The Rachel Carson Reserve

 

Ghost Crab

Atlantic Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata). The Latin name Ocypode means “swift-footed.” Ghost crabs actually spend the majority of their time out of water and use fine hairs on the base of their legs to wick up water from sand to wet their gills.

All photos by Maymie Higgins

This past summer I visited a part of the North Carolina coast I had yet to explore in spite of being a lifelong resident of the state. My annual week long vacation was spent on Emerald Isle which is one of three communities on one of the southern Outer Banks islands and includes Pine Knolls Shore and Atlantic Beach. There are many historic and educational sites within a brief drive including one of the three North Carolina Aquariums, Fort Macon, the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, NC and my most sought after site, The Rachel Carson Reserve.

Visiting_Rachel_Carson_9Jul09

Map courtesy of NC Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve as part of a brochure printed with grant funds provided by NOAA.

The Rachel Carson Reserve is located between the mouths of the Newport and North Rivers and directly across Taylor’s Creek from Beaufort. The main part of the site, just south of Beaufort, is a complex of islands which includes Carrot Island, Town Marsh, Bird Shoal, Horse Island and Middle Marsh. In 1977, Beaufort residents, civic organizations and environmental groups came together and prevented the development of a resort on the reserve. The N.C. Chapter of The Nature Conservancy purchased 474 acres of Carrot Island that year. The State of North Carolina acquired Town Marsh, Carrot Island, Horse Island and Bird Shoal in 1985, with the addition of Middle Marshes in 1989. The entire reserve is 2,315 acres.

Beaufort

A view of Beaufort through the cordgrass on the reserve, replete with periwinkle, a small marine gastropod (snail) that grazes on algae and detritus on the surface of plants and on the ground. They are food for many species of crabs and terrapins.

The reserve is one of 10 sites that make up the North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve. The Rachel Carson Reserve is available as a natural outdoor laboratory where scientists, students and the general public can learn about coastal processes, functions and influences that shape and sustain the coastal area. This is in keeping with the reserve’s namesake, who did research at the site in the 1940s.

 

Periwinkle

Closer shot of periwinkle. I am fascinated by the multiple trophic levels that exist just among the varying heights of the cord grass. Estuarine ecosystems are quite rich.

Twice-daily, tides mix fresh and salt water in the reserve and create a very favorable estuarine environment for juvenile fish and invertebrates. The reserve is rich with coastal ecosystems including tidal flats, salt marshes, ocean beach, soft bottom, shell bottom, dredge spoil areas, sand dunes, shrub thicket, submerged aquatic vegetation, and maritime forest.

Devils Walking Stick

Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa), a native shrub tree that produces berries that can be consumed by many birds and mammals but are toxic to humans.

The reserve is located within the Atlantic Migratory Flyway and more than 200 species of birds, including rare species, have been observed there. The site is an important feeding area for Wilson’s plovers in the summer and piping plovers in the winter. The shrub thicket of Middle Marsh supports an egret and heron rookery. Wildlife on the island includes river otter, gray fox, marsh rabbit, raccoon, and a herd of feral horses. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, diamondback terrapins, sea turtles, and many species of fish and invertebrates are found in the estuarine waters surrounding the site.

Indian Blanket

Beautiful Indian Blankets (Gaillardia pulchella) were all over the reserve.

I accessed the reserve by taking a guided hike with the N.C. Maritime Museum, which included a boat to the trailhead and a pick up later. The hike was led by Benjamin Wunderly, Associate Museum Curator who provided lots of good information and species identification as we moved through the different ecosystems.

Horses

The feral horse herd, easily 500 yards or more away during the time of my hike. The horses travel to the parts of the reserve not usually accessed by humans during the hours that humans are likely to visit…because horses are smart like that.

Many visitors to the reserve are curious about the approximately 30 feral horses living on the island. No one knows exactly how they came to be there and there are many theories. Horses may have been on the islands as early as the mid-eighteenth century when Carrot Island was noted on a 1733 map of Beaufort. Horse Island was noted on an 1851 Sketch of Beaufort Harbor, administered under the US Coast Survey Office, most likely named as such because there were horses there.

