Recreation

California state parks do more than provide public recreation

California state parks do more than provide public recreation

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 8/17/17

Have you noticed all the mountain bikes strapped on cars traveling over Highway 17, especially on weekends? Demand for biking and other forms of recreation in the public spaces of Santa Cruz County is steadily increasing and much of that demand is coming from “over the hill” in the San Francisco Bay Area. Apparently, people increasingly need to escape from the stress of living in Silicon Valley.

At the same time, California State Parks has cut way back on acquiring new parklands in Santa Cruz County and throughout the state, following a complete reorganization of state parks beginning in 2013.

As demand steadily increases for recreation, sometimes people forget that state parks — as well as county and city parks and other public spaces — were originally set aside to do more than provide trails for public recreation. They were also established as natural areas to preserve habitat for other lifeforms and to ensure that natural processes — part of our planet’s life support system — function properly.

 

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Flying like a bird to support forest restoration

by Betsy Herbert

Earth Matters column, published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 01/22/16

 Contributed This zip-wire tour aims to educate visitors on the disappearing birds of New Zealand.

Contributed This zip-wire tour aims to educate visitors on the disappearing birds of New Zealand.

Up 120 feet in the forest canopy last week, I launched off a platform surrounding a towering 1,000-year-old kauri tree in Dansey Forest, Roturua, New Zealand. Holding onto my harness straps, I pushed off with my feet, surrendered my weight to the zipline, and went flying 720 feet through the treetops. About halfway through the flight, I let go of the harness, leaned back and spread out my arms. Exhilarating!

I had a little help of course. I was part of a group of 10 zipliners led by guides Scott and Kathy, locals employed by nonprofit Rotorua Canopy Tours.

During our three-hour adventure, we whizzed over .75 miles of ziplines, traversed three swinging bridges, and hung out on five tree platforms, all the while learning about the plight of New Zealand’s native birds and the group’s ongoing efforts to help them survive. By the time the tour ended, I was glad to know that a portion of my ticket price would be invested in supporting these efforts.

Kathy explained that 51 bird species endemic to New Zealand including the moa and other flightless birds are now extinct, while many other species are in decline. Because New Zealand birds evolved in isolation when there were no existing land mammals to prey on them, they never developed natural defenses needed to fend off introduced mammals.

While humans hunted the moa and other large birds, the nail in the coffin for many extinct bird species was the introduction of exotic mammals such as the possum, rat and stoat (a type of weasel). Fur traders introduced the possum because of its value in pelts, the rat came into New Zealand as a stowaway on ships, and the stoat was introduced in hopes that it would prey on rabbits, which were themselves introduced earlier with prolifically tragic results.

Some of the favorite foods of the possum are the new growth on New Zealand’s native trees and the eggs of its native birds. There are now some 30 million possums in New Zealand, so their impact is astounding.

The rat also likes to eat native birds, as well as the seeds and fruits of the native trees, inhibiting their ability to propagate. Perhaps worst of all is the stoat; once introduced to New Zealand, the stoat lost its taste for rabbits and instead took to preying on native birds, especially the kiwi, New Zealand’s national icon.

As all of these exotic mammals were being introduced, New Zealand’s native forests were being decimated by logging and slowly replaced with introduced tree species like Monterey pine, which is now the country’s leading commercial timber tree. As native forests were replaced with exotic tree plantations or converted to farmland, the habitat of New Zealand’s native birds took a huge hit.

What could be done to turn this around? The founders of Rotorua Canopy Tours, James Fitzgerald and Andrew Blackford, decided to create a successful eco-tourism business to support the active trapping and killing of possums, rats and stoats on this 1,235 acre Dansey Forest to bring back native bird populations. The group joined into a partnership with the New Zealand Department of Conservation, which owns the land.

Their efforts have paid off. After testing different kinds of traps, the company now has installed more than 1,000 instant kill and humane traps in the forest. To date, 10 percent of the Dansey Forest is free from these exotic predators. Zipliners can now hear the birdsongs of the native North Island robin, the tomtit, tui, and the kaka, which are returning to the forest.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who is on a year-long journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

Earth Matters: Tanzania welcomes tourists to help combat big-game poaching

by Betsy Herbert

Published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 9/25/2015

 Boniface Faustine, now leading tours in Tanzania for Overseas Adventure Travel, previously worked as a park ranger in the Serengeti National Park.

