Drought Conditions Increase Boating Risks

With the weather warming up and school out, boating season is at full force. Unfortunately, the ongoing drought is also making boating accidents a more common occurrence. Here are some stats comparing accidents between 2013 and 2014, taken from an official warning to recreational boaters issued by the California Department of Parks and Recreation:

- Fifty-nine percent increase in collisions with fixed objects.
- Twenty-nine percent increase in groundings.
- Accidents on coastal waters increased 35 percent, while lake accidents decreased by 29 percent. (The difference, according to the Parks and Rec department, reflects "the drought-induced shift of boating recreation from inland lakes to coastal areas.")

Shallower conditions means more obstructions making their pointy and ragged selves known to the underside of boats. With little rainfall this year, boaters need to take higher levels of precaution than usual.

"As water levels drop, underwater hazards become more prevalent," said DBW's Acting Deputy Director Christopher C. Conlin. "It is critical for all boaters, inland and coastal, to plan ahead, exercise caution and make sure everyone in a boat is wearing a proper-fitting life jacket."

That point should be drilled home by this statistic: 96 percent of boating fatalities caused by drowning occurred when the victim was not wearing a life jacket. So, if you're out there, take extra care to avoid obstructions. And, for goodness sake, wear those life jackets.

Keep It Safe During Summer Hikes

On June 12th, two hikers in the San Jacinto Mountains were too fatigued to continue walking down the mountain and had to be airlifted to safety. A week later, a hiker participating in the Cactus to Clouds trail in Palm Springs called for assistance and was also airlifted out. Which means that this is probably a good time to remind everyone:

Be prepared when you're hiking.

It's summertime, folks. It's hot. Especially if, say, you're hiking in a place like Palm Springs. Make sure to bring a whole lot of water with you, no matter the level of difficulty of the hike. (My own personal favorite method of carrying water is via one of those Camelbak bladders that fits snugly in your backpack.) We're talking liters per person.

Other tips such as making sure you've detailed your route before leaving, wearing sun protection, and telling someone where you're headed are all hugely important. But, bringing enough water for you and your hiking party is rule number one, bolded, italicized, and underlined. This summer, let's try to save the airlifts for more serious occasions than just "didn't bring enough water."

Birding on the Web: New Site Helps You Identify Most Common Birds in U.S. and Canada

Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevcole/">Kevin Cole</a>/Flickr/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>

Birding will never be the same again, and it's because of your computer.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Visipedia research project have teamed up on an impressive new tool for bird-watchers and the bird-curious: a website that can identify hundreds of bird species by photo alone.

The site, called Merlin Bird Photo ID, is capable of recognizing 400 of the most commonly sighted birds in North America. Using computer vision technology, the site is currently in beta but according to Jessie Barry at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "It gets the bird right in the top three results about 90 percent of the time, and it's designed to keep improving the more people use it. That's truly amazing, considering that the computer vision community started working on the challenge of bird identification only a few years ago."

The process is simple: a user uploads a photo of a bird, enters when and where the photo was taken, draws a box around the bird and then clicks on the bill, eye, and tail to help the tool discern its characteristics.

After a few seconds, the magic happens: Merlin analyzes the pixels, matches it with millions of data points, and presents a gallery of the most likely species, including photos and song.

The tool is remarkably accurate. It correctly identified the above bird (uploaded through the site) as a Western Meadowlark, and offered a recording of its song as well as a short description of its habit and habitat.

Glacier National Park Welcomes Its 100th Million Visitor

On June 11th of this year, at just about 10 a.m., a mother and her two children from Bakersfield, California entered Glacier National Park in Montana. While the park has welcomed millions of visitors over the last 100 years (since 1911, to be specific), this trio marks something quite extraordinary for both Glacier National Park and the U.S. National Park Service in general:

The three of them represent Glacier Park's 100th million visitor.

Much of the century of stat recording was performed by hand, but rangers crunched the numbers and knew that the milestone visitor(s) would be walking through the turnstiles this month. And when they saw the Bakersfield trio, they knew they'd be worthy of the honor:

Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said, "We are celebrating 100 million visitors to Glacier National Park and more importantly we are celebrating and engaging the next generation to the park." He said, "We are pleased to celebrate this milestone with 14-year-old Pierce and 10-year-old Gretchen and their mother Becky. These kids represent the future, and upcoming stewards of Glacier National Park and other national parks, and all public lands."

To mark the occasion, the family received an assortment of gifts and gift certificates, as well as a complimentary trip to the famed Logan Pass for a picnic lunch. This is just more proof that when you enter one of our glorious National Parks, you never know what's going to happen.

California Red-Legged Frogs Are Back in Santa Monica Mountains

The Rana aurora draytonii, the California red-legged frog, is our official state amphibian. However, due in part to the presence of pesticides, pollution, and the introduction of non-native plant species, the frog is now only dispersed among three small populations throughout Los Angeles County. The numbers are so drastically low, in fact, that the frog is officially an endangered species.

Last July, biologists took hundreds of eggs and released them into the streams of the Santa Monica Mountains, the first-ever attempt to reintroduce the species into the wild. One year later, they examined the area and found that a number of frogs survived this initial ordeal. Typically one to five percent of eggs make it to adulthood; in this case, at least 15 frogs were found to be alive after their first birthday.

