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Marine Mammal Science:
A Review of Collaborative Research at The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito

Guest Speaker: Lauren Rust
7:30pm, Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

FREE at Green Apple Books on the Park,
1231 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA

The Marine Mammal Center has been rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals in northern California for 40 years. In addition to rescue and rehabilitation, The Marine Mammal Center conducts cutting edge science research through collaborations all over the world. The Center was the first to discover domoic acid in California sea lions and continues to research why cancer is so prevalent in this sentinel species. Lauren Rust, a research biologist with the Center, will go more in-depth about the extensive research projects at the Center and how this research is being applied to the current sea lion crisis.

Lauren Rust has been in the marine mammal field for over 12 years on both coasts. She’s currently a research biologist at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. Lauren manages the research department which involves conducting necropsies (animal autopsies) on patients that die at the center as well as large whales on the beach, collaborating with researchers nationwide and helping the veterinary staff care for the sick and injured animals waiting for release. She hails from South Carolina but moved to the Bay area with her family 5 years ago.

Sea Lions

Kapalakiko: Hawaiian Migrant Workers in 19th-Century San Francisco
Guest Speaker: Gregory Rosenthal
4pm October 19th, 2015
FREE San Francisco Main Public Library, Civic Center 

At least one thousand Hawaiians lived and worked in California in the mid-nineteenth century. As itinerant seamen and fur hunters they touched Alta and Baja California shores; as cowhide skinners, sea otter scalpers, agriculturalists and Catholic converts, they lived and worked in the Channel Islands and in Mexican ranching towns; as stevedores, boatmen, and day laborers they peopled the port city of Yerba Buena; and, during and after the Gold Rush, as miners, fishermen, boardinghouse keepers, opium farmers, factory workers, beggars, and vagabonds, they lived amongst others in Sacramento, San Francisco, and in the Central Valley. In the course of research at the Huntington Library, the California Historical Society, the Bancroft Library, and throughout Hawaiʻi, I have uncovered a multitude of stories of Native Hawaiian migrant workers in nineteenth-century California. In this talk, I will discuss Hawaiian migrants to California and their experiences of life and labor in early San Francisco, from the city’s sleepy beginnings as Yerba Buena in the 1830s and 1840s to the aftermath of the Gold Rush in the 1860s and 1870s. During this era, Hawaiians were a crucial part of San Francisco’s story of cosmopolitan growth and urban transformation.

Gregory Rosenthal is Assistant Professor of Public History at Roanoke College. His current book project is a history of Native Hawaiian migrant labor in the nineteenth-century global capitalist economy. He has published in Environmental History, World History Bulletin, Perspectives on History, and Solutions. His website is http://gregoryrosenthal.com/

Kieth Hansen joined us April 29th, 2015 at Green Apple Books. The first of our series’ “wandering era.”

Kieth Hansen has been hooked on birds since he was a kid, when his brother ran into to grab him, and showed him a Cedar Waxwing in the woods of Maryland. Not long after, his family moved to Fresno, where the Sierra Nevada became his backyard, and he went deep into birding, and on to do a 3 week stint on the Farallones with PRBO in 1974 as the youngest person to be allowed on the islands. Since then his birding has taken him all over the world.

He also came from an artistic family, and those two interests were have been tied together since his senior year of high school. His first book was a coloring book about birds of the Sierra, followed by a 4 year project to produce illustrations for “Discovering Sierra Birds” co-authored by my Ted Beedy and Steve Granholm.

His most recent project has been one 14 years in the making — 1400 paintings of 320 species each with their different plumages based on sex, age, seasonality — called “Birds of the Sierra Nevada: Their Natural History, Status and Distribution” with co-authors Ted Beedy and Ed Pandolfino.”

Originally it was planned as one book, but the field guide + life history became too much. The life history book has been published first with example images from the field guide illustrations.

