Palos Verdes-South Bay Sierra Club

Become an Outings Leader

Before too long we’ll be able to have group hikes and other outings. Be ready. Become a leader! 

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The Foggy View is looking for writers who are Black, Indigenous or other people of color to share your perceptions of environmental justice or experience of nature. Please contact wordznpix@gmail.com. We’re also in search of volunteers who can translate our articles into languages other than English.

Due to COVID-19, for everyone’s safety, Sierra Club outings and in-person events/meetings are cancelled through Feb. 28, 2021. Click to find our virtual happy hours and other online activities. Meanwhile, we are directed to not conduct any of the outings as private.  If you’re hiking on your own, please stay at least 6 feet from anyone else. For questions on outings, please contact your outings chairs, Frank or Kevin.

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Ecocentro, un recurso del Sierra Club para la comunidad latina sobre el medio ambiente y la salud de su familia.

NOTICE: We do not endorse any advertisers on this site.

PV-SB Hike Leaders.     PV-SB Officers.

Outings liability waiver

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Close Encounters of the Wild Kind

Along the Path: A Young Person’s Guide to Exploring Nature

By Susan Rothrock Deo

Do you have a special memory of a close encounter with a wild animal? They are all around us—flying in the air, wiggling in the ground, running across a yard, even resting for a moment on a leaf. Being in touch with their world as much as ours can have a profound effect on our health and well-being. 

In his new book, “Our Wild Calling: How Connecting with Animals can Transform Our Lives,” Richard Louv writes about how we can not only coexist with our animal friends, but we can also deepen our bonds with nature to create a better world. Read on to inspire your own encounters, waiting for you right outside your window. 

  • Peregrin falcon feeds its young.
  • Raccoon peeks out from roof vent.
  • Osprey in tree
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Virtual Social Hour: International Bird Rescue, July 25th

International Bird Rescue (Bird Rescue) has been saving seabirds and other aquatic birds around the world since 1971. Our team of specialists operate two year-round aquatic bird rescue centers in California, which care for over 5,000 birds every year, and has led oiled wildlife rescue efforts in over 200 oil spills in more than a dozen countries. 

Our mission is to inspire people to act toward balance with the natural world by rescuing waterbirds in crisis and we dream of a world in which every person, every day, takes action to protect the natural home of wildlife and ourselves

This year marks Bird Rescue’s 50th Anniversary saving wildlife! Join us for a Virtual Social Hour and help us celebrate how Bird Rescue came to be, were we are now, and hear some success stories from the staff who made it all happen. From Blue-Banded Pelicans to oiled Western Grebes, our staff works to rehabilitate and release our local aquatic birds and to spread awareness and passion for the wild world around us. We look forward to sharing those stories with you!

Join us online on Sunday, July 25. As always, our virtual social hours are FREE AND OPEN TO ALL. Spread the word! The schedule, as usual, is:

3:30 p.m. Arrive to meet and greet new friends and old.

4:00-5:00 p.m. Learn how birds are rescued and rehabilitated.

5:00-5:30 p.m. Your turn to ask questions.

We’re Back! Check Details Here.

Drawing by Cheryl Frick

National Sierra Club has okayed in-person gatherings after July 4. The Palos Verdes-South Bay Group kicks off our return to normal with a conditioning hike Thursday, July 8, 2021. We’ll meet at Peninsula Center near the corner of Hawthorne and Silver Spur at the new time, 6:00 p.m.

Not for beginners. Five to 8 miles in 2 hours with many hills through various area on the peninsula. Please come EARLY to sign the waiver by 6 pm. Meet at the Peninsula Center parking lot in front of the Hamburger Habit. No dogs, please Leaders Bill Lavoie and Kevin Schlunegger.

Level: Moderate(O)

Cost: Free

For more activities, check here:

Current Activities Calendar

Toxic Clouds on the Horizon; The HF Threat Continues

HF test release. AQMD

By Isabelle Jeng, Environmental Journalist

If you think a leak at a refinery in Texas doesn’t concern you, think again. If you live, go to school or work in southern Los Angeles County, you are among the millions at risk of serious injury from hydrofluoric acid (HF), which is used to make high-octane gasoline. If you’re within six miles of the Torrance refinery or the Valero refinery in Wilmington, you are among the tens of thousands who risk death from a large release of this chemical.

As reported in the May Foggy View, there have been three major near misses in the last six years that could have caused mass casualties near refineries, one of them right here at the Torrance refinery. 

On May 42021, another refinery suffered a leakage of highly toxic hydrogen fluoride (HF). This time it was the Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, Texas, 41 miles south of Houston. Texas City officials issued a shelter-in-place order for those who live between 14th and 34th streets, from Fifth Avenue South to Texas Avenue — a region that extends two miles downwind of the release. Residents were instructed to go home and stay inside, shut all windows, and turn off their air conditioning to prevent any fumes from entering their homes. 

Two refinery employees were taken to a nearby hospital. No other injuries were reported. Marathon spokesperson said of the incident, “The … refinery’s automated response systems today activated mitigation measures in response to a small chemical release. The release has been stopped and air monitoring data indicate no off-site impact … relevant regulatory notifications have been made. A full investigation will be conducted to determine the cause.”

According to a Reuter’s article, “The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) on Wednesday described the release as an undetermined amount of hydrogen fluoride, a toxic chemical that turns into a ground-hugging vapor cloud at room temperatures and can lead to severe health problems, even death.”

Marathon’s Galveston Bay Refinery is the second largest in the United States, producing 585,000 barrels of gasoline per day. The only larger refinery in the country is the Port Arthur refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, which, in comparison, produces 607,000 bpd. Earlier this year, Marathon shut down the Galveston Bay refinery for a complete overhaul, including its HF alkylation unit. The overhaul clearly did not address safety issues sufficiently, further endangering the health of those who live in its vicinity. 

Alarmingly, this is not the first HF release from a Marathon refinery in Texas City. In 1987, a crane dropped a heater unit on an HF storage tank, shearing off two pipes. A total of 53,000 pounds of HF were released from the top of the tank over a few hours. Fifty-eight thousand people on 85 city blocks were evacuated, and 1,037 people were treated at hospital for respiratory problems and skin and eye irritations. The accident could have been catastrophic if a pipe on the bottom of the tank were sheared off, and all the HF in the tank were release in a matter of minutes as demonstrated in the Nevada desert. 

