Mendocino County Today: Monday, Apr 18, 2016
by AVA News Service, April 18, 2016
IF I WERE twenty years younger, here's the place I would buy because it's the absolute best deal I've seen in the most beautiful region of Mendocino County. Nine miles north of Covelo out the Mina Road, nine-plus acres, meticulously maintained home with two large bedrooms, two smaller bedrooms. Sane neighbors, off the grid. All this for $350,000. Presently owned by a friend of the AVA's who's had to move back to the urbs for reasons of age and proximity of health care.
Zach Carpenter (Lic: 01722126)
Andy Wiese Real Estate (Office Lic.: 01433414)
160 E Gobbi St
Ukiah, CA 95482
Primary: 707-671-6392 Secondary: 707-671-6392
MENTAL HEALTH'S ROAD SHOW comes to Boonville.
“Greetings to Anderson Valley from the ‘Traveling Mendocino County Mental Health Board.’ We are now known as the Behavioral Health Advisory Board. Our April 20th Regular Meeting will be held in your area for the first time in many years. You are cordially invited to attend our meeting and address our Board on issues and concerns regarding the delivery of County Mental Health services to your local population. A whirlwind of activity, changes and transition has enveloped our county in the last few months. We will be sharing our concerns and understanding and listening to yours related to mental health issues. We will be meeting just 1.3 miles north of town on 128 at the Red Museum Property 12340 Highway 128 @10:00 AM on April 20th. Our Agenda is posted at the meeting site.
Hope to see you there.
John Wetzler, Board Chair
(The link that Mr. Wechsler provides has a typo in it, and after the typo (a missing “_”) was finally fixed we went to the Mental Health Board webpage where there’s supposed to be an agenda for April 20:
But of course, the April 20 meeting date has no agenda.)
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ED NOTE: Well, John, 10am on a weekday is not exactly conducive to a public meeting if you want to hear from the public. But we send along our perspective in lieu of our scintillating physical presence. Which is, Sheriff Allman's plan is the only hope for an effective Mental Health strategy for Mendocino County. If we continue to limp along with the partially privatized, chaotic, mercenary, and relentlessly cruel non-system we now suffer Mendocino County's mentally ill will continue to be viewed merely as funding units and remain untreated, unprotected.
HERE'S A PERFECT EXAMPLE of what Mendocino County is getting for their $20 million annual mental health dollars. A Ukiah cop told us that he and his partner had taken an obviously suicidal young man to the Ukiah Valley Medical Center’s Emergency Room early on a weekday morning. “On the one hand, whoever’s in charge of that now, they responded pretty fast. But it was clear that they wanted to dispatch the person out of the ER as quickly as possible.”
“No insurance?” the Major asked.
“I guess not,” laughed the cop. “Anyway, we had spoken to the kid’s family and he was definitely 5150 and his intentions were clear. He needed to be looked at. So we argued with the mental health person and finally they agreed with the 5150 and took him in. But I don’t think he was in there very long.”
WE WERE KICKING around the subject of the many local arrests for public drunkenness. It's a subject of more than passing interest to us as we often commute, late evenings, under the influence, albeit on foot to our new home in the center of Boonville. But we're drunks with a destination, drunks who walk on without pause. As a rule, the public drunk who winds up in the Sheriff's Log is either an obnoxiously public drunk — yelling obscenities, challenging passersby to fight etc. or, as in one case we heard about, taking off one's clothes and rhino-charging into traffic. This drunk definitely has to be suppressed.
THE SECOND KIND of public drunk is the person who presents a danger to him or herself. We're still laughing about the kid who was sloppy drunk at Boonville's annual Beerfest. He was sloppy drunk but still inside the Boonville Fairgrounds where the event was being held. "Dude!" the incredulous drunk shouted at the arresting officer who was escorting him off the premises, "I'm at a beerfest. Get it? I'm supposed to be drunk!"
THIS ONE would be a tweener, we'd say, but if a cop thinks you're so drunk you could hurt yourself, wherever you are, trust the cop who, presumably, is sober.
THE ABOVE are the two main categories of drunk-in-public but come with a lot of sub-sets. Very few people are arrested for simply being under the influence in a public place. If that were the basis for arrest, a large part of the County's fun-lovin' population would regularly be drying out on Low Gap Road. You've got to earn your way to an arrest for drunk-in-public.