Recently, biologists released another hundred tadpoles that they hope will mature into adulthood. But it may be a tough road for these tiny guys, because they have their fair share of predators -- raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes, and certain birds -- out to get them. They'll also have to ward off some of their own:

Those tadpoles could face an even tougher childhood than their pioneer cousins, because juvenile and adult red-legged frogs are known to prey on the tadpoles of their own species.

It's far too early to tell if this attempt will take, but it's a good first sign. At the very least, it's a good reminder that if you do happen to see a red-legged frog, leave it alone.

Improvements Coming to Leo Carrillo State Park

After 15 long years of negotiation and planning, a series of improvements to Malibu's Leo Carrillo State Park have finally been approved.

The construction will remove two concrete low-water "Arizona Crossing" roadways and replace them with free-standing bridges. Once complete, the new bridges will not only improve access to the beach (now, the roads are occasionally closed during seasonal flooding), but also drastically help the environment of the southern California steelhead trout, an endangered species that calls the area home:

Historically, thousands of fish spawned each year throughout the streams in the Santa Monica Mountains as part of their unique life history that spans both freshwater and ocean habitats. Today only three streams, Arroyo Sequit, Malibu, and Topanga creeks, are known to contain steelhead trout, and their numbers are few.

Currently, the concrete roadways block 4.5 miles of the Arroyo Sequit from the trout. Allowing them room for expanse will ideally help re-populate the species. The project will also remove two-foot-tall dam upstream that creates a "plunge pool" which currently makes it more difficult for the trout to maneuver.

The $3.2 million project is scheduled to take place from July 13th through October 31st of this year. Vehicle access to the beach, day-use parking, and the group campground will be closed due to construction, but individual campgrounds and pedestrian access to the beach will remain open. So, plan accordingly.

Donner Memorial State Park Visitor's Center Finally Open

To get to Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area, one has to drive on the 80-E through the relatively small town of Truckee. It is the site of one of the most-publicized tragedies of American pioneer history, the Donner Party disaster.

Back in 1846, a group of settlers from Illinois and parts beyond -- numbering 87 total travelers -- left for California. However, due to an ill-advised "shortcut" through the Sierra Nevada mountains, an early November blizzard left them stranded near Truckee (now Donner) Lake. A rescue party did not get to the group until the middle of February of the following year. At the end of the ordeal, only 48 members of the party were alive, many of them having resorted to cannibalism to survive.

The story of the Donner Party, alongside the more general story of the hardships of westward migration, is the subject of the Donner Memorial State Park. And now, a new renovation of the park's visitor center -- 20 years after the original proposal and costing $9.6 million -- is officially open to the public:

The center's theme is Crossing Barriers Changes Lives. Exhibits include displays on the Donner Party, regional Native American history, construction of the transcontinental railroad through the Sierra by Chinese workers, and development of roadways over Donner Pass.

The park is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and there are camping facilities on the premises as well. For more information, and to reserve a campground, visit the official website.

U.S. National Forests Free This Saturday

This Saturday, June 13th, is National Get Outdoors Day. The goals of the day-long celebration are to "encourage healthy, active outdoor fun" and to reach first-time visitors to public lands. One huge step towards accomplishing these goals? Taking away the barriers to entry. One such barrier? The cost.

With that in mind, the U.S. Forest Department is holding a "Fee Free" day for all visitors this Saturday.

For Los Angeles residents, this means that nearby Los Padres National Forest -- with its 1,200 miles of trails and gorgeous shoreline expanse -- will be free to enter. If you're looking for things to do this weekend, there are certainly worse ideas. Meanwhile, if you're elsewhere in the state, or traveling across the country, make sure to search the U.S. Forest website to locate the closest one in your (pun alert) neck of the woods.

Let it also be known that anyone who inadvertently purchased a Daily Adventure Pass for June 13th can have it replaced, free of charge. Also note that visitors can enter the various National Forest lands without an Adventure Pass, but fees for campgrounds or reservations may still be in place.

Great Hikes: The Murphy Ranch Trail

In the 1930s, members of the Silver Legion of America began construction on a Pacific Palisades compound that was to be a Nazi command center on the West Coast.

The blueprints, drawn by famed architect Paul R. Williams and examined thoroughly by Hadley Hall Meares for Curbed -- called for a self-sustaining farm utopia (and a giant mansion "fit for a world leader") based on concepts from the National Socialist party. The plans, however, never materialized past the infrastructure. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, police quickly occupied the ranch and kicked out the occupants.

Bay Area National Monument and Historic Landmark Increasing Rates

As previously hinted in a post regarding Yosemite fee hikes this year, there seems to be no sign of price hikes slowing down in National Parks. And now, we have confirmation that the next bout of hikes will include a handful of popular destinations in the Bay Area.

The most modest price hike will take place at one of the most popular National Historic Landmarks in all of the land. Visitors heading to Alcatraz Island will soon have to part with $1 extra, labeled on the receipt as an Expanded Amenity Fee. That price change will occur on October 1st of this year.

Meanwhile, parking at the Battery East and West Bluff lots of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is bumped up by 20 cents an hour. This change brings the total cost of parking at the area to $7 a day, or $1.20 an hour which, frankly, is a bargain compared to other parts of the city.

The largest price hike will take place just north of San Francisco, at the entrance of Muir Woods National Monument. Visitors looking to hike among the giant redwoods in that gorgeous park will soon have to pay $10 per person, a 100% increase from the current price of $5 per person. This price change will occur January 1st of next year, and will be Muir Woods' first price hike since 2007.