Category: Climate Change

LA Times: A hiker’s heartbreak on returning to L.A.’s fire-ravaged mountains

The closure is over, with some restrictions, but the damage from the Bobcat Fire won’t be for years to come. If you have any fly-fishing stories from the West or East forks of the San Gabriel, please email them to me for posting. I haven’t been able to return to the West Fork quite yet … .

Imagine if, every so often, a cataclysmic storm washed away a mile of beach. One year, the Santa Monica Pier — gone. Five or 10 years later, the cliffs overlooking Lunada Bay fall into the ocean. The scale of our climate emergency would be achingly clear to the legions of Angelenos who treasure our coast.

Something similar is happening in our mountains, where massive firestorms year after year are turning shaded trails into ashen hellscapes, permanently altering forests that have adapted over thousands of years to survive fire, but not this kind of fire. A few weeks ago, I got my first intimate glimpse of this destruction on a trail that opened to hikers April 1, following a 16-month closure by the U.S. Forest Service after the last fire.

I’m talking not about the Sierra Nevada and its giant sequoia groves — though the destruction there is grave — but rather the humble San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains, right on our doorstep. These mountains, which top out at more than 11,000 feet, make people who live in Los Angeles and love to hike in thin air extremely lucky folks.

We hikers are a cheerful bunch. But the sense lately that our forests have been pushed beyond their ability to recover has turned many into anxiety-stricken doomsayers, ever worried that the next cloud of smoke rising over the mountains on a hot, windy day means the fire has finally come for their spot.

And the last fire did indeed come for my spot — or I should say our spot, since it was a place I enjoyed with my three young children only months before the Bobcat fire stripped it of its foliage. That fire, from September to December 2020, scorched roughly 115,000 acres; it was the second-largest wildfire on record in Los Angeles County, occurring only 11 years after the 2009 Station fire, which burned more than 160,000 acres (about the size of the city of Chicago). In fact, some areas of the forest were still recovering from the Station fire when the Bobcat fire devastated them again.

Now, I know burns are often beneficial to forests, but what came through much of the trail I hiked two weeks ago, high in the San Gabriels off Angeles Crest Highway, was cataclysmic. The dense forest was reduced to burned trunks that from a distance looked like blackened toothpicks. The nearby highway, once hidden from view by healthy trees, was almost always visible, as if to remind hikers of the fossil-fuel consumption driving this destruction.

Still, about halfway into the hike, there were signs of survival and renewal. An area that I feared had been damaged looked almost unscathed. Other hikers were enjoying this section of the trail, perhaps thankful as I was. This contrast — between being utterly unprepared for the destruction I saw and pleasantly surprised by what remained — prompted me to check in with an expert about this forest and these mountains, just to see if I was being alarmist.

“Sadly, no,” said Alan Coles, a 30-year U.S. Forest Service volunteer who spends most of his weekends working on public trails. “Because it’s the plants that adapt to the climate, not the climate that adapts to the plants.”

I knew of Coles from his letters to The Times about forest management and his contributions to an online trail guide. He has scouted some of the areas hit particularly hard by the Bobcat fire, working with trail restoration crews to allow for safe public access to the forest in time for the April 1 reopening (parts of the Bobcat fire burn area remain closed). He told me the area I saw, about 6,700 feet in elevation, was hit hard, so the pines and firs there were almost completely killed off, leaving little chance of recovery.

Over the coming years, he said, the dead trees will fall, probably to be replaced by lower-lying chaparral. He pointed out places where this is already happening, in areas burned by the 2009 Station fire and previous disasters. Throw in global warming and the droughts and wildfires to come that will surpass what we can imagine now, and it’s hard to imagine future wanderers enjoying the generous tree canopies that shade our mountain climbs on sunny days.

My conversation with Coles felt at times like an impromptu grief counseling session. We traded stories of places permanently changed, animals and plants disappearing from the forest, and our experiences with the dreaded poodle dog bush (it’s a “fire follower” growing everywhere now, and under no circumstances should you touch it).

With much of the Bobcat fire burn area reopened and the summer hiking season about the begin, Coles and other trail workers want visitors to understand the forest is still in recovery: So stay on the trail, pack out trash, keep dogs leashed and — for the love of God — avoid starting the next fire.

As we were leaving the San Gabriels recently, I told my three children to look around and try to imprint on their memories what they were experiencing at that moment — the smells, the breeze, the rocky ridgeline trapping the last rays of daylight. Remember it, because every visit to the mountains could be your final goodbye to the forest you know.

