Stay on Trail: Jordan Fisher Smith on our Nat’l Parks Bday

Jordan Fisher Smith, who has an excellent new book out called Engineering Eden, (on the challenge of managing wild bears in places like Yellowstone and Yosemite), brings his experience as a naturalist, a ranger, and a writer to bear on the meaning of our parks in an essay in the author’s on-line magazine Signature Reads.

It’s fascinating. For one, for Smith’s grasp of the parks’ history, and its founders’ thoughtfulness.

In the early 1930’s the Park Service’s George M. Wright noted that it would have been far easier to operate national parks purely as nature reserves, without visitors. But, very presciently, Wright argued that in a time of growing human populations, it was far more interesting to try to meet the needs of people and wildlife in one place. Wright’s world had only two billion inhabitants. Today, with over three times that many, there is much to be learned from how millions of people and irreplaceable wild treasures have been accommodated shoulder-to-shoulder in national parks.

Second, Smith knows how the parks at times have struggled to balance the needs of wildlife versus the needs of its human visitors — but he also knows how much the park service has learned.

…the Park Service [has gotten] much better at managing relations between people and nature. The agency finished installation of animal-proof trash receptacles and food storage vaults at all of its campgrounds, and working with private companies, encouraged the development of portable bear-proof food canisters for backpackers to carry when they were away from fixed facilities. At Sequoia National Park the Park Service demolished hundreds of rental cabins and hotel facilities in the sequoia groves and began allowing natural wildfire to do its necessary work, much to the benefit of the redwoods. The rangers reintroduced missing animals like wolves to Yellowstone and California condors to Pinnacles National Monument. A multi-decade public relations effort promoted “no-trace” or “minimum-impact” camping, resulting in a near-total change in behavior among backpackers, canoeists, and whitewater boaters. In some areas today you can walk or float for miles without seeing so much as a chewing gum wrapper on a busy trail or campsite.

And he calls for a transfer of the leave-no-trace ethic we have learned — or are trying to learn — from the wilderness to the world at large.

The parks have been a teaching institution for a way of looking at our impact on nature. And in my opinion it’s time to take the “no-trace” ethic I taught campers when I worked as a park ranger – in which you endeavor to have the least possible impact on the places you roll out your sleeping bag – out of the campgrounds and into the rest of the world, where climate change and other factors that will ultimately determine the survival of the national parks come from. Are you, the visitor, loving parks to death? No! Go enjoy them. If the oldest, most famous ones are crowded this summer, learn to know and love the lesser-known sites. Take only memories and photographs, leave only footprints, and try to carry this way of studying your relationship with nature back into a world that sorely needs it now. Happy birthday, national parks!

President Obama will visit Yosemite this weekend to commemorate the centennial; may his visit be blessed wth vast appreciation for what Ken Burns aptly called “America’s Best Idea.


Stephen Wilkes photo, made of hundreds of images taken over 24 hours. for National Geographic.

Full Story »

Trump, Sanders Agree: Blame the Media

If there’s one thing that “outsiders” agree on in political life in America today, it’s that it’s the media’s fault.

Here’s Bernie:

“On Tuesday night, on the 7th, you’re going to hear from media saying that Hillary Clinton has received, whatever it is, 80 or 90 delegates, which she certainly will from New Jersey and other states,” Sanders said. “And they’ll say, the primary process is over, Secretary Clinton has won.”

When the crowd finishing booing, Sanders assured them that the media was “not factually correct” if it tried to declare Clinton a winner.

Of course not. Can’t trust “the corporate media” with anything, even the numbers of pledged delegates elected in state primaries and caucuses.

Here’s Donald, speaking about money he pledged to send to veterans groups back in February:

“It was very unfair that the press treated us so badly,”

Trump said this after a Washington Post story last week revealed that the candidate had not come through with the $6 million he had promised to veterans groups — and had not paid the $1 million he himself had promised.

In the words of reporter David Fahrenthold:

“Donald Trump gave $1 million,” he said then.

