Fred McPherson's Life in Service to Humanity (1938–2018)

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Fred was a teacher and environmental educator for his whole life. He moved to the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregion in the 1960s where he taught high school in Pacifica. He soon moved to Boulder Creek in the San Lorenzo River Watershed where he lived for over 50 years and spent much of his time on efforts to safeguard and enhance the San Lorenzo River. He became an adept and highly accomplished videographer – producing videos with his wife and lifelong partner, Roberta, about the places and things he loved and that he wanted us to also love and to protect. His videos will keep his teaching active long into the future. His most recent video, Exploring the Turkey Foot of the San Lorenzo River, was shown at our last Board meeting to great acclaim. Many of his videos can be seen on Youtube.com, under the subscription name, “Santa Cruz Mountains Natural History”.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS PUTTING OUR VERY LIVES AT RISK — THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW!

The intensification, increased frequency, and longer duration of extreme weather events is killing people in the U.S. and around the world. Consider these recent events:

• Since 1998, about 4.5 million people have been hurt by extreme weather. (1)

• Nine of the ten deadliest heat waves in human history have occurred since 2000. (2)

•Following record heat and drought in 2017, Kansas experienced the largest rangeland wildfire in its history, which ranchers dubbed, “Our Katrina”. (3)

• In 2018 and 2019, major droughts have produced food shortages in Australia, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Brazil, Northern Europe, Israel, Afghanistan, South Africa, and other places. (4) Conditions were so bad in South Africa that the metropolis of Cape Town, population 3.7 million, warned residents that taps would soon run dry unless the rains returned. (5)

• 2018 was the hottest year of record in California. The Paradise Fire (aka Camp Fire) started in November and burned out of control for 17 days. It burned 153,000 acres, destroyed 19,000 structures, created $12 billion in damages, and killed 85 people. (6)

• In 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with over 54 inches of rain. This was the largest rainstorm in American history. It killed 88 people and caused $125 billion in damages. Warmer air can hold more water and produce heavier rains. Forty percent of the rainfall from this hurricane was directly attributed to climate change. (7)
• Unprecedented flooding is occurring right now in the Midwestern U.S. Historic floods are overtopping levees and inundating the floodplains of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte Rivers. Thus far, thousands of people have been displaced and damages have topped $1 billion. (8)

The future is worse than bleak if we don’t take action now. Here’s WHAT WE MUST DO TO SAVE OURSELVES:

1. VOTE! In every election from national to local, vote only for candidates who endorse the Green New Deal or a similar science-based approach to control climate change. Have your local community pass a Climate Emergency Resolution similar to the one passed in Santa Cruz in 2018 and available for review at https://scruzclimate.org/.

2. URGE OTHERS TO VOTE! Urge your friends and relatives to vote in a similar way — not just in California, but throughout the entire country.

3. DONATE! Donate some of your time or money to support good candidates.

4. VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET! Don’t buy products from companies that deny the reality of climate change, support politicians who deny climate change, and/or have not taken steps to reduce their own carbon footprint. You can check the environmental credentials of those you do business with at this site —https://www.cdp.net/en/companies/companies-scores. If you can’t find specific information about an out-of-state seller, consider the environmental policies of the state where the business is located. Californians can have a huge impact on national policies if they choose wisely where to spend their money.

5. STOP THE BLACKOUT OF CLIMATE CRISIS NEWS. Send emails protesting the news media’s nation-wide censorship of the connection between extreme weather events and climate change. Send emails to TV and radio stations, newspapers, internet media, and your local TV or radio meteorologist to urge them to stop their blackout of the climate change connection. For them to continue their silence is at the least unethical, and at worst could be considered as a crime against humanity.

6. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. Take steps to reduce your own contributions to the production of greenhouse gases (aka your carbon footprint). Visit the website https://davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/top-10-ways-can-stop-climate-change/ to get ideas on positive lifestyle changes. Encourage actions at your work place as well to reduce its carbon footprint.

7. SUPPORT ENVIRONMENTAL EFFORTS. Support efforts of environmental groups like the Santa Cruz Climate Action Network (https://scruzclimate.org) or 350.org (www.350.org) to educate the public about the dangers of global warming, lobby our elected officials to take action, and promote climate-friendly alternatives for everyday activities.