The feral horses became the property of North Carolina when the land was purchased in the 1980s. The main food supply for these feral horses is Smooth Cordgrass – Spartina alternaflora and the primary source of fresh water is from holes the horses dig. The Beaufort reserve’s staff oversees the horse management. Individual horses are identified, photographed and maintained. Each horse is tracked for births, general health, social habits and eventually death. Beyond the birth control program, the horse population is treated as a wild herd.

Peas

Mr. Wunderly pointing out Spurred Butterfly Pea (Centrosema virginianum), which the horses will eat in addition to the cord grass.

While chatting with Mr. Wunderly about the horses, I expressed my affinity for such mysteries. It does this soul good to know that in my home state there is a reserve where I can visit and spend an unlimited time pondering how something domestic came to be wild. No matter how long I ponder, I will never know the answer but the wild will remain so, thanks to the good efforts of good folks who came together to protect and preserve the Rachel Carson Reserve.

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Discovering the North American Pawpaw Tree, Asimina triloba, (Sort of)

Fruit of the North American pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) in the author's pawpaw patch. Copyright 2015, Richard Telford

Fruit of the North American pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) in the author’s pawpaw patch. Copyright 2015, Richard Telford

By Richard Telford

The powerful forces of forest succession threaten always to engulf the 18th-century stonewalls that surround our 1770 center-chimney farmhouse. During the restoration of the house, we largely gave up trying to stem the encroachment of the surrounding forest. However, several years ago, we began in earnest to work to control that encroachment, in great part due to an alarming increase in the number of Lyme ticks in our yard, which resulted in two of our three children being positively diagnosed with Lyme disease. Reducing moist, shaded areas along the edge of a yard through tree cutting, in conjunction with short-cropping the grass and the removal of leaf litter and other detritus, is a critical component in the war on Lyme ticks (Ixodes scapularis) that has become critical to country living in the northeastern United States. I have previously written about the Lyme disease crisis—a word I don’t use lightly.

This past spring, I began cutting back saplings, creating a ten- to twenty-foot buffer along the outer edges of our stonewalls. At the same time, I began clearing and grass-seeding the inner buffer of the wall that separates our front yard from the road. When I first bought the house in 2003, I had noticed a small stand of trees along that wall that looked to be some kind of tropical ornamental that could survive New England winters. This seemed likely, given the line of Japanese maple trees (Acer palmatum) that lined the eastern edge of the yard. The stand on the south road-edge featured alternate broad leaves as long as sixteen inches stem to tip. They seemed conspicuously out of place amidst the maples, hickories, oaks, birches and elms that, along with eastern white pines and hemlocks, define the surrounding forest. Though I had often intended to identify this tropical oddity, I had not done so by this past spring. In the effort to clear the front wall, I began to cut the stand down, and, at the same time, began limbing an adjacent venerable eastern white pine, also a major shade source.

In the spring of 2014, to celebrate the arrival of our third child, a friend had given us a gift certificate for the annual native plant sale offered by the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District. As we mulled over the catalog choices, a particular fruit tree caught our attention, the North American pawpaw (Asimina triloba), which was purported to produce a fruit similar in appearance to bananas but with a flavor and texture more akin to mango. We were intrigued and initially decided to buy a bucket sapling. We reconsidered, however, for two reasons. First, owing to years of successional encroachment, we lacked a light-sufficient, open space in which to plant it. Second, the catalog noted that pawpaw flowers produce an odor similar to that of rotting meat. With conjured visions of a tree that mimicked, albeit on a smaller scale, the most famous of the “carrion flowers,” Titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum), we were reticent to plant one too close to our house and opted instead for a group of native butterfly attractors.

In both the foreground and the background, young pawpaw saplings rise near the trunk of a mature tree, demonstrating the pawpaw's tendency to reproduce quickly, forming large patches. Copyright 2015, Richard Telford

In both the foreground and the background, young pawpaw (Asimina triloba) saplings rise near the trunk of a mature tree, demonstrating the pawpaw’s tendency to reproduce quickly, forming large patches. Copyright 2015, Richard Telford