As recently as last week, Trump’s campaign manager had insisted that the mogul had already given that money away. But that was false: Trump had not.

In recent days, The Washington Post and other media outlets had pressed Trump and his campaign for details about how much the fundraiser had actually raised and whether Trump had given his portion.

The candidate refused to provide details. On Monday, a Post reporter used Twitter — Trump’s preferred social-media platform — to search publicly for any veterans groups that had received Trump’s money.

By Monday afternoon, The Post had found none. But it seems to have caught the candidate’s attention.

Today it was revealed that the missing money was paid last week — in checks dated the day of the Washington Post story.

Phone calls to all 41 of the groups by The Associated Press brought more than two-dozen responses Tuesday. About half reported checks from Trump within the past week, typically dated May 24, the day The Washington Post published a story questioning whether he had distributed all of the money.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, told reporters at a testy news conference in New York that the fundraiser, held at the same time as a Fox News GOP debate he was boycotting, raised $5.6 million. He previously had declined to disclose which charities had received the funds, and his campaign has gone back and forth about how much was raised.

“The money’s all been sent,” Trump said at the news conference at Trump Tower on Tuesday.

He repeatedly criticized the press for making the money an issue, saying reporters “should be ashamed of themselves” for asking where the money had gone.

The irony is that Hillary Clinton, who today in a great New York profile admitted she “hates” the media, has been the one remaining candidate this year who has not blamed the media for reporting news that gosh, she doesn’t want to hear, though she certainly has had to hear plenty.

She even mentioned that it was a reporter who forced Trump to pay up.

“He’s bragged for months about raising $6 million for veterans and donating a million dollars himself,” Clinton told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “But it took a reporter to shame him into actually making his contribution and getting the money to veterans. So look, I’m glad he finally did but I don’t know that he should get much credit for that.”

So maybe some credit should go to the Fahrenhold and the Washington Post?

I know, I know — radical concept. Crediting the media. What a nutty idea.

Full Story »

Trump denies drought exists in California

The Donald, as he is known in tabloid reporting in New York, told Californians that their drought doesn’t exist. It’s not a problem, it’s just a government snafu.

From USA Today:

California suffered one of its driest years in 2015. And last year the state hit its driest four-year period on record.

But Donald Trump isn’t sold. The presumptive GOP nominee told supporters in Fresno, Calif., on Friday night that no such dry spell exists.

Trump said state officials were simply denying water to Central Valley farmers to prioritize the Delta smelt, a native California fish nearing extinction — or as Trump called it, “a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

“We’re going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane. It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” Trump told thousands of supporters at the campaign event.

But even if you redistributed all the water from the Sierra and the Californi Water Project, that still would not solve what a certain politician calls “the water problem” in coastal Southern California, as this map via the LA Times and the U.S. Drought Monitor from May 17th shows.


Chart goes from “abnorally dry” (yellow) to “exceptional drought” (brown). Red is “extreme drought,” the second worst category.

Full Story »

The Hazardous Truth wins 2nd Best Investigative Reporting in CA for 2015

Yours truly is not going to win a state-wide award, or second place, too often, so please let me say that the Ventura County Reporter and I won a Best Investigative Reporting in California, 2nd Prize, for 2015.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association only gives out two such awards in each category (in our case, for weekly papers of about 30k subscribers) so it’s pretty meaningful methinks. Here’s what the announcement looked like from my editor Michael Sullivan on fb a week ago.


What did I learn from the experience of trying to report on the disaster at Santa Clara Waste Water? In which over fifty people were sent to the hospital by exposure to an explosion, fire, or a toxic plume of chlorine dioxide gas? In which the entire upper management of the company is on trial on 71 felony counts?

It takes an obsession. In my case, six months worth of obsession. Here’s the story, if you haven’t seen it.

