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Goats to the Rescue

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Photo: Phil Klein
Goat farmer Bob Blanchard tends to his flock above Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in Avila Beach, California.

Can you take another story about goats as lawnmowers? (Click for an example.) Today’s update shows how goats are not only a good way to cut your grass but are an important wildfire-fighting tool.

Susie Cagle writes at the Guardian, “As the western US braces for another wildfire season, following its most devastating on record, public officials and private landowners are turning to an unlikely, rustic tool to manage increasingly incendiary lands. Goats.

“They’re currently munching away at summer-dried, fire-ready grasses in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and across California. In some places that outlaw livestock within city limits, officials have even changed local ordinances. …

“In California, where wildfires have long been a threat, goats have worked for decades to protect coastal communities from creeping conflagrations. But worsening, deadly fire seasons across western US have inspired more communities to try managing their lands not with machines and chemicals, but with hungry animals.

“More extreme, climate-changed weather cycles could make fuel management a more important part of wildfire mitigation, as more intense rainy seasons lead to huge spring sprouts in grasslands, that are in turn dried out in the hotter, drier summer sun. …

“ ‘There’s a lot more awareness just because of the horrific fires we’ve had lately,’ said [Mike] Canaday, who runs a company called Living Systems Land Management. ‘If people want goats, the sooner they can get on somebody’s waiting list, the better.’

“He believes goats are a superior form of fuel management, more sustainable and less risky than herbicides or fuel-powered mowers. ‘And they’re a lot more fun to watch than people with weed eaters.’

“Grazing goats are far from the newest wildfire prevention tool, but they have a comparably tiny footprint. They’re efficient, clean eaters, nibbling away at weeds and grasses and leaving far less damage than an herbicide. They’re nimble climbers, able to scamper up steep flammable hillsides and into narrow canyons that humans would struggle to reach. They’re impervious to poison oak, and they don’t disrupt natural ecosystems or scare away indigenous animals. Where conspicuously carved fire breaks on verdant hillsides might upset homeowners, goats are welcome seasonal cuteness.

“In its 2019 wildfire safety report, released in July, [Laguna Beach] officials estimated a human crew costs roughly $28,000 to clear an acre, while a goat crew costs an average of $500. …

“The west cannot survive on goats alone, in part because of the limited labor pool, and in part because fuel management isn’t enough to abate wildfire impacts. Goats are effective, but they can’t do anything about flammable wood shingle roofs or cedar siding on ageing buildings that are not subject to new fire safety codes.

“ ‘We have a lot of tools in the toolbox,’ said [fire marshall Jim] Brown. And when it comes to clearing the fuel that could send flames rushing toward those old, flammable homes, ‘the goats are just the best tool we have in the toolbox to do that – there’s just nothing better.’ ”

More here.

Speaking of goats, I happened to run into one today at the library. The young lady with the leash told me that the goat’s name is Hermione.

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Photo: John Francis Peters/The Guardian
The super bloom of wildflowers in tiny Borrego Springs, California, is wonderful to behold. Good planning is ensuring that the chaos of 200,000 visitors in March 2017 is not being repeated.

My friend Kristina is headed off to a family reunion in the Southwest, and she’s excited that she’ll be there when the desert is in bloom. Have you ever seen that amazing phenomenon? It doesn’t happen every year. You need just the right amount of rain at just the right time.

Katharine Gammon writes at the Guardian, “It’s lunchtime at Kesling’s Kitchen in Borrego Springs, and the line is out the door and down the block. It takes about 20 minutes to get inside to order food. The rush isn’t surprising: Borrego Springs is a small town that swells in size when people flock to see wildflowers around Anza-Borrego, California’s largest state park.

