Sunday, August 30, 2015

Non Washingtion: Helping survey amphibians and reptiles at PFNP

A bit non geology volunteer work that was great fun and part of a remarkable ongoing science survey at Petrified Forest National Park. 
We joined Andy at 6:30 the other evening to make an evening/night drive through the park to catalog amphibians and reptiles on the park road. The road is closed at dusk so we had the road to ourselves. Andy was glad to have another pair of eyes for spotting and assistance in recording. Lisa did the recording and proved to be very superior at spotting. I was not so good at spotting but did pretty good at capture and ok at identification given that I had never identified toads before.
Spea multiplicata Mexican Spadefoot
Spea multiplicata Mexican Spadefoot
showing the spade on the back foot

 Scaphiopus couchi Couch’s Spadefoot

A note on the gloves. Spea multiplca secretes a mild toxin that one does not want in the eyes or mouth. It is easy to wipe off, but we began picking up too many so we got out the gloves.

Phyrnosoma hernandessi
Great short horned lizard

It was good amphibian night as it had rained. Dry nights bring out more reptiles. The amphibians use the road to gather heat but also to soak up water through their skin. The reptiles use the road to soak up heat as well. Hence roads are a positive environment for reptiles and amphibians if it were not for the getting run over. The closing the road at night limits the mortality.

The road surveys are just one of several ongoing surveys that take place in the PFNP. Hard not to be impressed that our one survey night was part of a survey that has been going on for 25 years.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Collections Room, Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert from Kachina Point, Petrified Forest National Park

Another post away from Washington, but some science and policy perspective from Petrified Forest National Park:

Ashley gave us a tour of the collections room and the paleontology lab. On a personal level I have always admired the work of paleontologists. Intense detailed work collecting and deciphering small details and labor intensive efforts to extract fossils from the ground and figuring out where they fit into our history of life on this planet. They tell us deep history, but it is a history that takes a great deal of work and study. Yes, it is cool to see petrified logs and fossils on the ground, but the story is hard to figure out. The history of life and certainly of the various reptiles is far from figured out with numerous changes and rethinking of things as new discoveries force reassessment.

Collection rooms are a critical part of how paleontology is done. Find a fossil, carefully remove it from the site, pick away all the rock and debris around it, figure out where all the parts go – hard work. But more hard work and lots of education is required for the next step. Compare that fossil with previous finds by going to collection rooms with old finds. I have read about discoveries and rethinking of fossils in collections, so for me it was a great pleasure to get a glimpse at the collection room.

Jacket of plaster used to remove fossils from field sites

Skull of a phytosaur

The phytosaur skull shown above may be misleading as to what is in the non processed jackets. Often the jackets encase a loose mess of small bones that is far from understood at the time of collection in the field. Some hint within the initial digging suggests that the effort of collection is worthwhile. And one does have to picture the moving of that block of plaster from the field to the lab. Yeah for interns and volunteers! These are group projects.

A couple of thrills in the collection.

Bits and pieces of Revuetosaurus callenderi

Revuetosaurus callenderi was originally thought to be a very early dinosaur; however, the finding of hip and femur of this animal demonstrated that it was not an early dinosaur. A big deal in dinosaur lineage that also called into question other fossils that were previously interpreted as early dinosaurs without complete skeletons (hips and ankles) - a demonstration that science is a work in progress.
Earliest crayfish (for now), Enoplchytia porteri
The finding of this crayfish was a fun story. An assistant helping Sid Ash had not done fossil collecting before. Dr. Ash noted that sandstone concretions often had small fossils as nucleation centers. The assistant broke open a concretion and noted indeed there was a fossil inside. Turned out to be a rather remarkable find.
Freshwater clams
There have been a lot of fresh water clams identified in the park. Ashley described how fresh water clams attach larvae to fish that then transport the clams to new locations.
Fossil plant material from the Jurassic
Of course this is a site of a petrified forest. Hence, lots of plant fossils including thin sections of petrified wood showing cellular structure. In addition to the fossils, the collection room houses non fossil collections including insects, plants, rodents, birds and archeological material.
Collection rooms and archiving of material is fundamental to science and to history. A worthwhile effort that requires ongoing funding and support. Could not help to think space is always an issue as well as the quality and security of the building.