And below take a look at a picture of the disaster the morning of November 18, 2014, from county records:








Full Story »

A Matter of Dignity: Bill of Rights for Farmworkers

Really like the cover that the Ventura County Reporter found for my story on farmwork in Ventura County:

















That in one image and a handful of words expresses the plight of tens of thousands of hard-working people in the this part of the world. These are people who — as a progressive Christian named Erynn Smith, of The Abundant Table pointed out — are the people who go unseen in this county, the people Christ admired, the overlooked. The people amongst who most need better conditions, better lives.

Arsenio Lopez, who leads an organization called MiCOP, put it eloquently at the conclusion of the story:

“We have seen a lot of studies on farmworkers. Always those studies show that there are problems. … We cannot keep our eyes and our ears always closed to the suffering of the farmworkers.”
— Arsenio Lopez, Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project of Oxnard

Full Story »

Ventura County opposes backyard bee-keeping: Ojai fights back

Sorry I’ve been quiet: too many deadlines. Good news is that I have a number of stories to post, big and small, and so let me catch up please.

Here’s a story about a surprising fact. Ventura County, which annually grosses two billion dollars in agricultural revenue, discourages backyard bee-keeping.

Even though nationally bees and other pollinators are in decline. By over 20% nationally, according to a study cited by the National Wildlife Federation. From a story in the Ojai Valley News. We begin midstream:

The policy of the Agricultural Commissioner of Ventura County currently prevents beekeeping except in areas designated for agriculture or open space, according to Interim Ojai City Manager Steve McClary. “The property size and ownership qualifications prevents beekeeping on most residential properties,” McClary wrote in the item prepared for the Council discussion.c

The proposed ordinance will allow beekeeping on residential properties within city limits provided owners register their hive with the Agricultural Commissioner, have lots of at least 5,000 square feet, keep a source of water at all times for the hive, and maintain adequate space in the hive for the bee population to grow safely.

Mayor Paul Blatz asked if encouraging homeowners to keep bees in their backyards might mean more bees and possible problems for residents. [Glenn] Perry, [president of the Ojai Valley Bee Club] replied that actually a number of gardeners and farmers in Ojai, notably Steve Sprinkel of The Farmer and The Cook, had noticed that the bees in the area were in decline.

“I see a decrease in the number of bees around here that’s a little shocking in just the five years I’ve been here,” Perry said. “We’re not talking about an increase, but we are talking about making sure they don’t decline further.”

Councilman Randy Haney wondered if homeowners wishing to keep bees who live near schools could inform administrators about any plans to add hives to their backyards. Perry said his group would be willing to consider the idea.

“Our proposal is intended to be as reasonable and as responsible as possible,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Weirick pointed out that the National Federation of Wildlife just released a plan to support bees, calling for a “Million Pollinator Gardens” by the end of this year. The organization pointed to a national study that found a 23 percent decline in bee populations between 2008 and 2013.

Took kind of a fun picture of Weirick after the meeting, which the paper charmed me by running:


Full Story »

Wait — is that a Half Dome in your beard?

Happy Birthday John Muir!





Taken wholesale for Jer Collins, a fascinating artist and adventurer, highly recommended, for his care in drawing, and for his imagination. On Instagram. Affiliated with National Geographic.


Full Story »

What I Wanted (was winter)

That’s my interpretation of the basic meaning in a poem from Tracy Herd via Poetry Daily:

What I Wanted

was such a plump, bountiful
landscape of snow, more
than I’d ever dared wish for.
That was back when we had
proper winters, long ago,
when lawns and driveways
vanished: there were
no boundaries. Fences, walls,
gardens and homes dropped off
the edge of the world.
There was a muffled
silence each night when
darkness married with snow
to wake me from dreams
that began and ended
with the snow. I was hidden
from view behind a tree
whose branches were
perilously bent and laden
with snow, watching
a dark figure disappear;
then I would slip out fearlessly,
sure-footed and fleet,
with my magnifying glass
and pocket torch to follow
the tracks that led off as far
as a child’s eye could see,
and then a little further.

