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Nov. 14, 2002

Mission to Afghanistan

Who's the mayor?

Arcata scientist blows whistle on the Klamath

Legal wrangling continues

The sea takes a child

Attacking sudden oak death

Rains arrive

Mission to Afghanistan


As Afghanistan struggles to recover from decades of civil war, years of harsh rule by the Taliban and an intensive U.S. bombing campaign against Al-Qaeda, one Trinidad woman is hoping to bring some relief.

Later this month, Frederica Aalto, 58 [in photo below right], international advocate for Six Rivers Planned Parenthood in Eureka, will travel to the war-torn country with a small team of social workers. Their mission: to introduce family planning to a shattered country and, more particularly, to assist Afghani women who have no access to pre- and post-natal care -- and who were denied medical attention altogether under the Taliban.

Frederica AaltoAalto's journey, which will last a month, has caused a stir at Six Rivers. "It's a huge deal. We are very excited," said Debbe Hartridge, director of education and public affairs for the group. "We are really moved that (Aalto) can take her experience and involve the agency in a positive way to interact with the world."

Aalto first became familiar with the plight of Afghani women during a visit to the Middle East three years ago.

It is not unique for a family planning agency to have an international family planning advocate, Hartridge said. Six Rivers Planned Parenthood has had projects in Nicaragua, China and the Caribbean. But it is unusual to send someone to Afghanistan.

The trip to Afghanistan won't be cheap. Aalto estimates it will cost about $12,000. To date they have raised $6,000.

Aalto has received numerous small grants, including a $3,000 matching grant from Humboldt State University physics Professor Richard Stepp. Venture Strategies, a Bay Area venture capital firm, has also given money. And the medical community is providing donations and assistance -- doctors and pharmacies have donated gloves, toothbrushes, topical antibiotics, ibuprofen, eyeglasses and stethoscopes.

"We have enough for [plane] tickets," Aalto said. "The rest of the money will pay for medical supplies and equipment."

Accompanying Aalto will be Aghaghia Rahimzadeh, 32, an HSU graduate student. Rahimzadeh is going as both a translator and photographer.

Once Aalto and her group return home, they'll begin developing a program to establish networks for marketing and distributing birth control pills and drugs to treat post-partum hemorrhage. They also want to set up a system to train practitioners in techniques to control bleeding after miscarriages -- a leading cause of death among many Afghan women.

The exact nature of this larger effort won't become clear until after the initial visit to Afghanistan, which Aalto described as a "reconnaisance project."

"The shape of the project will be determined by what we find [in Afghanistan]," Aalto said.

Although Aalto isn't sure how much the project will cost, she did apply for a $100,000 grant from the Packard Foundation. The foundation turned her down last May.

"It's a long and sometimes discouraging road," Aalto said of fund-raising.

Any kind of help would be significant in Afghanistan, where chronic warfare has set back the country's development by centuries. Coming to power in the 1990s after years of civil war, the Taliban had a strict fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran. Under the regime, women could not work, go to school, appear outdoors without a male relative as an escort, or be seen in public without a burka -- a full-length, head-to-toe outfit that only exposed a woman's eyes.

Aalto said burkas and scarves are far from the biggest problem that besets Afghan women.

"Bleeding to death is," she said.

The Taliban's religious policies prevented women from getting medical care because men and women were not allowed to share medical facilities and male doctors were not allowed to treat women.

"There has been no medical treatment for women dating back to the Afghanistan civil war," Aalto said. That war took place through much of the 1980s.

Because of the lack of medical attention, the average life span for an Afghan woman dropped to 44 years. "That's appalling," she said.

Afghanistan has the highest death rate among women in the world. Many of the causes of death among Afghan women are treatable, Aalto said.

The grim situation for Afghani women was not helped by a Bush administration decision last year to cut funding for international family planning.

To enter Afghanistan, Aalto and her team must first travel to Iran. Once there, Aalto will hook up with several Iranian doctors who will accompany the team for the final leg of the trip.

According to Aalto, Iran has a more progressive family planning program than the United States. In fact, Iran received a United Nations award for having one of the best family planning programs in the world, she said.

Iran's efforts have paid off. The country has gone from an average of six children per household to two, Aalto said.

"They have had the fastest drop in fertility in human history in the last 15 years," she said.

