Friday, January 28, 2011

Quick posts on federal and state politics

© 2011 Joshua Stark

Though not environmental (because he decided not to ever try to do anything about the environment any more, apparently), my comment on the President's speech is what it was last year:

I am very disappointed, just as I was with Bush, that the first words out of his mouth weren't, "we are a nation at war", followed by a good long talk about the killing and dying we demand of many of our young men and women and their families. 

So please, all of you, whether you support or oppose our military actions overseas, please take a moment to let the President know that you want him to focus on the sacrifices he orders others to make in our names.  Their blood is on all of us.

Now, a little note about Gov. Brown's proposed budget.  Of course, just like his predecessor (we can't expect our different parties to actually govern differently, can we?), he's proposed cutting millions of dollars from our State Park system, which will end up closing some parks. 

I'm still saddened by this, but at least we know that the majority of Californians didn't want to pay for it, anyway, and so voted down last year's proposition to get unlimited entry into parks by California cars for a once-per-year fee. 

It's very difficult to come to the realization that your perspective is in such a small minority.  Most Californians, and indeed most Americans, it would seem, have decided that their own, personal economy is more important.

And this from a man who was out of work (and looking) for nearly six months, the most in my entire working life.  I still voted for that proposition while unemployed (which, for those who don't know, is defined as "no job, but actively seeking work"). 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mammoth cloning, anyone?

© 2011 Joshua Stark

Yahoo! News reports that Japanese researchers expect to clone a mammoth in the next five years. From what I know, the technology isn't far-fetched, and many mammoths are found with intact DNA... in fact, Northern Exposure had a great episode about this very thing.

Of course, the ethical question looms, right?

Well, not for me.  I'm all for seeing a live mammoth!  However, to humor folks who may feel uncomfortable at letting loose yet another charismatic megafauna on the Earth, and for those Goldblum fans out there, let's talk a little about the implications.

First, it is almost certain that mammoths, like many large mammals up to about 13,000 years ago, went extinct due to changing climatic conditions, and there is no real argument in favor of human hunting driving them out.  Since they were almost certainly killed off by non-human reasons, why should we want to bring back these extinct animals?

Enter the Pleistocene Rewilding, an idea bandied about by folks who consider the North American ecosystem to have been unbalanced by the extinction of a number of megafauna about 10,000-13,000 years ago.  As the argument goes, today's flora and fauna that had existed for millennia prior to the mass extinctions of this period now find themselves out of balance, as these large (sometimes huge) creatures moved so much biomass that their loss must have had an impact. 

A prime example is the plight of Joshua Trees in Southern California.  Up until thousands of years ago, Joshua Trees were propagated by a giant ground sloth.  Now, the only remaining Joshua Trees probably reflect the last, tiny range of the sloth during its demise.  This range's climate has changed dramatically during the last few thousand years, as a mountain range has sprung up West of it, blocking the rainfall and turning it into a much more arid habitat.  Without the animal that fed on its seeds then walking over ridges and valleys to other, potentially more hospitable climes (very likely in California), the Joshua Tree is in danger of extinction within its current realm. 

The Pleistocene Rewildling line of thinking argues that species that had been extirpated from particular regions, but who still exist, should be reintroduced to their former ranges.  Species who are extinct, however, but who are known to have had an impact on their habitats, should be replaced with similar species (see this on the American cheetah). 

But, what if species can be returned from extinction?  What impact might a herd of mammoths have on tundra habitat, on the size of wolves or bears - the numbers of bacteria and other scavengers, too - on the movement of nutrients throughout the system? 

That's the big problem as I see it.  We are focusing on the megafauna because, let's face it, they are very cool.  However, we don't know why they disappeared, and we don't know what else went with them, particular microbes, for example, that may have played a vital function in maintaining their "balance".  In fact, we don't even know what a balance means.  In any ecosystem movement, there are winners and losers (in the living sense); outside of our own impacts, who are we to pick these winners and losers?

These questions are vital before we can start to imagine a "healthy" ecosystem beyond managing our own impacts, and since our own impacts have been very large and often systems-wide, we have a lot of work to do in the present realm.  I hope the Pleistocene Rewildling efforts will, for the most part, remain shelved until we can control our own impacts, and get a better picture of the mass extinctions that took place thousands of years ago.

That said, I still want to see a mammoth.  I was an eight-year-old once.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Organic milk is better for you than conventional milk

© 2011 Joshua Stark

Research continues to buck the attempts by industrial ag. to convince people that the only difference between organic/sustainable products and their industrial doppelgangers is the price.

