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Archive for January, 2008

Bush exempts Navy and its sonar from protecting whales and dolphins

A federal judge ruled the Navy was violating an environmental law (Coastal Zone Management Act) when it used powerful sonar off the California coastline during training exercises. The judge ordered the Navy to use special safety measures to protect whales and other marine mammals from the LOUD sonar noises that harmed them during sonar exercises.

The Natural Resources Defense Council had sued to force the Navy to lessen the harm of its sonar exercises. In November a federal appeals court said the sonar problem needed to be fixed. Scientists say loud sonar can damage marine mammal brains and ears. Sonar may also mask the echoes some whales and dolphins listen for when they use their own natural sonar to locate food.

President Bush has responded to the above court ruling by exempting the Navy from the environmental law in the name of national security. Bush claimed that complying with the environmental law would “undermine the Navy’s ability to conduct realistic training exercises that are necessary to ensure the combat effectiveness of carrier and expeditionary strike groups.”

“The president’s action is an attack on the rule of law,” said Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Santa Monica. “By exempting the Navy from basic safeguards under both federal and state law, the president is flouting the will of Congress, the decision of the California Coastal Commission and a ruling by the federal court.”


** Did the Navy really violate the law, as the judge said, by using its powerful sonar equipment and injuring marine mammals during training exercises along the California coast?

** Could the Navy follow the federal judge’s ruling to use special safety measures “to protect whales and other marine mammals” and still conduct adequate training exercises?

** Was Bush right to exempt the Navy from having to protect whales and other marine mammals?

** Should conservationists be filing papers with the District Court to challenge Bush’s exemption? (They plan to do this.)

** So what’s the big deal about a few whales and dolphins?

I’m interested in your thoughts on this. Please let me know what you think by clicking on “leave a comment” below and adding yours. Thanks. /gary

Posted on Thursday, January 17th, 2008
Under: Dolphins, Navy, President Bush, Sonar, Whales | No Comments »

This lady needs your help

Critically ill lady needs a home for her two cats.

Ellen is by herself here in the U.S. and needs to move back to Indonesia where she can stay with relatives as her illness continues to get worse. But she won’t leave until she finds a good home for her beloved pets. (Even though her cats are healthy, she can’t take them with her to Indonesia, because there is no rabies in the country and they won’t accept pets from countries like the U.S. where rabies is present.)

These are sweet brother and sister cats in the prime of life, 8-years-old, spayed/neutered and very healthy. They have all their indoor and outdoor vaccinations.

** Black and white male has medium-long hair.
** Female is gray and white with short hair.

Their toys come with them!

Need some cats? You can help by adopting these two. Send an e-mail to Ellen at or call me at the Times (925-977-8582). Thanks for caring! /Gary

Posted on Wednesday, January 16th, 2008
Under: Cats, Pets | No Comments »

Public meetings on S.F. Bay oil spill

Cosco Busan oil spill restoration agencies schedule two public meetings to get your input.

State agencies: Department of Fish and Game, State Lands Commission.
Federal agencies: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Restoration of the natural resources “injured” by the Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco Bay is the focus of these two public meetings:

Tuesday, Jan. 22: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in the First Floor Auditorium in the Elihu M. Harris State Building, 1515 Clay Street, Oakland.
Tuesday, Jan. 29: 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Cascade Room of the Mill Valley Community Center, 180 El Camino Alto, Mill Valley.

The meetings will be held by the above state and federal agencies (trustees) that are responsible for restoring the injured resources after they assess ecological injuries and human use losses caused by the spill. At each meeting the trustees will brief you on the restoration process, answer your questions and seek information from the you about injuries resulting from the spill.

Main purpose of the meetings is to give the public and other organizations a chance to learn about the restoration process and to provide any additional information and data they collected. Because the focus of these meetings is on injury assessment and ultimate restoration, they will not be able to address questions about the immediate response to the spill at these meetings. (Hopefully we’ll be able to discuss THAT at another meeting!)

The trustees from the above state and federal agencies say they will develop a restoration plan both to restore the injured resources and “to compensate the public for the injuries to the natural resources and human activities.” (It’ll be interesting to attend these meetings just to find out what THAT means!)