“Plentiful winter rain and precise conditions have led to a bonanza of spring wildflowers this season. And while that can be a great thing, it also raised fears that Borrego Springs could once again face what locals have dubbed ‘flowergeddon.’ …

“The last time the region experienced a wildflower bloom was March 2017, when some 200,000 visitors flocked to the super bloom. … Borrego Springs (population 3,000) was unprepared for the avalanche of visitors coming from nearby Los Angeles, San Diego and even farther afield. The town ran out of food, hotel rooms, gas, and money in the ATMs. Traffic backed up for 20 miles; restaurant employees quit on the spot. When bathrooms filled up, visitors began using the fields to relieve themselves. …

“This year, the town wanted to be prepared. [An] all-community committee has been meeting regularly for months, since the winter rains foretold a bountiful flower year. They established a website with downloadable maps, manned information booths, and set up port-a-potties in Borrego Springs and near the flower areas. ‘This year, we are prepared and our restaurants stocked up – as are the gas stations and ATMs,’ [says Betsy Knaak, the executive director of the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association].’ …

“The early rains made it easier to predict that the bloom was coming, and it looks set to last over a longer period, meaning that even busy weekends don’t feel as packed with people. On a recent Sunday cars lined the road but there was no crush of people on the trails or in the flowers. Still, hotel rooms in Borrego Springs and nearby Julian were fully booked for two weekends straight. …

“This year, an extraordinary proliferation of painted lady butterflies and sphinx moth caterpillars are part of the natural spectacle too. The butterflies are the result of a phenomenon known as an ‘irruption’ – the strong rains brought a population explosion, a billion strong, in northern Mexico.” Read more at the Guardian, here.

In Massachusetts, we are feeling spring in the air, but the huge snow piles in the supermarket parking lots tell us we have a way to go before seeing an array wildflowers like those in California.

 

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Photo: Thomas Turner/Reuters
This hoodwinker sunfish, a species discovered only in 2017, has washed up on a California beach. Scientists believe it belongs in the Southern Hemisphere.

As much as I love learning about new species like this giant sunfish from the Southern Hemisphere, I can’t help feeling concerned that it ended up on a beach where it doesn’t belong. Is this another sign of global warming? Not likely. This fish likes temperate water and would have had to pass the hot Equator. A mystery.

Christina Zdanowicz has the story at CNN. “This is the extraordinary tale of how a massive, strange-looking fish wound up on a beach on the other side of the world from where it lives. The seven-foot fish washed up at UC Santa Barbara’s Coal Oil Point Reserve in Southern California [in February]. Researchers first thought it was a similar and more common species of sunfish — until someone posted photos on a nature site and experts weighed in. …

“It turned out to be a species never seen before in North America. It’s called the hoodwinker sunfish.

‘When the clear pictures came through, I thought there was no doubt. This is totally a hoodwinker,’ said Marianne Nyegaard, a marine scientist who discovered the species in 2017. ‘I couldn’t believe it. I nearly fell out of my chair.’

“Nyegaard … works in the marine division at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand. … ‘We know it has the temperate distribution around here and off the coast of Chile, but then how did it cross the equator and turn up by you guys?’ …

“An intern at Coal Oil Point Reserve alerted conservation specialist Jessica Nielsen to the dead beached sunfish on February 19. When Nielsen first saw it, the unusual features of the fish caught her eye.

” ‘This is certainly the most remarkable organism I have seen wash up on the beach in my four years at the reserve,’ Nielsen said in a UC Santa Barbara press release. She posted some photos of the fish on the reserve’s Facebook page. When colleague Thomas Turner saw the photos later that day, he rushed to the beach with his wife and young son. …

“He snapped some photos of what he thought was an ocean sunfish, a rare sight up-close, he said.

” ‘It’s the most unusual fish you’ve ever seen,’ said the UC Santa Barbara associate professor.

‘It has no tail. All of its teeth are fused, so it doesn’t have any teeth. It’s just got this big round opening for a mouth.’

“Turner posted his photos on iNaturalist, a site where people post photos and sightings of plants and animals. A fish biologist commented and alerted Ralph Foster, a fish scientist and the fish curator at the South Australian Museum.

“It was Foster who first said this may be a hoodwinker sunfish and not an ocean sunfish in the comments on iNaturalist. …

“Foster excitedly emailed Nyegaard, the woman who discovered the species, and told her what he was thinking. …

“It had been two days since Nielsen had first seen the fish. When Turner and Nielsen went back to the beach [to get sharper photos], the creature was no longer there.

