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Mendocino County Today: February 25, 2013

THE STATE JUDICIAL COUNCIL has put off funding the new Mendocino County Courthouse for another year, fiscal year 2014-15 to be exact. The money for a new courthouse in Ukiah keeps getting diverted into the state's porous general fund. The plan is for a structure containing nine courtrooms at an estimated cost of $119 million. The structure will almost certainly be located on West Perkins Street in Ukiah at the site of the old train depot. It is also certain to be a major eyesore in town replete with them, a building much like the now abandoned Willits Courthouse.

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JAMES AND ELIZABETH SODERLING of Fort Bragg have entered separate guilty pleas to federal marijuana distribution conspiracy charges. The Soderlings appeared last week in a Kansas federal court. They could be facing 10-years-to-life in federal prison, but the fact that they pled out, and apparently admitted the culpability of the other persons involved, means it is unlikely the Soderlings will suffer lengthy sentences. Five more Mendocino County residents face a June trial in Kansas on the same charges arising from what the feds describe as a three-state conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana. The Soderling’s have agreed to testify at future proceedings, presumably in return for reduced sentences for themselves. The Soderling’s have also agreed to disclose and potentially forfeit all current assets and any assets transferred during the past three years.

THERE ARE 44 defendants in the case, including the five remaining from Mendocino County: John Paul McMillan, Erin M. Keller, Henry McCusker, Richard W. Smith Jr., and Jeffrey Wall. Their trials are set for June in Kansas. The remaining local defendants, except McCusker, are out on bail awaiting trial. McCusker of Mendocino, remains in custody. A January 25th ruling by United States Kansas District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil declared that McCusker poses a danger to the community and that no set of conditions of release will reasonably assure his appearance in court. McCusker has been held without bail since his arrest on November 7. Federal prosecutors claim that McCusker’s history of resisting arrest, fighting in a public place and driving under the influence makes him a flight risk, although the court conceded McCusker has a wife a child, that he's been sober since 2010, and he has family in Mendocino County.

THE JUDGE SAID McCusker was a flight risk because when a local deputy went to McCusker’s home in Mendocino to arrest him back on November 7, and learned McCusker was driving to Comptche, the deputy passed McCusker headed in the other direction. The deputy made a U-turn to look for McCusker who had pulled off the roadway onto a dirt trail in an apparent effort to flee, only to get his vehicle stuck on a tree stump where the deputy found him. The deputy also said that McCusker reeked of “marijuana juice” when he was arrested.

THE FEDERAL PROSECUTOR testified at McCusker's bail hearing that six cooperating witnesses have identified McCusker as being personally involved in shipping 1,000 pounds of high-grade marijuana with a street value of approximately $2.6 million.

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ACCORDING TO a story by Linda Williams in the Willits News, local cops filed 20% more cases in 2012 than they did in 2011. “Whether the increased workload is due to more effective policing, or whether it's a result of increasing criminal activity, is not yet clear to Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster,” Williams reported. “Since detailed state and county level crime data is not yet available for 2012, it is unclear whether this trend is primarily a local issue, or whether it's part of a statewide trend,” she wrote.

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INTERESTING study by the combined forces of Fish and Game and the Forest Service to try to explain the radical fall-off in the state's deer population. 96 fawns were radio-collared. Of the 96, only 38% survived. Disease and accident killed 11%; mountain lions took out 49%; coyotes 27%; and bobcats the rest. 96 fawns is not a large number to sample, but if it's representative it means that less than a third of the fawn population makes it to adulthood, that predators are largely responsible for the entire population's decreased numbers and that there may be a predator imbalance.

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THE JACKSON DEMONSTRATION STATE FOREST Advisory Group meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Ukiah Field Office at 2550 North State Street in Ukiah beginning at 9:30a.m. The meeting agenda is posted on the CAL FIRE website: (CAL FIRE – Jackson Demonstration State Forest) http://www.fire.ca.gov/resource_mgt_stateforest_jackson.php. This meeting is open to the public and public attendance is encouraged. If anyone has any questions about Jackson Demonstration State Forest, please call (707) 964-5674.