Aalto hopes to transplant some of Iran's programs into Afghanistan. The fact that both Iran and Afghanistan share similar religions and languages should be helpful, Aalto said.

In 2000, Aalto set up a similar program in Iran when she took medical supplies to Tehran, the nation's capital. But she knows the trip to Afghanistan will be quite different.

Afghanistan is far from becoming a unified nation. It isn't so much a country as a series of tribal areas, Aalto said. She and her group are going to go to the Herat province, a relatively stable area inside Afghanistan, near Iran and friendly with Iran, she said.

Aalto said she doesn't think about the possibility that the war on terrorism could impact her effort.

"If you are not willing to take a risk in life, you can't achieve big things," she said. "In these times when all we hear about is war and terrorism, you shouldn't neglect the things that cause terrorism, such as poverty."

Aalto also has a wealth of experience promoting family planning programs around the world. Eight years ago she took her first trip to the Middle East to attend a United Nations conference on population and development in Cairo in 1994.

Although this will be Aalto's first trip to Afghanistan, she is quite familiar with the misery that country's population has gone through. In 1999 she toured Afghan refugee camps in Iran with the international aid organization "Doctors Without Borders." Aalto learned first-hand just how terrible the situation was for refugees. At the time, Iran was overloaded with people experiencing war, famine and poverty in Afghanistan, she said.

Aalto saw women suffering from malnutrition, children suffering from rickets, and mothers and their babies suffering from a variety of ailments.

"If you see how Afghan people suffer, you realize you can't sit back," she said.

Aalto will be giving a presentation on her trip on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. at St. Alban's Episcopal Church, 1675 Chester Ave., Arcata.

Who's the mayor? [photo of Peter LaVallee and Cherie Arkley


Forty-eight votes. That's the margin of victory that separated Peter LaVallee and City Councilwoman Cherie Arkley after last week's election for the mayor of Eureka.

While some voters may have assumed from those results that LaVallee was the clear winner, the margin of victory was so close that it's conceivable Arkley may emerge as the victor.

LaVallee has not declared victory, nor has Arkley conceded defeat. Arkley, who said last week that "I'm okay either way it goes," has also not called for a recount.

Nonetheless, the county is conducting, as it does after every election, a labor-intensive hand count of all ballots -- not just for the mayor's race, but for all races. Election workers want to be certain that every ballot has been counted and that no one voted twice.

More importantly, perhaps, they are still tallying votes -- the remaining 1,100 absentee ballots turned in at precincts on election day. Those ballots are from all across Humboldt County, not just Eureka. But conceivably there could be enough votes for Arkley to snatch victory from LaVallee's grasp.

A laborious process

Voters won't know the final outcome until the middle of next week at the earliest, although strictly speaking the county has 29 days from Nov. 5 to certify the election, said Lindsey McWilliams, Humboldt County's chief elections official and the county administrative services director.

"This isn't about stuffing ballots into a (vote) counting machine," he said, explaining that the final tally will take time.

One reason is that it will be up to six county election workers to account for all the ballots issued and those that were returned. McWilliams likened that task to balancing 90 different checkbooks with 400 transactions.

"We have to go through every box, every package, from every precinct," McWilliams said.

Absentee ballots have to be checked for signatures. Provisional ballots -- ballots that are in question for one reason or another, such as when a voter submits an absentee ballot and votes at a precinct -- have to be checked against precinct records (McWilliams didn't say how many such ballots there were). And the county is required by law to do a manual recount of 1 percent of precincts and a recount of single race ballots, such as the Blue Lake City Council election.

"The manual recount helps affirm the integrity of the machine count," McWilliams said.

Counting the ballots with write-in candidates will also add to the outcome's delay. Voting machines won't accept those ballots so they all must be counted by hand. And if the write-in candidate's name is valid, that ballot will be added to the final numbers.

Defective ballots must also be hand-counted. Those include ballots where two or more candidates in the same race are selected -- for example, if someone voted for both LaVallee and Arkley in the Eureka mayoral race. There are also ballots with corrections or selections erased. McWilliams estimates there are between 200 and 300 ballots where a voter has erased a selection.

To make matters worse, since election day McWilliams has spent a good portion of his time fielding phone calls from the media and candidates. Seems in the wake of Gore vs. Bush there are a lot of people seeking an explanation as to how the process works.