DOG O' THE DAY — DEXTER
A+: Adorable and Active.
Dexter is a 1+ year old, 55 pound dog. He might have some Doberman in his "pedigree," which would make him not only good looking, but smart and velcro-ish. Dexter is affectionate and active and he enjoys a good romp chasing a tennis balls, and going for walks or hikes. He would be the ideal dog for an active person looking for an exercise and adventure buddy. Dexter is eager to learn, plus he likes treats, so further training should come easily for him. Call the Adoption Coordinator for more information about Dexter: 707-467-6453. Better yet, come to the shelter and meet Dexter and the other dogs and cats who are waiting patiently for homes. The Mendocino Animal Care Services Ukiah Shelter is located at 298 Plant Road, Ukiah. Check out our Facebook Page:
ANIMAL SHELTERS everywhere have a lot of pit bulls, our Shelter in Ukiah is no exception. There are lots of them over there. A friend argues, "I know they have a lousy rap, but the good ones, like any other dog or breed, are truly great dogs— very happy, playful to the point of goofy. These are dogs bred to take care of toddlers, so back in the day, a big percentage of photos from the early 1900s will show a little kid and a Staffordshire terrier, the forerunner of pitties…"
I INHERITED a dog that was half pit or, "pittie," as my friend romantically refers to the breed. My dog, Roscoe, had twice flunked obedience school and, fond of him as I became to where I miss him still, he was only under theoretical control. He would occasionally take a nip at me at no provocation, his only friend in the world. I'd denounce him in the vilest terms as an ingrate and a nut, and he'd slink remorsefully off, only to take a pass at me again whenever he felt like it. And he was a terrible racist. Roscoe would go dangerously off at the mere sight of a dark-skinned person, including, until he got to know her, my wife, a dark-skinned person. Natch, I kept Roscoe on a leash whenever I took him any place where there were people. The only place I could off-leash him was deep in the hills. In The City, every time we'd pass a black or brown person Roscoe, whose human lineage was entirely liberal, would growl menacingly. It was embarrassing. The vic would surely be thinking, "There's another white bastard with a pit. He's either Klan or a Klan symp."
MY DOG INFORMANT COMMENTS: "Right now the shelter has a big pittie population. In the spring and summer we get herding dogs and hounds — herding dogs not up to the task and hounds who did not return after a hunt. After the grow, pits and german shepherd dogs. When a pop film with a dog character gets released, half a year later the shelters in the US will fill with those (chihuahuas were big a few years ago, but don’t ask me the name of the movie.)"
DAYLA HEPTING WRITES: "I have spent the last two years in a battle on facebook with a bunch of Trump loving, fascist, racist, homophobic, evangelical Christians. I have tried to be civil in spite of their rage and spitefulness towards me. Tear off the mask of Christianity and you find a seething spew of hate and intolerance. Most of my enemies are my relatives. But they finally pushed me too far yesterday. I read a post from the Bible based on the sons of Cain. The poster said the doomed sons in this day and age are liberals and other undesireables. That pissed me off and I became no longer civil. I told them their Christianity was disgusting. I do not believe in God. Never have. Never will. So they all came unglued. Spewing hate for me and my California values. They told me to go back to California where I belonged. My parting shot was "Fuck off, you redneck bastards. I'm done." And that is the end of it. I am coming back to Anderson Valley. I am done with Montana. There is a civil war brewing in the heartland and I am tired of being the lone Indian — Assiniboine — fighting the whole fucking Calvary. I'm done. I am going home. I want to live in the Anderson Valley. I will arrive next spring. June 2017. I need that much time to get my affairs in order. Well now I am in script. Oh well. I don't mind. I will be looking for senior housing when I get there."