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DAY 26 AT WARBLER'S TREESIT — Report from the Warbler Support Crew, February 22, 2013. Warbler is strong and well. She remains determined to hold her ground in the Liberty Ponderosa until Caltran's Bypass is cancelled. Many people have sent her copies of the newspaper coverage and she is thrilled to see renewed debate in the community about all of the possible alternatives to Caltran's $214 million boondoogle. She also sends many thank-yous and much gratitude to all of those who are sending food, supplies, and words of support and inspiration. We are certain that the strong presence of people from the community holding vigil at the treesit site has helped to deter CalTrans. So, please keep coming! With help and support from the community Warbler has been working to make her perch more livable, more self-sufficient, and stock-piled with supplies to meet her basic needs for the long haul ahead. She is now solarized!!! She is well aware that times will be more difficult when CalTrans begins to build the fence and gate around the so-called “designated construction zone.” 
Yes, the standby alert remains. Whenever CalTran's contractors arrive to begin building the fence we will initiate the emergency phone tree. We don't know when this will be. If you are on the emergency phone tree you will receive a call asking you to please gather at Evergreen Shopping Center. From there we will have shuttles to the treesit site. At the treesit sight we will hold a peaceful and joyous musical rally to celebrate the trees, Warbler's courage, and our own determination to stop the Bypass destruction. Stay strong. STOP CALTRANS BYPASS. There is a better way!

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OCCUPY UKIAH Presents an Open Public Forum on Herbicide Use in Mendocino County Sunday March 10th, 2013 at The Ukiah United Methodist Church Choir Room 270 N. Pine St. Ukiah 4:30 to 6:30pm The open public forum on herbicides in the county will review herbicide use in the Mendocino Redwood Company 80-year Habitat Conservation Plan and herbicide use on school campuses. Our goal is to view all sides of the controversial topic through the format of public discourse. There will be a moderated panel of featured speakers including Ag Commissioner Chuck Morse. Public comment will follow with a question and answer period. Public input is welcome! For more information, contact Charlie Vaughan 707-367-2194 roshambo1414@yahoo.com

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AMBERGRIS, by Debra Keipp

AmbergrisMom and pop gold panning is enjoying a rebirth in California. I examined a few videos about stream panning, and decided instead to renew my interest in ocean beachcombing after Googling, “What’s more expensive than gold?”

Poop from a sick sperm whale? Strange but true. And there’s not a thing you can do about it. By today’s gold standards, ambergris — cured sick sperm whale feces — is $10 per troy ounce, richer than gold itself. Why? When cured correctly, ambergris is crucial in the making of fine perfumes.

Ambergris is used as a fixative and fragrance amplifier for many perfumes. It accentuates, deepens and strengthens the endurance of aroma. Also synthesized for use in cheaper perfumes with less staying power, perfumers consider genuine beach cast ambergris to be a recession-proof commodity. Even at roughly $10,000/lb., there’s always a market for beach cast (natural) ambergris, as it cannot be produced on demand by any means in its natural form.

In some countries it remains legal to collect ambergris when beachcombing, as it is naturally considered cast-off excrement of the sperm whale: a derivative of whale dung cured while floating, exposed to the salt and sun, in any ocean on earth for ten or twenty years after having been shat out by the sperm whale.

Collecting ambergris doesn’t require killing the whale as in the time of Moby Dick because ambergris has to be pooped out of a sick whale in the process of sperm whale digestion and elimination. Killing the whale would do no good. That’s not the way to collect ambergris. Random coincidence when beachcombing is usually the proper way to collect precious ambergris.

Speaking of the ocean’s riches, poet Phyllis McGinley wrote, “The wholesome oyster wears no pearl, the healthy whale no ambergris.”

Reading the Bangkok Post one morning, the tourist talk in that hemisphere was from New Zealand where there was of a huge boulder-sized chunk of aromatic ambergris weighing 40 kilos found by beachcombers, who collected nearly $400,000 for the coveted waxy “substance” necessary in the process of making fine perfumes.

