Posts filed under ‘Uncategorized’
By: Amanda Artz
As a fresh out of college 20 year old, I’ve learned very quickly the realities of living on my own. Conserving energy is more important than ever, especially now that I pay my own bills. Rent and housing prices are outrageous, really limiting my options and anchoring me to specific areas of town. I wish there was a way for me to get off the grid; to choose exactly where I want to live, all while saving money and also living comfortably. After doing a little research, I think I found my answer, and maybe someday I can turn this little dream into reality.
So many people today have the McMansion mentality, and I believe there is no surer way of destroying our planet than embracing this view. Why not head in the opposite direction? Downsize your home, generate your own power, and maybe even make the structure completely mobile, so you can travel wherever and whenever you want. I’m not talking about living in a trailer, but rather, a Tiny House.
A Tiny House is a structure that ranges from 50-750 square feet. It can moved as desired and support alternative energy generation. A fully inhabitable Tiny House can be built for as little as $20,000. You can design and build your own, or go through a company such as Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in Sebastopol, California. Strict building codes can make it difficult to construct the perfect Tiny House, but websites such as tinyhouseblog.com provide tips and advice to work with and around them.
Perhaps my favorite feature of these houses is the fact that they are so alternative energy friendly. In the video below, a Tiny House is powered by a mobile solar generator called the SolMan. For those houses in areas with less predictable weather, you could instead use a solar/gas combo generator such as the SolMan Action Packer to insure that you’ll always have available energy reserves. You could also easily install solar panels on the roof to utilize the available space, essentially taking yourself off the grid and making you completely energy independent.
A Tiny House seems like a great solution to a number of problems many people, including myself, are currently facing. Becoming a more energy efficient, sustainable individual would be such a freeing experience, and I don’t know about you, but I’m more than up to the challenge.
By: Amanda Artz
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) were both groundbreaking statutory decisions passed during a time of growing environmental awareness and concern. Although both laws had big goals, the clarity of how to reach them was far from crystalline. Because of this, the future of the environment and the wildlife that depend on its health is still in limbo, and unless severe changes are made to both laws, the future looks grim.
The Endangered Species Act’s primary goal is to protect species by “prohibiting the ‘take’ of endangered or threatened species on both public and private lands and to extend the law’s protection to species beyond those directly threatened by hunting and trade” (Watt et al, pg 355). Take is defined in the law as any action that would “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect” a species (Watt et al). Because of these new policies, it was thought that thousands of species would be saved from extinction and remain in stable, healthy populations for many years to come.
The National Environmental Policy Act’s primary goal is to protect the environment by requiring federal agencies to consider the environmental impact of every major activity they undertake (Kusbasek). If an activity is found to have a significant impact on the environment, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be prepared. This time-consuming process was thought to make agencies seriously consider their projects, and hopefully design them so that they could avoid the EIS process altogether. This is possible by preparing a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), or a mitigated FONSI, in which if the project was found to have significant impacts, those impacts could be mitigated so they lessen the overall negative effects on the environment (Kusbasek).
Although both of these laws have broad reach and tough tactics (Watt et al), they fail at truly achieving their primary goals. Under Section 10 of the ESA, an “incidental take permit” can be issued, allowing take of a species to occur. Although completion of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is required in order for the permit to be granted, it is still a loophole in the law and the species protection process. Completion of an HCP does not necessarily mean that said HCP will actually positively affect the remaining population/habitat of the species being taken. As for the NEPA process, once an EIS is completed and it is determined that a project will have significant impacts on the environment, the project can still be executed. So in the end, NEPA doesn’t truly protect the environment, it just makes the lead agency consider it.
Big changes are necessary to make these laws more effective in protecting the environment. For the ESA, no take should be permitted and there should be no issuance of incidental take permits, regardless of whether an HCP is completed or not. The definition of take should also be changed to include habitat destruction. As for NEPA, any project that is found to have significant impacts on the environment should not be completed until the lead agency sufficiently mitigates the impact or the project in such a way that no significant impact on the environment would occur. These ideas might not seem politically realistic, but to be honest, nothing that can truly get anything done really is. By continuing to make middle ground, incremental decisions we will continue to have ineffective policies. Both the ESA and NEPA are reactive policies, and until we pass policies that are much more proactive, the environment and wildlife will continue to suffer.