According to another Reuter’s article, about 50 of the 135 refineries in the U.S. have elected to use HF as the catalyst in a process called “alkylation” for producing gasoline. Two of California’s 15 refineries — Valero and PBF’s Torrance Refining Company — use the toxic catalyst, and both are located in the densely populated South Bay region of Southern California. In a major accidental release, HF can form a ground-hugging cloud that is lethal for miles downwind.

In 2013, the United Steelworkers Union (USW) warned the public of the dangers of an accidental release of HF. The study, “A Risk Too Great, Hydrofluoric Acid in U.S. Refineries,” emphasized the lack of adequate safety systems to handle any releases. The USW estimated that many thousands of workers and millions of people are “at risk of exposure from an HF release.” 

Special thanks to  Jim Eninger for providing invaluable information for this article

Can Ocean Farming Help Feed the Earth’s Booming Population? Pt. 2

Shellfish in the L.A. Harbor. Judy Herman

The Future of Ocean Farming in Southern California

By Christian Paullin, Environmental Reporter

How do you sustainably feed the 9.9 billion people that will be alive by 2050? Aquaculture is one answer. Shellfish and seaweed can be farmed sustainably, even adding numerous benefits like preventing toxic “red tides” and providing more oxygen to both our oceans and our air. 

So why is there only one seaweed farm of the coast of Los Angeles (which has not started its operations) and no shellfish farms? To answer this, we must understand the difficulty in starting a local ocean farm in California. Read on to find how we can support local farms that might someday soon pave the way for the future. 

Open-ocean shellfish and seaweed farming can potentially thrive off our coasts in a way that is minimally invasive. Shellfish and seaweed both eat nitrogen and phosphorus: a source of food for phytoplankton that cause toxic algal blooms. These “red tides” make the ocean anoxic and ultimately, kill off large amounts of sea life. Seaweed goes further— introducing oxygen to both the ocean and our atmosphere. Seaweed has a staggering number of uses, is full of vital nutrients, and it grows unabated. So why is there only one seaweed farm off the coast of Los Angeles (which has not started its operations) and no shellfish farms?

To farm oceans in California, one must lease a section of ocean from the state. These leases have been difficult to come by in recent years as the state has not issued a new lease in nearly 30 years.  To add to this,  in order to operate with the proper permitting, one must go through a high level of bureaucracy; first the Department of Fish and Game, then a long list of state agencies: the Coastal Commission, Department of Public Health, Regional Water Quality Control Board, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Coast Guard.

Expensive lawyers and consultants are almost always required to help each firm gain these licenses. Ultimately this is difficult for small, entrepreneurial farmers and it is more likely a large established farm will have the resources to gain these permits and leases.

Another hurdle in our area is strong competition from foreign imports. Bernard Friedman, owner, operator, and sole employee of Santa Barbara Mariculture, one of the few successfully operated open-ocean aquaculture businesses in California, highlighted the difficulties of competing with foreign-subsidized imported seafood. Our local farmers have to jump through bureaucratic hoops, have high levels of initial start-up costs, and then can only sell their product with a small profit margin as foreign-imported competition drives the price down.

For this industry to thrive, there needs to be a shift in how the leases and permitting are currently managed. There needs to be a less complex way to receive permitting and ocean leases while still maintaining the health of our ecosystems.

Something also needs to be done to help local aquaculture operators compete with foreign imports. Subsidies for local goods are not the option as they may encourage farmers to farm unsustainably. Then what else can be done? Potentially a tariff on foreign imports as a way to move buyers towards locally sourced seafood can help increase margins for local farmers, thus incentivizing more local farms opening up. A solution is hard to come by as impacts of open ocean farms aren’t fully understood; nevertheless, the current system is not economically sustainable for our local farmers.  It is vital that we  create a system that is both economically viable for farmers without impacting our local ecosystem.

One potential solution to competition is for businesses and restaurants selling seafood to shift their focus on purchasing it direct from the source. Local docks and harbors across southern California (San Diego, Newport Beach, San Pedro, Ventura, and Santa Barbara) are a great source of local product that businesses and individuals alike can turn too instead of imported product. Many businesses such as Santa Monica Seafood and Get Hooked Seafood in Los Angeles act as middlemen between local fishermen and businesses.  There is an opportunity for more entrepreneurial individuals to provide an avenue of contact between our local fishermen and the public.

There is a lot of potential for offshore aquaculture of shellfish and seaweed. It can help our local ecosystem and economies alike.  However, in order for this industry to thrive sustainably, there needs to be a change not only in how the government manages it, but also in how businesses and individuals purchase seafood. By being more conscious and willing to spend a few extra dollars on local seafood, we can help create a healthy economic and natural environment for shellfish and seaweed open ocean aquaculture.

Santa Barbara Mariculture information can be found here http://www.sbmariculture.com/Summarized Permiting and Leasing 

Virtual Social Hour: Giving Injured Marine Mammals a Second Chance

Photos courtesy of the Marine Mammals Care Center

Southern California is a destination not only for vacationers but for a diversity and abundance of marine life.  Each year tens of thousands of marine mammals, including seals and sea lions, breed off of the Southern California coast.  Some of these animals become sick or injured and strand on Southern California’s iconic beaches.  As part of our Virtual Social Hour on Sunday, June 27, Dave Bader, Chief Operations and Education Officer at the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, will discuss how experts work to rehabilitate these marine mammals and provide them with a second chance at life in the wild.  Dave will give a close look at hospital operations and the patients at the Marine Mammal Care Center. 

Dave has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis in educational media design from the University of California at Irvine. 

Sunday, June 27 on Zoom. FREE and open to all — spread the word!

Arrive at 3:30 to greet old and new friends.

4:00-5:00 Learn how the center cares for their marine mammal patients

5:30 Dave Bader answers your questions.

Zoom link will be sent to registrants the day before.

Marvin Contreras joins Communications Team

Marvin Contreras lives in Grand Staircase-Escalante

Marvin Contreras is an editor, poet, and outdoor enthusiast. He was raised in the San Gabriel Valley, and he has since graduated from the University of California – Riverside with a bachelor’s degree in English. When not working, reading, or writing, he is paying attention to birds. He currently lives in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. 