Tracey Herd

Not in This World
Bloodaxe Books / Dufour Editions

Reached into the upper 80’s today in Southern California. Hotter tomorrow. We have not had a “proper winter” yet and it seems that spring is on the way out already here in early April.

Full Story »

Blame the media: the national political sport

Sarah does it — blame the media — although her attacks have become so reflexive and removed from reality  that the insults have lost their sting, methinks:

Hey Gobsmacked Lamestream Media

Bernie does it:

And I think if we had a media in this country that was really prepared to look at what the Republicans actually stood for rather than quoting every absurd remark of Donald Trump, talking about Republican Party, talking about hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the top two tenths of 1 percent, cuts to Social Security and Medicare, Medicaid, a party which with few exceptions, doesn’t even acknowledge the reality of climate change, let alone do anything about it, a party which is not prepared to stand with women in the fight for pay equity, a party that is not prepared to do anything about a broken criminal justice system or a corrupt campaign finance system, I think, to be honest with you — and I just don’t, you know, say this rhetorically, this is a fringe party.  It is a fringe party.  Maybe they get 5, 10 percent of the vote.

Barack does it:

A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone.  It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more.  The electorate would be better served if that happened.  It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep.  (Applause.)  And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them.  I know that’s a shocking concept that politicians would do that.  But without a press that asks tough questions, voters take them at their word.  When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism.

And the afore-unmentioned candidate unmentioned by the Prez, Trump of course, has turned blaming the media into a post-modern form of national bullying. The Donadld’s attacks have become extraordinarily personal and vicious, and the candidate for the most powerful position on earth leads a frightening virtual mob of supporters against members of the press, as shown in this Vocativ graphic.

Megyn Kelly’s crime? She was to be a question of The Donald and other GOP candidagtes in a debate. For doing her job his followers used these words in tweets and messages to her accounts, Fox News said:




















Interestingly Hillary has not attacked the press, to my knowledge, perhaps because she’s more aware than male candidates of how unfair these attacks can be.

Full Story »

Americans too smart to fall for Trump (right?)

From the great Self-Styled Siren, who I have not yet had the wisdom to quote previously in this blog’s twelve or so years, meaning that I have been greatly remiss. If you like movies, you should read the somewhat mysterious but all-knowing Siren, and maybe learn something, especially about thirties movies.


Here’s a post from Self-Styled Siren, imported wholesale without shame, and credited fully from February 25, 2016.

Perhaps I should add that the Siren all but never writes about politics, giving this post of hers extra energy:

What I Think About When They Say Donald Trump Cannot Possibly Become President

… From The Past Is Myself, the memoir of an Englishwoman named Christabel Bielenberg. In the early 1930s she fell in love with a German law student named Peter Bielenberg, married him in 1934, and stayed with him in Germany throughout the war, even as he was arrested and sent to Ravensbruck for involvement in the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Hitler.

The year is 1932, and Christabel is trying to understand German politics.

Hitler was himself was to speak to an open-air rally, and the venue was — not inappropriately as Peter did not fail to point out — Hagenbeck’s Zoo. A huge area had been cordoned off, and rows of burly Storm-troopers wedged the milling crows into orderly rectangles. Peter survived the community singing, the rolling of the drums, the National and the Party anthems, but his reaction to the usual reverberating start was unequivocal. My ears were hardly attuned to the Leader’s Austrian accent, before I found myself being marched out of the enclosure. Up against the giraffe house, well within earshot of and successfully silencing some Party stalwarts in brown pillbox hats who were rattling collection boxes under the noses of luckless late-comers, Peter delivered himself of one of his rare political pronouncements.
“You may think that Germans are political idiots, Chris,” he said very loudly and very firmly, “and you may be right, but of one thing I can assure you, they won’t be so stupid as to fall for that clown.”

(More about Christabel here.)

One of the commentators on her site adds a quote from comedian Gilbert Gottfried:
“Trump is just like Hitler — without the warmth.”

Full Story » Comment (1)