North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News


April 7, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

A bird's eye view
New local bird atlas a labor of love for Audubon Society


The Weekly Wrap

COUNTY TO BUY VOTING MACHINES: No matter who ends up on the ballot, local voters will have a choice next year -- optical scan or touch screen? On Tuesday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to purchase a limited number of touch-screen machines so that the county will comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. The machines in question are manufactured by the Diebold Corp. and are designed to be accessible to people with disabilities. They will include a "paper trail" that will allow for hand recounts if a vote is challenged. If things go according to plan, the county will place one of the touch-screen devices at each polling place in the county, along with the old optical-scan ballots. Each voter will have the option of choosing her preferred method. Most of the cost to the county will be reimbursed by state and federal funds. Several local residents addressed the board on the topic, many of them denouncing Diebold as "criminals." (The Ohio company and its president, a staunch Bush supporter, have been accused of helping to engineer a Bush victory in the November election.) Some called for a return to hand counting paper ballots in every election, something that has not been done in the county for many decades, as the only way to ensure a fair count.

PALCO ANNOUNCES LAYOFFS: As the Pacific Lumber Co. predicted when it pushed the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to OK logging plans in the Freshwater Creek and Elk River watersheds, it laid off 21 lumber operations employees last week, citing a shortage of logs. On March 16, the water board approved Palco's logging of 75 percent of the timber harvest plans previously approved by the California Department of Forestry, but it was too little too late, the company said. In a press statement issued last Thursday, Dennis Wood, vice president of operations, said the log harvest for the first quarter of 2005 was down from the original plan by over 10 million board feet. "It is too little harvest, and it was reauthorized too late, to keep all of our operations at the level which we had planned for 2005," Wood said. "Petitions for stay and administrative appeals from those delayed and diminished Water Board authorizations dramatically exacerbate the uncertainty of harvest and log supplies." Critics have argued that further logging in the sediment-impaired Elk and Freshwater watersheds will prevent them from recovering. In other news, Palco announced that Scotia Pacific LLC (SCOPAC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Pacific Lumber, was consolidating its operations into a single business division effective April 1. As part of the reorganization, Jeff Barrett, director of science programs, was promoted to vice president of SCOPAC.

AUGUST TRIAL DELAYED AGAIN: The trial of Fortuna City Councilmember Debi August has been delayed yet again. In response to a motion from August's attorneys, Judge John Feeney pushed the opening date of the trial back three weeks, to May 23. August stands accused by the Humboldt County Grand Jury of conflict of interest; her attorneys argued that they needed the additional time to review evidence related to the Grand Jury's investigation.

FCC APPROVES KVIQ SALE: The long-running battle between the Blue Lake Rancheria and Sainte Partners II, owners of Fox 29, over ownership of Eureka CBS affiliate KVIQ-TV appears to have drawn to a close, with the rancheria achieving a Pyrrhic victory. On Jan. 31, the Federal Communications Commission finally denied the Modesto-based Sainte Partners' application to take over KVIQ's broadcast license from Clear Channel affiliate Ackerley Media, with a sale of the station itself to follow. In doing so, the commission agreed with the rancheria's objection that Sainte Partners did not qualify for a waiver from federal rules banning a single company from owning two stations in the same small market. But it appears that the rancheria never got to file its own application to buy the station, as it had wished to do. Under FCC rules, Sainte Partners was allowed to transfer its FCC application to a company of its choosing. It did so, and on March 23 the commission approved transfer of the station to Raul Broadcasting Co. of Eureka, Inc. Raul Broadcasting's application contained a Modesto address and telephone number as contact information for the company. A call to that number Tuesday afternoon revealed that it belonged to a private residence; the woman who answered declined to identify herself, but said that she would forward a message to someone who could answer a reporter's questions about the sale. Representatives of the Blue Lake Rancheria could not be reached for comment.

EUREKA, ART TOWN: Eureka's arts scene was once again recognized as one of the best around last week, as the fourth edition of travel writer John Villani's book, The 100 Best Art Towns in America, hit the streets. After taking into account several measurements of artistic vitality, including the number of galleries, museums and festivals, as well as tourist-friendly factors like the cost of a hotel room, Villani ended up ranking Eureka seventh in the nation for towns with a population of 30,000 or under. In previous editions of the book, Eureka had topped the list; this year, the honor went to Naples, Fla.

911 PRANK: A prank 911 call went too far when a Crescent City man stayed on the line with a Del Norte County dispatcher for more than 20 minutes, claiming that he was in a serious car accident and needed help but did not know where he was, according to the California Highway Patrol. The emergency cell phone call that could not be traced set off an interstate search on March 26 around 11 p.m., with law enforcement from southern Oregon to Humboldt County searching area roadways for three hours before finding out it was all a bad joke. Brandon Paul Hamilton, 21, of Crescent City, speaking in muffled tones, told the dispatcher between sobs that he was 17 years old, that he had a serious chest injury and that his female passenger was possibly dead, according to police. Humboldt County CHP said they sent out "several units" to participate in the search, and the sheriff's office also called out two deputies who worked overtime. Hamilton was eventually found at a residence near Crescent City where he told the dispatcher he had departed from before crashing his car. He was arrested for making a false report of an emergency, misuse of 911, obstructing a police officer and making false statements, and was booked into Del Norte County Jail. Hamilton may also be required to pay for the time emergency workers spent looking for him, which the CHP said could amount to several thousand dollars.