Fast forward to the early summer of 2015. Having cut about half the trees of the unidentified exotic stand along our front wall, I began to rake out the carpet of leafy detritus and natural mulch that had built up beneath them over decades, unearthing the fragmentary evidence of former property owners: assorted canning jar fragments and several rusted lids, old nails, an 80s-vintage orange foam Big Mac box, assorted hardware encrusted in rust, and, most interesting of all, a faded but still-legible plastic plant nursery tag that offered the life history of and planting tips for the pawpaw tree. The light went on. Gathering a handful of brown, nickel-sized seeds scattered among the leafy debris—mystery seeds that I had noticed every fall but never investigated—I went in the house and completed a quick Google image search for “pawpaw seeds.” With that first search confirming what I expected to see, I completed subsequent searches: “pawpaw leaf,” “pawpaw flower,” “pawpaw bark,” each subsequent search adding additional confirmation. We were the proud owners of a substantial pawpaw stand, more commonly referred to as a pawpaw patch, half of which I had just cut down.

John James Audubon's rendering of a male and female yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) in a North American pawpaw tree.

John James Audubon’s rendering of a male and female yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) in a North American pawpaw tree.

Despite my own ignorance of the pawpaw as a native North American tree, according to an article by José I. Hormaza, published by the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, its presence in North America was documented as early as 1541 by a member of the De Soto expedition. Hormaza likewise notes that members of the Lewis and Clark expedition relied almost entirely on wild pawpaw fruit for subsistence over several days in September of 1806. In his book Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, Andrew Moore writes of the cultivation of pawpaw trees by several Native American tribes in the pre-Columbian era, noting that tribe members “carrying seeds in satchels rather than their stomachs” likely replaced the traditional dispersal of pawpaw seeds by then-extinct prehistoric megafauna. John James Audubon, in The Birds of America (1827-1838), features the yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) in the context of a detailed rendering of an insect-damaged pawpaw tree with a cluster of overripe fruit. Hormaza likewise notes that Thomas Jefferson cultivated pawpaw trees at Monticello and even sent both seeds and plants as official ambassadorial gifts to France in the late 18th century. Still, the pawpaw, as suggested by Andrew Moore’s book title, seems largely to have fallen victim to obscurity in the American public consciousness. So perhaps it should not be surprising that I could step out my front door for thirteen years, look directly at our pawpaw patch, even admire its downward-facing crimson flowers in spring, and remain ignorant of its natural history. Still, I am a bit surprised given my predilection to wanting to be able to identify the species of all kinds that occupy our woods.

A pair of pawpaw fruit deep within the branches of mature tree in the author's patch. Copyright 2015, Richard Telford.

A pair of pawpaw fruit deep within the branches of mature tree in the author’s patch. Copyright 2015, Richard Telford.

This summer, with our pawpaw patch thinned and the pine boughs that once shaded it cut back, the more mature of our trees have produced a respectable fruit crop. As I write this, it is still too early to harvest them, but we are eager to do so in mid to late October. They certainly produced fruit in other years, as evidenced by the seeds we would turn up in our fall raking, yet never once did we notice the fruit that followed the spring flowering. This is certainly due in part to the color of the fruit being, at least in our specimens, nearly identical to their leaf color. Even now, with our new awareness, it takes careful looking to see most of the fruit. Still, our failure to see the fruit of previous summers is also just as certainly a product of the fact that we as human beings, collectively speaking, often simply do not see what we are not looking for. And I am reminded in all of this that our minds can always be more open, our senses keener, our curiosity stronger. Natural history writer Edwin Way Teale, in his 1937 book Grassroot Jungles, notes, “Among the tangled weeds of the roadside or in the grassroot jungles of your own back yard, you encounter strange and incredible forms of life.” He later notes, “The more we know, the more we see; our adventures increase with knowledge.” When we are suddenly struck by our lack of such knowledge, as I was with my “discovery” of our pawpaw patch, we can be critical of our own ignorance, or, instead, we can be grateful for the rich and unquantifiable range of knowledge that is offered to us by the natural world. I choose the latter.

Rethinking Wilderness After The Wilderness Act

Dear Readers, I am moving this week, so instead of writing for you, I’m sharing this excellent article with you from another blog I really enjoy and admire. Neva

Peeling Back the Bark

Have you ever been in an urban forest and had the feeling that you were off in the wild because you could no longer hear any cars? Did you find yourself on a river trail and felt as Emerson did when he wrote, “In the woods, is perpetual youth”? Or have you been in state park, turned on a trail and thought, “Geez, I’m in the wilderness!”? I can answer “yes” to all three of those questions. Here in the Durham area we have Duke Forest, the Eno River, and Umstead State Park, respectively, to explore and escape to. I find being in the forest—and what feels like wilderness in this increasingly urbanized region—is often restorative, if not transformative.