We are fortunate to have Marvin on the Communications Team as Copy Editor. If Foggy View articles start to look more clear, concise and compelling, call it the Contreras Component.*

*[Judy accepts the blame for the alliteration.]

CALL FOR ANGELES CHAPTER EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE CANDIDATES 

The Sierra Club Angeles Chapter nominating committee is looking for members from sections and groups across the Chapter to run for the chapter Executive Committee (ExCom).  We are striving for the Angeles Chapter leadership to reflect the diverse membership and population of the Los Angeles and Orange Counties. We believe that environmental injustice/climate change disproportionately hurts the most marginalized people in society — including people of color, people from working-class backgrounds, women and LGBTQ people. We believe that these communities must be centered in the work we do. Hence, we strongly encourage applications from people with these identities or who are members of other marginalized communities.”

Executive committee members build relationships with other community partners and influence what is important to the Angeles Chapter, recruit members and improve the Chapter’s diversity.  Prepare for and attend the Executive Committee meetings; consider the interests of the entire Chapter when voting.  Candidates are then considered for the Chapter Elections in November 2021

Contact Nominating Committee Chair, Tejinder Dhillon at tejinder.k.dhillon@gmail.com  or co-chair Donna Specht at donnaspecht@juno.com for more information. 

Header photo by Judy Herman

Can Ocean Farming Help Feed the Earth’s Booming Population?

Photo by yeowatzup, Wikimedia Commons

PART 1: Aquaculture in California, So Far

By Christian Paullin, Environmental Journalist

By 2050, our planet will be home to approximately 9.9 billion people, a more than 25% increase since 2020,according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The current global levels of food production are not nearly enough to support these additional two billion people. To support this expected progeny in a healthy environment, we must produce more food  without increasing land use or greenhouse gas (GHG) production.

California is at the forefront of this potential global food crisis as we produce 13% of our country’s crops and livestock and export billions of dollars of agriculture. In addition, we are located on the Pacific Ocean, which holds precious resources of shellfish, fish, and seaweed. As land availability reduces year in and year out, many scientists, farmers, and countries are turning to aquaculture as an alternative farming option.

California farm products for sale in Fresno, CA. (US Department of Agriculture)

Aquaculture, however, threatens ecosystems in several ways: destruction of habitat, introduction of foreign species, pollution, increased levels of animal waste, diseases passed to local fish populations, blockage of migration patterns, over-utilization of resources among many others. But if done correctly, aquaculture can be one of many avenues our society pursues in light of rising food demand.

The Sierra Club’s  Sustainable Marine Fisheries Policy doesn’t address aquaculture specifically, many of the principles apply. To briefly summarize, the Sierra Club encourages marine fisheries to be ecosystem-focused rather focused on single species. How will the farm affect the existing environment in all facets: local marine species, salinity, temperature, food sources, and even sunlight penetration? How will a fish from the Atlantic affect the ecosystem if it were to escape and breed in the Pacific? There are a lot of unknowns; proper research and analysis needs to be completed before any farm is opened.

Californians employed aquaculture as far back as 1850 when San Francisco residents started growing various breeds of oysters from all over the west coast in the San Francisco Bay. Though bay aquaculture and inland aquaculture are plentiful in California, almost all open-ocean aquaculture is restricted in California, including the hazardous system of farming fish in net pens or cages in the open ocean, for good reason. Net pen aquaculture involves anchoring huge nets or cages in the open-ocean. This can lead to: introduction of escaped fish into local population, pollution from waste of fish/antibiotics/chemicals, spread of disease from farmed to local populations, among other harmful factors.

However, some open-ocean farming can be done sustainably, specifically offshore farming of local shellfish and nutrient-rich local seaweed. Open ocean is vast: there are areas of low biological productivity and it’s a relatively untouched source of farmland to help feed our growing population.

Net Pens off the coast of Maine. (NOAA)

Mussels and seaweed can both provide benefits to local ecosystems such as reduced algal blooms, combat impacts of ocean acidification by removing GHG’s from the ocean and can provide habitat to some species of marine life.

Seaweed aquaculture off of South Korea. (NASA)
 

Open-ocean farming is already happening in California. Northern California has a few offshore seaweed farms. Santa Barbara Mariculture has farmed mussels in the open ocean for years after discovering wild mussels growing on oil rigs in the open ocean. And Ventura Shellfish Enterprise is a multi-party initiative working to receive a permit and lease for open-ocean shellfish farming. Unfortunately, Daybreak Seaweed, a woman-owned company based in Tomales Bay north of San Francisco, after an initial seaweed farming experiment, found California regulations too onerous. They are now partnering with seaweed and shellfish growers in Alaska.

Catalina Sea Ranch is the only operation located in the Los Angeles area. It was given permission to operate as a mussel farm but failed to comply with their permit obligations; did not perform inspections, ignored enforcement requests, and prematurely served product to consumers before being given the go ahead from the proper bodies. Ultimately their structure broke apart causing an accident fatal to a local recreational fisherman. Their failures have put a damper on this industry in Los Angeles, but it should not signal the end of offshore aquaculture in Los Angeles. With proper enforcement and rule-abiding operators, safe and sustainable offshore aquaculture still has a chance to thrive off our coasts.

So why aren’t there that many shellfish or seaweed farms off the coast of South Los Angeles or anywhere in Los Angeles for that matter? There are numerous reasons including some bureaucratic red tape, competitive pricing, difficulties of operating, a need for higher level of enforcement by governing heads, and others that will be touched on in the next issue of Foggy View.

Intertidal mussels growing in Bodega Bay, Calif. (NOAA)

Lies Cost Lives

Torrance Refining Company (Isabelle Jeng)

Millions living in the vicinity of two South Bay refineries are at risk from massive amounts of highly toxic hydrogen fluoride and tens of thousands could die from an accidental release ― vastly more than Covid-19 deaths in these communities.

