Archive for July, 2008

More than 40 peaceful demonstrators, mostly from West Marin, walked from Sacred Heart Church in Olema to Point Reyes National Seashore headquarters Sunday in a last-ditch effort to discourage the the park from killing its few remaining fallow and axis deer. Despite public opposition, the park two weeks ago announced eradication was about to resume.

Opposition to Park Service plans for killing the fallow and axis deer has been so widespread that National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher in 2005 temporarily placated the public with assurances that eliminating all 1,000 deer would take 15 years. There would be plenty of time to find other approaches for controlling herd sizes between now and then, he told a public meeting.

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But — like so many of Supt. Neubacher’s public statements — the assurance was untrue, and late last fall, the park set out to kill off all 1,000 as quickly as possible.

Moreover, the brutal way in which the first 800 or so deer were killed — many left in the wild to suffer long, agonizing deaths from gut wounds — offended hunters as much as the general public.

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Eventually, US Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, three other Bay Area members of Congress — Lynn Woolsey, George Miller, and Anna Eschoo — and Lt. Governor John Garamendi all called for a moratorium on the killing while the use of contraception was studied.

But Supt. Neubacher was as quick to thumb his nose at members of Congress and the lieutenant governor as at members of the public. A bureaucrat who thrives on defiance, Neubacher two weeks ago rejected contraception studies by the Humane Society of the United State, which is willing to help administer the birth control. He instead announced he would proceed with the killing posthaste.

watching-over-the-heard3.jpgIn trying to justify his nativistic eradication of un-American deer in the park, Supt. Neubacher’s administration, as most West Marin residents realize, fabricated the problems the deer were supposedly causing.

The most notable untruth was that the few fallow (right) and axis deer were out-competing the park’s native blacktail deer. In fact, the park and land immediately around it has, if anything, an overabundance of blacktail deer, as evidenced by all the roadkills. (Photo by Janine Warner, founder of digitalfamily.com)

But then, Supt. Neubacher may be one of the most dishonest public officials around that isn’t in prison; witness his deceitful, bully-boy attempts to drive Drakes Bay Oyster Company out of business. Here’s a press release distributed last week by the Business Wire. I’ll be coming back to the topic in future postings:

MARIN COUNTY’S DRAKES BAY OYSTER CO. ABUSED BY GOVERNMENT AGENCY, ACCORDING TO U.S. DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT

Business Wire, July 23, 2008

REPORT SHOWS NATIONAL PARK SERVICE USED FALSE INFORMATION, BUREAUCRATIC RED TAPE IN ATTEMPT TO RUIN MARIN COUNTY BUSINESS

SAN FRANCISCO — A report issued by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of the Interior has concluded that the National Park Service knowingly used false scientific data to bolster its attempt to drive a local oyster company from the Point Reyes National Seashore area.

The investigation conducted by the Inspector General reveals that Park Service officials made false scientific claims, misled other federal authorities and attempted to hide data that called into question the veracity of the Park Service’s case. The report details how the Inspector General’s Computer Crimes Unit recovered an email apparently deleted by the National Park Service’s lead scientist that showed the government agency was knowingly misrepresenting environmental data.

oysters.jpgPark Service officials are accused of engaging in a campaign of intimidation and disinformation to damage the operation of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Investigators concluded there is no scientific evidence to support Park Service claims that the oyster company was responsible for pollution or damage to the environment.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company was purchased in 2004 by Kevin Lunny [at left with oyster “seed”] along with his brothers, Robert and Joe Jr. The Lunny family owns the Historic G Ranch and has been a fixture of the Point Reyes community for more than 60 years. The Lunnys are committed to organic ranching practices and policies that protect the environment in western Marin County. (Photo by Janine Warner, founder of digitalfamily.com)

The Lunny family says it will now seek “restitution for interference and harm to its business.” The family praised Senator Dianne Feinstein for demanding justice in this case of alleged government abuse of a small family business.

With the Inspector General findings, we at last have vindication of the Lunny family after four years of frustration and government abuse,” said Sam Singer, a spokesman for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company. “The Lunnys purchased Drakes Bay Oyster Company with the full intent of restoring a Point Reyes business and contributing to an important local industry. What the National Park Service tried to do here in misleading the Marin County Board of Supervisors and penalizing citizens at the expense of the truth was nothing short of outrageous.”

