Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Mountain Biking

I'm currently researching an article on mountain biking. The effects mtn bikers have on the environment, both positive and negative. Here's an excerpt from the Sierra Club's website concerning effects of mountain biking, ways to reduce negative effects, and trail etiquette.
  • Significant soil erosion or significant damage to streams or fish habitat.
    Rutting, impairment of trail drainage, breakdown of trail shoulders, and other forms of damage not correctable using U.S. Forest Service trail maintenance standards and techniques.
    Significant disturbance of plants or animals or their habitat.
    Damage to archaeological, scientific, historical, or other significant resources, including rare natural features of interest for scientific study.
    Danger to the safety of bicyclists or other users because of bicycle speed, steep grades, steep terrain, sharp curves, slippery or unstable trail surfaces, or limited visibility. See Appendix D for design features that can improve safety.
    Significant displacement or annoyance of other non-motorized users.

Some Methods to Reduce Bicycle Impacts (not in priority order):

  • Walk bicycles in certain areas.
    One-way-only trail sections.
    Speed limits (though these may be difficult to enforce).
    Restrict use by time of day, day of week, week of month, month of year.
    Restrict use by season (e.g. to protect soils or sensitive habitats).
    Separate different types of uses at trail heads and congested areas.
    Party size limits.
    Area permits/licenses, reservations, and trip permits, though these should be instituted only in special situations as a last resort.
    Trail alignment to minimize soil erosion, avoid wetlands, sensitive plant or animal habitat, and sensitive archaeological or cultural features.
    Trail alignment to maximize compatibility with adjacent land use and connecting trail use.
    Natural and artificial design features that restrict bicycle speed, such as barriers and speed bumps, which are not an undue impediment to other non-motorized users.
    Design features that enhance sight distance, e.g. locating the trail away from tall brush.
    Design features that minimize trail erosion: proper grades, turn radii, tread hardening, and drainage control.
    Wide or pull-out sections to facilitate safe passing.
    Design features for user enjoyment: loop trails, scenic destinations, picnic/camp sites.
    Barriers to prevent leaving trail. Block and obliterate (rehabilitate) unauthorized trails.

Trail User Etiquette and Education:

  • In order to minimize conflicts with other trail users, bicyclists should know and use the established Rules of the Trail: - Ride on open trails only. - Leave no trace. - Control your bicycle. - Always yield trail. - Never scare animals. - Plan ahead.
    Bicyclists should know and follow applicable laws and regulations.
    Bicyclists yield trail to foot travelers, both animal and human. Yielding trail means: slow down, be prepared to stop; establish communication; dismount when appropriate; and pass safely.
    Opportunities to educate users include: audiovisual presentations; public service announcements prepared for television, radio and print outlets; community presentations; production of printed materials such as brochures and posters; information kiosk or trail head signing; trail information hot lines or Internet sites; bicycle patrols; widely distributing maps and guidebooks; and advertising by equipment manufacturers and suppliers that promotes responsible bicycling. Joint activities can provide rider education, trail planning, volunteer trail maintenance, or just plain fun interaction.
    Cross-country bicycle travel off trails is not appropriate.

Do any of you enjoy mountain biking? Do you follow those guidelines for etiquette, and do you consider actions you can take to mitigate any negative impact you have?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Irvine Planeteers

Here's a link to my current article in the New University, UC Irvine's student newspaper. I write the Irvine Planeteers Column.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fire Hazard

One of the big issues in Orange County is wildfire, especially recently, with the October 2007 California fires. While fire can be a healthy aspect of an ecosystem, when it occurs too frequently, it can have a disastrous effect. Unfortunately, in the last 100 years, over 90% of the fires in Orange County are caused by human activity on roadsides during Santa Ana wind conditions, like the ones this past weekend.

Photo thanks to a google images search
Irvine Ranch Conservancy and the Orange County Fire Authority have a volunteer program called Fire Watch. It's a neighborhood watch program, where during high fire risk conditions, volunteers are called upon to go out and monitor habitat for signs of fire so that the situation can be stopped before it gets out of control. At the Fire Watch website link above, you can sign up to be a fire watch volunteer.