They admit they're guessing, but experts say that only 10% of sperm whales possess the ability to produce ambergris because they are ill and cannot digest squid beaks. In Moby Dick, Melville wrote of ambergris as, “an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale.” Ambergris was largely used in Melville’s era, in “perfumery, pastilles, precious candles, hair powders, and pomatum.”

In 2005, a 200 year old fragrance originally made for Marie Antoinette, which featured ambergris as a main ingredient, was reproduced in limited small (few milliliter) quantities for $11,000 per bottle.

I await receipt of the only book listed in the library on the subject of ambergris, which is, “Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris” by Christopher Kemp, published in 2012. There’s only one copy for an entire Coastal county of beachcombers.

The territory of sperm whales covers oceans everywhere on earth with the exception of the coldest waters around the North and South Poles. Ireland, England and New Zealand are countries where it remains legal to take ambergris. So why isn’t more ambergris found by beachcombers? Would you know what it was if you found some? One hint is that ambergris is said to smell woodsy, rather similar to the hippy perfume, patchouli or boxed crystal amber perfume from India, but not as strong as either. The scent is subtle — not overpowering. If you’re walking on any ocean beach and smell perfume, look around for ambergris.

Ambergris is a waxy substance mainly consistent with cholesterol secreted by the gastrointestinal tract of a sick sperm whale to help the whale pass a plethora of knife-sharp reticulated squid beaks which are tough as razor blades to pass, stuck whole in the sperm whale bowel after digestion. Ambrein (cholesterol), alkalides and acids create ambergris, which helps the squid beaks …pass, within the yolk-like ambrein secretions. The chemical component ambrein is what prolongs scent in perfume.

“Moby Sick Makes Boy Rich,” fetching $65,000 for the Irishman’s beach find. Another journal states that 1% of 350,000 sperm whales produce ambergris. Again, the collection of such stats is as speculative as the collection of actual ambergris.

I’ve asked every ocean-going fisherman I know who fishes out of Point Arena, if they’ve ever seen whale dung floating in the Pacific. They all look at me awkwardly and say, “no.” Others who have fished the high seas and sighted floating whale dung describe it as foul smelling and consisting of black tarry feces floating and encapsulated in an albumin/yolk-like substance which holds the entire bowel movement together while it drifts for ten or twenty years in salt and sun before becoming beach cast ambergris. Years of salt water and sun bleach out the specimen, changing smell, consistency, texture, color and appearance, until finally, only the waxy portion remains, to be used by perfumers worldwide, or just to sit on the beach and become the property of no one, like driftwood …expensive nothing.

Aside from the distinctive smell, one way to tell if you indeed have ambergris in your hand, is to see if it responds to flame. It should melt like a resin when ignited. Also, heating a pin or paperclip and sticking it into the “stone” or wax chunk of ambergris, will expose both smell and resin-like melting qualities; two hallmarks of ambergris.

It has been illegal to collect ambergris in the US since 1972. French ambergris trader Bernard Perrin attributes the decline in the use of ambergris to “The Americans, …ecology, Green Party, blah, blah, blah”, and a desire to keep perfume prices low by use of synthetic alternatives to imitate ambergris’ signature scent and fixative properties, the quality of which cannot be duplicated.

One of the biggest disappointments about “keeping” ambergris, is that ambergris diminishes speedily. When grasped too tightly, it slips away from the warmth of your hand. Heat speeds dispersal. It must be carefully stored for only short periods of time prior to being transformed into perfume, or it will dissipate and disappear into thin air before it can be used, this organic matter of aroma.

YouTube had a very interesting movie of an “Ambergris find on Bolinas Beach” from 1934. At one soundless minute long, it showed throngs of locals beach-combing and excitedly sharing their finds with the camera. It turned out, however, that none of the suspected beachcombing finds were the stuff of actual ambergris, but the search goes on.

Buena fortuna.

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