“They started two miles apart from each other on the beach and kept looking, walking toward each other until they found the missing fish. It had refloated on the tide and washed up a few hundred yards away, Turner said. …

“All of the features in the photos matched up with the hoodwinker. When Nyegaard saw the photos, she knew she had a hoodwinker case on her hands. …

“Both Nyegaard and Turner marveled at how social media and the iNaturalist site can help bring researchers closer to an answer. …

“Turner said it was exciting for him to help identify the first recorded sighting of a hoodwinker sunfish in North America — and only the second in the Northern Hemisphere.

” ‘I’m a professor, I’m a biologist but I didn’t actually know what was special about this fish,’ Turner said. ‘I just posted a picture and that connected me with the world’s expert and the discoverer of the species.’ ”

Super photos at CNN, here.

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Photo: Monica LeRossignol
After a devastating wildfire, Bob Wilson, a Southern California real estate developer, gave $1,000 to each of Paradise High School’s 982 students and 105 employees. He is pictured here with student Trevor
LeRossignol.

Compassionate people pop up everywhere. I try to keep my attention focused on that as much as possible. In this example, a wealthy developer was moved to put money behind his compassion after the devastation of the 2018 wildfires in Paradise, California.

In November, Brianna Sacks wrote at BuzzFeed News, “Monica LeRossignol and her son are still stunned by the freshly printed $1,000 check, a gesture that’s brightened the difficult, surreal reality of rebuilding their lives after losing their home and most of their community in Paradise, California.

“On Tuesday night, her 17-year-old son, Trevor LeRossignol, and hundreds of other students, parents, and faculty members from Paradise High School gathered at Chico High School, as they have every week since the Camp fire leveled their town, to catch up, give hugs, rifle through donations, and eat some warm food. But this gathering had a major bonus.

“Bob Wilson, a Southern California real estate developer, was there giving out $1,000 to each of Paradise High School’s 982 students and 105 employees, totaling about $1.1 million in donations.

” ‘I gave him a hug,’ LeRossignol said. … Like thousands of others, the 46-year-old lost everything in the catastrophic wildfire, which has killed 88 people, torched more than 153,000 acres, and destroyed 14,000 homes. The mother, her son, fiancé, two nephews, and six other family members fled for their lives and are now crammed into two bedrooms at a friend’s house in the nearby city of Chico. …

“A few weeks earlier, as the Camp fire continued to burn around Paradise, Wilson came across a story in the Los Angeles Times about the students of Paradise, most of whom lost their homes. It delved into the uncertainty facing Paradise Unified School District and its class of seniors who were readying to graduate.

“The 89-year-old told BuzzFeed News that Paradise High School’s plight stuck with him, reminding him of his own ‘carefree’ days as a teenager. …

‘I made up my mind in five minutes,’ the businessman said Wednesday morning from Chico. ‘I had some of the most profound experiences in my life in high school because I was still able to be a kid, and it broke my heart to think of the experiences these kids were missing.’ …

“About two weeks later, Wilson was flitting between about 10 tables set up inside Chico High’s hallways, handing out envelopes containing a letter and personal check addressed to each student, teacher, and custodian, which he had personally stuffed from one of his offices in Los Angeles. …

” ‘It was a really unique, cool way to give,’ [Paradise High Principal Loren] Lighthall said of Wilson’s donation. ‘It’s been rough, especially for high schoolers who need their friends and there’s no way to get together.’ …

“Two days after the fire tore through their close-knit, rural California town, Lighthall, who has been principal for two years, started a GoFundMe for Paradise High, a ‘high-poverty”‘ school where 67% of students qualified for free lunch last year. Almost every one of the nearly 1,000 students lost their home and ‘everything they own,’ he said. …

“For now, Lighthall explained that their main goal is getting the kids their credits however they can. More at BuzzFeed, here.

