Tomales ranchers consider a field of wind turbines (Point Reyes Light, 04.02.2009)

•April 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Tomales ranchers are considering leasing land for the placement of wind turbines up to 20 stories tall. A Florida-based electric utility company has sent out feelers to gauge landowners’ interest, and some ranchers have already agreed to allow wind monitoring stations set up on their parcels.

“It’s a good idea but it needs to be done respectfully for the ranching community,” said Dominic Grossi, president of the Marin County Farm Bureau, which is generally in favor of clean energy, especially as a way to diversify income. “It can’t be too obstructive or interfere with the agriculture facilities and operations.”

Six months ago, representatives from Florida Power and Light approached a handful of individuals about developing wind energy. They were interested in a swath of land north of Tomales—in the wind corridor near Dillon Beach—south of Valley Ford and the Estero Americano.

“It’s a beneficial thing to make the area more diversified. If it could fly, it would be fine,” said Chris Cornett, whose parcel is on Fallon Road. Cornett would be collecting a check from the energy company if he rents out his land.

“They were getting our input to see how we felt about it,” he said. “I think it’s years away. You won’t see wind turbines here in the next few years, if it can even happen. They don’t have any go-ahead on anything.”

Cornett organized a meeting at Valley Ford town hall during the winter so representatives could address questions all at once. “They were just asking about leasing folks’ properties,” said Jeff Stump, easement program director for Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT). About 20 people attended. “Half of the people they approached are really skeptical about it, and the other half are open-minded about it,” said Cornett, who falls in the latter half.

Landowners at the meeting wanted more information than the Florida-based company could provide at the time. The company, on the other hand, couldn’t answer those questions without having a better sense of the project’s plausibility. “What they were looking for was an approval and to maybe get some long term leases going. They didn’t want to put their money into testing if everybody is against it,” Cornett said. “But everybody thought, ‘Go get permits and then we’ll see.’”

Florida Light and Power will need approval from the California Coastal Commission and the county. “The County of Marin is very interested in renewable energy, and I think that we all share a responsibility for developing new sources of energy that are less impacting on climate change,” said Supervisor Steve Kinsey. “They are proposing some very large wind turbine towers. I think they have a long, long, long way to go.”

According to Stump, there are a lot of hoops for the company to jump through, and MALT is one of them. “The process would start with MALT landowners coming to us,” he said.

Cornett added, “They’re not going to get any long term-leases until they come back with where and how many.”

Florida Light and Power has permission to test the wind and has secured short-term leases for test plots. Cornett is supplying a plot where a wind meter will be installed. There has to be a definite amount of wind blowing at a certain speed for a specific percentage of the time for the project to be worth it. If strong enough currents exist, there can only be one turbine per 50 acres, and they have to be spaced a certain distance from any dwellings.

The company currently obtains more than half of its electricity from natural gas, and they operate turbines in at least two of the main wind resource areas in California—the windfarm in Altamont Pass in Alameda County between Livermore and Tracy and the windfarm near Rio Vista in Solano County.

The Tomales project would probably supply power to local Pacific Gas and Electric.

There are two energy-producing windmills in Marin. Mark Pasternak, owner of Devils Gulch Ranch in Nicasio, faced opposition for his 80-foot windmill, which was approved in 2003. McEvoy Olive Ranch between Nicasio and Petaluma proposed one 210-foot wind turbine in 2005. The majority of the county planning commissioners voted against the windmill on account of its size—about as tall as a 20-story building—potential noise impact and, above all, aesthetics. In 2007, a much shorter, under 150-foot windmill on McEvoy Ranch was approved.

Bolinas Community Public Utility District proposed a windmill northwest of town in 2002; Inverness Public Utility District proposed developing wind energy in 1990.

“Obviously people want greener energy—they just don’t want to look at it and how it’s made,” Cornett said. “It would be like big windmills over the Point, I doubt people would want to see that. ‘Put that stuff somewhere we can’t see it.’”

