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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus

Monterey County Steve Zmack

Since 1892, the Sierra Club has been working to protect communities, wild places, and the planet itself. We are the largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. Your Ventana Chapter founded over 50 years ago by Ansel Adams is committed to protecting our 127 miles of coastline, hundreds of thousands of acres of wild lands and our dwindling water supplies.

Carbajal Reintroduces Central Coast Heritage Protection A

Protects 250,000 acres of public land in Carrizo Plain National Monument and Los Padres National Forest from development

February 11, 2021

Santa Barbara, CA – Today, Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24) reintroduced the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act, which would designate nearly 250,000 acres of public land in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument as wilderness. The wilderness designation is the highest form of federal protection and prohibits any development on these precious public lands. The bill also establishes a 400-mile long Condor National Recreation trail, stretching from Los Angeles to Monterey County.

The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act designates four new wilderness areas in the Carrizo Plain National Monument and expands nine existing wilderness areas in Los Padres National Forest. This would prevent new roads, vehicles, or permanent structures from being erected and prevents oil and gas drilling from taking place on any of these protected areas. The bill also designates Condor Ridge and Black Mountain as new scenic areas and designates the Condor Trail as a National Recreation Trail within the Los Padres National Forest.

The bill is supported by nearly 500 Central Coast landowners, businesses, elected officials, farmers, ranchers, civic leaders, wineries, recreationalists, and outfitters. The public lands this bill would protect is home to a wide array of plant and animal life and the bill will help to sustain the ecological future of 468 species of wildlife and more than 1,200 plant species.
Read full article here

Prevention of Zoonotic Pandemics: Ecologic Factors

by David Bezanson, Ph.D.

June, 2020

Many opportunities exist for us to decrease the probability of future novel viral infections. Our actions may improve environmental quality and the sustainability of our economy while decreasing the odds of lockdown , social isolation, and being terrorized by killer viruses.

Big Picture

Seventy five percent of novel infections in humans are zoonotic, i.e., from non-human species (1). Recent examples include avian flu, HIV, swine flu, SARS, and COVID-19. In addition to other pathogens, many thousands of viruses are carried by species with permissive immune systems. Species that are most likely to transmit viruses to humans are those that in frequent contact with us. This may be direct, e.g., via biting, or indirect, e.g., by infecting livestock. Rats and bats have adapted to living near humans and are common sources of zoonoses (2,3,4).

Numerous human activities increase risk of zoonotic infections.
   travel, especially international (4)
   overpopulation and high-density communities
   habitat destruction, e.g., deforestation, development, and extractive industries (5,6,7)
   replacement of complex old growth forests with monoculture tree plantations
   combustion of woody biomass (e.g., for electricity)
   hunting and fishing
   wildlife trafficking
   raising livestock, especially in confined animal farming operations (8)
   working in slaughterhouses and butcher shops
   consumption of animal goods for shoes, clothing, edibles, furniture, etc.
   climate change
   organized animal fighting
   wildlife markets - a.k.a. wet markets
   deficient personal and public hygiene

The scale of the above activities has increased dramatically in the last half century. Globalization has elevated per capita consumption of services and goods, resource use, pollution, and environmental destruction. Global overpopulation exacerbates the magnitude and transmission potential of the above.

Climate change renders habitats uncongenial for many species. In search of cooler habitats, terrestrial and marine species in the northern hemisphere migrate toward the Arctic, carrying pathogens. As development and deforestation destroy more habitat, species live in closer proximity to urban areas and expose more humans to pathogens. In areas of decreasing animal biodiversity, the surviving species are more likely to harbor pathogens (9).

Sierra Club Conservation Policies provide a broad overview of most of the above factors (10). These interact to accelerate climate change, impair the biosphere, decrease clean natural resources, diminish biodiversity, and promote zoonoses (11).

Government Policies

Some forms of many of the above risk factors are illegal in many nations. Illegal deforestation is common in South America and Southeast Asia. This has increased during the current global recession (12).

Organized animal fighting is legal in many nations, but illegal in the USA. However, illegal fights are widespread in the USA (13).

Corporations shut down some of their slaughterhouses in the USA during the COVID-19 invasion. However, POTUS declared these to be an essential business, ordered their reopening, and declared that employers were exempt from liability should workers contract COVID-19. Reopening resulted in outbreaks of COVID-19 among laborers (14).

Illegal fishing and hunting is a problem in most nations, including the USA. This is intertwined with illegal wildlife trafficking. The USA is the second largest consumer of dead and alive wildlife trafficking goods.

Wildlife markets are legal in many nations including the USA. They are most prevalent in New York and California. In wet markets, customers order caged animals to be slaughtered on the spot (15). Many articles about these have photos. If you have a “strong stomach” take a glance. Goggles, masks, and gloves are not the norm. Federal legislation is being drafted to curb wet markets and wildlife trafficking in the USA and ban bills are being drafted in New York and California (16).

Many bills have been introduced in Congress during the past 18 months to preserve habitats, natural resources, and biodiversity. View these on : H.Res.922, S.3759, HR.6043, S.Res.372/H.Res.835, HR.3742, HR.5435, HR.2795/S.1499, HR.2748, HR.6738, S.1081, S.1482, HR.2546, HR.4160, and HR.4341. Those that decrease habitat protection include HR.2105 and HR.5859. Many protective bills have been introduced in the California legislature, e.g., AB3030.

Many environmental organizations, including Sierra Club chapters, have advocated the development of high-density, micro-housing-dominant urban areas proximal to mass transit. These have many environmental benefits. However, they increase risk of transmission of infectious viruses.

Policies that increase opportunities for long-term remote digital work and learning can curb origination and transmission of zoonoses.

Individual Activism (17)

If enough of us boycott risk-escalating activities, services, and products; this will decrease the profits of illegal and legal habitat-destroying businesses. As they downsize or become extinct, this will curtail the extinction of species.

Purchasing stocks of companies in industries with high environmental impact, so that one may attend shareholder meetings and cast votes to make their operations more planet-friendly, has had little impact. Divestment is more effective. Check your portfolio of funds and stocks (18 - also see the Deforestation Free Funds section on that site).

Be aware of proposed legislation and municipal policies which affect the risk of zoonoses. Lobby your representatives. The foremost responsibility of government is to promote public health and safety. Environmentalists have a voter turnout rate that is lower than the general population (19). Evaluate candidates and vote for those who have the greenest platforms and track record.

Together, we can prevent the probability of future novel zoonotic infections.


Sierra Club Response to the Murder of George Floyd

June, 2020

Hi Folks,

A few folks have asked me about what Sierra Club's formal response to the murder of George Floyd has been. I've pasted below links to several documents shared by national that provide that response.

Sierra Club Statement on the Murder of George Floyd:

Mike Brune's Blog on "From Outrage to Justice":

Hop Hopkins' column about COVID and racism:: in America

A Washington Post Article about green groups' response to George Floyd's Murder:

A letter Sierra Club signed onto calling for congressional action on police violence:

Kathryn Phillips
Sierra Club California

Sierra Club California Supports the Establishment and Implementation of Bird-Safe Building Standards

South Monterey CountyA volunteer with NYC Audubon's Project Safe Flight holds a dead female Common Yellowthroat in front of the Time Warner Center in Manhattan. Photo: Francois Portmannion.

April, 2020

By Jane Mio, Ventana Chapter Delegate

On February 22nd, 2020 the California Sierra Club Conservation Committee took an important step to address the #2 reason for the North America bird population’s steep decline. The Resolution 'Support Bird-Safe Material and Design Features for California Building Standards' became the California Sierra Club's position thanks to the delegates' unanimous vote.

We all have heard and witnessed the heartbreaking occurrence of this #2 reason: birds colliding with window glass, which causes the annual death of approximately 1 Billion local and migratory birds in North America.

To prevent this deathly bird trap the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) published in 2015 the Bird-Safe Building Design (BSD) standards, which lays out various measures and guidelines necessary to protect birds from glass collisions such as reduction of excessive glass façades, description of providing birds with visual clues on glass surfaces and best exterior and interior lighting practices. The BSD Standards received nation wide promotion from Federal and State agencies, ABC, the Audubon Society and multiple well-respected ornithologists such as David A. Sibley. Consequently they have been integrated nationwide into Cities and Counties Planning Department building permits.

It is of utmost importance that the BSD Standards become part of the California building permit process, because the State is in the Pacific Migratory Flyway. A vast majority of the 386 Western Hemisphere (neo-tropical) migratory bird species depend on the California habitats for their survival due to the State's very rich, diverse mosaic of natural communities, which ranks first out of 50 States. The California building boom with its design trend of exceeding 50% of the buildings' glass façades is harmful for local and migratory birds. This is because many of the 175 important habitat sites are adjacent to cities and man-made infrastructure.

North America already lost approximately 3 Billion birds in the last 50 years; that is 1 in 4 birds, according to the recent Cornell Lab/American Bird Conservancy study. This is an urgent call that we protect our California 600 bird species, which is about two-thirds of all bird species in North America and that we demonstrate responsible stewardship of the Pacific Migratory Flyway. Applying the BSD Standards shows a positive human response to the biological fact: birds don't recognize man-made glass as their death trap.

Link for the entire report on 'Support Bird-Safe Material and Design Features for California Building Standards':

Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity File a Lawsuit Challenging
Trump Administration's California Fracking Plan
Feds Aim to Open 725,500 Acres in Central Coast, Bay Area to Oil Industry

South Monterey CountySouth Monterey County land near Lockwood-San Ardo Road looking northeast towards the Salinas Valley across a BLM Lease parcel proposed for auction.

November, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO— Conservation groups on October 30 sued the Trump administration to challenge its October 4 decision to allow fracking and drilling on 725,500 acres of public lands and mineral estate across California’s Central Coast and the Bay Area.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, says the Bureau of Land Management violated federal law by failing to consider the potential harm from oil and gas extraction to groundwater and the climate, as well as the potential for fracking-induced earthquakes. The BLM wants to let the oil industry lease public lands in 11 counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Stanislaus. The BLM has not held a lease sale in California since 2013, when a judge ruled that the agency violated the law when it issued oil leases in Monterey and Fresno counties without considering the risks of fracking. The ruling responded to a suit brought by the Center and the Sierra Club challenging a BLM decision to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in those counties to oil companies.

"The Trump administration is putting California's communities and our climate at risk as they prioritize fossil fuel industry profits over our public lands and the health and safety of our families," said Jenny Binstock, a Sierra Club campaign representative. "Today we are continuing the fight to protect our public lands from the Trump administration's reckless fracking expansion."

Areas targeted for drilling and fracking are near popular, protected public lands, including Pinnacles National Park, several state parks, and national forests and wilderness areas. They are also home to threatened and endangered animals, including San Joaquin kit foxes and California condors.

Fracking is an extreme oil-extraction process that blasts toxic chemicals mixed with water underground to crack rocks. According to the BLM, about 90 percent of new oil and gas wells on public lands are fracked.

This lawsuit comes as climate scientists urge drastic cuts to greenhouse gas pollution. It adds to a raft of recent lawsuits challenging the federal oil and gas leasing program over climate harms. New oil and gas leases commit public lands to producing more pollution for decades. Federal fossil fuel production causes about one-quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

A 2015 report from the California Council on Science and Technology concluded that fracking in California happens at unusually shallow depths, dangerously close to underground drinking-water supplies, with unusually high concentrations of toxic chemicals.

In 2016 Monterey County voters passed Measure Z, which bans fracking, new oil and gas wells and new waste-injection wells. San Benito County voters have also passed a ballot measure banning fracking. Alameda County has passed an ordinance banning fracking and other extreme extraction techniques, and Santa Cruz County has passed one banning fracking and all other oil and gas development.

Redwood forest and ESHA habitatBlaze Engineering has a proposal to set up a construction yard site in this redwood forest and ESHA habitat in Big Sur.

Ventana Chapter Sierra Club Opposes Blaze Engineering Proposal for Construction Yard In Big Sur

October 1, 2019

Ventana Chapter reviewed the proposal Blaze Engineering prepared for the Monterey Board of Supervisors to reopen a construction yard business in Big Sur. The parcel is in the Coastal Zone, designated Visitor Serving and Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA) and consists of pristine redwood forest and other rare coastal habitat. We oppose this project at this location as a violation of the Coastal Act and wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors for the hearing on August 27 (PDF of our letter is attached here). The Board voted 3-2 (For: Adams/Lopez/Alejo, Against: Parker/Phillips) in favor of the project. Sierra Club will now appeal the Board decision to the California Coastal Commission. Below is an article and photos regarding the history of this project by written by Big Sur resident Matt Donaldson.

Another Step in the Slow March to Ecological Destruction

By: Matt Donaldson

Nestled amidst towering redwoods, natural stream systems and abundant wildlife lies the tiny community of Big Sur. To call it a town would be too grand. To call it less would miss the mark. Of course there is the posh resort or two, gated and reserved for the select few who can afford the view but they are the exception. The real offering of Big Sur is the opportunity it provides for people to experience natural beauty in a rare setting, largely unspoiled in spite of the tremendous number of visitors who make the trek each year. Unarguably, Big Sur is unique.

Big Sur after Blaze EngineeringRare coastal redwood forest habitat in Big Sur found destroyed after Blaze

Sadly, the unique experience of visiting Big Sur is on a slow march to becoming ordinary, some might say distasteful. In a move seen as devastating to the areas sensitive habitat, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors has approved an application to develop a parcel zoned for visitor serving commercial use into a heavy equipment construction yard. The board was split 3-2 in its decision. In his dissent, Chairman John Phillips voiced his concern that the California Coastal Commission would not allow such a use while Supervisor Jane Parker objected on grounds that the project did not conform to zoning regulations and bore no relationship to a visitor serving use. An appeal of that decision filed by neighboring residents is headed for to Coastal Commission now and public support is crucial.