Got something to say about all this? Here’s your chance. Don’t blow it. Go to one of these meetings. /Gary

Posted on Tuesday, January 15th, 2008
Under: Oil Spills, Public Meeting | No Comments »

Hummingbirds & freezing nights

Hummingbirds are hypothermic. They stop moving, their body temperatures will drop dangerously low and they sometimes pass out when the days and nights get as cold as they have recently.

These little guys burn up a lot of energy buzzing around the skies and they have huge appetites to replace that lost energy.

During the cold winter months, these tiny flying flowers rely a lot on the nectar in your hummingbird feeder. Your feeder can freeze during a really cold night and hummers obviously can’t drink from a frozen feeder.

Plain water starts to freeze at 32 degrees F., but the hummingbird nectar in your feeder starts to freeze (gets slushy) at about 26 to 27 degrees because of the added sugar (nectar formula is 4 parts water to 1 part sugar). So on freezing nights, bring your feeder inside the house before you go to bed to keep it at room temperature … and put it back outside just before sunrise so it will be ready and waiting (and UNfrozen!) when your hummingbird arrives for breakfast.

If you forget to do this and discover a frozen feeder some morning, replace the frozen nectar with a fresh unfrozen supply ASAP.

They need to eat early to get their tiny hypothermic bodies recharged and heated up so they can face the new day. /gary

Posted on Monday, January 14th, 2008
Under: Cold weather, hummingbirds | 8 Comments »

Surprise! A barge full of oil hits another bridge

The fuel barge that hit the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last night has a capacity of 65,195 barrels of heavy black oil. Fortunately, the Coast Guard says there’s no evidence that anything spilled into the water.

Whew! Bring back any  black memories?

You can read the latest story and see a photo on

** First the Cosco Busan hits the San Francisco Bay Bridge in heavy fog and spills 58,999 gallons of bunker fuel on Nov. 7.

** Now this fuel barge, the Cascade, hits the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge during another foggy night on the Bay on Jan. 10 — about two months later.

Anyone notice any similarities here? Doesn’t radar see through the fog? Doesn’t sonar see through the fog?

This most recent ship/bridge collision happened at … “around 6 p.m.” … “about 6 p.m.” …”6:20 p.m.” … depending on which news story I read or heard about the accident this morning.

This was interesting:
S.F. Chronicle: “ … reports of the Cascade’s accident at 6:20 p.m. brought a Coast Guard vessel to the scene by 7 p.m.”
C.C. Times: “”Several local and state agencies responded, and two oil response vessels were on the scene within an hour, according to the Coast guard.”

Glad everybody was in a such a hurry.

Maybe we ought to start a “Hit The Bridge” pool to try and guess when the next ship will hit one of the bridges in the Bay. When will the next bridge be hit? What bridge will it be? What kind of ship will it be? How much oil will it be carrying?

Oh yeah, and how long will it take a government agency to respond to see if anything got spilled? /gary

Posted on Friday, January 11th, 2008
Under: Bridge, Oil, Ship | No Comments »

10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2007 list announced by In Defense of Animals

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo, grabs top spot on annual “10 Worst Zoos for Elephants” list.

“The 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list draws attention to the fact that elephants are needlessly suffering and dying prematurely from inadequate and inhumane zoo conditions,” said IDA president Elliot M. Katz, DVM. “The problems such as aberrant behaviors, lethal joint and foot disorders, and premature death chronicled in this list speak loudly to the mammoth changes that are needed to improve the lives of elephants in zoos.”

IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS is an international, California-based (San Rafael) animal advocacy organization dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of animals by defending their rights, welfare and habitats.


For more information on this subject, visit Thanks for caring. /gary

Posted on Friday, January 11th, 2008
Under: Elephants, In Defense of Animals, Zoos | 6 Comments »

Beekeeper rescues bees from hive in fallen tree at the Times

Beekeeper Mike Stephanos of the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association ( responded to my distress call and came by the Times on Wednesday. He was going to try to rescue the honeybees from the large nest that had been exposed when a 60-foot tall redwood tree split in a windstorm on Tuesday morning and crashed into our building. (See “The sky is falling!” entry below.)

