Archive for July, 2012

Not all wildlife has fared as poorly as bears, wolves, and buffalo in the wake of the settlers spreading their brand of civilization across America. Indeed, the deck of Mitchell cabin bears testimony to how well other creatures have adapted to changed environs. Here’s a look at wildlife photographed on or from the deck during two weeks in July.

From the limbs of a pine tree, three young raccoons observe activity on the deck below. The raccoons around Mitchell cabin rarely ransack trash cans in search of garbage to eat. Ick! They instead supplement their foraging with nightly stops on the deck for rations of dog kibble.

For the past several weeks, mother raccoons have been introducing their new kits to the nightly repasts on my deck. That happens every summer. This year, however, the kits have taken to wrestling on the deck after dining. Here one kit struggles on its back after being tackled by a sibling.

It’s great fun to watch although the wrestling occasionally lasts well into the night, and it’s not unusual for Lynn and me to be awakened by the sound of outdoor furniture being knocked around. Worse yet is the damage they do to our flowers, as the rough-housing sometimes takes the kits into our planters. The youngster at left is sparring with a fourth kit that’s behind the planter barrel.

A young raccoon climbs down lattice in getting off the railing. Raccoons have the ability to twist their rear paws to point backwards. This greatly enhances their climbing because they can hang from their rear claws as they descend.

Red-winged blackbirds flock to the deck each evening when Lynn or I scatter birdseed on the railing and picnic table. By some estimates, the red-winged blackbird is the “most-abundant and best-studied bird in North America.”

Male redwings are all black except for a red bar and yellow patch on the shoulders while females are a nondescript dark brown.

Given his stately bearing, it’s appropriate that the California quail is the official state bird of California.

Pecking seeds — Here’s another look at the colorful head and tail of the male quail (at bottom). The female (at top) is less colorful but also has a crest. In between are two of their chicks. As with fawns, spots help camouflage young quail.

A march of quail chicks, with their mother (bottom left) keeping an eye out for trouble.

A rufus-sided towhee eats birdseed off the picnic table. The towhees breed from Canada to Guatemala and typically have two broods a year. The male helps feed the chicks, which fledge (can fly) in 10 to 12 days.

A White-tailed kite glides over my field while hunting for rodents. (They rarely eat birds.) Although the White-tailed kite was on the verge of extinction 75 years ago in California as a result of shooting and egg collecting, white-tails have now recovered to where their survival is no longer a concern to government ornithologists.

Two buzzards — taking advantage of fence posts on the east side of Mitchell cabin — warm themselves in the morning sun. What to call these birds, by the way, is hotly contested. For some, the only correct name is “vulture.”

The American Heritage Dictionary says a buzzard is “any of various North American vultures, such as the Turkey vulture.” A “chiefly British” meaning for the word buzzard, notes the dictionary, is “a hawk of the genus Buteo, having broad wings and a broad tail.”

The word can also refer to “an avaricious or otherwise unpleasant person,” the dictionary adds. For reasons that seem odd to me, ornithologists around West Marin seem to be chiefly British. Hey, this is Old West Marin, as the sign on the Old Western Saloon affirms. When a cowboy calls a bum “you old buzzard,” he means “you old carrion eater.” He certainly doesn’t mean you old “hawk [with] broad wings and a broad tail.”

A couple of roof rats visit the deck every evening to eat birdseed that the birds overlooked. Adult roof rats are 13 to 18 inches long, including their tails which are longer than their bodies.

They have been known to eat bird eggs, but they, in turn, are eaten by barn owls. As it happens, I saw one family of barn owls nesting at a neighbor’s house last week, so nature may still be in balance hereabouts.

The jackrabbit that this summer began hanging out around the hill sees me on the deck but remains motionless so as not to attract my attention.

A blacktail buck takes a rest next to the front steps a short distance from the deck. Although two of us took turns photographing him, he must have felt safe, for he stuck around.

The buck, in fact, seems fairly comfortable around people. Here he watches my neighbor Mary Huntsman gardening. She was unaware of his presence until I later showed her this photograph.

Almost every evening around 11 p.m., a gray fox shows up at the kitchen door, looking for bread. Lynn and I typically spend half an hour feeding him cheap, white bread one slice at a time.

Then he’ll disappear in search of more substantial fare. How do I know this? He leaves his seed-filled scat in prominent places around the property. The fox obviously has great balance, for he even leaves deposits on top of fence posts. I don’t know whether to be disgusted or impressed.