Kinsey added: “There’s a critical policy issue that the community and county face reconciling our commitment to renewable energy with our longstanding passion for undeveloped viewsheds. In the foreseeable future, the thought of seeing windfarms like the Livermore Hills in West Marin is about as likely as a nuclear plant being built on Bodega Head.”

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Abbotts plan (Point Reyes Light, 03.12.2009)

•March 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Point Reyes National Seashore has plans for a $2 million restoration of 300 acres of coastal dunes south of Abbotts Lagoon. It will use excavators to dig up European beachgrass and bury it in deep pits under at least three feet of sand.

“Dunes have been highly developed in California, and rare dune species are moving towards extinction,” said Ellen Hamingson, a vegetation biologist for the park.

The last remaining intact dune habitat in the park is south of Abbotts Lagoon, and it includes some of the largest expanses of rare native plant communities, such as the American dune grass and beach pea.

“Native dunes are becoming a rare thing on the coast,” said Cicely Muldoon, interim superintendent for the park. “It’s extraordinary habitat and any opportunity to restore it is good.”

The dunes are critical habitat to 11 species federally listed as endangered or threatened, including the Western snowy plover, Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly, which is golden brown with black spots, and the endangered plants beach layia and Tidestrom’s lupine.

“It’s an intersection of rare species and invasive species,” Hamingson said. The fleshy beach layia, with white and yellow flowers, and the Tidestrom’s lupine, with whorls of purple peaflowers, are overwhelmed by invasive plants.

Over 70 percent of these coastal dunes are dominated by two nonnative plants—European beachgrass and ice plant. Together, they are aggressively spreading in solid mats, making it hard for native annual plants to germinate. “It’s acres and acres of a few species,” Hamingson said. “There’s no species diversity.” The park began small patches of eradication in 2001.

European beachgrass—the tall perennial grasses rising up to six feet on the sand—and the ice plant—a succulent with daisy-like purple flowers—were both introduced to California in the late 19th century to help stop sand dunes from blowing onto roads and houses. Beachgrass roots reach 10 to 20 feet deep into the sand, and the stalks continue to grow even if covered by sand. Together with the ice plant, the beachgrass holds onto the sand, making it into a solid wall of dunes instead of the regularly spaced dunes that occur naturally.

“The nonnative plants have been reshaping the dune,” Hamingson said. “They change the structure of the dunes, making them higher and parallel to the beach, creating a solid wall that prevents the flow of sand.”

These dunes naturally occur perpendicular to the shoreline, with high and low areas. Dunes that are high and parallel to the shoreline prevent the opening of new areas available for native dune annuals, which, along with the plover, need open sand movement.

“Once we remove those two problematic invasives, the dunes will naturally move back into a more perpendicular alignment,” Hamingson said.

Dense swaths of nonnative plants take up nesting space for plovers, whose nests are just tiny indentations in open areas of sand where vegetation is usually absent. Removing the invasive plants would increase unvegetated dunes for nesting, increase corridors for foraging and protection of young and decrease predation by ravens and red foxes, according to park ecologist Lorraine Parsons, who presented on the project at the Red Barn on Wednesday night. Clearing out the invasive species will also increase dune habitat and foraging sources for the silverspot butterfly.

“The environmental assessment is dense, partly because of all the different kinds of mitigations for plants, butterflies, frogs, snowy plovers, wetlands, where we can or can’t work, when we can work where,” Hamingson said.

The report listed three options for restoring site, with work expected to begin in 2010. One alternative is to take no new action, to only continue the current small-scale techniques used on increments of land. Another alternative would cost about $21 million and would combine treatments including prescribed burning, herbicide, hand removal and mechanical excavation.

The preferred alternative is mechanical excavation and deep burial, with potential treatment of resprouts with targeted herbicide use. Excavators will dig out clean sand and create a pit at least nine feet deep. Beachgrass and its roots will be dug up, the invasive mass will be dumped into the pit and buried under at least three feet of clean sand. Bulldozers could be used to level the cap of clean sand.