Scholars will tell you there are both legal and cultural constructs of wilderness. While Duke Forest, Eno River, and Umstead State Park are not, by legal definition, wilderness, such places do…

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Finding Refuge

Sandhill Cranes over water KKeeler

Sandhill Cranes and other species find refuge at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

by Shauna Potocky

The morning is damp and cool—not cold, just wet and cool. A thick blanket of Central Valley tule fog keeps the Merced Wildlife Refuge in a dream like state of obscurity. In the gray mist the voices of thousands of birds rise in the morning air. Only a few Whitefaced Ibis, Pintail ducks, Cinnamon Teals, and Northern Shovelers are seen on the edge of the wetland as the fog begins to lift and the sun rises.

Pintail Ducks and more stand at the water line as the fog breaks.

Pintail Ducks and company preen in the emerging sunlight as the fog breaks. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

Today, what the fog is hiding is substantial. As California emerges from January with hardly any precipitation, it is clear that the historic drought that California is experiencing is set to continue into a fourth year. With it will come significant challenges—exacerbating last year’s remarkable issues. From critical and hard decisions regarding water allocations to agriculture, wildlife refuges, and rivers with native fish runs. To addressing tree mortality estimated at 40 percent in some areas of the state as well as having faced a prolonged fire season, with no shortage of extraordinary and fast moving wildfires.

Taking action, California is now employing significant steps to address the ongoing drought and provide for both human use and environmental needs. In November, California voters approved Proposition 1, which allocates $7.5 billion via a bond measure for water programs, projects and restoration. The proposition addresses seven key areas: Regional Water Reliability; Water Storage Capacity; Water Recycling; Groundwater Sustainability; Safe Drinking Water; Flood Management; Watershed Protection and Ecosystem Restoration.

Specifically, the proposition focuses on expanding and diversifying water resources and management options. It is clear that one method of water management cannot address the needs of the entire state. Thus, the goal is to diversify water collection and storage, protect and correct current water quality issues—primarily in disadvantaged communities where water pollution is a major issue. In addition, efforts will be made restore ecosystems and river functions and address both short and long-term water needs.

The importance of water has grabbed the attention of representatives, business owners, farmers, public land managers, and citizens. Collectively, the people of California are taking a forward-thinking, diverse approach to address another record-breaking dry year. Of course there may not be consensus on all the initiatives, yet it seems clear a diverse approach will offer more potential solutions than a narrow focus.

Faced with today’s water realities in California, a proactive forward-thinking approach is needed to address these challenges.

Habitat that received water despite overall reduced wildlife refuge water allocations.

Habitat that received water despite reduced water allocations. Photo credit Shauna Potocky

One example of proactive management includes the actions and planning of California’s Wildlife Refuge managers in addressing the dry conditions of this winter’s migratory season. Many planned for a large influx of migratory birds in December and January based on reports of a productive breeding season in the northern habitats of Alaska and Canada. With refuges situated along the Pacific Flyway, it was critical that managers provided habitat for migratory species, despite the drought conditions, which serve as resting and feeding grounds as the birds move through California.

Sandhill Cranes in flight at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California

Sandhill Cranes in flight at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

Faced with reduced water resources, wildlife refuges have concentrated water in critical habitat.  Many California refuges received only a portion of their normal water allotments, making strategic management of the wetlands essential. In addition, visitor use activities have been limited including hunting and tours at various locations. Although difficult for bird enthusiasts, it is a good reminder that the refuges are for the birds. They represent only 5 percent of the remaining historical habitat in California’s Central Valley.

A Whitefaced Ibis forging on a mild winter day.

A Whitefaced Ibis forges on a mild winter day in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

As the fog lifts on this winter day, the Sandhill Cranes begin to dance for their partners. The Ross’ Snow Geese rise in great loud clouds of movement and the reeds that frame the wetlands shimmer with the flutter of Redwing Black Birds—their songs as sharp as their brilliant red and yellow shoulders. With the receding fog, we are reminded that as resources like water become scarce, we are all pressed to be wiser and more forward thinking in our planning, use and conservation.