"Part of my job is to educate folks," he said. "To leap to a finish in particular races doesn't serve the process well. The integrity of the election is most important."

An apparent upset

Weeks before the election, it seemed that Arkley, given her name recognition and financial resources, was a shoo-in. Many thought that the support given by her and her husband, Rob, of various projects in Eureka -- such as the boardwalk development and Sequoia Park Zoo -- would propel her to the top spot in Eureka's city government. Even some of the mayoral candidates -- there were seven in all -- conceded privately that Arkley would most likely win.

Arkley got a jump on her opponents --- she was the first to put up signs along 4th and 5th streets, in Old Town and downtown, and elsewhere as well. It seemed in many parts of Eureka that around every corner was a red, white and blue Arkley-for-Mayor sign.

Humboldt State Professor John Travis, who teaches courses in government and politics, said that City Councilman Jack McKellar probably took some votes away from Arkley, because, like Arkley, he is politically conservative.

One reason for LaVallee's seeming success is that he conducted an intensive door-to-door campaign while Arkley did not.

LaVallee said on election night that his victory was due to a large-scale effort to personally meet homeowners and residents in the old-fashioned way, by pounding the pavement, going door-to-door. He was assisted by Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Bonnie Neely and Eureka City Councilman Chris Kerrigan, both of whom went door-to-door on his behalf, along with a cadre of volunteers. In all, LaVallee and his supporters covered an estimated 85 percent of the city.

Jeff Leonard, whose victory in the 3rd Ward City Council election surprised many, said he also did a lot of door-to-door campaigning. He said he found that voters wanted to get to know the candidates. While making his rounds through Eureka neighborhoods, voters often invited Leonard in to their homes to talk politics.

"I spent time watching television with people for 15 to 20 minutes and talking about city government," Leonard said. "We live in a small area. People feel like they want to know who they'll vote for."

Another key factor may have been money.

Arkley spent more than twice as much on the campaign as LaVallee, yet apparently lost -- which raises the question of whether spending big in her case backfired. Some of the other candidates, along with others, felt that spending $54,000 to get elected to an office that pays only $625 a month was an attempt to buy the election.

In Eureka's 3rd Ward City Council race, Charlene Cutler-Ploss spent approximately $30,000, easily outspending her rivals; yet it was Leonard, who spent only $6,000, who won the seat. Leonard won by 147 votes.

"I certainly think it shows that unlimited dollars aren't a guarantee for a win," he said. "But I saw how critical it is to have funds to run a campaign."

Like Arkley, Cutler-Ploss relied on the services of the Cox Rasmussen Co., a Eureka consulting firm, to help get the word out about her campaign, paying the company approximately $26,000 for its services. In contrast, Leonard did almost everything on his own.

"I did everything by myself on my home computer," he said.

Leonard made his own buttons, wrote his own radio commercials, created his own campaign brochure and relied on the Internet to get his message out. Like many candidates, Leonard set up a website for voters to access his platform, issues and his background. He got about 645 visits to the site. He believes the margin of victory was due in part to his website and an extensive e-mailing campaign.

Leonard also relied on an extensive letters-to-the-editor campaign. He said the letters were a huge benefit to getting him elected.

"[Letters to the editor] are becoming one of the best grassroots strategies for getting the message out," he said. "Voters look to see who wrote the letter and whether it is negative."

Crazy for the dunes:
Conservation group expands its mission


Salt and sand whips in a tangy melange across your lips. The waves pound a steady, rolling growl. Under your feet the sand slides, crunching with every step. To the west, the wind beats against frothy whitecaps that come tumbling onto a seaweed-strewn beach; the strand continues on as far as the eye can see, disappearing finally into the misty vastness of an overcast fall day.

All around are rolling hills of sand, cemented together with long grasses and a mat of other plants that merge with forest and marsh inland. These are the dunes, a strip of habitat only one mile wide and 34 miles long that is probably one of the most ecologically diverse areas its size anywhere.

This particular spot -- the 110-acre Manila Dunes Recreation Area -- has come under the protection of one of the more esoteric environmental organizations in Humboldt County, the Friends of the Dunes. This year the group is celebrating its 20th anniversary and expanding its mission in key ways. But, with all the other unique habitats in Humboldt, what's so special about the dunes?