This report shows that the National Park Service under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior fabricated and falsified the science to drive Mr. Lunny and his family out of business,” said Mr. Singer. “This report is devastatingly critical and calls into question Interior Secretary’s Kempthorne’s newly announced ethics policy. We expect wholesale changes in the Department to come from this unfortunate episode.”

100_7741.jpgIn April 2007, Park Service officials had threatened to seek civil and criminal charges against the Lunnys, claiming that their oyster beds were harming seals, damaging eelgrass and polluting waterways. “Based on the research conducted by several scientists, the Inspector General concluded that the data used by the Park Service was flawed and unreliable,” said Mr. Singer.

[Kayakers use the oyster company premises for a haulout site.]

“My family and my business have been harmed,” said Kevin Lunny. “The Inspector General detailed numerous instances where science was manipulated, facts were distorted, and false accusations were made. All we wanted to do was improve a local oyster company and contribute to the Point Reyes community. We are encouraged by the Inspector General’s report but the federal government has farther to go in atoning for what happened here. The Park Service has broken trust and good faith with the ranchers, farmers, and citizens of West Marin.”

“In the end, this is about private citizens standing up to abusive treatment by their government,” Mr. Lunny said. “We said all along that the Park Service was in the wrong and now we have been proven right. The Lunny family has lived, farmed, and ranched in Point Reyes for more than six decades. We supported the Seashore’s creation and enjoyed an outstanding relationship until recently. It is our hope and prayer that the Park Service will work with us to reestablish a positive relationship.”

One of the luxuries of being retired is that I can do all the late-night reading I want, and I’m continually being amazed by what I read.

Remember the shortwave radiomen in those old movies about World War II: “Come in, Rangoon! Come in, Rangoon!”? When I was a kid, the family’s floor-standing radio had shortwave bands, and I recall the fun I had picking up broadcasts from far and wide. But like everything else from that era, shortwave radio faded out — or so I had thought.

The London-based Economist reported June 21 that while shortwave radio has pretty much gone off the air in Europe and North America, it’s still widespread in Asia and especially Africa. The BBC World Service, for example, has a worldwide radio audience of 182 million, of which 105 million still listen on shortwave, The Economist reported. In Nigeria, shortwave use is actually growing.

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‘Pride in Craftsmanship‘ photographed in San Rafael.

While visiting Rome some years ago, I ended up staying across the street from what appeared to be a one-building country — and it wasn’t the Vatican. A sign on the front said, “Knights of Malta,” and I could see parked cars with Knights of Malta license plates in the building’s courtyard.

All that came to mind after the inner council of this order of monks, also known as Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order, elected Friar Matthew Festing, 58, of Great Britain its new grand master to replace Friar Andrew Bertie, who died in February.

The “sovereign” Knights of Malta, who do international aid work, have 12,500 members worldwide but no territory of their own, Napoleon having seized the Island of Malta from them in 1798. The order actually began in 1080 AD, took part in the Crusades, and after the Christian defeat ruled first over Rhodes and then over Malta.

180px-flag_of_the_sovereign_military_order_of_maltasvg.pngNot only do the Knights of Malta have their own license plates, I read last week that they issue their own passports, have their own flag (right), stamps, and currency, actually are widely recognized as sovereign, and have diplomatic relations with 99 countries.

For two centuries after the loss of Malta to Napoleon, the nation had no country — merely headquarters in downtown Rome — until 1999 when the government of Malta agreed to let the knights repossess historic Fort St. Angelo for 99 years. As a result, the Knights of Malta/ Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order, is probably the only sovereign nation in the world that leases its homeland.

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The National Audubon Society, which once romanticized the West’s wild horses, now calls them “feral equids” and wants thousands of them killed, as does the US Bureau of Land Management, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The Times noted there are 33,000 wild horses roaming BLM lands from Montana to California, and another 30,000 have been rounded up and are in holding facilities until somebody wants them. From the perspective of a mustang used to the wilds, this is probably like incarceration at Guantanamo Bay. From the perspective of BLM, continuing to spend $26 million a year to take care of all the horses it rounds up (below) is far too expensive.

image006.jpgThe Science Conservation Center in Montana, meanwhile, has written a rebuttal to the Audubon Society, saying that contraception would be better than killing to control the number of wild horses. But BLM itself, The Times reported, stands accused of having little interest in contraception.

