Announcements – Week of 06/19/14

Tomales High Graduation Revamped

The 102nd Tomales High School graduation, an annual rite of passage and community event, was invigorated at last Friday’s ceremony. Gone were the bleachers, replaced by hundreds of white plastic chairs on the gym floor with plenty of room for standees and photo ops after the ceremony- which started at 7 pm instead of 8. The gym stage became a real stage, with wings for the support staff and technology.

The best change of all was the old hoary chestnut of a graduation processional, Pomp and Circumstance, given new life as performed by Tomales High School’s Pan Band. The Pan Band, put a spring in everyone’s step and the graduates stepped lively while approaching the stage.

Congratulations to members of the class of 2014:

Ivan Aceves, Julie Bibee, Jake Brady, Judith Bravo, Manny Brazil, Anthony Feliciano, Matt Fisher, Angel Flores, Geena Garcia-Wagner, Dania Gomez, Jonathan Gomez, Ricardo Gonzalez, Yessica Gonzalez, David Guerrero, Chris Gutierrez, Leticia Hernandez, Giana Lawson, Whitney Lawson, Joselin Macias, Omar Macias, Alondra Martinez, Briana Martinez, Mayra Martinez, Tyler McFadden, Alexis McIsaac, Marissa Mehr, salutatorian Danny Moretti, William Nunes, Juan Padilla, Edgar Palomares, Sierra Parr, Nate Passantino, Maddy Pitt, Jackie Rodriguez, Eduardo Romo, Yesenia Sanchez, Micah Smith, valedictorian Holly Soreng, Jack Strozzi and Dalal Wakid..

New Transit Option for Tomales and Dillon Beach

Big news for Tomales and Dillon Beach! Marin Transit has added a Stagecoach bus service run on Tuesdays that will launch June 10. Make that three runs; the Route 65 Stagecoach will pick up folks at the Dillon Beach day beach parking lot, the western terminus at 10:29 am 2:00 pm and 4:49 pm each Tuesday with other stops including downtown Tomales, the Coast Guard station, Two Rock Presbyterian Church and several stops in Petaluma, plus three return runs. Riders are even offered free transfers with Petaluma Transit services. The buses are equipped to handle up to two wheelchairs or two bicycles, but not surfboards. For full fare and schedule information, see

Book Launch Party

The Hankins family, members of the Petaluma and Tomales communities, are celebrating William Hankin’s book, Alpha Guard, the True Story of California’s First Prison Gang Investigator with a book launch party at the Hideaway, 128 Kentucky Street, Petaluma from 5 to 9:00 pm Friday, June 13.          “Our father was special, at least to us, but we have discovered through the publishing process that our father was a legend according to law enforcement and inmate sources”

Everyone is invited to attend this event, which features a special presentation at 6:00 p.m. to honor Hankins and the work he did in law enforcement.

Kick-off Classic Honors THS Football Legends

Friends of Tomales High School Football host the third annual Kick-Off Classic Monday, June 23rd at Lagunitas Brewing Company, 1280 North McDowell Boulevard, Petaluma from 5 to 8:00 pm. This event honors the “Gridiron Greats” of Tomales High School’s football history, names famous in their day such as Gary Cheda, Ron Petroni, Joe Lopes, Andy Bordessa, Jr., Darren Evans, Chris Ludlow and Kevin Ballatore. Pre-sale tickets are $25, at the door, $30 for this fundraiser, with all proceeds going to the Tomales High football program. Dinner, live music and a 50/50 raffle are all part of the fun.

For tickets or more information, call any of the following folks: Fred Gilardi, (415) 663-9427, Joe Moreda, (707) 529-0836, Renee Renati, (707) 477-7352, or Leon Feliciano at either of two numbers, (707) 575-3520 or (707) 889-0694.

Reeling in the Years – Bob Evans

On April 15, Bob Evans of Marshall turned 100 years old. A retired architect, Mr. Evans enjoyed a successful career designing university campuses throughout the UC system and as far afield as Okinawa and Afghanistan.

Mr. Evans celebrated his centennial anniversary at Cypress Grove with his daughters and their families, including seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. He exchanged email with the Citizen about it all.

West Marin Citizen: When did you move to West Marin and what community do you live in?

Bob Evans: In 1960 we bought our West Marin weekend home in Marshall and retired here fulltime in 1971 from Lafayette.