"You've got it all, it's incredibly diverse, bay, forest, open dunes, hollows. It's so appealing to be able to be on an open sand dune one moment and the next to be in a forest with trees and lichens and mushrooms," said Carol Vander Meer [in photo below left], a biologist and the group's executive director, in an interview at their Manila office. "I'm sorry, I get a little crazy about them. I'm into it, what can I say?"

Carol Vander Meer in front of dunesThis year the group's operations -- traditionally focused seaward -- include Humboldt Bay. Their volunteers now staff the new visitor center at the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge at the bay's southern tip.

In addition, they have become a land-trust. They have yet to acquire any land of their own, but are looking into several options -- including purchasing, or at least getting permission to restore, the private land on either end of the Manila dunes.

The Friends were originally a volunteer program associated with the Nature Conservancy, which owned the Lanphere Dunes. But in 1995, when the conservancy decided to pull out of Humboldt County and hand over its dunes to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the volunteers had a decision to make: dissolve or continue.

"It was difficult," Vander Meer said. "There was a lot of dedication to the Nature Conservancy itself."

But eventually they decided to incorporate as their own separate non-profit organization and continue the work of conserving the dunes.

Since then the group has grown by leaps and bounds, going from a budget of $5,000 per year when it started out to over $90,000 per year now.

Kids studying dune plantlife with bay in backgroundTheir operations have increased right along with their budget. They run a dune education program with local schools called Bay to Dunes; docents lead groups of children on educational explorations from the Manila Community Park on Humboldt Bay to the Manila Dunes. They have a college spring break program where students come out from around the country to camp at the Manila Community Center and restore the dunes for a week. Volunteers lead one or two dune walks every weekend. In addition, they send out dune-restoration teams every weekend to work at returning the dunes to their natural state.

And what might that be? Well, most of the dunes in Humboldt County have been covered over with one of three extremely aggressive invasive species: European beachgrass, which was supposed to stabilize the dunes but has now taken them over; the ice plants, succulents imported as ship ballast in the 1500s; and yellow bush lupine, planted to stabilize railroad lines and now nearly ubiquitous along Humboldt's coast.

"What we do is like weeding a giant garden," Vander Meer said.

They're making space for the two federally listed endangered plant species that call the dunes home: the Humboldt Bay wallflower and the beach layia.

A lot of the Friends projects revolve around providing "place-based" education to local residents -- making people feel truly at home in the natural world that surrounds them, and connecting them to it and the larger natural world.

"I feel strongly that it is very simple and elementary," Vander Meer said. "[People] need to connect and develop a sense of place. To connect with the dunes is a way to help develop a place in your environment. If you know an area and connect, you can truly become a part of it."

Arcata scientist blows whistle on the Klamath


Had Michael Kelly got his way, there would have been more water in the Klamath River this summer. And if there had been more water, 33,000 salmon and steelhead might not have died at the end of September in the largest fish kill to hit the river in memory.

Late last month, Kelly, an Arcata resident and a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, filed a complaint under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act. Why? Because he is accusing the Bush administration of pressuring federal scientists last spring to endorse a plan that provides insufficient protections to coho salmon, a federal threatened species.

In an eight-page written statement that is the core of his complaint, Kelly said that "political pressure appears to be the reason" that his agency accepted a plan that gives priority to diverting water to farmers in Southern Oregon. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plan, which will govern water diversions from the Klamath for the next ten years, won't provide adequate amounts of water for coho salmon "until the ninth year," Kelly charged.

"The proposed action clearly created a risk to the species by delaying adequate conditions for up to nine years, during which time it would not be known whether the species would maintain itself," Kelly said in the complaint.

The whistleblower act shields Kelly from being demoted or terminated by the fisheries service because of his complaint, which essentially charges the government with violating the Endangered Species Act. Kelly did not respond to questions sent to him via e-mail.

Kelly, 37, has worked at the fisheries service for two years. Prior to that, he was a biologist with the Arcata office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Karen Schambach, the California director of the Sacramento-based nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said Kelly does not want to talk to the press "because he doesn't want this to be about him.

"He's not trying to become a hero or create a sensation. He's just an idealistic person and biologist who wants to see his agency do the right thing."

Kelly initially contacted Schambach's group this summer, prior to the fish kill, to explore the possibility of filing a whistleblower complaint. When the fish kill happened, Kelly contacted Schambach again and decided to go ahead.