Treatment would last 160 days, but maintenance could take about five years. Should there be resprouts, they would be removed by hand or spot-sprayed with herbicide. “That would be one person going out with a backpack and spraying directly on a plant,” Hamingson said.

“There will be negligible to minor adverse impacts to rare plants, with minor to major long term benefits,” Parsons said.

Four years ago, park staff experimented with various methods on a patch of 50 acres. “Using hands to dig up roots that deep is challenging,” said Hamingson. “And the level of follow-up needed is hard to manage because of regrowth.” With hand removal, staff had to return 17 times. “In smaller areas or newer patches, it might work, but there are things you can’t scale up to 300 acres.” These experiments indicated that the most effective treatment for restoring dunes is to remove all the invasive biomass and bury it underneath clean sand.

Restrictions will apply. No heavy motorized equipment may be used within 500 feet of nesting plovers. “The park has been intensively surveying and monitoring the beach for plover nests for years,” Hamingson said. Should herbicides be used, it would only be in areas with wind speeds less than 10 mph and with buffers to wetlands, nesting areas and rare plants.

Snowy plovers breed, nest and rear between March and September, the silverspot butterfly adults actively feed between June through August. “There isn’t a lot of flexibility with these sensitive species in terms of their timelines,” Parsons said.

Public comments on any aspect of the report and proposal will be accepted until March 20. Comments can be submitted online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov, emailed to pore_planning@nps.gov or faxed to 663.8132, or mailed to Superintendent, Point Reyes National Seashore, 1 Bear Valley Road, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

No salmon up the creek (Point Reyes Light, 03.05.2009)

•March 6, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Only a handful of fish were found in the Lagunitas Creek watershed this winter season—making it the lowest coho count on the record for Olema Creek.

Coho salmon—listed as endangered since 2005—return to spawn in creeks between November and late February, known as the spawner year. This is the fourth year of observable decline in the endangered coho salmon population in Olema Creek—a decline some believe has resulted from unfavorable ocean conditions and late winter storms.

“We know that quite a few fish made it out to the ocean. The return rates were just really low,” said Michael Reichmuth, a fishery biologist with the National Park Service, who just conducted his third coho salmon survey this winter.

“This year, what we normally see in the early summer is what we’re seeing in December and January,” Reichmuth added. “We ran out of water, which caused passage issues. The woody debris jammed, and fish couldn’t get around that during low flow.”

The total coho count for the season was two redds (or nests) and three fish observed on Redwood Creek, and two live coho with only one coho redd observed on Olema Creek. Last year’s counts were just as gloomy.

Between eighty and 180 return to Olema Creek from the ocean every year. During the 2004-05 spawner year, Olema Creek had at least 184 fish—but the numbers have decreased ever since. However, there is not enough data to statistically show a declining trend outside of the regular fluctuations in the population.

Survey cycle

After adult females lay their reddish-orange eggs in gravel at the bottom of the creek, they die. During spawner surveys this winter, Reichmuth and his volunteers counted live adults, carcasses and redds.

When the salmon hatch, they find their way six inches down into the gravel and emerge a few weeks or months later. This summer, Reichmuth will conduct snorkel surveys to count those fish that were spawned this winter. “Based on what we see in the summer, we can infer what happened in the winter,” he said. It will help him determine how successful the spawning was. After they emerge from the gravel, those young salmon will spend one year in freshwater creeks. Then in the spring, these 4-inch-long juvenile salmon—now called smolts—to out into the ocean.

Beginning mid-March, Reichmuth will use traps to catch smolts as they embark on their migration out to sea—it tells his how successful the spawning was during the 2007-08 spawner year. And it gives him an idea of how many fish he’ll be expecting to return in a year and a half—or spawner year 2010-11.