Release the River: Qwuloolt Project on the Snohomish

A big day for those that worked on the Qwuloolt project (/timelapse/tulalip/slideshow.htm). Steve alerted me to this time lapse of the opening of part of the Snohomish River estuary northeast of Everett and south of Marysville. The Snohomish estuary has been going through a transformation as poorly drained farm land that was protected by tidal flooding with levees has been opened up to the influence of tides. The changes have been fun to watch as Interstate-5 is a causeway over this periodically flooded estuary.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stop at the Thistle Canyon Landslide

Not Washington State, but I do landslide work so I made a stop at this landslide I spotted when driving Highway 6 in Utah. I see landslides all the time and can't help stopping. This slide was for a time famous in that it once posed significant threat to the City of Provo.
Thistle Canyon Landslide viewed fro Highway 6 

The Thistle Canyon landslide (,_Utah)  is an example that should be remembered about mountainous terrain. Steep mountain slopes can and do occasionally fall down. This mountain canyon slide caused a classic hazard. The slide itself of course was damaging, but the slide also blocked the Spanish Fork River forming a lake.

"Thistlelandslideusgs" by R.L. Schuster, U.S. Geological Survey - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
As water backed up the concern would be that the new dam would fail in a catastrophic flood that would surge down the Spanish Fork into Provo. Drains were installed and disaster was averted.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Personal: Bye to my old field partner

Tough day today. I retired Sam from hard field work 2 years ago and easy stuff last winter. I will miss her after saying a final goodbye today.

Tracking down a debris flow trigger

Debris flow boulder and Sam

Contemplating our route

Assessing forest road drainage problems

Flooding on the distill end of an alluvial fan 

Fine sediment deposits and stream overflow

Debris flow transported boulder

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Whatcomcentric, Political, and Wonky Charter Stuff

I previously posted about the obscure Charter Commission (charter-review-whatcomcentric). This post is a modified version updating where things are at.

This year's review has been a bit bumpy because the Charter Commission majority is very out of step with the current Council. This is in part due to the Commission being elected by district only voting while the council reflects the majority of County voters having been elected by county-wide voting. The split is result of the way the districts were drawn up with District 1 being overwhelming Democrat leaning and the other 2 leaning Republican.

The Charter Commission has finished its work of submitting proposed amendments to the voters of Whatcom County. The commission's main focus was political versus good governance and amendments were put forward that are an attempt to shift elections not for better representation.

The County Council has also put two Charter Amendments on the ballot as is their right under the State Constitution as well as under the County Charter. Needless to say this has upset the local GOP leadership that had dominated the Charter Review and is leading to some weirdness.

Charter Commission 1: District Only Voting

This is one of the partisan parts of the package of amendments. The Charter Commission majority are Republicans and they can do math. By going to district only voting, they can pull off minority rule for the elections of county council. District 1 under district only voting will be two Democrats as that district is overwhelming Democrat. District 2 will be 2 Republicans as it leans much towards Republicans although not so much as District 1 leans Democrat. District 3 leans Republican by a little and will likely be 2 Republicans as well at least in the near term. The results of district only voting can be seen in the Charter Commission election itself. District 1 all Democrats, District 2 all Republicans and District 3 four Republicans and one Democrat. A majority of Commission members have been fairly clear that the main purpose behind this scheme is overcoming the majority voting that has led to the Council currently being 6 Democrats (one was appointed) and one independent. The last council election saw Democrats sweep Republican candidates.

One of the problems with this proposal beyond the minority rule motivation is the County has only three districts and the way the current districts are drawn is a bit off for meeting State law on district boundaries. This was never much of a problem since council (and by the way Port and Public Utility District) were elected county-wide. But with Bellingham carved up by three districts the district lines should be redrawn to meet state rules - a difficult task with only three districts. None of that matters though if your goal is to accomplish minority rule.

