December 5, 2014
Shedding Light on Stormwater Sampling in Lake San Marcos
Torrential rains, abating California’s persistent drought, had Great Ecology’s field crews working around the clock to capture the first runoff flows of the season into Lake San Marcos, one of Great Ecology’s California projects. Great Ecology’s Ecologist, Ashley Tuggle, was interviewed by KPBS reporter Alison St. John about the stormwater sampling underway, explaining the importance of capturing the first nutrient flows to determine where potential pollutants could be coming from.
Contact us to find out more about Lake San Marcos and other related projects underway at Great Ecology.Leave a comment
November 22, 2014
Kate Gazzo, M.S.
At the rush of incoming waves, algae sways back and forth inside tide pools along the Pacific coast. Sculpins dart in and out of the shadows while purple, orange, and yellow orche starfish (Pisaster ochraceus) cling to rocks. Anyone who was fortunate enough to grow up along a coastline or even to experience tide pooling during a visit knows that one can get lost for hours observing these ecosystems. Unfortunately, tide pools that were teeming with life only a year or so ago, are currently being threatened as is the entire balance of these ecosystems. Intertidal communities are changing as a result of sea star wasting disease. In many areas along the coast you can notice dozens of diseased and dying starfish-a keystone predator in intertidal ecosystems. How long this wasting episode will last is unknown, and scientists have only begun to speculate as to the cause.
An Introduction to Sea Star Wasting Syndrome
Beginning in 2013, researchers in Olympic National Park in Washington observed populations of sea stars dying or, more accurately described, “wasting away”. The disease has been appropriately named sea star wasting syndrome. This disease causes the limbs of sea stars to contort and form large lesions that eventually lead to legs and sometimes even entire bodies of sea stars essentially dissolving. A majority of sea stars that become infected die within a matter of days if not hours (Gardiner 2014).
In 2013, the disease appeared in localized regions along the Pacific coast-first in Olympic National Park, then Vancouver, Monterey, and Puget Sound. During 2014, the disease spread as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico and reached previously unaffected areas such as Oregon. While sea stars have undergone disease outbreaks in the past, including wasting events, the geographical extent (4,000 miles ranging from Alaska to Mexico) has never been this widespread. Furthermore, during previous wasting events it was predominately only one species that appeared to be susceptible to the disease; currently, up to 12 species have been affected by this wasting event (Gashler 2014).
Sea Stars A Keystone Predator
The most commonly observed sea stars that are affected are ochre stars (Pisaster ochraceus) and sunflower stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides). Ochre stars are at risk of becoming locally extinct along the Oregon coast where sea star wasting is particularly pronounced. Because of their role as keystone predators, ochre and sunflower stars are vital to the community structure of intertidal ecosystems. During an experiment in 1969, a scientist named Robert Paine from University of Washington discovered that the presence (or absence) of these stars heavily influenced rocky intertidal communities (Gashler 2014). Specifically, Dr. Paine noted that the removal of this species disrupts the balance of other species in marine communities by increasing the number of smaller predators, such as sea urchins and mussels, which sea stars would normally consume. When sunflower and ochre stars were removed from the shoreline, sea urchins began to dominate the intertidal community and kelp, a primary food source of sea urchins, which normally serves as food and habitat for other species, became scarce. Without the top-down predator control provided by starfish, mussel populations also disproportionately increased in relation to other species. The result was the displacement of a number of other species, including barnacles and limpets. Today, similar to the outcome of the 1969 experiment, marine communities are being re-shaped; this time, however, communities are changing not as the result of a small scale experiment but as a result of sea star wasting occurring across thousands of miles.
The Link Between Climate Change and Marine Pathogens
So far, the cause of sea star wasting is thought to be a virus, more specifically a type of parvovirus (Parvoviridae) which affects a range of species including invertebrates and vertebrates. Interestingly, the type of parvovirus-Sea Star-Associated Densovirus, has existed since the 1940’s and also occurs in sea urchins. Why this virus is suddenly causing large-scale sea star die-offs is uncertain (Osgood 2014). A theory that many of researchers are leaning to is that abiotic stressors, such as warmer water temperatures and a lower pH, are impacting the ability of marine organisms to cope with disease (Burge et al. 2013; Bates et al. 2009). Warming ocean waters is one of the most pronounced changes that has occurred within marine ecosystems in recent years. During a small localized wasting event in 2008, researchers at the University of British Columbia first documented an increase in disease susceptibility in Pisatser ochraceus correlated to warmer water temperatures (Bates et al. 2009).