By the way, it’s sad that BuzzFeed and other news outlets have had to lay off so many reporters lately, people who come up with good local stories like this one. The news model is changing nationwide and we need to pay for journalism in new ways. My husband and I pay to read the Boston Globe online, the New York Times, and the Guardian. I also have a membership in the investigative news site Talking Points Memo. Online ads are not enough to keep these vital services going.

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Photo: Moximox

After a year of waiting impatiently for summer, we always wanted to squeeze in every memorable summer activity we had ever done: crabbing, seining with a net, riding waves, building sand castles, walking to the Sunken Forest, digging for mole crabs, painting shells and selling them outside the house (what my father called teasingly “gypping the public”), roasting marshmallows at night. We did not want to miss one thing because we knew we’d have to wait a whole year for another chance. And in those days, a year seemed like an eternity.

One of the more iconic things I associate with summer is sea glass, and I recently was intrigued to learn from @chasonw on instagram that there was a place you could have the sea-glass experience any time of year. It’s called Glass Beach, and it’s at Fort Bragg, California. As pretty as sea glass is, you will not be surprised to learn that the abundance at Glass Beach is the result of years of dumping garbage.

From Wikipedia: “In 1906, Fort Bragg residents established an official water dump site behind the Union Lumber Company. … When [a second dump was] filled in 1949, the dump was moved north to what is now known as ‘Glass Beach,’ which remained an active dump site until 1967. …

“Over the next several decades, what was biodegradable in the dump sites simply degraded and all the metal and other items were eventually removed and sold as scrap or used in art. The pounding waves broke down the glass and pottery and tumbled those pieces into the small, smooth, colored pieces that often become jewelry quality and that cover Glass Beach and the other two glass beaches. …

erysimummenziesiieurekPhoto: Gordon Leppig & Andrea J. Pickart
Menzie’s Wallflower, an endangered species that grows at Glass Beach in California.

“About 1,000 to 1,200 tourists visit Fort Bragg’s glass beaches each day in the summer. Most collect some glass. Because of this and also because of natural factors (wave action is constantly grinding down the glass), the glass is slowly diminishing. There is currently a movement by Captain J.H. (Cass) Forrington to replenish the beaches with discarded glass.”

If you saw yesterday’s post, you know that replenishing the beach would be hard. There is a shortage of glass everywhere. Sea glass is moving into a category closer to semiprecious stones than its embryonic form as trash.

More at Wikipedia, here.

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Photo: Marc Royce/Los Angeles Times
Conductor Eric Whitacre (above), the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and a 2,200-person audience at Walt Disney Concert Hall participated in “the largest free group singing event in California history” on July 21.

Kudos to creative thinkers who keep coming up with new ideas to engage people in the arts! In July, the conductor of the Los Angeles Master Chorale led an exceptionally large audience of interested Californians in a free singing event that must have warmed the cockles of a lot of hearts. This went well beyond the annual singing of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which many other choral groups invite the public to join.

Jessica Gelt of the Los Angeles Times reports, “Eric Whitacre, the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Swan family artist-in-residence, says he’s like that old cola commercial — he wants to teach the world to sing. The whole world. And he’s not joking. But he’ll start with a statewide singing event, ‘Big Sing California.’ …

“The massive project, years in the making, [featured] the 100-voice Master Chorale onstage singing along with 2,200 audience members to a program of songs selected and conducted by Whitacre and Master Chorale Artistic Director Grant Gershon, along with guest conductors Moira Smiley and Rollo Dilworth.

“Those proceedings [were] simulcast to five venues all over the state packed with additional audience members [also] singing along. Each venue [rehearsed] with its audience for a few hours before the event. …

“ ‘If you’ve never experienced a couple thousand people singing together, it just brings chills. … It’s the best of human experience … the best of who we are distilled together.’

“Whitacre began singing when he was 18, and it changed his life. He has been singing and composing since then, traveling the world in the process, establishing a massive social media following and creating a series of online ‘virtual choirs,’ which are edited together after participants upload videos of themselves all singing the same song. …

“Gershon adds that Whitacre has ‘single-handedly gotten more people excited about singing together than anyone else on the planet. He confirms that the choral experience is transcendent and transformative.’ ”

More at the Los Angeles Times, here. The list of songs are here.

