Bee-loving in Ojai — for good reason

To report now and again for a small town newspaper means documenting something that happened or is happening in a small town, but sometimes what at first seems purely local turns out to be much bigger — even international in scope.

From the Ojai Valley News:

A move is under way in Ojai to loosen restrictions on keeping a backyard bee hive.

Kit Stolz, Ojai Valley News correspondent

An international organization of scientists, meeting in Malaysia last week, released a two-year study estimating that up to 40 percent of pollinators around the world — such as bees — face extinction. The report attributed this, in large part, due to the perils of living in a world of rapid change and industrial agriculture.

In Ojai, the young, but active, Ojai Valley Bee Club is taking action to save bees by encouraging city officials to consider a measure loosening regulations that prohibit backyard beekeeping. The club, which meets monthly, has approximately 60 members.

Glenn Perry, an award-winning researcher into bee products such as propulis and the use of bee sting therapy to ease arthritis, moved to Ojai in recent years. He said he was surprised to learn from Ventura County’s Department of Agriculture that Ojai and Ventura County discouraged beekeeping at home.

“Unless you have a large ranch of hundreds of acres, or live out in the boonies, it’s basically illegal,” Perry said. “Ojai has a specific law that regulates beekeeping, and in urbanized areas nearby, such as Meiners Oaks, or Oak View, or Casitas Springs, the county regulations prohibit backyard beekeeping.”

(I must confess, looking at that first ‘graph, it feels kind of stuffy, Probably could have done better than its second sentence, which is simultaneously vague and foreboding. Oh well.)

Nonetheless, as I indicated in the story, Mr. Glenn Perry is literally a world-famous expert in bees. It didn’t take more than a few minutes in his presence to realize how much he knew, and how carefully he answered questions, and how focused his efforts were, and why they had such importance.

Perry, who helped start the Bee Club, argues that local bee hives support the health of important pollinators such as bees, are not dangerous, and should be supported by growers and gardeners alike.

Curtis Skene, who helps lead the larger and older Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association, agrees.

“Absolutely backyard beekeeping helps,” he said. “Bees are under pressure and in danger from all kinds of problems and predators and pesticides. Backyard bee-keeping is very important because it helps keep stocks strong,” he said.

Perry and others from the club reached out to Ojai City Councilman William Weirick, who has expressed a willingness to look at revising regulations to encourage backyard beekeeping.

“We know that that there are pressures on the bee population that are poorly understood and we know that these important pollinating species are being put at risk,” Weirick said. “We also know that bee hives have a much higher over-wintering survival rate in urban areas than in rural areas, and, we know that honey-producing activity is much higher in urban areas than rural, and so it appears that urban beekeeping is something of a refuge for the bees, and a help in their continuing survival.”

In fact bee-keeping is on the upswing across the nation, but especially amongst the trend-setters, in places like Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and New York.

(Bee-keeping is perfectly legal in New York City in fact, as long as bee-keepers follow a few basic rules and register their hives with the city.)

It’s inspiring stuff — local folks making a difference, helping to keep the natural world alive. beekeepersbba

[bee-keeper photo from sbba]

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Drought hits city trees too (not just wild forests)

Another excellent story from the Washington Post, on a problem — the fate of urban trees — that seems not as well studied as that of wild forests.

Everywhere he goes, Anthony Ambrose sees the dead and dying.

They haunt this city’s streets, the browning yards of stylish homes, the scenic grounds of the local University of California campus and dry roadway medians. They’re urban trees, thirsty for water as the state enters the fifth year of the worst drought in its history, and thousands are keeling over.

“It’s definitely not a good thing,” said Ambrose, a researcher at the university who studies forest ecosystems. “They’re not as visual, they’re not as pretty. Along the highway you see a lot of dead redwoods. I feel sorry for the trees.”

The story expands beyond that of urban trees to numerous other side effects of the drought, including urban waste water systems that aren’t getting enough use, and the cost of rebates for lawn removal, but it circles back to the heart-tugging of urban trees — which aren’t numbered. Need to ask TreePeople about that.

In the meantime:


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The Revenant: from the bear’s POV

The Revenant, the most spectacularly cinematic contender for Best Picture in years, did not take home that particular Oscar at the Academy Awards presentation this past Sunday,  but it remains a massive world-wide hit, far bigger than “Spotlight,” won three other major awards — best director, best actor, and best cinematographer — and will almost certainly be the best remembered picture of 2015.

And what stands out first in the movie? Of all the early scenes, which one makes the greatest impression?