The construction company, Blaze Engineering and its owner Martha Morganrath have been in a contentious battle with neighbors on Big Sur’s Apple Pie Ridge since 2016 when their landlords, the Donaldson Family, refused to extend the lease. After years of broken promises, disregard for zoning law and destruction of sensitive habitat by Blaze Engineering the Donaldson’s put a stop to the operation by terminating the lease agreement. In response Blaze Engineering purchased a small parcel at the foot of Apple Pie Ridge on which they intend to relocate their yard. Apple Pie Ridge is situated across the highway from the Big Sur River Inn and immediately adjacent to River Inn guest cabins and parking. Blaze intends to store and deploy heavy construction equipment and materials here and within the wooded hillside above. In the center of it all a 4000 gal. above ground diesel fuel tank.

If the eyesore of a construction yard located in plain view in the middle of the Big Sur River basin is not horrifying enough, imagine the impact on the river itself. There is nothing between this proposed construction yard and the river to stop or contain the runoff of spilt fuels and silt guaranteed to accompany such an operation. The river and its dependents form a living breathing entity. For all forms of life dependent on the river, from the dwindling Steelhead population to the endangered Abalone near the river’s mouth, any degradation to its ecosystem is too much. Together we can be heard and together we can halt this slow march to ecological destruction.

Climate Strike at CSUMB





A large turnout for the Climate Strike at CSUMB on Friday, 9/20. Ventana Chapter leader Carolyn Hinman is shown advising the crowd on how this generation can do their part to address climate change.

Sierra Club Opposes the CalAm Desalination Project in Favor of the Feasible and Sustainable Pure Water Monterey Expansion Project

September 2019

The City of Marina, Marina Coast Water District and Citizens for Just Water will be challenging the approval of a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for the CalAm Slant Well Desalination project at a de novo hearing before the CA Coastal Commission on November 14, 2019. This is an all-important last major approval for CalAm and the outcome will either stop the project outright or advance the project to the building stage. This project contains major flaws that were not considered by the CA Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in its approval of the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) in September, 2018.

Among these fatal flaws are:

  • Lack of review of state-of-the-art science i.e. AEM study (Airborne Electro-magnetic imaging) completed by Stanford University that demonstrates harm to the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, Marina’s sole source of water
  • Lack of any current groundwater rights to pump from a neighboring jurisdiction’s basin
  • Failure to review the feasible recycled water alternative (Pure Water Monterey Expansion project by Monterey One Water) that would make the CalAm project unnecessary and meet the water needs of the Peninsula for 40-50 years
  • Marina's community values and needs as a disadvantaged community from which CalAm plans to extract massive amounts of unauthorized water from a critically overdrafted basin and create permanent damage to shoreline ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas) that host rare and endangered species on pristine beaches

As such, Sierra Club wrote a letter on September 13, 2019 to the Coastal Commission to urge them to carefully consider the PWM (Pure Water Monterey) supplemental water alternative before issuing a CDP for Cal-Am to construct a desalination facility at Marina City. (PDF of our letter here)

Back from the Brink Policy Endorsed by Sierra Club

August 2019

by David Bezanson, Ph.D.

Incineration of the Environment

The BftB policy to prevent nuclear war (NW) was endorsed this month by SC. Does this further our mission “to explore, enjoy, and protect our planet”? Let’s take a look at the 2 most recent policy announcements re. nuclear issues. I added an identifying letter to each of the 5 provisions.

Sierra Club endorsement of Back from the Brink call to Prevent Nuclear War:
We call on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by: 
A. * renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first;
B. * ending the sole, unchecked authority of any US president to launch a nuclear attack; 
C. * taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; 
D. * cancelling the plan to replace the entire US nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons; and
E. * actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Position endorsed Aug. 13, 2019 by National Program co-leads Ramon Cruz and Debbie Sease
Sierra Club Support for UN Treaty on Nuclear Weapons
History proves that the production and testing of nuclear weapons poses grave environmental risks. The cost to human life and health and the environmental devastation caused by the use of nuclear weapons is unthinkable. Sierra Club applauds the efforts of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, and supports global ratification and implementation of a verifiable, binding UN treaty with the goal of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons.
Treaty text:
UN website with background information:
Adopted by the Board of Directors, November 8, 2017

BftB has been endorsed by many dozens of organizations, municipalities, and several states. Last year Assembly Joint Resolution 33, embodying BftB, passed in the CA legislature. Several bills have been introduced in Congress this year to enact provisions of BftB.

Provisions A. – D. could be implemented within a few months. However, they may be quickly undone and do not provide a high degree of protection against all causes of nuclear war, e.g., accident, psychosis, terrorism, cyber-hacking, and intoxication. These 4 provisions aim to diminish the threat of NW enough to expedite international diplomacy so that E. may be achieved.

Provision E. will take the longest to achieve, but will provide the highest degree of protection for the longest duration. SC is one of over 500 organizations that is a partner of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

As individuals or as a chapter we may further BftB by taking local actions:
* educating citizens, including politicians, about the links between climate change and NW
* calling for local municipalities (cities and counties) and organizations to endorse BftB
* calling for local schools, municipalities, pension funds, banks, and organizations to divest from companies that manufacture NW and reinvest in pro-social, sustainable sectors
* requesting high schools to include NW, its environmental impact, and preventive policies into their curricula
* lobby our representatives in Congress to author and further legislation and create international treaties to avert NW

There is no greater threat to the environment than NW, by several criteria: a) planet-wide scope of destruction, b) sudden devastation – taking only a few days, c) duration of effects – up to multiple millennia of ionizing radiation. And very little is known about ways of “cleaning up” the mess.

The urgency of furthering this policy cannot be overemphasized. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which provides an annual update of the risk of NW, has estimated the probability to currently be at its highest point since WWII.

Mt. Mary Austin, 13,051'

June 12-17 2019

by Debbie Bulger

Mt. Mary Austin from trailheadMt. Mary Austin peaking above the hills from the Oak Creek trailhead.

Mt. Mary Austin beckoned us alluringly from the Oak Creek trailhead which was dotted with spring flowers.

Our trip had been delayed for a month because of late season snowstorms and then scheduling conflicts. It had been nine years since Richard Stover and I had been up the no-longer-maintained Baxter Pass trail. A fire in 2007 had burned the lovely Black Oaks which give the creek its name. They have since re-sprouted from the roots and are beginning to display their former glory.

This mountain, one of the few Sierra peaks named for a woman, honors Mary Austin, author of The Land of Little Rain (1903), who lived in the nearby town of Independence for many years and later in Carmel.

I have been up this trail four times: 2005, 2008, 2010, and now in 2019. It is 7000' of elevation gain between the trailhead and the peak summit. I hadn’t factored in my decreasing energy level now that I am 76.

My concern at attempting this peak in a year with a greater than 150% average snowpack were the creek crossings. There are three on the way to base camp. The first is a small tributary and just a step across. The second crossing, treacherous in 2005, was impassible this year. It was wider by at least 5 feet since raging flows have scoured the far bank leaving a high rim to boot. We ended up wading across a bit upstream at a slightly safer point.

We started hiking at 12:30 p.m. instead of the next morning to avoid back and forth driving from a high car camp, the ranger station to get a permit, and the trailhead. Knowing the creek crossing would be challenging, we scouted possible alternatives that looked promising on the map. These alternatives ate up time (and energy).

Oak Creek crossingRichard ferrying my pack across Oak Creek..

It was 6:00 p.m. by the time we reached the second crossing. I had never seen the creek this high. White water raged and boiled in front of us. We moved upstream where conditions were a tad better. Richard tested the crossing in his surf booties without a pack. Next I crossed with only a camera. Then Richard returned twice to ferry both our packs.

It was now 6:45 p.m. To view a video of Richard crossing click here.

We had intended to set up camp at the first level spot after the crossing. Unfortunately level spots are few and far between on this very steep trail. But the day was long, and it was light until 8:45 p.m. Conditions were ideal for hiking at night since the moon was just short of full.

Finally at 10:30 p.m. as we were nearing the third crossing we stopped just before a snowbank covered the trail. “We can camp here,” I announced. There was just enough levelish ground on the trail to fit our foam pads head to toe. Stars were out, so we needn’t worry about rain. We ate our sandwiches and were in bed by 11:30 p.m.

I took off my neckerchief and placed it beside my sleeping bag before collapsing into bed. Some poor mouse must have needed salt. When I awoke, the neckerchief was in shreds. I never heard a thing.

Balloon in the SierrasBalloons are everywhere in the Sierra.

At first light we packed up, crossed the snowbank and proceeded to the third crossing. The daylight also enabled us to see a lost balloon caught in a bush just above our campsite.

The water raged deeper and faster than the previous crossing. It took all morning to clamber upstream over rocks and fallen trees, find a log, cross Oak Creek then scramble through brush and willows back to the trail. The crossing with our heavy packs was tricky. The log didn’t quite reach all the way across so the exit from the log was difficult. The tenuous section was wet and slippery.

We decided the best technique was to scooch along with the weight of the packs supported by the log. As before, Richard crossed first with the cameras and poles. Then I crossed to help with the exit from the log.

After three hours we were finally across the creek and fully 100 yards from our “campsite.” For the afternoon we ascended another 1000 feet on the unmaintained trail struggling through thick brush at times: Chaparral Whitethorn (in bloom and lovely but prickly with thorns), Chinquapin (Chrysolepis Sempervirens), and willows. We made camp at 5:30 p.m., ready to rest.

As we were packing up to head to base camp, two young men passed by. They were also climbing Mt. Mary Austin . . . as a day hike! We wished them luck. I would never attempt such a feat, even when I was young. But those days are long gone. Now it is compression socks at night, eye drops in the morning, and various vitamins and pain pills during the day.

Third CrossingRichard pushing his pack across the log at the third crossing. (Click on photo for larger image.)
Chaparral WhitethornChaparral Whitethorn. (Click on photo for larger image.)
Third CrossingThe route as seen from base camp. The summit of Mary Austin is not visible. (Click on photo for larger image.)

We were almost at base camp when we met the day hikers returning. They had not summited. Wisely they had set a turn around time if they were to be back to their vehicle before dark.

We found a snow-free spot for our base camp at 10,700 feet and hit the sack just after sunset.

Too tired to climbAll dressed up but too tired to climb.

We were packed and ready for the climb the next morning. During the night I experienced a painful charley horse in my left thigh.

Bright and early the next morning we set off for the climb. At the base of the couloir I decided to turn around. My leg was hurting, and I had very low energy. We returned to camp and we spent much of the rest of the day resting and sleeping.

I spent a lot of time over the next few days wrestling with the decision. It’s all right to turn around. The difficult creek crossings had sapped my energy. I figured I could probably get up the peak, but was not sure I could get down. Time to turn around.

Packing up the next morning I was not looking forward to crossing the creek again. It was clouding up; weather was moving in. The hike down was gnarly: steep snow in places, and lots of brush. We camped that night at a sandy spot at 9000 feet before we got to any of the crossings.

When we got to the third crossing, we saw the water was up making the transition to the log a bit harder. We had taken a more direct route to the site of the log by clambering down a steep slope and thrashing through the willows. Others had traveled that route before us. Bears had left plenty of “bear sign.” I stumbled across a lost trove of extra batteries and a decaying plastic pill bottle of matches dropped by a hapless climber. Needless to say we removed these toxic materials from the wilderness.

At the log we broke down the packs and ferried the contents in multiple trips. Richard perched on the log, and I stretched across the place where the log didn’t quite reach the bank and handed items to him.

Between the third crossing and the second crossing the trail plunged steeply downward. We passed through a ghost forest of burned trunks from the 2007 fire.

Burned area
We passed through a ghost forest of burned trunks. (Click on photo for larger image.)

White Lupine
Debbie wades through white lupine. (Click on photo for larger image.)
Fritillaria pinetorumThis uncommon Fritillary was exquisite. (Click on photo for larger image.)

We marveled at the flowering glory of the place. Treasures we had passed in the dark on our way up bobbed in the breeze. Entire hillsides of white lupine waved as we walked by.

An uncommon Fritillary (Fritillaria pinetorum) heralded our safe return..

Trail BrushCan you believe it? I'm on the trail.

I was getting more tired and grumpy. “They need to maintain this trail,” I griped. And then I thought of the Fritillary. Maybe not. With more foot traffic, these beauties would be trampled. Perhaps we are the ones who need to stay away.

The ever darkening sky caught our attention. As drops started to fall we took off our packs, placed our foam pads at the base of a multi-stemmed black oak tree and covered ourselves with one of our space blankets. After the thunder and rain stopped, we emerged from our shelter to an unusual upside down rainbow below us.

When we found the place where we had crossed Oak Creek on the way up, we discovered it was too dangerous to cross there again. The water had risen several inches in five days.

Before reaching this crossing, we found the upsteam “log” where the young men had crossed. Perhaps doable if one were 30 with a light pack. It was covered in rotten bark that looked like it might peel off if one stepped on it. It was broken in the middle and then slanted up sharply to the far bank. And it was located about 10 feet below the severely cut away creek bank.

Our only recourse was to continue downsteam on the south side of the creek. Without even an unmaintained trail the going was rough. There were downed trees to climb over. We crossed a steep slope left from a landslide. As I plunge stepped on unstable landslide much like on a snow slope, I noticed a small newt inching its way upward.

We wouldn’t find a crossing that evening. We set up camp at the base of a Jeffrey Pine and decided to deal with it in the morning.

Paralleling the creek wasn’t easy. The creek was in a bed with steep banks and could not be viewed from our path. Next to the creek in most places were thickets of willows and patches of stinging nettle.

Last crossingThankfully we found another log.

We hiked along looking in the direction of the creek for an opening or a more level spot that would be easier to ford. Richard spotted an area less brushy and more level. “Let’s check it out,” I suggested. “There’s a log!” I shouted.

Yes, before us lying across the roaring creek was a big fat log bristling with branches, some rotting and some firm. We would have to test each branch carefully.

And we were across.

Only a mile from our truck. We wouldn’t have to walk all the way to Independence or to where the lovely creek enters the pipe which carry its water to Los Angeles. We were home free.

