Waiting for Rain? Guest Blogger explains while it may be a long wait

December 22, 2011

Courtesy John Greening

You’ve probably noticed — it hasn’t been raining much lately. And now that we’re well into December, the averages say it ought to be. What’s going on?

As those who pay attention to our local weather cycles know, Tulare County falls within the extremely variable borderland between the wet winter climate of the Pacific Northwest and the equally dry winter climate of northern Mexico. Because of this geographic fact, our winters vary enormously one year to the next. Some are wet — others very dry.

Scientists have been searching for decades for the patterns that control this variability. They’ve found some useful clues, but forecasts remain far from foolproof.

The most broadly followed clues have to do with the ocean temperature patterns we call El Niño and La Niña. Simply put, El Niños see critical parts of the Pacific Ocean warmer than average and often are quite wet in California. When La Niña conditions predominate, the ocean is cooler and California tends toward the dry side.

Unfortunately, however, it’s not always that simple. Strong El Niño years are reliably wet, but moderate and weak events are just as often dry. Moderate La Niña events are often dry, but occasionally, like last year, quite wet.

Last fall, while under the sway of a La Niña forecast, we prepared for a dry season and found ourselves instead enduring one of the wettest winters in several decades. This year, the La Niña pattern again dominates, and the pattern is starting out dry.

As of the beginning of December we have received about half as much precipitation as fell last year to the same date. And last December was extraordinarily wet, seeing rainfall equal to half an average winter. So far this year, we are seeing nothing comparable.

This season feels very different. The storm track has been tending toward north to south instead of the more common west to east, and most of the season’s storms so far have either bypassed or just touched our region. This happened again just a few days ago when a Pacific storm slipped south along the coast, leaving us dry, and then caused rain in Southern California.

I am speaking here more intuitively than scientifically, but all this feels very much like a classic La Niña winter — dry and cool. But there are some real wild cards in all this. They have to do with the fact that historic weather may not be a very good guide to the patterns emerging around us. The reason is climate change.

What does this mean locally? The biggest unpredictability this winter results from the huge changes taking place in the Arctic. The amount of sea ice in the far north has plummeted in recent years, and the Arctic Ocean is warming quickly. As a result, unpredictable things are happening to weather across the northern hemisphere.

Last winter saw extremely cold air spill out of the Arctic and plunge deeply southward into the heart of the nation. Will that happen again this winter? Could one of these outbreaks invade California? This is what is so significant about this winter’s north-south storm track in the far west. It could bring very cold northern air our direction, a rare event in Central California.

In the meantime, I’m assuming personally that we’re headed into a relatively dry winter. We’re coming out of two above-average winters, so a dry winter should come as no surprise. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Personally, I like to see deep snow in the mountains and lots of spring runoff in the Kaweah River.

So let’s cross our fingers and hope that the weather gods decide to confound my expectations and send some major storms our way.

Three Rivers resident William Tweed writes about the natural world of Tulare County. His column, copyrighted and printed by permission, appears every other week in the Visalia Times-Delta.



Saving Farmland: SRT Closes Historic Easement

December 15, 2011

SRT's Historic Easement Closes: Productive Farmland Saved!

Sequoia Riverlands Trust has closed the second phase of a 1,043 acre agricultural conservation easement between Wasco and Shafter in California. These were among the first ag easements in the history of the southern San Joaquin Valley and by far the largest. SRT is proud with the help of generous donors to be able to protect land in the most productive food producing region in the world!


Get Back In Touch With Nature, Walk A Preserve!

December 14, 2011

Sir David Attenborough

British Naturalist says people aren’t interacting with Nature

People in towns and cities are losing touch with the “realities of the natural world”, which is putting the future of the planet at risk, Sir David Attenborough has warned. The veteran wildlife presenter and naturalist said due to rapid urbanisation over the past 60 years, a growing number of people were not regularly coming into contact with the natural world. In an interview with Eureka magazine, published by the Times, Attenborough added, “We have a huge moral responsibility towards the rest of the planet. A hundred years ago people certainly had that … They were aware of the seasons and aware of what they were doing to the land and animals around them.” He says a majority of people are simply out of touch with the natural world and don’t even see an animal from one day to the next unless it’s a rat or a pigeon.  “

Saving the most productive food producing region in the world

December 12, 2011

President Hoover and King Tut

After serving one term in the White House, Herbert Hoover decided to farm. He hired experts to find the best agricultural land available. They selected two spots, near Wasco and Pasadena. The way Keith Gardiner sees it, who’s he to argue with the nation’s 31st president and his team of experts? “Hoover told them to find the best combination of soil, water and climate, and they didn’t let him down,” Gardiner said. “We’re on some of the best ground in the world. If you can’t make it as a farmer here, you can’t make it anywhere.”

Gardiner, Holly King and members of their extended families formed a partnership that two years ago created the first agricultural conservation easement in Kern County, permanently shielding the 472-acre Wasco I farm from development.  That partnership and Sequoia Riverlands Trust have announced that the adjoining 571-acre Wasco II property likewise has been set aside for agriculture. President Hoover would be proud. “I don’t have a lot of history on this particular property – we only bought it four years ago – but my history has been to try to find this kind of land,” Gardiner said. “I’ve been farming for 40 years, and this is exactly what I’ve always wanted. We want to keep it in farming, with no outside pressure for development. There’s no better calling for this kind of land than what we’re doing with it.”  “The state and national significance of this property was recognized so many years ago by President Hoover and his team of experts, says Scott Spear, Board President of Sequoia Riverlands Trust. “Crops and food needs change over time but this easement will ensure this property will remain in food production in perpetuity”.