Does any of this sound familiar?

For BLM substitute National Park Service; they’re both agencies of the Interior Department. For Audubon Society, substitute Marin Group of the Sierra Club; they’re both for the birds. For the Science Conservation Center, substitute the Humane Society of the US; they both oppose the Bush Administration’s applying to wildlife its “Just Say No” antipathy toward contraception. And for wild horses, substitute white deer; nativists dislike both animals for supposedly being non-native, even though they’ve been in North America for centuries.

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A fallow deer (commonly called a white deer) and her fawn. Photo by Janine Warner, founder of digitalfamily.com

Just how long has each species been in North America? George Washington released this country’s first white deer on his farm at Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service appears to dismiss our first president as some distant, benighted fellow. As for the horse, it “began evolving on the North American continent 55 million years ago, before crossing the Bering land bridge and spreading through Asia and Europe,” the June 28 Economist reported.

Spaniards reintroduced horses into North America during the 1500s, and they spread across the West. “In the 1700s there were so many mustangs in Texas that maps marked some areas merely as ‘Vast Herds of Wild Horses,’” The Economist added. However, from 1920 to 1935, “hundreds of thousands of mustangs were sent to slaughter to provide cheap meat.”

BLM says there’s not enough forage for 33,000 wild horses on their 29 million-acre range and wants to kill 6,000 of them. Claiming there wasn’t enough forage for 1,000 exotic deer in their 75,000-acre range, the Park Service last year shot roughly 800 of them. Last week, the Park Service said it will soon shoot the rest.

I’m surprised by how frequently West Marin residents say one reason they hope Obama wins is that it would allow the Democrats to clean house in the Department of the Interior. Blood-lust, defiance, and vengeance have come to epitomize the department’s land-use management. These are not traits most of the public will tolerate forever.

With National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher saying to hell with members of Congress, the lieutenant governor, and most West Marin residents, he’s going to kill deer, a peaceful protest is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday. Demonstrations will gather at the Sacred Heart Church parking lot in Olema and walk a quarter mile north along Bear Valley Road.

“People seeking food will see an opportunity to hunt, gather, or cultivate. People who are well fed, but seek spiritual sustenance in nature, will see a refuge. Wildlife biologists will see a laboratory, archeologists a dig, real estate developers a suburb, park managers a place of employment.” — Mark Dowie of Inverness.

(From The Fiction of Wilderness published in the West Marin Review. The essay was adapted from an upcoming book Vital Diversities: Balancing Protection of Nature and Culture. Dowie teaches science and environmental reporting at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.)

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A small group of Point Reyes National Seashore visitors buying oysters from Drakes Bay Oyster Company and quietly picnicking beside the water a couple of weeks ago.

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The tranquility at the oyster company contrasted with the folks screaming in excitement at another national park 200 miles away. In Yosemite, two rock climbers set a speed record for going up the face of El Capitan.

The climbers, one from Lafayette and one from Japan, shaved 2 minutes and 12 seconds off the 2 hour, 45 minute, and 35 second record held by two German brothers.

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Back at Drakes Bay, oyster-company owner Kevin Lunny is fighting an attempt by National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher to close the oyster farm when its lease runs out in 2012.

Supt. Neubacher’s administration says the 125-year-old oyster farm is incompatible with a wilderness area. Of course, the oyster farm isn’t actually in a wilderness area. So far, the government has labeled Drakes Estero, the inlet where Lunny’s oyster company is located, merely “potential wilderness.”

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Drake’s Bay Oyster Company’s parking lot in the foreground and the Coast Guard’s white buildings in the background.

But it’s a stretch to call Drakes Estero even “potential wilderness.” By act of Congress, the land around it is reserved for agricultural. From the oyster farm, visitors can view not only this “pastoral zone” and traffic on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard but also a US Coast Guard Communications Station.

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One chunk of parkland that is in a designated wilderness area is El Capitan.

