Tag Archives: Science

Salmon? In Berkeley?

Chinook Salmon (adult) Photo Credit: Roger Tabor (USFWS)

Not Codornices Creek, but you get the idea.

This is happy news, though someone needs to tell the salmon it’s the wrong size for the creek:

First Chinook salmon reported in Codornices Creek

Codornices Creek is a little creek, mainly year-round, that flows off the Berkeley Hills and through the Hills’ populated alluvial fan to the east shore of San Francisco Bay. It’s pretty much the same as any of thousands of small creeks in Urban California, except for one thing: it’s in Berkeley, and so there have been people working to restore it for a generation.

Chinooks are more usually associated with large main-stem rivers like the Sacramento: little coastal streams like Codornices Creek are more suited to smaller coho salmon, and steelhead for that matter, which have in fact been seen in the creek for some time, though apparently not in a self-sustaining spawning population.

Then again, the fish set the rules, not us, and the Codornices Chinook’s more likely destination in the Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed has been, as the fisheries biologists would put it in technical terms, massively fucked. This chinook was probably born in a hatchery instead of a leafy rill with a nice cobble bottom; all but one of the Sacramento and San Joaquin’s major tributaries have been plugged with giant concrete dams, cutting off access to something like 99.9999996 percent of the watershed’s spawning habitat. Agricultural runoff of pesticide-laden silt and silt-laden pesticide fills the water along the way to the dams.

But at least it’s a small, one-fish vote of confidence in the good work my former neighbors have done trying to keep Codornices Creek alive, and until we can engineer precisely targeted earthquakes at the bases of the big dams, that’ll have to do.

(Special homechild points if you heard this post’s title in Mel Blanc’s voice.)

The Wilds of California

The wonderfully talented San Diego-area filmmaker Jim Karnik has an ambitious project in mind: an hour-long film that will introduce viewers to Californian biodiversity in all the varying ecosystems the state has to offer, from coastal tidepools to alpine rock and ice. This trailer is amazing.

Jim’s got an Indiegogo site set up, and as soon as I get my December budget figured out I’m kicking something in. Check it out and see if you want to as well.

Protect Gold Butte

Most of you have never heard of it, but northeast of Las Vegas, in one of the least-visited parts of the continental United States, a desert treasure in Nevada needs your support.

I visited Gold Butte for the first time in 1997. I was just passing through, heading for a tiny outpost in the Arizona Strip called Pakoon Springs, which later became part of the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument. A fire there had damaged a Joshua tree forest some years before, and I wanted to take a look at the recovery so far. My old truck carried me up over the slopes of Virgin Peak and across the state line, where I took some photos that turned out to be abysmally fuzzy. Joshua tree near Pakoon Springs, AZ (The fire had burned patches of the landscape, but not all of it. Much of it looked intact. In this shot, taken facing eastward into the Arizona Strip, the long ridge in the background is the Grand Wash Cliffs escarpment. The notch in the Cliffs toward the right? That’s the downstream end of a rather famous natural landscape feature. )

My old truck was a four-cylinder 2WD, so my relief at not getting stuck in the Pakoon’s washes was considerable, and I headed back across the line into Gold Butte to explore the Whitney Pockets area for a little while. I’ve always meant to get back to Virgin Peak and do some hiking, like these folks did:

It’s one of the best places I’ve ever been. It’s wild, wide, open, and spacious. Gold Butte is a botanical, geological, and archaeological treasure. It’s priceless habitat for desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. It’s also within a couple hours’ drive from two fast-growing cities — the metastasopolis of Las Vegas, and the smaller but even more enthusiastically desert-defacing St. George, Utah — and the almost-city of Mesquite NV. As a result, those who use the desert as a blank slate across which to scratch their grubby fingernails pose a significant and increasing threat to the landscape:

And unlike the Pakoon and other adjacent lands across the Arizona line in the Parashant NM, Gold Butte is essentially unprotected.

