Saturday, May 12, 2007

Forest Fire on Catalina Stirs the Embers of Controversy

Along the southern coast of California are a chain of little islands that make up the Channel islands. The most popular of these is Santa Catalina, better known as just Catalina. It is a favorite spot for the vacation get away, and the main tourist destination is the town of Avalon.
Vacationers this week got more than they bargained for when a wildfire engulfed most of the island and drove evacuees from their hotels. The blaze was contained by Friday, and only one house and six businesses were damaged.
Scientists are sitting on the edge of their seats right now, as this fire will surely bring the decade battle over the restoration of native plants species to a head.

Historically, the Channel Islands were isolated from the mainland and had no large foraging animals on them. Unique plant species seen nowhere else in the world were found there, and in turn supported unique animal species such as the Catalina fox and the Catalina Orangetip butterfly. As people started to inhabit the islands, they brought with them bison, pigs, and goats. These animals decimated the ecosystems of the islands, and put its native animals at risk. Over the years, efforts to remove the introduced foragers were met with strong opposition from animal right advocates, who opposed killing the animals. Science has gradually won over, and now on the island the only remaining threat to plants are the bison, which are managed by the conservancy department on Catalina.
The crucial moment is now here, when the power of fire has the potential to awaken the dormant seeds of plants whose adult populations have been long extinct. This could bring new life to the island, and restore the precious habitat. A fire in 1999 had a similar effect on plants, but new seedlings were decimated by the roaming buffalo. Scientists worry that this awakening could have the effect of wiping out the potential for reintroduction if this happens again.
"If it springs back and is eaten, its going to be gone forever."

to learn more about conservation efforts on Catalina
for more info on Catalina, including the latest fire go to the Wiki site
for the LA times article on the native plant story

NASA Predicts the Climate

The IPCC notched up the urgence months ago when they released their climate change report that predicted sharp increases in temperatures across the United States. This recent report on NASA's findings blew me away.
According to CBC, NASA climate models predict we can expect average summer temperatures in the eastern United States to rise by as much as 20 degrees Farhenheit by the year 2080. Their models take into account urban heat islands of city centers such as Atlanta and Chicago, where they say average summer temperatures could rise to as high as 106 degrees. Imagine having a day that hot, and then picture tha day lasting for several weeks, with temperatures rising above even that on the hottest of days. Makes the countryside seem much more appealing, doesn't it?
The IPCC predicted summer temperature increases, but not this severe. The main difference: NASA used weather patterns and rainfall amounts to more accurately predict the future, unlike the IPCC, which used an average rainfall amount for the entire country rather than region by region.
With temperatures rising like this, changes will have to be made to create more liveable cities. The urban heat island is a well documented phenomenon, where the thermal mass of concrete, buildings and other hard surfaces collect heat by day and continue to radiate throughout the night, allowing temperatures to continue rising day by day. As this happens, more energy must be produced to power the fans and air-conditioners people need to make cities liveable. As a result of more power use, the utilities are pushed to the limits of their output capabilites, and more plants must be built. More people get in thier cars and drive to the country to escape the heat. As a result, there is more carbon released into the air which in turn adds to the global warming problem all over again. It's a nasty cycle.
But there are ways to prevent this trend. Chicago is no stranger to high temperatures. It was a series of heat waves in 1995 that killed 700 people which lead Chicago's Mayor Daly to say enough is enough. His goal is to prevent another tragedy like this from ever happening again, and he plans to make his city the greenest in the country.
As part of an effort to cool the city, strict requirements for greenroofs, energy efficient buildings and urban landscaping have forced even the most powerful businesses such as Walmart to comply. There are great financial incentives, fund matching programs, and tax breaks for those who choose to go green.
As a result: Chicago's city hall has a large green roof, but Walmart now has the largest greenroof in the entire country. Decaying neighborhoods where buildings once crumbled are now being redeveloped with incentives from the city. Green collar jobs are on the rise, creating new employment opportunities. The city is experiencing a renaissence.
If Chicago can do it, so can the rest of the country.

for the CBC article on NASA's report
check out Chicago's Department of the Environment for the latest in green

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jennifer Berry, Eco-Defender

Ok, so I talk a big talk sometimes, but that's what you all like, right? Here I go again.

A friend of mine tipped me off to some recent permitting issues in his neighborhood, where a grove of trees and building are set to be torn down so a bigger building can occupy its space. I puffed myself up for a professional letter to the City of Mill Valley, and this is what I wrote.

"I'm writing this in concern to the oak grove on Forrest Street that is threatened by development.

I am an ecological consultant who assists in sustainable building and design projects, my scope of work ranging from single residences all the way to college campuses. I am currently working on a green SPCA facility in Monterey County, two LEED buildings at a community college in Tuolomne County, and a LEED boy-scout camp in El Cerrito. A large part of my work involves using natural habitat to enhance a building and its surroundings. The design professionals I work with seek ways to increase the aesthetic quality, efficiency and health of their buildings while having little negative impact on the surrounding ecology of a site. Preserving trees are a large part of this process. I lived at two houses on Forrest over the years, giving me an intimate view of the ecology for this neighborhood.