Changes in environment, both on land and in the ocean, influence the intensity of disease outbreaks (Burge et al. 2013). According to Colleen Burge, a marine biologist at Cornell, the number of marine disease outbreaks spike following higher than average water temperatures. Warmer temperatures tend to make marine organisms, such as corals, more susceptible to disease by weakening their immune response and increasing the occurrence of disease. Marine pathogens are also moving toward the poles following the migration of marine organisms (Burge et al. 2013). This may be a clue as to why sea star wasting which once occurred in localized areas and only affected a small percent of populations is now extensively affecting populations thousands of miles apart.
During 2014, sea star wasting spread to Alaska and Mexico. In 2015, water temperatures in the Pacific are predicted to remain elevated as a result of an El Nino weather pattern, further extending the duration of physical stress incurred on sea star populations. Even if sea star populations recover, the intensity and extensive geographic range of this wasting event signifies an alarming trend- the declining health and resiliency of marine ecosystems. It is uncertain whether the loss of sea stars in marine communities will be lasting or temporary. However, one thing is certain, the diversity, composition, and abundance-the entire structure of particular marine communities, depend on the presence of starfish. As ecologists, we tend to look at systems in their entirety, however, starfish remind us that there are defining species within an ecosystem which necessitate a higher level of concern.
(Watch this clip of starfish legs breaking off and moving independently. Caution: disturbing content).
Bates, A. et al. 2009. Effects of temperature, season and locality on wasting disease in the keystone predatory sea star Pisaster ochraceus. Inter-Research Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 86: 245-251.
Burge, C. et al. 2014. Climate change influences on marine infectious diseases: implications for management and society. Annual review of marine science 6: 249-277.
Gashler, K. 2014. Sea star wasting devastates Pacific coast species. Cornell University, Cornell Chronicle.
Gardiner, L. 2014. Sea star deaths along the west coast elicit close study. Scientific American, Blogs.
University of California, Santa Cruz, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Dept. 2014. Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring, Trends and Synthesis: Sea Star Wasting Syndrome.
About the Author
Kate Gazzo is an ecologist specializing in water quality issues and watershed management. Kate holds a Master’s degree from the University of San Francisco in Environmental Management and a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies with a minor in Biology from Florida Gulf Cost University.Leave a comment
November 18, 2014
Great Ecology is proud to announce that three of our Landscape Architects/Designers, Carl Carlson RLA, Chris Loftus RLA, and Erin Hathaway MPS, have been elected to Executive Boards for the Association of Landscape Architects (ASLA) chapters in New York, Colorado, and Kentucky.
New York based Associate Landscape Designer, Carl Carlson has over eight years of experience in the design and construction management of large scale landscape projects. He has served on multiple design committees including the ASLA-NY, AIANY/ASLA-NY’s Post Sandy Initiative Waterfront Working Group, and NYC’s Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency through the Municipal Art Society. In addition to his newly elected position as an executive board member, Carl serves on the planning committee for NYASLA.
Based in Great Ecology’s Denver office, Landscape Architect Chris Loftus has over 10 years of experience working in the Western United States. He has experience developing neighborhood and community master plans, designing innovative stormwater solutions, and solving an array of equally complex landscape projects. As the new ASLA Colorado Chapter Vice President of Programs, Chris will monitor, mange, and provide oversight for all Chapter programs and chair the Events and Service Committee.
Kentucky office lead and Associate Designer, Erin Hathaway specializes in interdisciplinary communication and collaboration uniting ecology, landscape architecture, urban planning, and engineering concepts. She has successfully collaborated on restoration, mitigation, and public park projects across the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and throughout Kentucky. Erin serves as an At-Large Member of the KYASLA Executive Committee. This is Erin’s second year serving on the KYASLA Executive Committee.
