4 New and Legless Lizard Species Discovered in California

Labeled "Anniella pulchra" by the photographer on flickr, this San Diego County critter is probably an Anniella stebbinsi. | Photo: squamatologist/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Four new California lizard species have been described in a new scientific paper published last week, and a couple of them were hiding in plain sight.

The new species are all legless lizards. Formerly considered members of the wide-ranging species Anniella pulchra, the lizards are different enough in skeletal structure, scale patterns and color, say the paper's authors, to deserve assignment to their own distinct species.

Given that Anniella pulchra was already rare enough despite its extensive range to concern conservationists before being split up into five species, the herpetologists say that the new species probably deserve close scrutiny by wildlife protection agencies.

Building a More Sustainable LAX

The Great Hall at the newly-expanded Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.
| Photo: Elson Trinidad

This past week, Los Angeles International Airport got a $1.9 billion, 1.2 million square foot upgrade with the much-anticipated opening of the Great Hall and South Concourse of its newly-expanded Tom Bradley International Terminal.

From a visual standpoint, the renovated terminal looks remarkable. The rigid, right angles and grid-like aesthetics of the original 1984 terminal now give way to a Pacific Ocean wave-inspired design with sweeping, curved rooflines and windows that invoke more natural sunlight. Inside, the curved, angled ceilings and large window panels also evoke familiar iconic landmarks like the Hollywood Bowl, The Getty Center, and the adjacent LAX Theme Building. The visually stunning and interactive Integrated Environmental Media Systems (IEMS), made up of multiple LED panels and LCD screens are one of the unique highlights of the terminal. And the over 60 retail and dining establishments bring an upscale shopping mall experience to the airport.

Natural sunlight illuminates the newly-expanded LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal.
| Photo: Elson Trinidad
From a user perspective, the more spacious waiting areas are a refreshing change from the cramped claustrophobic quarters of the old gates still operating on the terminal's east side, which will eventually be demolished and replaced with new ones by 2015. All of the new amenities will continue and enhance the airport's role as an emotional gateway for travelers, visitors, and immigrants alike.

The 21st century design of the updated international terminal also calls to attention one aspect that didn't yet exist in the 1980s: environmental sustainability. According to Los Angeles World Airports, the city-run agency that administers LAX, the new Bradley Terminal is designed to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Recycled building materials used during construction of the new LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal are part of the sustainable methods used in the facility.
| Photo: Los Angeles World Airports

Most of the terminal's sustainable practices were demonstrated during its construction phase. Building materials made from recycled content were used in the interior finishes, and over 75 percent of construction and demolition waste was recycled or salvaged. The interior of the facility uses low-emitting paints, adhesives, sealants, and carpeting. And several mitigation measures were used during the heavy construction phase, from noise and emissions retrofits to construction vehicles, to dust control, to increasing the efficiency of concrete mixers and other heavy equipment.

In terms of power and water use, in addition to a more natural sunlight-friendly design, energy-efficient lighting with occupancy sensors were installed to save electric consumption. The heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems are set to maximum efficiency temperatures. And low-flow plumbing fixtures were installed in all restroom facilities.

For such a large and prominent public structure, a LEED Silver certification is impressive. But is it sustainable enough?

Airports, by their nature, are not inherently sustainable facilities. They are usually located away from city centers, occupy huge swaths of land, with the majority of it being paved. And of course, airports, particularly large international gateways, are sources of air and noise pollution, although advances in aircraft technology are addressing those issues, such as the lighter composite materials that give the Boeing 787 Dreamliner increased fuel economy, and the relatively quiet jet engines used to propel the massive Airbus A380.

But other new airport facilities have already left LAX trailing in terms of sustainability. The Bradley Terminal's counterpart at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has a LEED Gold certification, utilizing innovative features such as rainwater capture and environmentally-friendly cleaning practices. Another LEED Gold certification has been attained just up the coast, at California's second-busiest aviation facility, with San Francisco International Airport's Terminal 2, renovated in 2011, boasting locally-sourced and organic food at its dining outlets, water bottle refilling stations, and a reclaimed water system used for toilets and industrial uses. And though much smaller in size and scope, Chattanooga Airport's renewable energy-powered general aviation terminal in Tennessee has earned a LEED Platinum certification, using 4,000 solar panels located in a nearby site to power the building. Additional sustainable measures include the use of 95-percent recycled building materials, and native plant landscaping.

Separated waste/recycling receptacles at the new Tom Bradley International Terminal.
| Photo: Elson Trinidad

The newly-revamped terminal is undoubtedly more pleasing to the eye and more convenient to the traveler, but its day-to-day sustainable practices appear rather invisible, or even inconsistent. For example, a set of segregated waste and recyclable receptacles are located near the food court area of the terminal, but standard trash bins are placed in all other locations. Even more importantly, practices like the use of renewable energy sources and wastewater treatment and re-usage are not addressed in the new building.