When considering the ecology of a small site such as this one, it is necessary to look at a larger picture and determine how a building effects the surrounding lots, the block, and then the neighborhood as a whole. On Forrest Way, houses and gardens have been built with the miccroclimate provided by the trees that make up the forest that incorporates surrounding streets. The appeal of living on Forrest for me was that it was a quiet oasis just a block away from downtown Mill Valley. Over the years the large trees have been leaving, one by one, slowly bringing the sound from downtown into the neighborhood.
Also, the temperature of the neighborhood has increased in the summers. Little by little, the fan usage has increased, air-conditioners have been purchased, increasing the power use in this area and in turn putting a greater demand on utilities. Carbon emissions increase as each tree is no longer present to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and as people use more energy to cool their homes.
Flooding is always an issue in the winter months on Forrest. Large trees help reduce the saturation of soils by soaking up all that rainwater and releasing back into the atmosphere. Permeable landscape reduces the demand on waste water systems by allowing storm water to percolate into the water table rather than traveling across pavement and into the sewers.

This isn't just a case of one group of trees and one lot in consideration. This is taking a step back and looking at the picture as it should be viewed- as a whole. I assure you that cutting down this group of native trees at the fore-mentioned site will have a significantly negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood, and alternatives must be sought.

I work with a group of specialists we affectionately refer to as the Green Team, which includes architects, hydrologists, engineers, planners, and ecologists. We put on eco-charettes with design groups to help them make their projects more sustainable. As an integrated team, we solve problems and find ways to build without cutting down trees and damaging the ecology of a site. It is possible and very necessary to encourage economic growth and increase housing without having a negative impact on the environment. I urge the City of mill Valley to take a step up and find ways to do so, by starting with this project."

Pretty cool, huh? This is one of the many things I do for a living, and its great to be able to lend my professional knowledge to a friend, especially one as dear as my good friend Jimo Thomas.

Want to get involved with saving the grove at 78 Forrest? Drop me a line at:
jennie1234 at mac dot com
(I wrote it out so the spam-bots leave me alone, but you'll figure it out)

Know of the propsal and want to get involved?
let the Ciy of Mill Valley know
rwalsh at cityofmillvalley dot org
(once again written out to keep away those pesky spam-bots)

Corporations and the Hijacking of the Environmental Movement

"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."
These days, nearly everyone agrees about one thing, Global Warming is here, and we humans are indeed the cause. So now what?
Big business got years of foot-dragging out of early studies that served to undermine scientific evidence that the planet was warming. Energy moguls such as Exxon and the American Petroleum Industry, who once funded "uncertainty" research against conventional wisdom are now calling for emissions regulations in the form of Cap and Trade. With Cap and Trade, companies must reduce their carbon emissions to certain levels (as yet to be determined), and if unable to do so, can buy rights from other companies who have met their cap and have reduced their pollution to lower levels, allowing them to sell the surplus.
Some of the big debates right now are just what levels of reductions companies face in the future, and how will the determinations be made. For example, if a company has already reduced its carbon by 10% in the last year, will they be forced to further cut emissions?
Environmentalists watching the rush are voicing fears that all this sudden "green-flag waving" is merely a new tactic for companies to protect themselves rather than saving the planet.
Critics of Cap and Trade argue that these measures would do little to reduce the actual amount of pollution, since smaller companies would be selling credits they would otherwise not produce in carbon in the first place. They argue that the only way to stop the greenhouse effect is by reducing carbon, and that means cutting pollution by more than 50%. Even setting standards lower than levels produced just ten years ago would still add to Global Warming.

full Business Week article

once again, Wikipedia has it all- Find out more about Carbon Cap and Trade

Monday, May 7, 2007

EPA vs. the Endangered Species Act

Two cases that may redefine the Endangered Species Act are set to be decided in the Supreme Court- National Association of Homebuilders v. Defenders of Wildlife, and Defenders of Wildlife v. Environmental Protection Agency. The cases go back to 2002, when the EPA gave Arizona the power to legislate its own water permits for housing developments. As a direct result the San Pedro River, a sensitive wildflife corridor and home to such endangered species as the southwestern willow flycatcher, went dry in 2005.
How could the EPA turn its back on endangered species? Studies were conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Service, who expressed concerns about threats to species, but they went ahead and approved Arizona's independant rights because they had met all of the requirements set by the Clean Water Act. In court, the EPA attested that they met all of the federal requirements under the Endangered Species Act when they enlisted the Fish and Wildlife Service, but the Court of Appeals agreed that the EPA shirked its duties.
I found this report while sitting in the dentist's office last week. The headline reads "Is the Endangered Species Act in Danger?"
I think the U.S. News and World Report has it all wrong. While the court cases may set to define the battle, when the water runs out, there clearly are no winners. If Arizona met its criteria for the Clean Water Act but then drained its rivers dry, then some serious revision needs to go into how the laws are being legislated.