Great Ecology congratulates Carl, Chris, and Erin on their elected positions!
Contact our Design Team to learn more about Great Ecology’s landscape architecture practice and ecological design services.Leave a comment
November 15, 2014
George Patten, M.S.
Once known as the ‘Miracle in the Desert,’ the Salton Sea is the biggest lake in California, and hosts one of the largest and most diverse bird populations in the Continental United States. The area also supports numerous migratory waterfowl, wetlands, and habitats for endangered and sensitive wildlife. The lake itself has a storied past, originally forming by accident in 1905 when levees holding the Colorado River broke and flooded the dry basin for two years. A few decades later, the area developed into a thriving tourist destination complete with swanky resorts, yacht clubs, and even celebrity sightings – Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were among the jet set who frequented the area in the 50’s and 60’s. In the late 1970’s, ecological conditions in the lake began to decline, causing tourism to dry up and leaving resorts and real estate abandoned. The continued degradation of the Salton Sea, and threats to its future existence, have prompted debate about how to manage the area and restore its valuable ecology.
Historical Formation and Ecological Problems
Historically, the Salton Basin supported an extensive inland aquatic network, which at its full capacity was approximately five times the current size of the lake. Due to the arid climate of the region, however, the Salton Basin dried up completely for several decades leading up to the 1905 floods. Currently the major source of water to the lake is from agricultural drainage, which contains dissolved salts that contribute to the lake’s salinity. At 235 feet below sea level, the lake has no drainage outlet, and over time the lake’s salinity reached about 44 parts per thousand, or about 25% greater than that of the ocean. High nutrient inputs to the lake led to eutrophic conditions that caused massive fish fatalities and water quality impacts, ultimately resulting in the decline of the booming tourism industry in the area.
Current Environmental Concerns
Today, the Salton Sea still supports critical ecological niches and serves as a crucial stopover for migratory birds, particularly with the substantial loss of wetlands in other parts of California. However, continued water quality issues and increasing salinity pose a threat to the aquatic ecosystem and the lake’s ability to support wildlife. Lower flows and increased evaporation have caused the lake to recede, exacerbating the problems with salinity. Recent court rulings and legislation, including the upholding of the 2003 Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), will reduce California’s draw from the Colorado River and result in flows being diverted away from the Salton Sea to more urban areas. Without these flows, water levels in the lake could continue to recede, causing even greater levels of salinity, further impacting aquatic life and bird populations that rely on it. The lower lake levels would also expose more shoreline, which after drying could create harmful particulate-carrying dust that pose serious health concerns for the area.
The Costs of Inaction
Opinions about the fate of the lake vary between those who feel protecting the ecosystem is critical to those who prioritize water needs of California’s growing populations. Many visitors to the Salton Sea note the stark qualities of the landscape, comparing the abandoned buildings and decaying fish to some kind of post-apocalyptic scene (think Mad Max). But, despite the area’s economic and aesthetic decline, there are still compelling reasons to support its preservation and ecological restoration.
The Pacific Institute recently estimated that the costs of inaction will range in the tens of billions in the coming decades, if no measures are taken to prevent ecological collapse of the lake The organization notes that the 2003 QSA mandated an environmental impact study of the Salton Sea and a funding plan for restoration (estimated to cost $9 billion), which has not been implemented. More recently, voters in California during the November elections approved Proposition 1, a $7.5 billion bond measure to support various water supply, quality, and infrastructure projects. It also earmarks $500 million for restoration projects, including those designed to benefit the Salton Sea.
Although not a panacea, the passing of Proposition 1 represents a promising step towards protecting the critical ecology of the Salton Sea, and avoiding a high price tag in the form of lost habitat and human health consequences. While the fate of the Salton Sea is far from certain, recent interest in its preservation offers hope for its continued existence, rather than its reduction to a point in the history books.Leave a comment
November 12, 2014
Great Ecology is thrilled to be featured in this week’s edition of the San Diego Business Journal as an industry leading environmental consulting firm. Alongside the industry’s explosive growth and following a three-year growth rate of 194% from 2011- 2013, Great Ecology is on track to have the most successful year to date. Founder and CEO, Dr. Mark S. Laska, attributes the profound success of his company to a growing awareness and pressure on projects to include an ecological approach. “There’s only so much natural land left, and the development is going right out to the edge of nature,” he says. “We are doing something right, and the industry is ready.”