First, it was, of course, research that showed that pesticides were bad for the environment.  Next came studies showing that yield per acre is considerably higher with sustainable methods vs. the application of artificial fertilizers.  Studies continue to come in showing that locally grown and consumed produce often contains higher concentrations of nutrients, because they are fresher.

Now, here's another one.  U.K. researchers have discovered that organic milk is better for you than industrial ag. milk.

Go figure.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Non-environmental economics post: Unintended Consequences? Or crazy like a fox?

© 2011 Joshua Stark

A threat is an interesting thing.

When Governor Brown proposed his budget for the State of California, it included eliminating the redevelopment agencies.

I don't have an economic opinion on that proposal, because I've never waded into those waters.  However, I have noticed a number of fast-tracked redevelopment agency projects in the wake of this announcement.

Here's Fremont.

And San Jose.

And Riverside.

This recession has needed large infrastructure projects for both the short- and long-term health of our State.  It looks like Brown figured out just how to spur those projects, without resorting to any more state deficit spending.

The question for me is, did he mean it?  He's just crazy enough to have thought this through, if you ask me.  But, I really don't know.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Of Fire, Taxes, and the Ethics of Paying for Services

© 2011 Joshua Stark

Wildland firefighting finds itself among the many cuts proposed by Governor Brown, which should leave many living in SRA's (State Responsibility Areas) wondering if they should have supported the 2008 bill creating funding for just such an endeavor.

The idea of the 2008 bill was to create a fee system for people living in SRA's, those places for whom the state is responsible for fire protection, since right now, their fire protection comes from the general fund.  The bill failed passage, however, which means that Californians outside the SRA's must pay for their own fire protection from local taxes plus fire protection for folks living within the SRA's. 

The purpose of the fee was to pay for the state's fire protection, but it also came with incentives for reducing the potential for damage from fires, lowering the fee if the owner had a steel roof, for example, or had properly cleared around the home.  Enough could be done on a property, in fact, to eliminate the fee for individuals.  However, many opposed this legislation when it was proposed, especially people living in SRA's. 

If a person has spent enough time believing themselves entitled to services for little or no charge, it is difficult to then believe, when the bill comes due, that they should be the ones to pay it.  But, when hard times come, these are the types of services that get axed.

Firefighting has always been one of those sticky places in the ethical gray area around government intervention.  Fighting fires is a service to private property owners, it is not a "public good" by the economic definition (nonrivalrous and nonexcludable).  However, the devastation wrought by fires, and their potential to quickly become uncontrollable and threaten others' homes, in addition to the sense of community, honor and courage that we have built around fighting fires, has made it a public service. 

This is why, when firefighters let a fire burn somebody's house down, even if they didn't pay their fee, many of us are outraged, and many are torn.  Letting the fire burn is a perfectly libertarian thing to do, but ours is not a perfectly libertarian country, for this very reason.  It just doesn't seem right to let a person's house burn down, because we know it isn't (yeah, that's a near-tautology there, sue me, it's still true).  Yet, as a country that tries to let our services be paid by those who use them, there is still a sense that people should be responsible for paying.

One might think that those people who find themselves closer to a libertarian ethos would be more comfortable with a fee structure for people living within SRA's.  One would be wrong:  In fact, those who lean more strongly libertarian in our current political atmosphere were also the most vociferous opponents to a service fee for California's SRA's. 

It's loss, coupled with the new proposed cuts, will hit California's rural counties hardest.  The fact that California has some of the lowest property taxes in the nation, and tries to make up for it with some of the highest sales taxes, means that rural counties have an even harder time paying for services such as fire protection.

California finds itself in a financial bind.  Technically, it isn't in as bad shape as some - it doesn't have as high a debt-to-income ratio as some other states, there is no concern about defaulting on its bonds, and its economy is still well over one trillion dollars, making it the 10th largest economy on Earth - but the political fallout from a $28 billion debt is troubling for many, even during a recession, when governments should be deficit spending somewhat.  What should California cut?

Our new Governor is proposing a sweeping set of cuts, in addition to asking voters to extend temporary tax increases. 

The ethical question, then:  Who should pay for fire protection?  Should it be those who receive the service?  Or, should it be equally spread among all Californians?  If the former, then how do we find that funding?  If the latter, then will we be willing to make it fair, and have the state make payments for all firefighting throughout the state, both within and outside SRA's?  Our current system, demanding that all Californians pay an equal share to fight fires within SRA's, while exempting those living in SRA's from having to help pay for other Californians', is blatantly unfair.