Most of the fish that died were chinook salmon, which do not have federal protection, but some coho perished as well. Scientists believe the fish died of gill rot, a disease related to low water levels and warm water temperatures. A federal study on the die-off is in the works.

Kelly was "technical lead" of a team that wrote a biological opinion pertaining to how much water should stay in the Klamath for fish -- and, by implication, how much should go to irrigators.

The April 1 opinion was rejected by the reclamation bureau, as was a revised document submitted more than two weeks later that called for weaker but "still minimally adequate" flows, as Kelly put it in his complaint.

But even that was rejected, which led to a meeting on April 29 in which the reclamation bureau, according to Kelly, made it clear that recommended flows for fish were going to be cut by 43 percent.

That approach, which determined flows in the river beginning this summer, was essentially rammed down the throat of the fisheries service, according to Kelly. He said biologists were not even given an opportunity to analyze whether the plan could jeopardize the existence of coho salmon in the Klamath. It is that lack of analysis, according to Kelly, that constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Jeff McCracken, a spokesman for the reclamation bureau, has argued that the flows called for by his agency are based on a report by the National Research Council, a scientific body. "That was the best available science from the top scientists in the country."

In his complaint, Kelly charged the Bush administration with "dictating" how federal scientists should interpret the research council report.

Legal wrangling continues

The Garberville-based Environmental Protection Information Center has asked Judge John Golden to hold the Pacific Lumber Co. in contempt for continuing to log in apparent defiance of an earlier court order.

The environmental group also wants the judge to immediately halt logging pending the contempt motion.

"We're concerned that since this has drug on for so long that we need to see something right now," said EPIC director Cynthia Elkins.

The request for contempt charges is the latest development in the legal wrangling that began in August, when Judge Golden issued a stay on Pacific Lumber logging permits because the paperwork on which the permits were based was either missing or incomplete.

The environmentalists interpreted the stay to mean that the company must halt all logging. The company has maintained that the stay applies only to permits issued after the ruling.

Judge Golden recently rejected a "motion to enforce" filed by environmentalists, saying that his order has enough authority to enforce itself.

Still pending is a motion by Pacific Lumber to remove the stay altogether on the grounds that it is causing the company and the community undue economic hardship.

By its own account, the company has been logging over 1 million board-feet of lumber (about 200 logging truck-loads) a day since the order came out.

The sea takes a child

Four-year-old Peter Kautzmann of Orick was washed out to sea last Thursday when a rogue wave surprised him and his parents as they walked along the beach at Dry Lagoon State Park after dusk on Thursday.

His parents managed to make it back to dry land, but as of Tuesday the boy has yet to be found.

The Coast Guard initiated a search in conjunction with the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, but were unable to locate the boy, who is presumed dead.

"We did some extensive searching with the helicopter, and unfortunately we were not able to locate the boy," said Coast Guard group duty officer Brent Verhulst, who oversaw the operation, in a phone interview.

The search has been called off pending new information.

Attacking sudden oak death

Humboldt County is teaming up with 11 other counties in California to lobby in concert for state and federal funding to fight sudden oak death.

Speaking before the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, County Agriculture Commissioner John Falkenstrom said he's concerned that recent rains could spread the disease.

Falkenstrom said he expects to find more positive test results from samples taken from trees in southern Humboldt County.

Originally found in oak trees in Marin County, the disease has spread up and down the coast and has reached Humboldt County. The announcement some weeks ago that the disease had been detected in coast redwoods and Douglas firs alarmed the timber industry. But some researchers believe the risk to redwoods, one of the most commercially valuable of all trees, is limited.

Coast live oak, black oak, tanoak, madrone, bay laurel and buckeye -- all common in southern Humboldt County -- are known to be infected by the canker-like pathogen.

Humboldt, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties have all been struck by the disease. So has a county in southern Oregon.

There is no historical evidence of the disease in California. Sudden oak death was either introduced to the state or it evolved here, said Yana Valachovic, forest advisor with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources cooperative education program in Eureka.

Rains arrive

Heavy surf and high winds slammed ashore late last week as the first winter storm of the season hit the Humboldt Bay region.

Power was out for hours north of Eureka when a major transmission line went down last Thursday evening. Power was restored in Arcata within a couple of hours, but some homes in outlying areas of the county were without power until the following night.



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