Almost 2,000 people filled Love Field in Point Reyes Station Saturday for the seventh annual Far West Fest. The $35-per-ticket event was a fundraiser for KWMR community radio, youth centers in Point Reyes Station (The Lounge) and the San Geronimo Valley (The Loft), as well as the Bolinas Community Center and Home Base (the parent organization of Love Field).

Jack Kramer, president of Home Base which sponsored the festival, said the 2,000 figure includes children, volunteers, musicians, and vendors along with ticket holders. Although total revenue from the event is still being calculated, Kramer said the fest “was the most successful ever.”

Les Nubians from France wowed the crowd with up-tempo rhythms that prompted dozens of listeners to get up and dance on the grass. The Grammy-nominated group was led by an “Afropean” sister duo who grew up in Chad and France.

Other headliners included Orgone, a Los Angeles funk and soul band, and Vinyl, a Marin band with a large following. Numerous other bands also performed throughout the afternoon.

Festival goers took advantage of the warm, sunny weather to get a tan while picnicking on the grass and listening to the music. Dotting Love Field were canopies sheltering vendors who sold ethnic and tie-dyed clothing, jewelry, crafts, beer, wine, hot dogs and hamburgers, oysters, various exotic fare, and much more. StuArt of Bolinas used a Mayan calendar to tell fortunes. Small children squealed in fun on playground equipment of a very small variety.

Plucking banjos (from left) were Lowell Levinger better known as Banana, Steve Wharton, Konrad Alt, Ernie Noyes, Ingrid Noyes, and Jim Chayka. Backing them up on drums and keyboard were Jacquie Phelan and Brian Lamoreaux.

A group of banjo players, who called themselves the Warren Hellman Tribute Band, gave a brief performance. The band was created to honor Warren Hellman, a philanthropist who died last December at the age of 77. An investment banker who had been a partner in Lehman Brothers, he was also a founder of the Hellman & Friedman private-equity firm.

Although he was a billionaire, Hellman did not believe in accumulating cash for its own sake. He was a contributor to many causes, including education, healthcare, programs for the poor, and journalism. Dismayed at watching economics force staff reductions at San Francisco newspapers, he donated $6 million to the Bay Citizen, a nonprofit, professional newsroom founded in 2010.

A  banjo player as well as a financier, Hellman toured with a group called the Wronglers. He may have been best known in the San Francisco Bay Area for having founded the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in 2001. The free, three-day music festival in Golden Gate Park has now grown to where more than 750,000 people attended it last year. Hellman has left money to subsidize the festival another 15 years.

Performing on a second stage, the band Spark and Whisper drew an enthusiastic audience, including the dancers at right.

His last Far West Fest for at least awhile. Jerry Lunsford (right) hangs out at his traditional spot near the sound system for one of the festival’s stages. Since 1999, Lunsford has been a volunteer at KWMR, where he has hosted the Hippie from Olema music show. Lunsford, however, is about to leave West Marin for Crested Butte, Colorado, where he will become station manager for another community radio station, KBUT.

Shortly after 4 p.m., sirens suddenly broke through the music as firetruck after firetruck wailed past Love Field, some on the adjoining levee road, some on Bear Valley Road to the south.

As it happened, a 1.3-acre wildfire had broken out at the edge of Limantour Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. County firefighters and Park Service firefighters raced to the scene along with crews from Inverness and Stinson Beach. A tanker plane from Cal Fire made two water drops.

Because the firetrucks could not cross the pedestrian bridge to the beach, long hose-lines had to be laid to the blaze. The fire appeared to have started in a brushy area near the base of a willow tree, which is a few yards off the path to the beach, Park Service Fire Capt. John Haag later said. Most of what burned, along with brush, were reeds and Andean grass.

What started the fire was still unknown, he said Sunday, although it was almost certainly caused by humans. It took firefighters only an hour to douse the blaze, meaning that containing the fire ended well before the Far West Fest ended at 7 p.m. However, a fire crew hung around Limantour Beach until late at night in case there were flare-ups. Firefighters were back at the scene Sunday, and Capt. Haag said firefighters would check the area daily for the next five days.

Compared to other wildfires that have been flaring up around the state and country, the Limantour blaze was fairly small. All the same, whether you spent Saturday afternoon at the Far West Fest or at Limantour Beach, you probably came home with a lot to talk about.

The Marin County Deputy Sheriffs Association held its annual barbecue Sunday at Stafford Lake. There were no reports of rowdy deputies crashing cars or getting in fights with each other. It wasn’t always like that.