Wasco II is primarily planted in almond orchards that will come into production next year; Wasco I is in almonds. While the nearest concentrated urban development is approximately 2½ miles to the south in Shafter and five miles northwest in Wasco, the property could have been split into 20-acre “ranchettes” for folks working in Bakersfield but desiring a rural homestead. Numerous estate-size lots 10 to 20 acres in size, are evident south of Wasco’s sphere of influence boundary and north of Shafter’s sphere boundary.

“It’s hard to overstate just how good this land is for growing things, and it’s ideally situated to help ensure the continuity of agriculture in the area,” said Brian Leahy, chief of the Department of Conservation’s Division of Land Resource Protection, which administers the CFCP. “We congratulate the landowners and Sequoia Riverlands Trust, on the creation of this conservation easement and encourage other Kern County landowners to explore the easement option for their property.

Interesting tidbit: German Shepherd King Tut helped get Hoover elected, pictured with the candidate, the dog made Hoover appear warm and friendly!

Lessons in Life From Those With Experience

December 7, 2011

Here at Sequoia Riverlands Trust we strive to leave a lasting legacy through our work in land stewardship and restoration efforts as well as education. And after I saw this article I thought about the wisdom of our parents, grandparents, older friends and neighbors. I thought about how we don’t always realize how their experiences and life lessons can shed light on our  journey through life. They have a legacy we should really be recognizing. Below a bit of that wisdom gained through the years.


Rancher wins $10,000 conservation award: easements allowed him to carry on

December 6, 2011

Bay Area rancher Tim Koopmann has won the 2011 recipient of the Leopold Conservation Award in California. The sixth annual Leopold Conservation Award for California was presented December 5 at the California Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting in Sparks, Nevada. “Tim Koopmann’s commitment to the health of the land and wildlife in his family’s care is exemplary, but he has also made extraordinary improvements in water quality that benefit those on and off of his ranch,” said Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation president. “In addition, he has taken steps to help ensure that his land and land ethic will continue to thrive for future generations.” Koopmann owns and operates an 850-acre cow-calf operation within the San Francisco Bay Area in Sunol. The ranch is surrounded by urban development. Koopmann’s management practices have improved the soil and wildlife populations on his land, and he enhanced the water quality on and off of his ranch. As a Watershed Resource Specialist for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), Koopmann manages over 40,000 acres of watershed lands. The Koopmanns have played an integral role in the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, which was developed at their ranch in 2005. The Coalition brings together environmentalists, ranchers and resource professionals from state and federal agencies to advocate for the preservation of working ranches. Faced with encroaching development and the reality of selling or sub-dividing his ranch, Koopmann placed two conservation easements on his family’s ranch. He conserved a naturally occurring pond and the surrounding 31 acres of grassland in perpetuity for the California tiger salamander. Koopmann also conserved 107 acres in perpetuity to slow the encroachment of an adjacent golf course. These easements allowed him and his family to pay their estate tax bill and, most importantly, allow them to continue their work on the preservation of the land and other natural resources for the benefit of future generations.The $10,000 Leopold Conservation Award is named in honor of world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold. The award is presented annually in eight states to private landowners who practice exemplary land stewardship and management.

Help yourself and others: where, how and why you should volunteer

December 5, 2011

Five places to volunteer right now and feel really good!

It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to make a difference…  but volunteering makes a BIG difference in so many ways. And there are many ways to volunteer whether you want to protect and help restore open space at outdoor planting events, connect with those in need by serving a nourishing meal, help build lives by building a house for a family or ring a bell and fill up a red kettle, raising money to provide comfort and support all year long.

According to a recent survey, 21.5% of residents in Visalia (including Porterville) volunteer their time in some way. But no matter where you live, there are organizations that need volunteers to help. It’s a great way to connect you to your community and feel an enormous sense of satisfaction. To all our Sequoia Riverlands Trust volunteers, we say, thank you! And for those looking to start volunteering, here are some ideas and organizations where you can get started.

1. Habitat for Humanity of Tulare County

Build lives by building homes for low-income families or get involved in their home repair program. Not handy? Be an office volunteer or help connect with families.


2. Sequoia Riverlands Trust

Help protect, conserve and restore working landscapes in beautiful outdoor settings. Check out the planting days scheduled where volunteers “dig in” with native plants at Nature Preserves and see the landscape change before their eyes.


3. Salvation Army

Ring that bell! Be a bell ringer at local businesses and as the Army says, “do the most good” for those in need. Or help prepare food boxes or assist in programs working in disaster relief or emergency services.


4. Valley Oak SPCA

Get involved in helping some furry friends. Foster life long relationships between people and animals by working with mobile pet adoptions or humane education.


5. Visalia Rescue Mission

Help with this organization’s outreach that includes serving 3 meals a day 365 days a year. Serve your community by becoming a mentor and share your experience or expertise with someone who would be grateful.