KUSP Reports: Environment

Burn Now to Control Future Fires

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Wilder Ranch State Park, site for a controlled burn in November, 2015. Photo: J.D. Hillard

On a sunny fall day in Wilder Ranch State Park, about 20 scientists and other staff from Monterey Bay area parks light a fire in the dry grass.

They want to keep brush and trees from taking over meadows. A nice added benefit is that the field will act as a natural boundary, controlling wildfires. And wildfires are an inevitable part of this landscape, says environmental scientist Tim Hyland.

“Things rot when it’s wet and warm,” he says. “And here it’s typically either dry and warm or wet and cold. Unlike in the tropics, you end up with a lot of buildup of plant matter… And then you have those long dry summers. You’re going to have fires.”

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Tim Hyland, environmental scientist for California State Parks. Photo: J.D. Hillard

This controlled burn has been timed for a morning when the grass has dried off from overnight dew. At the same time the woods around the field remain shady and damp. As the fire reaches the trees, it burns out with little if any help from the fire crews.

“By burning prescriptively when it’s relatively safe then you can reduce those fuels and reduce the threat of wildfire.”

Can Santa Cruz Love its River?

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The San Lorenzo River Alliance hopes the river could become a destination for recreation. Photo: J.D. Hillard

Would you take a visitor to the San Lorenzo River levee in Santa Cruz? You know… the way you take people to walk along West Cliff or Pacific Grove’s Ocean View Boulevard. Greg Pepping of the Coastal Watershed Council poses this question to set up the San Lorenzo River Alliance’s goals. The group wants to get as many people as possible using the river paths and maybe even paddling the river on surfboards and kayaks.

“We have enough resources,” Pepping says. “We have enough creative problem solvers. We can do that here.”

Currently paddling is prohibited and the paths have a seedy reputation. Over the next year the group is organizing events to help people think of them as a site for recreation. Meanwhile, the City of Santa Cruz is studying how paddling might affect bird populations.

Reducing Waste – a Life-Long Habit

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Martijn Stiphout. Photo courtesy of Ventana Surfboards and Supplies

Martijn Stiphout with one of his all wood surfboards designed with inlays of different types of recycled wood. Photo: Sebastian Stiphout 

“I just don’t like seeing things go to waste,” says Ventana Surfboards and Supplies co-founder Martijn Stiphout. “There’s always a purpose. There’s always something that can be done.”

Stiphout says he grew up thinking this way. As a child in South Africa, his family wasn’t well off.

“My earliest childhood memories were going to the dump with my father and probably picking up as much as we dropped off.”

Even as he builds from wood he saved from a demolition project, he’s recycling.

“If I take floorboards and recycle them into a surfboard, the offcuts from the surfboard go into a hand plane and the offcuts from the hand plane might go into a wax comb.” The sawdust goes into fire starters. Ventana might use wood five times before it goes into the waste stream, he says.

 

Surfboards from Old Houses

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A Ventana Surfboard in its natural habitat. Photo: courtesy of Ventana Surfboards and Supplies.

A Ventana Surfboard in its natural habitat. Photo: courtesy of Ventana Surfboards and Supplies.

Perhaps three quarters of the surfboards made by Ventana Surfboards and Supplies end up displayed as art rather than in use surfing. Owner Martijn Stiphout says that may be his biggest hurdle making it in the industry. To make these beautiful surfboards, Stiphout leans on the resources available in the Monterey Bay area.

“It’s a fairly old town so a lot of the houses were built in the late 18 hundreds or the early 19 hundreds,” he says. Old houses serve as a principle source of the lumber he reclaims to build his boards. “And most of the lumber used in that was locally milled redwood. That was old-growth redwood.”

He also uses scraps from the area’s carpenters. He builds some of the tools in his shop from his own scraps. It’s not just style Stiphout’s after. In addition to reducing waste he’s interested in showing people ”there are options other than fairly toxic foam boards.”

 

 

Ventana’s First Surfboard

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Martijn Stiphout uses a universally adjustable rocker table to shape hollow wooden surf boards. Photo: J.D. Hillard

Martijn Stiphout uses a universally adjustable rocker table to shape hollow wooden surf boards. Photo: J.D. Hillard

Ventana Surfboards display intricate inlays taking advantage of the wide range of colors in natural wood. Each is a work of art. Their creator Martijn Stiphout says he feels a bit of regret that many of them won’t reach the waves. The boards are made to surf well.

Stiphout started the company after he was laid off from captaining a research sailboat. Around that time he was surfing a wooden board he’d made himself.