A just-released book, Resident Deputy Sheriff In Wild and Wooly West Marin: 1964 to 1969 and then some!, describes heroism, humor, and scandals within the Marin County Sheriff’s Office four decades ago.

Numerous well-known residents of West Marin play roles in the book: retired Judge Dave Baty of Inverness Park, retired Sheriff’s Sgt. Russ Hunt of Point Reyes Station, the late Sheriff’s Capt. Art Disterheft of Olema (for whom the Public Safety Building in Point Reyes Station is named), and others.


Sheriff’s Capt. Art Disterheft (left) and Sgt. Weldon Travis in Inverness Park during the Storm and Floods of  1982. Portrait copyright Art Rogers/Point Reyes

Written by a retired sheriff’s sergeant, the book provides — among other things — an insider’s look at the sheriff’s office during the 1958-to-1978 tenure of Sheriff Louis Mountanos who, according to the author, had ties to La Cosa Nostra.

Weldon Travis, the author, knows West Marin well. He moved to Woodacre after high school, attended the College of Marin, and in the 1960s became a deputy in the county sheriff’s office.

While still a young officer, Travis was made a resident deputy in West Marin, meaning he was patrolling the area where he lived.

Along with accounts of heroism, tragedy, and official wrongdoing, his book includes numerous anecdotes that are humorous in the understated vein of Sheriff’s Calls. But unlike them, he often names names:

“I had a civil paper to serve on George [Gallagher of Nicasio], nothing serious, and went to his house.” His wife told me he and a bunch of his friends were deer hunting a few miles away in the canyons along Wilson Hill.

“George was getting along in years, so he was sitting down near the base of a canyon as some of the younger guys were hopefully driving the deer toward the older ones.

“I spotted George’s International jeep and figured I’d find him, hopefully without messing up the hunt. I stayed in the open and moved slowlyas I didn’t want to get shot by accident.

“Pretty soon I heard a big one come crashing down through the oaks and madrones, then the nearby crack of a rifle. I moved that way and found George sprawled on the hillside between some big rocks. The big ol’ buck had knocked him ass over teakettle downhill.

“George looked up at me with kind of a dazed expression on his face, and in that high voice of his asked, ‘Weldon, how did you get here so quick?” I just grinned at him.

Retired Sheriff’s Sgt. Weldon Travis at the Pinecone Diner Saturday.

Another of his stories tells of a naked man high on drugs trying to have sex with a patrol car’s red light as a new deputy from Nicasio, Joe Dentoni, drove around Point Reyes Station.

Still another story tells of stopping a motorist in the San Geronimo Valley late one summer evening. Seeing the man’s car wandering around its lane at varying speeds, Travis assumed he was dealing with someone who was either really sleepy or intoxicated.

However, when Travis turned on his siren, up popped a blonde, long-haired woman, sitting bolt upright in the front passenger seat. After talking with the two and running a warrant check, Travis writes, I sped off, leaving them to recompose themselves at roadside.

Some of Travis’ stories are grim. A cat lady, who had been dead for several days, was found at home in Woodacre. The cats didn’t have any food except her. Travis helped the coroner put her in a body bag although her forearm skin slipped off as I pulled her off the bed.

More emotionally wrenching for Travis was arriving at a Lucas Valley Road home just as a resident committed suicide with a gunshot into his mouth and brain.

After the coroner had come and gone, Travis gathered up the blood-soaked quilts, blankets, sheets and pillows and threw them in the trunk of the patrol car.

The new widow and I got some Clorox from under the sink and got down on our hands and knees together and scrubbed and scrubbed.

At home, I washed all of that stuff three times, but it was useless. It all went to the dump. My emotions and some of my sanity took a dump too.

Travis describes the suicide of a fellow officer, as well as his own alcoholism, marital infidelities and indiscretions.

“Why do I share this?” he asks at one point. “So you might understand what we who serve you do. We pay a price, but that’s okay; it’s our choice. And that’s why we drink, have failed relationships, and commit suicide after our usefulness to our society seemingly has been utilized.

Travis also marvels at the heroic strength of some of the public with whom deputies deal.

In a section titled Abbott’s Lagoon Drifter, the author tells of two, young lady-friends who calmly reported that an armed, would-be rapist had accosted them at Abbott’s Lagoon in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

One of the young women had learned martial arts while attending UCLA, and together they took the drifter’s gun away and violently beat him. With help from the public and a marijuana-hunting helicopter, deputies a day later found the man and arrested him.