Wednesday, I was out checking the bee nest/hive at first light. A large mass of bees had obviously spent a very cold night “huddled” together in one spot over the exposed honeycomb. They were dormant from the cold and hardly moving.

Mike arrived a little after noon and I took him out to look at the bees. It was warmer and the buzzing insects were getting more active, zipping past our heads. Bees are gentle creatures — unless they catch you messing with their nest. (“Stay away from our hive, Dude!”)

Mike had a large rectangular wooden box he was going to use to transport the bees. He planned to place a bunch of the brood comb (comb where the queen bee lays her eggs) and honeycomb inside the box, along with as many live bees as possible, then leave the box sitting up in the hive area where the tree had broken for two or three days. He wanted to get the bees to relocate into the box so he could take them home with his other hives.

He was also going to remove as much of the exposed honeycomb as possible from the tree to motivate the bees to seek out the smell of the other brood comb and honeycomb in the box and move inside with it.

The beekeeper then suited up into the classic beekeeper’s uniform: a white jumpsuit, boots, gloves and a white hat and mesh hood. That would keep the angry bees from stinging him when he started messing with them.

Once up the ladder, Mike started removing the comb with a metal pry-bar. He placed some of the comb in the box and the rest in a large white plastic bucket so he could take it home and use it to feed his other bees. The bees buzzed in a large cloud around his head. Several angrily bounced off my face and chest. One bee stung Times’ multimedia reporter Karl Mondon on the lip as he was filming Mike’s activities with a video camera.

“Back up about 10-feet, guys,” shouted Mike. “Too late,” moaned Karl.

I started tossing questions about the bees up to Mike:

How long has the nest been there? “Maybe 10 years, a decade. A lot of old black comb here.”

How many bees do you think there are? “About 5,000 to 10,000.”

How much honeycomb is there? “At least 50 pounds, probably more.” (Mike eventually removed about 25 pounds of honeycomb from the tree.)

After he dislodged as much comb as possible, Mike took out a wide, soft brush and gently started brushing bees from the tree into his portable hive. Then he put a top on the box and braced it firmly on a ledge by the destroyed hive area. There was a hole in the top where the bees could come and go. He’d close that hole and confine the bees inside when he was ready to move his little porta-hive.

Then he climbed back down from the tree.

“I’ll stop by regularly over the next few days to check on the box. I want to get as many of them inside as possible before I take them home. I want them all to survive.”

We shook hands and I thanked Mike for coming to save our bees.

“Reporters and editors in the news room has been asking me if you’ll be able to save the bees,” I told him. “They’ll all be happy when I tell them what you’ve done.”

“My pleasure,” Mike smiled. It was obvious he loved his work and his little friends.

You’ve probably been reading lately that honeybees all across the country are in trouble. Disease, colony collapse and a lot of other problems too numerous to mention here. But that’s another story Karl and I will get back to later.

For now, it’s just really nice to know that this particular distressed hive was able to get a little help from its friends. /gary

Posted on Thursday, January 10th, 2008
Under: beekeeper, bees, Trees | 2 Comments »

Free biodiversity resources & thinking for educators, students

(Scroll down to reach “Polar bears left out in the cold.”)

The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC) at the American Museum of Natural History has launched a new peer-reviewed, on-line journal, “Lessons in Conservation (LinC),” designed to provide educators and students with the most up-to-date resources and thinking in biodiversity conservation.

LinC will be published semiannually and is the official publication of the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP), a collaborative project of the American Museum of Natural History and a group of institutions and individuals around the world that seeks to develop capacity aimed at sustaining Earth’s biological and cultural diversity.

“Biodiversity conservation in many parts of the world has been hampered by a lack of locally relevant, up-to-date resources,” said Eleanor Sterling, Director of the CBC and co-editor of LinC. “LinC will provide educators with the information they need to train future generations of conservation and environmental professionals in the places where they are needed most.”

The teaching modules presented in LinC include synthesis documents summarizing a wide range of conservation-related topics, field or laboratory exercises, and relevant short case studies with teaching notes to help educators tailor their lessons to local issues or questions. All modules include current, peer-reviewed content and are designed to facilitate active approaches to teaching and learning.