By Isabelle Jeng, Environmental Journalist

Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is used by refineries to make high-octane gasoline. It boils at 67° F. The two refineries in California still using this volatile and highly caustic chemical store it in large quantities. Refineries sometimes explode. There have been three major near-misses in the last six years that could have caused mass casualties near refineries, one of them right here in the South Bay at the Torrance refinery. The other California refinery using HF is also in the South Bay: Valero in Wilmington. The SCAQMD (South Coast Air Quality Management District) Board’s latest failed attempt to ban HF — despite the findings of its own staff, based on masses of damning data — follows a long line of similar failed efforts at the state and local levels over the past three decades.


By failing to ban HF, the AQMD perpetuates the refineries’ lies. The refineries claim:

  • HF is safe, especially when it’s “modified” (MHF).
  • But they’re going to add “mitigation measures” anyway.
  • There are never any off-site consequences.
  • There are no alternatives to HF.
  • Conversion is too expensive.

Let’s examine those claims.

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What Is Environmental Justice, And Why Should I Care?

Top photo: Judy Herman

By Christopher Ozomgi, Environmental Journalist

2020 brought a host of long-contentious issues back to the forefront of American politics — police brutality, systemic racism, and wealth inequality come to mind — and thrust back into the spotlight was the hot-button concept of environmental justice. Originally thrust into prominence in 1994 when then-president Bill Clinton signed an executive order “directing federal agencies to include consideration of health and environmental conditions in minority, tribal, and low-income communities into agency decision-making” (Environmental Law Institute), environmental justice returned to the national dialogue this past year. Such a return, of course, is intrinsically linked to the incoming platform of President Joe Biden, who has staunchly pledged to tackle “America’s persistent racial and economic disparities,” according to The Washington Post. As any environmental justice advocate will tell you, a discussion of racial and economic disparities is incomplete without mentioning differences in the implementation of environmental standards and laws. This is because environmental justice, fundamentally, is about enforcing the fair, impartial treatment of all individuals, with regards to protection from environmental and health hazards. Such hazards, as one might guess, disproportionately encumber the poor and people of color.

Thus, any discussion of racial or economic justice is fundamentally incomplete without the introduction of environmental justice. To see this interconnectedness, look at South Los Angeles, an area long plagued by carefully planned environmental racism. Today, South L.A. is “predominantly [a] black and brown low income community,” as well as a home to “multiple sources of pollution,” according to Scope LA. As one might guess, the link between minority housing and higher rates of pollution was not established by chance; rather, it was consciously designed that way by 20th century city planners, in an effort to preserve the (white) racial homogeneity of the less-polluted and wealthier West Side. Said design was realized through the implementation of “redlining and restrictive covenants” which “limited housing options for Black, Latino, and Asian communities in Los Angeles” (Scope LA). Ultimately, Scope LA asserts that “these racist practices made it so that in the 1920s, people of color were barred from accessing about 95% of the city’s housing stock.” 

Race and ethnicity 2010: Los Angeles

By Eric Fischer – CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57275754

Red is White,

Blue is Black,

Green is Asian,

Orange is Hispanic,

Yellow is Other,

and each dot is 25 residents.

Data from Census 2010. 

Furthermore, the city’s racist housing practices were not just restrictive; they also involved active seizures of Black-owned property in high-value areas under the guise of eminent domain. As widely reported recently, one of the most notorious cases of eminent domain being abused occurred in 1924 at Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach. According to Adrienne Alpert of ABC 7, “the City of Manhattan Beach used eminent domain to force Willa and Charles Bruce [among the first Black landowners in the city] off their land where they lived and ran a resort for Black families.” Clearly, there has been a historical effort to limit Black people in the Los Angeles area to certain neighborhoods, while preventing them from moving to others. Continuing racial discrimination in home sales and rising real estate prices, which also limit mobility, have conspired to ensure that Los Angeles’ people of color are disproportionately affected by toxic pollution and other environmental risks.

This is what environmental justice means: ensuring the equal protection of all peoples — regardless of socioeconomic or racial identity — from environmental hazards. Poorer people of color should not be subjected to lesser environmental conditions than the rich or white. This is not an implausible utopia, nor is it naive; it can be accomplished — both nationally and in California — through the consolidation and enforcement of a comprehensive environmental legal code. The next time you hear the term “environmental justice,” I implore you to think about South Los Angeles — and our PV-SB members and friends in communities like Gardena, Carson, Compton, Wilmington and San Pedro. Remember the interwoven nature of environmental, racial, and economic justice, and join the effort to bring them about.

Trees Please, Pt. 2: Above Ground

(Judy Herman)

Along the Path: A Young Person’s Guide to Exploring Nature

By Susan Rothrock Deo

“I don’t know if you know this, but trees are like us. They talk like us. This is why I’m very careful about cutting them down. People hurt them a lot. If I cut down a tree, the kin will ask, ‘Why did you kill my brother?'”

–Ntoni, leader of the Kīsêdjê people, an indigenous tribe of the Amazon rainforest, 2008 (Quoted in Environmental Defense Fund Special Report, Spring 2021)
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Wildlife of the Angeles National Forest Captured by Photographer Robert Martinez

Meet Robert Martinez, the photographer behind the iconic “Mother of Lions” photo that hangs in LA International Airport. This exciting behind-the-scenes tour will show you how to setup motion-activated wildlife cameras. Robert will guide us through some of the highlights of his nine years of capturing wildlife in the Angeles National Forest. Learn how motion-activated wildlife videography and photography reveal stories of foxes, rabbits, bobcats, mountain lions and black bears.

Sunday April 25, 2021, as part of the PV-SB Sierra Club Virtual Social Hour

Presentation will begin at 4pm. Join early at 3:30pm to virtually socialize with others.

Event is free and open to the public.

This event has passed. Watch the recording. Passcode: sB8p.X&%

Here is how to get in touch with Robert Martinez and follow his work 
Website: https://robertmartinezphotography.com Email: parliamentofowls72@gmail.com YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSzr16Cz57J5kEGlXH_rOvg Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Robert-Martinez-358323934895027 Instagram: Robert Martinez (@parliament0f0wls) • Instagram photos and videos

Christian Paullin Joins Communications Team

The PV-SB Group is excited to welcome another environmental journalist to our communications team. Christian is an avid outdoorsman and lifelong surfer born and raised in the South Bay. He says, “I have a passion for preserving California’s precious outdoor resources. I have grown up seeing first-hand the effect we can have on our surrounding environment and I want to bring these issues to the public eye.”

