Friday, November 30, 2012

Bison in Washinton State: Gibbs and Douglas

I came across a reference regarding buffalo and antelope in eastern Washington by George Gibbs in a report to General McClellan in 1854. Gibbs was hired to assess the First Nations peoples of Washington Territory prior to the treaties. Besides his reports on the tribes and tribal leaders, Gibbs made numerous observations about the Washington landscape. Regarding large game in eastern Washington Gibbs reported, "Of the larger game there is but little in their own country. The buffalo, it would seem, in former times penetrated at least occasionally thus far to the westward, though now they never come through the northern passes. We were informed by an old Iroquois hunter, at Fort Colville, who has been some forty-eight years in the company's service, that the last bull was killed some twenty-five years ago in the Grand Coulee."

This matches David Douglas (of Douglas fir fame) reporting eating buffalo tongue as a treat given to him by Wanapum people near present day Hanford in the 1820s.

These two reports strike me as reasonably reliable and extend the period of time bison were in Washington State to the 1820s. It is generally thought that previous bison populations came not through the northern passes, but via eastern Oregon and the Snake River plain of Idaho. The arrival of horses and guns combined with relatively marginal habitat and forage as well as poor connectedness to other populations brought about the demise of the bison in Washington State well before American settlement and well before the notorious wasteful slaughter of the herds on the high plains in the later part of the 1800s.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Zintel Canyon Dam

Kennewick, Washington was for a long period of its history subject to floods from Zintel Canyon. The Zintel Canyon watershed south of a narrow cleft in the first ridge of the Horse Heaven Hills covers an area of approximately 18 square miles of the higher portions of the Horse Heaven Hills including portions of the south slope of Jump-Off-Joe kennewicks-mountain. I went through the map exercise of roughly outlining the upper watershed boundary. 

Zintel Canyon, upper watershed outlined in blue (USGS)

Water flow in the upper watershed is very rare, but has taken place often enough that building through central Kennewick was restricted due to the potential for flash floods coming out of the hills and down through the canyon into town. The flood were not huge, but Rainier Street was built like a large paved canal to capture the flood waters and convey the water through a residential neighborhood. 

Flood waters that flow down Zintel Canyon are from two types of events. The more likely is from rare intense summer thunderstorms that might happen to stall over the upper Horse Heavens. The other source of water flow is from rapid snow melt. Rapid snow melt is common in this low area of eastern Washington that is also subject to sudden warm winds after long cold periods. What is less common is having enough snow in the dry climate to generate enough water. But despite the uncommon occurrence of these types of weather, water has flowed down through Rainier Street 7 times.

The Army Corp of Engineers got funding for the Zintel Canyon Dam after many years of study and built the dam for $7.3 million. The dam was completed in 1992. As far as I know the dam has yet to stop any flooding. 

Zintel Canyon Dam from the west

Downstream view towards Kennewick

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Urban Herbivores

One significant change that has been taking place in the Washington landscape and not always a welcome one for those that care about landscaping is the increase in the deer population. I came across the two shown below while doing some work in Port Townsend.

I took the pictures without a telephoto. These guys were very close and seemed a bit put out by my presence. Port Townsend has a good mixture of small brushy open space mixed with urbaness. The urbaness may have kept deer away in the past, but now it is an attraction and likely provides protection from cougars. I usually see deer when I visit PT. Last summer I followed a deer trail under a thick growth of English ivy and came face to face with a buck that for several seconds appeared to not want to yield to my presence - enough time that I realized I could be in a bit of trouble.
I suspect there has been a slow behavioral and genetic selection process taking place. Bolder deer willing to inhabit areas in close proximity to people are rewarded. And PT is not the only place. Even in the very urban sections of Bellingham deer have moved in. Last summer two deer occupied our ally sleeping in the tall grass in a section of unfenced yard. It took a concerted hazing effort to get them to move on.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Evergreen Huckleberry Season

One of the pleasures of late fall field work in the low lands of western Washington are the tasty treat of evergreen huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum). November to December is when these berries are at their peak for flavor depending on the weather. They tend to get grainy after a hard freeze, but otherwise hold their flavor better than other berries perhaps because they reach ripeness after the weather becomes very cool.

The plants are evergreen and are described as liking moist partial sun areas with acidic soils. My own observations are consistent with the above, but I would note they do best in places that have a period of drought and are located in soils that dry out at least for a month or so. Hence, the plant grows thickly in northeast portion of the Olympic Peninsula and often is associated with native rhododendron. I have encountered impenetrable thickets of evergreen huckleberry on the Toandos and Bolton Peninsula. The berries above were picked on a forest edge near the south end of the Toandos.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Whatcom County Big Bird

Raven is full control of the kitchen and I have completed my hereditary assignment of preparing the pate.