The fourth year of California’s drought is the perfect time to examine how water is allotted, conserved, and protected. Although facing significant challenges, California is also perfectly poised to embrace responsible, innovative, and robust water planning and management. Its success is critical. Frankly put, citizens, wildlife and ecosystems are depending on it, as California seeks its own refuge during a paradigm-shifting drought.

A perched raptor watches quietly as the wildlife refuge comes to life as the morning breaks.

A perched raptor watches quietly as the refuge comes to life just after daybreak. Photo credit Shauna Potocky

Of Yoga and Trees

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Rubber tree tapping. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

By Neva Knott

This weekend I started a yoga intensive program–not a teacher training, but a 100-hour series on deepening my personal practice. For the intensive, I bought a Jade yoga mat. It was a purchase that took very little consideration, because Jade mats are environmentally sustainable, made in America, and degradable. Also, for each mat purchased, Jade plants a tree through Trees for the Future. All of the things I care about in one purchase: yoga, environmental care and social justice in production, and global promotion of good work, also environmentally sustainable and focused on social justice, with the profits.

Jade mats are made from natural rubber that is, “tapped, like maple syrup, from a tree.” The tree continues to grow and produce, making it a renewable resource, and the tapping a sustainable extraction of a natural resource. Because Jade mats are made rubber, they will degrade when worn. This is a sharp contrast to regular yoga mats, most of which are made from plastics, which don’t degrade. And, in my research, I’ve found few recycling programs for used yoga mats. My Jade made will live out its existence in the cycle of life–it came from nature and will return there.

When trees are left standing and used in a sustainable way, like having the rubber or maple syrup tapped out of them, they remain able to perform ecosystem services. Ecosystem services include provision of habitat, stormwater control, and carbon sequestration.

Not only are Jade mats made of such eco-friendly material that comes from a sustainable natural resource, the mats are made in America, which ensures that they are produced, “in compliance with all US environmental, labor, and consumer safety laws.” This is an encouraging contrast to yoga mats that are produced in China, a country without these same important protections.

The Jade Yoga company promotes several environmental and social causes. The cause specific to the purchase of a mat is tree-planting in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, global regions that have suffered such extreme resource extraction that ecosystem services provided by trees no longer function. In many of these places, there are no trees left.

Jade Yoga partners with Trees for the Future. Jade is a Leucaena-level Partner–this designation translates to donation of 500,000-999,999 trees, a value of $50,000-$99,999. Interestingly, actual Leucaena trees, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, are the most widely used forage trees and “can provide firewood, timber, human food, green manure, shade and erosion control.”

Leucaena_leucocephala_NP

Leucaena tree. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

Trees for the Future offers this explanation of their organization:

In the early 1970s, Dave and Grace Deppner served as volunteers in the Philippines, where they witnessed the human tragedy brought on by illegal logging and unsustainable land management systems. Working with community leaders in nearby villages, the Deppners found a way to offer hope. They revitalized degraded lands by providing farmers with tree seed, technical training, and on-site planning assistance. People responded enthusiastically,  joining in to save their homes and way of life.

After returning from their overseas assignments they continued what they had started, communicating by mail with rural community leaders, providing information, seeds, and training materials. Over the years TREES has assisted thousands of communities in planting millions of trees in 19 countries including Ghana, which have restored life to land that was previously degraded or abandoned.

According to the organization’s website, Trees for the Future has developed the following programs:

  • Africa: We have helped plant trees in an incredible range of environments from coastal areas to mountains, restoring soil that had been unproductive for decades or even hundreds of years.
  • Asia: On the islands of the Pacific, the combination of high tides and heavy rains brings great danger to the people of the coastal plains. We are working with local groups in Indonesia and the Philippines to restore tree cover to upland areas, so the land can absorb more water during storms and reduce the likelihood of flooding and mudslides. Other projects in India aim to restore trees to both drought-stricken and flood-ridden sections.
  • Latin America: We are planting trees in Haiti, Brazil, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In 2011, Trees for the Future’s Haiti Program delivered three critical services – tree planting, agroforestry training, and technical assistance – to local farmers in three regions of the country: the Arcadine Coast, Chaine des Chaos, and Gonaives. In Honduras, Trees for the Future planted more than a million trees in conjunction with one of our local partners.

