Archive for January, 2014

I do not re-post material very often, but this selection of photos (which can be found on pinterest) was so beautiful that I wanted to save it for myself and share it as well.  The last photo really is spectacular.


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The Greater Sage Grouse is one of the iconic birds of the western U.S.  It is huge, dramatic, and has fascinating breeding behavior that has made it the focus of many, many studies.  It is also declining.  These birds need extensive expanses of sagebrush to survive, and such expanses are being reduced by everything from grazing to road building to invasive plant species to oil and gas drilling.  One particular population of the Greater Sage Grouse has just been listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  It is a geographically isolated and genetically distinct population that lives on the boarder between central California and central Nevada, hence the name the Bi-State Sage Grouse.  Only six groups of this grouse still exist and four of them are in immediate danger of destruction.  Endangered Species Act listing will make it a federal crime to harm these animals or the habitat they rely on.  Specifically, the listing guidelines set aside 1.86 million acres along the California-Nevada board as Bi-State Sage Grouse habitat to be protected for their conservation.

This population is the most southwesterly population of the species.  As such it has the potential to be especially important to the species conservation in the face of climate change.  As temperatures warm, on a global scale, organisms that are adapted to colder climates will tend to move north, but they will have a harder and harder time finding suitable habitat.  The organisms that are adapted to warmer climates will also tend to move north, but they will have a higher likelihood of finding suitable habitat as they do so.  This means that the Bi-State Sage Grouse has a high potential of being able to move into the rest of the Sage Grouse range and prevent the species from going extinct.  This is one of many reasons why protecting subspecies and distinct population units is so important.  If this population is allowed to go extinct, it could greatly effect the overall extinction risk of the species in the future.

A decision on whether or not to list the Greater Sage Grouse as an endangered species throughout its range is expected in 2015.  It is considered likely that the whole species will be listed, so the rest of the species will also be protected at that point.

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We who live in California are pretty accustomed to droughts.  Water shortages are pretty common since drought years occur every 2 to 3 years in this state, according to the California Department of Water Resources.  But even taking our frequent lack of water into account, 2013 was an impressively dry year.  For example, Sacramento gets an average of about 20 inches of rain each year, but in 2013 it got only 6.13 inches.  San Francisco has an annual average of about 23 inches, but in 2013 it received 5.59 inches.  Los Angeles gets an average of about 15 inches of rain each year, but in 2013 it received only 3.60 inches which has not happened since 1877!

California usually gets most of its precipitation in the months of December, January, and February.  We have just finished an extremely rain-free December, and there is no precipitation in the forecast for early January.  Most of our major reservoirs are down to about 20% of their capacity, and the snow pack in the Sierra is very thin.  These low water levels will mean a very dry summer of 2014, and an increase in the number and size of fires in the late summer and fall.  Now, all this dry news should be tempered with the fact that we usually get most of our precipitation in just a small number of major storms, so there is still a chance that we will get some refreshments in the next month-and-a-half.  March is also a potential rain month which may help further.  In other words, it is still too early to start freaking out about water levels in 2014.

But, it is not too early to start thinking about conserving water in our daily lives.  For example, while you are waiting for the water to get hot, keep a pitcher next to the sink so that you can collect the cold water instead of letting go down the drain.  This can be refrigerated for drinking water or used to water your plants.  Do not buy plastic water bottles.  Do not water lawns in winter, but instead let them go dormant.  Visit car washes that recycle their water.  Soak pots and pans instead of keeping the water running over them.

Water shortages are going to become an ever increasing issue as climate changes and the human population continues to grow.  This means that the drought water levels of today may become the standards of tomorrow.  This makes drought years useful learning opportunities for how to get by with less.

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