Boniface Faustine, now leading tours in Tanzania for Overseas Adventure Travel, previously worked as a park ranger in the Serengeti National Park.

I’m sitting on my mosquito-netted bed in a thatch-roofed hut at the Moivaro Lodge on the outskirts of Arusha, Tanzania, typing on my laptop. In a few hours, our tour guides will take 13 of us to the Kilimanjaro airport. We’ve just spent the last two weeks on a thrilling photo safari in the Serengeti and Tarangire national parks and the Ngorongoro National Conservation Area in this east African country where big game poaching, especially of elephants and black rhinos, is part of a regional environmental crisis.

Boniface Faustine was the lead guide for our tour, which was organized by the American company, Overseas Adventure Travel (www.oattravel.com). Faustine worked as a ranger in Serengeti National Park for three years before deciding to make a career change. He says that long periods away from his family and very real threats to the lives of park rangers drove his decision.

A bronze plaque at the rim of Ngorongoro Conservation Area serves as a memorial to six park rangers killed by poachers and bandits.

Faustine’s passion for protecting Tanzania’s wildlife commands attention to his well-prepared lectures about local species including the “The Big Five” — elephants, lions, rhinos, cape buffalo and leopards — some of the most sought after subjects for photographers.

Faustine emphasizes that revenue from tourism and photo safaris in the parks contributes significantly to government projects that stem poaching by catching and prosecuting the offenders.

Poachers, who are funded by international buyers of ivory and rhino horns, are heavily armed, technologically savvy, and may use helicopters to search out and kill their endangered prey. Their modus operandi is to cut out the tusks and horns, leaving the carcasses.

Poachers also attempt to eavesdrop on park ranger communications to locate targets.

To learn about efforts to conserve and protect the black rhino, we visited the Michael Grzimek Memorial Rhino Post in Serengeti National Park. In 1997, after poachers had killed all black rhinos in the park, the Rhino Post — with government authorization — captured two black rhinos in South Africa and airlifted them in crates to the Serengeti and Ngorogorango parks in Tanzania. The crate used to transport the rhinos is on display at the post.

As a result of this and other conservation projects, the black rhino is again breeding naturally in these parks, though rangers will not release actual population numbers or locations, so that poachers can’t retrieve that information.

While dismayed by the continuing problem of big game poaching, our group was somewhat relieved to know that photo safaris such as ours help to combat the problem.

No doubt, some impacts to wildlife are inherent in such tourism. From what I saw, though, these magnificent animals, especially the big cats, seemed to ignore us and our safari vehicles, which are strictly confined to park roads. They continued to hunt and be hunted, graze, bathe, nuzzle each other and loll about.

 Elephants cross the roads in Serengeti National Park whenever they please, ignoring or at times insisting that photo safari vehicles get out of the way. They never get an argument!

Elephants cross the roads in Serengeti National Park whenever they please, ignoring or at times insisting that photo safari vehicles get out of the way. They never get an argument!

The tour was a photographer’s dream. We observed all of the Big Five in their native habitats, including three rhinos, hundreds of elephants and cape buffalo and entire prides of lions. Giraffes, gazelles, zebras, hippos and wildebeests were too numerous to count. One of my favorite snaps was of a hyena pup, just a few weeks old, who curiously came right up to our open-topped vehicle to sniff us out.

We also filmed two lionesses as they began to devour their fresh zebra kill. As vultures descended, the lionesses dragged the carcass across the road to the shade of an acacia tree.

I came away from this tour with an enhanced appreciation of all wildlife in this region, as well as a great respect for the rangers and conservationists who put their lives at risk to protect them.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who is on a year-long journey around the world. You can read her travel blog and environmental articles on her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

Enjoying and protecting wild Croatia

by Betsy Herbert

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 06/20/2015

Last week I left the beautiful old city of Dubrovnik, saying goodbye to Croatia and to the 17 other hikers, bikers and kayakers I met during our two-week Sierra Club International outing, “Jewels of Croatia: Forests, Rivers and Islands.”

 The famous Plitvice National Park draws more than a million visitors a year.

The famous Plitvice National Park draws more than a million visitors a year.