Open Letter to California State Parks

March, 2019

Limekiln Falls Trail

I am writing today to bring an issue to your attention. I have been camping and day hiking at Limekiln State Park since about 2001. I won’t bore you with the usual "it was so great way back when," but on my last weekend camping trip on January 26 I saw way more day hikers than ever before. The concession company staff running the park were packing in every car that showed up. I had one of the beach sites, and the day use cars were being packed into that area as well as every square inch between the entrance station and the redwood campsites bathroom. Being on the Limekiln Falls Trail that Saturday afternoon was more like being in an Epcot Center Disney World exhibit than the natural habitat. I know Cal Parks has to balance conservation with visitor access, but I think the concession company contracted to run Limekiln is solely interested in collecting the entrance fees, and not the condition of this rare and unique place. I know this wouldn’t be happening if Cal Parks Rangers were on site. I accept the financial reality of having concessioners manage the parks, but I implore you to exercise more oversight to ensure the quality of these naturals wonders and restrict the number of people in the park at any one time, even if this means a reservation system for day use. Attached is a photo (or rather a composite of several photos taken over 30 minutes) illustrating what it was like that day on the Limekiln Falls Trail. Thank you for your consideration of this matter. —Steve Zmak

Ventana Chapter Files Amicus Brief in California Supreme Court
in Support of Marina Coast Water District and City of Marina

February, 2019

On January 31, Ventana Chapter’s attorney Larry Silver submitted a Sierra Club amicus curiae letter in support of the City of Marina’s and Marina Coast Water District’s Legal Petitions for Review/Mandate seeking review of the actions of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in certifying an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in connection with its approval of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for a desalination Project proposed by California-American Water Company at the CEMEX plant in Marina.

Sierra Club argues that the CPUC erred when it failed to consider a reasonable range of alternatives to the Project. Since the Commission was aware of at least one feasible alternative that would have avoided or substantially lessened significant impacts caused by the Project that were identified in the EIR, and would have made it unnecessary to construct the proposed desalination facility, it was prejudicial error for the Commission to have failed to consider this feasible alternative in its FEIR for the Cal-Am desalination facility and it needs to review its decision.

For more details of our arguments and to view our amicus brief to the State Supreme Court, click here: (PDF here).

Solutions to Global Warming
Let's Get Crackin'

by Debbie Bulger

January, 2019

For many people, thinking about Global Warming is overwhelming and stressful. I have children and grandchildren. Imagining the world they will face if we continue business as usual is not a fun contemplation. So when I learned that a smart team of analysts not only researched solutions to global warming, but also calculated the impact each of these solutions would have if adopted by the world, my spirits were buoyed. Action appeals to my temperament. Let's spend less time worrying and more time implementing solutions.

I finally got around to checking out Paul Hawken's book Drawdown from the library. It is an extraordinary book containing a checklist of actions to fight climate change. It took three years and a team of 70 researchers from 22 countries to write this book.

The term drawdown refers to the point in time when greenhouse gases peak and then begin to decline. It is more than just lowering emissions. It is the process of reversing global warming, not just slowing it down. As Paul Hawken says in the introduction, "If you are traveling down the wrong road, you are still on the wrong road if you slow down."

Let me make myself clear. This book contains a recipe to reverse Global Warming. It documents 80 concrete actions big and small that people can do to ensure that all our children and grandchildren will have a habitable earth in their future. Best of all, it ranks these actions by effectiveness and costs/savings.

If you're a numbers person, the back of the book has details on each of the examined solutions, mini bios of the researchers, and information on methodology. If you are not particularly into numbers, you can just accept that these qualified scholars prepared technical assessments (available on their website), built models and submitted their findings to peer review.

You may be as surprised as I was to learn the ranking of various solutions. Here is a list of the 10 most effective in reducing carbon dioxide.

Solar PanelsSierra Club Ventana Chapter member Steve Zmak and his rooftop solar panels at his home in Marina.

#1 Refrigerant management (worldwide transitioning and
      recovery of harmful refrigerant chemicals to ones that
      don't cause global warming)
#2 Onshore wind turbines
#3 Reduced food waste
#4 Plant rich diet
#5 Restoration of tropical forests
#6 Educating girls
#7 Family planning
#8 Solar farms (large-scale solar arrays)
#9 Silvopasture (the integration of trees into grazing lands)
#10 Rooftop solar

Drawdown describes both individual and societal actions we all can take to reverse global warming. Of course, each individual action, while important, contributes only a small amount to solving the problem. However, the main importance of individual behavior is how these actions add up and influence culture change.

One can gain a better understanding of culture change by watching old movies. I love seeing movie characters' behavior (which likely went unnoticed in 1935 or 1940 because it was unremarkable) leap out at the viewer today. Let's consider smoking. In the 1930s movie heroes smoked, the doctor smoked, the rebel smoked. It was the norm.

Not only did almost everyone smoke, but they mostly threw their cigarettes on the ground, and even on the floor inside a house! Never mind health and safety; never a thought to fire danger. We've had a big culture change.

Now let's consider individual actions we can choose every day such as eating less meat (solution #4), taking the bus instead of driving, and conserving water. The choices we make not only make a difference but also influence other people and governments. They create a change in what is considered normal and beneficial.

I remember a poem from my childhood:

Little drops of water
Little grains of sand
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.

Your actions do make a difference. Pick out a change that appeals to you, and participate in solving the problem. Tomorrow's children are counting on you.

To learn more visit

Mylar baloonDebbie finds a balloon in one of the plots.

Just Say No to Mylar Balloons

Zinc Hill 5,584'

by Debbie Bulger

December, 2018

It was a volunteer match made in heaven. Richard Stover and I worked for two days on a balloon survey in Death Valley. The day after our work we climbed Zinc Hill on the western edge of Death Valley near Panamint Springs.

If you have been reading these trip reports, you know that Richard and I have been retrieving lost balloons in the desert and Sierra Nevada for over 20 years. Many people do not know that mylar balloons are not only litter on the landscape when they come down, but also can cause fires and are a threat to wildlife.

The problem has become so severe that even in remote parts of Death Valley balloons blemish the scenery. In an attempt to quantify the threat, the Park is surveying balloons in random 300 meter square plots.

Richard and I helped walk three of these plots on December 8 and 9. We each found one balloon.

Walking the cobblesVolunteers hike across the desert northeast of Furnace Creek to the start of the survey quadrant. Walking on the cobbles was not easy.
(Click on photo for larger image.)

About 15 volunteers spaced about 20 meters apart lined up and walked each area. When a balloon was found, we noted the GPS coordinates. Not one plot was balloon free. The results of the continuing survey are being mapped and will be used to educate folks and perhaps help people choose different gifts and memorial tributes other than balloons.

Since many balloons littering the park have been picked up when found next to roads, most of the plots in the study were a mile or two from the nearest road and required an hour or more for the group to reach the starting place. It was a good workout.

Zinc HillThis photo of Zinc Hill was taken near Towne Pass.
(Click on photo for larger image.)

Zinc Hill WashStarting the hike up the wash. The summit is not visible.
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Mine RoadThe wash leads to an old road leading to a mine adit.
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Mine AditThe adit was interesting. What was in this barrel?
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Zinc HillDebbie and Richard on the summit of Zinc Hill.
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Zinc Hill WashThe route down skirted hill 4806 to the old road. The hill was made of beautiful white marble..
(Click on photo for larger image.)

After two days of chasing lost balloons, Richard and I headed for Zinc Hill, the northernmost peak of the Argus Range which borders the west side of Panamint Valley. The 4WD approach we selected passes the entrance to Darwin Falls and ends up on the west side of the peak.

We started hiking up a wash, then on an old mining road which had a spur leading to an adit which we found interesting.

We backtracked to the road and then hiked off trail up a steep slope and eventually reached an old miners trail which led to a saddle a few hundred feet below the summit.

Miner's TrailThe old miners trail could not be seen from below. We took this shot on the way down.
(Click on photo for larger image.)


As we approached the summit, again off trail, we heard a low rumble. Then perhaps two thousand feet below us, we saw several very-slow-moving large planes flying south down Panamint Valley. These were not the roaring fighter planes we have seen many times in Saline Valley and Panamint Valley. Were they bombers? transport planes? Were they practicing flying so low to avoid radar detection? Let me know if you know the answer.

From the summit we could see snowcapped Telescope Peak and to the west the Sierras. Glorious.

On the way down we stayed on the unmaintained trail a bit longer until we could descend to the abandoned road by skirting the east side of hill 4806.

The jaunt took us about 6 hours. Time for a hotel and hot shower.

Wind and Solar PowerSierra Club supports clean, renewable energy sources as a means to address climate change and green house gases which severely threaten our planet.

Information about Monterey Bay Community Power

October, 2018

Ventana Chapter members have been inquiring about Monterey Bay Community Power, the electric generation service which began operations in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties earlier this year and was supported by Sierra Club California. This is a description of the program drafted for us by the provider.

Monterey Bay Community Power Helps Drive California's Climate Action Successes

Following in the footsteps of 19 other locally controlled, not-for-profit public organizations across California known as Community Choice Energy (CCE) agencies or Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs), Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) began service In March and July of this year to non-residential and residential customers respectively, providing carbon-free electricity to businesses and residents in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties. MBCP's promise? Cleaner energy at a lower cost.

With the support of local governments in all three counties and 16 cities within tri-county, MBCP is putting the Monterey Bay region on a path defined by three guiding principles; local control, clean energy and economic vitality. Many cities and counties in the Monterey Bay region see MBCP as one of the key drivers to meet their climate action goals and support additional efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As a public agency, MBCP does business in a fundamentally different manner than investor-owned utilities (IOUs) like PG&E. With oversight by a Policy Board and an Operations Board, both of which are comprised of the region's elected officials and city managers, MBCP provides transparency and local accountability where IOUs do not, from board meetings that are open to the public all the way down to important details on customers' electricity bills. MBCP also formed a Community Advisory Council earlier this year to assure that the agency is addressing the needs of all stakeholders in our diverse region.

Like all other CCAs, MBCP is committed to procuring the electricity needed for its service area through clean-energy sources. Unique to MBCP is the commitment to utilize only carbon-free sources from wind, solar and hydroelectric – and no nuclear. In collaboration with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, MBCP also fast-tracked a premium service offering, MBprime, for customers who prefer 100% renewable energy generated exclusively from wind and solar. MBprime is available to all MBCP customers for an added cost of $.01 per kilowatt hour. MBCP also outfits customers with convenient means to pass their own savings onto the community through two different rebate options known as MBgreen+ and MBshare.

The third defining principle for MBCP is reinvestment in the local community. As opposed to the IOU model where profits are passed on to investors and shareholders, MBCP keeps surplus revenues local through cost-savings and by reinvesting in local programs that further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. MBCP's three pillars for reducing greenhouse gases emissions are focused on transportation electrification, building electrification and distributed energy resources.

Today, CCAs are serving more than 8 million customers in more than 160 communities across California that are building a better future through innovation, collaboration and bringing clean energy home. Combined, the CCA community is helping to drive California's climate action success by reaching renewable energy targets more than a decade ahead of time, making long-term contract commitments that support new in-state renewable energy facilities, and reinvesting millions of dollars in innovative community energy programs and job creation. To learn more about MBCP, visit, email  or call the customer support number: 888-909-6227.

Neighborhood CompostersColleen Devlin, (far right in photo) with neighbors in the Del Monte Beach neighborhood with some of the 27 counter top compost bins donated to their pilot composting program by Ventana Chapter Sierra Club.

Ventana Chapter Spurs on Composting Effort in Monterey Neighborhood

October, 2018

Ventana Chapter Executive Committee member, Carolyn Hinman coordinated with Colleen Devlin in a local Monterey neighborhood to create a composting program with the assistance of Monterey Regional Waste Management District. We donated 27 counter top bins to the residents and now the neighbors are talking it up and building momentum to fill a large centrally located commercial compost bin each week.  Del Monte Beach is the first neighborhood in Monterey to pilot composting services into a neighborhood, using the existing service provided to commercial businesses & restaurants. They have just started their second year of service, and currently have 10 neighbors each supporting a month of the cost ($33.90) so they can make it available for everyone to give it a try.

The community outreach manager at Monterey Regional Waste Management District is Jeff Lindenthal. He has also set up composting services at a couple of the local farmers markets so residents can have a place to drop off their kitchen compost. If Sierra Club members want to try this in their neighborhoods, Jeff would be happy to hear from you. His contact information is:  and his phone number is 831-264-6390


Mount IrvineThe east buttress of Mount Irvine is impressive.
(Click on photo for larger image.)

Mount Irvine 13,770', September 11-13, 2018

by Debbie Bulger

September, 2018

Mount Irvine, named after Andrew Irvine who died attempting Everest in 1924, rises impressively above Meysan Lake near Mount Whitney. Richard Stover and I attempted to climb the northeast ridge.

From the get-go this trip had a lot of glitches. The first were the fires that closed Highways 89 and 395 north of Bridgeport, our planned driving route. Next, we were unable to secure a permit for our planned ascent of Mount Goode; Mount Irvine was our backup, and I had not researched the route adequately. After all, it looked easy on the map.

Meysan Lake TrailMeysan Lake Trail. Lone Pine Peak is seen to the left in this shot of the Meysan Lake Trail.

The 3,600' gain to Meysan Lake proved more tiring than I recalled, perhaps since I hadn’t been up there since 2008 and was 10 years older now. The scenery as usual was spectacular.


Partway up the trail we spotted Spotted Tussock Moth caterpillars, fluffy creatures which seem to be a cross between a small terrier and a pushmepullme. One has difficulty discerning the front from the back.

Spotted Tussock Moth caterpillarWhich is the front and which is the back?

Meysan LakeHow did I ever climb this chute when it was filled with snow in 2003 when I climbed Mount Mallory? It is 2000 feet from the lake to the skyline.
(Click on photo for larger image.)

