (Arajúo et al., 2004; Hannah et al., 2007). Temporal pressures of climate change necessitate swift action. That scientific understanding cannot fully capture the intricacies of ecosystem processes must not delay the implementation of management strategies that will increase resilience to climate change.
A Physical Vision for Landscape Conservation
How will the use of these new tools and methodologies for ecosystem scale conservation translate in terms of the physical landscape? Watershed scale conservation delimits planning boundaries by a dominant ecosystem process: water runoff patterns (Clark, 1999). Within this unit, reserves are bound together by ribbons and stepping stones of habitat, which cross multiple zones of land use. Alignment of management among protected areas within a watershed requires cooperation among relevant agencies. Moving into semi-natural habitats, integration of agricultural land into the management matrix offers opportunities to buffer reserves and defragment the countryside for many animal species (Dutton et al., 2008). Trombulak (2003), in an effort similar to that of the Man and Biosphere Program, describes three land use zones as ecological, stewardship, and intensive-use. Conservation dominates in ecological lands, which include reserves. Consecutive zones meld economic and cultural land uses with conservation objectives (Table 4). Beyond the watershed scale, plans such as the Yellowstone to Yukon linkage of the Rocky Mountains of North America contribute to continental scale visions of conservation (Phillips, 2003).

Table 4. Land use zones for landscape scale conservation as defined by Trombulak, 2003.

Trombulak Zone
Potential Land Uses
Ecological Lands
Dominant use is nature conservation.
Parks and Reserves.
Marine Protected Areas.
Stewardship Lands
Dominant uses include sustainable resource extraction.
Agricultural land. Forestry. Mining.
Intensive Use Lands
Dominant use is anthropocentric.
Urban areas. Fishing zones. Shipping harbors.

Activities within urban and suburban zones of ecosystems require creative strategies. Urban organizations, like Nature in the City (San Francisco, U.S.), utilize many principles of landscape conservation to protect sensitive biological resources. The Green Hairstreak project, built on monitoring of two isolated populations of Callyphors dumetorum, involves the restoration of streetscapes and backyards (Brastow, P., pers. comm., 24th March 2009). Strategies include invasive species (Carpobrotus edulis) removal in core habitat areas of Hawk Hill and Rocky Outcrop (Figure 1). Installation of the larval food source, Eriogonum latifolium, and nectar source, Erigeron glaucus, aim to increase habitat between the two natural areas. The corridor reclaims unused land along streetscapes, largely owned by the city’s Department of Public Works (Brastow, P., pers. comm., 24th March 2009). The project also supports the removal of sidewalk cement for the installation of native plants. These measures increase land available to species and ecosystem processes such as water filtration and storage. This confined, urban project is a microcosm of efforts at larger landscape conservation. It also exemplifies the ends to which this approach seeks to restore natural processes in all available land.

Figure 1. Promotional image of the Green Hairstreak Project, including corridor map. Courtesy of Nature in the City.

A Social Vision for Landscape Conservation
Although the scientific and land management challenges to landscape scale conservation abound in the literature, considerable social hurdles also exist. The dominance of the protected area approach has rested in part on the purchase of land. Efforts to incorporate stakeholders in conservation do not always deliver increased protection for biodiversity or ecosystem function (Alagona and Pincetl, 2008). Many social models for stakeholder participation have emerged, including the Habitat Conservation Plan in the U.S. Despite the complications of stakeholder involvement, wider participation benefits some conservation goals, such as the protection of game with long migrations (Brockington et al., 2008). The potential to engage local people in conservation also offers enormous educational and recruitment opportunities. While funding inhibits the maximizing of this potential, efforts to include stakeholders range from agri-environment schemes to decentralized wildlife management (Table 5).

Table 5. Stakeholder inclusion opportunities for conservation planning and land management.