ACT NOW — YOU, YOUR FAMILY, AND YOUR FRIENDS ARE AT RISK!

References:

(1) Associated Press. 2019. Extreme Weather Impacts 62 Million People in 2018, UN Report Says. Read online at https://www.apnews.com/cff606610ba84f64849be0f36a39a3a5 and follow the latest extreme weather news at https://weather.com/news.

(2) Vardyanathan, G. 2015. Killer Heat Grows Hotter Around the World. Sci. Amer. Aug. 6, 2015.

(3) Healy, J. 2017. Burying Their Cattle, Ranchers Call Wildfire ‘Our Hurricane Katrina’. New York Times, Mar. 20, 2017.

(4) YouTube.com. May 17, 2019 search for “world’s worst droughts”.

(5) Welch, C. 2018. How Cape Town is Coping with its Worst Drought on Record. Read online at https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/cape-town-running-out-of-water-drought-taps-shutoff-other-cities/.

(6) California Department of Forestry. 2019. Camp Fire Details. Found at cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_details_info?incident_id=2277.

(7) Waldman, S. 2017. Global Warming Tied to Hurricane Harvey. Sci. Amer., Dec. 14, 2017.

(8) NOAA, 2019. National Flood Outlook. Read online at www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/.

Learn more:

McKibben, B. 2019. Falter – Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Henry Holt and Company, New York.

Scott Peden and the Second Scott Peden Tree

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For more than 20 years Scott was a docent at Big Basin where his knowledge of redwood flora and fauna was legendary. In fact, the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper once referred to him as a “walking wildlife encyclopedia”.

He loved redwoods and Big Basin and shared his love and knowledge with thousands of park visitors over the years. He was always curious to learn more. When Zane Moore, a college student and young botanist, began a project to locate and identify the biggest and tallest redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Scott was right there to help him with the field work.

Scott was so special that after he passed on in December of 2017, two old-growth redwood trees were permanently named in his honor. The first named tree is near the old Lodge in Big Basin, while the second tree, which Scott helped to measure when he was still alive, is in a more remote area. This tree is in many ways a more fitting memorial.

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Scott stood tall amongst his fellow mortals, and this tree is the tallest tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains at 352 feet tall. Scott was also big-hearted, and this tree is big, with a 12-foot diameter. Scott was senior to the other docents, and the Scott Peden tree, at 1,388 years old, is senior to most other redwoods, growing stronger and taller each year. Like this tree, Scott had a strength of spirit and a wisdom that made him too a giant of the forest. He will be missed.

Follow this link to learn more about redwoods.

Counting Marbled Murrelets in Our Forest

Instructor David Fix lectures to murrelet survey class participants at Butano Redwoods State Park.  Photo courtesy of Justin Miller

Instructor David Fix lectures to murrelet survey class participants at Butano Redwoods State Park. Photo courtesy of Justin Miller

Bioregional Council Co-sponsors Local Marbled Murrelet Training Class

Twelve local biologists were trained and certified this past June to conduct forest surveys for murrelets in the Santa Cruz Mountains.   An intensive 4-day training class was co-sponsored by the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council, the San Mateo County Parks Department, and the California State Parks Department.

The class started at 4:45 AM each day and consisted of a mix of field observations of the elusive early-flying marbled murrelet and classroom lectures.  The lectures covered proper data recording methods, the natural history of the species (with an emphasis on nesting requirements), and the distribution and status of the marbled murrelet in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  The instructors were Sean McAllister and David Fix from Northern California with local murrelet experts assisting them in both the field and the classroom.  

In order to better manage for the murrelet, which is declining, six of the most important murrelet breeding areas in the Santa Cruz Mountains are monitored by trained surveyors each summer.  The Santa Cruz Mountains’ population is only about 300 -500 birds, and information about nesting efforts is urgently needed to guide conservation efforts.  Readers interested in learning more about the challenges facing survival of the marbled murrelet in the Santa Cruz Mountains  can download the 225-page murrelet landscape management plan at this link, https://1drv.ms/f/s!Ag8KFU1_0Ef2cgqRCBsPs8Wgl4s .

