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As field hands rethink traveling to the U.S., some farmers have been forced to watch their produce rot in the fields. Many others are cutting back acreage.
Gilbert Castellanos said he remembers when people “would fight each other to work in the fields.” Today, Castellanos struggles to find enough workers to complete the harvest on his 300 acres of oranges, stone fruits, and grapes in California’s Central Valley. He has abandoned plots because he couldn’t find enough workers to harvest them.
“Now there is no one,” he said, “for the last three or four years. Every year it’s getting worse.”
Castellanos isn’t the only one worried that the once-endless stream of field hands – the majority of whom are undocumented, Mexican-born immigrants – has dried up in California. According to the California Farm Bureau Federation, about 70 percent of Californian farmers reported that they struggled to find workers in 2018, compared with 23 percent in 2014. One farmer interviewed anonymously for this survey said that because of the labor shortage, “We have reduced strawberries from 80 to 17 [acres] in 2018; we had to walk away from half the field because we did not have enough employees to harvest the whole field. This year we only planted 9 acres of strawberries.”
Sources: (1) California Farm Bureau Federation Survey; (2) Pew Research Center estimate from U.S. Census data; (3) California Department of Food and Agriculture; (4) American Farm Bureau Federation estimate. Bill Lane Center for the American West
Some farmers with crops like berries, fresh market stone fruit, or melons – which can’t be easily picked with machines – have been forced to watch their produce rot in the fields for lack of field hands; many others are cutting back acreage, or switching to crops that machines can harvest, like walnuts. And the welfare of California’s $50 billion-dollar agriculture industry matters beyond the Golden State: California grows more than a third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the country's fruits and nuts.
Some farmers and farm workers suspect that it’s no accident the field hands’ disappearance coincides with the rise of build-the-wall, anti-immigrant rhetoric in mainstream politics. The actual causes of the labor shortage are more complex, experts say.
But the federal administration’s harsh enforcement stance against unauthorized immigrants isn’t helping the labor shortage. In the midst of a charged political climate and widespread anxiety around immigration, California finds itself also grappling with what will happen in the long run to its farms – and the country’s food.
The roots of California’s agricultural labor shortage extend much deeper than anti-immigrant vitriol. In Mexico, where 84 percent of California’s agricultural workers were born, improved local economic opportunities have combined with more expensive and dangerous border crossings to dampen the appeal of immigrating to the United States. Since 2005, the Pew Research Center has actually reported a net trend of reverse migration between the United States and its southern neighbor: each year, more people are crossing the border going into Mexico than coming from Mexico. Analyzing U.S. Census data, Pew also reported that workers without legal status comprise much of this southern exodus, and that California lost 750,000 undocumented immigrants from 2007 to 2017 – more than any other state.
The Pew Research Center analyzed Census data and employment records to estimate the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, their counties of origin, and their approximate population in different states. They estimated that undocumented immigrants had dropped in number to about 10 million in 2017, down from a high of over 12 million a decade earlier. They also estimated a decline in Mexican-born undocumented immigrants nationwide of about seven million in 2007 to less than five million in 2017.
At the same time, Mexico’s population structure has transformed. Mexico’s birth rate remained above six children per woman for most of the 20th century, especially in poorer rural areas from which U.S. farmworkers have migrated. But by 1995 – in one generation – the birth rate fell to three children per woman, and has continued dropping toward the United States’ two-child average. Fewer youths have the determination and desperation to cross the border for work, not just because the prospect is comparatively less attractive, but because fewer children have been born into circumstances that would drive them to leave.
As a result, young immigrants aren’t replacing California’s current field hands as they age and retire.
Californian farmers could perhaps weather the gradual effects of reverse migration and ageing workers if it weren’t for the industry’s worst-kept secret: most field hands don’t have legal status (estimates vary by federal, state, and non-profit sources, but they converge around 50 percent or higher). The American Farm Bureau Federation, an industry lobby, is blunt in its assessment of how unwelcoming immigration policies would cripple America’s farms. “If agriculture were to lose access to all undocumented workers, agricultural output would fall by $30 to $60 billion [nationwide]...the reality is that a majority of farm workers are in the U.S. illegally,” its webpage warns. “It’s time to deal with reality.”
Seniors, many of them retired farm workers, line up for hours at the Watsonville Farmers Market to receive $20 vouchers towards fresh produce. Sierra Garcia
On a sunny afternoon on California’s Central Coast, seniors lined up at the Watsonville Farmers Market and waited, many for several hours, for a $20 fresh produce voucher. They wore cowboy hats and baseball caps, sneakers, and thick-strapped sandals. Everybody spoke Spanish, and when one woman was asked what proportion of the waiting seniors had worked in agriculture, she replied, “All of us.”
Watsonville grows a variety of fresh produce, especially strawberries (an international berry company, Driscoll’s, is based there). Its farmers market is two blocks long, and the farm stands display proud banners that announce, “Vendemos Lo Que Sembramos” – we sell what we sow. It’s a microcosm of thousands of agricultural communities clustered across the state, and mirrors the anxiety that has rippled through them as animosity towards Hispanic asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants in particular has intensified on the national political stage.
“People are really afraid,” says Antonia Chavez, a retired mushroom-picker and proud U.S. citizen. Luis Perez, the owner and founder of 20-acre Perez Farms, concurs. “When the government announces that there will be raids in a certain place, people won’t go to work because of the fear that they’ll be taken,” says Perez. “It’s affecting the agriculture a lot.” He began noticing labor shortages about three years ago, when relatives in farming first lost crops because they couldn’t find enough help for the harvest.