To paint one illustration takes about 2 months from a blank canvas, a slow process of building up the picture of the bird, starting with pencil, measuring out and couting the feathers; wetting the bird and starting with a neutral tint for shadow, then adding color, sheer washes over each other, drawing more while the paint drys, then back to paint; paying attention to the translucency of feathers as they overlap; the full colored bird building up slowly but surely; the final touches in place with colored pencil.

A lot of these images are made up, not directly from a photo or illustration, but trying to get the bird in the perfect pose: pulling from his own years of observation, videos he has taken, specimens, other books, and photos. Consulting with his many birding friends and experts in the birding world to make sure he has gotten it right. This is his 13th book, and for the most part he can block birds out without too much work, it’s the details that take the time and effort. Although he enjoys it, he does not draw as much as he would like in the field.

His love of birds is clear from the beauty of his final exquisite images, and he takes inspiration from his trips out in the field (he showed a great video of birds in the Sierra’s) and also in his backyard in Bolinas. His studio has proved itself an excellent little observatory as well.

His images are fairly small — but this is mostly a factor that he has had to draw so many, and that they will actually be even smaller in the book. He has been pleased to see how well they can be blown up though. One of the most important factors in getting the birds right is their weight and center of gravity — how they carry themselves, and their relation of their legs to the body.

We still illustrate bird guides he says, because they can be drawn in a neutral space, the same generic conditions and lighting to make them easier to compare, and it is easier to highlight and show features. A photo guide has the disadvantage of having a background and the varied lighting, and varied conditions. With an illustration it is easier to show the details and variations that matter.

I hope that he keeps illustrating birds for many years to come. His studio in downtown Bolinas is well worth a visit (he related a funny story about why he has so many hummingbird feeders). He also leads tours through a company called Sacred Monkey. More information can be found on his website at http://keithhansen.com/

The Semi-Secret Lives of SF’s Ravens

Guest Speaker: Adrian Cotter 7:30pm, Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 FREE at Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA

People often describe ravens in San Francisco as ubiquitous – ubiquitous enough to be generally ignored. Adrian has been following them around they city for about 5 years now, finding their nests in all sorts of odd places, and observing their lives from nest to juvenile flocks. These  intelligent birds are fun to watch, but there increasing numbers might also spell trouble for other species.

Joel Pomerantz (my partner in this lecture business) talked to us on March 19th, 2015 about his research into the flood of 1862. At first he did not find a whole lot, until he stumbled across the term “freshet”. That opened up a whole new line of research — which led to this wonderful and somewhat unconventional lecture — a “choose your own lecture” adventure: offering a list of topics on which he could speak.

Lithograph with frame K Street A Rosenfeld, SF

He did give some background to start. The term “atmospheric river” is a relatively new one. I hadn’t heard of it myself until I heard a lecture on drought last fall, but it popped up in the news a lot at the start of our winter storm cycle (the threat of which caused more chaos than the actual event this year). These rivers in the sky are actually the delivery mechanism for a lot of moisture from the the equator to landmasses. The moisture isn’t necessarily even visible from space only recently have microwave satellites been able to track them.

One of these rivers pushes up toward the northwest, and under certain circumstances, storms in Alaska (the results of other atmospheric rivers) push these rivers further south into California. The total water in these systems can be huge (10 to 20 Mississippi’s worth), and what fell in California in 1862 was exacerbated by a drought in the prior year, and a hard freeze that followed. What measurements we had: San Francisco saw 24”-37” of rain in January alone (19-20 is the average for the year). In gold country there was 108” in a month.

All this wrought terrible destruction, pretty much every mill, ferry, and bridge were washed out (many many deaths happened with people trying to cross rivers), tens of thousands of dead cattle washed up on beaches, low lying farms inundated, Sacramento flooded.

Newspaper accounts of the time (akin to the blogs of today) had all sorts of accounts of how terrible it was. Every day people thought it could not get worse, and each day it did. A Southern Californian woman recounted how in a 6 week stretch there was not time to dry even a handkerchief.

