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Sept. 25, 2003


MARIA SHRIVER, wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger, will address Eureka Rotarians on Monday at the Eureka Inn. Shriver is an NBC news anchor and member of the Kennedy clan, and she has been traveling around Northern California of late, assuring citizens that the Schwarzenneger administration will take women's issues seriously.

FIRE AND MORE FIRE. Great swaths of Southern Humboldt were shrouded in smoke last week, as two wildfires destroyed over 11,000 acres. Though it was the smaller of the two, the Canoe Fire in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, proved more troublesome. Just as the Journal was going to press, the California Department of Forestry ordered a "precautionary" evacuation of the Salmon Creek area. The larger Honeydew Creek Fire broke out in the Kings Range and for a time looked to threaten Shelter Cove; CDF spokesperson Ernie Rohl said that the fire was "behaving itself" Tuesday. This week's heat wave didn't help matters, though Meanwhile, a Trinity County fire that took out 3,700 acres and closed Highway 299 several times last week was contained The fires have also created "progressively deteriorating air quality conditions" throughout southern Humboldt and western Trinity counties, warned the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District.

GRAFFITI ON THE RISE. Eureka residents have been bending police Capt. Murl Harpham's ear lately about the sharp increase in apparently gang-related graffiti. Tags with the numbers 13 and 14 -- those associated with the Surenos and Nortenos, respectively -- have cropped up around town, with the 14s appearing in Henderson Center and the 13s on the west side of town. "One gang is taunting the other gang" by writing over its tags, Harpham said, an action considered serious provocation. "I'm real surprised we haven't had retaliation" in the form of violence, he said. He urges residents to alert the police as soon as they see grafitti appear.

DOG KILLING. A $750 reward is being offered in the case of the dog that was shot Friday afternoon while out with its owner. Shelly O'Brien, 35, owner of the Indianola Market, was out with her dog, Tessa, talking with workers at Alto Bros. Trucking next door to her shop on Old Arcata Road, when she felt a snap near her feet. She initially thought someone had thrown a firecracker at her. An hour later, after noon, she was outside again to ask if one of the workers wanted anything. As they walked back to her shop, she heard another snap. "Only this time, they got Tessa," she said. O'Brien said the shot apparently came from a vacant field behind the truck yard.

BITTER BEANS. The Eureka City Council voted last week to restrict downtown drive-through coffee houses to Fourth and Fifth streets, rather than throughout the central commercial district. In the second reading of the ordinance, Councilmember Chris Kerrigan proposed the change; it was supported unanimously. Such establishments still need a conditional use permit before locating downtown. But the original proposal -- brought by Rob and Cherie Arkley, who hope to open a Starbuck's at their Fifth and E streets property -- still leaves a bitter taste in Kerrigan's mouth. The central district, a roughly 25-block area from D to I streets between Third and Ninth, is designated in the General Plan to be free of drive-throughs, so that the area can be pedestrian friendly. "It's inappropriate to do planning based on one project or one individual," Kerrigan said. "You have to respect the standards the community adopts."

BUDGET APPROVED. With the adoption by the Board of Supervisors of the county's $210 million budget for 2003-04 Tuesday, the long, painful season of layoffs, hiring freezes and general crisis came to a close... almost. The budget, as adopted, did not take into account the loss of a $500,000 state grant to the Sheriff's Office. How to cope with that loss will be the taken up at a future supes meeting, probably on Oct. 7 Other public safety agencies didn't do so poorly. The Eureka Police Department got $100,000 from a state fund that promotes community-oriented policing and a $25,000 technology improvement grant from the federal Department of Justice The Eureka Fire Department scored $60,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will help it buy a new air compressor

THE ARCATA CITY COUNCIL and the city's police union came to terms on a new labor contract; other city employees are still at loggerheads with city management.