HRC DISCUSSES GAY MARRIAGE: Joining the surge of gay rights activism stemming from last month's San Francisco Superior Court decision that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a local group will consider urging the county to take a stand for queer couples who want to wed. The Human Rights Commission, an advisory committee to the county, meets on April 12 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the county courthouse to discuss a draft resolution supporting same-sex marriage, which will later be passed on to the county Board of Supervisors for consideration. Commission member Rick Botzler said that the meeting attendees have shown support for gay marriage in recent months. "I think this will make the public more aware and bring us closer to having a sense that all people should be treated with dignity and fairness," Botzler said.

CORRECTION: The name of local animator and musician Bowen Comings was misspelled in last week's cover story, "Festival Time." The Journal regrets the error.
[The online version has been corrected.]

A bird's eye view
New local bird atlas a labor of love for Audubon Society


In 1994 Rob Hewitt, longtime member of the Redwood Region Audubon Society, suggested to fellow birders that Humboldt County should have its own atlas of breeding birds. Out of all the 3,560 counties in the United States only four others have as many species of breeding birds as Humboldt. Groups in a number of other counties around the country had published such references. Land managers, biologists, environmentalists, government agencies and birders found such baseline data valuable.

Later that fall the core group got its first inkling of how enormous this project was going to be.

In the Six Rivers Forest supervisor's office they spread out a series of U.S. Geological Society quad maps. "We just laid those suckers out," said co-author David Fix, indicating an area about 12 by 15 feet. They divided Humboldt County into blocks measuring 3 miles on a side. Eventually the number of blocks reached 425.

The timetable was five years. The unuttered and sobering thought was, "We're going to need a lot of people."

It turned into a saga. A whole community -- of biologists, environmentalists, timber companies, businesses, federal agencies, private landowners, artists, educational institutions and individuals -- came together to produce an invaluable record: a snapshot in time of the birds of Humboldt County in the waning years of the 20th century.

On April 15, the impressive product of that decade-long effort will be unveiled. The book signing of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Humboldt County will highlight the Godwit Days opening reception. The four authors of this extraordinary tome, John E. Hunter, David Fix, Gregory A. Schmidt and Jude Claire Power, will be at the Arcata Community Center from 5 to 7 p.m. to sign the book and share their unique experience in community collaboration.

The public call for volunteers came in an article Hewitt wrote in the January 1995 issue of The Sandpiper, the newsletter of the RRAS. Birders were to survey blocks according to a strict methodology set up by Hunter.

"There are two stages in a project: wild enthusiasm and abject panic," Fix said. "By year three the attrition rate well, it was like water off a duck's back." Many of the observations were left to a core group to finish. He credits Hunter's leadership and focus with helping to sustain the group.

Schmidt brought technical expertise in database management to bear on the massive amount of raw data. The original 34,000 pieces of data were individually analyzed and sifted down to 17,000. Out of that he generated a map for each species showing its location and behavior. He also created the layout.

As the data collection wound up, a spirited discussion arose about what to do with it. The task of analyzing the data and writing the species accounts seemed overwhelming. And they were running out of money.

Someone suggested that they simply dump the data onto a CD and distribute it to ornithologists and bird enthusiasts. Their indignation around that idea reenergized the group. After all, as Fix said, "You can't curl up in bed with a CD."

Confronted with the task of illustrating the book, and raising money, they recruited sponsors to pay $125 for a drawing by a local artist. Half the money went to the artist, half toward publication, and the sponsor kept the original art. A paperback will retail for $30 and a hardback for $50, yet the RRAS has priced the book to just break even.

It fell to Fix to write the overwhelming majority of species accounts, and he experienced a paradox: "I have training as a biologist but I feel that I am more involved with the birds as a poet. In talking about how American kestrels are "trim and buoyant," that's not science. "Trim and buoyant." Define that; quantify that. Right there I fall on the side of the fence of the poets and the nuts and the artists. I had to find a way to present the data we collected in a way that honors each of these species as an individual nation of beings." Fix's accounts usually start with a lyrical paragraph followed by the solid science, still accessible to the layman.

So, after five years of grueling data collection and five more of stolid data analysis, writing and art, what is the purpose here?

Fix rubs his gray-flecked beard and thinks a moment. "Data helps give land managers and biologists a foundation from which to make decisions, but those decisions are ultimately made by people. I think that science in and of itself will not save birds. Science is helpful and it's indispensable but if we can convince people that what is out there is beautiful, then maybe the desire to save and preserve and enhance and protect beauty will ultimately cause people to make decisions to save the birds."

The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Humboldt County will be available at HSU, the Natural History Museum, Northtown Books, Borders, Strictly for the Birds, Arcata Marsh Center, Western Field Ornithologists, American Birders Society and the Redwood Region Audubon Society.

Stilson Snow of Eureka is a writer and an avowed eclecticist.

The Daunting Task

  • 3,825 square miles
  • 197 species
  • 275 volunteer observers
  • 34,000 pieces of raw data
  • 80 private landowners
  • 50 local businesses and individuals
  • federal, state and local agencies
  • 440 pages
  • 50 sponsors of 68 illustrations by 11 local artists



Comments? Write a letter!

North Coast Journal Weekly

© Copyright 2005, North Coast Journal, Inc.