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Photo: Rosa Furneaux
Haroon Ebrat reaches for his notepad, where he has written down audience requests. The entrepreneurial immigrant runs Afghan Theatre TV, a Farsi-language variety show, out of his garage in suburban California.

I’m impressed how this immigrant from Afghanistan took it on himself to keep his culture alive by broadcasting a variety show from his garage. Many viewers have responded with gratitude.

Jeremy Lybarger writes at Pacific Standard, “Afghan Theatre TV operates out of a soundproof garage 40 miles east of San Francisco. … It’s an unexpected setting for a studio whose Farsi-language variety shows stream online 24 hours a day to more than a million viewers a month, according to the station. But much about Afghan Theatre TV is unexpected, starting with its credo that politics and show business don’t mix. …

” ‘We entertain,’ says Haroon Ebrat, the network’s 66-year-old founding impresario and star. On most afternoons for the last six years, he’s shuffled out to his garage in house slippers to host the live call-in shows that have made him famous, or at least recognizable to the Muslims who mob him, groupie-like, in restaurants, supermarkets, and parking lots across the Bay Area. The calls — 500 an hour, Ebrat says — come from all over: Canada, Germany, Russia, Australia, and many of the dozens of other countries that make up the Afghan diaspora. …

“Afghanistan has been in a quasi-permanent state of war for over three decades, historically exporting more refugees per year than any nation besides Syria. Most Afghans decamp to neighboring Iran or Pakistan, but approximately 124,000 live in America. …

” ‘He has preserved the culture of Afghanistan,’ says Ebrat’s 36-year-old daughter Shabnam, who hosts a call-in show of her own, often accompanied by a local psychic who counsels callers about work and love. Such preservation has come at a cost, both literal and cultural.

“Afghan Theatre TV is a family business, as are many of the more than 3,000 ethnic media outlets. … In between these segments of original programming, the station airs Afghan music videos and concert footage, and on some nights local musicians perform traditional songs like a live house band (hence the soundproofing). Ebrat, a prolific filmmaker, also screens the movies he’s made, which are ultra-low-budget mash-ups of comedy, action, and music starring him and his family.

“The station boasts a handful of Bay Area advertisers — kebab shops, halal supermarkets, Muslim-owned tax services — but Ebrat relies on his children to keep the lights on. (Shabnam is a real estate agent; [older brother] Burhan works with cars.) …

“Ethnic media, produced by and for immigrants, faces unique challenges. The relatively small niche audiences, for example, can discourage advertisers. … Even large outlets struggle to survive. Channel 18, a multilingual network that broadcast out of Los Angeles for more than 40 years, filed for bankruptcy in 2012 before finally shuttering its international format in 2017. …

“Part [the] experience includes reckoning with cultural disagreements within the same family. Shabnam Ebrat has become a target for older or more traditional Muslims who see her appearance — dyed-blond hair and make-up — as an affront to God. She doesn’t wear a hijab either. On Instagram, where her selfies reach about 23,000 followers, commenters debate whether or not she’s going to hell for posing in miniskirts and bikinis. …

“There’s the added stigma of being outspoken in a society that, to many Western onlookers, muzzles women. In Afghanistan, some women have no public identity of their own. They’re referred to simply as the wife of, daughter of, or sister of. …

“Overall, though, politics are absent from Afghan Theatre TV, where the maxim is that entertainment brings people together and politics drive a wedge. Haroon is more interested in the zombie horror movie he has in production than he is in discussing the White House. His only stated political aspiration, however vague, is to restore peace in Afghanistan.” More.

Seems like a good idea to stick to entertainment. One thing I’ve noticed while working with Afghan refugees, whether their first language is Farsi or Dari, is that individuals are, well, individualistic. Like groups everywhere, Afghans may have attitudes that diverge a good bit.

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