Once in camp I marveled at Meysan Lake set in a deep bowl at 11,500'. How in the world had I scrambled up the narrow 2000-foot chute across the lake 15 years previously when it was filled with snow on my way to Mallory?

We set out the next morning at 7 a.m. to first gain the saddle to our north, then do the ridge. I was moving slowly, likely needing another day to acclimate, and had a scratchy throat. At the first gendarme I decided I would rather use another route. The rock was loose, and the narrow "bridge" to the easier slope was more than we wanted to handle that day. We bailed.

Back at camp we found a marmot had gotten into our dishes which we had hung in our tent bag on a too-short Foxtail pine. The tent bag was shredded and the dishes covered with marmot slobber. We boiled the spoons before making soup for supper in the pan.

That night the temperature dropped, and the wind picked up. We were camped on sand, and whenever a gust came, sand sprayed over us. In the morning everything inside the tent looked like a night in the Sahara.

The trek down to the car provided us with splashes of fall color and picturesque looks back at what might have been an easier route 20 years earlier.

Mount IrvineThis is where we decided to turn back.
(Click on photo for larger image.)

Looking BackHiking back down the trail we could look back and see the peak left of center and the ridgeline to the right which we had attempted. We got to the top of the first point on the right.
(Click on photo for larger image.)

Fall ColorAt Grass Lake the shooting star leaves gave splashes of yellow to the scene.
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Kianni LedezmaVentana Chapter sponsored member Kianni Ledezma in Puerto Rico for Sierra Club SPROG program.

Sierra Club Leadership Workshop Student Describes Her Experience in Puerto Rico

by Kianni Ledezma

July 30, 2018

As I waited to meet the other two students who were going to be flying with me to attend SPROG in Puerto Rico, I could already feel the importance of this trip and this leadership training. I realized that SPROG Puerto Rico 2018 was one of those experiences that was only going to come once in a lifetime. And I was right.

SPROG was an intense week long training that taught me so many new skills and tools to use for my future social and environmental justice campaigns and projects. SPROG took me to a place called Casa Pueblo who shared their important story of resilience and social work. Their history taught me the importance of not giving up because if you believe in something and you know it will make a difference then you have to keep going and treading along until you reach your goals.

Each session that took place at SPROG taught me something different. SPROG showed me the difference between mission and vision. The difference between a strategy and a tactic. SPROG also showed me the importance of taking action and not waiting for someone else to do it because you have to stand up for what you think is right.

Kianni LedezmaSierra Club SPROG program students in Puerto Rico in July.

SPROG also let me experience the culture, the food, and the different stories of the people of Puerto Rico. Hearing the conversations about the grass root actions taking place in Puerto Rico by students and citizens filled me with hope for the future of this planet. It made me realize that there are so many people out there like me who are trying to make a change. It inspired me to keep trying to call for action in my community.

All this topped with being in such a beautiful place such as Puerto Rico was an incredible experience, one I will never forget. I would like to thank the Sierra Club and the Ventana Chapter for sponsoring me to attend this amazing training.

More about the Club's Summer Program.

Ventana Chapter Sponsors College Students to Attend Sierra Club Leadership Program

July 2018

This month Ventana Chapter is sending seven local college students from California State University at Monterey Bay to Puerto Rico and Los Angeles to attend weeklong workshops to build leadership and activist skills. Living in a summer camp/nature focused setting, participants from 18-28 years of age, come from a wide variety of backgrounds and share excitement to learn about organizing and a deep interest in environmental issues.

This program, called SPROG is run by the Sierra Student Coalition and has been operating for 30 years providing grassroots leadership training for young people. Some of the curriculum offered includes:

• Campaign planning: identifying campaign goals and targets, writing strategy statements, crafting tactics, using a campaign matrix

• Leadership development: building effective bases and coalitions, working with communities, demonstrating self-care and personal productivity, facilitating group discussions

• Anti-Oppression: identifying and confronting oppression, running campaigns for justice, emphasizing anti-oppression as central to all environmental organizing

• Media: creating outreach material, interacting with reporters, writing Op-Eds, holding press conferences

We look forward to welcoming our students back to Monterey and having them share their experiences and new skills with our membership through the Chapter website and Face book page.

Silver Peak, 11,878' Hike June 20-27

by Debbie Bulger

June 2018

This mountain in the Ansel Adams Wilderness east of Fresno is not the only peak with this name in California. I have climbed two other peaks named Silver, and I know of at least one more. One is near Ebbetts Pass and the other is in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe. The one I have yet to climb is in the Mojave National Preserve.

Richard Stover and I left Santa Cruz at 7:30 in the morning and started hiking from the Vermillion Resort on Lake Thomas Edison at 4:30 that afternoon. The advantage of hiking from a Westside trailhead is that one has time to drive to the trailhead, pick up a permit, stop for lunch and get a few miles down the trail before setting up camp.

The Onion Spring trailhead apparently sees little traffic, and the Onion Spring Campground marked on the topo map is long abandoned. Flowers were blooming and mosquitoes abundant and persistent.

On our first full day we were passed by a solo hiker from the Czech Republic on his way to Mammoth Lakes who wanted a change from the John Muir Trail, to the east. To our surprise he passed us again going back to Vermillion the next day. The trail was unmaintained, and the going slow. Ondrej was concerned he might not be able to make his flight back to Europe should anything happen to him on this nebulous trail.

Sierra wallflowers dotted the way and Arnica and various Delphiniums provided yellow and blue and pink splashes of color. Entire hillsides were covered with dwarf lupine once we emerged from the trees.

Arch RockArch Rock. Photographer: Richard Stover.
Click on image to see larger size.

Day two was magnificent as we stopped to enjoy Arch Rock, a stunning formation that rivals arches in national parks. I later learned there are two Arch Rocks in Sierra National Forest, one not nearly so spectacular and only a short walk from a road and this one which is about 7 miles from a trailhead. To complicate matters even further, this lithic marvel is not where it is indicated on the topo map. If you are looking for it, try the next saddle north of the high saddle with the peculiar survey marker “Lead.”

From both saddles we had an expansive view to the north where the high peaks of Ritter and Banner dominated the vista. We saw a thin plume of smoke from a wildfire just starting.
We descended to Frog Lake and marveled at the work that had gone into the trail construction. There were rock walls, water bars, remains of a stock fence, and even stairs. This trail must have seen a lot of use in the 1960s. There were old blazes on giant Lodgepole pines. I don’t know why this trail is little used and not maintained today. Perhaps the nearby John Muir Trail is what most people prefer.

As we proceeded the trail became increasingly difficult to follow in places. It is a bit of a puzzle and exactly the navigation challenge I enjoy. One bomb-proof indication of an old trail is a cut log.

To our delight a bald eagle buzzed us as we crossed the marsh south of Coyote Lake. Unfortunately we weren’t quick enough with the camera to get a good photo. To our dismay we found another lost balloon.

That evening we camped above Coyote Lake which lived up to its name. Shortly after retiring we had a short serenade from a high-pitched canine. It was the only time we heard a coyote on the trip.

Rainbow LakeBeautiful Rainbow Lake. Photographer: Richard Stover.
Click on image to see larger size.

By lunch the next day we had passed Baby Lake and reached our base camp at Rainbow Lake. We had taken the long way, but that was the point. We spent the afternoon in heaven: rinsing out dusty clothes and bathing in the mid-day respite from aggressive mosquitoes. Camp was on a peninsula high above the lake on both sides. There was light grey granite all around except for a huge dark glacial erratic under which we stowed our bear cans.

We climbed Silver the next day. We ascended the Penstemon-sprinkled west ridge, a fun class 2-3 scramble which we enjoyed. On the way up we encountered a Green Pine Chafer, an iridescent beetle that eats pine needles. Lest any of you think I’m a super grandma, I want you to know the climb took 14 hours. I told you we were slow. I slept til noon the next day. I was wiped.

From the summit we could see that the little puff of smoke we had seen two days before had exploded into a huge cloud reaching high above us as we stood at nearly 12,000 feet! The west wind was blowing the smoke towards Mammoth Lakes. But what if the wind should change?

We spent more than an hour on top taking photos and perusing the register. In addition to the traditional benchmark there was an odd button-sized marker clearly marked USGS in the center of an incised X on the rock. Then we slid down the unstable northwest face. Take one step and the whole mountain moves. Much less fun than going up.

Back at camp supper consisted of celebratory Newman’s O’s. Then another layover day to splash in the lake and rinse out our clothes.

We hiked back to Vermillion in record time since we were concerned that the wind might change and we could be caught in the smoke.

Goodwill Garden Marina
Goodwill Garden MarinaVolunteers from the community help install new fixtures and equipment funded by the Chapter at Goodwill Gardens in Marina. (Photograph:Reid Norris).

Community Garden Grant

April 2018

Earlier this year we provided Everyone’s Harvest with a $2,000 grant to purchase equipment and supplies for the Goodwill Garden in Marina, a one-acre green space where people can come together and experience growing their own produce. This program provides free and accessible community gardens to adults with disabilities and other marginalized people in order to provide them with fresh organic fruits and vegetables. 

Utilizing our funds, Everyone’s Harvest recently had a project day shown in these photos and invited the community to install improvements to make the garden beds more sustainable and eco-conscious. We are excited to help with this valuable service to provide healthy local produce and support a fair and environmentally friendly food system.

Executive Committee members with Jimmy Panetta


Ventana Chapter Executive Committee members met with Congressman Jimmy Panetta to discuss his commitment to human rights and protection of the environment. 

From left to right: Dale Agron, Rich Fox, Rita Dalessio, Congressman Panetta, Alexandra Payan and Neil Agron.


Chapter Sponsors Countertop Compost Bin Give Away at CSUMB

By Carolyn Hinman

April 2018

Americans waste 40% of their food, and throw a lot of that food waste in the trash. All of that food breaking down in the landfill releases greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Cal State Monterey Bay is taking steps to reduce and divert their food waste to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club sponsored the purchase of 300 Sure-Close countertop food waste containers for CSUMB's East Campus residential community to make it easier for them to keep their kitchen scraps out of the trash. On March 29th, over 70 East Campus residents took containers home with them after a special event called Food is a Terrible Thing to Waste. Attendees ate pizza provided by Green Waste Recovery, learned a little bit about food waste, made a take-home bean and lentil soup mix, and mingled with other environmentally minded people.

We can't wait to see how much food waste East Campus can keep out of landfills and hope that food waste diversion will make its way to the rest of the CSUMB campus.

Compost BinsCarolyn Hinman, second from left, distributes free countertop compost bins from Ventana Chapter to students in CSUMB East Campus housing.

Snowy Plovers Sighted at CEMEX Plant

March 2018

Last July, the California Coastal Commission voted to issue a Cease and Desist Order for the CEMEX Lapis plant in Marina. Since then, the sand mining operation is winding down its activities and expects to close completely in a few years. This will leave the way for Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District and State Parks to convert the site to protected habitat for rare and endangered species and allow welcomed new coastal access for the public in Monterey County.

Local wildlife photographer Steve Zmak recently set up his extraordinary camera equipment to capture photos of three endangered Western snowy plovers inhabiting a site near the plant. The nesting period has just begun for these birds and will continue through September.

Snowy PloversThree Western snowy plovers sighted near CEMEX plant in sand dunes in Marina. (Photographer: Steve Zmak).

Heritage Oaks Eastside ParkwayBeautiful heritage oaks and woodlands are under threat from proposed Eastside Parkway on Fort Ord. (Photograph: Steve Zmak).

Sierra Club Announces Opposition to the Eastside Parkway

March 2018

Ventana Chapter has been following development at the former army base at Fort Ord since the 1980's. We sued on the original EIR for the Base Reuse Plan and achieved a settlement agreement that curtailed new development. A major focus for protection were the large tracks of oak woodland habitat and rare old growth heritage oaks.

We have been working ever since to protect this unique plant community. The latest threat to these oaks is a proposed Eastside Parkway. This roadway would be intended to be a Southwest-Northeast arterial component of the Fort Ord transportation network near Seaside and Marina. Much of the acreage set aside for this project consists of mature oak woodlands which we have previously committed to preserve with a formal Habitat Protection Plan.

The Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) has announced that the official environmental review process will begin in May with the distribution of the Notice of Preparation (NOP) for a 30-day review period. The process is expected to take until August 2019. The Chapter has announced opposition to this roadway consistent with priorities from our National Sierra Club.

National Sierra Club has consistently held policies which discourage road building as a cause of sprawl, congestion and other urban woes. Building new roads and increasing capacity on existing roads brings "induced" traffic - essentially "if you build it, they will come." Motorists will make longer trips, increase miles traveled, and new roads will encourage more sprawl development. In fact, only three years after new roadways open, traffic fills road capacity between 50 and 100 percent. Clearly, congestion is not something we can build ourselves out of with more road construction; it actually perpetuates traffic problems.

Goodwill GardenFrom left to right: Ventana Chapter Executive Committee member Carolyn Hinman, Everyone’s Harvest Volunteer Chrystal Andon and Everyone’s Harvest Executive Director Reid Norris.

Ventana Chapter Donates $2000 to Everyone’s Harvest Garden Project

December 2017

This month the Chapter donated $2000 to Everyone’s Harvest Goodwill Community Garden Project in Marina. This unique program currently uses 80 raised beds on one and a half acres close to the ocean. Surrounded by native and drought-tolerant landscaping, it includes composting systems, a fog catcher and a hügelculture display. This display shows a no-dig raised bed using rotting wood, compost, manure and other nutriments that helps to hold water and raise heat for a longer growing season.

Everyone’s Harvest, in partnership with five other nonprofits prepare the beds and provide seedlings, plants and infrastructure to produce over 1,000 pounds of fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables grown and consumed by more than fifty clients.

The work is important because not only is the garden a place for the clients to grow healthy food, it is an opportunity for them to participate in horticultural therapy. This is a place where adults with developmental disabilities and veterans addressing trauma can build physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing while growing their own food in a community garden.