During times like these, when people are angry about the state of our state's funding, those same people should be willing to step up and pay for services they receive, or else expect that they will no longer receive those services.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Water policy & Mr. McClintock... where history and power trump regional representation

© 2011 Joshua Stark

Well, I suppose this is what happens when you elect a carpet-bagger to be your representative.  Tom McClintock, in a majority party for the first time of his 25 years as a professional politician, now claims that the Auburn Dam is back in play.

It makes sense, when you think about it:  Except for the past two years, Mr. McClintock has represented Southern California his entire professional life.  His Wikipedia entry speaks volumes; I recommend it.

With his comments about the Auburn Dam, it appears that Mr. McClintock still represents his Southern California constituents, or more appropriately, the water buffaloes who pretend to represent Southern California. 

You'd think that a politician who has made his career about shrinking government and lowering taxes wouldn't want a multi-billion dollar federal land-grab in his own district.  But, if you read that Wikipedia entry up there, it makes perfect sense.  It's all he's ever known.

For example, I gained more experience in the private sector than Mr. McClintock at my last job... which lasted 16 months.

Of course we all knew he would bring up the dam again, though, don't we?  But, it's still hard to accept that a small-government Republican would be willing to flood a huge part of his own district to protect a downstream Democrat's, and do it by spending billions of federal tax dollars and potentially enacting eminent domain. 

It's a strange world in which we live.

The flood protection from a new dam on that river is unneeded.  And I live right in that river's path, downstream.  What is needed is more appropriate storage where the river wants to go, in the Delta.  The "protection" claim is a sham.

For a thoughtful counter to the Auburn Dam, please read "Nature Noir", by Jordan Fisher Smith.  Unlike Mr. McClintock, Mr. Smith worked for years in the 3rd District - 14 - and has written an amazing, powerful book about his time as a park ranger in the very canyon this proposed dam would flood and destroy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On ethics: hunters vs. nonhunters

© 2011 Joshua Stark

Phillip over at the Hog Blog has an interesting piece on the idea of hunters who purport to hunt for ethical reasons quite possibly creating a false dichotomy or a subtext of superiority over those who do not hunt. 

He specifically points me out (in amazing company), though he does so in a nice way.

It's a great read, I highly recommend it (he writes circles around me, which isn't fair, so keep that in mind).

Basically, Phillip thinks that we may be creating a "false dichotomy" in claiming that our hunting has an ethical component to it.  I've way oversimplified his article (read it, he makes more sense and includes more nuance), but that is the gist as I see it.  For example, Phillip writes,

"Hunters... say that they accept the role of predator, and by this acceptance they feel a critical connection.  By the blood on their hands, they have taken responsibility for the death of the animal and become active participants in the primal cycle of life and death. This provides a deeper understanding of the natural world and environment.  With this sense of connection comes a suggestion of moral superiority."

I feel that comment all the way up to the "moral superiority" claim, but that is only because I think there are real distinctions among ethically preferable actions, feelings of moral superiority, and expressions of profound connections and feelings that relate to human nature.

We all make choices based on ethics; we all take ethically preferable actions.  We don't, for example, actually physically accost the person who cut us off on the interstate.  We help our neighbors and friends.  Many people give to charities.  All of these actions are ethical choices, they are, at their most basic, sets of "should" or "ought" statements that we have answered. 

Further, we all make ethical claims on other people.  Here in the U.S., our general public ethos has a strong libertarian bent, and so it is often hidden from view, but every time a person says that a person has a right to do something, that person is making an ethical claim.  For example, Americans are often incensed when a person is shouted down, or not allowed to speak at all.  We say, "hey, he has the right to say his piece, even if it's ridiculously stupid or even mean."  Effectively, we are telling the bully to shut up and let the other guy speak, and this is an ethical claim we place on the bully. 

To me, anyway, this is different from claiming moral superiority.  Moral superiority implies a personal, patriarchal or condescending superiority lorded over others.  If we were to make all ethical decisions equal to a sense of moral superiority, and therefore try to avoid it (an ethical claim, by the way, to say that moral superiority should not be pursued), not one of us would be able to function in society. 

Phillip is concerned that hunters may alienate non-hunters, and give anti-hunters more ammunition, by making our ethical preferences clear, because it may be perceived as moral superiority.  He is worried that we hunters who talk about our ethical reasons for hunting may come off as evangelical blowhards who, instead of encouraging more people to hunt and support hunting, turn non-hunters off from the whole shebang.  And he has a point, but only to a point. 