— Paul Thornton, Los Angeles Times Letters Editor

Influential Osprey Magazine publishes 100th issue, adds online presence

After three decades of advocating for wild steelhead in print, now you can read these in-depth scientific article online at http://www.ospreysteelhead.org. Please also consider donating to this important organization. (Courtesy Osprey Magazine)

Yvon Chouinard, founder of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia, legendary mountaineer, conservationist, and steelheader once said “science without activism is dead science.” That could have made a pretty darned good motto for The Osprey. With this edition, we celebrate our 100th issue of bringing vital information about dwindling populations of wild Pacific salmon and steelhead in service of their recovery and conservation.

While we cover a broad range of subjects, including wild fish policy and management plan analysis, opinion, news and even legal matters, our core focus has always been to bring the latest, cutting-edge wild fish science forward, to inform our audience of fish researchers and managers, professional conservationists, angler activists, and everyone else who cares about the future of wild salmon and steelhead.

Quick Mends: Who remembers the milkman?

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Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Update: On March 1, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously that bigger L.A. restaurants cannot offer or provide disposable plastic straws to customers who are dining in or taking food to go unless customers request them, according to the Los Angeles Times. The law goes into effect on Earth Day, April 22.

The Berkeley, California, City Council just passed an ordinance to require restaurants charge an additional 25 cents for disposable cups by January, 2020, as part of a sweeping Single Use Disposable Foodware and Litter Reduction Ordinance. Opponents wonder if take-out coffee customers might wait to buy their to-go java in neighboring Oakland.

Meanwhile, Adidas’s CEO says the company sold 1 million shoes last year made from harvested ocean plastics. Making the shoes involved 3D printing technology, as well as a partnership with Parley for the Oceans.

And, note the graph here that shows the Top 20 countries with mismanaged plastic waste. No.1 is China; No. 20 is the United States.

Here’s a hopeful quote from Parley’s weekly blog:

“Removing plastics from the ocean is not enough. We need to get at the whole idea of disposability and single-use items,” says Tom Szaky, CEO of the Trenton, New Jersey-based international recycling company TerraCycle, which is behind Loop. “We’re going back to the milkman model of the 1950s. You buy the milk but the milk company owns the bottle, which you leave in the milk box to be picked up when you’re done with it.”

See you on the river, Jim Burns

 

‘The Osprey’ spreads its wings

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(Courtesy The Osprey.)

Jim Yuskavitch here, editor of “The Osprey,” a non-profit science and policy journal that has been advocating for wild salmon and steelhead since 1987.

We recently partnered with The Conservation Angler, Fly Fishers International, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Trout Unlimited, World Salmon Forum, Skeena Wild and Steelhead Society of BC to boost our wild salmon and steelhead advocacy efforts. We’ve added pages and content, and upgraded print quality of the hardcopy edition. Now we’re looking to increase our subscriber base along with our influence on wild salmon and steelhead conservation policies.

“The Osprey” is published in January, May and September, and subscribers may receive it electronically or as a hardcopy in the mail. In addition to receiving “The Osprey” with its articles on the latest wild fish science, policy and issues, the funds received also allow “The Osprey” to be sent to wild-fish conservation decision-makers, such as scientists, fisheries managers, politicians and professional conservationists — a key part of its advocacy strategy.

“The Osprey” is funded by individual subscriptions and donations. Subscriptions start at $15 with the opportunity to donate more. Anyone interested in subscribing to “The Osprey” and helping to support wild salmon and steelhead conservation can download the current issue and donate here

In 2012, “The Osprey” received the Haig-Brown Award for excellence in fisheries conservation journalism.

The Osprey 69278 Lariat Sisters, OR 97759 jyusk@bendcable.com (541) 549-8914

This appeal originally appeared in the current California Fly Fisher magazine.

 

Next up in Cali: Ban plastic containers

The annual Los Angeles River cleanups give you a feeling for just how much trash we dump into our home waters. The irony is that she’s using a plastic bag! (Courtesy Friends of the Los Angeles River)

UPDATE: Jan. 8: San Diego banned Styrofoam, making it the largest California city to do so.

Imperial Beach joined two other San Diego County cities in banning
polystyrene food and beverage containers, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Styrofoam isn’t quite the poster child of the no-plastic movement — that would be straws — but the stuff is everywhere, in clam-shell take-out food containers, disposable cups, disposable lids, even in packaging using the adorable moniker “peanuts.” (Also, check out this gripping video about making a living selling Styrofoam boxes. It’s off-topic, but incredible.)