Goodwill GardenGoodwill Garden in Marina showing some of the 80 raised beds growing fresh organic produce for the community.


California Condor


Chapter Hike leader Stanley Dudek took this photo from North Chalone Peak in October. This California condor's tag says 89 but it is listed as 589. It's a male that was released from Pinnacles in June 2011. It mated with 569, a female released from Big Sur in 2012. Their first offspring hatched successfully last June and received its tag (878) and transmitter early in October.

Sierra Club Awards Monning and Stone 100% Rating as Legislators

October 2017

Congratulations to Senator Bill Monning and Assemblymember Mark Stone for achieving 100% rating from Sierra Club California for their votes on environmental issues in the Legislature.

This an extraordinary record for our Central Coast legislators as only 10 Senators out of 40 and 13 Assemblymembers out of 80 were awarded this distinction.

To prepare the scorecard, Sierra Club California staff selected 12 bills to score in each house. The bills represent a cross-section of environmental and environmental justice issues and were among the top priority California legislation the Sierra Club’s staff and volunteers engaged in this year.

How each legislator voted on each bill was noted and a score was calculated by dividing the number of times the legislator voted with the
Club’s recommendation by the total number of bills for which the legislator was present to cast a vote.

Click here to see all results:

Cool School

Sierra Club Recognizes CSUMB as a "Cool School"

September 2017

College campuses and their student populations are associated with youth, growth, parties, and out-of-the-box thinking. College students create and follow pop culture, influence political decisions, and champion social justice movements. Innovative thinkers like these also have their fingers on the pulse of the cutting edge of sustainability and conservation efforts. On August 22, 2017, the Sierra Club's magazine Sierra recognized Cal State Monterey Bay (CSUMB) as one of the nation's "Cool Schools." This year has been a tumultuous one for the US as Donald Trump pulled America out the Paris Climate Agreement, cut funding for scientific research on climate change, and vowed to revive the flagging and destructive coal industry. The schools on Sierra's list have committed to continue making strides toward sustainability and reduction of carbon emissions, and this year 239 colleges and universities submitted applications for the "Cool School" distinction. CSUMB was ranked number 152, and joined eight other CSU campuses in receiving the distinction.

Lacey Raak is the Director of Sustainability at CSUMB. For the past two years she has been working to increase the impact of the school's sustainability efforts. She says CSUMB is doing everything it should to keep up with the Jones' of the sustainability revolution. She hopes to see the university take a higher place in the ranking in upcoming years. "I think there are strategic actions that can be taken regarding waste specifically," says Raak. "It's so much deeper than recycling." Lacey believes that a deeper understanding of sustainability by a broader group of people is necessary for lasting change to take place... [more]

Ventana Chapter Submits Comments to Seaside General Plan NOP

August 2017

The City of Seaside is in the process of drafting a new General Plan (Seaside 2040 Plan). This effort is expected to take about 2 ½ years and began in 2016. The City will include environmental review in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and adopt new development regulations including zoning and subdivision provisions.

In response to the City’s Notice of Preparation (NOP) Ventana Chapter has submitted comments voicing our concerns for open space and preservation of viewsheds and the availability of a sustainable water supply. Attached is a copy of our letter.

Humpback whale breachingHumpback whale breaching in Monterey Bay at Sand City in July.

National Marine Sanctuaries Need Your Help Now!

August 2017

The Trump administration’s recent decision to direct the Secretary of Commerce to review the federally protected status of National Marine Sanctuaries is a dangerous and unprecedented move against our valuable oceans and coastlines. Locally, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary provides an economic engine, environmental protection for marine mammals and other sea life, research and tourism.

This decision could weaken protections for 11 National Marine Sanctuaries and monuments designated and expanded since April 28, 2007 including the Davidson Seamount in Monterey Bay. It is Trump’s blatant give-away to the fossil fuel companies to provide them with resource exploitation, including off shore oil and gas drilling.

Sanctuary status prohibits oil and gas exploration and drilling, establishes more stringent protections against pollution and bans disturbance to the seabed. It also stimulates partnerships with local governments to launch programs to protect and enhance marine resources and promote scientific research and education.

What can you do? Write letters and ask your friends and family to do so too. On July 26, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced it would reopen the comment period until August 14, on Trump’s Executive Order 13795. Go to this link and let our government know you do not want oil and gas drilling in our oceans:

CCC Votes Unanimously For Closure of CEMEX Plant

July 2017

CEMEX 2008The California Coastal Commission and CEMEX have come to an agreement to close down the sand mining operation over the next six years. (Photo: Steve Zmak).

On July 12, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to approve a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) for the CEMEX Lapis plant in Marina. This is the last coastal sand mining operation in the United States. The CCC agreement will halt sand mining in three years and close the business in six. Ventana Chapter has been following studies on the erosion of the shoreline around CEMEX since 2008. The shoreline from Monterey to the Salinas River is currently eroding at about 4 feet per year as a result of mining activity from this 104-acre plant site. This sand extraction and dredging operation is the largest human contributing factor to erosion on the California coastline.

The CCC has been looking into CEMEX for possible violations of the Coastal Act for the last few years. In March, 2016 the CCC threatened to issue the CDO over the violations and the two parties have been in negotiations ever since. On June 27, Marina announced a series of agreements had been reached with CEMEX and the three entities pursuing varying legal remedies.

Also at the meeting, the CCC granted approval to the application by State Parks for building a camping facility on Fort Ord Dunes State Park despite concern from speakers about possible contamination of the site due to lead bullets left over from Fort Ord's many years as an army training facility.

A Plover, A Plover, My Kingdom for a Plover

By Steve Zmak
May 2017

Snowy Plover (Photographer: Steve Zmak).

Whenever I'm walking one of the southern Monterey Bay beaches, I'm always on the lookout for the rare and elusive Western Snowy Plover. The first time I was able to record them was 3 years ago in Sand City on the site for the contested Ghandour Resort—I found 3 there nesting, and you've probably seen those photos here in the Chapter blog, Chapter mailings or MC Weekly articles on the subject. Snowy Plovers are often confused with the much more abundant Sanderling that runs in flocks up and down the water line. I thought that was what I was photographing again at Marina State Beach about a half mile south of the Beach Road parking lot on April 16, 2017. I was thrilled when I got home and could view them on my big display, and could see the ID tags around its legs distinguishing it as a threatened and endangered species. Although the Western Snowy Plover's habitat stretches along the entire U.S. west coast, most of it has been disturbed by one development project after another. It's not just the development footprint that runs the little birds off their nesting grounds. It's all the people and dogs drawn to once wild beaches that the developments sit at the epicenter of. Although Marina State Beach has strict leash laws, fenced habitat restoration areas, and a no drone fly zone during the March to September breeding season, it is rare to see these regulations followed by local beachgoers or out-of-town visitors. In reality and practice, it seems like we've already accepted this bird's extinction. The Ventana Chapter's ongoing campaign to block coastal developments like the Ghandour Resort in Sand City may be one of the last battles for the Western Snowy Plover's survival.

Congressman Panetta to Co-sponsor Bill to Re-authorize Funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund

May 2017

This week, Congressman Jimmy Panetta signed on as a co-sponsor to HR 502 to provide robust funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in fiscal year (FY) 2018. Mr. Panetta serves on the House Natural Resources Committee so now every Democrat on the Committee supports this priority bill for Sierra Club.

Since its creation 50 years ago, the LWCF has helped to ensure the permanent protection, recreational access, and maintenance of critical lands in our national and community forests, recreation areas, parks, wildlife refuges, Civil War battlefields, and historic sites. Equally important, it has provided matching funds to support countless state park and recreation projects in thousands of communities in every state in the nation. The Forest Legacy Program (FLP) assists states in conserving working forestlands that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses.

In every state, LWCF and FLP funds have ensured that all Americans reap the benefits of access to outdoor recreation, unique historic sites, clean water, and protected wildlife. Over the past 20 years, FLP has prevented the loss of almost two million acres of forestland in 42 states and leveraged an equal amount of state, local, and private funding for every federal dollar spent. Since its creation, the LWCF program has conserved more than five million acres of parks, recreation, forests, and other lands through the federal program and more than 2.6 million acres in communities throughout every state in the nation.

Locally, this funding has been used to purchase additional parcels for Pinnacles National Park and for the 1200 acre Brazil Ranch managed by Los Padres National Forest on the Big Sur coast.

Sierra Club and CBD Submit Comments to Bureau of Land Management's Request for Public Review of Oil and Gas Leasing and Development on Federal Lands

April 2017

On April 6, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Sierra Club submitted nearly 100 pages of comments on the Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment/Draft Environmental Impact Statement ("RMP"/"DEIS") for the Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") Central Coast Field Office in Hollister. The Planning Area consists of about 6.8 million acres of public land which includes about 793,000 acres of Federal mineral estate in Fresno, Kings, Monterey and San Benito counties managed by the Central Coast Field Office. Of these 793,000 acres of Federal mineral estate, 368,800 acres are deemed to be "high oil and gas occurrence potential areas."

Our comments point out that oil and gas exploration involves highly controversial and severely harmful extraction methods, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"). Extraction and burning of fossil fuels worsens the climate crisis; endangers water, air, wildlife, public health, and local communities; and further undermines the protection of our public lands. Because new fossil fuel leasing within the Planning Area will contribute to worsening the climate crisis, we believe that the vast majority of all proven fossil fuels must be kept in the ground.

Furthermore, opening up new areas to oil and gas exploration and unlocking new sources of greenhouse gas pollution would only fuel greater warming and contravenes the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act of 1976 that mandates that BLM manage the public lands "without permanent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment."
(To read the entire 99-page letter, click here).

Sierra Club Ventana Chapter was a proud sponsor for Earth Day in Marina on April 8. Despite some wind and rain, there was a great crowd and wonderful food. Here is a photo of two lucky brothers that won stuffed animals we donated to the raffle.

Earth Day 2017

Sierra Club Plan to Add Wilderness Areas in California

March 2017

Sierra Club Southern California Forests Committee just released their plans to Club activists for increasing wilderness areas in California in 2017. The Southern California Forests Team's goal is the protection and restoration of the four southern California National Forests, which stretch from Big Sur to the Mexican border in San Diego County and which attract seven million visitors a year. From north to south, the forests are the Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland National Forests.

Bottcher's Gap in Los Padres National Forest within Ventana Chapter boundaries will be the starting point for a designated Condor National Recreation Trail as part of a proposed Central Coast Protection Act. This trail will provide a continual hiking trail corridor spanning the entire length of the Los Padres National Forest south along the coastal mountains of Central California. The trail will traverse a diversity of geography and communities through the southern and northern sections of the Los Padres National Forest and protect wild and scenic rivers.

Other goals of the Southern Forest Committee include:
    1) Work with the Desert Committee on Senator Dianne Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act of 2017. Additional wilderness and wild and scenic rivers will be added to the San Bernardino National Forest by passage of this legislation.
    2) Support the newly designated San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in the Angeles and western San Bernardino National Forests with committee expertise on specific wilderness areas and rivers.
    3) Support protection of the Santa Ana Mountains.
    4) Monitor all planning activities on the four Southern California National Forests. This includes reviewing all NEPA documents on these forests and sending out action alerts to our members to get the maximum amount of environmentally effective input.

Snowy PloverWestern snowy plover nesting in undisturbed habitat currently on the site of the proposed Monterey Bay Shores Resort. (Photographer: Steve Zmak).

Ventana Chapter Retains Third Expert to Submit Comments to the CCC Challenging the Habitat Protection Plan for Monterey Bay Shores Resort

February 2017

The Chapter continues to oppose development in 39 acres of beachfront dune habitat for federally protected western snowy plover. In addition to Dr. Peter Baye, coastal ecologist and Dr. Scott Cashen, wildlife biologist and foremost authority on western snowy plover, the Chapter has now retained avian ecologist Michael Morrison to comment on the Project developer, Ed Ghandour’s Habitat Protection Plan (HPP). The Project calls for a 1.34 million foot mixed-use resort in Sand City which entails approximately 680,000 cubic yards of grading, utility extensions and infrastructure, and related development (e.g., roads, parking lots, signs, and lights). The chief concern is the long-term presence of breeding western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) on this site.

Dr. Michael Morrison, relying on nearly 40 years of work in avian ecology and wildlife management, reviewed the HPP and associated appendices. While the stated goal of the HPP is to demonstrate the developer can construct the Project without modifying or degrading critical habitat for the plover to the level that it will kill or injure wildlife, Dr. Morrison’s concludes that this is not the case. In his January 25, 2017 letter, he sets out arguments that based on the size of the proposed project, and the subsequent amount and intensity of human activity, there is nothing that can be done to eliminate or even develop meaningful on-site mitigation in the Project area for snowy plovers. He bases his conclusions on the following critical facts:

• Snowy plovers react to human disturbance, even when the source of disturbance is a considerable distance away. Studies have shown that snowy plovers require a buffer zone free of human disturbance that extends at least 100 meters from the nest site. Plovers did not acclimate to, or successfully find refuge from, human and human-related disturbance; feeding rates also declined with increased human activity. The Project site is not large enough to install effective “nest protection zones” for snowy plovers.

• The HPP divides the Project site into multiple “habitat management areas”. There are two proposed areas for nesting comprising of about 10 acres. Human access to these areas will be developed including three beach access ways, a public vista point, and two private resort vista points. Thus, plovers will be confined to two management areas that will have substantial human visitation. Based on the known intolerance of plovers to human activity within a mean distance of 80 m (262 feet), and the known distribution of plovers across the Project site, no locations within designated management areas will allow for occupancy, let alone successful nesting, by plovers.

• The HPP includes a Predator Management Plan (PMP) which acknowledges that multiple species could be responsible for predation of plovers and their nests, yet provides no specific plans on how predator management might be implemented.

Dr. Morrison concludes that the HPP and PMP are hopelessly vague with regard to all aspects of plover management. He states it is evident that the HPP and PMP will completely fail to reach the goal of retaining plovers in the Project area. Therefore, there is no doubt that “take” of the western snowy plover will occur associated with implementation and operation of the Project. (Attached is Dr. Morrison’s full letter and scientific references).