Another way to help on a more personal level is to be mindful of the dangers you pose to the environment on a high risk day. For example, (an a huge personal pet peeve of mine) throwing your cigarette butt out of your car window. Not only is it illegal (littering), but discarded cigarettes and matches can also could land in the dry roadside brush and during windy conditions, it could spark a fire.

Another way humans start fires without meaning to is when you pull off on a brushy roadside instead of an official shoulder. The underside of your car is very hot after extended driving, and if there is sufficient dry brush touching the hot under-carriage, this can acutally start fires as well. A good way to prevent this problem is to pull off on gravel shoulders that are meant for cars, and not on the roadside.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Leigh's News

Good news, I just got my first of what I hope will be multiple acceptances to graduate school programs. This one is a very cool Masters at Vermont Law School. It's a Masters of Environmental Law and Policy, and I'm very excited. While nothing is decided yet, I would be very happy to spend next year earning a degree in gorgeous Vermont - all new east coast birds for Leigh, not to mention the fall leaves changing - lots of colorful pictures in the future if I head there. I'll keep you all posted as the schools begin their notification process and what I ultimately decide to do =)

Also, I officially have a column in the New University, where I will reporting on green issues. Here's a link to the current article I've written.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Birding at Quail Hill

This morning I went birding for the first official trip of 2009 (finally!) at Quail Hill, a park open to the public from dawn to dusk, and managed by the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. It was with a scheduled program that the IRC offers, so at 8am, 8 of us hit the trail after a short introduction to birding and binocular use for those who were less familiar with it.
Before leaving the parking lot, we'd already racked up a few good species, the usual song sparrows and Anna's hummingbirds were supplemented with a nice look at a Say's phoebe, and a great view of a perched American kestrel. What a bird to practice focusing your bins on!
When we headed onto the trail, the fog had become very dense, and I started to wonder how many birds we would actually encounter. Right away we saw a large shape perched in the tree, and upon closer inspection, discovered it was a white-tailed kite - awesome! Due to the fog, the raptors were grounded and so we got to study this gorgeous species for quite some time before we moved on. We passed another one (perhaps a mated pair?) a few paces further.
Next we had a flock of pipits and house finches that appeared quite suddenly through the fog, and circled us a few time, disappearing and reappearing eerily. A bit further up we heard a strange call which we though sounded lark-ish. Sure enough further up we had a horned lark on the trail, and some western meadowlarks also flushed up from nearby.
We continued on and caught looks at a Lincoln's sparrow, and had a discussion about distinguishing this species from similar looking song sparrows. Further ahead, more sparrows, this time white-crowned. I enjoy this species, especially when they're really freshly molted because they're plumage is very subtly beautiful, and that crayola orange beak is so cute.
To our left we had calling western meadowlarks, and a large flock of red-winged blackbirds.
Moving up the trail further we found a mourning dove, one of the few truly common species we encountered.
We passed another kestrel on the trail, which flushed off to the side, and we climbed the hill. Reaching the top, we were graced with a good look at a norther harrier, which circled around us once, beginning it's morning hunt.
On our descent we nabbed some more looks at Say's phoebes and a very uncooperative but gorgeous male common yellowthroat. It was a nice, slow, relaxing day of birding, and with enough great species to kick off my new year right. As you may have noticed, no pictures. I thought my camera battery was dead when I got there and it wouldn't turn on... turns out I had charged the battery and stuck it in a side pocket of my case. Fully charged, just not put back into place. Drat. At least I can console myself with the fact that the fog ruined a lot of good photo opportunities anyhow ;)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Planting with Natives

A few years back, I wrote a post on the importance of using native plants in and around your home. This coming semester Saddleback College is offering a class on landscaping with native plants! If you have the time and inclination, this would be a very cool course to take.