SIGN OF THINGS TO COME... After 14 years the Humboldt State University Pow Wow, an annual event that attracts Native Americans from across the country and Canada, has fallen victim to the California budget crisis. Melissa Tafoya, acting coordinator of the Indian Natural Resource, Science and Engineering program, said the most recent Pow Wow featured 200 Indian dancers, drew 3,000 to 5,000 spectators and cost about $20,000 to put on. Tafoya said the committee of students, staff and faculty that organizes the Pow Wow is determined to find new sources of funding. "We want to make sure this tradition doesn't stop here," she said.

Ranchers, state wildlife agency, partner up

Wildlife area in Arcata Bottom is the site of a grazing experiment


What bugged rancher Pete Bussman [pictured below] was that the land was going unutilized. There it was, 435 acres of bottom land west of the Arcata Marsh, and the vegetation was growing unimpeded. Not a grazer in sight.

Where surrounding pasture land had fresh, nutritious green grass thanks to frequent trimming by cows, this parcel was getting overwhelmed by brush, by plant species unpalatable to livestock and wildlife alike. What with all the cover, rodents were rampant, as were their primary predators, raptors and feral of Pete Bussman

Actually, what really bugged Bussman was this: There weren't any geese. It was the Mad River Slough Wildlife Area, owned by the California Fish and Game Department for the past 15 years, and there weren't any geese.

Instead, the geese were to be found on greener pastures, so to speak, on choice bottom land he leases and owns in the area. And on other ranchers' land. Droves of them. Munching the grass that's supposed to be reserved for their cows. Avoiding the Fish and Game wildlife area because the food out there was much less tasty.

"They'll just descend on a field and basically what you'll get before long is overgrazing," Bussman, clad in cowboy hat and suspenders, said on a recent warm, hazy morning out on the vast Arcata Bottom. "It's the second bite that hurts," he added. "It diminishes the roots and kills the plants off."

Ranchers have been angry for some time that Fish and Game wasn't doing more to take the pressure off their pasture lands by making the wildlife area attractive to geese. But what really "brought things to a boil," as Bussman put it, was a dramatic increase in the geese population over the past few years.

Bussman and others are pleased that a solution of sorts has been reached. After removing cattle from the land when it purchased the property from the Ford family in the `80s, Fish and Game is bringing them back. It is leasing 135 acres of the wildlife area to the Humboldt County Farm Bureau. With the help of an $11,000 federal grant funneled through the county's Resource Conservation District, the bureau is hoping to make the land more hospitable to geese and other types of wildlife simply by grazing it.

"The cattle are just a tool. We're not doing this to graze cattle or make money" but to return the land to an earlier successional stage, Bussman said.

Fish and Game's decision to turn to grazing follows an attempt three years ago to burn the wildlife area that went awry when the wind shifted and sent a thick cloud of smoke over Arcata, prompting air quality alerts.

The lease with the bureau, which has a duration of five years, has been in effect for about a year. During that time various improvements have been made to the land to make grazing possible, including the construction of fences and the installation of water troughs. To celebrate the completion of "phase one" of the project, the bureau held a press conference this week to update the local media on the project.

Humboldt State University is also involved. Armed with a two-year, $30,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, wildlife biologist Matt Johnson and 20 undergraduate students have been taking an inventory of all the critters living on the wildlife area. Now that grazing has begun, they're going to monitor how it changes the wildlife makeup. "The vegetation is going to get a lot less thick, so that could benefit species that like short grass, such as shore birds and waterfowl," Johnson said. "It's probably not going to be good for species that like tall grass, like rodents and things that like rodents, such as kites and hawks."

Making things even more interesting for Johnson is that the ranchers are going to be employing a somewhat unorthodox grazing technique: intensively grazing livestock in a small area for a short period of time and then moving them to another area.

The theory is that this is supposed to maximize the growth rate of vegetation and produce more nutritious forage. That, Johnson said, could be good for cattle and other species that eat grass.

Ranchers, of course, hope that one of those other species are those pesky geese. But given that the amount of land they are grazing in the Mad River Slough Wildlife Area is relatively small, they are not under the illusion that that alone is going to solve the problem. But they are hopeful it will set a precedent.

"We are looking to build partnerships," said Katherine Ziemer, executive director of the farm bureau. "More and more land is getting taken out of production for wildlife habitat. We think we can work together."



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