“He pled guilty and, in view of his extensive rap sheet from across the Midwest, went to prison for a long time,” Travis wrote, adding, “Good community effort!”

Ironically, Travis himself doesn’t tell the story for which he is best known although his book includes an epilogue of news clippings that tell it for him.

In the 1950s while Travis was a starving student at the College of Marin, he was hired to pose naked for a photographer who said the pictures would be used in art classes.

Around 1966, after Travis was working for the sheriff’s office, pirated copies of the photos began circulating in the soft-core porn world. Soon they were showing up in gay men’s magazines such as Tomorrow’s Man, Fair Fellows, and Times Square Stud.

Someone (Travis believes it was an organized-crime figure whose toes he had stepped on) brought the photos to the attention of Sheriff Mountanos, who fired him.

The indiscreet photos would cause the public to lose confidence in him, the sheriff claimed. The claim, however, was met with a chorus of outrage from members of the public who noted what a good deputy Travis was.

Several people wrote letters to the Marin Independent Journal, saying that nothing about posing nude for an art class disqualified Travis to later work as a deputy.

With Judge Baty defending him, Travis took his firing to the county personnel commission, who reinstated him on a 4-to-1 vote.

The late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen at the time wrote that Mountanos had “made himself look fairly ridiculous” and noted that future President Herbert Hoover had helped pay his way through Stanford University by “posing in the raw for art students.”

Weldon Travis and his wife whom he refers to as “Serene Irene, the Bawdy House Queen.”

Travis, now 74, lives in the town of Rough and Ready, Nevada County, where he is married to an 80-year-old artist, former beauty queen, and model named Irene.

Once known as a somewhat-hippie deputy, Travis is now a full-fledged-hippie political conservative — sporting long hair, a ring in his ear, and Indian jewelry. How did that change come about?

Irene said they consider themselves “compassionate conservatives,” socially liberal and economically conservative. Above all, the former sheriff’s sergeant is overtly skeptical about the workings of government. Perhaps from seeing them at close range.

Resident Deputy Sheriff is available at Point Reyes Books for $22 hardback and $12 softcover. Non-West Marin residents can find it in some East Marin bookstores and online.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny headed to Irvine, Orange County, Tuesday to speak before the National Academy of Sciences, which is reviewing a Park Service environmental report on his operation.

He left with the understanding he would receive only three minutes to present his case for continuing to do business in the Point Reyes National Seashore after his present permit expires Nov. 30. When he got to the NAS meeting, however, Lunny received about half an hour to answer questions.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company owner Kevin Lunny.

This wasn’t supposed to be happening. Lunny bought the business from its former owner, Tom Johnson, seven years ago. At that time, Lunny and his lawyer negotiated a “statement of principle” with Interior Department attorneys and Jon Jarvis, then Pacific West Regional Director of the Park Service.

The agreement signed by both Jarvis and Lunny guaranteed the oyster grower that he would have plenty of input if an environmental-impact statement were required when the permit was up for renewal. Nonetheless, when the Park Service began preparing an EIS a year and a half ago, Lunny found himself excluded from the scoping process.

He brought up the legal document he and Jarvis (now national director of the Park Service) had signed only to have the Park Service tell him it was “unenforceable,” he noted this week. “If you don’t like it,” the Park Service added, “take it to court.” It was not the first time the Park Service had used that tactic.

Six years ago, former National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher began a campaign of falsehoods — later exposed by the Inspector General of the Interior Department, among others — regarding the oyster operation in an effort to create opposition to renewing its permit. Lunny at the time reported that when he objected to the way he was being treated by the park, Neubacher’s response was, “You’ve got to remember, I don’t have to pay my lawyers.”

Retail sales building at Drakes Bay Oyster Company.

Neubacher’s political reason — aside from what turned into personal antipathy — for wanting Lunny to shut down operations in Drakes Estero is that Congress in 1976 had declared the surrounding area “potential wilderness.” The park, however, has chosen to ignore the congressional testimony of the legislation’s sponsors who said the proposed potential-wilderness designation would not affect oyster growing in the estero.

Although the Park Service has made no secret of being ready to ruin Lunny with legal bills if he stands on his rights, the stratagem hasn’t worked so far. Already, he has received “over $1 million worth of pro bono legal help” from one law firm, and two others are also joining in, Lunny said.