The 3,000-foot-high granite monolith is part of what the Park Service boasts is “one of the world’s greatest climbing areas.” Not surprisingly, members of the press and public were on hand for a week to hoot and holler as climbers Hans Florine and Yuri Hirayama repeatedly scrambled up El Capitan. Hirayama has said that if he climbs the rock again, he’ll bring a movie crew from Japan.

Encouraging an international hullabaloo in the Yosemite wilderness area is apparently appropriate when the national park is looking for good publicity. In their own way, national parks do a fair amount of huckstering. The National Seashore, for example, holds sandcastle contests at Drakes Beach every Labor Day to lure crowds to Point Reyes.

tunnelview2.jpgAll this commotion suggests that seeking solitude in nature to restore your soul can sometimes be more romantic than realistic — whether you’re wandering on Point Reyes or in Yosemite (right). Even without climbers and their fans, Yosemite’s wilderness is crawling with an estimated 500 black bears. If you don’t want your meditations disturbed, it’s better to follow the Savior’s advice (Matthew 6:6), and “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet.”

So what activities are appropriate in a “wilderness” area? That apparently depends on the park superintendent of the moment and whom he likes or doesn’t. Ever since Lunny helped organize the Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association so that ranchers could put up a united front in negotiations with the park, Supt. Neubacher’s Administration has made it clear they don’t like the oyster grower/beef rancher.

From a strictly environmental standpoint, Neubacher’s justification for trying to close Lunny’s oyster farm reveals the irrational way the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service is being administered these days. If this region of the Park Service is so fastidious it wants to close down a 125-year-old oyster farm to protect “potential wilderness” at Point Reyes, what the heck is the region doing promoting environmentally damaging rock-climbing competition in Yosemite’s “wilderness area?”

“As the number of climbers visiting the park has increased through the years, the impacts of climbing have become much more obvious,” the National Park Service acknowledges. “Some of those impacts include: soil compaction, erosion, and vegetation loss in parking areas, at the base of climbs, and on approach and descent trails, destruction of cliffside vegetation and lichen, disturbance of cliff-dwelling animals, litter, water pollution from improper human waste disposal, and the visual blight of chalk marks, pin scars, bolts, rappel slings, and fixed ropes.”

And what about the 2 million visitors a year the National Seashore attracts to Point Reyes. By any chance do they affect the wilderness around here more than a low-key, family-owned oyster company? Or the National Seashore’s filling in a wetland at Drakes Beach to provide parking for for this multitude… how did that preserve nature?

Given all this, just what does the Park Service mean when it talks about protecting the “wilderness?”

“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'” — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

To every creature there is a season. At the beginning of May, the blacktail doe that hangs around on this hill brought out both of this year’s fawns for the first time. Sunday night, it was Mrs. Raccoon’s turn to bring out her four kits.

100_7758_1.jpgMy kitchen door has become a regular stop on Mrs. Raccoon’s evening rounds.

From the first time she showed up a couple of years ago, her begging has mainly consisted of standing on her hind legs with her front feet on the glass of my kitchen door.

Some nights I throw her scraps, and over the years I’ve learned what she likes and doesn’t.

She won’t eat dog food or fruit. She definitely likes fish and (unseasoned) meat scraps. But her favorite fare is bread — not that healthy, whole-grain stuff but cheapo bread with the consistency of cake.

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Three kits hide behind the woodbox on my deck Sunday. I later got out a tape measure and found the gap they’d been in is only four inches wide.

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Mrs. Raccoon and two kits beside my woodbox Tuesday night. The youngsters are about the size of six-month-old housecats.

100_7621.jpgLate in the evening, a male raccoon (left) sometimes shows up begging, but he’s more skittish and is easily intimidated by Mrs. Raccoon if she’s around. Which is probably why he usually waits until she’s gone.

For three weeks last month, I watched helplessly as he contended with a tick attached to the bridge of his nose. Finally, he managed to scrape it off — but lost a couple of patches of fur in the process.

“Raccoons do not live together as mated pairs,” the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium in Florida notes on its website. “The males mate with as many females as possible. During the breeding season… females find a den. The male raccoon locates a female and, if she is willing, moves into her den for a short period of mating. Afterwards, the male resumes his wandering lifestyle.”