The recent Bradley Terminal update is just part of a larger, $4.1 billion investment toward the overall modernization of LAX, which will include renovations to its domestic terminals as well as a second international terminal located across the tarmac to the west, which will be accessed by a large pedestrian and peoplemover bridge.

It would be even more impressive for a true 21st century, world class facility like a newly-renovated LAX to include solar power generation, with panels placed over open-air parking lots and structures, or even integrated into the roofs of buildings. Or treated wastewater to be used for non-potable uses like landscape irrigation and aircraft washing.

A facility with the size and scope of LAX has not just the obligation to be more sustainable, but the unique opportunity to literally demonstrate to the world how sustainable it, and the city and country it represents, can be, and how individuals can be inspired to take up some of those practices in their own daily lives.

Airports are places where journeys both begin and end. The journey to sustainability is now taking flight, so hopefully the upcoming renovated elements of LAX can make it soar to even higher heights.

Oregon Logging Bill Could Affect California Wildlife

Legislation that would greatly increase logging on public land in the Pacific Northwest is on a list of this week's priorities released by U.S. House Republican leaders, and it could have far-reaching effects for California. The bill, HR 1526, includes several options to cut more timber to make money for economically-depressed rural counties, primarily in Oregon.

However, according to Noah Matson, vice president for Climate Change and Natural Resources Adaptation at the group Defenders of Wildlife, it sets a dangerous precedent by making timber sales the goal and exempting large portions of public land from such federal environmental laws as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Matson points out that clear-cutting and its effects on the environment and wildlife are what prompted limits on logging 20 years ago. But sponsors of the bill say the land that would be logged in Oregon was meant for sustained timber yield when it was given to the state in the 1930s, and that today, the counties where the land is located desperately need the income.

The Pinacate Beetle is Not Afraid of You

Eleodes beetle | Photo: Chris Clarke

Taking my usual walk out in the open desert I saw it crossing the trail ahead: a low black dot with an air of confidence. It made no attempt to hurry for cover despite standing out plainly against the light gravel.

That's unusual for small desert animals. Almost everyone out here is on the make, looking for bits of food and moisture, and a beetle the size of a raspberry would ordinarily draw lots of attention from passing birds, lizards, and mice.

This beetle didn't care. It took its time, walking in a casual straight line from point A to point B, until I caught up with it. It turned to face my boot, calm as you please.

It was the placid self-assuredness of an animal that knew it could make life miserable for anything that bothered it.

What Happens When a Brush Fire Burns College Property? The Students Get a Living Laboratory

Firefighters work to extinguish a brush fire at Bernard Biological Field Station on September 11, 2013.
Photo: Courtesy Nancy Hamlett/Bernard Biological Field Station

Southern California burns. That's a given.

What's not is how we respond to wildland flames that erupt on distant mountains or nearby foothills, scorching hundreds, even thousands of acres. Or, as is the case with Wednesday's 17-acre brush fire on the Robert J. Bernard Field Station, an outdoor research lab owned by the Claremont Colleges, to a relatively undeveloped piece of property that is surrounded by residential neighborhoods and the community's many educational institutions.

And what we say, what we demand, what we conclude about these fiery events says a great deal about our understanding of our place within this region's fire-adapted ecosystems.

That's why the particulars, the details matter. This two-alarm fire -- dubbed the Foothill Fire -- erupted quickly and moved fast.

Its point of ignition, eyewitnesses noted, and L.A. County Fire investigators have confirmed, was the result of a crew from Golden State Water Company employing a chop saw and torch while fixing an aboveground water pipe. Its shower of sparks kicked off the blaze (and even as flames swept east, these men continued to cut pipe on Foothill Boulevard, which delineates the field station's southern border, shooting more sparks into the air). This news will certainly shape any potential legal ramifications and more generally how some will interpret this fire's significance.

9/11: A Remembrance of Things Past

What's the timeline for forgetting an event we swore we'd always remember? Flipping through the Los Angeles Times this morning, I found no mention of 9-11, so maybe twelve years is the expiration date.

For me, it was a bit earlier. In 2008, while driving north from Cape Cod to Boston, I followed a small white truck adorned with a single, one-word bumper sticker: "Remember." It took more than twenty miles trailing behind that vehicle, shifting lanes and freeways, and slipping beneath a series of bridges bedecked with American flags and Styrofoam cups wedged into the chain-link fences above, many of which spelled out "Never Forget," before I recalled the impending anniversary.

Before I could summon up the moment when I first heard the news of the brutal assault on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and of a plane that crashed into a Pennsylvania field. I was shocked at how easily those terrifying days had slipped from my memory.