Agri-Environment Schemes
Incentivize sustainable farming (Dutton et al., 2008)
Conservation Easements
Reduce intensive uses of lands that have conservation value.
Carbon Sequestration Incentives
Encourage private land owners to mange land for carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change. (Nelson et al., 2008)
Biodiversity Incentives
Encourage private land owners to manage land for biodiversity conservation. (Nelson et al., 2008)
Decentralized Wildlife Management
Allow indigenous and local people to mange wildlife resources. (Brockington et al., 2008)
Public Comment/Process
Allow public input/participation on conservation planning.
Local Stewardship Initiatives
Encourage local participation in management of protected areas. Example: habitat restoration work groups
Wildlife Monitoring
Allow local contributions to monitoring of important wildlife.
Invasive Species Monitoring
Utilize local land users in the monitoring of invasive species colonization and spread.

In addition to greater popular involvement in conservation, the landscape scale approach requires new institutional engagement. Calls have emanated for scientists to engage in advocacy to further public understanding of science and the need for immediate conservation action (Noss, 2007). Articulating the vision of the ecosystem approach provides an opportunity to emphasize the compatibility of human society with nature, thereby redefining the landscape for much of the public. As landscape conservation relies heavily on existing protected areas, governments continue to play an important role in conservation planning and land management. Legal mechanisms, particularly planning legislation, must also shift to promote landscape conservation and sustainable development


While traditional protected areas achieve many objectives, the ambitions of conservation extend beyond the boundaries of such reserves. The successes of protected areas, such as the safeguarding of rich ecosystems from private exploitation, ensure their persistence as part of a larger conservation strategy. Building on these accomplishments and lessons learned, conservationists extend their remit beyond the preservation of biodiversity to include the maintenance of ecosystem function. Climate change, among other factors, impresses the need for such a paradigm within conservation and the wider population. Retention of ecosystem function ensures the possibility of life within the biophysical parameters that currently exist on Earth, thus protecting human populations as well as many other species. Because emphasis on ecosystem processes will not fully protect biodiversity, conservationists must also pursue the best strategies developed through the protected area and single species approaches.
An integrated approach to conservation has both a physical and social component. Conceptualizations of nature influence public and scientific perception of the ecosystem approach. Extending conservation to the wider landscape requires conservationists to acknowledge these views of nature as stakeholders engage in conservation planning and land management. Broader institutional support of conservation goals is needed to advance a landscape scale approach as the current movement lacks the social science foundation required to properly incorporate stakeholders. Further support, in the form of funding, is also required to extend conservation beyond the boundaries of protected areas.
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Aug 1, 2009

Bernal Piperia

I thought I'd post a picture of this rein orchid on Bernal Hill. I first saw it a couple of weeks ago while walking dogs with my friend, Jennifer, who studies bats. If you like bats, check out her blog. I'm happy to say that this orchid was still kicking this Wednesday, despite being situated precariously close to a heavily used trail.

The rein orchid, Piperia michaelii, is on the Watch List of the California Native Plant Society. That list tracks plants of limited distribution, including this California endemic. I've also seen this species on Twin Peaks, while doing habitat restoration.

Jul 27, 2009

Me and Murphy's Law

Maybe post vacation always sucks, I'm not sure, but the past week has been trying. Sometimes I think my science will only prove that my life is subject to Muphy's Law. Every time I sit down to work, something goes wrong. My computer freezes. I get a new one and it breaks. My cat has to go to the vet. Feeling better, my cat brings a dead mouse to my desk. Whatever could be disabling or distracting, it happens here!

I'm still technologically embattled, fussing with machines to use air photos and expensive software. Last Thursday I spent 7 long hours uploading one photo to my recently upgraded profile at UCL. I have to click the screen every 20 minutes or the remote server will log me out for security reasons. My 6 year old Powerbook has begun to falter, and my cracked copy of 0ffice is freaking out. So I bought last Tuesday I bought a new (used) MacBook Pro from an Apple Product Manager in North Beach. With over 2 years left on the AppleCare Warranty, I felt pretty secure about the purchase. The machine was a good price and already partioned for Windows, something I really need these days.

