Thursday, February 24, 2011

Suing a Powerplant to Save a Butterfly

Maybe you've never heard of the Lange's Metalmark butterfly. Maybe you never will. After all, there are only 150 or so in existence, and they all live on a narrow swath of coastal dunes in Antioch. Significant efforts to revive the butterfly have been mildly successful, but scientists have been unable to make much real headway - or to fully piece together all the factors in play. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact that the dunes are virtually surrounded by power plants. That's the conclusion pointed to by recent studies showing how nitrogen emissions fertilize the soil in the dunes, which encourages non-native plants to proliferate, which crowds out the native buckwheat, which is the only food for larval Lange's Metalmarks. A current lawsuit, to be decided tomorrow in San Francisco federal court -- with the Center for a Better Environment and the Wild Equity Institute on one side, and PG&E on the other -- will either help secure protection for the butterflies from the power plants' emissions or allow the newest plant, owned by the utility company, to continue to operate without any consideration of its effects on the endangered and federally list insect. Read the full story here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Human-Powered Explorer, Meet Post-Car Press

It was only natural that I'd be interested in covering a guidebook that tells you how to get around without using a car. My wife and I own a car, but I'm walking, skateboarding, or biking any time I can help it. Of couse, I'm always impressed by people who take it one step further. Not only do the two Oakland-based characters in this story eschew cars altogether, but they're extremely ambtitious in their car-free travel: Napa, Yosemite, Big Sur, no problem. They do it by linking bicycling with riding transit (trains, buses, ferries) and occasionally hiking or walking. Post-Car Press, as the publishing end of their enterprise is known, just released the second edition of Post-Car Adventuring the San Francisco Bay Area. So I took the opportunity to learn a bit more about what they do and why, as well as about all the other adventurous car-free ideas spinning in their heads like so many disembodied automobile wheels.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Oakland's Parks in Peril

This baby's been in the ol' hopper for a long time. In fact, years ago I debated launching a blog called the Oakland Parks Project that would focus on one park in every post, with the ultimate goal of visiting (and assessing) each and every one. Then I realized that would take a lot of damn time and I just wouldn't be able to do it on an unpaid blog if I wanted to also, you know, earn some money. So I scrapped the idea and created Human-Powered Explorer instead. But last month's East Bay Express cover story "Parks in Peril" pretty well encapsulated what I wanted to do, with the added bonus of addressing Oakland's budget woes and the funding mechanisms behind the (flagging) maintenance of Oakland's city parks. I'm happy with how it turned out. Maybe some day I will visit and document all of Oakland's approximately 100 parks -- but for now, this is my Oakland parks opus. Enjoy. (As a side note, my reporting drew some attention to immediate needs at two parks, Linden and Ira Jinkins, and resulted in Public Works jumping on them shortly after publication.)

Building a Better Breuner Marsh

As with many of my Eco Watch stories, this one began somewhere familiar and led somewhere I never expected. The somewhere familiar would the East Bay Regional Park District. I've written about it and its parks on many, many occasions, and enjoyed them as a runner and hiker on many more. By learning about the newest shoreline-park-to-be, Richmond's Breuner Marsh, I was introduced to not only a potential waterfront wonderland (once the cleanup is complete in five years and the shoreline permanently protected, that is), but also a new favorite East Bay destination. I've known about Point Pinole Regional Park for years but have never visited; it's one the of the EBRPD's larger holdings, and sits on a spit in northwest Richmond with a fascinating history involving gunpowder and trains. Today it's a peaceful, almost majestic place that doesn't see the crowds of the parks in the hills but offers at least as much to enjoy: an accessible beach, miles of trails, open fields, a eucalyptus forest, and a massive marshland housing federally protected native species. Abutting its southern border is the future Breuner Marsh park, and I think East Bay residents would do well to look forward to the day when the two parks are connected via the Bay Trail, establishing one of the largest, most remote, most ecologically rich sections of waterfront parkland in the Bay Area.