Watt et al, “Reflections on Preserving Ecological and Cultural Landscapes”.
Kusbasek, “Environmental Law”. Prentice Hall. 2007.
By: Amanda Artz
When I think of government agencies that deal with conservation, I think of similar authorities with equal goals, powers, and expectations. This, however, is far from the case. Each agency has their own responsibilities, and the regulatory powers they possess vary greatly between them. Collectively, they act like a system of conservation checks and balances that allow and sometimes hinder one another to accomplish their stated goals.
There are four main roles of state and regional agencies. Trusteeship, in which agencies are responsible for a resource that requires direct management or ownership authority; regulatory authority, in which agencies grant permits, approve plans, and regulate behavior; planning authority, in which agencies coordinate amongst multiple agencies; and funding, in which agencies give and get money and assistance where needed. There are many great local examples of agencies that possess and play each of these roles. Armstrong Woods State Park is managed by California State Parks. They have trusteeship and are responsible for managing the various biological resources of the park, such as the black-tailed deer population, old-growth redwood trees, and non-native, invasive plant species out-competing the native ones. Although California State Parks manages resources, they have no regulatory authority over those said resources. All regulatory authority regarding these resources is possessed by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). For example, say the black-tailed deer population of the park was exploding due to the absence of large predators in that ecosystem, so much so that the deer over-grazed the park’s vegetation to the point that their population and those of other, lower trophic levels were experiencing massive die-offs due to starvation. California State Parks could write a black-tailed deer population management plan that proposed the use of injectable contraceptives, but could NOT enforce this plan unless it was approved by the CDFG.
Another great example of a specific agency role is that of the Coastal Conservancy, which provides grants, funding, and assistance to agencies and non-profits that need it. Let’s say that a large ranch connecting Armstrong Woods to the Jenner Headlands just went on the market. The parcel is privately owned and contains sections of the Russian River and surrounding watershed, and valuable potential public coastal access. Armstrong Woods is a state park and therefore has no budget to purchase this land (Proposition 21 was a nice thought!), but can work together with a non-profit conservation group such as Save the Redwoods League, and the Coastal Conservancy, a state agency dedicated to protecting and enhancing the coast. By working together, the land could be obtained and eventually Armstrong Woods could be expanded. The Coastal Conservancy could give Save the Redwoods League a grant to purchase the land, and then the League could donate the land to Armstrong Woods State Park. It bothers me that it takes the cooperation of so many agencies in order to meet a main conservation goal, because the longer it takes for the agencies to come together and agree on a plan, the more likely certain land parcels could be bought by private parties for development or other, non-conservation purposes. With that being said, I still like the way that different roles of government agencies create this system of checks and balances, because I feel that this way, no agency can get too powerful and make decisions without the approval and agreement of other agencies, and this creates better conservation decisions in the long run.
If I magically got a job in a government agency, I would without a doubt choose the California Department of Fish and Game. I love that this agency has both the responsibility of managing resources AND has regulation authority to grant permits, approve plans, and regulate behavior. My dream position there would be a mixture of both roles. I would manage the California mountain lion population, with my ultimate goal being to GPS collar every lion in California so that the entire state’s population could be studied and tracked in great detail. This would be extremely useful in determining how the lions move throughout their ranges using corridors of what’s left of the habitat in the state and monitoring their behaviors and actions, especially when a human-predator conflict occurs. To accompany this wildlife management role, I would also oversee the issuance of depredation permits, which are the only approved means of mountain lion hunting besides self-defense as regulated by the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990. Since all mountain lions would be collared, I could locate and move any mountain lion involved in a conflict with humans (such as causing a rancher grief) to a different, uninhabited range, far away from humans (and livestock) so that the problem was solved and this important species wouldn’t have to be killed. I feel that this dream position is the perfect way to interrelate both roles of the CDFG, and by working with other government agencies that possess other, different but equally important roles, we could truly make a positive difference for the California mountain lion population.