I hate to be the Bear of Bad News

By Cheryl Frick

Along the Path TREES PLEASE

Pt. 1: The Underground Network

By Susan Rothrock Deo

Photos by Susan Deo, except sequoia and bristlecone pine by Judy Herman

A tree sends out lateral roots that intertwine with the roots of other trees or plants around it. Trees can signal danger to each other through these adjoining roots, and an older tree can actually feed a sapling tree.

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Two South Bay Students Plant Their Roots of Commitment to Lifelong Environmental Activism

Samantha Torres and Rylee Goldfarb

By Isabelle Jeng, Environmental Journalist

South Bay high school students, Samantha Torres, 16, a junior at Mira Costa High School, and Rylee Goldfarb, 15, a sophomore at Redondo Union High School, have something unusual in common – they’ve both been environmentalists since they were kids.  

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Virtual Happy Hour: Center of Life

Paul Blieden is a photographer who loves walking in nature. At Madrona Marsh about six months ago, he used the macro function on his Canon 24-70mm lens for the first time to document insects up close. Fine. Then one day at South Coast Botanic Garden he trained the macro function on a flower. Suddenly, the intimate view revealed the center of life. He saw the sex organs of the flower, the pistil and stamen, and learned a new way to see flowers. He noticed the beauty, the uniqueness, the variety of shapes and colors at the flowers’ center. He captured so many new and intriguing images that he created a virtual gallery: “Center of Life.” https://publish.exhibbit.com/gallery/09874854/marble-gallery-33097/

Paul guides you through the gallery and shows you some of avian wildlife that visit the botanic garden.

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Will the State Budget Affect Environmental Justice for the South Bay?

By Christopher A. Ozomgi, Environmental Journalist

For all the pandemic and election-related turmoil engrossing the rest of the United States, California continues to resiliently chug along, awash in good fortune; or so it appeared on January 8th, when California Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a proposed 2021-22 state budget that opened eyes across the nation, primarily owing to its $15 billion one-time surplus and $227 billion total. Despite the projected need for extreme budget cuts and other austerity measures — owing to the destructive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — Newsom’s proposed budget has demonstrated that such projections were patently mistaken; such mistakes can be attributed to a surging stock market that generally insulated the upper-class from economic struggles, thereby flushing the state with healthy tax revenue.

Thus, for the purposes of the Palos Verdes-South Bay Group, the question arises: what provisions are included within said budget to promote environmental justice in the group’s vicinity? Even more specifically, how will environmental inequities, particularly those resulting from pollution in and around the Port of L.A., be corrected?

Relating to the former question — centered around broad environmental justice initiatives in the local area — Gov. Newsom’s budget features a key provision that will help rectify previous environmental mishaps, to the benefit of disadvantaged communities. According to the budget summary the state budget will include a “$500 million one-time General Fund for infill infrastructure grants to facilitate affordable and sustainable housing development on brownfield sites. Developing these sites creates an opportunity to leverage private sector resources for the cleanup of these properties.” A brownfield site is a property that has been compromised by the presence of “a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant,” according to the EPA. There are an estimated 450,000 brownfields in the U.S., including at least 18 in Wilmington alone. As such, many of these sites waste away, unable to be redeveloped or repurposed due to the severe costs involved with removing the polluting material. Furthermore, given that low-income neighborhoods (such as Wilmington) tend to be positioned near industrial areas and other such pollutant-rich areas, the majority of brownfield sites inhibit infrastructure improvements and depress property values, contributing to community blight and increasing community health risks.  Funding to clean up these brownfield sites will make it possible to develop them for commercial or recreational use, or perhaps for housing.  Thus, carried out successfully, Newsom’s General Fund will restore a lower-income part of the South Bay while simultaneously reducing the area’s land pollution.

Finally, the proposed state budget does indeed address some of the glaring environmental injustices occurring in and around the Port of Los Angeles, with diesel-powered ships “poised to become the region’s largest source of smog-causing pollutants in coming years,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Diesel also powers trucks and trains that carry freight to and from the port by way of the 710 corridor, forcing people living in disadvantaged communities along the corridor to breathe hazardous air. Spectrum News, reporting on infrastructure investments in the budget says 50% “is targeted toward disadvantaged communities that have disproportionately experienced the effects of poor air quality resulting from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, including along the 710 corridor that handles freight in and out of the ports of LA and Long Beach.” Specific examples of such infrastructure investments include “$500 million in funding for low-income Californians to purchase cleaner vehicles, as well as funds to support the purchase of clean trucks, buses, and [trains].” Ideally, such subsidies would facilitate the introduction of zero-emission vehicles into the poorer, more polluted communities — like those along the 710 corridor — which need them the most. Thus, although the fight for emissions regulations in and around the Port of L.A. rages on, Gov. Newsom’s proposed 2021-22 state budget takes concrete steps towards rectifying the pollution-related injustices of the past towards the disadvantaged in the form of infrastructure investments, while hopefully mitigating future injustices.

Assuming these proposals remain intact after the budget is revised in May and passed by the legislature in the summer, Palos Verdes South Bay Group members can rest assured with the comforting knowledge that California’s record-setting proposed state budget in 2021-22 will not ignore the glaring need for environmental justice in the area.

“A Great Weight is Lifted” By Cheryl Frick

Virtual Social and Talk — California Alive

California poppies cover rolling hills

How Nature (and We Humans) Influence the Character of Our State

“Along the Path” columnist and environmental educator Susan Deo takes you on a virtual tour of California’s natural regions, land and sea–from an ecological and environmental perspective. Join us to discover a sample of the living, non-living and human influences on these regions. From the view at 20,000 feet sweep down and get up close and personal. 

This event took place Feb. 21, 2021.

Garbage In, Global Warming Out: Can We Disrupt the Flow?