If we rolled the clock back and somehow Diatryma still lived in Whatcom County, How big would our ovens have to be at Thanksgiving? Nice paper on Whatcom County's Big Bird: giant-eocene-bird-footprints-paper-palaeontology.pdf

Happy Turkey Day.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgivings Past 2010 Arctic Blast

Western Washington does not have long cold winters, but we are far enough north that every now in then we can get a blast of cold. Bellingham is susceptible to cold blasts of continental Arctic air as the route of that air is enhanced through the Fraser River canyon just to the north.
This year is a mild temperature Thanksgiving week. Two years ago the temperatures were in the teens with 50 mph winds. 
This year temperatures have been in the 40s and 50s. Mild temperatures but heavy rain and lots of wind. The series of storms have been putting up Sandy type stats with projected total rainfall on the west slopes of the Cascades and Olympics of 20 inches and coastal areas getting 100 mph winds. 
If your traveling:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Glacier Peak and the Sauk - Stillaguamsih Divide

In the early fall I had a nice pass by of Glacier Peak. Glacier Peak is one of Washington's strato volcanoes. I have referred to it as the sneakiest as it does a fair job of hiding amongst the high peaks of the North Cascades Range. It is the 4th highest peak in the state at over 10,000 feet, but it has enough high peaks around it and it is far enough back into the main range and deep into wilderness that it gets overlooked. Unless you know what to look for it blends in with the other snow capped peaks when viewed from Seattle or Everett. Very different than the other big stratos in the state that are all much better known simply because they stand out well above everything else on the horizon.
Glacier Peak on October 9, 2012
In one regard the peak is well named as it is covered with glaciers. The peak always fascinated me ever since I saw Ira Spring's photographs of the peak in hiking guides.
I have never been up the mountain itself. I have done geology work of various sorts on the ridges and in the valleys all around the mountain. On each of the adventures I encountered evidence of huge and not very old (post last glacial period) eruptive events: piles of pumice fragments miles from the mountain itself. One of the first geology hazard projects I did at Stratum Group was assessing a steep terrace slope above the Sauk River flood plain a bit north of Darrington. Prior to arriving at the site I assumed the terrace would be underlain by glacial and alluvial sediments. Instead, I found the entire slope consisted of pumice fragments; the entire valley had been filled with pumice material and the river had incised down through the volcanic fill. This was an in your face evidence of a huge post ice age eruption.  
Glacier Peak's potential to cause problems in northwest Washington State is well illustrated in the image below and is summarized here:
All that expensive flood management work on the Skagit River will be sorely tested in the event of a big mud flow from Glacier Peak. The pumice covered terrace I observed above the Sauk River near Darrington was associated with an eruptive event that erupted an estimated 5 times the amount of tephra Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980.

One of the big post ice age eruptions from Glacier peak altered the route of the Sauk River. The Sauk formerly flowed west from Darrington down what is now the North Fork Stillaguamish River. The divide between the two rivers northwest of Darrington is a broad flat plain approximately one mile across.
LiDAR of the divide between the Sauk on the east and North Fork Stilliguamish on the upper northwest.

 It is interesting to contemplate what would happen if another large eruption would fill in the Sauk Valley and send the Sauk back down the Stilliguamish. The Sauk is a rather wild river subject to huge channel migrations during flood events along much of its lower course.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Big Leaf Maple Litter

During one of my recent field excursions I observed the mulching effect of big leaf maple. The leaves covered the gravel logging road I was traversing and had completely filled the ditches. 

Within the forest off road and trail the covering leaves made footing more an act of feeling versus seeing with branches and logs and small streams and mud holes completely covered.  At another site it took some looking to find a culvert entrance and the leaves had completely obscured tension cracks in a poorly built road.

Big leaf maples are of the western Pacific Northwest are the biggest maples in North America. They are somewhat restricted to the milder weather side of the Pacific Northwest. Ecologically they appear to play a big role in soil development with intense leaf litter adding significant potassium and calcium to the forest floor soils. The tree does produce sweet sap but it is of lower quality than the northeast and eastern Canadian sugar maple and the sap flow is not as productive. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Yakima Entrenched Meander Images

I have previously done a post on the entrenched meanders of the Yakima River viewed from a fly over of the Yakima Fold Belt south of Ellensburg antecedent-yakima-river. I had also touched on the Yakima entrenched meanders  on a couple of other posts. I was putting together some images associated with the Yakima and have three images of the same very deep and very loopy section of the Yakima. The river is flowing from north to south in the images.
Aerial view (USGS)

Topographic view (USGS)

The LiDAR imagery via the Opentopo jointly with Gooogle is great fun and a powerful demonstration of LiDAR even in desert environments.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

100 Million Year Old Shoreline and Voting Obama

Image from Paleogeography and Geologic Evolution of North America.