“The San Francisco Bay Area,” the oysterman explained, is “a tight-knit community, and people have been good to us. All are liberal Democrats, green-minded people, non-corporate. They care about honesty in government.” The unpaid legal representation could prove invaluable to Lunny should he need to legally challenge an adverse decision by the Park Service on his permit.

The Park Service has put forth various claims — each debunked in succession — that oyster growing in the estuary is bad for the environment. In contrast, an earlier National Academy of Sciences review found that oyster cultivation is not causing significant environmental problems and may well be benefiting the estero’s ecosystem.

The estuary used to be rich in native, Olympia oysters, but they were harvested to virtual extinction by the 1950s and 60s. The former oyster-company owners, the Johnson family, then began raising Pacific oysters, which have restored the ecosystem, the first Academy of Sciences review noted. Oysters are filter feeders that clean the water.

The Park Service in response has claimed there never were native oysters in the estero despite millions of Olympia oyster shells found in the middens (shell heaps) of Native Americans who lived beside the estuary.

Carbon dating has now determined the shells in the middens are prehistoric, prompting the Park Service to claim — without evidence — that Native Americans must have caught these millions of oysters in Tomales Bay and for unknown reasons hauled them all the way to Drakes Bay to eat them. To Lunny, the scenario seems ridiculous.

Larvae for today’s Pacific oysters, which are the variety grown on the West Coast, come from “carefully controlled” hatcheries in Oregon and Washington, Lunny said.

Growing oyster larvae into seed oysters (Photo by Janine Warner).

He raises the larvae in tanks until they are large enough to attach themselves to old shells and then start growing their own shells. Only when these “seed oysters” are large enough not to fall through mesh growing bags are they hung from racks in the estero. In other cases, shells holding the seed oysters are hung in a line from the racks.

In response to EIR-related questions from the Park Service, Lunny on July 5 wrote to National Seashore Supt. Cecily Muldoon:

“Approximately 40 percent of Drakes Bay Oyster Company income is from onsite retail sales, 40 percent is sold directly to local markets and restaurants — all delivered by DBOC directly, 18 percent is sold to Tomales Bay shellfish growers, and 2 percent is sold through a wholesale seafood distributor based in San Francisco.”

Oysters from racks in Drakes Estero are unloaded from a barge at the oyster company’s onshore site.

In a very good year, DBOC might produce 850,000 pounds of oysters, Lunny wrote. Those numbers would suggest that if the full 18 percent of DBOC’s total production in a very good year were to go to to Hog Island and Tomales Bay oyster companies, the total would be a whopping 153,000 pounds.

“The Tomales Bay growers have a huge demand they can’t meet,” Lunny said Monday. If Drakes Bay Oyster Company were shut down by the park, the effect on Tomales Bay growers would be significant, and those growers have supported DBOC’s efforts to renew its permit.

“We like to work with neighbors and colleagues,” Lunny said, and want the oysters sold locally to “come from locals.”

Washing freshly harvested oysters.

Nor is there any opportunity for Drakes Bay Oyster Company to relocate to Tomales Bay.

In his July 5 letter to Seashore Supt. Muldoon, Lunny wrote: “It is important to note that in late 2008 through early 2009, the National Park Service (NPS) seriously misled the public by telling US Senator Dianne Feinstein, the DBOC, and the public that NPS had a plan and an offer to relocate DBOC to Tomales Bay.

“In fact, NPS did not consult with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) prior to making this assertion and did not have a plan to relocate DBOC.

“After NPS made the claim that it had a plan to relocate DBOC to Tomales Bay, NPS was informed by CDFG that this relocation was impossible for several reasons:

• “NPS has no authority over the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) and CDFG leases and has no say over how shellfish leases are issued by the FGC.

• “Tomales Bay shellfish production is already maximized to the extent practicable.

• “There were no available leases in Tomales Bay to relocate DBOC.

“DBOC, in good faith, participated in discussions, committed to negotiations, and was willing to evaluate a proposal. It was only later that it became clear that the NPS did not have a relocation plan or proposal when it told Senator Feinstein and DBOC that it did. The NPS promised a relocation that was impossible.

“Nevertheless, the public remains misinformed about this relocation proposal. Members of the public known to be working closely with NPS staff continuously criticize DBOC for failing to negotiate with NPS regarding relocation.

“NPS has certainly heard these misrepresentations from the NPS supporters yet NPS has failed to correct the public record.”

A check on Tuesday with Kirsten Ramey, who is in charge of marine aquaculture for Fish and Game, found that while it technically might be possible to get a new shellfish-growing lease in Tomales Bay, in practical terms, it could not be done. The permits and studies necessary would be overwhelming.