Great Ecology strives to connect people with natural resources, and integrates ecology with design to achieve innovative solutions to complex environmental challenges.Leave a comment
November 7, 2014
Ashley Tuggle, M.E.M.
At stake: 31,000 jobs and up to $5.6 billion in annual economic activity.
First it was the Northern Spotted Owl in 1990, then it was the Delta Smelt in 1993, now the next great Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing controversy is underway over a squat, chicken-like bird called the Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus).
The sage-grouse is dependent on the sagebrush steppe ecosystem to survive with subsistence and ceremonial importance to Native American tribes in the western United States. Their diet consists primarily of soft sagebrush leaves (up to 98% during the winter months) and they rely on large, open flats surrounded by sagebrush called leks for space to perform their curious and iconic courtship displays. Birds tend to use the same leks and associated nesting sites year after year. As a result of this reliance on lek-sites, sage-grouse are particularly vulnerable to habitat alterations and disturbances to lekking habitat. Population trends have historically mirrored the percent cover and areal extent of sagebrush habitat. With alterations to the rangelands of the west though the years, Sage-grouse have been reduced to 56% of their historic range. Conservation efforts in the last 15-20 years have slowed the rate of population decline, but many populations of grouse are still shrinking, all the same.
Impacts of Sage-grouse Listing
With a range stretching across approximately 165 million acres in 11 states, the economic impact of a potential ESA listing for the sage-grouse is staggering. Plans calling for the strictest conservation measures under the ESA could result in the loss of up to 31,000 jobs, up to $5.6 billion in annual economic activity, and more than $262 million in lost state and local revenue per year in the 11 states with sage-grouse habitat according to a widely cited 2013 study by the Law Offices of Lowell E. Baier. This presents a two-fold challenge for states, which typically fund conservation efforts on public lands through user fees. First, it reduces major revenues currently generated from energy development and ranching in the region. Second, with much of the land in question closed to public access if the sage-grouse is listed, generating the fees to fund conservation will likely be difficult.
Historical Sage-grouse Rulings
This issue has been brewing since 2005 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) declined to list the Greater Sage-grouse as threatened. Several environmental groups sued and the FWS reevaluated the available evidence. In 2010, the sage-grouse was once more passed over for listing in favor of higher-priority species. However, the FWS noted that listing was “warranted, but precluded.” Again, environmental groups rallied and in 2011, the FWS agreed to reconsider a listing for the species by September 30, 2015. With the potential ESA listing less than a year away, an unlikely coalition of developers, ranchers, state regulatory agencies, and even some environmental groups have banded together to develop voluntary, incentive-based strategies to conserve sage-grouse habitat and protect this iconic species.
Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar invited states to develop sage-grouse conservation plans in 2009 in the belief that successful landscape level planning and management will require effective coordination between the state and local governments as well as private landowners. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has made efforts toward developing a more comprehensive and consistent sage-grouse management strategy to ensure a landscape level approach to the conservation issue. Current Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has continued this initiative and noted that all states must show good faith efforts to find an effective conservation strategy and if one does not, it may jeopardize the survival of the sage-grouse.
However, there are concerns that special interest groups will use their lobbying power to weaken sage-grouse protection in certain states if they’re allowed to develop their own protection regulations.
Even though governors and congressional leaders of affected states have attempted to sway the Interior Department, state land and wildlife managers almost uniformly believe that the FWS will rule in favor of listing the sage-grouse as threatened. The issue has grown to the point that Republican lawmakers in both houses of Congress have introduced legislation that would specifically block listing for the sage-grouse under the ESA.