Nevada environmentalists and land managers are working with local elected officials to change that. Last year Representative Shelley Berkley introduced HR 7132, a bill that would have given Gold Butte National Conservation Area status, like the Red Rock Canyon area on the other side of Las Vegas. The NCA would have covered 362,177 acres, with 200,000 more acres of BLM and Park Service lands in the area declared wilderness. The bill did not pass, and must be reintroduced in this theoretically more receptive Congress.

The Nevada Wilderness Project has an action site where you can find ways to help them protect Gold Butte, from writing letters to sharing your hard-earned cash.  The Friends of Gold Butte has a website and a companion blog where you can stay informed, and if you’re in the area, there are events listed in which you can take part.

And if you’re not a local, you can still let people know Gold Butte exists. It’s one of the last best places, a forgotten puzzle piece in the Grand Canyon biome, and it deserves protection.

Alluvium

This pebble in my boot, when it was one
still with its mother rock, cooled over tens
of centuries: a batholith. Bright grew
the flakes of muscovite, bright grew the pale
discolored quartz, each grain an infinite
fine tetrahedral tesselation, it
rose out of the depth of earth buoyant,
a yearning isostasy, then was stripped
of its crust-cover by dull-rasped storm.
At length outcropped, massive and without fault,
the rock began at once to decompose.
Frost-riven, wind-and water-worn, in turn
summer sun-scalded and ground down by ice,
mother rock failed. A craze, not half as wide
as spider strands, but still a root-purchase.
The mosses’ fierce and ravening grasp, the clench
of desert aster’s roots ratcheted, prised
apart by microscopic increment
rock from the monolith. Melt and refreeze:
ice put its Archimedean back against
the wall, strained quietly for centuries.
A thousand years, ten thousand, and the break:
Rockfall. A stony flinch, echoing gasp
as earth released its hold on earth, falling,
fracturing, a scattering of shards
and shrapnel. Storms to file the edges smooth,
an eon’s iterations, boulders rent
to cobbles, cobbles to stones,
shard-sanded scraps of stone a pediment
gravel apron mantling the mountain,
until the whole assemblage, self-entombed,
fuses itself, forms a conglomerate
core of some unborn range. This pebble in
my boot a scion of lands lost, a seed
of landscapes not yet made. This reddened heel
a blistered point of contact where my life
meets the much longer life of pulsing rock
falling, rising, its crests a mile above
and frequency unfathomably long.

Paleontology

[Time to haul this one out of the archives, what with all the targazing I’ve done the last couple days.]

Paleontology

“What is it that sets us apart,” she asked,
“from sunset or sierra?
What is the line between ourselves
and the terrain from which we come?”

He thought he knew, but something in her eyes
transfixed him in a way he knew too well.
Deep and dark and wet they stuck him fast.

In parts of California, long ago,
impressive monsters ambled in the hills:
placid armored sloths two people tall,
cats with teeth as long as boning knives,
dogs the size of bears. Now and again,
a glint of water tempted them, or else
a furry piece of meat held strangely still,
and only after the imprudent pounce
would the tar entomb them.
Now, the graduate students pick their bones.

When the land thus asserts your membership
in the vast assemblage of dust and bark,
of feather, fur and rock in which we live,
it’s best not to struggle overmuch.
The land is patient, yet insistent.
Fighting off the tar will muss your hair.
Paleontologists an era hence
will find your clothes awry. Embarrassing!
Far better just to let oneself be swallowed
in all-consuming pitch, placidly slurped
into the balm of Quaternary ages.

That’s what her eyes felt like, he thought;
a sudden lack of individual
identity: nothing sets us apart
one from the other, nor from the land around.

Breaking Pleistocene Update

I Am Zed's Mandible

I went over to the Page Museum this morning to get a look at some of the fossils they pulled out from underneath the May Company parking lot.

I got a handful of blurry, underexposed photos with my phone. They’re here.

On a side note, why is it the tourists always come up to me and ask me to explain things? I was just minding my own business reading the latest issue of Natural History near Pit 91, not bothering a soul or looking at all intelligent. Always, ALWAYS happens. Weird.