YOU'LL DO, LOPEZ
On April 14, 2016 Deputies from the County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team (COMMET) assisted by agents from the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force and an officer from the Ukiah Police Department went to a rural property in the 18000 block of Tomki Road in Willits to attempt to located a subject who had a felony arrest warrant. Upon arrival the officers located three greenhouses at the location with approximately 1,523 marijuana plants being grown inside of the greenhouses. Rovin Martin-Lopez, 25, of Willits, was observed inside one of the greenhouses tending to the marijuana plants. Martin-Lopez was arrested without incident and booked into the Mendocino County Jail where he was to be held in lieu of $25,000 bail for Cultivation of marijuana and Possession of marijuana for sale. The wanted subject was not located on the property.
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IN THE ACT
On April 14, 2016 at about 8:27 AM Mendocino County Deputies were dispatched to a suspicious situation in the 24000 block of Nonello Lane in Albion. When Deputies arrived they met with the reporting party who stated the house across the street had been foreclosed on and recently purchased by a 66 year-old adult male. Deputies contacted this adult male who told them no one should be at the residence. Deputies responded to the residence and contacted a male outside of the residence who identified himself as Michael Monroe, 32, of Ukiah. A female was then contacted who identified herself as Alona Lopez, 36, of Ukiah. As the Deputies investigated further they learned that Monroe and Lopez had gained access into the house while removing several items from the house which were located by the Deputies in Monroe and Lopez vehicles. Deputies also learned that Monroe and Lopez had removed property from the interior of the residence and placed the property in a pile in the garage next to the garage door. During the course of the investigation Deputies were able to tie Monroe and Lopez to another residential burglary which took place on March 3, 2016 on Primrose Drive in Willits, [MCSO Case #2016-6585]. Monroe and Lopez were subsequently arrested for Residential Burglary and Conspiracy. Monroe and Lopez were booked into the Mendocino County Jail were they were to be held in lieu of $50,000 bail. Once Lopez was booked into the Mendocino County Jail it was learned that she had an outstanding Felony warrant for being a fugitive from justice out of Douglas County Oregon resulting in her being held in lieu of an additional $10,000 bail.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS!
Nye Ranch Farm Stand open TODAY! (Sunday)
Mendocino Coast community, come visit the Farm Stand at the Nye Ranch (2 miles north of Fort Bragg on Highway 1)! My partner and I have been busy since October shaping a new small farm on the beautiful soil at the historic Nye Ranch. We will be attending Fort Bragg and Mendocino Farmer's Markets starting in May, but we have some delicious early greens available now! Red Russian Kale, Toscano Kale, Pac Choi/Bak Choi, Hon Tsai Tai (mustard greens), and Tatsoi! As the weeks progress we'll have more vegetable varieties as well as Cut-Flower Bouquets. Open Sunday 8am-6pm and next weekend as well. The Farm Stand is a self-serve honor system, but if you have any questions we'll be close by in the field. Thank you, we are so excited to be providing nutritious local vegetables for the community!
Kyle Forrest Burns & Melanie MacTavish
23300 N. Hwy 1 Fort Bragg
U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY JACK LEW is expected to announce that Alexander Hamilton's face will remain on the $10 bill and that a woman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Previously, Lew had said that he was considering a redesign of the $10 to include the image of a woman. There was an uproar, fueled in part by fandom of the new broadway musical 'Hamilton,' prompting Lew to change his mind. A mural depiction of the women's suffrage movement will be on the back of the bill.
THE MIGHTY AVA suggests Sojourner Truth in place of Jackson. She's not as well-known as she ought to be, as you will agree if you read her truly remarkable biography.
But given that this administration runs on platitudes funded by pc billionaires, we're much more likely to get Caitlin Jenner.
CATCH OF THE DAY, April 17, 2016
Budar-Morales, Carpenter, Gonzalez
ERIC BUDAR-MORALES, Ukiah. DUI.
ROBIN CARPENTER, Fort Bragg Elder abuse, resisting.
ANDREA GONZALEZ, Ukiah. Failure to appear.
Lopez, Morfin, Peters
MARCIAL LOPEZ, Philo. Pot cultivation, possession for sale.
TONY MORFIN, Calpella. Controlled substance.
CHRISTOPHER PETERS, Stockton/Ukiah. Burglary, burglary tools, controlled substance, obtaining credit with another’s ID.
Porter, Ringler, Seratt
JAMES PORTER, Willits. Domestic battery, vandalism.
CODY RINGLER, Laytonville. Suspended license.