In this fascinating read, I found out how San Pedro La Laguna in Guatemala banned both Styrofoam and single-use plastic straws to protect its most valuable natural resource, Lake Atitlan. Tourism was up 40 percent last year, as managers of the small city of 13,000 went house to house to convince people to give up their plastics.

We need more hopeful stories such as this one, especially after the 2,000-foot boom created by young Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat to clean up the parts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch failed last month and is getting towed back to San Francisco for repairs. “60 Minutes” ran an interesting segment on the project and what Slat hopes to accomplish as we literally drown the world in our garbage. We need both legislation and technology to pull us back from the plastic-wrap brink.

Another hopeful story comes from Traverse City, Michigan. This summer, my son and I were fly fishing the fabulous Au Sable, a few hours north and inland. When we got to The Village, a collection of shops, we were dying for a cup of great brew. My son ordered it “to go,” and the barista handed him a ceramic cup. Bewildered, Will said he wanted the brew to go, to which the guy replied, “that’s OK, we only serve coffee in ceramic cups. Bring one back next time you’re in town.” The cups are all donated by customers. Let me ask you, how many cups do you have in your cupboard right now that you never use and could donate to a great cause? Starbucks, where are you in this debate?

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick mends: Extreme heat suspected in Malibu fish die-off

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More than 1,000 fish died in Malibu Lagoon last week from what scientists suspect was higher-than-average water temperature. (Courtesy #follownews)

More than 1,000 fish, mostly mullets, were discovered last week floating dead in Malibu Lagoon, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Fish die-offs have been widely reported this summer in Florida and the Gulf Coast due to a persistent red algae bloom. Our own die-off in Malibu Lagoon occurred because of  high-than-average water temperatures, at least that’s the suspicion of state park scientists.

Scientists also blame hotter-than-average ocean temperatures for the Southland’s muggy conditions this summer. Temperatures have been recorded around 80 degrees F.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

 

Earth Quotes: Roderick Haig-Brown’s ‘A River Never Sleeps’

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Prolific fishing author Roderick Haig-Brown was a conservation pioneer, spending much of his life in Campbell River, B.C. (Courtesy Museum at Campbell River)

Why should we all speak up to restore our river’s natural habitat in the face of redevelopment plans that put everything but the endangered southern steelhead  first?

Perhaps, because of the recent shrinkage of two treasured national monuments, despite an outcry by millions of concerned outdoorsmen (and women). For an eye-opening read, check out What Would Theodore Roosevelt Do?IMG_1028

Perhaps, because of goverment-mandated cutting of the two most important words of this century — “climate change” — from documents produced by the beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency and other federal authorities.

Perhaps, because of the devastating climate-fueled conflagration we all recently witnessed here in our own city, to our north, to our south and to thousands of acres all over California.

Or, perhaps, because it is simply the right thing to do.

When does the misuse of what we’ve been freely given end? A former wild river now encased in concrete is as good a place as any to take a stand. Today, when I wade the soft-bottomed sections that remain, fly rod in hand, birds overhead, I feel that fragile sense of hope return. Hope begins as a small thing, like a faint cry you can’t quite make out. But, given time, and especially nurtured by like minds and hearts, it grows and spreads. Hope becomes a powerful force.

In these depressing times, we all need sources of inspiration to nurture that hope.

Consider the 1946 masterpiece, “A River Never Sleeps.” Its author Roderick Haig-Brown lays out his best-known book’s chapters by months. January is reserved for steelhead.

The English Haig-Brown included in this chapter drawn from his experiences in a logging camp in Mount Vernon, Washington, his praise for American openness to immigrants because we are a nation of immigrants:

“When I had been in camp only a week or two, a little old Irishman whom we called Frank Skagway showed me the strength and passion with which America grips her immigrants. In the bunkhouse one evening a few of us were talking of Europe and America and the differences of the life of the two continents.

Probably I said my say for Old England — I don’t remember now — but being only two or three months away from her, I must have. Frank had been listening without offering a word, but suddenly he looked over at me, his lined and long-jawed Irish face serious as I had never seen it.

‘Lad,’ he asked, ‘do you know what country this is?’

‘No,’ I said doubtfully.

‘It’s the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ ”

See you on the river, Jim Burns