The bear attack, surely, in which our hero, scouting through the woods for a way across the mountains, hears hoarse breathing, sees a couple of bear cubs, and then out of nowhere is brutally attacked, bitten, and torn open by a bear. He ultimately shoots the bear, as it attacks again, and then stabs it, and finally kills it.

How did they film this? Well, first they did their homework, according to a story in Backpacker:

Glenn Ennis of Vancouver, one of the performers who played the bear, told Backpacker the team prepared by studying videos of wild and captive bears, including several attacks.

Ennis recalls one clip of a man being attacked after entering a zoo enclosure. The footage went on for quite some time, with the bear wandering away mid-attack but then coming back and getting vicious again, he says. The bear in The Revenant behaves similarly.

The bear itself was created with computer effects, but it was superimposed over Ennis and his actual movement. He had to call on his acting background to practice ursine walking and “getting into the headspace of a bear,” he says. When they’re not attacking something, “they have a nonchalance to them.”

Earlier on in the film’s production, a group including director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and visual effects supervisor Richard McBride met for an informal consultation for the film with Scott McMillion, a Montana-based writer and author of Mark of the Grizzly, a 1998 nonfiction book about bear attacks.

It’s impressive as hell, and from that moment onward the movie takes on a legendary cast, This is the story of a man who survived a bear attack. He is no longer a white man, a fur-trapper, a father — he is the man who survived the bear attack. He has become a myth, though he still has a life to live through.

The bear, quoted in The New Yorker, has a different POV:

There has been a lot in the press about how nightmarishly gruelling the shooting was on “The Revenant.” In fact, it was as difficult as I’ve ever experienced. I’m no diva—I mean, I’m literally a bear, I defecate in the woods—but even I must go on the record to say that there were times during filming when I longed for death.

Read the whole thing.


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Wishing and Hoping (for El Niño in SoCal)

El Niño has been a no-show in Southern California this year, despite endless fall warnings of a Godzilla event (including those transmitted by yours truly).

So what happened?

Short version, according to a post put up on the Weather West blog by the wise young Daniel Swain of Stanford, is we don’t know — but we have suspicions.

…I’ll reiterate that it’s impossible to discern in real time–and especially within the confines of a blog post–exactly why California has been considerably drier than expectations during the present very strong El Niño event, and why West Coast ridging [high pressure build-up] has been so prominent during recent winters. One thing that is clear is that warming temperatures have already increased the likelihood and severity of drought in California–irrespective of changes in precipitation patterns.

Swain argues that the “subtropical ridging” is not a return of the dreaded Ridiculously Resilient Ridge that created the California drought of the past five years — at least not yet — and reminds us that the winter is not yet over, and suggests the pattern could shift soon:

…there are still tantalizing signs of a potential shift to much wetter conditions by the very end of the month. The GFS and ECMWF ensembles have both been suggesting that the anomalously deep Gulf of Alaska low which has been present so far this winter will shift subtly eastward over the coming 2 weeks, eventually displacing the West Coast ridge far enough to the east to allow the “storm parade” which has been present across the North Pacific for the entire winter to reach California.

That suggestion is shown in this model animation in the early days of March. (Watch the low move into California as the days in the marker at the top pass by.)


To the Ventura County Star, local hero Bill Patzert, of JPL/NASA fame, argues that the El Niño this year might have been so big it pulled the subtropical jet stream into NorCal, but likewise suggests that could change:

Forecasts that El Niño would bring a conveyor belt of wet storms have yet to materialize in Southern California.

But experts say it’s not too late. There are still two months to go.

Climatologist Bill Patzert, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said he’s still counseling patience and optimism.

The El Niño didn’t start to peak until January and February. It might have been too big, pushing the subtropical jet stream farther north. As its intensity decreases, that could change.

There is precedent for that, Patzert said. In 1983, “the big show didn’t really happen until March and April.”

Meanwhile, El Niño storms have boosted the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about one-third of California’s water, including in east Ventura County.

True. But the rainfall numbers this year for Ventura County are little short of dismal:







Let us pray.

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Scalia passing: Quail react (via Samantha Bee)

Samantha Bee has a new show on the television, called Full Frontal, about which I know nothing, but this post from her on the passing of Antonin Scalia from the perspective of quail in Texas is pretty hilarious.

One example, from a bird labeled simply “Quail.”


“As a quail, I’m a firm believer in not getting shot out of the sky while transporting leaves to line my nest with. But I’m also a conservative, and I can’t help but think Scalia’s brilliant and ferocious opposition to judicial overreach will not easily be replaced in my lifetime. Especially since that’s like 5 years, tops.”