LEVI SERATT, Ukiah. Suspended license, failure to appear.
Silver, Villalobos, White
CALEB SILVER, Fort Bragg. Cruelty to animals, receiving stolen property, evidence tampering.
LUIS VILLALOBOS, Ukiah. Controlled substance, failure to appear, probation revocation.
HIEDI WHITE, Ukiah. Drunk in public.
JUST BECAUSE YOU LOP OFF YOUR PENIS…it doesn’t make you a woman. I agree that when I first was thinking about what is a woman I fell for the usual view that women were people with two Xs and men were people with an X and a Y, which made life nice and easy for me. And I now realize, partly because I’m not entirely immune to information, that this was wrong. If you’re uncomfortable with the masculine system, it doesn’t mean that you belong on the other end of the spectrum. It’s not fair to women that a man who has lived 40 years as a man and had children with a woman and enjoyed the unpaid services of a wife, which most women will never know, then decides that whole time that he’s been a woman.
— Germaine Greer
WE'LL SOON KNOW EXACTLY HOW DUMB SMART WILL BE
Whenever the Marin Independent Journal has a story on the new Sonoma/Marin SMART train system, the comments are fun (SMART begins talking rail schedule as service set to begin later this year), as the project's critics and supporters hammer each other.
This latest story gives critics some ammo: "The cost of fares has not been announced."
That is, the folks at SMART have no idea how much to charge an unknown number of future passengers. They also don't know how much the system itself is going to cost to operate, a crucial factor when calculating ticket prices.
Our Muni system here in San Francisco collects only 25% of its operating costs from fares. How much better than that will SMART do? The problem: If ticket prices are set too high to offset operating costs, ridership and revenue decline.
One of the comments makes the obvious point:
“So soon enough we will be able to document the failures of this boondoggle. The low ridership. The subsidized tickets, which will be in the thou$ands for EACH single ticket. The added traffic problems due to back ups. Of course, there will be excuses offered at every failure, but never accountability. Oh, yeah, probably another tax hike, too. But, don't expect to be able to vote on it this time.”
And this from the story:
“SMART officials are promising rail service will deliver people to destinations faster than taking Highway 101, in particular those coming southbound on the freeway in the morning. ‘The alternative and options trains will be providing is [sic] tremendous,’ said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager.”
He would say that, wouldn't he? A comment raises the question of how people will get from the rail stations to their "destinations":
“SMART's computer simulations don't take into account the time it would take to drive to the SMART station, find parking, pay for parking, pay the train fare, find a ride to one's ultimate destination (bus, cab, ferry?) and pay for that ride. Sounds like the plot for 'Final Destination 6'.”
Another comment on that issue:
"Is San Rafael going to build massive parking structures at its SMART stations? Or is the theory that all the riders will take public transport, ride-sharing and bikes to the stations?”
With traffic congestion, commuting by car is a pain the ass, but the great advantage those wicked cars have over trains: they provide door-to-door transportation.
Speaking of train stations, the Novato station issue here and here. Be sure to read the comments to the latter story.
Rob Anderson (Courtesy, District5Diary)
SUZIE de CASTRO REMINDS US,
Like Hollywood itself, the history of The Beverly Hills Hotel is a 20th-century tale of glamour, riches and romance. The celebrity hotel in Los Angeles was built in 1912, before there was even a city called Beverly Hills.
Hoping to ignite a land rush, developer Burton Green, President of the Rodeo Land and Water Company, bought land once owned by the Mexican government in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. He hired Margaret J. Anderson (Bruce Anderson’s grandmother) to build a sprawling hotel in Mission Revival style on 12 acres, with white stucco exterior and terra cotta-colored roof tiles, and named it after Beverly Farms, his home in Massachusetts.
PEACEFUL PASSING: What defines “a good death’ in my view has to respect that all lives end. We got used to patining death as a defeat in a fight. The vast majority of Americans resent all interventions to delay the moment of dying for the terminally ill, those who irretrievably lost all contents of awareness and the demented patients when they have lost recognition of self and surroundings. Patients who wish to have resuscitation, put on machines or kept alive by artificial means, being a small minority, should be given the option to opt out of palliative care only. We allow people to shoot themselves in the head, strangle themselves or jump of a bridge in respect to the legal right of self-determination — but we don’t allow them to die peacefully.
