Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Get Your Kid Outside Today-They’ll Recycle Tomorrow

1st graders from Hidden Valley examine a newt at Pepperwood

by Sandi Funke

You may already know taking a young person hiking or just to explore nature is a great thing to do. It’s fabulous exercise that really is doable almost anywhere. It’s also fun!  But did you know taking a child to “wild places” can help lead them to a lifetime of conservation?

For the past twenty years, environmental researchers have wondered what actually leads to responsible environmental behavior. Dr. Louise Chawla from the University of Colorado has been interviewing environmentalists since the mid-nineties. Her work, centered in Kentucky and Norway, sought to uncover their sources of commitment to the environment. The two most frequent motives were “experiences in natural places as young people” and “family role models”. Respondents recalled places they played or hiked as children. They also talked about family members that directed their attention to certain aspects of the natural world. Research in other parts of Europe, North America, South Africa, and El Salvador has produced similar results. In 2006 researchers Dr. Nancy Wells and Dr. Kristi Lekie from Cornell surveyed 2,000 randomly selected adults from the United States. They asked them about their attitudes and behavior regarding the environment as well as childhood experiences in nature. They also found that nature activities in childhood predicted pro-environmental behaviors such as recycling and “green” voting. Getting kids into natural areas can have longstanding results.

Children hiking at our Budding Biologists day camp last summer
There are many opportunities here at Pepperwood to get into nature with your favorite young person. Our Wildflower Festival, held this year on Sunday, April 21st 2013, will have an interpretive trail to meander in between the barn and the Dwight Center. This short but steep walk may be just enough for the preschool set. We will also have opportunities to explore our new Native Plant Demonstration Garden adjacent to the Dwight Center. Then our three mile self guided trail loop will have volunteers available to provide some nature interpretation. For slightly older kids, this will be great opportunity to get out a little further out! Also that day, wildflower experts will be on hand leading botany hikes.

In addition to the Wildflower Festival, Pepperwood hosts monthly public hikes. These are usually at least four miles and involve an elevation change of at least 500 feet. Folks get to explore our various plant communities including our chaparral, grassland, oak woodlands, and more. The view of Mt. St. Helena from Rollercoaster Ridge is always a favorite! We also offer many family classes and events that include short hikes and hands on activities such as making bird boxes or creating nature journals.

Mt. Saint Helena as seen from Pepperwood
But Pepperwood is of course not the only place to explore nature. Our partners LandPaths and the Sonoma Ecology Center both lead hikes throughout the county. Additionally, Landpaths runs a permit program that allows community members to get access to open spaces newly acquired by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open SpaceDistrict. There are also dozens of parks and trails to explore run by Sonoma County Parks. The parks have recently installed self pay meters that accept credit cards and debit cards. This makes paying very convenient!

So whether it’s Pepperwoods’ flowery expanses or another nearby wild land, make sure to get outside with a young person this season. Our future depends on it!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Erosion of Winter

By Dr. Lisa Micheli, Executive Director

The above image shows change in 30-year averages of
monthly temperature lows showing an average warming
 trend for the region of approximately 1.7 °F
Now I'm a huge fan of warm weather, but this recent episode of summer temperatures in February makes me realize that I can only enjoy the heat at seasonally appropriate times. The weather we are experiencing this year is emblematic of recent climate change: Pepperwood's paper Downscaling Future Climate Projections to the Watershed Scale (published in December) included measurements of recent climate change here in the Bay Area in addition to projections through the end of the century. It's so important for people to realize the process of changing our climate greenhouse via gas emissions is well underway, and that in the Bay Area the majority of impact has been felt in a warming trend during the winter (amounting to an increase on average approximately 3°F during the winter season). In terms of the water cycle, this year we experienced two significant floods, yet we find ourselves at risk of a drought if the rest of the spring is as warm and as dry as the last couple weeks. This pattern of episodic storms punctuated by extended dry periods, as our recent study suggests, may become more frequent for our hydrologic cycle in years to come-as our winter season "shrinks."

Last night I saw an amazing movie called Chasing Ice which showcased the Herculean efforts of geomorphologist turned photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey team to visually document the accelerated retreat of glaciers around the globe. By planting Nikon cameras in armored metal cases (equipped with power and a customized computer to store multiple images) in some of the least hospitable spots on the planet, Balog's team is using time-lapse photography to create real-time animations of the conversion of water stored in our ice-caps to unbelievably massive rivers of freshwater pouring into the oceans. In one image, a terrain of ice the size of lower Manhattan ruptures, rotates, rumbles its way into the sea: images like this have never before been witnessed by human eyes.  Trained as an Earth scientist, Balog shared that he, much like myself, was something of a climate skeptic 20 years ago because it was so unfathomable to him that humans could transform our atmosphere and in turn rates of geological change on the planet. At that time climate change was still largely only suggested via computer models, but for Balog and other like-minded empiricists, witnessing old man glacier retreat at rates thousands of times faster than ever recorded in geologic history now provides undeniable evidence of the domino effect now unwinding around the globe.

Projects like the Extreme Ice Survey only recently become a possibility due to advances in sensor technology. Watching Balog's team tackle the task of distributing cameras along the icy edges of Alaska, Greenland, and Iceland reminds me of our own staff and stewards' dedication to mounting cameras and sensors around the preserve-albeit in much more welcoming conditions (even poison oak looks preferable to frostbite)! Now that these technologies, including motion-activated cameras and compact data loggers, have come within economic reach of conservation organizations, the field is exploding. And one of the reasons I feel it is so important is that it takes science and creates images that people from all different kinds of backgrounds can understand. There is a huge difference in trying to communicate this information using a color-coded map, or worse, an Excel graph, versus an actual moving image that people can relate to. Given the topic of climate change has been riddled with debate, albeit much of it manufactured, presenting incontrovertible evidence of the impact on the globe and to our local environments today is now critical in order to inspire people to take action now.

Until working on the recent paper with our Terrestrial Biodiversity Climate Change Collaborative, I had not given much consideration to the impact of shorter and warmer winters on the North Bay. In the process of presenting our findings to the community, I learn from farmers and other naturalists about the value of winter, nature's deep sleep, in building and storing resources that support our ecosystems. First of all, frost is an extremely important control on outbreaks of insect pests. From the perspective of soil microbes, the wet winter season is a busy time of converting minerals in the soil into forms that plants enjoy the rest of the season. With a shorter winter wet season, organisms in the soil have less time to do this important job. Hydrologically, in order to accumulate moisture in the soil and our groundwater aquifers, the longer the wet season the better. And of course the earlier the spring bloom, the more resources plants will have to put into reproduction and survival through the dry season, with risk of later spring frosts damaging seeds and blossoms. By next year we hope to initiate protocols from the California Phenology Network to empower Pepperwood's citizen scientists to track the impact of our changing weather on the lifecycle of our local plants. The sooner we tune into the subtle changes as they happen, the sooner we can shape adaptation strategies to our native biodiversity throughout the region!