Among the agencies that would have to study the proposal and approve it, she said, would be state Fish and Game, the County of Marin, the California Coastal Commission, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and possibly others. Virtually no one can afford the cost, which is why no new leases have been issued for years, she explained.

Lunny had not received a response to his letter to Supt. Muldoon before his trip to Irvine Tuesday, but DBOC critic Gordon Bennett had read it thanks to the park’s having quietly posted the letter online.

Ramey noted that Bennett — citing the letter — had called her asking about oysters from Drakes Estero being sold at Tomales Bay. His apparent concern, she said, was that organisms or pathogens could be transferred from one bay to the other this way.

However, that is not possible, Ramey said, because Hog Island and Tomales Bay oyster companies sell the DBOC oysters from tanks and do not place them in their bay. Tank water is not discharged into the bay, she added.

By now, Lunny’s fight to get his oyster company’s permit renewed has gone on for years, and if the dispute ultimately lands in court, the fight could go on a good deal longer.

This has been a terrible year for thistles in West Marin. Or perhaps I should say it has been a good year for the thistles and a terrible year for landowners doing battle with them.

By now I’ve had to spend seven full days slashing thistles and then bagging them lest their seeds get picked up by the wind. Even so, new thistles are constantly appearing.

All this made me curious about the identity of the thistles on my property. When I then happened to take several walks through federal parkland just downstream from the Green Bridge in Point Reyes Station, I could immediately see the Park Service has its own thistle problem.

This area is part of the former Giacomini dairy ranch, which the Park Service bought, and is immediately east of the wetland-restoration project. Most of the Park Service’s thistles were the same as mine, so I asked Stacy Carlsen, the county agricultural commissioner, about West Marin’s thistles.

Three of the photos I shot on parkland and emailed Commissioner Carlsen turned out to be Bull thistles, Cirsium vulgare.

“Bull thistle,” he wrote back, “is associated with disturbed soils and shaded areas, with moist conditions being preferred.” Bull thistles, he added, are “native to Europe.”

Different stages of Common teasel, Dipascus fullonum, on federal property.

The teasel, Carlsen noted, is also “native to Europe. It is not classified as invasive in California, but some counties take action against the weed.

“Teasel is often associated with moist conditions [and] shallow soil…. The seed heads were [at one time] used to process wool as a combing structure.”

Part of a sizeable thicket of Italian thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus, on Park Service land.

Italian thistle is “native to the Mediterranean region,” the agricultural commissioner noted.

I had written him, “My guess is that with the late dairy rancher Waldo Giacomini — as well as his family and cows — no longer keeping the area clear, thistles have begun moving in.” In his response, Carlsen wrote, “Livestock will eat this plant in the early stages of growth — assuming they have access to it.

“Italian thistle is the most common of the [above] three in Marin County…. The three thistles are not native and — by nature of their wide distribution in the state — are not clearly defined as invasive.

“However, they can be a nuisance and interfere with best use of both agriculture and open-space areas, including your walking trails.”

Wooly distaff thistle.

“Our biggest problem species in Marin County,” Carlsen added, are “Wooly distaff, Purple and Yellowstar thistle.”

Yellowstar thistle (at right).

Yellowstar thistle is especially harmful to horses. If a horse does not have enough feed in its pasture, it may turn to yellowstar thistles.

And if horses eat a large amount of yellow star thistle over one to three months, they can “develop dysfunction of facial, mouth and throat nerves and muscles,” the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine online newsmagazine reports.

Horses reach the point where they can chew but not swallow, which is why the poisoning is often called the “chewing disease.” They have trouble drinking and breathing and often become dehydrated, malnourished, lethargic, and depressed.

Horses next develop lesions, some of which damage the brain and can lead to starvation. There is no treatment for chewing disease, and even if horses partially recover on their own, they never again have their full faculties.

Purple thistle.


Plumeless thistles (at left).

“We have eradicated Plumeless thistles from the Point Reyes National Seashore, but it pops up from time to time from residual seeds,” the county agricultural commissioner wrote.

Some thistle seeds can, in fact, lie dormant for years if buried.

“There are some native thistles in California,” Carlsen reported, “but the vast majority of prickly and spiny types were introduced with feed and livestock from Europe and the Mediterranean areas.”

When thistles began regrouping near Mitchell cabin last month, I warned them in the words of General MacArthur, “I shall return.” True to my word, I have once again engaged the enemy.