Whole thing is pretty great.  Especially if you’re a sucker for media reax from non-human species.

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A prayer for the earth: Pope Francis

On Valentine’s Day, one can’t overlook (well, one can, but shouldn’t) love for the earth from which we came.

From “Praise Be” from Pope Francis, a prayer for the earth [passage 178]:

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

h/p: Eric Holthaus

Kennedy Meadows

Kennedy Meadows



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Storm denial: what forecasters couldn’t mention

Coincidentally two stories this week focused on how in the past scientists were not allowed to name certain types of storms. Dr. Jeff Masters, of Weather Underground fame, writes about the Great Dust Bowl, and reveals that many attempts — and many successful attempts — were made to control the reporting of the news.

Writing about Timothy Egan’s excellent book about the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, Masters notes that attempts were made to dismiss the ruinous nature of the dust storms.

In Dalhart, Texas, the town paper, the Texan, started a campaign with a tribute to the sand storms as majestic events that should draw people in to see the wonder. There was outrage that the East Coast and national press was trying to slander the town and the region – trying to discredit the people of the region by blaming them for the degradation of the land and dust in air. There were those in the East saying that those in the Dust Bowl were exaggerating their situation trying to extort money from Washington.

There was in this campaign a quest to make the dust storms majestic and divinely positive events, a rejection of both the obvious collapse of people and towns and of the increasing scientific evidence that at the very core of the collapse was the behavior of people. From the Texan, John McCarty, wrote that people should

“view the majestic splendor and beauty of one of the great spectacles of nature, a panhandle dust storm, and smile even though we may be choking and our throats and nostrils so laden with dust that we cannot give voice to our feelings.” ( The Worst Hard Time, page 185)

Amazing. But the same thing happened with tornadoes, according to a wonderful story in Atlas Obscura:

From 1887 up until 1950, American weather forecasters were forbidden from attempting to predict tornados. Mentioning them was, in the words of one historian, “career suicide.”

During that time, Roger Edwards of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center writes, “tornadoes were, for most, dark and mysterious menaces of unfathomable power, fast-striking monsters from the sky capable of sudden and unpredictable acts of death and devastation.”

Less than confident in their own predictive powers, and fearful of the responses of a panicky public, “the use of the word “tornado” in forecasts was at times strongly discouraged and at other times forbidden” by the Weather Bureau, Edwards writes, replaced by euphemisms like “severe local storms.”


“Forecasts of tornadoes are prohibited,” announced the Weather Bureau Stations Regulations of 1905, 1915, and 1934.

Meanwhile, Mathis, writes, throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s, “the death toll from tornadoes mounted.” People facing a rash of storms–the Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak; the Great Tri-State Tornado–were left on their own: “There were no warnings, no time for people to seek shelter.”


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“Ominous” news: CA faces megadrought

In a major study released today by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, scientists identify a climactic mechanism that increasingly appears to be blocking the kinds of storms that carry the most rain and snow from reaching California and the Southwest.

From NCAR’s press release:

“For the study, the researchers analyzed 35 years of data to identify common weather patterns—arrangements of high and low pressure systems that determine where it’s likely to be sunny and clear or cloudy and wet, among other things. They identified a dozen patterns that are typical for the weather activity in the contiguous United States and then looked to see whether those patterns were becoming more or less frequent.

“The weather types that are becoming more rare are the ones that bring a lot of rain to the southwestern United States,” [researcher Andreas] Prein said. “Because only a few weather patterns bring precipitation to the Southwest, those changes have a dramatic impact.'”

Prein said that the nature of drought itself has changed in our region.

From Climate Central’s story by Brian Kahn:

“Nowadays, the droughts are not the same as 30 years ago. They can be more intense and last longer than we would expect 30 years ago,” Prein said.

While Prein did not look directly at whether the current drying was driven by climate change or natural forces, the main climatic driver is an increase in high pressure in the northeast Pacific Ocean that essentially steers stormy weather away from the region. (You might recall a feature called the ridiculously resilient ridge doing something similar and driving the California drought. That’s kinda what’s happening in the Southwest.)”

Maybe a high pressure ridging pattern that looks something like this?



That reddish high pressure area is sure to block all of California from the kind of low pressure systems that bring us water in the winter for at least the next week. The meteorological map was posted by Stanford researcher Daniel Swain, the man who first identified and named the “ridiculously resilient ridge.”

But most “ominous” of all, another study from 2015 found an 80% chance that we will soon find ourselves in a megadrought. Alarmingly, yesterday Prein suggested that we’re already in one.