There is a dichotomy between hunters and anti-hunters, and it is an ethical dichotomy.  No matter how hunters act, anti-hunters have decided that all hunting is ethically wrong, and they will always think that is so, as a group (which is why they label themselves "anti-hunting").

The public's decision-making power determines all other actions, and many people make their decisions based on ethics.  To pretend that hunting is just another sport, like basketball, is to falsely downplay both its bloody and violent nature as well as its values to society.  Nonhunters know that hunting is bloody and violent, that it hurts animals.  If hunters do not point out hunting's values to society, there will be no counter to this set of feelings, and hunting will take even more pressure. 

Further, if hunters actively refuse to point out the ethical value of hunting, we may just as easily come off as looking "morally superior", withholding some kind of secret, as if the public isn't worthy of knowing the profound nature of hunting.  Hunters, therefore, do need to illustrate, to the public, that hunting is an ethically preferable exercise to not hunting, though, like many ethical claims, it is not for everyone in all cases and times. 

But there is something else.  Phillip is taking issue with expressing the feelings of connectedness with nature that hunting can bring.  This may not even be ethical, much less "morally superior", but it is a profound set of feelings that talk about human nature - always a sticky subject.  Truly, for the hunters I know who have been moved by the nature of hunting, I've never felt a sense of "moral superiority", but instead a desire to express the profundity, the intimacy and finality and love of hunting, that they feel.  Is there an ethical claim in there?  Perhaps.  But just as likely, there may be a sense among some that expressing something that changed a person's life and nature may be uncomfortable to consider. 

But, like I said, Phillip has a point.  There is a time and place for these arguments, and times and places where they aren't appropriate.  Obviously, judging by my traffic here, I'm still working on that one, but Holly and Tovar have their audiences down pat, so I think they understand the appropriateness of the subject.

For me, I know my writing comes off as stuffy and probably a tad haughty, but that's just the way I write.  I try to do better, but I often just let it stand.  In my defense, my conversations with nonhunters do not ever come off this way.  Most times, I get people who have always wanted to try hunting (or fishing), even among groups that are normally considered hostile toward hunting.  Even among people who don't express a desire to hunt, I've, with only one exception I can remember, never had a hostile reception to my hunting.  What I almost always experience, instead, is a conversation about the profundity of and love for nature.  So I'll keep on talking about the ethics of hunting as well as the other parts of it, too.  It's gained me some great friends, and I feel it may help, if only a little bit, in getting people to understand hunting and its value.  But, because I respect Phillip so very much, I might tone down my rhetoric in the vacuum of the internet.  Maybe.

Postscript
Phillip ends his piece with these words:  "I sometimes wonder why we can’t just say we enjoy something because we find it enjoyable", to which I respond:  Where's the blog content in that?
; )

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The future of federal climate change work

© 2011 Joshua Stark

Though I do not consider myself an expert, I have had the honor of advocating for efforts to fight climate change on-and-off for the past four years.  I do have a perspective that is not tainted by decades in the trenches, political or financial connections to powerful people with a dog in the fight, or even a personal history of traditional environmentalism, and with that in mind, and considering this is a new year with new challenges and government leadership, I'd like to offer some general suggestions for folks looking to get our governments to work fixing climate change:

1)  Don't spend a dime on getting any kind of positive climate change legislation passed in the House of Representatives

All of our House efforts need to go to supporting only the staunchest allies in climate change, and in fighting the horrific legislation that will come out of a House leadership, especially the Natural Resources Committee Chair who has specifically singled out the EPA's Supreme Court-mandated regulation of greenhouse gasses.

2)  Turn some federal energies to the EPA

For the past ___ years (fill in the blank with the number of years you've been working on climate change legislation), the federal legislature has refused to acknowledge carbon as a pollutant.  Meanwhile, due to a Supreme Court decision, the Environmental Protection Agency is mandated to regulate carbon as precisely that.  Focus all your efforts on EPA decisions about carbon.  My specific recommendation?  Look at the "cumulative impacts" condition that the EPA (and other federal agencies) must address through NEPA (the National Environmental Protection Act).  It is reasonable to assume that any government activity resulting in net carbon emissions into the atmosphere may exceed the cumulative impact threshold for carbon in the atmosphere.  At the least, this should cause the EPA to pick a number, and it may effectively eliminate Environmental Assessments (a common shortcut in NEPA) for a time, as agencies are forced to determine their carbon footprint per project.  The idea should be to get the EPA to enact actual regulatory measures.  We have frightened and imagined ourselves out of straight regulation, believing that we need a consensus in the House and Senate before we can accomplish anything.  But we can't achieve a system-wide trust in regulations unless we have regulatory agencies willing to regulate.  The environmental communities can help rebuild that trust by going to the EPA to get the ball rolling. 