“At one point somebody I didn’t know paddled up and said ‘Hey, would you be interested in building a board for me?’”

The board he was on at the time he describes as magic. It was so fun, he’d used it to teach his girlfriend to surf. That was the second board he built. The first was a different story.

“It was beautiful. I spent a lot of time on it. It was the worst thing I ever surfed,”  Stiphout says. “From there on I pretty much had to build another one.”

Ventana Surfboards and Supplies was named Save Our Shores Ocean Business for 2015.

One of Santa Cruz’s Longest-Running Institutions

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At an exhibit that introduces kids to archeology, Program Manager Elizabeth Evans says hunting for ancient bones can be therapeutic for grownups. Photo: J.D. Hillard

At an exhibit that introduces kids to archeology, Program Manager Elizabeth Evans says hunting for ancient bones can be therapeutic for grownups. Photo: J.D. Hillard

By J.D. Hillard | KUSP -

The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History has been celebrating 110 years of education people about the regions natural environments. Recently museum staff helped create this short radio tour ahead of the main event on August 22.

Visitors to Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz probably notice the concrete sculpture of a Gray whale across the street from the beach entrance. Just a few feet uphill from the whale stands one of Santa Cruz’s oldest institutions.

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A Problem with Outdoor Cats

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Outdoor cats can spread dangerous microbes now infecting most southern sea otters. Photo: Wes Sims

Outdoor cats can spread dangerous microbes now infecting most southern sea otters. Photo: Wes Sims

By Wes Sims | KUSP -

As many as 22-million cats are owned as pets in California, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association … many of whose members are cat owners themselves. And while cats generally bring pleasure to their owners, cat-waste poses a health threat to humans and wildlife.

Dr. Melissa Miller of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is a career veterinarian who FIGURATIVELY takes her work home with her.

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Keeping a Sanctuary Clean

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Volunteers turned out at an April cleanup in Elkhorn Slough. Photo: Rex Sanders

Volunteers turned out at an April cleanup in Elkhorn Slough. Photo: Rex Sanders

By Rex Sanders | KUSP -

On a Saturday in April, more than 25 enthusiastic volunteers turned out to clean up the trails and roads around Elkhorn Slough, just inland from Moss Landing. The slough is the second largest coastal estuary in California, and home to endangered species including the sea otter and the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander. Twice a year volunteers and staff fill a giant 30 or 40 yard dumpster with garbage from trails and roadsides.

“We have a real problem with illegal roadside dumping,” said Kim Hayes, stewardship director for the Elkhorn Slough Foundation. The most common thing they pick up is fast food trash. “Essentially people eating fast food in their cars and throwing the trash out the window,” Hayes said. “We see that pretty much every day in this watershed.” The trash gets into the slough and could wash out into Monterey Bay.

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Trace Amounts of Mercury in Fog

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There’s a tiny amount of mercury in a lot of our food. Scientists at U.C.S.C. and Moss Landing Marine Labs have figured out some of it arrives in fog. KUSP’s Wes Sims reports they now want to know how it go into the fog.

Researcher Holly Chiswell analyzes samples of fog water collected in a recent tour of the East Pacific. Photo: Wes Sims

Researcher Holly Chiswell analyzes samples of fog water collected in a recent tour of the East Pacific. Photo: Wes Sims

“Our laboratories made a unique discovery, and that is that fog water contains 400-times the concentration of methyl mercury than rainwater.”

That’s Kenneth Coale, a marine bio-geo-chemist and Cal-State professor at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. You’re hearing sound from a video shot onboard the university’s research vessel, the Point Sur, which travelled to Dutch Harbor, Alaska out into the Alutian Islands, then back to California, collecting samples, now being analyzed back at Moss Landing by Dr. Coale and his lab assistants.

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Colorful Nudibranches a Sign of Warmer Waters

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Scientists have reported densities of up to dozens of nudibranchs per square meter in tide pools from San Luis Obispo to Humboldt Counties. Photo: Jeff Goddard

Scientists have reported densities of up to dozens of nudibranchs per square meter in tide pools from San Luis Obispo to Humboldt Counties.
Photo: Jeff Goddard

By Elliana Bisgaard-Church | KUSP -

Warmer ocean temperatures have brought the nudibranch, a bright pink, inch-long sea slug to central and northern Pacific coast tide pools. After a report from the late 1970s tied nudibranch population swells to warmer water temperatures, researchers, including UC Santa Cruz professor emiritus of ecology and evolutionary biology John Pearse, predicted they would see the sea slug in recent periods.

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