Lofty Basta, MD, San Francisco
COLLAPSE OF KELP FOREST imperils North Coast ocean ecosystem
by Mary Callahan
Large tracts of kelp forest that once blanketed the sea off the North Coast have vanished over the past two years, a startling transformation that scientists say stems from rapid ecological change and has potentially far-reaching impacts, including on several valuable fisheries.
The unprecedented collapse has been observed along hundreds of miles of coastline from San Francisco to Oregon. The region’s once-lush stands of bull kelp, a large brown alga that provides food and habitat for a host of wildlife species, have been devoured by small, voracious purple urchins. In the most-affected areas, denuded kelp stalks are almost all that remains of plant life.
Scientists have described the landscape left behind as an “urchin barren.” Other factors, including warmer water, also are to blame, they say.
“It’s no longer a kelp forest,” said Cynthia Catton, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, stationed in Bodega Bay.
Laura Rogers-Bennett, another Bodega Bay scientist, said it is as if whole terrestrial forests were disappearing, only in this case they are underwater and out of sight.
“A lot fewer people swim through the kelp forest,” she said. “But if they do right now, they‘re going to really see that there are huge changes that have taken place in the last year and a half or so.”
The discovery has taken shape as California scientists and policy makers are raising a broader alarm over the ebbing health of ocean waters, pointing to their increasing warmth, acidity and other conditions that have affected wildlife and the fishing industry.
The state’s commercial Dungeness crab fleet has endured a disastrous year, with fishermen forced to sit out the most lucrative months of their season over health concerns presented by a naturally occurring neurotoxin. Its prolonged presence in the sought-after crustaceans, which account for California’s single- most valuable ocean fishery, at more than $60 million, was tied to the same warm-water conditions impacting kelp beds.
The extended drought, meanwhile, has contributed to a grim forecast for the upcoming commercial salmon catch — the second-most valuable fishery, worth more than $12 million two years ago. The projection has salmon fishermen from Eureka to Morro Bay bracing for their second consecutive meager year.
The kelp collapse may only add to the woes for some.
Purple urchins are a silver-dollar-sized species rarely caught for commercial harvest in California. They normally co-exist in kelp forests alongside other marine life, including red urchins — which support a fishery worth $3.1 million on the Mendocino and Sonoma coasts and $9.1 million statewide — and red abalone, which draw legions of sport divers to the region each year from April to November.
But those two species also feed on kelp and both are showing signs of starvation, Catton said.
Rockfish, another key fishery that includes dozens of species sought by commercial and sport anglers, also likely will take a hit from the kelp die-off, said Mark Carr, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. The young of several near-shore species take shelter in the kelp during their first months of life.
In Sonoma and Mendocino counties, commercial landings of rockfish totaled nearly $500,000 in 2014, according to the latest state records. Statewide, the fishery brought in $2.7 million.
“There’s almost no rockfish species that is not of economic importance,” said Milton Love, a rockfish expert and associate research biologist at UC Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute.
The young of many rockfish species also are a major food source for seabirds, salmon and some pinnipeds, like sea lions. A major collapse of those populations could snap the food chain.
“It’s very concerning,” Catton said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty moving forward.”
‘A perfect storm’
Scientists blame the current situation on what some have called “a perfect storm” of large-scale environmental impacts dating back to 2011, when a harmful algal bloom off the Sonoma Coast released toxins that killed large numbers of red abalone and took a toll on other invertebrates.
In 2013, an eruption of sea star wasting disease along the West Coast eliminated vast quantities of starfish, affecting about 20 species to varying degrees, including at least two with pivotal roles in the food web.
Starfish are the primary predators of purple urchins, particularly in areas like Northern California, where sea otters — another significant urchin eater — have not rebounded as they have begun to do elsewhere on the coast.
Without such predators to keep them in check, the density of purple urchins on the North Coast reportedly now is more than 60 times that observed in the past, Catton said.
Also factoring in the kelp die-off is the so-called “warm blob,” an area of persistent warm water that spread south from Alaska down the coast of North America beginning in 2014, upsetting the ocean’s rhythms and causing anomalies in the marine environment that have affected wildlife health, behavior and migratory patterns. The arrival of El Niño in 2015 reinforced the warm ocean conditions.