I didn't take a disk to test the optical drive, so I didn't realize that it was broken until 2 days later. When I took it in to the Apple Store, they told me that the hard drive had 4 faults and predicted imminent failure. So I had to drop it off yesterday for repair, twitching with $1300 worth of anxiety. Would they deem the problems "accidental" or "acts of God", neither of which is covered by the warranty. But I just got a call, only 24 hours later and my machine is ready! I must say, as a long time Mac user, the warranty makes it worthwhile to have a Mac. (That was my corporate cheerleading for the year. It's always the same company that gets my kudos. I admit that I'm a bit susceptible to their marketing, but I haven't bought a new Mac product in about 7 years.)

I've lost the Windows partion and I certainly didn't pay for 3 trips to the Apple Store. I also have to say that my confidence in buying another used machine of such expense and importance has been challenged. However, I could not have afforded a brand new machine, had I wanted one. I guess I'm fairly happy with my purchase, though quite disappointed in the deceptive Apple Product Manager, Di Lu, who sold me the machine. Of course he won't take my calls or return my emails at all. I'd be stoked if he'd simply re-partion the drive for me. I suck at such things. Then I'd have all the things I paid for, minus a day and some time. No worries.

But whatever. I'll have my computer back in an hour or so. I can't leave until my awesome neighbor finishes fixing my leaky sink. Max won't even let me pay him, which makes me feel bad since I'd just deduct it from my rent. After the laptop and the expense of taking my cats in to the vet twice in past week, I'm feeling stretched as rent approaches on Sunday. Ugh, I'll be glad when I'm available to work full time again. It's scary to not be bringing in as much as I'm spending. I don't shop and I skip about half of my food. But my rent is high (though not for SF standards) and somehow I have way more bills here than I did in London. Things like Renter's insurance though no health insurance.

I'm hoping to put together a piece about seeing the Reverend Billy Talen last week. But in the event that I slack: The reverend is running for NYC Mayor! Help him get on the ballot and then vote for him. No more billionaire mayors! If you don't know Billy Talen, you should check out his websites and possibly YouTube one of his performances. I adore him and his posse, the Church of Stop Shopping.

Jul 22, 2009

Accidental to Occidental

(This is the final installation from my trip to the Russian River. The pictures enlarge if you click them, helpful for some of the smaller ones.)

I left the house at 10 AM this morning, intending to grab coffee in Duncan Mills and head to the coast for an hour or two. I expected to be back by 1pm to do some work. Eight hours later I’m enjoying a beer because trying to work in my sun frazzled state is pointless. I don’t even have the wherewithal to make food, despite the fact that I rode over 30 miles on coffee and and a pastry.

After this wholesome breakfast in Duncan Mills I said hi to the 2nd nest of ospreys and hit the PCH going south to get into the Sonoma Coast State Beach. Though sun poured through the inland trees, tendrils of fog lingered over the headlands, extending in from a solid bank off-shore. I consider the fog quite beautiful and most of my coastal experiences in Cali include it. This fits my image of the poorly named Pacific as cold and somewhat menacing. Softening my view of the sea today were my friends the cormorants, enjoying that silly, low flying game they play.

A flock of pelicans crossed my view, taking center stage before the coastal gray backdrop. Biking down to the beach I enjoyed the gems of the coastal prairie, one of my all time favorite habitats. What can compare to the prostrate shrubs and grey perennial grasses? Yeah, I’m actually asking that after describing the majestic redwoods that begin just east of this coast. I try not to be a habitat supremacist as my own beloved landscapes are often maligned. Think English conservation students AND professors using the term desert to mean wasteland. That’s not only habitat supremacy, but what I also call, green supremacy. I like the brown and grey stuff, too. And I try not to forget all the blue stuff out there.

I walked out onto some brown stuff today, namely sand. I wandered out to the harbor seal nursery, where the Russian River meets the sea in a calming nexus of salt and freshwater, a brief mediation of the ferocity of the Pacific. Crouching with my camera, I wished that I were not so optically challenged. I obeyed the signs, staying 50 yards away from the seals, or as far away as I needed to be judging by their raised heads or general interest in my slow movements. I like seals. They’re silly and hella lazy. Like water loving cats with no landward grace or appreciable ears.