By Al Sattler

Did you know that when you are discarding food waste into the trash, you are contributing to global warming?  Here in Los Angeles County, our residential garbage is buried in “sanitary landfills,” a.k.a. dumps. Once it is buried, isolated from air, bacteria decompose it, producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Food waste is one component of garbage that decays most rapidly. Operators of landfills capture some of the methane by putting a dirt cap on top and pipes to suck it out, but much of the methane escapes before it can be captured, so landfills are a significant source of methane in the atmosphere, contributing about 21% of methane emissions. To address this issue, the California legislature passed a law, SB 1383, to greatly reduce the amount of organic* waste, including food waste that is dumped in landfills. Cities must divert 50% of their organic waste from landfills by 2020 (this goal will not be met), and 75% by 2025.

4,000 tons per day of food waste is produced in Los Angeles County. SB 1383 sets a goal that at least 20 percent of edible food that is currently disposed of be recovered for human consumption by 2025. SaveTheFood offers hints on food storage and other ways to reduce your personal food waste. There is also an Ugly Fruit and Vegetable campaign, to encourage people to buy less-than-perfect produce. Business Insider reviewed Imperfect Foods, one company that delivers homely produce. The Center for Food Loss and Waste Solutions at https://furtherwithfood.org/ has significant information resources. The Angeles Chapter’s newsletter “The Southern Sierran” also has an article this month by Palos Verdes-South Bay member Simone Kuhfal, “Food Waste, Food Insecurity, Climate and Equity,” that includes tips on reducing your food waste.

It is a shame that a huge amount of food waste is discarded while so many people are hungry, but much of this is spoiled and inedible. Recently, the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County presented a virtual tour of their installation at the Joint Water Pollution Control Plant in Carson to process some of this food waste. The video is available to watch. Food waste from restaurants and grocery stores is collected by garbage haulers and delivered to outlying facilities where it is ground up, and the slurry pumped into tanker trucks to be delivered to Carson. Currently, 300 tons per day of slurry is delivered to Carson. (That’s less than 8 percent of the total food waste produced in the county.) The food waste slurry is pumped into existing anaerobic digesters, commingling with sewage sludge. The digestion produces digester gas “biogas” which contains methane and carbon dioxide, most of which is sent to existing gas turbines, which generate electricity to power the plant. There are plans to expand the system to take up to 600 tons per day, which will produce more gas than needed for the turbines, so they are cleaning up the gas and selling it at an existing compressed natural gas fueling station for vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, like some large trucks. I asked why they don’t build more gas turbines to generate more electricity to sell on the grid. It turns out that electricity from wind and solar is priced at 2-3 cents per kilowatt-hour, and electricity from additional gas turbines would not be cost-competitive. 

After 15-16 days in the digester, the remaining sludge is dewatered in large centrifuges (like the spin cycle of a washing machine), and transported to several distant facilities where it is composted, then used as soil amendment. Unfortunately, the food waste is mixed with the sewage sludge, so the resulting compost is not suitable to use directly on many food crops. 

The county sanitation district should be commended for taking some steps to manage the greenhouse gas emissions of food waste, but there is still a long way to go. It would certainly be preferable to compost decently clean food waste or digest it separately from sewage. Using the digester gas to fuel vehicles, perpetuating use of fossil fuels for vehicles, is a step backward. A new solution is needed to first, reduce the amount of food waste produced, and second, to scale up the recycling of the waste in a productive way.   Collecting food waste from individual homes would be much more difficult than collecting food waste from large commercial sources. For now, the food waste you put into your garbage will still go to a landfill, and will still contribute to global warming. So minimize your personal food waste, and compost if you can.

*”Organic” here means derived from living matter; it does not refer to “organic farming.”

Take Your Photography to New Heights

Carlos Cuervo, a globetrotting hiker with a passion for capturing the spectacle of nature, presents “A Hiker’s Guide to Landscape Photography” at our Sunday, January 24, 2021, online meeting. Learn how he prepares to catch nature at its peak — the hiking and camera gear, the time of the year and of the day — and how he tweaks the images to perfection on the computer. Even if you’re not a hiker or a photographer, you’ll love seeing the Sierras, Zion National Park and Norway through Carlos’s eyes. Join the Zoom meeting at 3:30 pm to chat with old and new friends. The presentation will start at 4:00.

The program is free and open to all. To register, go to http://bit.ly/380Jh9Y.

Madrona Marsh Preserve: A Refuge from the Storm

Essay and Photographs By Beth Shibata

Some places carry a timeless quality. They seem to exist simultaneously in real time and outside of time. Such places offer a sense of stability, following their own pace and rhythms with a seeming certainty and reliability. This is the feeling I have at the Madrona Marsh Preserve only a few steps inside the gate.  After several deep breaths of air fragranced by the vegetation, I feel myself relax and begin to blend into the preserve’s flow. The seeming steadfastness of the preserve does that. This 43-acre chunk of land is part of the El Segundo dune system and includes a mix of micro-habitats, notably rare vernal pools and marsh. Surrounded by the City of Torrance, the preserve sustains and supports not only the native and local fauna and flora, but visitors of all kinds and stripes, including me.

That the preserve exists is something of a miracle. But it does. The combined efforts of citizens, Friends of Madrona Marsh, and the officials of the City of Torrance kept it from becoming another developed property and helped it become a magnet and center for scientific study and environmental education. Despite its being a vanishingly small remnant of a large wetland system that once was the South Bay, the Madrona Marsh Preserve still provides a refuge, a rest stop and feeding ground for birds traveling the Pacific Flyway as well as a home for its many resident critters, and a refuge for human visitors looking to observe wildlife or just looking for a place that moves at its own pace, indifferent to the surrounding urban hubbub. 

It is a place where I have breathed in the timelessness and watched the procession of birds zip in and out of shrubs (if I’m there early enough), and wandered among leaves laced with Pacific tree frogs and the occasional grasshopper or cricket. It is a place considered an ecologically significant area because it contains more than 100 valuable, sensitive or threatened species. It is a place invested literally and figuratively with the energy of all lives lived on the land across time, from the ancient fossils that fed the now capped and covered oil wells, the wetland creatures that once populated the land–including those that still do, the native Tongva people, Spanish settlers, to the current caretakers working to restore native species. 

These days, with the pandemic overarching life as we know it, standing on the berm, the highest point on the preserve, overlooking the land is like being in the eye of a hurricane. In the eye, the sky is clear and bright, the immediate world is quiet, the calm surreal. A roiling storm surrounds everything and spits bolts of uncertainty in all directions. However, like a hurricane, the pandemic will pass, leaving its trail of destruction. It helps to know that the Madrona Marsh Preserve exists as a refuge to help heal and restore battered spirits. 