By: Amanda Artz
Due to recent unfortunate events in the mountain lion world and being overloaded with environmental planning jargon, I wrote this small summary about the need for wildlife corridor planning to ensure the safety and success of large predators (like my favorite animal of all time, which you all should know by now!).
The most common fate for a mountain lion that enters the “territory” of humans is death. These large, stealthy predators evoke fear and uncertainty among us, rendering them doomed if they ever cross our paths, regardless of whether they were doing any harm. What people don’t really understand is that mountain lions aren’t suddenly entering human territory, we are entering theirs. Urban sprawl and exurban growth is increasing the chances of mountain lion sightings and encounters immensely. The only way to lessen the chance of encounters is to plan ahead when designing neighborhoods in known mountain lion habitat (or not putting neighborhoods there at all….hey, a girl can dream). This can be done by incorporating wildlife habitat corridors in and around exurban areas. Corridors are tracts of land that create separation and protection for animal populations from human development. It is much easier to design wildlife corridors before development occurs instead of realizing the need for them and trying to design them after development, so I hope that in the future, planning for the safe and successful existence of biodiversity is taken into much greater consideration. What if we designed neighborhoods based on the needs of wildlife populations of that area? We determined the biologically optimal wildlife corridor for each population using GIS, and then designed the neighborhood around the corridor. Naturally, the houses closest to the corridor would pose a greater risk for humans, but those interested in living in them would be warned of this beforehand. A family with small children or people who leave their pets outside probably wouldn’t want to live in a house closest to the corridor. Knowing the risks before living in the area and designing neighborhoods that take these risks into consideration would greatly reduce human-predator conflicts. Leaving space for wildlife to roam would also lessen the chances of encounters. By planning ahead, we could ensure the success of large predator populations, and in turn, entire ecosystems that greatly benefit from the presence of these keystone species.
By: Amanda Artz
To most Americans, the early West is seen as once being the ultimate frontier; something to be discovered, explored, and established. The frontier was the outer edge of the wave—the meeting point between savagery and civilization and the line of most effective and rapid Americanization (Limerick). Movies, books, and stories paint a perfect yet unrealistic picture of this monumental time in history, literally draping a pretty sheet over the messy reality of what the West really was. Even long after its establishment, certain legacies stemming from the Western frontier still exist today and have shaped American culture and life forever.
Perhaps the most puzzling image of the early West is that it was new, uninhabited, and unexplored land. Europeans saw themselves as “discovering” the Indians, but of course, the discovery was mutual (Cronon et. al). Native Americans had lived in the West for generations. They had established communities, planned landscaping and propagation methods, complex social systems, and natural resource harvesting regimes. To overlook Native American presence in the West is like overlooking an elephant in a room, and our culture rarely ever notices more than this elephant’s tail. This land was not new, was already inhabited, and had been explored and established long ago. But for many people, living in a frontier area evoked the feeling that one was somehow present at the creation of a new world (Cronon et. al). This feeling helped unleash the most selfish and power-hungry traits of the human species and led to ideas and practices that are still present today.
During the frontier era, boundaries were set as ways of defining property, ways of killing animals, ways of planting fields, ways of building houses, ways of rearing children, ways of praising God: all became symbols of difference between those who stood on opposite frontier boundaries (Cronon et al). These simple activities were perhaps even more effective than overt violence in moving Indians off their lands, for they justified land taking by giving the invaders a permanent sense of entitlement to the landscape around them (Cronon et al). Why did these “invaders”, who had just started living in this preoccupied land, believe that they were entitled to it? That’s akin to visiting a friend’s house, liking it, and deciding it is now yours. Although it seems farfetched, this sense of entitlement has carried on for generations—maybe not as extreme as the case above, but still present at an alarming rate. Our sense of entitlement to natural resources and land that is habitat to other, “lower” forms of life is shameful. The fact that we use resources for our benefit, and our benefit only regardless of who or what we hurt in the process shows that our species hasn’t grown or learned from similar past experiences involving the brutal taking of Native American land. Although the United States doesn’t seem like much of a frontier today, there are still millions of undisturbed areas containing bountiful resources. Instead of treating these rich areas as “resource frontiers”, we should instead think of the health and well-being of species other than ourselves, stop being so greedy, and appreciate the last bit of “wild” Western landscape we have without completely degrading it. But as Cronon states, “the very opportunity that frontiers offered people to abandon their old ways often put a premium on maintaining them”, and the old way of entitlement will be with our species until the end.