And staggered, because I had flown into New York hours earlier for a set of meetings the next day at Grey Towers National Historic Site; located in northeastern Pennsylvania, it was maybe fifty miles from Wall Street. No sooner had I arrived at the former home of Gifford Pinchot, founding chief of the U.S. Forest Service, than word spread of the attack. Almost instantly, like all federal installations, the site went on full alert, its gates closed and staff sequestered.

Fighting the Food Desert, in the Desert: Sustainable Agriculture Comes to the Owens Valley

The Southern Inyo Certified Farmers Market in Lone Pine, CA is part of an active movement towards establishing more sustainable local produce in the Owens Valley area. | Photo: Elson Trinidad

In Southern California's urban communities, a war is being waged against the prevalence of food deserts -- communities which lack access to fresh, healthy food due to socioeconomic and geographic conditions. Common strategies to winning this war include opening certified farmer's markets, creating community gardens, and propagating health and nutrition education.

But food deserts are not exclusive to the urban setting of the congested, polluted concrete jungle. Even in rural areas, the glut of fast-food restaurants, the dearth of fresh produce, and a sustainable means to grow them locally are just as problematic to the community.

In the Owens Valley town of Lone Pine, some 200 miles north of Los Angeles, where the Great Basin Desert meets the Sierra Nevada mountains, a similar war against the food desert is also being waged, and in 2010, a group of local growers and residents decided to get ready for battle by growing food locally for both personal consumption and for the community.

"We were concerned about the lack of fresh nutritious produce and few healthy food choices in general in southern Inyo county," said Jane McDonald, a food grower, baker, and board member of the Owens Valley Growers Cooperative, which was established in 2012. "We formed the co-op in order to support increased local production and markets, developing a local sustainable foodshed, supporting development of our local economy."

SB 4 Will Help Regulate Fracking in California -- It's About Time

The crazy-hectic close of the California legislative session is a make-or-break moment for those hoping to bring long-overdue regulatory control of fracking in the Golden State.

At issue is whether the legislature will pass SB 4. It is the sole surviving bill this session that seeks to compel Big Energy and state regulators to open up to public scrutiny and scientific analysis the impact that hydraulic fracking (and its technological cousin, acid well treatment) has on public health and the environment.

Because there has been relatively little discussion of this initiative in the mainstream press and thus in the civic arena -- even Governor Brown seems to be snoozing on the question of fracking -- it is important to spell out three of its key provisions, (as amended, September 3):

  • "The bill would require the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, on or before January 1, 2015, to cause to be conducted an independent scientific study on well stimulation treatments, including acid well stimulation and hydraulic fracturing treatments."
  • "The bill would require an operator of a well to record and include all data on well stimulation treatments, as specified."
  • "The bill would require the [Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources in the Department of Conservation], in consultation with the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the State Air Resources Board, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, and any local air districts and regional water quality control boards in areas where well stimulation treatments may occur, on or before January 1, 2015, to adopt rules and regulations specific to well stimulation, including governing the construction of wells and well casings and full disclosure of the composition and disposition of well stimulation fluids."

Because the corporations using hydraulic fracturing as a tool to release millions of barrels of oil and gas from tight geologic formations like the Monterey Shale refuse to identify the composition of the fluids injected at high pressure and immense volume to fracture the rock miles below the surface, SB 4 would require the state's Natural Resource Agency to mount an "independent" study of this controversial technique and its ramifications. The critical term, here, is independent. Given the hand-in-glove relationship between the regulators and the regulated, establishing an outside group to analyze what is occurring is essential to assure the public of the legitimacy of this vital research and analysis.

How Journalists Should Really Cover Wildfires

Fire from a burning operation around the Rim Fire. | Photo: Courtesy Mike McMillan/USFS/Inciweb

After the Rim fire blasts into Sierra Nevada granite and flickers out. After the last gallon of fire retardant rains down on the high-country blaze deep in the Stanislaus National Forest. After the last engine, dozer, helicopter, jet, and drone pull back from the charred land. After the last soot-stained firefighter retraces her steps to base camp, and then heads home. After the last hose is drained, dried, and stored. After the last Pulaski is racked. If, after all that, we begin to plan for the future it may well be too late.

Our culture's relentless focus on the now has shaped the way we have covered this particular fire, those that have erupted this season, and any conflagration dating back to the late 19th-century. Journalism's daily mission, after all, is to keep us abreast of the news as it breaks, the very language of which emphasizes the need to mirror the moment.

Reflect on that as you flip through your local newspaper, watch your favorite anchor, or scroll through relevant websites, catch how every story about the Rim fire (and its analogs) contains a powerful, one-word mantra: containment.

As you repeatedly enunciate it, absorbing its Cold War evocation of sealing off the "enemy," a series of worried questions are unleashed. Is the fire contained? How much is it contained? Why has more containment not been achieved? When, oh when will it be contained?"

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