Fort Ord Dunes State ParkFort Ord Dunes State Park near California State University at Monterey Bay. (Photo: Carolyn Hinman).

Wishing You a Hesitatingly Optimistic 2017

January 2017

By Carolyn Hinman

2016 is a year many environmental activists can be proud to put down in the record books. President Obama ordered protections against drilling in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, renewable energy is projected to outpace coal as the world's major source of electricity, and rates of greenhouse gas emissions are reported to be slowing worldwide. Here on the Central Coast, the highly contested Monterey Downs project was withdrawn by the developer, and the November 8th election brought about a statewide ban on plastic bags. It is exciting to see such progress unfolding, and emotions are running high as personal investments in these steps to intervene in the crash course upon which humans have set the planet seem to be paying off.

High on any environmentalist's list of concerns is what the incoming Trump Administration will mean for the future of our Country and the world. 2016 may have been a banner year for the green movement, but we are all watching in shock and horror as the president-elect appoints oil magnates and climate change deniers to his advisory cabinet. What does 2017 hold for the health of our planet? Trump has vowed to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, to resuscitate the flagging coal industry, and to eviscerate the EPA.

Decades of hard-fought battles on the environmental front culminated in victories in 2016. Do we risk losing all of that progress now that profit-seeking special interests could be in charge? Although victories at Standing Rock over the Dakota Access Pipeline, worldwide regulations protecting our oceans, commitments by China and India to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius – all could be for naught at the bidding of this new Administration, I can't help but maintain a sliver of hope. We have come too far, and have pushed too hard to let it crumble around us. Out of adversity comes strength beyond measure, and if ever there was a time to band together and take a stand for truth and justice, it is now. Perhaps out of the new Administration's resistance to progress will grow a social and environmental justice movement the likes of which have not been seen in our lifetime. We must continue to speak up; we must refuse to accept this growing climate of hateful prejudice and targeted oppression. We must not become desensitized to the slowly boiling waters of tyranny, censorship, and willful ignorance. As we move into 2017, it is our responsibility to keep our eyes and our minds open to what is happening around us.

Our power is in our numbers and in our dedication to preserving this one precious planet upon which we live. Our power is in our truth, if we will only continue to speak it.

Sierra Club Plans to Comment on Bureau of Land Management Request for Public Review of Oil and Gas Leasing and Development on Federal Lands

January 2017

On January 5, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) Amendment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for oil and gas leasing and development in the BLM’s Central Coast Field Office, which includes Fresno, Kings, Monterey and San Benito counties for a 90-day public review and comment period.

In 2011, Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging BLM oil and gas leases in Fresno and Monterey counties, arguing that BLM had failed to consider the possibility that these leases would be fracked, and the risks that would entail. We won in 2013, with the court agreeing that BLM had broken the law, with BLM taking a voluntary remand to correct its deficient environmental analysis. That process has been delayed, because BLM's first attempt at a re-do relied on BLM's nationwide fracking rule, which is tied up in a separate lawsuit (we're defending the rule).

Sierra Club is planning to submit comments by the close of the BLM comment period on April 6, 2017 which will be posted on the website.

Ventana Chapter Update

December 2016

Oak BranchAcres of prehistoric dunes threatened by resort development in Sand City. (Ventana Chapter file photo).

The last months of 2016 brought good news on several fronts locally for the environment. November elections delivered victories from Monterey County voters to ban fracking (Measure Z), fund parkland on the Monterey Peninsula (Measure E) for the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District and improve transportation routes (Measure X) with a focus on alternative transportation options including walking and biking. Ventana Chapter endorsed these initiatives and congratulates these campaigns for their powerful grass roots efforts at reaching the voters.

In December, the developer of a proposed massive development, Monterey Downs, planned for forested hills in the back county of Fort Ord that would have replaced 40,000 oak trees with over 1200 homes, commercial space and a horse racing facility unexpectedly withdrew his application from the City of Seaside. The project, introduced nearly six years ago, was opposed early on by environmentalists but as time went by, a majority of residents of Seaside and the surrounding communities complained about the lack of real jobs, the unsustainability of one-time construction starts and the negative impacts the project would bring to the region.

It is not certain, what, if any, future development will occur on these oak-studded former Fort Ord lands. To ensure protection, the Chapter is attending workshops and submitting comments for the Oak Woodlands Protection Plan as part of the planning process now taking place for incorporation into the Fort Ord Base Reuse Plan.

The Chapter will continue to focus on coastal habitat, water and wilderness issues in 2017. Our attorney, Larry Silver and several scientists are continuing to work hard to defeat the construction of two proposed resorts in coastal dunes in Sand City. Our legal efforts over the last 20 years have so far blocked development of the Monterey Bay Shores Resort on 39 acres of beachfront property. This is a priority issue for us as the site is an important nesting area for rare coastal populations of Western snowy plover as well as federally threatened Monterey spineflower and endangered Smith’s blue butterfly.

Oak Woodlands Plan at Fort Ord

November 2016

Oak Branch

The Chapter has submitted comments regarding a proposed Oak Woodland Protection Plan for the former Fort Ord lands. Listed here are 2 opportunities for the public to participate in workshops on this plan:

Oak Woodlands Community Meetings
Community meetings will be held to discuss Oak Woodland Policy and Programs in areas slated for development in Monterey County and City of Seaside former Fort Ord lands. Learn what they are envisioning for Coast Live Oak Woodland management. Add your voice to help shape policies and programs for this important resource. Light refreshments will be served. Board Members and/or Councilmembers may appear at the meetings, but not for the purposes of decision making.

City of Seaside: November 15 | 6-8pm, Seaside Community Center at Soper Field, 220 Coe Avenue, Seaside. For more information contact:
Monterey County: November 19 | 10am-12pm, Trackview Pavilion at Laguna Seca Recreation Area, 1025 Monterey Hwy 68. For more information contact:

Sierra Club Response to US Forest Service Plans to Raise Fees in Los Padres National Forest and Beaches

Cape San Martin
Cape San Martin on the South Big Sur Coast, a spectacular sight for users of day use areas and campsites scheduled for fee increases. (Photo: Rita Dalessio).

October 2016

The United States Forest Service (USFS) is proposing to privatize 52 recreation sites in the Los Padres National Forest, including the Big Sur coast, with little opportunity for public comment. USFS intends to issue a concession campground and recreation site Special Use Permit (SUP) to a private parks management firm to oversee and manage government-owned facilities. Many of the fees charged at these sites will increase significantly (some as much as 300%) with little or no increase in services or amenities, which will have a direct socioeconomic impact on all forest users. The plan – scheduled to be approved this month – would apply to popular campgrounds, day use areas, and some trailheads in Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties.

Monterey Ranger District properties affected would include Arroyo Seco Campground (CG), Arroyo Seco Day Use Area, Bottcher’s Gap CG, Kirk Creek CG, Nacimiento CG, Plaskett Creek CG, Ponderosa CG, Mill Creek Day Use Area, Sand Dollar Day Use Area, Willow Creek Day Use Area, and Pfeiffer Beach Day Use Area, Memorial CG, Escondido CG, White Oaks CG, and China Camp CG.

Several Sierra Club Central Coast Chapters are partnering with a variety of outdoor organizations including Los Padres ForestWatch to review and respond to the proposal. (See PDF letter here).

Loss and Renewal

September 2016

By Mary Pendlay

All of us have been affected by the Soberanes and Chimney fires, either personally or as a neighbor. We’ve seen pictures, read the facts, and felt helpless, but there is a power in Nature to renew itself which we may not see at first. Very close to us, at the top of Jacks Peak in Monterey, stretching 1,096 feet high, is a flat meadow and part of the Skyline Trail which borders an open area filled with baby Monterey pine trees. Just a few more inches of rain last year, and four, six and eight inches of small, healthy, immature pines bask in the sun. Despite the terrible drought of five years, which has decreased the release of pollen, this hardy species is surviving and producing a new generation.

Similarly, the fires ravaging Glacier National Park for the last 15 years have left tall black spikes all around the western forests as evidence of the damage. But below these spikes are miles of new trees which blanket the hillsides; strong new cypress, Western and white pines, and so many more species. Nature is our keystone to a healthy environment and regeneration of ecosystems we need. We can take heart and trust in slow but steady progress and renewal.

Agricultural Land
Monterey Pine seedlings rebound at Jacks Peak Park after last season's rain. (photo: Mary Pendlay).

Glacier Park regrowth
Regrowth at Glacier National Park after 15 years of fires include robust carpets of purple penstemon. (Photo: Mary Pendlay).

Sierra Club Files a Notice of Intent to Sue for Violations of the Endangered Species Act from Construction and Operation of the Monterey Bay Shores Development

Snowy Plover Chick
Western snowy plover chicks are severely threatened by proposed Monterey Bay Shores Resort in Sand City dunes.

August 2016

Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, National Audubon Society and Monterey Audubon Society filed a 60-day Notice of Intent on July 27 that Security National Guarantee (SNG) will violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and its implementing regulations by moving forward with constructing and operating the Monterey Bay Shores Resort (Project), which will result in “harassment, harm, injury and mortality” of western snowy plovers on and adjacent to the Project site.

The Project calls for a 1.34 million foot mixed-use resort and residential units to be constructed in 39 acres of beach front dunes in Sand City. This development will entail approximately 680,000 cubic yards of grading, utility extensions and infrastructure, including roads, parking lots, signs, and lights. The chief concern is the long-term presence of breeding western snowy plover on this site.

The Notice states that this project will violate the “take” provisions of the ESA and if SNG continues to move forward with construction of the Project as it is currently proposed, these conservation groups intend to commence a civil action against SNG for violations of section 9 of the ESA.

The Endangered Species Act affords broad protections to threatened and endangered species. The ESA is the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species ever enacted by any nation. Its fundamental purposes are “to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved [and] to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species.” (To view a copy of the Notice of Intent, click here)

Dear Ventana Chapter members,
Here is Carolyn Hinman's third blog about projects and updates in the Environmental Studies program at CSUMB for our website.

Food Waste in America: Looking for Solutions

By Carolyn Hinman
August 2016

Last month I delved into the realm of food waste in America. I illuminated the crisis of the disparity between the overwhelming surplus of food finding its way into landfills, and the staggering number of US citizens who go hungry each year. The problem is undeniable, but is there a viable solution on the table?

Despite the obvious peril wrought by the enormity of the current food waste situation, relatively little is being done in America to combat its effects, though recent media attention on the subject seems to have served as a catalyst for action. The United States ranks at the top of the list in terms of magnitude of food waste, but our policy makers are skirting the issue. No serious legislation yet exists to prevent it. Some European lawmakers are addressing the crisis head on, however, and are passing laws to mitigate the devastating impact of food waste on the environment, the economy, and society... [more]

Carmel River near Garland Park in Carmel Valley. The upcoming transfer of Rancho Cañada golf course to parkland will include a return to the River of 300 acre feet of water. (Photo: John Dalessio, Board member Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District).

Carmel River

Dear Ventana Chapter members,
Here is Carolyn Hinman’s second blog about projects and updates in the Environmental Studies program at CSUMB for our website.

Food Waste in America: Why it Matters and What You Can Do About It

By Carolyn Hinman
July 2016

We are all guilty of it. That package of hummus shoved back behind the milk is now sprouting fuzzy green and blue disks of mold. The bunch of kale purchased last week at the local farmer’s market is sitting sad, wilted, and slimy in the back of the crisper drawer. The noblest intentions of making banana bread from that brown and spotty bunch on the counter are now just a bundle of black mush-filled regrets. From our shopping bags to our counter tops to our trash cans, the American food waste dilemma is a story being written every time we venture to the grocery store.

If you think that the occasional discarded grocery store purchase cannot possibly have much of an impact, consider the USDA’s 2014 report showing that at least 31% of the food produced and purchased in the United States is wasted on a yearly basis. Some estimates are as high as 40% or more. This massive food loss represents missed nutritional and economic opportunities for a population experiencing widespread poverty and financial insecurity. In 2010, of the 430 billion pounds of food available for consumption in America, 133 billion pounds did not make it to the table. 10% of this loss occurred in grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail locations, and 21% was food discarded by the consumer after purchasing it. Meat, including poultry and fish, dairy products, fruits and vegetables accounted for the majority of this loss, as these products have a shorter shelf-life than more processed goods. It is estimated that a combined $161.6 billion was lost as a result of food waste at the consumer and retail level, and an equivalent of 1,249 calories per person per day went uneaten. These levels of waste are unacceptable when there are children going without meals on the weekends, and families who cannot afford their weekly groceries... [more]

Elkhorn Slough The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, a 1700-acre Reserve of tidal creeks, freshwater marshes and verdant oak woodlands at Sunset. (Photo: Paul Zaretsky, courtesy of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation).

Crude Oil Train Rail Spur Extension Project Closer to Approval by San Luis Obispo Planning Commission

May 2016

Sierra Club and other environmental groups locally and statewide oppose a Phillips 66 proposal which could bring mile-long oil trains carrying millions of gallons of Canadian tar sands crude from San Francisco through Monterey County near Elkhorn Slough to San Luis Obispo County.

On May 16, a motion at the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission to deny the project failed 3-2 signaling the possibility of approval at the next hearing scheduled for September 22. At that time, the commission will consider the terms of approval for the project, including a requirement that it be limited to three trains a week instead of the currently proposed 5 times a week each carrying 2.2 million gallons of crude oil.

The FEIR describes the project as a 6,915-foot eastward extension of an existing rail spur off of the Union Pacific rail mainline, a crude oil railcar unloading facility, pipeline, emergency access road, and other support infrastructure at the Phillips 66 Nipomo Mesa Refinery. The oil company says it needs the rail spur to keep the refinery and its 200 jobs operating.