Beyond the immediate provision of ecosystem services and regeneration of renewable resources for human use, these programs are the type of efforts that will assuage global climate change.

Here’s a thought: what if every product you bought came with these types of benefits?

Here’s another thought: what if all the money spent on football fan-ship came with these types of benefits?

There are two ways of production of consumer goods–one that pillages, and one that sustains. My goal is to make more of my purchases the latter.

My yoga teacher asked, during the first class after the New Year, what can you let go of to be more whole? In that moment, I set an intention to let go of simple convenience in favor of finding more companies like Jade Yoga, and to let go of my general daily busy-ness so that I can participate in programs like Trees for the Future.

Surrounded by Fire Part 2: Building Resilient Communities

By Shauna Potocky

On Monday, August 18, 2014 all the meetings, planning, and preparation paid off.

Just days before, on Friday, August 15, 2014, I posted an article entitled Surrounded by Fire, which explores fire ecology in the Sierra Nevada, fire-related issues facing California foothill communities and ways to build resilient communities in the face of ecological challenges.

This is an immediate update to that article. An update that I hope inspires you to prepare now for whatever evacuation you might need to be ready for, whether that be for a fire, earthquake, snowstorm, hurricane, or flood–you pick, based on your bioregion.

I arrived home from working in the field on Monday afternoon, August 18. It was another hot, dry summer day on the western slope of the Sierra and I was finishing emails and computer work when I began to hear sirens. The emergency response sounded significant, as if building to a crescendo, so I turned on the police scanner, a free application I had downloaded onto my smart phone. The response was for a fast moving fire that had begun in the town of Oakhurst, California, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The fire was located on the other side of town and a significant distance from where I live, yet it was close enough to pay attention to, considering the current fire conditions in California.

I do not recall how long it took before I could see smoke from my desk. What I do know is that it did not take long. The air filled with the smell of fire and I went outside to look at how close it might be. I could see a mix of black, brown and white plumes to the west. Listening to the scanner, it was evident the fire was building, air tankers were being called in and a full-scale response was in action. The fire was making a fast and furious run through town.

Smoke rising from the Junction Fire, which had become visible from the authors home office.

Smoke rising from the Junction Fire, which had become visible from the authors home office.

The incident, known as the Junction fire, was exhibiting aggressive fire behavior. The fire itself was burning extremely hot with large flame lengths rising above the burning trees and brush as well as spotting (sending embers) well in front of the fire. With the extreme drought conditions, the vegetation acted as a fully receptive fuel, which enabled the fire to move quickly uphill—essentially the fire was racing through town. It moved through neighborhoods, business areas and the edge of foothill wood and grasslands, all of which are located adjacent to Highway 41. Then, as a shock to many, the fire jumped a wide section of highway, making a run down a drainage and coming up the other side. It crossed where businesses and homes are located, and some of these were lost.

This is when the planning paid off.

Evacuation calls and email messages via the reverse 911 service were popping up on my email as well as my personal and work phones.

Having a plan made evacuating fast and efficient. The author evacuated with seven animals and critical items.

Having a plan made evacuating fast and efficient. The author evacuated with seven animals and critical items.

If your area has a reverse 911 system and you need to sign up for emergency alerts—do it TODAY. Do it now, don’t wait, just do it now. Having this system in place can make a significant difference in your being prepared for, and responding to, an emergency.

If your community does not have a reverse 911 system, call your local law enforcement, fire agency and local representatives and tell them that you want one.

Air Attack responding to the Courtney Fire.

Air Attack responding to the even more recent Courtney Fire. The DC-10 is a critical resource in responding to wildfires. Photo by Kirk Keeler.

The dark calico smoke was building, the hum and buzz of spotter planes could be heard circling and the daylight began to take on an ominous orange hue. With this began a series of calls between neighbors—our community group communication plan was now in action. Everyone was checking in with each other and making sure people had places to go, that we knew where people were going and assisting neighbors that needed help.

This is a testament to knowing your neighbors. It takes a team to handle some of the big things life throws at us and we cannot always manage alone. Get to know your neighbors now; you will know whom you can team up with. Share your contact information, build a sense of community, make a plan in case of emergencies and help each other.