I felt the cumulative effects of daily 20 mile bike rides as I pedaled upward, away from the beach toward 1. No worries, it’s all downhill or flat from here, I thought. On the way out to the State Beach, I saw a road east of 1 that I looked nice and quiet. Inspecting Willow Creek Road on the way back I thought, "Isn’t that the name of that road I took between Duncan Mills and Monte Rio?" So what if the sign paradoxically says “No Through Access to Occidental”. I didn’t want to go to Occidental anyway.

The ride down Willow Creek Road was joyous. My eyes got a little dewy as I surveyed the riparian habitat, noting a lovely warbler, possibly a Wilson’s, many many butterflies, and several turkey vultures. The lack of cars completely made up for the shitty pavement. I pedaled in the sun, fully expecting to pop out on a little road that I had ridden down 2 days earlier. When I arrived at a vehicle barrier, I proceeded past it on my two, non-motorized wheels, leaving the riparian zone, to climb gradually into a redwood forest. Hmmm, winding and slightly inclined, the road offered such beauty that I couldn’t really be dissuaded. Few cars had become zero. Few people had become absolutely none.

Thus I found myself winding my way up a mountain, convinced of the divineness of it all by the lack of cars and other humans. As the trees became manzanitas, ever so briefly, I realized that I was getting pretty high up there. Was that Willow Creek crossing the road, requiring those occasional culverts or water bars? Was I still on Willow Creek Road? I considered backtracking, but that’s not very fun, now is it? Stubbornness, and the luxury of not having any obligations to other humans or my favorite dogs, sent me right up a mountain despite hunger and a bit of tiredness. I also had myself convinced for a mile or so that I was trespassing, which stilled my resolve at a breaking point on the gravel ascent. I realized later that I was not trespassing, which at that point was a welcomed feedback, as I was so tired that the thought of arguing with some private property schmuck nearly inspired me to go 180 and let the brakes wide open.

A couple of hours later, as I crossed a patch of oak savanna, I caught a glimpse of the fog bank off the coast ... which was many miles away. Oh, boy. The Russian River Valley was definitely to my north (and left), and I was looking down into a different valley altogether. Another vehicle barrier and I was out on a paved road again. No more gravel. At least I could let up worrying about punctures. (Oh, yeah, I had a flat kit and pump, but no spanner for the front wheel should it blow.) It was pushing three o’clock and I had no idea where I was. However, as I could certainly find my way back, had I the willingness to backtrack, I was not lost.

I followed my gut and ended up in … well, Occidental. No through road for cars, but if you bike forever, you will end up in this bougie little wine country town. I took Coleman Valley Road down to Bohemian Highway. Straight across the road was a natural foods store that supplied me with a much needed sandwich and directions to Hwy 116. When the cashier asked if I wanted to go to Santa Rosa or Forestville on 116 I realized just how far away from Cazadero I had gone.

At 3:15 I left Occidental, headed toward Graton Road, which would take me to 116. I have seen every town in Sonoma County on this trip, I swear. I’ve driven from Sebastopol to Cazadero in a car several times so I knew that I was hella far and that there were winding hills in my future. I was fucking tired and evening traffic was kicking off. I was really questioning my car free adventure as massive trucks wooshed past me on blind curves. With poison oak, blackberry, or some spiteful invasive like French broom or pampas grass waiting to molest me on the right, menacing motor vehicles threatening to crush me on the left, I felt that familiar annoyance with myself. My mind drifted from the task at hand (propelling myself forward while not getting squished). Invasive mustard (Brassica nigra) and poison hemlock (Conium maclatum) overtaking plots in a graveyard inspired undue offense as I pedaled slowly past.

When I finally got back I flipped open a map and realized that the cashier sent me on a very circuitous route. Had I continued to follow my internal compass, I would have shaved off at least 5 miles. Oh well, the wild Mimulus cardinalis (Scarlett monkey flower), butterflies, and deer made it all worthwhile.