June 2014 paints a more cooperative and less contentious view of the sage-grouse issue. The BLM has adopted Wyoming’s plan to conserve sage-grouse habitat, signaling that the sage-grouse may not be listed. Secretary Jewell’s recent tour of the western states and her praise for the voluntary efforts of ranchers in the Wyoming region indicate that a shift may have occurred. However, the ultimate decision for listing still lies with the FWS.
Whether it’s federal ESA listing or state conservation programs, Wyoming’s plan has become the model for the region and for public-private partnerships. Adopted in June 2014, the Plan updates the Lander Resource Management Plan, a 27-year-old document covering 3.5 million acres of Wyoming. The provisions limit new development activities within designated Core Population Areas for sage-grouse unless project proponents can prove that there will be no detriment to sage-grouse populations. This can be done on a project-specific basis or through compliance with general and industry-specific land use stipulations geared toward restricting surface disturbance (particularly around leks) and surface occupancy during sensitive times of the year.
However, some environmentalists are concerned that the Plan lacks real teeth. Land use restrictions only apply to activities of, or authorized by, state agencies and not to private actions not requiring state agency approval. In other words, the conservation plan requirements are voluntary on private lands. Further raising concerns is a recent deal between Wyoming’s governor and Chesapeake Energy that allows continued horizontal drilling for oil wells in a Core Population Area of Converse County, Wyoming. In return, Chesapeake Energy has paid the state to improve conservation efforts in other Core Population Areas. The closed-door nature of the deal has embittered many looking to the state to stand firm on their conservation plan to prevent ESA listing.
No one across the 11-state range for the birds, public and private interests alike, wants another Northern Spotted Owl. The listing of this species remains controversial with industry analysts and conservationists at odds over the economic impact, though no one can deny that the northwest timber industry has declined in recent decades. However, if voluntary efforts are not seen as effective within the next 11 months, energy interests (renewable and fossil-fuel, alike), ranchers, and state wildlife management officials will need to prepare for sweeping restrictions as the FWS works to prevent the extinction of the Greater Sage-grouse and the destruction and fragmentation of its sagebrush habitat.
About the Author:
Ashley Tuggle is one of Great Ecology’s Ecologists specializing in biological surveys, geospatial and statistical analysis, and wetland ecology. She holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Management, with a Certificate of Geospatial Analysis from the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.Leave a comment
November 4, 2014
We’re excited to announce Great Ecology’s Sacramento office has moved to a new location.
Contact Senior Ecologist and office lead, Dr. Jessie Quinn to learn more about Great Ecology’s environmental consulting services in the Sac-Bay Delta and greater Northern California area.
Our new contact information is:
1008 2nd Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
November 3, 2014
“If I am not listening to the people I work with on a daily basis, then I am not paying attention to the world in which I live.” –Dr. Mark Laska, Where Leaders Find Advice, The Zweig Letter November 3rd Issue.
Great Ecology’s Founder & CEO Dr. Mark Laska is featured alongside other industry leaders in the recent Zweig Letter. Dr. Laska shares his “go-to resources” for facilitating his business achievements, including his mentor, wife, friends, and forum. Great Ecology is thrilled to be featured again by Zweig Group after being honored as one of the Hot 100 Firms of 2014.
For more articles visit The Zweig Letter.
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October 31, 2014
Jeff Harlan Esq., LEED AP
In the pantheon of environmental activists, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. isn’t the first person to come to mind. And while usually known for his contributions to the nation’s civil rights movement in the 1960’s, Dr. King often wove a thread of environmentalism in his speeches. He is widely cited as stating, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Dr. King’s suggestion that we should always care for our natural resources and be good stewards for future generations has some new scientific support. In a recent study of nearly 700,000 trees, 37 scientists from 16 nations determined that, contrary to other animals and living things, trees grow faster the older they get.
According to the study, published in the January 2014 issue of Nature, tree growth rate increases continuously as trees get bigger and bigger. While trees seem to reach a height limit, they continue to add mass and get wider with age.
Co-author Nate Stephenson, a forest ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey based in California’s Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks (home to some of the world’s largest and awe inspiring trees), explains, “It’s as if, on your favorite sports team, you find out the star players are a bunch of 90-year-olds. They’re the most active. They’re the ones scoring the most points.”