The class was held at Gazos Mountain Camp within Butano Redwoods State Park and hosted by the Pescadero Conservation Alliance. 

World Scientists’ Second Warning to Humanity

A total of 15,364 of the world’s scientists co-signed a warning to humanity of the imminent and dire threat to the earth posed by human-induced climate change, biodiversity losses, and other acts of environmental destruction. This is the second warning. The first was issued in 1992. This new warning reflects growing concerns as nations, including the United States, have failed to make sufficient progress in dealing with these problems. The warning is in the form of an article in the November 2017 issue of Bioscience which uses graphs to show the decline in nine key environmental issues.  Among the 15,000 scientists signing on to support the article was Dr. Betsy Herbert, who signed as President of the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council. This is the greatest number of scientists to ever co-sign and support a scientific article. You can read the article here.

Solving the Albino Redwoods Mystery

by Zane Moore, Plant Biology Ph.D. student, U.C. Davis

This article was first published in Sempervirens Fund’s Mountain Echo newsletter. Republished with permission.

Coast redwoods are the pinnacle of tree species in regards to height, volume and biomass. They’re masters at removing carbon out of the atmosphere and adding it to their massive trunks. Like huge solar panels, a large redwood tree has enough needles to cover over an acre, sometimes over two and a half, and is the fastest growing plant on the planet, with large trees adding around 1,500 pounds of wood every year. Their efficiency at capturing sunlight is unmatched.

Dale Holderman, a Big Creek Lumber forester, discovered an albino redwood in Soquel that produced pollen after the 1976 drought. He decided to cross-pollinate green cones and the crosses astonished him. Some were green, others white, but some were variegated half-and-half — the first known chimeric redwoods. Photo by Audrey Moore

Dale Holderman, a Big Creek Lumber forester, discovered an albino redwood in Soquel that produced pollen after the 1976 drought. He decided to cross-pollinate green cones and the crosses astonished him. Some were green, others white, but some were variegated half-and-half — the first known chimeric redwoods. Photo by Audrey Moore

Sometimes, however, redwoods produce branches or sprouts that are entirely white. These sprouts cannot photosynthesize, stifling a redwood’s photosynthetic efficiency, because they have little to no chlorophyll (the pigment that gives foliage its green hue). They are called “albino redwoods” because of their lack of pigmentation and ghostly white appearance. They vary in size from a few inches to a few dozen feet in height and researchers know of about 390 of them world-wide.

The first display of an albino branch was at the California Academy of Sciences August 1866 meeting. Those present noted that “no explanation or theory was offered to account for this curious, abnormal blanching of the foliage of a single species… not having been noticed… in any other species than the redwood.”

The first scientist who attempted to solve the mystery was George James Peirce, a plant physiologist from Stanford University. In 1898, he studied albino sprouts growing in the Santa Cruz Mountains near La Honda and Gilroy and determined that the needle anatomy and chemistry were slightly different from adjacent green tissues. Peirce also showed that the albino sprouts could not survive or be propagated on their own.

Cross section of La Honda white (top) and green (bottom) needle cell structure under a light microscope using a toluidine blue stain. Image by Zane Moore

Cross section of La Honda white (top) and green (bottom) needle cell structure under a light microscope using a toluidine blue stain. Image by Zane Moore

Fast forward to the early 1960s, when Rudolf Becking, a Humboldt State University forestry professor, started working with albino redwoods. He conducted grafting experiments, attaching white branches to green rootstock, and attaching green branches to albino rootstock to see if the chlorophyll would travel from green shoot to white shoot. When the white foliage did not turn green, even after a few years, his experiments proved that albino redwoods are not a physiological phenomenon but rather a genetic one.

Studies of chimeric redwoods offer further understanding. A chimera is an organism that has two different genotypes—two sets of DNA—in one. In redwoods they occur with variegated foliage, half green and half white. Arborist Tom Stapleton first discovered a naturally occurring chimeric redwood in 1996. “Chimeras are basically like two trees in one,” Stapleton explains. Green tissues act as surrogates to the white ones, gathering the sun’s energy and sharing it with the white tissues. Redwoods are so efficient at photosynthesis that a green branch can provide enough food for a white one over five times its size.