According to the 2007 trap numbers, plenty of smolts were seen leaving the creek system. “We know that a good number of smolts left and went into the ocean,” Reichmuth said. They grow in the ocean for a year and a half before coming back to the creeks to spawn. The juvenile fish that left in 2007 are the ones that should have returned this winter to spawn.

Coming back

Even though a good number of smolts swam out in 2007, they were greeted by poor ocean conditions. Upwelling in the ocean brings up nutrients and increases productivity. Instead, those fish faced reduced currents and a lack of upwelling. And they couldn’t find food when they first went into the ocean.

If they did survive for a year and a half in the ocean, there are still several obstacles to survival before returning to spawn in the Lagunitas Creek watershed this winter.

Before these recent storms, seafaring coho spawn had to deal with drought conditions before they could return to freshwater streams. “They might have come towards the creek too early,” Reichmuth added. “Well, normal timing for them, but early relative to the late storms we had.” The lack of rain forced low flows, and the fish simply couldn’t make it into the creek.

If there were high numbers of fish holding out near the coast waiting to come into the creek, predators, like seals and sea lions, could pick them up before they can swim in. “I’ve seen otters wait right at the mouth of Olema Creek,” Reichmuth said.

Likely, it was a combination of poor ocean conditions and the late storms. “A lot of salmon went out, but not a whole lot of spawners came back, and on top of that, without enough rain, the ones that do come back can’t even get into the creek,” Reichmuth said.

But 2008 had favorable ocean conditions—lots of upwelling and good currents. Reichmuth expects better returns in 2009-10, especially if the rains come at the right period of time.

“We are now past the typical window for coho spawning, and I don’t expect to find any new Coho spawning activity even after this last set of storms,” Reichmuth wrote in an email to his volunteers.

The late rains this winter could still help. Reichmuth will conduct another spawner survey next week, when the water clears up after this week’s storms, and there will be better visibility. Surveyors in Scott Creek near Santa Cruz, who have coated fish with tags that act like FasTrak on cars, have picked up signals that coho have gotten into creeks south of Lagunitas Creek watershed during the recent larger storms.

“There’s still enough water that if the fish want to come up, they will,” Reichmuth said. “Right now, the streams are pretty much wide open. I’d like to be surprised.”

For volunteer opportunities within the Point Reyes National Seashore, visit http://www.nps.gov/pore/supportyourpark/volunteer.htm

A sought-after toilet seat (Point Reyes Light, 03.05.2009)

•March 6, 2009 • 1 Comment

copy-of-_mg_5361Colin Woolley left Bolinas on Saturday to camp in the Sonoran Desert. But before he left, he was charged with a mission—to secure a toilet seat.

“WANTED: A toilet seat!” announced a flier the 26-year-old field biologist posted on the bulletin board outside the Bolinas Market. “I’m hoping to score a toilet seat before I go. If you have a spare lying around or know the whereabouts of any, I would love to have it for what I’m calling ‘Project Desert Commode.’ This toilet seat will get the use it deserves.” The poster was handwritten inside a pen and ink sketch of a toilet seat.

Colin is joining a small team of Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) scientists studying birds in Arizona for the next few months. He is originally from Portland, Oregon, and has worked with PRBO for five years. He spent the past three months surveying mostly sparrows and warblers on Point Reyes.

In Arizona, the team will need to build a toilet. “What I imagine is a wooden, short structure with a seat on top and a bucket,” Colin said. “My task was to track down a seat.” And someone was charged with finding a bucket? “Presumably,” he answered.

“It seemed like something silly to buy, because I figured there must be so many out there,” Colin added. “Someone who goes beachcombing might find a cool one that came from a ship and be willing to part with it.”

He tacked up the fliers—the original one outside the market and a black and white copy in the post office—last Tuesday. “It was a shot in the dark. I was hoping to get lucky.”

The poster shared a thumbtack with a packet of fliers for vegrev.com and hung to the right of a brochure for Stockstill House Assisted Living. Above it was a sheet of paper that asked: “Want to help me pay my rent?” A colorful etching on the frame of the bulletin board made it known that: “Every man, woman and child in this village may enjoy, share and be responsible for this board.”