You may also find that in an emergency, you suddenly have to be flexible, adaptable or a solution finder. This happened to us. The fire, which was now located south of us, was coming towards our neighborhood. The major highway was closed below our neighborhood, essentially cutting off the route to the designated emergency shelters. Thus, evacuating to the shelters was not feasible. We had to figure out another plan.

A small number of neighbors designated a meeting location north of our neighborhood and secured temporary overnight accommodations with our pets and belongings in tow. For as stressful as an event like this can be, we were calm, organized and adaptable, which made all the difference.

Resources from CalFire that were distributed at a neighborhood meeting prior to fire season, in order to help the community be prepared for a tough summer.

Resources from CalFire that were distributed at a neighborhood meeting prior to fire season. The materials were utilized, thus helping the community be prepared for a tough summer and long fire season.

During the entire incident, the neighborhood community group that I referred to in Surrounded by Fire stayed in contact. We were checking in and sharing information, discussing what people knew from their vantage point, as well as debating what information was credible and what was rumor. It is true, that when an incident is occurring and lots of information is circulating, some of it may or may not be accurate. For example, what time evacuation orders might be lifted, how the fire started or what families or business may have been directly effected. Sometimes, the information just needs time to be vetted by the proper agencies. The most important part, though, was that we were communicating and we knew we had each other to count on.

Once the evacuation orders were lifted, our group followed up on our communication plan. We shared information, made updates and added resources to our toolbox. Of course we swapped stories and added many more neighbors to the community group. We had people asking to be included and offering to be an active part of being prepared, as a neighborhood. This perhaps is the greatest sign of success for such a collective effort.

Now it is your turn.

Build Your Own Resilient Community: resources that make all the difference

  • Reverse 911: this service is critical for alerting residents that there is an emergency and how to respond to it. At our annual neighborhood meeting, a special focus was put on making sure neighbors had signed up for this service. Neighbors, who needed assistance signing up, received that support.

We all received the evacuation call on Monday, August 18.

  • Our larger community has two established Facebook pages for incidents, where literally thousands of people can stay up to date on important information. If your community faces seasonal or ongoing threats, a Facebook group page can be a powerful tool to communicate critical information to a significant number of people, quickly. Where I live, this is the go-to tool during incidents.
  • In addition, there are free police scanners both for the Internet and for smart phones. When an incident is occurring, this is an important way to monitor information AND I can guarantee, it will build your respect for the hard work Emergency Services personnel provide.
  • Be sure to become familiar with the emergency services in your area. Be aware of your law enforcement, fire, and other agencies, and check to see if they have Facebook pages or other information hubs where they post incident updates. It is great when you can get the information you need directly from the source.
  • Finally and most importantly—BE PREPARED. I cannot stress this enough—you will be better off and relieved when the pressure is on and everything you need is ready to grab and go. You need to have a plan and be ready to follow it. Be prepared and be ready to go because when it does happen, it happens really fast! It can feel chaotic and you won’t have time to dally and think about what to grab.
  • Take time to think it through and put your grab-and-go items together. Do you have children, pets or are you a caregiver? Think about what you need to get through at least 1 – 2 days away from home, along with your must have items. Prepare them.
Items prepared for a possible evacuation.

Items prepared for an evacuation.

Over the course of the week following the Junction fire, I heard heartbreaking stories from people who did not have a chance to grab what they needed or wanted. People left with only the clothes on their backs or never had the chance to grab their house paperwork or that special photo. In these cases, one is left with no choice but to wait and see—and that is the hardest part.

A portion of the Junction Fire on the west side of Highway 41 in California.

A portion of the Junction Fire on the west side of Highway 41 in California. The fire line was held utilizing Air Attack, bulldozer lines and fire crews on the ground, all of which helped reduce the number of lost structures during the incident.

We all face challenges where we live. Here in the foothill communities and throughout the Sierra Nevada, fire is a part of the ecosystem and our lives. Wildfire is a reality we constantly face.

You may live in a remarkable place with a completely different paradigm of ecological factors and challenges; perhaps it is hurricanes on the East coast or in the Gulf, perhaps it is blizzards and ice storms in the Northern latitudes or earthquakes, such as along the Pacific Rim.