So why do green redwoods keep these albino sprouts and trees alive and flourishing even though they are a drain on resources?

Remember Peirce’s tissue comparison study? In 2013, I expanded upon his experiment, both with the La Honda albino redwoods that were the focus of his experiment and trees from Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties. I tested the chemical compositions of the foliage and found that green needles were at the threshold of heavy metal toxicity (basically the equivalent of lead poisoning in humans). Adjacent white leaves, however, had more than double the toxic concentrations of the green leaves and were able to survive. In other words, the green leaves were at the point of dying, but the albino leaves sequestered and removed toxins saving the green leaves from a toxic demise.

Albino redwoods are nature’s beautiful toxic waste dumps. While there still isn’t a definitive cause to what initiates these mutations, research has found that there is a high proportion of albino redwoods in areas of high UV light exposure and increased human activity. Albino redwoods are a sign of amazing adaptability.

Often called “ghosts of the forest” due to their ghostly hue, albino redwoods literally cling to life—eternally ephemeral—sacrificing themselves for the good of the other trees around them in their endless struggle for existence.

Zane Moore is a Plant Biology Ph.D. student at U.C. Davis studying mutations in plant cells. He received his B.S. in Botany from Colorado State University. Zane is a California State Parks docent and researcher at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where he discovered the tallest redwood on earth south of San Francisco (the location is a secret). Photo by Audrey Moore

Zane Moore is a Plant Biology Ph.D. student at U.C. Davis studying mutations in plant cells. He received his B.S. in Botany from Colorado State University. Zane is a California State Parks docent and researcher at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where he discovered the tallest redwood on earth south of San Francisco (the location is a secret). Photo by Audrey Moore

Additional Information:

STATE PARKS FOOD STORAGE LOCKERS: SCMBC Steps in to Protect an Endangered Seabird

SUMMER, 2012 — The Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council (SCMBC) recently collaborated with State Parks and California Department of Fish and Game and wrote a check for $180,000.00 to purchase and install 298 steel food storage lockers at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Butano State Park, and San Mateo County Memorial Park.  These lockers are a key component in protecting critically important wildlife habitat in our region, and we are glad that SCMBC was able to help make this project a reality.  

The Marbled Murrelet, a small seabird that is federally-listed as Threatened and state-listed as Endangered, is highly selective in its breeding requirements, depending on suitable nesting platforms that are found in the canopies of old-growth trees near the coast.  The old-growth redwoods in these parks provide some of the best remaining habitat for the murrelet. Unforturtunately, human food scraps in and around park campsites and along trails attract Common Ravens and Steller's Jays, significant predators on murrelet eggs and nestlings. State Parks managers have engaged in an intensive program for almost a decade to control the food scrap problem in Big Basin Redwoods and Butano State Parks. They replaced all the garbage containers and developed park education programs aimed at reducing human food supplies for jays and ravens, but these solutions were only partially effective.

SCMBC board member and State Parks resource ecologist Portia Halbert identified an opportunity to equip campsites at three different parks with steel food storage lockers.   With locking doors specially designed to keep animals out, these lockers are easy to use; large enough to store food, coolers, and containers; and encourage campers to keep scraps under control, significantly reducing scavenging by ravens and jays.

Halbert turned to a potential funding source for the lockers:  a $22 million settlement from litigation of two oil spills off the coast of central California, the Command and the Luckenbach spills.  These spills impacted the Marbled Murrelet and other seabirds, and the settlement is intended to fund habitat restoration projects to benefit these affected species.

With the funding identified, Halbert turned to SCMBC and California Fish and Game for assistance in procuring the best quality product for the best possible price.  SCMBC's participation was key in moving the transaction forward.  Halbert oversaw the installation by American Conservation Experience (ACE) and inmates from the Ben Lomond Camp. Crews were supervised and supported by State Parks Resource Crew.  The installation was completed in spring, 2012, and the lockers are now in use.

Halbert says the food lockers have already had a positive outcome.  “It’s amazing how neat and tidy people are with their food now, compared to how common it was to see food and garbage strewn about campsites before the lockers were installed.”