2008 Presidential County Election Results. Map from New York Times.
New York Times 2008 Blue counties voted for Obama

Dave Tucker alerted me to this and apparently it is making the rounds so I am helping spread it as well. The original observation of southern voting patterns linked to the former Cretaceous shoreline was noted by Steven Dutch back in 2002 ( Craig McClain follows up (ttp://

Monday, November 12, 2012

Divided by Coal

This video gives a little bit of the feel for the first environmental impact statement scoping hearing in Bellingham. A little bit of me in here as well. Subsequent hearings at Friday Harbor and Mount Vernon also drew large numbers of folks mostly opposed or very concerned.   

Divided by Coal from How Loud Media on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Stillman Creek 5 Years On

Little Mountain landslides (picture from DNR Forest Practices Board presentation)
In December 2007 a large storm dumped large quantities of rain on northeast Oregon and southwest Washington. The above picture was a rather infamous picture from that storm of some steep slopes in the Stillman Creek drainage southwest of Chehalis, Washington. The picture was on the front page of the Seattle Times. This site was one of tens of sites with landslides that took place in the area.

Little Mountain landslides (piture from DNR Forest Practices Board presentation) 

A PowerPoint presentation by the Department of Natural Resources to the Forest Practices Board regarding the harvest pictured above ended with a conclusion that the forest practice "application was correctly classified and processed by the DNR according to Forest Practice Rules."

The harvest was approved because there were errors and discrepancies in the application. The DNR does have maps showing potential unstable slopes based on the shape and steepness of the slope. A glance at that map indicates there were numerous potentially unstable slopes within the harvest. However, the only way that the DNR can make a determination of the slope stability is to do a site visit. Apparently they did not in this case. Hence, the DNR relies on the applicant.  
I pulled up an image from the other side of the mountain. Different harvest but in a way worse  results from the December 2007 storm. Clearly harvests were done on steep convergent topography and road construction across this terrain appears to have played a role as well. Again the slide locations were within areas that slope screening tools indicate as potentially unstable. 
Southwest side of Little Mountain (USGS), red dots are my own marks of landslides
The December 2007 storm was a big storm and was particularly intense within the area where these slides took place. Storms with that much rain should be expected to result in landslides. Indeed these same slopes and similar slopes have tolerated more typical winter storms without slope failures (or at least this level of failures). However, the frequency and magnitude of slides in recently harvested areas appears substantially greater within the are shown above.
I do not know what exactly was said at the Forest Practices Board meeting. This storm did cause some agency and land management angst and nearly 5 years on still is. Why? The policy established by Washington State Forest and Fish Law is that landslide delivery streams to streams should be at levels similar to natural levels. That should include large storms.
The above image implies that the current rules or rule implementation have not been working. The DNR statement in the PowerPoint presentation that the "application was correctly classified and processed by the DNR according to Forest Practice Rules" perhaps sums up how well policy is being met.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Post Office Walk and Salmon

A routine errand associated with work is walking to the post office to mail reports. The walk from our office to the post office on Prospect Street is a nice nature walk along the banks of Whatcom Creek. The City of Bellingham has constructed a nice trail along the creek so that an otherwise four block urban walk is a four block walk through forest and brush - way easier than most of my time in the forest. The walk ends at a roaring water fall as the creek flows over a resistant unit of Chuckanut Formation sandstone. Whatcom means noisy water. After a stretch of rainy weather the creek is running very high and very noisy.
Dupont Street Bridge just above the falls

The lower falls of Whatcom Creek
With the high water salmon are returning to the creek as well. There is hatchery at the mouth of the creek that utilizes the former sewage plant. Some of the fish swim into the hatchery entrance. But the wild fish and some of the hatchery fish take a run at the falls. It is a tough falls to get up, but if you catch things on the right day you can see fish make it all the way up with big multiple leaps out of the water. Before reaching the falls the fish have to get past a gauntlet of fishermen . 