Articles in the inaugural issue include:
** An Introduction to Marine Conservation Biology
** Assessing Threats in Conservation Planning and Management
** Ecosystem Loss and Fragmentation
** Forest Fragmentation and Its Effects on Biological Diversity: A Mapping Exercise
** Biodiversity Conservation and Integrated Conservation and Development Projects

The inaugural issue of LinC is currently available at Like all NCEP materials, LinC is an open-access journal, available for download free-of-charge.

More information about NCEP projects, teaching modules, workshops, training events, and how to get involved is available at

OK, biodiversity fans, let’s go for it! /gary

Posted on Wednesday, January 9th, 2008
Under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The sky is falling! OK, it was a big tree against the Times!

Sweetness after the fall

If a tree falls on a newspaper building and all of the editors and reporters and photographers are there to hear it … is there any sound?


About 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, while I was sitting at my desk writing my Wednesday column, there was suddenly a huge BOOM … CRASH … BANG … that sounded like the sky was indeed falling. Personally, I thought the building was collapsing. For a moment there was dead silence as every head in the newsroom was turned to look at the side of the room where there were now LOUD SCRAPING SOUNDS.

Suddenly, people were running for all the doors, most of them carrying video cameras, plain old ordinary cameras and cell phones. That’s what newspaper reporters, photographers and editors do when something unusual happens. They run toward the event to see what’s happening … not away from it.

Outside, the wind was blowing pretty hard. As I ran around the front side of the building, I saw a huge 30- to 40-year-old redwood tree had broken in the wind about seven or eight feet up and fallen against the Times. Amazingly, although there were lots of scratches on the side of our building, there were no holes.

The tree didn’t fare so well. Right where it broke was a large hollow with an enormous honeybee hive. The tree had snapped at that point because the hollow made it weak.

Honeycomb from fallen tree outside Times newsroomThere was a lot of honeycomb and plenty of bees still clustered all over the surface. A few bees were flying around, most were quiet … lethargic because it was too cold.

Back at my desk, I got my list of “swarm list volunteers” from the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association. The beekeeper I reached will be out to try and rescue the bees that are still around tomorrow morning.

I hope he’ll be able to save them. Honeybees, for assorted reasons, haven’t been doing too well the last couple of years. Mostly, scientists are still trying to figure out why.

Anyway, it was still good to see a large active honeybee hive in the area. Even if they did make me think the sky was falling. /gary

Posted on Tuesday, January 8th, 2008
Under: bees, weather | No Comments »

Polar bears left out in the cold by Bush

Bush administration foot-dragging leaves polar bears without protection
Interior Department says it will not meet deadline … Select Committee Hearing to explore Interior’s decision-making process on polar bears, oil drilling …

On Monday (Jan. 7), the Bush administration announced it wouldn’t meet its statutorily required deadline to make a decision on the future of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. The Interior Department was required to make a decision on whether the polar bear should be listed as “threatened” under the ESA by Jan. 9, due to the effects of global warming on the bear’s habitat.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department recently announced that it will proceed with a lease sale early next month to open up polar bear habitats off of Alaska to new oil drilling.

“The Bush administration is once again putting the oil cart before the polar bear. On the one hand, the Interior Department is dragging its feet on protecting the polar bear, while opening up new oil and gas drilling in sensitive polar bear habitats on the other,” said Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “The administration’s own scientists are warning us that two-thirds of all polar bears may be gone by 2050 because of a warming Earth, yet rather than speed up protections for this iconic animal, the Bush administration is speeding up its giveaway of polar bear habitat to Big Oil.”

The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will hold a hearing later this month to:
** Take a look at the future of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.
** Take a look at the Interior Department’s plan to open up polar bear habitats in Alaska to new oil drilling.

Center for Biological Diversity:

Defenders of Wildlife:

Once again the Bush administration is going out of its way to show us where its priorities are by thumbing its nose at the environment … and us.

They’ve only got one year left in office to destroy this planet. I guess that’s why they’re in such a hurry. /gary

Posted on Tuesday, January 8th, 2008
Under: Alaska oil drilling, Global warming, Polar bears | No Comments »