Bottom line:  Don't waste time on the House and Senate.  Focus on where you have leverage.

3)  Turn the rest of your federal energies to get training from your state-level allies and advocates, to improve state and regional climate change efforts

Two regions are putting in place carbon prices and markets, and California has already set limits, determined many of its industries' carbon emissions, and begun enforcement of carbon-cutting programs.  Get on board here, and lobby and cajole other states to sign on to regional efforts.  I've been beat over the head with the "don't let the perfect get in the way of the good", and I've got one in response:  Don't let the dream of being in the room when the President signs carbon-capping legislation get in the way of actually cutting carbon emissions.  The current regional proposals are far from perfect, but if everybody were fighting on those fronts to improve them, we'd have better proposals and actions. 

It all comes down to this:  While the federal legislature fiddles, the executive has been ordered by the judiciary to regulate carbon.  Meanwhile, state and regional efforts are actually debating the numbers - tons of greenhouse gasses, allocation of allowances, etc. - that will determine the course of action in just a few months.  Many advocates who've been working on state and regional carbon regulations now have tremendous knowledge concerning actual working numbers.  The federal advocates can really learn from their knowledge and experience, and can bring extra weight to bear on getting the best possible decisions out of local and state policymakers. 

In California, for example, we have a new governor who is probably much more amenable to reading the vital economic analysis of our state's proposed carbon allowance trading program.  Considering CARB's recent decision, its staff still believes itself too vulnerable to follow the economically (and frankly, ethically) preferable action of auctioning allowances right away.  However, we probably have a Governor now who understands that this is really a carbon fee, and if we give away allowances, then we hand over fee collection to the companies who pollute the most, and this isn't right.  The environmental communities need to let the Governor know, every day, that there are better ways to cut carbon emissions, and every day spent in the House of Representatives is a day not spent in the Governor's office. 

It is time for the environmental communities to consider where the work is being accomplished, and focus our energies there.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Why does Bjorn Lomborg get paid to publish and I have to do mine for free?

© 2011 Joshua Stark

I had decided a long time ago not to do a post on Mr. Lomborg, what with my desire to stay away from popular topics...

Really, I felt (and still do) that he doesn't have much credibility concerning the things he discusses.  For years, as I'm sure you know, Mr. Lomborg was the poster boy for deniers of human-caused climate change.  Since I felt (and still do) that the science proving human-caused global warming was pretty solid, and that a paraphrase of Pascal's Wager fits nicely into the notion, I decided that this fellow didn't need any publicity I would give him.

Now, of course, he's changed his tune, and argues that we must do something about human-caused climate change.  So he's now entered the 1990's in terms of scientific advances; good for him.  But I wasn't going to spend my time on him, except that this time he tries to stray into planning, efficiency arguments, and science, and he falls so flat (without any real attacks on his claims) that I've got to clear the air. 

Mr. Lomborg, in his piece, argues that efficiency actually worsens our ability to fight climate change, and he does so by completely misrepresenting the rebound effect (where efficiency gains lead to people increasing consumption).
Fortunately, one doesn't have to do any research to debunk Mr. Lomborg's claim, as he effectively counters his own conclusions with the data he uses as example.  So without further ado, Lomborg claims, in his own words:
  From this:
"Back in the early 1970s, the average American expended roughly 70 million British thermal units per year to heat, cool, and power his or her home. Since then, of course, we have made great strides in energy efficiency. As the Washington Post recently reported, dishwashers now use 45 percent less power than they did two decades ago, and refrigerators 51 percent less. So how much energy do Americans use in their homes today? On a per capita basis, the figure is roughly what it was 40 years ago: 70 million BTUs."
  And this:
"the proportion of resources that we expend on lighting has remained virtually unchanged for the past three centuries, at about 0.72 percent of gross domestic product. As Saunders and his colleagues observe in their journal article, "This was the case in the UK in 1700, is the case in the undeveloped world not on grid electricity in modern times, and is the case for the developed world in modern times using the most advanced lighting technologies.""
  To this:
"the more efficient we get at using something, the more of it we are likely to use. Efficiency doesn't reduce consumption; it increases it."

I have one simple question for Mr. Lomborg:

Does "greater than" = "nearly equal to"?