The shift deprived kelp of the normal upwelling of nutrient- rich cold water, which helps the seaweed grow as much as 10 inches in a day. In recent years, the kelp produced far fewer fronds, or blades, diminishing reproductive capability and making the seaweed more susceptible to dislodgement by heavy waves, Carr said.
The spike in urchin numbers and coinciding decline in kelp growth has led to a radically transformed near-shore underwater world that has shocked even veteran divers.
Surveys and reports have shown vast areas of kelp forest stripped of plant life by the purple urchins. Where normally they would hide out in crevices and feed on sea drift, they have emerged en masse and overtaken tidal zones, consuming whole kelp plants and whatever else they can find to eat, Carr said.
One fisherman described the underwater scene as “Urchintopia,” said Rogers-Bennett, a researcher with the state fish and wildlife department and the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory.
Veteran diver Steve Lackey, an instructor at Sub-Surface Progression Dive Shop in Fort Bragg, said, “I try not to be an alarmist, but it is pretty unprecedented, in my opinion.”
This time of year, he’s accustomed to seeing small sprouts of kelp begin to appear on the ocean floor, a harbinger of the spring and summer growing season. This year, there are none, he said.
“I don’t remember quite this clean, this kind of scoured rock, with hungry invertebrates,” he said.
Toll on red abalone
The toll on red abalone has become clearer in just the past couple of weeks, Rogers-Bennett said.
The mollusks, prized by generations of hardy, wetsuit-clad sport anglers, compete for the same food sources as urchins. Of late, they also are exhibiting unusual behavior, leaving shelter in the rocks to climb denuded understory plants in an apparent search for kelp fronds to eat.
Surveys conducted last weekend at several active hunting sites north of Fort Ross on the Sonoma Coast turned up numerous examples of shrunken abalone among healthier specimens that had filled out their shiny iridescent shells.
One 18-year veteran of the sport fishery diving off Moat Creek near Point Arena on the Mendocino Coast said he was accustomed to seeing “fat boys” in the area and instead found only “skinny ones.”
A few miles north, off the Point Arena pier, many divers reported seeing empty shells of dead abalone, Rogers-Bennett said.
“We never see that,” she said.
Divers who venture into the sea for the larger, commercially prized red urchins, a species sought for its roe, or “uni,” also have observed signs of insufficient food for their catch.
Tom Trumper, an urchin diver and owner of Pacific Rim Seafoods in Fort Bragg, said a commercial diver usually will expect a harvested red urchin to yield about 7 percent of its mass in consumable uni, 10 percent if it is a really good one.
Right now, he’s catching urchin between 3 percent and 5 percent, and divers are having to go into deeper waters to get them, Trumper said.
Catton said the harvest and commecial value of red urchins has fallen by about two-thirds in the past two years.
“This is not due to disease, but due to starvation,” she said.
Kelp forests typically skirt the edge of North America, from Alaska to Baja California, and are considered among the most productive ecosystems on the planet.
Anchored atop rock reefs and layered like a terrestrial rain forest, they support a diverse array of wildlife and are even harvested commercially in some areas.
North of San Francisco Bay, the preeminent species is bull kelp, characterized by flexible stalks, or stipes, that resemble bull whips.
Fingered features called holdfasts allow the kelp to cling to rocks on the ocean floor and withstand the rough currents typical of the North Coast.
At the other end, each plant develops a spherical, buoy-like float filled with gas that helps keep the upper plant afloat, exposing fronds to the sunlight needed for growth.
Bull kelp can grow to 115 feet in length, creating towering wildlife habitat that buffers the force of the ocean.
Over the past two years, however, hardly any of the North Coast kelp is reaching the surface, Catton said.
Aerial surveys of the coastline from San Francisco to the Oregon border show that kelp forests now cover 93 percent less surface area than in past peak years such as 2008 and 1989, she said. Data from 2015 isn’t yet available.
Fort Bragg diver Jon Holcomb, a veteran red urchin fisherman, said the underwater transformation is dramatic.