No rules govern what goes up on the Wharf Road bulletin board or the one inside the health food store. The post office’s board does have policies, however. “But no one ever asks. They just put them up,” said postmistress Sharon Mantle. “I take them down if they slander someone. It’s no place to describe a gripe.”

The day before he left, Colin’s fliers were lying on the floor outside the market and missing from the post office board. No one had responded, but he secured a seat by other means.

“My friend won it as a prize from a costume party,” Colin said. It was a Golden-crowned Sparrow party—where everyone dressed up as the titular bird to celebrate its arrival on Point Reyes for the winter. “He dressed up as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.”

Colin’s friend’s wife made the executive decision that her husband no longer needed the toilet seat, and she gave it to Colin. “It was sitting on his desk by his computer, under some datasheets,” he said.

It was only the seat—white with rusty screws and broken hinges and the top rim was worn down. Colin found a lid in a tool shed at work. “It fits,” he said, putting the two pieces together, opening and closing them. “It probably went with it.”

Carbon emissions from cows are quadruple the emissions from cars traveling in the seashore, park service says (Point Reyes Light, 02.19.2009)

•February 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Cow contemplating the meaning of lifeThe Point Reyes National Seashore is preparing a greenhouse gas reduction plan, and the data it is using show that the overwhelming majority of carbon emissions come from cows.

Cattle, vehicle transportation within park boundaries, PG&E bills and waste within the park were the only sources calculated in the last four years; emissions from wildlife or transportation to and from the park were excluded.

The park began to calculate its carbon emissions profile in 2005. Three years later, it joined the Climate Friendly Parks Network; the Point Reyes Climate Friendly Parks Action Plan is expected to be completed this spring. The plan will call for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 2005 levels within three years.

Emission profile

In 2005, Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) emitted 7,663 metric tons of carbon equivalent. Emissions from livestock management was 5,968 metric tons—or about three-quarters of that total.

The second largest source of carbon emissions come from transportation—which is usually the largest source of emissions in other Climate Friendly Parks—and the rest of the carbon came from energy use from park operations and waste disposal.

After the park collected information, it plugged those numbers into CLIP Tools—an excel spreadsheet inventory program developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that calculates the emissions using complicated algorithms and formulas to provide the metric tons of carbon emitted by sources such as cows and cars.

Numeric answers are inserted intothe blank spaces, much like an itemized deductions spreadsheet for doing taxes online. What is the vehicle’s make and model and how often is it driven? How many light bulbs are there in the park?

“It seems anal retentive, but someone has that number somewhere,” said Julie Thomas McNamee, air quality and climate change Washington DC liaison for the National Parks Service (NPS).
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TASER comes to the coast (Point Reyes Light, 02.12.2009)

•February 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment
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Photo by Eli Hamann

West Marin deputies just added a 7-ounce device to their belts—the Taser X26. The $800 electronic device has not yet been deployed on the coast, but elsewhere in the county, the tool has been pulled out of its holster a dozen times since it was introduced in November. Of those times, it has been discharged twice.

“It’s an alternative to more aggressive means,” said Marin County Sheriff’s Deputy Ron Fode. “What would you rather have, a baton breaking your bones or a Taser stunning you?”

Fode’s belt weighs over 30 pounds. From right to left, he carries a baton, pepper spray, gun, handcuffs, keys, two bullet magazines, Taser, flashlight and radio.

“It’s an excellent less lethal force option for our department,” said Sergeant Jesse Klinge, the Taser coordinator for the Marin County Sheriffs Office (MCSO). “Its use dramatically reduces injuries to suspects and officers.”

According to the MSCO, the Taser has about the same level of force as the baton. Verbal commands, control holds, strikes, pepper spray—in that order—rank lower on the force spectrum. Above the Taser and baton are beanbag shotguns and the firearm.