Regardless of the hazard, being prepared will make facing such challenges easier. The better prepared you are, the better you will feel when you actually have to use your emergency plan or if you are evacuated and find that you have everything or nearly everything, you need.

Thank you signs can be found lining the streets throughout Oakhurst, California.

Thank you signs can be found lining the streets throughout Oakhurst, California following the Junction Fire.

 

Photo credits: All photos by Shauna Potocky except where indicated.

Shovels and Shade Provide Healing at the Footprints of Terror

Image courtesy of Silverstein Properties, Inc. all rights reserved.

9/11 Memorial Plaza shaded by swamp white oak trees. Image courtesy of Silverstein Properties, Inc. all rights reserved.

By Maymie Higgins

Recently, I visited New York and New Jersey in order to attend a family reunion. My last visit to Manhattan specifically had been in 1988, when the World Trade Center buildings still cast their tall and defiant forms across the skyline. This recent visit included plans to pay my respects at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

During my college years, I visited with my paternal uncle in New York many times, and I would accompany him on his commute from Staten Island to Manhattan’s Financial District where he had a seat at the New York Stock Exchange. Uncle Bill had parking privileges at City Pier A on the Hudson River at Battery Park. From 1960 to 1992, the pier was used by the New York City Fire Department as a fireboat station. Uncle Bill was awarded the parking privileges for his role during a city blackout in coordinating and providing alternative communication through Amateur Ham Radio. It was quite the treat to spend the day exploring the city with my aunt and then simply meet Uncle Bill back at the car at the end of the work day.

On one of my visits, Aunt Beth and I rode the high speed elevator in the World Trade Center South tower and toured the roof observation deck. For many reasons, September 11, 2001 was not just an attack on “those tall buildings in New York and the Pentagon.” It was personal. Even though Uncle Bill had retired by that time, he still lived in the region and it was possible for him to have been in Manhattan. Much of my family still resides in the region and I am grateful none of them perished on 9/11. However, many of them lost friends and still feel an acute sense of trauma and grief.

World Trade Center photo taken by author in 1986 with Kodak Disc Camera.

World Trade Center photo taken by author in 1986 with Kodak Disc Camera.

On this recent trip, I was eager to see if I still had my skills to navigate the big city. I drove my husband and myself from New Jersey to the Staten Island Ferry, successfully parked and hitched the free ferry ride across New York Harbor. We disembarked and made a beeline up Greenwich Street. No sauntering like a tourist for this gal, at least not until a surprising sight caught the corner of my eye. To my left was a huge garden in a place I had remembered as being mostly paved pathways and park benches. Now it was an eruption of green foliage full of activity as people hoed, raked, dug and harvested vegetables….in Lower Manhattan! Though my schedule did not allow me to linger very long, I made a mental note to research Battery Urban Farm, which had sprouted in the footprints of tragedy. Here is a video explaining the story:

We made our way to the 9/11 Memorial plaza, where massive pools with fountains flow in the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. Each fountain is surrounded by parapets that have inscribed in bronze the nearly 3,000 names of the men, women, and children killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. The contrast in stimulation of the senses within the plaza and that in the periphery of the plaza was palpable. In the periphery there were the sounds of jackhammers, cranes, sirens, car horns, and vehicle back up beepers. All this was suppressed and muted within the plaza, done so by the sound of massive waterfalls and rustling of leaves in the more than 250 swamp white oak trees. In fact, I felt cradled and shielded by their canopy. For more about the story of the trees chosen for the Memorial plaza, watch this video:

The Memorial plaza is one of the most sustainable, green plazas ever constructed, with irrigation, storm water and pest management systems that conserve energy, water and other resources. Rainwater is collected in storage tanks, meeting a majority of the daily and monthly irrigation requirements.

E.O. Wilson coined the term biophilia, which literally means “love of life.” Humans often seek to nurture life in various ways in an effort to soothe their grief, but it was surprising to see so much plant life in a concrete jungle. However, surprise was not my most overwhelming reaction. What concerned me that my heart might burst from my chest was an enormous sense of pride in the human race. Most humans innately know that, although individual lives may end, life itself goes on. Those who are still alive will see to it. No terrorist will ever destroy that rule of the universe.