WMC: If you were to write your autobiography, what would the book be titled?

BE: The book title would be The Family.

WMC: What’s been the biggest surprise of your life so far?

BE: The biggest surprise of my life was that I had enough fortitude and guts to propose marriage to the love of my life.

WMC: When you have a couple of hours to yourself, how do you like to spend your time?

BE: Today I like to remember the past – sailing, swimming, camping, traveling, hiking and fishing. Also, memorizing my great-grandchildren’s names – and painting.

WMC: What surprises you most about the people who live in West Marin?

BE: People are authentic in our community, offering their gifts of time and talent.

WMC: What’s the main thing in your life you’re most proud of?

BE: I am most proud of my family and friends and my professional contribution to architecture, planning and education at the University of California, university-wide. It was an opportunity to enhance and improve the physical planning on the campuses. I was one of the founding four who established the Association of University Architects that has grown to a well-recognized and respected organization.

WMC: If you could change one thing about the world, what would that be?

BE: If I could change one thing in this world, it would be to bring peace and harmony to all. And eliminate greed.

WMC: There’s that saying — Older and Wiser. Any thoughts on that?

BE: There’s more poetry than truth in it. We are never wise enough.

WMC: What are you reading these days?

BE: I read about world affairs and business.

WMC: What really gets your goat?

BE: Trying to remember how to use my computer and iPad really gets my goat. It’s a challenge to adapt to the rapid changes in education, the sciences and the technology world.

WMC: What’s your most notable quirk and/or foible?

BE: Mispronouncing names and forgetting words.

WMC: What are you known to say over and over again?

BE: “What day is it?” “What time is it?”

WMC: Any advice for others approaching their 100th birthdays?

BE: Be grateful. Keep moving.

By Larken Bradley

Moving Tribute to Ana Maria Ramirez

Inverness school staff

On Tuesday June 3, the Inverness School gathered to celebrate Ana Maria Ramirez who is retiring from her position as teacher’s aide.

Ana Maria has been working at Inverness School for 22 years- in the classroom, on the playground, and in food services. She raised her own children in Inverness Park, and her grandchildren also attended Inverness School. She is well known by all the children and families of the school community.

Many of those she taught in the early years have grown up now, with children of their own. When they see her around town, they always ask, “Are you still working at the school?” “Yes!” she laughs. “Are you still ringing the bell?” “Yes!” she laughs again. She feels blessed to have received so many gifts while working in the school. And while she is sad to be leaving, she knows it is time for a change.

Ana Maria once dreamed of traveling during her retirement years, but now her sister is sick and needs her care. Her number one priority is to be there to support her. However, she will still work part-time at the Marin Literacy Program.

Parents, staff, family and friends were invited to the Inverness School to thank Ana Maria for her many contributions. After sharing food and conversation, people gathered in a circle around Ana Maria. The youngest children ran to huddle in her arms. One by one people spoke of their gratitude.

“Hundreds of youth have been touched by you, and that has made our community strong. You bring people together,” said first grade teacher, DeeLynn Armstrong.

“You moved through the school every day with grace and calm,” spoke School Administrator Chris Greene.

Kindergarten teacher Melissa Riley said, “Ana Maria, you have always been very generous with your time and love, creating hand-made gifts for the children each year.  My daughter who is now 18 recalls that following a field trip to the Teddy Bear Factory in San Francisco, you crafted a hand-knit sweater for each child’s bear in the school.  That’s how much you care about the kids.”

Eileen Puppo, who worked with Ana Maria at the Marin Literacy Center for 10 years said, “You are a marvel! A great storyteller. You passed these things on to the children. Every child you touched felt everything in your heart that went out to them.”

John Littleton, a former teacher of both Inverness and West Marin School, said, “Ana Maria touched so many hearts, because she has a Huichol Indian heritage that fills her with spirit.” He then thanked her in Huichol from his heart. “Pom pas dias.”

When asked what she will miss the most on leaving the school, Ana Maria said, “Always the kids.” Her eyes filled with tears as she told how much she has enjoyed watching the kids grow through the school, and how rewarding it has been to see them succeed in their lives, especially the Latino kids who have in the past had less hope. Ana Maria said she was happy to see that the professional support and programs for second language have improved over the years, and that this gives her even greater hope for the future.