The sheriff’s department is one of the last agencies in the county to begin carrying the Taser. Sheriff Robert Doyle waited until he was assured by the statistics and medical research, according to Klinge.

“Numerous studies say it’s not supposed to affect the heart,” Klinge said. “There are some people out there who, due to their meth habit or something else they do, make their heart susceptible, and if we were trying to arrest them, it wouldn’t matter if it was the Taser or the ground or pepper spray—something could happen.”

The Taser affects the motor and sensory functions of the nervous system, incapacitating the suspect. The electrical pulses sent into the body prevent muscle control and coordination.

“They can’t fight you,” Klinge said. “It gives us the opportunity to handcuff them.” According to TASER International Inc., the subject should recover immediately.

The X26 has a replaceable cartridge that deploys two small probes attached to the Taser by insulated wires—the cartridges deputies carry can shoot up to 25 feet. When the safety is turned off, a red light beams onto the target. When the trigger is pulled, the probe on top shoots straight towards the red light, while the probe on the bottom curves down. The further away the target is, the more spread out the probes are.

Each dart-like probe can penetrate one inch of clothing, and they shock on contact for five seconds. The trigger needs to be pulled again if the deputy needs to stun the suspect for an additional five seconds. Later on, emergency personnel must remove the probes from the suspect.

The X26 is also equipped with a “Taser-cam”—which records audio and video once the safety is turned off.

Deputies were required to attend a comprehensive 8-hour training before they were certified to use the new tool. Seven out of eight of West Marin’s deputies were all certified between November and December. They also chose from three different styles of holsters.

In addition to a powerpoint presentation and policy review, the training included hands-on Taser familiarization exercises in which deputies used paper silhouettes to target shoot. “It doesn’t really feel like anything when you pull the trigger. There’s no recoil,” Fode said.

Like all certified patrol deputies, Fode keeps his Taser on the opposite side of his firearm. Both the yellow handle of his Taser and the black firearm point to the right.

“We really work on muscle memory—taking it in and out of the holster,” Klinge said. “When you do a certain task the same way for a while, you build that memory so you avoid the confusion of grabbing the wrong thing.”

During training, 44 deputies in total volunteered to be stunned by certified instructors over the course of several classes.

“They were totally incapacitated,” said Klinge, who is one of the eight instructors in the sheriff’s office. “There was nothing they could do.” To prevent them from falling to the ground, deputies on either side of them set the volunteers on the ground. The impact site is small, sometimes with slight bleeding.

In fourth grade, Fode was electrocuted when he touched a livewire while he was on a raft. “I have no fond recollection of electricity,” he said. “I know what it is, I don’t need to experience it to know what it does.”

There were three things that the deputies were trained to avoid: shocking a person who is in an elevated position and can’t brace their fall, deploying near anything that is flammable and ignitable or stunning anyone in a body of water. “You don’t want to shock someone when they’re on the roof or a ladder, or on a boat where they could fall into the water or riding a speeding motorcycle,” Fode said.

Every deputy who took the training passed the written test and was certified.

“We always want to take people into custody using the least amount of force possible,” Klinge said. “It’s proven to be effective, but since we just implemented the program, it’s tough to say it’s a resounding ‘Yes, it is not dangerous.’”

Last Friday, I rode shotgun with Fode while he patrolled the route between Olema and the Sonoma County line. Around 5 p.m., south of Marshall, Fode saw a car near the water where parking isn’t allowed. A woman was sitting in the passenger seat, and a man was standing next to her, behind an open passenger door. Fode walked up to the car, turning on his radio.

He checked their licenses to make sure there were no warrants on them, and then he advised them of their trespass.

“I always have to think, officer safety, officer safety. They know who I am, but I don’t know what they’re about,” Fode said afterwards. “The car door was open and maybe he’s holding a knife or a gun. Before the Taser, the only option in that case would be to use the gun.”

“It’s really changing law enforcement,” Klinge said.

“Things have come a long ways,” Fode added.