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Two kits prowl my deck Tuesday. Young raccoons are also called “cubs” or “pups,” and some people refer to “kits” as “kittens.”

“Raccoons may breed any time during the late fall into early spring,” reports a posting by the San Diego Natural History Museum. “The gestation period lasts about two months, and the young are born between December and April. A litter may have two to seven young, with an average of four. The eyes open at about three weeks. Although the pups begin to forage and hunt with the mother within two months, she will care for them for almost a year.”

This is a story about Point Reyes Station’s ubiquitous pink roses and how I once happened to rescue a few wild ones.

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One of the many bicyclists passing through town pedals past climbing roses in front of West Marin School.

When I came to town in 1975, Toby’s Feed Barn was located in the old Livery Stable building at Third and B Streets in Point Reyes Station. The Tomales Bay Foods building next door was a haybarn. In those days, Toby’s Feed Barn was just that — an outlet for hay transported by Toby’s Trucking. Some of it was grown on family land in Nevada.

In 1976, Toby’s Feed Barn moved into the old Diamond National lumber building on the main street where it now sells everything from bales of hay to gourmet foods to fine art. Toby’s Trucking, which already had facilities in Petaluma, moved the last of its operation out of Point Reyes Station. The livery stable building, where trucks had been serviced and hay stored, was sold a couple of years later along with the haybarn.

Toby’s Feed Barn and Trucking had begun in 1942, so there was an accumulation of old truck parts and other detritus of a trucking-and-hay business to be cleared away before the buildings changed hands. Back then, John’s Truck Stop was located on Fourth Street where the Pine Cone Diner is today, and watching the cleanup from across the way was owner John Ball.

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Wild roses transplanted 30 years ago to my cabin. Unlike many roses, these are pretty much ignored by deer.

The Truck Stop owner had once been a driver for now-deceased Toby Giacomini, and he asked if he could have some of the wild roses growing where the cleanup was underway. “Help yourself!” Toby immediately responded. John took a few and encouraged the late Lt. Art Disterheft of Olema, then commander of the Sheriff’s Substation, to dig up a few more for himself.

Art, as it happened, had just come down with the flu and was in no shape to dig up roses, so he passed the offer along to me. There were three degrees of separation between Toby’s “Help yourself!” and me, but I accepted nonetheless. After all, I reasoned, the area would soon be cleared, which it was.

100_7730.jpgDigging up the roses was an amazing experience. It took a pick, as well as a shovel, to free them, for they were not growing in topsoil, as you and I think of it.

These roses were rooted mostly in clay, baling wire, and old engine oil. While moving them, I had to worry as much about getting greasy as getting pricked.

The roses’ hardiness was, however, encouraging. The wind across my pasture on the hill sometimes blows so relentlessly that it had withered all the flowers I’d tried to grow around the cabin. I figured these roses could withstand anything, and they have. In fact, without their annual pruning, my hot tub would soon be overgrown by a prickly, pink jungle.

The rose now growing in front of my deck, Rosa Californica, is one of less than a dozen native to this state.

In downtown Point Reyes Station, an example of a five-petaled antique rose can be seen at the corner of Highway 1 and Mesa Road (above) in front of Jane Quattlander’s home.
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Several varieties of domestic pink roses have gone feral around town, for birds can spread rose seeds. These unidentified roses are growing at Bivalve overlooking the foot of Tomales Bay. Bivalve, now little more than a dirt turnout off Highway 1, was once a whistlestop on the narrow-gauge-rail line between Point Reyes Station and Cazadero.

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Climbing roses along Highway 1 frame a view of Black Mountain.

Several West Marin towns are associated with particular flowers. An abundance of nasturtiums helps give Stinson Beach its colorful character. Primroses have become symbols of Inverness, thanks largely to the Inverness Garden Club’s annual Primrose Tea. With pink roses dotting so many Point Reyes Station vistas, we’re obviously the town with the rosiest outlooks.

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An immense thicket of climbing roses along Highway 1 marks the southern edge of Point Reyes Station. This wall of thorns and pink blossoms borders the entrance to the Genazzi Ranch.