As a final act of thanks, Ana Maria was presented with a beautiful hand-made book, Memories for Ana Maria of Inverness School, filled with photographs and personal thank you messages from the school children and staff over the last 10 years.

At the closing of the circle, Ana Maria thanked everyone from her heart. “I will miss everybody” she said “but I am still here!” With that she laughed, as she joined her four teaching colleagues in blowing the whistles from around their necks one last time, as they tossed their hats into the air.

By Raven Gray

Lowest Wage-Earners Left Out of Forum for Housing

The “Housing Solutions for West Marin” meeting organized by Fred Smith held Wednesday night at the Dance Palace was well-attended by those who care deeply about housing issues in West Marin, with many contributing up-to-date information. Surprisingly, few people who I think need the help most dearly attended the meeting. That may have had to do with the way the meeting was advertised.
Sadly, the group was devoid of the familiar Latino faces we see at almost every community event, and was poorly attended by young parents and artists who grew up out here. I’m worried about them. Paraphrasing filmmaker Humphrey Jennings- because people share the same landscape, history and culture, they’ve got a collective unconsciousness, the legacy of feeling, the thing that gets people through the tough times together.
While Smith’s well-researched and careful presentation focused on solutions for the housing density problem for the median-wage earner in West Marin, low-income or homeless problems were not addressed. The statistics Smith presented for the median-income earner are to live here while eking out very small or fixed incomes, paying well over the 40 percent of monthly income Smith cited is too high for median-income residents. What little remains after rent is much different for low-income earners when it comes to buying food in West Marin.

For moderate-income residents, Smith suggested “Deed Restricted Housing,” requiring a change in county ordinances to offer incentives to owners to sell at the “median income affordable rate;” helping buyers to streamline inspection, permitting, property improvements and septic expenses; offering a reward to any owner who would rent at the median affordable rate (a bonus of 2 times the density- allowing them to build more multi-units); or offering owners of B&B’s incentives to return them to the rental market or to convert vacation homes to rental units.
Some sites Smith mentioned for future rental units included the “D” street strip, home of the Pinecone Diner, for second floor flats and, intriguingly, the Coast Guard Base with its 39 housing units already in place. Unfortunately is no septic system on the base — the CG has been trucking the stuff out for the past 40 years.
Smith offered novel solutions including the creation of a West Marin Housing Trust Fund similar to the one in Bolinas, possibly administered by Community Land Trust Association of West Marin. CLAM has worked very hard to address the housing problems here, rescuing and renting eight housing units, but when CLAM began, the goal was to provide “permanently affordable access to land, decent housing and workplaces for low or moderate income community members.”
Because CLAM follows Housing and Urban Development guidelines, qualifications for rent applications restrict its assistance to those with incomes of at least three times the rent, or $36,000 for a $1,000 per month unit, considered by HUD as “low-income.” The stark reality is that most full-time service workers here make much less. One local diswasher makes $10.00 an
hour or $21,800 a year, for which HUD has a different category, “extremely low-income.”
For housing-insecure locals who struggle with rent and run out of money well before the end of each month, CLAM can’t offer much. If CLAM is unable to help the poor and address the sense of hopelessness in our local dishwashers, childcare workers and gardeners, it is time to create an organization that is more of an advocacy group.
It became clear to me by the end of the meeting that a generational divide may be causing some of unnecessary disconnect within our community. While most of the young or middle-aged people in West Marin can be contacted instantly online using social media, a few folk at the meeting said they would opt-out of any email list or Facebook. If we want to reach all sectors of the West Marin population these days, it is necessary to have a multi-focal and bi-lingual communication patchwork including direct mail, the two newspapers, KWMR, email lists, websites, social media, the libraries and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. If we don’t do that, the generational and cultural divide in this community will only get worse.

By Peggy Day



Ninth Circuit’s Drakes Bay Decision Would Hamper Historic Preservation, Argues Amicus Brief

As has been reported recently in these pages, four strong amicus briefs have been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Drakes Bay Oyster Company’s petition to have its case heard.

One of these briefs, filed by The Monte Wolfe Foundation, argues that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling hampers the protection of historic and cultural resources.

