CVIndependent

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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Environment

11 Jul 2013
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A good friend of mine who is a wildfire medic was at the airport, en route to his next assignment, when I called to ask him, in that helpless way we do, to be safe, and to see how he was handling the tragic news from Arizona, where 19 hotshots lost their lives on June 30 fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. He didn't know any of the Granite Mountain Hotshots personally. But on-the-job loss of life hits everyone in the fire community hard. It's a reminder of their own mortality, and of the calculated risks their own fire families take every day. "On my last fire, the whole division had to run to the safety zone," he told me. Safety zones are clearings firefighters can escape to if fire behavior changes and threatens the welfare of those on the fire line. Such escapes happen "more than people think," he told…
05 Jul 2013
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Ah, San Diego: As Coachella Valley residents know, the city to the south features great weather, a zoo with adorable panda bears, sandy beaches, turquoise swimming pools—and very little water. Unlike other arid Southwestern cities, San Diego doesn’t have an aquifer to draw its drinking water from, so it imports about 80 percent of it. For many years, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California supplied most of that water. But a policy that would allow the Los Angeles-dominated agency to cut San Diego’s supply by 50 percent during drought has always made the city uneasy. For years, San Diego has been looking for ways to wean itself off L.A’s supply, and in the 1990s, the city began eyeing the Colorado River, which is diverted through the desert in a series of huge concrete canals to the Imperial Valley, where about 80 percent of the country’s winter vegetables are grown.…
25 Jun 2013
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May they whose Lot this Log to keep Be worthy of the Task complete And never leave a sentence out Which should occur the voyage about —Inscription on the cover of a 19th century ship’s logbook The morning of April 19, 1875, dawned cool and foggy in San Francisco Harbor. Aboard the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship Yukon, Assistant Commanding Officer Gershom Bradford stepped onto the deck. He watched as the men set up the rigging and filled large tanks with fresh water in preparation for the schooner’s upcoming voyage. He was eager to be under way. As was I, having recently joined the crew. Well, sort of. As Bradford gazed into the mist 138 years ago, so do I gaze into my laptop’s soft glow. The officer’s script in the electronic scan of the Yukon’s logbook is antiquely florid, but I do my best to transcribe his…
21 Jun 2013
The Albuquerque ambiance, as we rolled into town to cover a tribal energy conference, was tinted with doom. It was 7:30 on a June evening, and the car thermometer read 99 degrees. To the north, a massive plume of smoke rose up from the newly ignited Jaroso fire, joining the plumes of the Tres Lagunas and Thompson Ridge fires that had been burning nearby for several days. Dust, kicked up by a vicious wind, shrouded the downtown buildings. The gusts tossed tiny pieces of Styrofoam, reputedly from a luxury condo project gone belly-up, like little pieces of snow. “I’m not sure if this is a drought,” said Roger Fragua, of Jemez Pueblo and the former deputy director of the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, as he introduced the conference the next morning, “or our new reality.” The attendees could think of the scorching planet in the abstract for the moment,…
31 May 2013
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On April 14, a Sunday, the Colorado ski resort Vail Mountain celebrated closing day in the invariable way: Skiers and boarders sported neon onesies and mullet wigs. The less modest squeezed into denim short shorts to flaunt calves and quads sculpted over a winter on the slopes. Alcohol was over-consumed and confiscated in lift lines. But even without it, the mood was buoyant: It was, unusually, a 13-inch powder day. By Wednesday, 24 more inches had fallen. Skier spirits were still soaring the following Sunday, when Vail hosted Closing Day: The Sequel. Pleading for a third closing day via Facebook, one powder hound goaded: “I dare you to close more times than Brett Favre has retired.” Colorado snowpacks—which supply the Colorado River, a crucial water source for millions of Westerners, including those of us here in the Coachella Valley—began April at 72 percent of their average heft. Thanks to storms…
07 May 2013
Most weekdays, a long line of rail cars delivers thick slabs of steel to a factory in Fontana, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles, and 60 miles northwest of Palm Springs. Deep in the bowels of California Steel Industries, the slabs are toasted until they glow white-hot; they’re then rolled into thin sheets used to make shipping containers, metal roofing and car wheels. The plant churns out more than 2 million tons of flat rolled steel each year, using enormous amounts of natural gas and electricity, and releasing more than 190,000 metric tons of climate-altering carbon dioxide annually. Now, California Steel and many other businesses have to pay for their carbon emissions under California's new cap-and-trade law, the first of its kind in the nation. Last November, the company participated in the state's first auction of carbon allowances, purchasing an undisclosed number, each worth one metric ton of carbon…
07 Apr 2013
In the fall of 2011, biologists Dan Cooper and Miguel Ordeñana installed 13 remote cameras in a 4,000-acre patch of wild hills known as Griffith Park, above Los Angeles. Each month, they combed through predictable images of a near-urban ecosystem: Coyotes marking; bobcats stalking; deer browsing the chaparral. One evening last March, however, they got a shock: A photo captured at 9:15 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2012, showed a large cat-like creature ambling along a trail above the iconic Hollywood sign. There could be no doubt: It was a mountain lion. Until that moment, the only surprising sight had been the occasional homeless person. "It was like finding Bigfoot," Cooper says. "The difference being that Bigfoot doesn't exist, so you couldn't really hope for it." Griffith Park is, technically, part of the Santa Monica Mountains, which begin in slide-prone bluffs along the Southern California coast, rise to 3,000 feet and…
02 Mar 2013
In 2004, Carl Pope, then-director of the Sierra Club, tangled publicly with Capt. Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Pope was steering the club toward cooperative solutions to environmental problems, collaborating with large corporations instead of fighting them. Watson, an advocate of direct action whose group blocked environmental despoilers with living bodies or ships, wasn't having it. "I want the Sierra Club to … fight for what is left," wrote Watson in an open letter to Pope. "We need to get in the face of the destroyers … to force people to sit up and take notice that … our political, economic and cultural systems are laying waste to the entire planet. "As things get worse," he concluded, "my approach will become more appealing." When Pope stepped down in 2010, his legacy included an advertising campaign with Clorox and $25 million in donations from natural-gas companies. Watson…
14 Feb 2013
When Miguel Luna was an 8-year-old in the city of Cúcuta, Colombia, his family sometimes went days without water. The municipality would just shut it off, he recalls. "Nothing would come out of the faucets." When the water returned, his grandmother, Hercilia, would ceremoniously drink a glass before bedtime. "She'd say to us, 'Water is the most important thing in the world. We cannot live without it. We have to appreciate it, to protect it.'" And to do that, he adds, "We have to understand where it comes from." Now 40, Luna, who immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager, has spent much of the last decade trying to etch his grandmother's words into the youthful minds of urban Los Angeles County. He has brought teenagers to the banks of trash-choked city streams, and has taught them how to collect water samples and test for contaminants. He has led them…
04 Feb 2013
It's a brilliant Sunday morning in southeast Utah, and a hag mask hangs on the fence before me. Gray hair askew, the mask gapes at red cliffs through dripping fake blood. The vandal who mounted the mask has also locked the gate to our campsite. No one can get in or out—a dangerous prospect, since most of the 50 or so folks here are senior citizens. I'm about to photograph the scene, documenting what to me seems a gruesome tableau, when a voice pipes up: "She's kind of pretty, actually." "Yeah, she looks wise," adds another. "Like us!" "Will you take my picture with her?" Rose Chilcoat, the rosy-cheeked, energetic 54-year-old associate director of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, mugs next to the mask as I snap away. I'm startled by the Broads' calm response to this outrageous threat. The mask comes with an ominous note: "Get out of…

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