Los Angeles Times

Millions of trees are dying due to California drought

Pine trees in the Monterey Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

Pine trees in the Monterey Ranger District of the Los Padres National Forest. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

At least 12 million trees have died in California’s national forests because of four years of extreme drought, scientists say.

An aerial survey of select areas in Southern California and the south Sierra Nevada in early April showed that millions of trees have died and were “most severely drought impacted,” said biologist Jeffrey Moore, acting regional aerial survey program manager for the U.S. Forest Service.

Officials believed the trees will continue to die as summer approaches.

“It is almost certain that millions more trees will die over the course of the upcoming summer as the drought situation continues and becomes ever more long term and as bark beetle populations continue to expand,” he said.

William Patzert, climatologist for Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has told the Los Angeles Times that California’s dwindling snowpack and warmer temperatures pose an extreme fire danger in the state’s forests.

Mountain lion P-22 should have a real name; bring on the suggestions!

The mountain lion known as P-22, fitted with a GPS collar, is caught on camera on Griffith park. (National Park Service)

The mountain lion known as P-22, fitted with a GPS collar, is caught on camera on Griffith park. (National Park Service)

When we wrote an editorial last week suggesting that the mountain lion P-22, who strolled out of his usual Griffith Park habitat and temporarily hunkered down in the crawl space of a nearby Los Feliz house, should be given a proper name, our readers took up the challenge.

“May I suggest ‘El Soltero,’ which means ‘The Bachelor’ in Spanish,” Carlisle wrote.

Indeed, P-22 should be on the prowl for love. That’s what Kate Kuykendall of the National Park Service told me when I talked to her last week. “One of the big things for them, when they turn 2, is to be with a mate,” she said. That’s probably why he left the western part of the Santa Monica Mountains—his DNA ties him to mountain lions that have roamed there—and, daringly, crossed the 405 and 101 freeways in the first place. But now he’s in Griffith Park, the pickings for mates are slim, and he really has nowhere to go easily. He’s estimated to be 5 or 6 years old. The clock is ticking for him.

High levels of benzene found in fracking waste water

Oil pumps and drilling equipment in an oil field in Kern County, where the majority of California's oil and gas production is centered. A year's worth of data from tests on water coming out of hundreds of fracked wells found high concentrations of benzene, a human carcinogen. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Oil pumps and drilling equipment in an oil field in Kern County, where the majority of California’s oil and gas production is centered. A year’s worth of data from tests on water coming out of hundreds of fracked wells found high concentrations of benzene, a human carcinogen. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Hoping to better understand the health effects of oil fracking, the state in 2013 ordered oil companies to test the chemical-laden waste water extracted from wells.

Data culled from the first year of those tests found significant concentrations of the human carcinogen benzene in this so-called “flowback fluid.” In some cases, the fracking waste liquid, which is frequently reinjected into groundwater, contained benzene levels thousands of times greater than state and federal agencies consider safe.

The testing results from hundreds of wells showed, on average, benzene levels 700 times higher than federal standards allow, according to a Times analysis of the state data.

The presence of benzene in fracking waste water is raising alarm over potential public health dangers amid admissions by state oil and gas regulators that California for years inadvertently allowed companies to inject fracking flowback water into protected aquifers containing drinking water.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency called the state’s errors “shocking.” The agency’s regional director said that California’s oil field waste water injection program has been mismanaged and does not comply with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Beck faults officers in killing of unarmed man

Brian Newt Beaird's father, Bill, weeps at a news conference in front of LAPD headquarters. The city paid $5 million to settle the family's lawsuit. (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times)

Brian Newt Beaird’s father, Bill, weeps at a news conference in front of LAPD headquarters. The city paid $5 million to settle the family’s lawsuit. (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times)

Three Los Angeles police officers violated department rules for using deadly force when they fatally shot an unarmed man following a high-speed chase last year, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has found.

Beck rejected the officers’ claims that they opened fire because they feared that their lives were in danger.

“The preponderance of the evidence does not independently support [the officers’] perceptions that a deadly threat was present,” Beck wrote in a recently released report. The Dec. 13, 2013, shooting drew national attention after local news programs televised it live.

The suspect, Brian Newt Beaird, had turned and was moving away from officers when the three opened fire, according to the video footage. Beaird was hit by 15 shots. The three bullets that mostly likely killed Beaird, a 51-year-old National Guard veteran, struck him from behind, the report said.

As the investigation was ongoing, city officials signaled in April that they did not believe there was a plausible justification for the decision to fire on Beaird when they agreed to pay $5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the man’s family.

Beck now must decide what punishment, if any, to give to the officers, who have remained relieved of duty since the shooting. They face possible suspensions or firing, although Beck could elect to simply order them to receive further training.

In a turnabout, Colorado Democrats win back seats lost in gun recall

Colorado Democrats won back a pair of seats lost in a 2013 recall election. Former State Sen. President John Morse, one of those ousted for supporting gun controls, said he always knew Democrats would take the seats back in the 2014 midterm election. (Michael Ciaglo / Associated Press)

Colorado Democrats won back a pair of seats lost in a 2013 recall election. Former State Sen. President John Morse, one of those ousted for supporting gun controls, said he always knew Democrats would take the seats back in the 2014 midterm election. (Michael Ciaglo / Associated Press)

Few states have experienced the political volatility that Colorado has over the last two decades.

Control of the Legislature flipped back and forth. The state see-sawed in presidential contests.

The last two years, though, have been particularly eventful.

In 2013, after Democrats seized control of the statehouse under Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, lawmakers went on a spree, passing a liberal wish list that thrilled left-leaning constituents but alienated plenty of others, especially rural conservatives upset by a brace of gun-control measures adopted after the July 2012 Aurora theater massacre.

The result, just a few months later, was a nationally publicized recall that ended in the ouster of two Democratic lawmakers, one of them president of the state Senate.

On Tuesday, however, in a little-noticed footnote to Colorado’s closely watched gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, the Democrats won back both of those seats, and it wasn’t at all close in either Pueblo or Colorado Springs.

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