Attorney James Talcott Linford, writing for The Monte Wolfe Foundation, argues in the brief: “The ruling of the Ninth Circuit, that no NEPA review is needed where agency action seeks to restore a pristine state of nature, appears unique to the Ninth Circuit. It means that historic resources on Ninth Circuit federal wildlands are endangered because they cannot depend on NEPA for protection. Absent other protection, they may be – indeed, given [the Ninth Circuit decision] Drakes Bay Oyster’s reading of the intent of NEPA, should be – summarily removed.”

If no NEPA or any otherprocess would be needed to remove an ineligiblehistoric resource from wildlands, argues Linford, the historicresource would face an imminent threat.Thus, the typical federal agency would find itimpossible to promulgate the same procedures forineligible historic resources on wildlands within theNinth Circuit as for those within other Circuits,” argues the brief.“There is an intolerable split.

Resolving splits among the Circuit courts is one of the main jobs of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The brief also argues that the decision by the Secretary of the Interior to close the oyster farm was shaped by his misunderstanding of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which he must have mistakenly believed to be consistent only with pristine wildness.

The brief argues:

“The Drakes Bay Oyster majority’s support for the Secretary’s position on pristine wildness may well have shaped its holding that NEPA review was not needed “[b]ecause removing the oyster farm is a step toward restoring the natural, untouched physical environment.” … But NEPA does not call for the restoration of some ideal of pristine wildness. Rather, NEPA recognizes the critical importance of restoring and maintaining environmental quality to the overall welfare and development of man, and to that end seeks to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.

More specifically, NEPA calls for governmental action that will attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation …; preserve important historic, cultural and natural aspects of our national heritage, … [and] enhance the quality of renewable

resources. (Emphasis supplied.) Historic preservation is an explicit statutory goal of NEPA. “Restoration” of pristine wildness, as such, is not. Drakes Bay Oyster’s misapplication of NEPA is not merely erroneous; it is an error that creates an intolerable split between Circuits and poses an imminent threat to historic resources in federally administered wildlands.”

Read the amicus brief here:

Read Drakes Bay’s cert petition here:






Drakes Bay Oyster files reply brief in U.S. Supreme Court

This week, Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC) filed its reply to the government’s brief opposing the oyster farm’s petition to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear the case.

The Supreme Court could decide whether to take this case as early as the end of this month.

At stake is whether the government, in making countless everyday decisions, can be taken to court when it abuses its power. The Ninth Circuit held last fall that a federal court does not have jurisdiction to review a discretionary agency decision for abuse of discretion.

Drakes Bay petitioned the high court on April 14, 2014 for a writ of certiorari to review the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in its case against the government. The government filed a brief on May 27, 2014 opposing the oyster farm’s petition.

The brief filed today points out the weaknesses of the government’s opposition brief. Drakes Bay has argued that the high court should take the case to resolve “the mother of all circuit splits.” A circuit split is an issue on which two or more circuits in the U.S. court of appeals system have given different interpretations of federal law. The splits in this case are on three critical issues: jurisdiction to review agency actions for abuse of discretion, applicability of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and prejudicial error under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The government’s brief does not dispute the existence of these splits, that these splits affect a fundamental issue of administrative law, or that the issue is of national importance.

Because Drakes Bay showed that there is a “reasonable probability” that the Supreme Court will take this case and a “significant possibility” that the oyster farm will win, the Ninth Circuit has allowed Drakes Bay to remain open while it takes its

The cert petition can be found here:

By Sarah Rolph

The reply brief can be found here:



Our Window Washer Men

(With thanks to the Mills Brothers)

For me for you he does his work with class
He shines like new the dirty window glass
No one rubs no one scrubs like he can
Oh the window washer man.

You can hear the Mills Brothers version on Ken Levin’s answering machine. He and his son, Sam Levin, along with their partner, Jamal Tyson are the guys on the ladders all over West Marin and occasionally over the hill. Ken is not quite over the hill, although he’s moving toward retirement and clearly delighted to share the business with his son.

Ken arrived in West Marin in 1970, having left his high school teaching job in New Haven when he could not tolerate policemen in the hallways and an atmosphere of threat their presence implied. He found his way to the left coast when, of course, so many young people could not countenance our involvement in Viet Nam. It was also the time of communes and much else that now seems long ago. After some starting and stopping up and down the coast, Ken was invited by a friend (read girl) to visit her in a cabin she’d found in a cool place called Point Reyes Station. He still lives in that cabin. The friend has moved on.