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors led by Supervisor John Phillips whose district includes Elkhorn Slough voted to direct staff to write a letter to the county officials in San Luis Obispo in December opposing the Phillips 66 project. Some areas of the tracks in the Slough are underwater during part of the year and could create hazardous conditions.

With a 40-fold increase in crude-by-rail since 2008, derailments and spills have also been on a steep rise. In 2013 more crude oil was spilled from trains than in the previous four decades combined, and in 2014 there were more oil train accidents than in any other year on record.

A final decision by the Planning Commission in favor of the project will almost certainly be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. There have been hundreds of letters and public comments opposing it including Sierra Club.

Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District to Receive 140 Acres of New Parkland in Carmel

May 2016

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) recently announced it will buy 140 acres of Rancho Cañada’s East Golf Course, located on Carmel Valley Road in Carmel, California. TPL will turn this property over to the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District (MPRPD) to own and manage, in the future. One of the highlights of this transaction is that the vast majority of the 300-acre feet of water used annually by the golf course and for clubhouse events will no longer be pumped from the adjacent Carmel River. The River is currently in an over-drafted state and under a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) issued by the State of California. Retiring the use of this water for golf course operations will help the health of the Carmel River, its resident steelhead and surrounding habitat for California red-legged frog and other wildlife.

MPRPD Board members and staff are reviewing site conditions and existing documents related to this site, and are initiating a public planning process for this new acquisition. Suggestions include providing much needed parking and access for nearby 4,700-acre Palo Corona Regional Park, linking other parklands in the region including Jacks Peak and the hundreds of thousands of acres in the Ventana Wilderness, and providing wheelchair access to the Carmel River and its soon to be restored native habitat using existing golf cart paths.

The large clubhouse which currently seats 400 could be converted to administrative offices, classrooms and public meeting spaces for the Park District and conservation-minded groups.

Rafael Payan, General Manager for MPRPD said, "I am struck by the number of private, public and nonprofit partners, including the Trust for Public Land, the Santa Lucia Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, the Hatton and Lombardo families whom have owned this beautiful land for decades, and others working together and combining resources to complete this deal to permanently protect one of the most treasured elements of our region’s natural environmental heritage."

Payan adds, "This landmark conservation and restoration effort will permanently restore Carmel River flows from Rancho Cañada through the estuary to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, safeguarding this critical landscape and roughly two miles upstream from the mouth of the river at the Pacific Ocean. The land will continue to serve as habitat for steelhead and other fish, birds and wildlife and remain an integral piece of the Valley’s landscape. In addition, badly needed water will be returned to the Carmel River."

Garrapata State Park
(Photo: Steve Zmak)

An Afternoon on the Edge of the World

April 2016

How lucky we are to live in a place with such incredible natural scenery is not lost on me. Last week I spent the afternoon with another photographer perched on an isolated point where the earth and sea and sky collide at Garrapata State Park. This is my local cathedral, one of many but my favorite these days. This is where I can both escape the daily grind and recharge to go back in. As fortunate as we are to have places like this, we are equally fortunate to have a long legacy of conservation to keep the Big Sur and Monterey Bay coast protected so EVERYONE can continue to enjoy it for generations.

for more views of Garrapata State Beach...

Ventana Chapter Submits Comments to the California Coastal Commission Challenging the Revised HPP for Monterey Bay Shores Resort

March 2016

The Chapter retained environmentalist biologist Scott Cashen to submit comments (PDF of letter here) to the CCC regarding the revised Habitat Protection Plan (HPP) dated Nov. 11, 2015 prepared by the developer, Security National Guarantee (SNG) for Monterey Bay Shores Resort planned for 39 acres of beachfront dunes in Sand City. The Project calls for a 1.34 million foot mixed-use resort which entails approximately 680,000 cubic yards of grading, 20.37 acres of "habitat restoration," utility extensions and infrastructure, and related development (e.g., roads, parking lots, signs, and lights). The chief concern is the long-term presence of breeding western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) on this site.

The revised HPP claims it contains measures for the protection, preservation, and recovery of the western snowy plover but we do not agree. The HPP says the proposed Project would not: (1) significantly impact plover habitat, (2) impair essential behavioral patterns (including breeding, feeding or sheltering), or (3) cause take or harm of any snowy plovers. Scott Cashen’s 69-page letter explains in what ways these claims and conclusions are unfounded and contradict existing evidence. Indeed, the revised HPP provides no evidence that a project similar to what SNG proposes has ever been built without having a significant impact on the western snowy plover. To the contrary, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that projects similar to what the SNG proposes have had numerous direct and indirect impacts on the species.

The basis for Cashen’s detailed comments are concerns cited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("USFWS") in a letter dated April 7, 2014 and submitted to the CCC regarding the Project impacts on the western snowy plover. A brief description of concerns still unresolved in the revised HPP are: 1. Inadequate or misrepresentations of plover breeding and nesting activities on the site, 2. The 11 "biological objectives" listed in the revised HPP provide only superficial benefits to the snowy plover, 3. Insufficient seasonal restrictions and other measures to ensure "nesting protection zones", 4. Lack of details for a predator prevention plan, 5. Inadequate discussion of success criterion for western snowy plover and 6. Negative impacts likely to occur in critical habitat from ongoing existence of the Project.

Seaside City Council this month again approved extending an exclusive negotiating agreement with Monterey Downs because the final environmental impact report has yet to be released. This photo shows the pristine coastal oak forest that would be destroyed by this massive project which includes plans for a horse track, 1280 housing units and commercial development. (Photograph: Steve Zmak).

Fort Ord

West Coast Focus, a new local TV talk show on photography, debuts March 10th on Access Monterey Peninsula

March 2016

Elkhorn Slough

Ventana Chapter activist and contributing photographer Steve Zmak will begin hosting a new TV talk show produced by Access Monterey Peninsula. The monthly show will feature local photographers and at least 100 photos per one-hour episode.

The first episode airs March 10 at 12 noon, repeats at 7 pm and Friday, March 11 at 1 pm on AMP Comcast Ch. 27, ATT Ch. 99 (Monterey, AMP2) and Broadcast Ch. 19.4. it can be streamed on AMP 2.

Entitled West Coast Focus, the show will highlight Monterey County and the West as a cultural benefit for Monterey County residents. A panel of local photographers will discuss the legacy, contemporaries and the future of photography through the exploration of various designated topics. Subject matter will include: Photography and Social Action, Underwater Explorers, Local Photo Clubs and more.

Viewers will learn about photography's rich heritage here in Monterey County which started nearly a century ago with Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. For more information, contact Steve Zmak at: or check out the attached PDF: WCF_Press_Release-New_TV_Show_Airs_March_10.pdf

California Coastal Commission at Risk of Developer Takeover

January 2016

We urgently need your help!

Elkhorn Slough Big Sur on the California coast. A developers' coup aimed at Coastal Commission staff now threatens all coastal property as they seek to weaken protections for wildlife, plants and public access. (Photo-Steve Zmak).

Sierra Club and over 50 other groups are protesting the announcement that the California Coastal Commission (CCC) has scheduled a hearing on whether to fire its long-term Executive Director, Charles Lester, at the February 10 meeting in Morro Bay. Newspapers throughout the state are reporting this as a power grab by the four Governor Brown appointees to the CCC who favor wealthy development interests and seek to undermine the very heart of the Coastal Act: public access and enjoyment of the California Coast.

We have sent a letter demanding that the Coastal Commission reject the proposal to oust Lester, warning that his removal will weaken the state’s efforts to protect the coast for future generations.

In 1972, by passing the strongly worded California Coastal Initiative, voters made it clear that they wanted California's beaches to remain open to everyone. Governor Brown signed the California Coastal Act in 1976, providing the law that governs the decisions of the CCC.

The CCC exercises regulatory and planning authority over 1,100 miles of California coastline called the coastal zone, which also extends three miles out to sea. Their mission, as stated on the commission’s website, is to: "Protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations."

Throughout its 40-plus year history, pro-development interests and their lobbyists have sought to weaken the CCC. Now, they have powerful allies on the Commission to enable them to achieve their goal. And the stakes are high. As home prices remain astronomical in coastal enclaves, proposed housing projects, including one pending near Newport Beach and slated for 1,400 homes worth more than a million dollars each, can make billions for well-funded developers with political connections in Sacramento.

We need you to take action today! Governor Brown’s four appointees to the CCC serve at his pleasure, and can be replaced at will by him. So, Governor Brown has the power to call off the drive to dump the executive director. But he needs to hear from you before he’ll consider exercising that power.

So, please take action before it’s too late. Click on this link right now to learn more, and stop the CCC from being hijacked for profit:

Thank you!

Land and Water Conservation Funds Given 3-year Extension in Congress

January 2016

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), first authorized by Congress and signed into law on September 3, 1964 assures an annual stream of funding of up to $900 million annually from offshore drilling revenues (not from taxpayers) for acquiring private lands for priority public uses. The LWCF has been the principal funding for federal land acquisition for outdoor recreation by the four federal agencies—the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Forest Service (FS).

Sierra Club has been following the reauthorization of these funds (bill HR 1814) as they were scheduled to expire last September. (Initially authorized for 25 years, the Fund was reauthorized in 1989 for another 25 years.) Instead of the permanent reauthorization we were promoting, this 114th Congress let the venerable 50-year-plus Fund expire for the first time in its history.

At the end of the first session of this Congress in December, in the negotiations for passage of the Omnibus Appropriations bill -- considered a "must-pass" measure to let the federal government operate for another year -- our champions in Congress managed to get a three-year extension of LWCF included in that measure.

This gives us and our champions time to keep fighting for our goal of Permanent Reauthorization. Without the steadfast support of 40 members of the California delegation -- the largest block of cosponsors for HR 1814 -- it might have been much harder, if not impossible to get the extension.

We ended the year with 200 cosponsors of HR 1814 nationally (plus its champions) and 44 Senators who are in support. 200 is a good number, but it is not enough. For the first part of 2016, the Sierra Club National task force will seek to get to the decisive goal of 218 cosponsors.
(Source: Vicky Hoover, National Task Force Chair).

Sierra Club and Other Groups File Lawsuit against California Oil Regulators

December 2015

Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and the Association of Irritated Residents sued the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) last month for issuing an enormous number of new drilling permits in Kern County without analyzing risk to air quality, water supplies and public health as required under California law. The suit filed by Earthjustice, states in its opening brief: "The California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources ("DOGGR") has consistently failed to live up to its obligations pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"), by permitting oil drilling projects in the South Belridge Oil Field without any kind of environmental review. This permitting is occurring as if CEQA never became law in 1970."

DOGGR has issued at least 214 permits since July 2014 to Aera Energy to drill new oil and gas wells in the South Belridge Oil Field in Kern County. Fracking techniques will be used on a majority of these wells. DOGGR regularly fails to conduct legally required reviews for oil and gas drilling projects in Kern County, the lawsuit explains.

Aera Energy intends to frack at least 144 of the newly permitted wells, which requires tapping already strained water resources. Steam injection and water flooding techniques may also be used on other newly permitted wells. With water supplies already depleted by the ongoing drought, the lawsuit notes that DOGGR erred by not studying whether the local water supply could sustainably provide water for well drilling and water-intensive extraction practices like fracking and steam injection. (Source: Earthjustice).

Some of the 950 brush-eating goats offloaded onto Fort Ord National Monument on October 23. Thanks to Sierra Club Service Trip participants, CSUMB students Jesse Reyes, Kyle Iturraran and Monterey High School student Ryan Breen for protecting the oak trees with fencing before the hungry goats arrived. (Photograph: Bruce Delgado).
Goats in Fort Ord

Ventana Chapter Submits 2 Sets of Expert Comments on Biological Resources and Snowy Plover Habitat for Monterey Bay Shores Resort Dunes Restoration Plan

Snowy Plover Threatened Western snowy plover in breeding plumage at proposed Project site in Sand City. (Photograph: Steve Zmak)

August 2015

The Dunes Restoration Plan for the Monterey Shores Resort proposed for 39 acres of rare beachfront dune habitat in Sand City has been released and Ventana Chapter has retained experts to submit comments. The developer, Security National Guaranty (SNG) is proposing construction of a 1.3 million square foot mixed-use residential and visitor-serving development in undeveloped dunes seaward of Highway One adjacent to Fort Ord Dunes State Park in Sand City.

These undisturbed beachfront dunes contain several threatened and endangered species and have been monitored for nesting coastal populations of western snowy plover since 1999. Ventana Chapter attorney Larry Silver has retained senior biologist Scott Cashen to provide comments on the western snowy plover. Dr. Cashen (Dr. Cashen letter here) focuses on inadequacies in the Plan which proposes measures that will not offset the Project's contribution to habitat loss. Coastal ecologist Peter Baye's (Dr. Baye letter here) report highlights coastal dune ecology and management with an emphasis on Smith's blue butterfly, Monterey spineflower and western snowy plover.

Ventana Chapter Submits Expert Comments on Biological Resources for Seaside Monterey Downs DEIR

June 2015

Ventana Chapter retained expert coastal ecologist Peter Baye, Ph.D. to submit comments on the biological resources in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the proposed horse racing track and housing development on the former Fort Ord military base. The Applicant seeks a project which proposes to construct Monterey Downs, a racetrack and other equestrian use facility, 1280 dwelling units (detached single-family and multi-family), a mix of commercial, office and hotel uses and more.

Dr. Baye comments address 5 deficiencies in the DEIR including: 1. The project description's failure to correctly identify the environmental setting of the project site and vicinity as a stabilized ancient dune system or paleodune. This is a significant omission because of the environmental importance and very limited geographic distribution of this ancient geomorphic feature in California, and its association with relict endemic species. Paleodunes include distinctive variations of the following vegetation types: coastal prairie (grassland), maritime chaparral, seasonal and perennial freshwater marshes, and oak woodlands.