Starting in the capital city of Zagreb, our group, led by two Croatian guides, would travel by van roughly north to south, stopping to experience the country’s vastly different landscapes. We would hike through alpine meadows of the Velebit Mountains, cycle through valleys graced with small towns and vineyards, kayak on crystalline rivers, and sail to some of the 1,200 islands along the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

Before we left Zagreb, a scientist named Mate Zec briefed us about the natural areas we were about to see. Zec is employed by Association Biom, a nonprofit based in Zagreb and affiliated with Birdlife International, a nonprofit that manages 6,000 natural areas in 47 countries.

Croatia is about the size of West Virginia. Some 25 percent of its land is arable farmland and about 40 percent is forested. Fifty percent of Croatia’s landmass is limestone karst. Riddled with caves and underground cavities, limestone karst stores and exudes enormous amounts of water in the form of abundant rivers and waterfalls. Croatia’s coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot and dry summers, while its mountains, the Dinaric Alps, have cold winters and hot summers.

 Karstic limestone in the Velebit Mountains show signs of long-ago erosion.

Karstic limestone in the Velebit Mountains show signs of long-ago erosion.

These different climates and landscapes have produced remarkable biodiversity in Croatia. The network of subterranean limestone caves host species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. Croatia’s forests and grasslands are home to many different species including brown bears, wolves and lynxes. But many of these species, especially the native lynx, are threatened.

According to Association Biom, 8.5 percent of Croatia’s land is designated as some type of protected area. There are both national parks and regional “nature parks,” which are managed differently. Admission tickets to the more popular parks provide an important source of income for park management. The famous Plitvice National Park, for example, draws more than a million visitors a year.

Tourism accounts for about 15 percent of Croatia’s GDP. Croatia’s population of 4.5 million has an average per capita income of $17,800. So, income from tourism is especially important.

But tourism can also create problems for natural areas. For example, Zec explains that a few “rich parks” with high numbers of tourists have no daily limits to the number of visitors. Later, when our group visited Plitvice National Park, we found that even prior to peak season, we had to move single-file along the trails, reminiscent of U.S. national parks like Yosemite at peak season.

Zec said that park management varies greatly throughout Croatia due to political influence. The result is that parks throughout the country have different levels of habitat protection, policies and investments in research.

Land-protection policies may be changing in Croatia, though, since Croatia joined the European Union (EU) in 2013. That’s because the EU has relatively high standards for protection of natural areas and endangered species that member countries must address.

Zec identified some threats to Croatia’s biodiversity on land outside of protected areas. These include increased development along the coast for tourism and increased construction of wind and hydro-power plants. While alternative energy projects help combat climate change, wind farms can spell death for migratory birds and dams can impact freshwater ecosystems.

Learning about Croatia’s natural areas enhanced our ensuing adventure. As we kayaked the wild rivers of Croatia and sailed the turquoise Adriatic Sea, we were newly inspired to help protect these natural gifts.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who serves on the boards of Sempervirens Fund and the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council. She is on an around-the-world adventure, during which she will be filing monthly reports on environmental and sustainability issues she encounters. Contact her through her website, www.betsyherbert.com.




Learning about Croatia’s natural areas enhanced our ensuing adventure. As we kayaked the wild rivers of Croatia and sailed the turquoise Adriatic Sea, we were newly inspired to help protect these natural gifts.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who serves on the boards of Sempervirens Fund and the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council. She is on an around-the-world adventure, during which she will be filing monthly reports on environmental and sustainability issues she encounters. Contact her through her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

New monument hugs California coast

New monument hugs California coast

The 1,665-acre Pt. Arena-Stornetta public lands on the Mendocino County coast has become the first portion of the California Coastal National Monument to offer public access.

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Logging: Santa Cruz Mountains protection threatened

Logging: Santa Cruz Mountains protection threatened

Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties' redwood forests, known as the Southern Subdistrict, are highly valued for their timber, wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration -- but also as places for people to live and enjoy the outdoors. Many mountain communities and the entire county of Santa Cruz also depend upon forested watersheds for their drinking water.
But a bill in the California Legislature would remove critical protections that counties in this region have relied on for decades.

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More than fishing at Loch Lomond: City seeks public input on recreation plan

More than fishing at Loch Lomond: City seeks public input on recreation plan

What recreational activities would you like to see at the 335-acre Loch Lomond Recreation Area in the Santa Cruz Mountains? The City of Santa Cruz Water Department, which manages the area, is seeking public input at a Community Meeting on May 30. “We are seeking different viewpoints about recreation use at Loch Lomond from the whole community,” said Lydia Tolles, a water department management analyst.

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