The “free land” of the frontier was nothing of the sort, having passed into European hands only through the violent conquest of its early Indian owners (Cronon et al). A combination of fear and greed impelled further growth among the Western frontier, and the new immigrants let nothing or no one stand in their way (White). If they wanted something, they took it; not by peaceful agreements and mutual respect, but by violent means. Violence was the European’s solution to land acquisition and settlement and it drove them into a power-hungry rage. What’s most troubling is that greed-induced violence still goes on today and is in some ways an encouraged legacy of the frontier. Children happily play cowboys and Indians (Limerick), our country has been in wars over natural resources, movies and videogames portray violence as a heroic action, and more money is spent on the military than on education. All of these examples seem to indicate that not only does our culture accept violence, but that we encourage it, and have been doing so for hundreds of years. The American-made cultural divide and power-hungry fear that runs through the veins of this country is a solid barrier blocking us from ever achieving peace and sustainability.
The Western frontier is a mythical world based on lies, greed, and ignorance, and yet it is where many Americans continue to locate a central core of their identity (Cronon et al). Legacies from this time have shaped our culture and continue to do so today despite of what we think has changed within our American values. The saying “history repeats itself” holds forever true, and perhaps someday we can look at the mistakes we’ve made by viewing resources as “our” frontiers and learn from them. Until then, our greed and violent tendencies will continue to shape the growth and existence of our country.
By: Amanda Artz
I decided to explore Central San Rafael on Friday. Every time I drive past this city I can’t decide whether I like it or hate it, but by looking deeply into the landscape I was able to come to certain conclusions and understand it better than before.
Driving into town I was immediately reminded of an old town San Francisco. There was a mix of steep, slanted streets along with level, main roads. The slanted streets look like natural paved hillside, yet the leveled roads give the whole town a terraced feeling, like someone had purposely designed this to make it look more appealing. Perhaps this uncommon design was created with the thought that it would bring in people who loved the feel of San Francisco but didn’t want or couldn’t afford to live in such a big city.
There is definite evidence of planned landscaping. Non-native trees line every street neatly, spaced exactly the same length apart. A square is physically cut out of the sidewalk where every tree grows. The unnaturalness of non-native shrubs and flowers reminds me of pimples dotting an otherwise perfect complexion. The whole place looks too planned and very cookie-cutter. I find it laughable then that this city, which obviously tries extremely hard to look so neat and classy, would choose above-ground telephone poles with harsh, exposed wire to line these same streets. It seems like a giant, visible contradiction.
I was not aware of how Victorian Central San Rafael was. I feel like I am standing on the street of an east coast town. Beautiful, historic houses can be seen down every street, giving the whole area a very family-oriented feel. More “modern” buildings are intermingled within the classic Victorians, reminding me of a field of wild flowers slowly being taken over by non-native, invasive weeds. This observation said the most about the people who live here. I feel as though San Rafael is in an identity crisis fueled by a battle of the older and younger generations. Perhaps the younger generation is pushing for a more modernized community, slowly trying to eradicate the old town feel of the city. But by looking at the landscape carefully, I believe it is the other way around. Most of the “modern” buildings seem like they stemmed from the 70’s and 80’s. Some buildings resembled those of the Brutalist style like on the Sonoma State Campus, symbolizing a time when futuristic architecture was in high demand. With new ideas of sustainability and restoration surfacing, I think the younger generations are moving to stop the modern development of this city and preserve it for what it is: a true, historic gem. The people of this town scream environmental consciousness, from the giant crowd shopping at the weekly farmers market to the domination of Pruises lining the streets. The future looks amazing for this little town and I think in ten years it will have a genuine, unique identity.
Driving towards the 101, one last thing caught my eye. Amidst the modern, drab buildings stood a wonderful Victorian house with two palm trees standing at the entrance. This symbol of hospitality was like a glimmer of hope in my eyes and made me feel that with the help of my generation, San Rafael will someday be restored to a welcoming, naturally beautiful city.