There are also some real governance issues with district only elections. Council members will concentrate only on issues that matter within their district and vote swapping along the lines of "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" should be of some concern particularly with public works projects.

Charter Commission 2: Change of ballot measure word limit from 20 to 40

This is a modest change to rules governing ballot measure descriptions for county initiatives and received broad commission support.

Charter Commission 3: Limits Council Charter Amendment Proposals

This amendment was initially put forward to prevent the County Council from putting forward amendments that would undo any of the charter amendments that might pass. It has since been modified so that the council can, but would require a 7-0 vote by the council. The change was made to resolve an obvious State Constitutional conflict. The change required the Charter Commission to change their rules, had no public hearing and there was no discussion. I can fairly readily see some serious governance problems with this poorly thought through amendment. But I am unfair to say it was poorly thought through. It was well thought through if the goal is partisan politics. No thought given to governance.

Charter Commission 1: Reduce citizen Charter initiative signatures

This proposal is to reduce the number of signatures citizens need to gather to bring forward initiatives more in line with state initiative rules.

Charter Commission 6 and 18: Term Limits for Council and Executive

This would limit council and executive to three 4-year terms. Currently there are no limits.

Charter Commission 10: Limits Council Proposed Charter Amendments regarding council selection

This amendment has a similar goal as Number 4. It prevents Council from putting forward Charter Amendments regarding the election of Council members. The original was modified with no hearing or discussion to require a 7-0 vote by the council in order to avoid an obvious State Constitution conflict.

Charter Commission 13: Four parties in District Review Commission

The District Review Commission draws the election district boundaries in Whatcom County. This amendment would modify the makeup of the commission based the results of the last election.

Council Proposals

The County Council considered several Charter Amendment proposals brought to them by citizens that were frustrated or concerned by the Charter Review Commission's partisanship. Full disclosure: I submitted two proposed amendments.

Council: 5 District Proposal

This proposal would shift the County from the current 3 districts to 5 districts and thus would address the problematic issue of the current district boundaries and with more and smaller districts might also assure broader diversity on the Council. This amendment passed and will be on the November ballot. Full disclosure again: I testified in favor of this measure but it was not one I brought forward, personally I would prefer to see the County go to seven districts.

Council Super Majority Proposal

This amendment will be on the ballot and if passed will require that any charter amendment put forward by the Charter Commission and/or the Council require a super majority vote by the commission or council. This would have the effect on the commission of ending the narrow partisan approach that has plagued essentially every Charter review. It could be called the "cut the crap" amendment and perhaps would lead to discussion of governance issues versus the partisanship. The amendment proposal also calls out that the council would be required to have a super majority which is already the case, but a phrase was added that says that "no amendment shall require a higher number". This is in direct conflict with the Charter Commissions scheme of requiring a 7-0 vote by the council.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Alluvial Fans Altering the Samish River Valley

Mills Creek drainage viewed from the west

Mills Creek drains off the west side of Anderson Mountain in the Northwest Cascades down to the Samish River valley. Mills Creek is one of several drainages that have built alluvial fans onto the Samish River valley floor.

Mills Creek alluvial fan is the southernmost fan in this DEM
The valley floor is colored with dark green being the lowest elevation and light browns mark the apex of the alluvial fans that have built up in the valley

The Samish River is a rather small river and by northwest standards falls into a category of creek like except it is rather long and has an important salmon fishery. Its valley in the Northwest Cascades predates the river. The Samish just happens to be occupying this deep intermountain valley.

The Samish flow and gradient is no match for the episodic discharges of sediment from the tributary streams flowing off the steep slopes of the valley. These tributary fans are blocking the Samish and have formed a chain of lakes and swamps along the gentle valley floor.

Lake/swamp formed up stream of the Mills Creek alluvial fan

Mills Creek has a bit of sad history. A landslide in the creek drainage blocked the creek and the subsequent dam burst debris flood killed a resident on the fan below during a storm event in January 1983.