There are more mistakes in his article... in fact, I was pretty amazed at his ability to throw together so many mistakes in such a small space.

Ultimately, readers should ask what Mr. Lomborg was attempting in his article.  His trite little ending, encouraging people to get their leaders to think up good ideas, is completely uninspired and silly, considering this is supposed to be a tremendous scientific mind at work trying to help fix climate change.  The only lesson this article illustrated to me is that aggressive exaggeration gets published, regardless of the logic, even when a person's popularity and "credibility" came from a background in science.

Perhaps he was more helpful when he pretended he didn't believe in human-caused climate change.  We look worse having him as a "cheerleader."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

California salmon

© 2011 Joshua Stark

Last week, the Fresno Bee had a very interesting article on the Sacramento/San Joaquin chinook salmon runs.  While giving some "good" news, it held out the notion that all still is not well with our Valley Kings.  Even with a couple of small mistakes, (e.g., the commercial fishery isn't the only source of all wild-caught California salmon), the story is worth the read, and the Fresno Bee needs folks to click over and support such appropriate journalism, especially considering the farmwater slant this could have taken.

The reporter brought up some very important points about reestablishing wild salmon populations, pointing out that hatchery fish stray from their home rivers at far, far higher rates than naturally spawned salmon, and giving a clear-eyed description of this year's numbers.

For their size, king salmon (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha) are remarkably short-lived creatures.  The typical fish will live 2-4 years, (hopefully) returning to its birth river to spawn and die.  Yet, these fish are often caught in rivers in the 15-40 lb. range (the record Sacramento line-caught fish was 94 lbs.); the amount of nutrients they bring deep inland from the ocean's depths every year is simply stunning. 

Sadly, equally stunning is the fact that about 90% of their wild spawning habitat has been lost behind the Sierra Nevada foothill dams of California.  Though I'm not a huge proponent of the "keystone species" concept (we usually find out that they are all keystones), the loss of California's biggest native movers of biomass (what a romantic notion, eh?) - large predators and salmonids - must have had a tremendous impact on its biodiversity as well as its total populations of wildlife, plants, fungi, etc.

Imagine:  California has the largest number of climates, biomes, plant species, etc. of all the 50 states.  And the vast majority of these evolved with salmon as a nutrient source, including habitats not directly adjacent to salmon waters, as the creatures that fed upon salmon (from grizzlies and wolves to eagles and crows to bacteria) moved throughout the land. 

As the article points out, the numbers of returning salmon are barely meeting salmon managers' hoped-for numbers, but they are meeting them.  This time the crash was largely due to poor ocean conditions.

I can attest to this reason:  Back in 2006, I worked a stint at a California State Park on the Monterey Bay.  One of my jobs was to collect sick or injured birds that washed ashore on the beach, before they hurt somebody (if you ever get the notion to play hero and save a sea bird, just remember:  cormorants go for the eyes).  That Summer, many, many older and young birds were washing ashore, starving to death: there simply wasn't the food supply that the upwelling from the trench brought every year.  The reason was that there was no upwelling, and so instead of seeing blue whales in the Bay, we saw red tides (microorganisms that thrive in warmer Monterey Bay water and suck the oxygen out of it).  This loss of food obviously hurt salmon populations, helping to decrease their numbers by 95%.

95%.

Of course, ocean conditions won't be the only culprit.  Just as botanists point out that when an oak is born, it's already got 10 things wrong with it, and though the 11th thing might kill it, but it would have survived if not for the other 10, so it is with all things.  Poor breeding, poor freshwater habitat, droughts, etc.,  may all have impacted our kings.  For example, the fact that hatchery-spawned salmon are dumber than wild-spawned ones might lead one to wonder:  Could naturally-spawned salmon have survived the poor ocean conditions at higher rates than hatchery fish?

Last year, ocean conditions were great, and the fish are coming back at slightly higher rates.  However, we are still far, far below the numbers we should expect for healthy California rivers.  The article notes that the numbers of fish returning this year are roughly double those of last year.  What is not noted is that this doubling brings the total up to what is probably about 10-15% of what we should expect in a healthy year.

If these numbers don't send a chill down your spine, I reckon little else could.

It isn't a huge leap to imagine some small, beautiful flowering plant in a valley, perhaps a fuzzy little thing with pink and yellow petals, or maybe a tall, showy number with a long stalk, gone now because it needed that extra bit of food, brought by a bear after having had its fill of fish at the stream over the ridge.  Perhaps its seeds still sit in the soil, patiently waiting that little extra help...