Given the prior year’s drought, sediment got picked up from the ground rather than the water being absorbed — and given also the blasting going on for mining, a tremendous amount of soil and rock was moved and polished by the high fast moving water.  Water covered 30’ high telegraph poles in some places and steamships were able to go anywhere.

The freeze that followed didn’t stop it. The freeze was a deep one down to sea level, but it didn’t stop the water from moving and ice tsunamis formed — ice piling upon ice, pushing up onto land crushing whatever might be in its path.

San Francisco Bay clocked no flood tides for over a week, raised as it was by 7’, and the water was fresh enough that steam ships didn’t have to trek to their usual freshwater streams to get water.

The effects did not happen all in one go either. Drought followed in 1863 and 600k more cattle died, pretty much the last of the stock that came from the original Spanish settlements. Michael Barber of UC Davis thinks that this is when native grasslands were supplanted, when new cattle was brought in directly from the east. Tree squirrels may have also taken their place at this time — so many ground squirrels were killed into the floods.

The greatest source of information about the floods comes from Sacramento. Governor Leland Stanford was inaugurated on Jan 10th, 1862 and was said to have had to row to the ceremony. Business had to be carried out on the 2nd floor of Sacramento, and 1000s of miners came down from the hills looking for a way back to San Francisco. A fair number of people turned their backs on California altogether.

The story quickly made its way into stories and song: Bret Harte’s Luck of Roaring Camp (the story was very successful, the author himself helped rescue people during the floods), a musician Max Zorer who named his songs after the flood (The California Flood Mazurka Dance), and a minstrel song published in 1863 called Down By the River Lived a Maiden, by H. S. Thompson, about a woman who drowns while chasing her ducks away from the river, which later was the inspiration for a song you are all familiar with Oh My Darlin’ Clementine. Joel gave a fabulous rendition of the original — an “old timey” sounding tune, with its amusing but ultimately sad lyrics (sadly my recording of this event failed entirely).

Down by the river lived a maiden

Joel had us speculate on why this disaster faded into the background, beyond the terminology, until recently there was little to be found on the subject. There is some level of time passing — we would not expect much of a history of Hurricane Sandy in 150 years perhaps, except that we are now building on the places that were designed as flood plains in the 1850s. His hypothesis is that it might be the flood control administrators who did not want to talk about it — the storm was of such a magnitude that it is unlikely we could build to it. It’s only recently that people have begun to think about a response (on such effort referred to as the Ark Storm). 16 million people live in areas which were underwater in 1862.

How long ‘til the next one? It is really impossible to say. There have been 2-5 storms of this magnitude in the last 2000 years (measuring from sediment layers taken from lakes). Ultimately, it is up to us citizens to remember, research, pass on, and act on this kind of knowledge.

At the end of the lecture, I am sure that Joel could have gone on much longer. Keep an eye on http://thinkwalks.org for updates and future talks on his flood research.

Note: This is out first of many talks outside of the Randall (the Randall is undergoing reconstruction through until the Fall of 2016). Make sure to note the date, time, and location. We won’t likely to be on the third Thursday too often.

The Art and Exploration of Creating a Bird Book
Guest Speaker: Keith Hansen
7:30pm, Wednesday, Apr 29th, 2015
FREE at Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 

Keith Hansen is a wildlife artist who specializes in the inspirational and accurate portrayal of birds.

Illustrations of Cedar Waxwings

Cedar Waxwing by Keith Hansen

His most resent endeavor has been a 14 year project illustrating the book “Birds of the Sierra Nevada: Their Natural History, Status and Distribution”, authored by Ted Beedy and Ed Pandolfino. He illustrated about 1,400 portraits of the 320 species that occur annually somewhere, anywhere, and everywhere in the Sierra. He will be talking about the production of his illustrations and the birds themselves.

If you can’t make this talk — his workspace, The Wildlife Gallery” is located in Bolinas California where people can view originals, prints, and the various works that are on display (and the birds visible outside his window!).

More about Keith and his work can be found at keithhansen.com.