Ken’s working life in West Marin included making granola for the old health food store in Point Reyes. He spent several years working as an early childhood educator, married and had the joy of fathering son Sam. Ken soon decided to take care of his own youngster and no longer worked with other kids. And Sam had the luck to be raised right here.

Ken joined Michael Parmeley in the window cleaning business after Michael’s partner (and a close friend of Ken’s) died unexpectedly. From the beginning, Ken enjoyed the work as it kept him outside; was physical; his customers were and are pleased and appreciative; the results of the work are there for all to see (through) and it does no harm. Ken feels blessed and especially now because his son has joined him in the business.

Sam worked with his dad in summers during high school, so when he decided to join the business, he knew he would enjoy it. Sam enjoys the challenges of steep terrain and architects who do not consider the problems posed by inaccessible windows that still need to be washed. He says, “Some windows are really “unclean-able,” but we usually find a way.” Sam’s been working with Ken for ten years now. He’s a snowboarder, a succulent grower, a hiker, and very interested in the arts.

Now why do you smile? “I’m happy all day long.”
I’ve got my health, and I’ve got my job
And so I sing this song
Oh the window washer man.

An Update on the Marin Carbon Project

Excerpts from an interview with John Wick, Nicasio rancher and co-founder of the Marin Carbon Project, conducted by Bing Gong, co-host of KWMR Post Carbon Radio.  The audio of the full hour interview is archived at:  

Bing Gong: John, can you tell us about the Marin Carbon Project and how it got started?

John Wick: When my wife Peggy and I bought our land in 1998, we were environmentalists and “leave-it-alone-wilderness enthusiasts.” We were very confident that if we got rid of cattle and stopped the grazing, we could create a beautiful piece of wilderness. Then, over the next three years, we watched chaos on our landscape. We lost the ability to walk across our grass fields because of the weeds that came in. We started to recognize we had produced something different than what our vision was.

We were fortunate to meet Dr. Jeff Creque, who is a rangeland ecologist. He advised us to introduce grazing as a strategic event for the benefit of the ecosystem, and therefore to promote our native grasses and ground-nesting bird habitat. We did a lot of reading at his suggestion, including the book Grass Productivity by Andre Voisin.  We also studied Allan Savory’s book on Holistic Management and followed the Savory method very carefully, going through every patch of grass on the ranch and designing a beneficial grazing event for each one. Then, we found a herd of cattle that did not have de-wormers in them, because the last thing we wanted to do was to dump toxic piles of cow poop on our soil system. Working with the Lunny family’s herd starting in 2005, we reintroduced grazing into our system, and over the next couple of years we noticed an amazing change with the landscape. We started seeing whole fields of native perennial grasses without planting a seed. Grasses need to be grazed, and we had demonstrated that by not grazing them, the grass plants grew tall, then died and dried, smothering future grass growth and causing our whole system to start collapsing.

BG: Is this similar to the Midwest where the buffalo grazed the prairies?

JW: Yes, historically, these massive herds moving through the landscape had a significant impact. Our living systems co-evolved with that massive disturbance and learned how to thrive under it. Having watched our landscape transform into a healthy native perennial grassland system full of wildlife, we actually created the wilderness we were looking for. We did it by introducing grazing as a strategic management event in the system.  Based on that success we were able to entertain bigger thoughts. Dr. Creque, with his concern about the climate, kept referring to grass plants as “little straws” that suck CO2 from the atmosphere.

BG: That’s photosynthesis, right?  The plant takes in carbon dioxide from the air, and turns it into sugars and carbohydrates, and gives off oxygen, which we all need to breathe.

JW: Yes, it’s the carbon cycle.  There is a finite amount of carbon on earth, and it’s in one of five carbon pools at any one time. In the atmosphere, it’s in the form of CO2. When atmospheric carbon enters the biosphere through photosynthesis, it’s transformed into carbohydrates, and in the form of roots it enters the pedosphere, the soil system. As the result of natural processes, it then becomes soil carbon in one of three states in that system.  The first state is still in the roots and bodies of soil microorganisms—that’s the labile pool, which we expect to respire back to the atmosphere. As a result of processes in the soil, however, some of that carbon becomes “the occluded light fraction” because it is physically trapped inside the “crumbs” in good soil structure. This is carbon that will stay around for 100 years or more, unless plowed. Below that, or mixed in with it, is a more permanent form of soil carbon called “the heavy fraction.” This is carbon that is now chemically bonded to soil structure, and it’s not available to microorganisms to eat or burn up. This carbon will be there for millennia, unless plowed. Carbon in the heavy fraction and in the occluded light fraction holds more water. Therefore, soil that is carbon-rich holds more water, which promotes more plant growth, which pulls more carbon into the soil, which holds more water, which promotes more plant growth, and it goes on and on.