Park remakes Greenpicker (Point Reyes Light, 02.05.2009)

•February 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Photo by Eli Hamann

Photo by Eli Hamann

One day last November, hikers in the Point Reyes National Seashore noticed freshly sawed tree trunks and an orange Kubota backhoe. The trail had been dug up, and prints of the metal track wheels were visible on the loosened dirt. They alerted a local environmental group, which wrote a letter to the park.

Over the winter, an old logging road that was part of Greenpicker Trail was torn up and the trail was partially rerouted. Greenpicker starts at the end of Stewart Trail, which is about a mile from Five Brooks Ranch. It is a designated wilderness, but despite prohibitions to operate heavy machinery in such areas, park staff determined that the long-term benefits of removing the road justified the short-term disturbance. The backhoe work is complete and the trail should be reopened this spring.

“It’s a great project that has tremendous long-term benefits with some short-term impacts,” said Don Neubacher, superintendent of Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS). “We’re trying to increase the wilderness character of the landscape.”

Greenpicker Trail is made up of dense second-growth Douglas fir stands. Slightly over a half-mile of it suffered from unsafe conditions and severe erosion due to poor road design. The logging road, which formerly served Sweet Lumber Mill, was cut into a steep stream drainage on the Inverness Ridge. As a result, water had cut ruts and gullies into it.

Several years ago, PRNS approved a plan for Greenpicker. The project, which cost over $87,000, aimed to protect habitat and provide safe access for park visitors. The new design slopes outward so water flows off the trail instead of being trapped.

“By arresting the unnatural erosion from the former logging road and developing a sustainable wilderness trail profile we protected the wilderness as a whole and allowed for safe continued use for future generations,” said John Dell’Osso, a spokesperson for PRNS.

Since Greenpicker is within a wilderness area, the park must comply with the “minimum requirement” mandated by the Wilderness Act. According to the act, motorized equipment may only be used to achieve the purposes of wilderness character preservation or in emergency situations; if significant impact is unavoidable, localized and short-term adverse impacts are acceptable.

PRNS staff decided there were three options for Greenpicker: close the trail, use only hand tools to stabilize erosion problems or tear out the eroding section of road using heavy machinery. Closing the trail would have meant detouring hikers to Stewart Trail, which is shared with horses, bikes and park vehicles. Hand tools could have been used to fill eroded parts of the trail with rocks, but this would have required annual upkeep.

“There’s no way to use hand tools to correct these problems,” Neubacher said. “It needed some major rehabilitation.” But others questioned the decision.

“For the most part, motorized equipment is mostly antithetical to wilderness areas,” said Fred Smith, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. Fred wrote a letter to Neubacher after learning of the project in January. “I wanted to ensure they followed the proper procedures to make their decision.” In the end, he believes they did.

A hydrologist, plant ecologist, research biologist and historian were consulted, and their lists of potential disturbances were addressed. Some trees that could not be transplanted were cut and some noise was unavoidable. The area was surveyed for three rare or threatened species—redlegged frogs, Spotted Owls and California bottlebrush grass—and only Spotted Owls were found. Incidentally, the owls have benefited from the trimmed trees where lower branches use to impair their hunt for dusky-footed wood rats.

The work was completed in December. From here on out, workers—including Adopt-a-Trail volunteers who have maintained sections of the trail since 1992—can go in with hand tools.

“National parks have conflicting mandates—on one hand, they protect natural resources and on the other hand, they must satisfy public access and visitor enjoyment,” Smith said. “Satisfying both these interests is basically impossible. I think the end result of this project will likely be beneficial. My only question is: was this the best way to do it?”

Last week, the low-hanging branches of Douglas firs were piled among uprooted tree stumps and lichen-covered bark on either side of Greenpicker. The trail is now about six feet across and covered by compacted rocks.

“Give it a little time to heal. We don’t want it disturbed until it is stabilized. We want to let it rest,” Neubacher said. “When it opens, it will be better than ever.”