Where the kelp forest was once thick enough to require divers to part the individual stalks to get through, it’s now “maybe 2 percent of what it was 20 or 30 years ago.”
He described seeing one narrow plant stalk covered 2 feet high in several inches of layered purple urchins “fighting to get the last of it.”
He’s also seen purple urchin gorging on overturned abalone and nibbling at their exposed tentacle fringe.
At Salt Point State Park on the Sonoma Coast, Gerstle Cove’s well-known kelp habitat is now “just solid urchin along the floor,” diver and state park lifeguard Joe Stoffers said.
“I mean, there was a dramatic shift between this last summer and the summer before,” he said. “There’s not much science behind what I’m saying, but it’s changed a lot.”
Marine scientists are still trying to get a handle on the situation, which came to light through routine surveys conducted largely to inform management of the abalone fisheries, Catton said.
They are reluctant to try to predict what they don’t yet know, and are looking for all the help they can get from divers and others with first-hand information about what they have noticed off-shore.
Catton and Rogers- Bennett have been reaching out to fellow scientists along the West Coast.
“We’re seeing this from sort of Central California all the way up into Oregon and Washington, so this is a very broad-scale impact,” Rogers-Bennett said. “It’s come about, we think, because of these multiple stressors on the system.”
Urchin barrens occur periodically in kelp forests, the result of disturbances in the food web that allow the invertebrates to overpopulate and, thus, overgraze a given area. The outbreaks are heavily studied and have yielded significant insight into the resilience of seaweed species, as well as restoration techniques.
But the kelp die-offs usually occur on a relatively small scale, in isolated areas or in more of a patchwork, Catton said. “They’re not hundreds of miles of coastline,” she said.
The scale of the current kelp collapse is what has scientists alarmed.
“You just don’t see the whole forest up and down the entire North Coast go away,” Carr said.
Bull kelp plants are a seasonal species that must re-establish itself each year in order to produce spores that bring about the next generation. With a third year of poor reproduction on the horizon, scientists aren’t sure how readily, if at all, the bull kelp can recover in the areas where it has disappeared. And if it does, can it survive the gauntlet of purple urchins?
“I think the big questions are: How long will these impacts linger?” Rogers-Bennett said. “Will this turn around? Or is this a new sort of stable state that will be with us for quite some time?”
The answer is unknown, and may depend in part on one’s perspective of time.
Bull kelp forests vary in size by season, and coverage is typically minimal at this time of year after the battering of winter storms.
But the species is built to recover, producing billions of spores that can persist in the ocean for some period of time before reproduction.
It’s like having a seed bank, said Jim Estes, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. “Having it all disappear would not be my big concern,” he said.
Exactly how long those seeds remain viable is unclear, however, and recolonization of such a vast area could be very slow, experts said.
“This species has been around for a while, since evolutionary times,” said Dan Reed, a UC Santa Barbara research biologist and deputy director of the Marine Science Institute. “There’s undoubtedly been times where these kind of constraints have happened, and it hasn’t disappeared. That’s not to say it won’t in the future.”
Catton is working to develop a pilot project that might test bull kelp’s resiliency through hand removal of purple urchins from small-scale areas. She met recently with several dozen red urchin divers and processors — people with the tools, know-how and motivation to help — and is hoping to move quickly to clear target areas to see if any of the seaweed springs up.
“The idea is to create little oases of kelp to see if we can,” she said.
Beyond that, researchers are in wait-and-see mode.
“Most kelps will recover if you give them space and time,” said Matthew Edwards, professor and vice chairman of biology at San Diego State University.
The abundance of purple urchins may only be solved through some other force, such as disease, predation or heavy storms, he said.
Otherwise, based on outcomes elsewhere, “you will lose species,” Edwards said. “You will lose biodiversity. And you will lose — or you’ll have reductions in — some of these commercial and recreationally important species. That’s pretty clear.”
How to help: State scientists are seeking help with data collection and other activities, as well as observational accounts, photos and videos related to the urchin barren. Shared images and information should, if possible, include the date, location and depth at which they were acquired. Contact Cynthia Catton at Cynthia.Catton@wildlife.ca.gov or 875-2072.
(Courtesy, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.)
cover art by Joe Kubert