Below the Pedosphere is the lithosphere. Here carbon is found in the form of diamonds, coal, natural gas, and crude oil. The fifth carbon pool is the hydrosphere, or oceans. Carbon found here is in the form of carbonic acid.

In 2007, Peggy and I went to Darren Doherty’s rainwater harvesting seminar in Two Rock. Darren stated that increasing soil organic matter just 1.5 % in all the cropland on earth could stop global warming within 10 years. Dr. Creque, who has been the manager at the McEvoy Ranch for a decade, has increased soil organic matter at the McEvoy olive plantation from 2 to 4% through grazing management and compost application. If that happened on crop lands, what about rangelands? It turns out rangeland systems are the largest single cover type on earth, and they account for over half of human occupation. So if rangeland is the largest system on earth that is currently under management, perhaps a change in management could enhance carbon flow into the soil system. On such a vast area, a very small change would have a big effect. And that was the beginning of the Marin Carbon Project.

Dr. Jeff Creque and I went over to UC Berkeley and met with Dr. Whendee Silver, a biogeochemist. She is one of the world’s foremost soil carbon sequestration experts. We asked her whether management could add carbon in rangeland systems. She replied that there was not a lot of peer-reviewed research, and that she doubted it. The Marin Carbon Project was willing to organize an effort to fund her to find out.  Dr. Silver warned, “You may not like what I find.” We responded, “This is important and we need to know.”  Based on that, she was willing to spend her time doing the rigorous controlled experiments required to answer the question, Can management enhance soil carbon?

BG: So what you did was start with your land as a baseline, to see the results of that particular type of strategic grazing?

JW: Baselines are very important, as are controls. You always need a treatment plot next to something that you didn’t treat so you can see the difference. Without a control you can’t confidently say that your treatment made a difference, because you don’t know what would have happened otherwise. What’s really neat about Marin County is that we have this great history of cooperation between the Resource Conservation District (RCD), MALT, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and land managers. We tapped into this and identified 35 baseline sites in Marin and Sonoma that were typical of land under management. These were dairy pastures and beef pastures, and this group of agencies facilitated access for Dr. Silver and her lab to go onto the land and take soil samples.

We found a range of carbon in existing lands in Marin and Sonoma from 30 to 150 tons of carbon per hectare (2.47 acres). When Dr. Silver saw the results, she asked, “What is the history of the high carbon sites?” As it turned out, all of the high carbon sites had a history of dairy manure application. Further analysis showed that the carbon in the occluded light fraction and in the heavy fraction was just a few decades old.  This was big news to everyone. Previously, researchers assumed that it took thousands of years for carbon from the atmosphere to enter the heavy fraction.

That was exciting to us. We had found a pathway: the topical application of an organic amendment on soil had ended up enhancing soil carbon at depth. Based on that, we designed a controlled experiment on my ranch and in the Sierra Foothills Research Extension Center, which is a UC-owned 5,000 acre research ranch. We went from a coastal prairie system, which is my ranch, all the way to the Sierra foothills. And we duplicated the experiment on both sites. In December, 2008, we dusted the test plots with a half inch of compost. Unlike manure, compost is a biologically stable carbon-nitrogen complex. Adding a carbon source like straw to manure, and getting it up to temperature with thermophilic bacteria by providing air and moisture, produces a wonderful soil amendment. That’s what we put on our research plots. We then introduced grazing the following May because we wanted to see the effect of organic amendments on grazed rangelands, since they are the largest cover type on earth. At the end of that first water year, we ended up with a ton more carbon per hectare (not including the carbon added as compost). That additional ton of carbon came from the air through the plants and ended up in the soil in the occluded fraction. This was very exciting news. We are now on our fifth year of the experiment, and have measured an additional ton of carbon per hectare per year without adding any more compost. It works!

BG: Tell me a little bit more about the grazing. I know the land is intensively grazed but they don’t chew it down to the nub, and how that affected the growth of the biomass.