Fishing at the estuary of Whatcom Creek

But in a way the fishermen are helping the salmon. Fishing helps fund some salmon helpers. While returning from the post office I tagged along with a couple fish helpers that were giving a couple of Coho salmon a lift via wheel barrow and then a short slide down a pipe into calmer waters above the falls.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Beyond Post Election Gloating

Nate Silver at has reason to gloat; he picked all 50 states correctly in the Presidential race and in the last week of the campaign had stirred up a fair bit of noise. He got 49 out of 50 last election. He did miss on two US Senate races: Montana and North Dakota. 

In Washington State there should be some gloating. The big winner was Initiative 502 legalizing marijuana. I got to know slightly some of the people that worked on this initiative and put their necks out politically, financially and time wise to support it. They deserve to gloat all they want, but that was not the tone I heard Tuesday night. They are committed to making this work in Washington State.

Alison Holcomb and Cody Swift

Alison was not only the campaign director, but she also did extensive research so that the initiative was well crafted and the initiative itself answered all the questions that would come up during the campaign. Cody committed to this campaign very early on.

Rick Steves

Rick Steves has long been an advocate for changing our drug policies. Rick has pointed out that the only way alcohol prohibition was ended was by states one by one legalizing alcohol. In the case of marijuana, it should be easier as it will not require a constitutional amendment.
Pete Holmes

Pete Holmes came out very early in support before the initiative was placed on the ballot. He provides an excellent description of the Initiative here:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Policy and Rudeness

I have generally kept politics out of this blog this election cycle with the exception of Washington State Initiative 502. Plenty enough politics to read particularly about Ohio.

But past election time we head back to governance. Simon Wren-Lewis put up a post where he attempts to work his way through when it is OK to be rude on policy matters Perhaps some lessons here in regards to how to move policy one way or another.

A couple of other economists have picked up on this. For a fair number of economists the past few years have been difficult. And perhaps because of the economists I tend to read, it has been particularly difficult - European leaders going in the absolute opposite direction as to what macro economists thought they should; hence, a bit of rudeness from Mr. Wren-Lewis towards United Kingdom leadership. In the U.S. Paul Krugman has been very critical of the US GOP leaders, but he also made it very clear back in early 2009 that Obama was aiming too low on economic recovery.

I have at times tried to assess my own civility as a policy maker (elected and appointed), as a consultant working for project proponents and opponents, and as an activist. As general rule, I think it is a bad idea to turn to rudeness at a tactic as the message often gets lost, but I cannot say that being blunt to the point of rudeness is not without merit.

Its a hard thing to judge. There are times when it is almost impossible not to be rude and I cannot say in a policy struggle I have never been rude. I once called an idea put forward by an unnamed opponent "ignorant". I still believe it to be true, but I also can't say it accomplished much other than offend.

I had an experience with a high level state official where I was a bit astonished with the lack of understanding of a particular issue. My understanding of the issue was in such sharp contrast that it made things a bit awkward. About a week later I had a meeting with this official and I was a bit nervous. But in a class act the first topic was to inform me that I had been right and it was appreciated that I had spoken up. I would hope I would do the same.

Anyway, stuff to think about as we move past this latest election cycle. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Typhoon and (Sandy)

I'll be seeing Typhoon at The Shakedown at 1212 North State Street in Bellingham tonight.

Carey Ross did a nice write up here:

An example of Typhoon and lest we forget the Jersey Shore the Boss and the E Street Band performing Asbury Park 4th of July (Sandy) back in 1975.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy's Global Warming Lesson

I heard the first news stories today regarding a linkage of Sandy and global warming. And I suspect there may be some internal debate within climate research as to the whether the odds of this type of storm has been increased because of Arctic warming.

But putting that aside I do think there is a valuable global warming lesson with Sandy. That lesson is that atmospheric models are getting very good. Global warming linkage or no global warming linkage, the atmospheric models that have been developed and run on big computers did an amazing job with this storm. Days in advance the weather models in common usage were predicting this storm with remarkable accuracy.

This was not simply spotting a big storm and saying there is a big storm heading to the coast of New Jersey and Delaware. No this was taking thousands of data points from thousands of miles apart and calculating what would happen. The models came up with a solution that was far from the ordinary. Solutions that would cause one to ask, Could that be right? Indeed the solution, as outrageous as it seemed, was dead on right.

It truly is a good thing that emergency managers and high level politicians took the model solutions seriously and acted well ahead of the storm arrival. Paying heed to the model solutions saved many lives. There can be debate about Sandy and global warming, but the bigger lesson from Sandy is the complex atmospheric modeling efforts are predictive even when solutions outside living memory are predicted. Perhaps Sandy demonstrates that we should pay heed to the climate solutions that climate models are predicting.