It has been a while since I’ve had time to visit, but my photographs help transport me there. From a black phoebe looking curiously at me, to a tree frog zoning out in cool morning air, a red-winged blackbird perched on the tules keeping a watchful eye, a local lizard blending into the base of a willow tree, or ladybugs marching down the grass as if on their way to work, there are many magical moments of discovery. I never know if I’ll encounter a sleeping mallard or a bee plopped on the face of a sunflower, legs fully loaded with pollen, or gaze into a vernal pond and see layers of seasons past and present, or be amazed by the clouds coming in over the Palos Verdes peninsula. And there are wheelbarrows and gloves serving as reminders of the work required to hold on to the timelessness of this precious spot. There is much at the preserve to engage the mind, delight the eye, feed the soul, and restore flagging spirits.

Our Melodic Visitors from the North

Along the Path: A Young Person’s Guide to Exploring Nature

By Susan Rothrock Deo Photo by Robin Young

I heard the sweet whistle, followed by a melodic trill. The lovely birdsong transported me to the north woods. But I was walking down my street in Southern California! I wasn’t familiar with this song, so I noted the bird’s size (medium), its vague coloring (brown) and short, somewhat stubby, bill. Maybe it’s a sparrow? One of my favorites from the spring, the white- crowned sparrow, Zonotrichia  leucophrys, had recently returned. I’d seen them foraging for seed scattered under my feeder and digging in the native plant garden at Point Vicente Interpretive Center. I looked up their song in my bird app and–bingo! I was right! Let me share some of what I learned.

Read More

Watching and Listening to Birds—Just What the Doctor Ordered!

By Susan Rothrock Deo

Video Produced by Paul Dinning – Wildlife in Cornwall

Have you found yourself listening to the birds singing more since the pandemic started? You are not alone, and it’s not just because there are fewer human-caused sounds since we are home more. According to Mary Forgione, in her May 7 Los Angeles Times article, “Research shows that listening to birdsong relaxes the body and sharpens the mind. Watching birds sends us outdoors and into nature, which benefits humans in many ways, including keeping anxiety, anger and depression at bay.” Something we all need during these trying times. Boost your spirits with a little birdsong or bird watching. You don’t have to know which bird is singing to appreciate their beautiful music, but if you are curious, here are several ways you can learn more.

  1. The best way is if you can see the bird that is singing well enough to identify it with your field guide or app.
  2. Or, go on a hike with a birder who knows his or her stuff. They can identify birds by sound as well as by sight.
  3. Learn more yourself by downloading one of the free bird apps available on your computer, smart phone, or iPad. Merlin, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is one. (They also have a huge online database of bird songs and calls from around the world.) The Audubon Bird Guide, from the National Audubon Society is another. These apps have ways to identify birds by location, size, colors, and habits. Or, you can look through the birds in the app and listen to their songs to see if you hear familiar ones.
  4. It’s always good to have a bird field guide to study pictures and basic information about birds in your region. My current favorite is Birds of Southern California by Kimball L Garrett, Jon L. Dunn and Brian E. Small.

Get ready for your own birding adventure!

Want to learn more about the benefits to humans of birdsong and other aspects of nature? Read The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams, 2018.

Or check out this article describing scientific research on the effects of birdsong on humans conducted by the University of Surrey in England: https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/how-listening-to-bird-song-can-transform-our-mental-health.html

Or read a local news article about this study recently conducted by a student at California Polytechnic State University in: https://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/environment/article248067225.html

Links of Interest

A pilot program to shuttle folks to the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve from RPV Civic Center will begin in March. Daily Breeze

Art, plastics and politics Southern Sierran

Biden’s plan to conserve 30% of U.S. land and water by 2030 could aid environmental justice. Inside Climate News.

Good Riddance, 2020

By Cheryl Frick

Vote! By Cheryl Frick

And don’t forget to vote in the Angeles Chapter elections: votePVSB.angsc.org
Your voter ID is in the SOCAL NOW newsletter

Sierra Club response to recent wildfires in California

By Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director

Our hearts are heavy as the losses from this year’s wildfires continue to mount. We mourn for those who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods. We feel for all those suffering from dangerously smoky air, including our own Sierra Club family, whose lives have been shaken by these fires. We are continuing to work to enhance community fire defense planning, especially for our most vulnerable communities.

“Our leaders must ensure that not only are communities prepared and protected, but that firefighters and first responders have the necessary personal protective equipment to guard from the threat of COVID-19.  We must do more to protect communities now and for the future –to ensure all communities have the resources to prepare for wildfire, and to act on climate before the crisis worsens.

Zoltan Stroll

It is with great sadness that we inform our members of the passing of Zoltan Stroll, a member of the Palos Verdes-South Bay Sierra Club for more than 20 years.  He was an avid hiker with our group and became a leader in 2010. He also served on the Executive Committee and was our Treasurer for more than two years.  His hiking experiences took him far beyond the South Bay as he trekked to Patagonia, the Alps, the Canadian Rockies and Yosemite’s High Sierra camps and Sedona with his friends.  Zoltan is survived by his loving wife Halina, their two sons and three grandsons. Zoltan, we will really miss you. — Bill Lavoie

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Land Conservancy reduces fire risk in Palos Verdes Nature Preserve

Arborist crew removing acacia shrubs from the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve. Photo: Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy/pvplc.org

By Adrienne Mohan, Executive Director
Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy

While some wildfires are part of nature’s natural cycle, the images of flames burning Southern California hillsides and neighboring homes is alarming.  Since its founding in 1988, the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy has expended significant human and financial resources on fuel load reduction management work that benefits both the safety of residents and wildlife on the peninsula. 

Removal of invasive weed species like mustard, acacia, and pampas grass, not only impact the quality of habitat on the Peninsula, but also address a major fire danger.  An acacia removal project was funded by the City of Rancho Palos Verdes this year to augment fuel modification by the city due to larger-than-expected amount of invasive weeds around the Peninsula caused by heavy rainfall followed by warm weather.  Removal of acacia is critical because it is comprised of approximately 90% dry plant matter and volatile resins, making it highly combustible.  It also blocks out native vegetation such as species that are both more fire resistant and more needed by local wildlife to survive.