“We see a very intense trend in the Southwest,” Andreas Prein, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said. “The Southwest might already have drifted into a drier climate state.”


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“The forks in the road”: Park Williams

Happy to say I found a way to profile the adventurous young forest ecologist Park Williams for the Santa Barbara Independent. The on-line version is the complete version of what I wrote; the print version is somewhat shorter. But let me add a couple of images and notes, because this story has a lot of different angles.

First, here’s a pic (if I can find it) of the way fog characteristically forms on Santa Cruz Island:














Under those fog banks grow Bishop Pines — and nowhere else on the island.

These pics came with the help, may I add, of researcher Sara Baguskas, who presented a paper on the subject of Bishop Pines and other trees on Santa Cruz Island at the AGU science conference this past December, and passed on her slides.*

But that’s background. Here’s the story.

A sense of play and a willingness to take big chances have always been important to Park Williams.

Although he is one of the most honored young scientists to attend UC Santa Barbara in recent years, winning a Graduate School Researcher of the Year award at UCSB and an Ecological Society of America award for young scientists in 2013, as well as becoming a fixture at the prestigious Tree Ring Lab of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Williams didn’t plan to become an ecological scientist, and he didn’t have his heart set on attending UCSB.

Born in l981 and raised near Sacramento, he went to UC Irvine for his B.S. degree but had a difficult time choosing a field after graduating. He applied to Berkeley, to Davis, and to Santa Barbara, each in different fields, from atmospheric chemistry to geology to forest ecology (at UCSB).

“I applied to UCSB, but I thought I was going to Berkeley because it had a bigger name. But then I visited Santa Barbara and talked to Chris Still, who later became my graduate advisor,” he said. “After talking to him, I accepted their offer the next day.”

Still, who now leads an ecosystem research lab at Oregon State University in Corvallis, remembers working with Williams well. They bonded over a fascination with cloud forests — moist tropical or subtropical forests filled with low-level clouds.

“Park is a terrific scientist, but he’s also a person who loves life and has a great time, which is a balance not all scientists have worked out,” Still said, mentioning a wild and crazy charitable project Williams launched after Hurricane Katrina.

Amazingly, a little of that direct-from-the-time is available on line through archives kept in UCSB’s geology division. Here’s the link.

In fact, there is an on-line available picture of Park in this wild and crazy phase of his life.










And how does Park explain his outfit? From September 21, 2005:

“Thanks for noticing,” Park Williams said when I commented on his outfit. Well, it’s hard not to notice a strapping weightlifter when he’s wearing a pink tutu, pink hair curlers, and pink slippers—and sporting a new moustache. No, he’s not campaigning for gay rights or doing field research on an arcane aspect of behavioral geography. As Park, a grad student working on his PhD in Climatology, puts it, ”In an attempt to spice up my life and do my part to save the world at the same time, until November 1, 2005 I will be accepting and acting upon dares and double-dog-dares for monetary donations that will go directly to the Hurricane Katrina Red Cross relief effort.”

Here’s what happened:

After New Orleans was devastated late in the summer of 2005, Williams set out to raise money for the Red Cross. He launched a site called Daring is Caring and took on dares for contributions to the cause. “It was really a hilarious thing he did,” said Still. “Basically he enlisted a bunch of his friends to help him out and solicited dares for pledges to the Red Cross.”

Williams began by singing karaoke rap songs down on State Street but soon graduated to wilder gigs, wearing tutus, delivering pizza around campus in a Speedo, and taking “a double dog dare” from a local radio show, which included going to a high-end pet store — now defunct — on State Street dressed only in a bathing suit and covered with dog treats and allowing the dogs to lick him clean.

(A reliable source told that Williams raised considerable funds with the help of a radio station — into the thousands.)

In an interview at the enormous fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco in December, Williams admits that at first he had a little too much fun at UCSB.

“I think it is a party school, at least compared to some of the other UCs,” he said. “And I think undergraduates especially need to be careful to be sure they can succeed in an environment where there’s a party going on almost all the time. It took me a couple of years.”

Williams initially wanted to do research into the cloud forests of Costa Rica, but he couldn’t find funding and ended up working in cloud forests much closer to home — on Santa Cruz Island.

“I don’t think I appreciated at the time how beautiful it was and what an opportunity it was to be living in Southern California but isolated from the gigantic human population,” he said.

Although he spent most nights in the field station on the western side of the island, the work often called for camping and rising at dawn to check the harp-like machine constructed to harvest fog water. By comparing the chemical composition of fog water to that inside the trees, the research group discovered how dependent the tree was on fog — about 10-15 percent it turns out.