This is particularly important in considering the role trees play in reducing carbon dioxide, the gas most commonly associated with climate change. Trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store it as carbon in their wood; and the older, larger ones do it in greater quantities.
So if you were to draft an All Star team to combat climate change, you’d pass on the flashy rookie sapling and load up on the (very) seasoned veteran trees. A solid bench of mature trees—an old growth forest, for example—holds a lot of carbon.
And while growing bigger, more mature trees is a sustainable forestry practice, it also has practical applications. There’s a story about a building at New College in Oxford, England, where the main hall, built in the 1600s, was constructed with huge oak beams. By the 1950s, the 40-foot long by 2-foot thick beams were rotting, and replacing them at current prices was prohibitive.
The school’s building committee ultimately consulted the College Forester, who replied, “We’ve been wondering when you would ask this question. When the present building was constructed 350 years ago the architects specified that a grove of trees be planted and maintained to replace the beams in the ceiling when they would suffer from dry rot.” Clearly a forester with foresight understands how long-term stewardship and resource management plays a critical role in our natural and built environments.
Cities across the United States are focusing on improving their green infrastructure, expanding tree planting and instituting sustainable management practices to optimize the benefits trees provide. New York City is one of the most well-known examples, and Great Ecology’s assessments of and restoration designs for the Central Park Woodlands illustrates how communities can improve a resource’s functionality in an urban context.
Promoting long-term growth of trees also depends on understanding how these living organisms require certain planting conditions to survive and thrive. In their recently released paper, “Trees in Urban Design,” professional engineer Paul Crabtree and certified arborist Lysistrata Hall offer a set of principles and tools to guide effective and sustainable tree planting in our city streetscapes. One of these principles—design the tree from the roots up—recognizes the idea that trees need sufficient space, especially in urban conditions.
Selecting the appropriate tree for a particular location can mean the difference between growing an asset and planting a liability. For example, comparing one tree planted in 150 cubic feet of soil to the same tree in 1,000 cubic feet, the former provides about -$3,500 net lifecycle costs, while the latter provides over $25,000 in benefits during its longer lifetime. According to Crabtree and Hall, a tree in less soil would have to be replanted five times because its lifespan is only 7-10 years (in comparison to one tree in significantly more soil living 50+ years).
So the next time you gaze at a towering redwood in an old-growth forest, admire the wood-beamed structure of a building, or enjoy the beauty and shade of a canopied street, think of those who planned for the long-term. In Dr. King’s words, this kind of stewardship will ensure the “world will not go to pieces.” Knock on wood.
About the Author:
Jeff Harlan is Great Ecology’s Senior Planner with over 15 years of experience as a community planner, specializing in sustainable development, strategic planning, and environmental design. Trained as an environmental attorney, Jeff has an expert knowledge of community development and brings a unique approach to complex land use problems.Leave a comment
October 30, 2014
Come meet Great Ecology’s staff at one of the upcoming conferences:
Atlantic Estuarine Research Society Fall 2014 Meeting.
Join Senior Ecologist and former AERS President, Dr. David J. Yozzo this week: Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Restore America’s Estuaries
Come by our booth and meet our team in Washington D.C. – we’ll be at booth #215 Nov. 2-5
Wildlife Habitat Council Annual Symposium
Nov, 10-11 in Baltimore
Meet President Dr. Mark Laska and Senior Ecologists Dr. David J. Yozzo and Rick Black
And, catch Dr. Laska on the Panel Session #2, on Monday, Nov. 10, presenting Innovative Habitat Restoration Approaches on Remediated Corporate Lands.
SETAC North America
Nov 9-14, Vancouver
VP Technical Services, Timothy Hoelzle heads up to Vancouver and joins Mike Hooper of the U.S. Geological Survey on Thursday Nov. 13 to discuss the integration of remediation and final site restoration on contaminated sites. They’re sharing key takeaways form the joint SER/SETAC workshop earlier this year.
ASLA Annual Meeting
Nov. 21-24, Denver
Meet Associate Landscape Architect, Chris Loftus, RLA, and Associate Designer, Charlie Howe
See you there!Leave a comment