The project supported the removal of 40 acres of acacia and another 61 acres of invasive mustard. The Conservancy has also worked closely with the other surrounding cities, such as the City of Rolling Hills, to remove potential fire hazards.  As Habitat Manager of the 1,400 Palos Verdes Nature Preserve, the Land Conservancy provides guidance on vegetation and natural resource management to reduce fuel load vegetation in compliance with the Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP).  The plan requires meeting federal requirements to protect natural wildlife diversity such as monitoring, restoration planning and implementation.

A Conservancy biologist oversees the monitoring and documentation of project sites to prevent disturbing birds and other mammals.  This year, the Conservancy trained four Field Monitoring Interns from CSULB to identify plant and animal species and gather data using Geographic Information System (GIS) tools.  Data was gathered on areas where acacia had already been removed and documented any regrowth and seedling germination for retreatment.  Flora and soil samples were collected for each treated area, and monthly photo point monitored results. 

The acacia removal data collected this year are helping the Conservancy to develop a “Habitat Enhancement Plan” to identify strategic priorities for the additional removal of acacia and other combustible vegetation that will reduce the fuel load and maintain wildlife benefits for the foreseeable future.  

Lizard Love

By Susan Rothrock Deo

Walking my dog in early April, I found this pair of southern alligator lizards, Elgaria multicarinata, on a neighboring block. I watched them for several minutes and they didn’t move. I wasn’t sure what they were doing, so I did some research and learned they have a unique mating ritual. The male bites the female’s neck, mates quickly, but keeps holding on for up to forty-eight hours! If you see any interesting or unique lizard behavior, take a video and send it to the LA County Natural History Museum. They are gathering information about the behavior of Southern California lizards with citizen science—that’s YOU! The Natural History Museum calls these programs “Community Science.” Check out their website to see what types of community science interest you!

State allows power plants to continue harmful cooling method

By Melanie Cohen, Environmental Co-Chair

In 2010, after decades of complaints from environmentalists, California water regulators ordered 19 coastal power plants to phase out a cooling process that is blamed for killing billions of marine organisms every year. In “once-through cooling” (OTC) power plants pump huge amounts of water from a nearby ocean or river to cool their equipment.

By 2019, most of the plants using OTC were retired or replaced. Only four remained: one owned by the AES Corporation in Redondo Beach, a facility in Huntington Beach, San Onofre Nuclear Plant, and a plant in Ormond Beach. AES contended that California would not be able to meet peak electricity demand unless the four plants were allowed to continue using the harmful cooling method. The California State Water Board held hearings (2019-20) to determine whether power demand was sufficient to delay closure of the plants.

Because of the massive damage ocean cooling causes to coastal waters and sea life, Sierra Club Los Angeles and Sierra Club Palos Verdes-South Bay sent a letter supporting the shutdown.

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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

By Judy Herman, Foggy View Editor

My Generation, a campaign of the California Sierra Club, is fighting for an equitable transition to a fully electrified economy powered by 100% clean, renewable energy. Volunteer leaders, especially young people, drive community mobilization across the state. The word “Generation” in the name has a double meaning: it refers both to the generation (or production) of energy and to the energetic young people who will be the next generation of environmental leaders. But the topic of a recent monthly meeting, climate justice activism training, interested this Boomer. I signed up for and was welcomed to the Zoom session led by Yassi Kavezade, Fran Yang and Angie Balderas.

Here’s some of what I learned about community activism:

It’s about listening — meeting with community groups and letting them define their needs. Schmoozing is essential. Making informal, one-to-one connections assures you are working as friends who want to be open and mutually helpful. Forging these personal connections is challenging in the time of COVID-19 when meetings are virtual. We have to be creative — maybe send a message in the chat to someone you’d like to know better and set up a virtual coffee break.

We were advised to set SMARTIE goals, ones that are:

Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, Time-bound (clear deadlines), Inclusive and Equitable.

Along the Path: Our Prickly Neighbors and Their Friends

Opuntia ficus-indica Photo: Judy Herman

By Susan Rothrock Deo

We have some prickly neighbors here in the South Bay, and I don’t mean the people down the street who play loud music at midnight or the kid who “borrows” your soccer ball and “forgets” to return it. I’m talking about the REAL prickly ones: the cacti.  Cacti have figured out how to thrive in warm dry climates like Southern California. Their stems evolved into round or oblong pads that store water and have thick waxy skins. Their leaves evolved into thin, hard pointed thorns, which also provide protection.

Opuntia littoralis. David Ferguson and Joe Shaw, Opuntiads.com
Read More

Links of Interest

The Forest Committee of Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter launches a series of programs on wildfire

Annals of a warming planet: The West Coast wildfires are Apocalypse, Again. The New Yorker

Severe burn damage from California wildfires seen from space. Live Science

A toxic secret lurks in deep sea off the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Los Angeles Times

Bankruptcy lets Exide and other companies get away with poisoning the environment. Los Angeles Times

Along the Path: The El Segundo Blue Returns

By Susan Rothrock Deo

Slideshow: 1-4 Tracy Drake, 5 Eva Cicoria, 6 Susan Deo, 7 Paul Blieden

I scanned the prolific clusters of flowers, scattered like pink tinged cotton balls, across the bushy plant. The plant was maybe three feet wide by two feet high so it took a while. The people walking by on the path must have wondered why I was staring at a plant for so long. The flowers were pretty, and there were tons of bees, but that’s not what I was looking for.

Read more and watch a slideshow

Fun Facts on Indian Wildlife

Text and photos by Susan Deo

Langur monkeys and chital deer have a symbiotic relationship. The monkeys drop leaves from the trees for the deer to eat and can see danger from their perches in the trees and warn the deer. The deer have excellent hearing and can also let the monkeys know about pending danger.

The Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) is a little smaller in size than African elephants. It also has a bit smaller ears.  All elephants, though, are social creatures, like us humans. They don’t like being alone, without their herd. Elephant babies can nurse from any mother in their herd. Lone elephants are rogue and angry outcasts