So, it seems, Williams went from a wild and crazy party life at UCSB, to pursuing his science into beauty and isolation on Santa Cruz Island and, somewhat to his own surprise, discovering a whole new world out there.

This world includes some tough news, an example being how devastated Bishop Pines were on the islands by long (five-year) droughts, as of 1987-l991, and the most recent drought, which is also going into its fifth year. The land is changing profoundly out there, even without direct human intervention.

Here’s a slide from Sara Baguskas’ research, linked below.









Let Park explain:

Williams went on to compare tree ring growth with records of fog occurrence kept by local airports and showed that the trees do grow significantly more in years with foggy summers. The rare pine species also depend on winter rain, and droughts — such as the drought of 1987 to l991— led to mass tree mortality.

Williams went on to pore over decades of cloud records collected at airports since the 1940s to see if fog behavior has been changing, possibly as part of global warming.

“I was really surprised what a clear story came out of the data,” he said. “Out of that jumps this correlation between the urbanization of Southern California and the warming which comes with that.”

In a widely publicized study last year, Williams showed that in large urbanized areas the warming associated with the “heat island effect” means that marine moisture condenses into clouds at higher altitudes than it does in wild environments, reducing shading and fog and raising temperatures on land in cities.

“These low clouds are really important regulators of drought at the Earth’s surface,” he said. “For people, it’s not such a big deal [because they have alternate water sources], but for ecosystems the fog water is all they’ve got during summer.”

Williams has gone on to become something of a wizard at crunching vast datasets. He has worked with noted researchers in the Southwest, including Nate McDowell and Craig Allen, showing how imperiled forests in the region are by climate change. With a team led by Richard Seager, he studied global warming and drought in California, showing that about 15-20 percent of the drought’s impact can be attributed to human-caused warming.

“Global warming has significantly enhanced an existing trend towards fire weather in the Southwest,” he said. “It’s tough watching this happening, and it makes for a lot of sad stories, but maybe this work will be of benefit to western land managers and allow them to peer into the future.”

As for advice Williams would give to younger researchers, he turns contemplative. “Don’t sweat too much about the decision of what to study,” he said. “Just go and work very hard. Do something you’re interested in, and don’t worry too much about the forks in the road.”

And then, the way I would like to present the image:

And then he grinned.









[*Baguskas presented a paper at the AGU on fog and mass mortality among pines at the AGU, filling in for a colleague, but it happened not to be the paper available from the conference for linkage.]

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Have you seen the stars tonight? (paul kantner)

Rock star Paul Kantner died yesterday, news that made the front page of the New York Times,. Over the course of a career nearly fifty years long, Kantner came up with a ton of dazzling songs, many of which became 60’s classics (Wooden Ships, Today).

At the same time he wasn’t a star likely to be recognized on the street. He had an everyman look, with dorky glasses, and didn’t put on airs, from what I can tell. Nor did he posture as a lone genius, or even often take a solo. Many of his songs had puzzling lyrics, perhaps because he ingested large amounts of psychedelic drugs, but some of them rang true.

Kantner had a rare gift for collaboration, The NYTimes: ,

With the breakup of the Jefferson Airplane in the early 1970s, Mr. Kantner began exploring his pet themes on a solo album, “Blows Against the Empire,” which had a science-fiction mini-epic on one side, as well as in the albums he recorded with Jefferson Starship, notably “Freedom at Point Zero” and “Modern Times.”

“We said what needed to be said,” Mr. Kantner told People magazine in 1981. “There was an obvious call not to turn the other cheek when we were being slapped by the system.”

But, he added, “The rock bands of the ’60s supplanted the football and military heroes, and just as all those heroes had fallen when put to the test, rock musicians proved they had no more of an answer to saving the world than anybody else.”

Hmmm. Sci-fi epic about a massive war between civilizations set in deep space. Little or no mention of earth. “Blows Against the Empire.” Reminds one of a certain movie, but never mind.

Although it was a solo project, much of his old band and several major rock stars in their own right (Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Graham Nash) joined Kantner in this project, which became known as Jefferson Starship.

Rolling Stone today released a list of 12 essential Jefferson Airplane songs. It’s good, but doesn’t mention what is arguably Paul Kantner’s and company’s single best song (because it’s an early Jefferson Starship song — back in the days when the “starship” meant something).

Have you seen the stars tonight?

(Here’s a surprisingly good YouTube version of the recording — worth seeing and hearing.)

Back in the day, when I had a record player, and this on vinyl, I would play just this single song — and ignore the rest of the record. But I did love this song…

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