JW: There is a continuum of grazing. At one end, there’s no grazing, which is under-grazing. At the other end there is over-grazing. Somewhere in the middle is optimal grazing that is good for the health of the animal, good for the health of the soil, and good for the health of the vegetation. That’s what we try to target. In this experiment, we grazed all the plots to the recommended 750 pounds per acre residual vegetation and the composted plots gained carbon. But what was surprising was that the control plots (with no compost) lost carbon. So grazing alone did not sequester carbon during the first four years of measurements.

But grazing on composted plots did sequester carbon, and the only explanation I can offer is that the earth is in a degraded state and business as usual doesn’t work anymore. The analogy would be if you have a broken machine and you keep using it, it actually makes it worst until you reach a point of catastrophic failure. Our systems are currently broken. We’ve lost enough carbon from them now that they don’t rebound on their own. By simply adding a little bit of carbon back into it, it’s like oiling dry machine parts. It will start moving again, and that’s what we saw, and this was the most exciting thing: we’ve ignited a state change. The whole system is responding from that one-time event. And now, it’s producing 50% more forage, and holds 26,000 more liters of water per hectare per year. This is significant! We’ve ignited a state change in the opposite direction of the usual curve.

BG: So you just composted that first year, and not subsequent years?

JW: Yes.  A single application of ½ inch of compost was all it took to ignite a state change on grazed rangeland.  Our research has identified a mechanism. We have a treatment, which is putting on compost, and we have a soil system, which is grazed rangeland. And now the question is – what will happen if we compost cropland, or if we compost your lawn? There are more lawns in America than cornfields.  What’s exciting is that we’ve established one complete chain of carbon cycle management that’s big enough at scale to reverse global warming. Now how do we get to scale? Is there enough compost? All these questions are exciting and great opportunities, and we’re working hard to address them.

BG: Amazing! What are your plans now that you know the results of being able to take carbon out of the atmosphere and put it into the ground? How are you going to get the word out to other ranchers and farmers?

JW: One of our constraints in terms of these projects was to work with existing infrastructure where appropriate, and everything we do has to be replicable, scaleable, and broadly applicable. The RCD has a national distribution system in place, so as we perfect programs here in Marin County, we’re doing it in a way that’s replicable in terms of developing procedures and protocols that anyone else can use in their system.

BG: Has Dr. Whendee Silver published reports on your research findings?

JW: A peer-reviewed paper about this research was published in Ecological Applications, a journal published by the Ecological Society of America. The full Life-Cycle Assessment of the carbon accounting has been peer-reviewed and it’s just been accepted for publication in Ecosystems Magazine. We’ve had a full financial viability study done, and it was favorable. And we’ve actually completed the protocol for this particular practice soon to be submitted to the National Carbon Registry as a methodology approved by the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, which would feed into AB32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, or local air district CEQA programs.

The Marin Planning Department understands the significance of the research, and the Board of Supervisors has granted us the money to bring the protocol to Marin’s planning process. Once we complete our work here, anybody who is doing a project who needs to mitigate emissions, and anyone who just wants to do the right thing, can look at managing their own soil to sequester carbon. This is the best possible outcome.

BG: The other added benefit is that the ranchers will have more forage.

JW: Absolutely. Also, by doing this kind of carbon management in your system, say for a lawn in a residential area, you could stop using fertilizers and reduce your water use. In gardens, it’s the same thing. It’s just a good mechanism that we should start promoting and everyone should start using

In addition to the protocol, we needed to see what these practices look like on actual working landscapes. Two years ago, we had the very good fortune of the Giacomini Dairy, the Taylor Dairy, and the Lafranchi Dairy allowing us to place research plots in the middle of their systems.  Based on those results, we are now going to scale. We are organizing three 100-acre demo projects on ranches in Marin. And we were given a $100,000 grant from the founder of Twitter and his foundation, for the planning of this expanded research and demonstration.

BG: Who should be interested in the Marin Carbon Project, and what is the message?

JW: The message is, there is every reason to be confident that we can stop and reverse global warming. That’s a great message.

BG: And we’re hitting those dangerous tipping points of runaway climate change.

JW: But the good news is our research shows the opposite possibility, where the system is exciting itself and moving in the other direction.

BG: Now we have to worry about an Ice Age.

JW: I hope so.