John Wick came to us on February 19th, 2015 to talk to us about soil. It turns out that our millenias of farming & ranching have left us, overall, with some pretty wretched soil. Soil that is also conspicuously devoid of carbon.
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

John’s route to having a potential fix for capturing carbon back from the atmosphere started in a deceptively simple desire to turn his land back to nature, to re-wild a bit of California. They had 540 acres, three valleys of land. It was not so easy as he had imagined — left to its own devices, the ecosystem fell into chaos and a riot of invasive plants took over.
They turned to Dr. John Creque, an scientist and expert in land management, who suggested a controlled application of cattle might help nudge their system back towards native systems. And nudge it did, by 2007 their rented cattle, brought in in April when the swallows came and moved 67 times through 5 weeks, had results. Native perennials began to show up, meadowlarks showed up in great numbers, eagles arrived, and the quail population exploded.
Over time, they became interested in whether this was possibly sequestering C02. They turned to another scientist, Dr. Silver who was skeptical, who didn’t think it was likely, and who didn’t think it would be possible to measure, but she was wanted to do the research.
Grassland it turns out are big carbon stores, and rangeland now covers more of the earth than forests, so it had potential – if this proved out, there was a lot of possibility to sequester a lot of carbon. And do the Marin Carbon Project was started. They took samples before they began trying to get an idea of what carbon was already there, and then they began with a series of experimental plots both on his land and in the Sierra Nevada.
One aspect of this was grazing, another aspect was putting compost down… half an inch. And they began taking weekly readings. And the results were amazing — 30-70% increase in forage compared to control, more water retention in the solid, and an additional ton of carbon per hectare sequestered. Even more interesting was that no additional compost needed to be added (and 96% of the carbon ended up stored), each year and additional ton/hectare was stored, and perennial grasses dominated — and that result happened in both areas.
The same experiment was then duplicated on other farms and dairies, with different grazing practices. There still had to be good grazing management, and there had to be compost. Manure and other fertilizers do not work as well, fertilizer is the big can of coke of agriculture, lots of empty calories that don’t do a lot for the system as a whole.
And the most important thing in all of this is the soil, and how the plants interact with it… the plants take in CO2 produce oxygen and, but they also exude sugars — carbon, which get taken up by the microbes in the soil… and this is where the magic of carbon sequestration happens.
The two big questions are cost and scale. Additional testing showed that only a quarter inch of compost is really required. Some of the cost is covered by selling carbon credits, and tests are being designed to take it to scale, including a million acre project on BLM land. None of this depends on new technology, just good practices that have been developed with silence.
The increased water retention is also a big draw to Western farmers and ranchers who are now deep in drought. But the most important news for our long term future, is that even including the full life-cycle of Carbon costs to this project (transporting cattle, and compost, creating compost, and burping cows), the potential level of carbon sequestration is astounding.
They’ve worked out a strong protocol that requires good grazing practices, and not allowing the disturbance on intact systems, no increase in stocking, and no noxious weeds.
The project’s focus on rangelands is based on the fact that there are so many, and that with enough land devoted to this practice C02 in the atmosphere could be brought under the 350 mark. So much land has been leached of its carbon by bad grazing practices, 60-70% of solid C02 lost over the last 10,000 years, there is a lot we could do to recover that.
They are working on many ways to provide the compost required, composted manure, and chicken manure (compost piles that are hot enough destroy pathogens and deactivate other dangerous chemicals), and the potential to use human waste as compost (using something like Gary Anderson’s fiber chips).
The only challenges are perhaps convincing people to use it, and on that front their seems to be great interest from governments around the world (they recently hosted a big delegation from China) and it is the UN Year of Soil.
It seems incredible, but this management of soil, this management of the microbes within our soil, could go a long way to bringing our carbon back under the line, and with renewables and efficiency, could do way better.
To find out more details about the project and their original science (any incorrect details above are due to my poor note taking abilities), visit the http://marincarbonproject.org
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