2. The DEIR fails to assess impacts to wetlands habitats and fails to provide minimal survey information regarding the presence, extent, or distribution of wetland habitats. No information is provided regarding the areas surveyed, the dates of surveys, the rainfall year(s), or the qualifications (wetlands expertise) of the observers. 3. Special-status plant species impact criteria are invalid and unsound in terms of biological or regulatory meaning and the DEIR provides inadequate biological analysis of the number, size, viability, and distribution of special-status plant species populations.

Deficiencies 4. and 5. relate to the fact that the project would have significant and unmitigated impacts on California tiger salamander and two important vegetation types, oak woodlands and riparian woodlands. For more information and a full description of these biological concerns see Dr. Baye's letter. (Attached PDF here).


Poison Oak conserving energy Poison oak conserving energy (Photograph: Mary Pendlay)

Indian Soap Plant in bloom Soap plant in bloom. (Photograph Mary Pendlay)

What to Look For Now in Jacks Peak Park

June 2015

By Mary Pendlay

This time of year at Jacks Peak Park reflects the contrast between the north and south-facing slopes. At its peak, the gradual slope of 1,096 feet is easy to traverse, to walk and enjoy the natural plants and wildlife. This year, after many dry seasons, the differences between north and south slopes are dramatic. The poison oak, safely removed from the trail, is very apparent on the northern slope where it's cooler. The red leaves are already appearing because the roots lack moisture and know that it's time to conserve, like a deciduous tree that turns color. To see red leaves so early in the year is lovely, but a sign that the plant is distressed. Not to worry, poison oak is tough, but not tough enough to grow on the southern slopes where it's really warm from the wind currents coming up from Carmel Valley. Far from this heat, the Indian soap plant is ready to bloom, and it is a survivor, with a beautiful flower. This time of year, there are numerous flower stalks blooming in the warm afternoon sun even as the leaves begin to wither. Appearing mostly in shade areas, the pine and oak trees provide enough shade for the soap plant's bulb to reproduce every year. The Rumsien/Ohlone Indians used this plant like the ceanothus flower, as a cleanser. Jacks Peak Park reveals contrasted environments because its Monterey Pine forest is central to our area, which can be dramatic.

San Jose Creek loop hike Stunning views along the trail on the San Jose Creek Loop hike in Carmel in May.




a hike!

Wild Rose Lovely wild rose near San Jose Creek.

The flowers are still blooming and Chapter hike leaders want you to join in the fun!

These are photos taken by leader Burkhard Seidhofff from a new area in the San Jose Creek Loop in Carmel we did in May. Check out the outings schedule with more hikes through June 30.

Monterey Bay Shores Resort Hearing at the California Coastal Commission

May 2015

Snowy Plover Western snowy plover nesting at the SNG site in Sand City. (Photograph: Steve Zmak).

Attorney Larry Silver represented Sierra Club Ventana Chapter at the California Coastal Commission (CCC) hearing in Santa Barbara on May 15 regarding the status of ongoing discussions between the developer Security National Guarantee (SNG) and CCC staff. SNG is proposing construction of a 1.3 million square foot mixed-use residential and visitor-serving development in undeveloped dunes seaward of Highway One between Fort Ord Dunes State Park and Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District's Eolian Dune Preserve in Sand City. These undisturbed beachfront dunes contain several threatened and endangered species and have been monitored for nesting coastal populations of western snowy plover since 1999. Attached (here) is a photo showing the locations of 5 nests on the site on May 1 showing no measures in place to protect the nests from trampling and at least three have now been lost.

Still unresolved are about six areas of "Special Conditions" for the Project including lighting, signage, height limits, a resort pathway layout that interferes with snowy plover habitat, perimeter fencing, manipulated dune heights and dune restoration plans, public access and other issues. After nearly an hour of testimony from CCC staff, our attorney, the developer and Commissioners, the Board voted to have staff continue discussions with SNG and bring the matter back to the CCC later this year.

The Chapter also submitted a letter describing legally required conditions for protection of species such as Smith’s blue butterfly and snowy plover. The letter included an addendum with expert findings from environmental biologist Scott Cashen describing a monitoring and maintenance plan, a reporting and contingency program and other federal requirements for protection of western snowy plover. (PDF of the letter is attached).

Sierra Club, Other Groups File Federal Lawsuit to Curb Unsafe Oil Trains

May 2015

Seven environmental groups including Sierra Club filed a lawsuit on May 14 in Washington DC challenging safety rules issued this month for trains carrying oil, arguing that the regulations are too weak to protect the public.

The groups said the new rules would allow the industry to continue to use "unsafe tank cars" for up to 10 years. They also said the rules failed to set adequate speed limits for oil trains.

The United States and Canada issued the safety standards in response to a string of explosive accidents that have accompanied a surge in crude-by-rail shipments. Because of a 40-fold increase in crude-by-rail transport since 2008, derailments and spills have been on a steep rise. In 2013 more crude oil was spilled from trains than in the previous four decades combined, and in 2014 there were more oil train accidents than in any other year on record.

In their filing, the groups asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to force the Transportation Department to reconsider the "unduly long phaseout period" for these tank cars, as well as the speed limit and public notification requirements in the rule.

Oil trains are a hot issue locally as there has been a state-wide firestorm of protest over Phillips 66’s proposal to transport Canadian crude oil from Richmond through several counties including Monterey County to an oil refinery in San Luis Obispo.

Earthjustice, Sierra Club and Center of Biological Diversity
File Lawsuit to Halt California Oil Injection Practices

May 2015

On May 7, Earthjustice, on behalf of Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court to halt the oil industry from injecting fracking waste water into protected aquifers.

California Department of Conservation has allowed construction of at least 2,500 wells that inject fluids which include oil well waste directly into protected aquifers. Half of these permits were issued in the last four years. These permits have been issued despite growing warnings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) since 2011 that state regulators were out of compliance with federal laws meant to protect underground drinking-water stores from oilfield contamination.

The response from the Brown Administration's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has been to establish "emergency" regulations that allow the injection wells to continue until at least 2017.

Oil wastewater in California typically contains high levels of cancer-causing benzene, according to testing done by DOGGR and oil companies. Wastewater can also include fracking fluid, which often contains chemicals that are linked to serious human health problems, including cancer and birth defects.

"Existing state and federal laws rightly recognize that groundwater is a precious commodity, and for decades, the law has protected both the aquifers already in use as well as those that might come into future use," said Nathan Matthews of Sierra Club. "DOGGR's emergency rule turns legal tradition on its head and gives the oil and gas industry free rein to contaminate California's aquifers prior to determining whether the ground water will be needed in the future."

Sierra Club California is the sponsoring chapter for the Club's role in the suit. (Source: Sierra Club California)

Monterey Downs This aerial photo shows the vast oak woodlands that would be wiped out to accommodate this enormous development. Why destroy the natural gateway to the National Monument when so much of the urban area of Fort Ord remains dilapidated and condemned? (Photo and graphics by Steve Zmak) Click for full sized image.

Seaside Releases Monterey Downs Horse Track and Housing Project DEIR

April 2015

The City of Seaside in Monterey County has released the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for a proposed horse racing track and housing development on the former Fort Ord military base. Ventana Chapter has retained coastal ecologist Dr. Peter Baye to review biological resources in the document and to prepare comments prior to the deadline of June 19. Sierra Club has been following development at Fort Ord since the 1990's when we sued on deficiencies in the Environmental Impact Report and reached a settlement agreement. Since then, we have several times had to retain attorneys to defend our agreement in order to keep environmental controls in place.

The Applicant seeks a project which proposes to construct Monterey Downs, a racetrack and other equestrian use facility, 1280 dwelling units (detached single-family and multi-family), a mix of commercial, office and hotel uses and more. The City of Seaside has circulated a document describing the project as likely to have significant impacts to aesthetics, air quality, loss of coast live oak and landmark coast live oak (some estimate a loss of over 40,000 trees), greenhouse gas emissions, increased traffic and dwindling water supplies. The documents can be viewed on the City website at:

Plastic Bag Ban Threatened by the Plastic Industry Trade

February 2015

Senate Bill 270, calling for a ban on the use of handled plastic bags in grocery stores, food marts and convenience stores, was signed last September by California Governor Jerry Brown. This ban, long supported by Sierra Club required an eight year effort to get passed and goes into effect this summer for grocery stores and in the summer of 2016 for convenience stores. Its immediate effect will be that soon shoppers will be encouraged even more than before to use re-useable bags. To celebrate the implementation of the bag ban, Ventana Chapter has ordered hundreds of cotton canvas bags to distribute to members and the community to replace plastic bags.

The bill's long-term effect will be reduced trash along roadways and in cities, a drop in plastic pollution in waterways and oceans and one less everyday product that encourages ours to be a throwaway culture.

Sounds great, right? Yes, but unfortunately, there is opposition from the plastic bag industry which raised hundreds of thousands of signatures to seek to overturn the new law through referendum on the 2016 ballot. This petition was pushed by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a group that's part of the plastics industry trade association called SPI. Both groups are based in Washington, DC. Both groups represent plastic bag manufacturers based outside of California who are apparently offended by Californians' desire to live in a place that is not polluted with plastic bags.

Remember, this bill establishing the plastic bag ban was not created on a whim. It was the result of many years of work and had been preceded by other ban bills that failed. The bill had also been preceded by adoption of local plastic bag bans in more than 100 California cities.

So now we have a situation that we have seen before in California. State lawmakers create policies that protect the environment and have broad support. Then out-of-state special interests move in and try to stop the policies from taking hold.

The plastics makers who want to kill the ban bill have turned in more than the 500,000 signatures required for qualifying on the ballot. The results of the validity of the signatures will be announced in a few weeks. (Source: Sierra Club CA)

Hike to Snively's30 hikers joined Chapter Outings leader, Anneliese Suter in this photo from a trek up to Snively's Ridge in Garland Ranch on New Year's Day. Rewards included coffee and cake (Kaffee und Kuchen) with whipped cream at Anneliese's home.
( Photographer: Clay Ramsay from Washington D.C.)

Ventana Chapter Opposes Ferrini Ranch project in Monterey County

November 2014

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to decide on the future of Ferrini Ranch at the December 2 Board meeting. This project includes new construction of a subdivision of about 870 acres into 185 lots of record for market rate single family homes on Highway 68 near Toro Park in Salinas. Also proposed is future development of winery related uses that would result in the removal of up to 921 protected Oak Trees and a Use Permit for development on slopes exceeding 30 percent.

The Chapter has submitted a letter opposing the project on the grounds that it is too large, would create urban sprawl and thus contribute to greenhouse gas emissions from excess single vehicle use. Traffic studies have shown that the project will exacerbate the current F rating for the highly congested Highway 68 corridor. Furthermore, we believe this project is not needed as there are already 10,000 residential units approved but not yet constructed in the County, it would cause negative impacts to biological resources including species of special concern on site that cannot be mitigated and it would require water from the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin that has been over drafted for years. (Attached is our letter to the BOS as a PDF).

Carmel Valley artist, Paola Berthoin gives a painting demonstration for Chapter members at her studio and garden which has been certified as National Wildlife Federation Certified Habitat. Ms. Berthoin has spent years creating stunning artwork and a book entitled
"A Passion for Place" celebrating the Carmel River and promoting its importance as endangered habitat for dozens of species.

Kahn Ranch

Kahn Ranch

Stunning Carmel Valley and Wilderness views from a recent Chapter hike on the Manzanita Trail at Kahn Ranch. Hikers can reserve a free access permit on line at the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District website:

Chapter Appeals Sand City Approval of The Collection Resort to
the California Coastal Commission

January 2014

Snowy PloverSierra Club has concerns about the future of this federally-listed Threatened Western snowy plover with planned developments in coastal dunes at Sand City. (Photographer Brian L. Sullivan).

Ventana Chapter's attorney, Larry Silver has filed an appeal with the California Coastal Commission over the approval by the Sand City City Council of the The Collection at Monterey Bay resort planned for 26 acres in the dunes west of Highway 1. As proposed, the 340 unit resort is to be constructed in two phases: the first phase will include 105 time share units and the second phase will include a 235-unit hotel with a restaurant, conference center and wellness spa. There will be over 600 parking spaces.

The appeal says that the project as approved is inconsistent with the City's certified Local Coastal Program (LCP) policies including those related to hazard avoidance, protection of public views and natural resources, public access and adequacy of public services (traffic). The FEIR is inadequate and does not address protection of Seacliff buckwheat or Western snowy plover at the site. The project does not avoid and minimize significant impacts to important public views of the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Peninsula. And the FEIR does not adequately address traffic access and shoreline hazards at the site.

Furthermore, the development is not sited to ensure safety and dune stability over its economic lifetime as required by the City's LCP. Portions of the project would be threatened by coastal erosion over time and the FEIR does not address this high risk scenario. Also, the FEIR does not discuss the effects on public access of re-routing the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail to accommodate this project.

California Coastal Commission Chair Steven Kinsey and Commissioner Mary Shallenberger have also filed an appeal of the Collection proposed development to the CCC. They argue that "the approved project is inconsistent with provisions of Sand City's certified Local Coastal Program with respect to hazards, natural visual resources, development and public access, and is also inconsistent with the public access and recreation policies of the Coastal Act."

Make a contribution to the Sierra Club today - stop fracking in Monterey County!

Your local Sierra Club Chapter and Group needs financial support to carry on our fight to protect the spectacular coast, valleys, and mountains.

We cannot fight for endangered and at risk wildlife without money. We cannot save precious forests, mountains, watersheds, and open spaces without money.

We know that you care about the environment from your membership in the Club. Now we need your help.

Much of the work of the Club consists of non-glamorous, roll-up-your-sleeves labor. Volunteers study EIRs and make comments; activists get government staff reports and keep tabs on proposed developments and policy changes; sometimes the Club files suit.

Please help us continue to protect and preserve the Central Coast. To make a donation please send a check made out to ‘Sierra Club' to

Sierra Club Ventana Chapter, P O Box 5667, Carmel, CA 93921-5667

Contributions to the Sierra Club are not tax deductible. To send tax deductible contributions, which mainly support legal actions when they become necessary, make your check out to ‘Sierra Club Foundation' instead.


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