“People won’t go to work because of the fear that they’ll be taken.” Luis Perez, the owner and founder of 20-acre Perez Farms. Sierra Garcia
Yolanda Vallesteros Acosta, a retired field hand from Mexico with decades of experience harvesting California’s bounty, says, “I’ve lived here my entire life, and I have never seen [farmers and companies] searching for field hands to work.” This anomaly over the last three years is proof that the labor shortage is not a result of gradual, long-term changes, she believes. “It’s because of what Trump is doing.”
In certain ways, the Trump administration’s pro-deportation rhetoric doesn’t measure up to its actions. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportations for the last three years are on par with the lowest deportation rates during the Obama administration – and fall well below the 2012 peak in deportations.
Nevertheless, the president’s attitude towards undocumented immigration, which he has decribed on numerous occasions as an “invasion,” has taken a psychological toll that extends beyond the workers without legal status. Cannon Michael, a sixth-generation farmer in California’s Central Valley, says that threats of deportation harm his entire workforce, including legal immigrants and citizens. He explains that “there’s a climate of fear” among everyone.
Earlier this year, the Department of Labor proposed measures to streamline the application process for the seasonal agricultural workers’ visa, known as the H-2A visa. In July, the president praised the changes in the H-2A visa as a boon for both foreign workers and domestic farmers, promising “a very, very much easier, less cumbersome program.” H2-A visas issued have swelled from fewer than 90,000 in 2014 to nearly 200,000 in 2018 as farmers scramble to hire more field hands.
But support amongst farmers for the H-2A program is lukewarm at best. In addition to filing the application, farmers must provide housing, food, and transportation for guest workers, so using it increases labor costs. The American Farm Bureau Federation website says that “entering into the H-2A program has been found to increase the obstacles that farmers face in order to hire and maintain employees,” citing a fourfold increase in federal audits among farmers who used the program. Lupe Sandoval, the Executive Director of the California Farm Labor Contractors Association, calls the guest worker program “a very expensive, confusing, problematic system,” an assertion seemingly echoed by Miles Reiter, the CEO of Driscoll’s.
“It seems to be intentionally designed to be difficult, expensive, not very timely, and not very flexible,” Reiter said in the Driscoll’s-supported film “The Last Harvest.”
Many farmers are turning to machines instead. But mechanization can’t replace human hands for many crops ( “The Last Harvest” estimates that around 75 percent of fresh fruit grown in the U.S. is still dependent on human labor for some aspect of harvesting).
“We’re not like the central states, [where] you plant a bunch of corn, grains, soy, and everything’s machine harvested,” said Sandoval. “Mom and pop can do that with a couple of workers on thousands of acres.” Machines to harvest strawberries or asparagus have loomed on the horizon for years, but haven’t worked well enough to replace human hands so far. For crops like berries, fresh cherries, fresh market tomatoes, or asparagus among many others, people are still the best option. Labor costs make up upwards of 40 percent of total production costs for certain crops, and have driven farmers to turn to other crops, like almonds, which are lucrative and require few workers to harvest.
Other farmers, like Michael, have tried to make the vacant jobs more attractive. The benefits are impressive: his workers have retirement plans, healthcare, scholarship options for their children and “a decent wage.” California even nixed the long-standing overtime pay exception for field hands this year, so that farm laborers working more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week earn overtime just like employees in most other industries. None of it has been enough to tempt American-born workers into the fields.
“It’s not terrible employment,” added Michael. “It’s just hard, hot, dusty work, and a lot of people just aren’t willing to do something like that.” Indeed, “it’s not like even when the economy was bad we had people knocking down the doors to come work on the farm.”
Vallesteros Acosta, the Watsonville retiree, agreed. When asked whether new groups of workers might enter California’s fields if the labor shortage grows critical enough, she smiled and shook her head.
“When I worked in the blackberry fields, my hands became like this,” she offered, curling her small, wrinkled fingers into claws. “Purple, black, full of pricks from the spines. They always hurt me and gave me such a rash! You couldn’t sleep at night from the rashes. It’s terrible.” She added, “I don’t think an American would bear that.”
“In previous years there were a lot of people to work. Now there are no people.” Angelica Rodriguez sells berries from her brothers’ farm, Rodriguez Farms. Two years ago, they lost several acres of strawberries because there weren’t people to work. Sierra Garcia
Both the California and American Farm Bureau Federations want a solution that combines a better guest worker program with a pathway for existing undocumented fieldworkers to obtain legal status. Western Growers, a major farmer advocacy organization, wrote in a prepared statement from their president Tom Nassif that although they appreciate the Trump administration streamlining the guest worker program, a degree of amnesty for existing workers is also necessary.
Nassif testified before Congress earlier this year to the irreplacable contributions of undocumented fieldworkers, saying “The majority of those falsely documented, here illegally, however you want to phrase it, pay their state and federal income taxes as well as contribute to social security without any hope of ever collecting...[We need] a legal status for our longstanding, reliable, existing workforce and their families.”
Nassif stressed that this plea “is in no part political,” but “based upon the economic future needs of our industry.”
“[We need] a legal status for our longstanding, reliable, existing workforce and their families.” Western Growers head Tom Nassif testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee in April 2019. WESTERN GROWERS
Barring some sort of breakthrough – in mechanizing delicate harvests, in policy, in the willingness of American-born backs and hearts to bend–the outcome may well be a gradual strangulation of many types of grown-in-the-USA fresh produce. Farmers who can afford it will continue to raise wages to try and attract sufficient workers, a cost increase mirrored on the supermarket produce price stickers. Where possible, stores will import more fresh produce from abroad to soften the economic blow to consumers.
But for strawberries, in which labor accounts for half of the total production costs, the price per unit value (the value before processing) has already risen from 69 cents to $1.06 per pound over the last ten years – more than double the rate of inflation. Most of the increase has occurred since 2016.
As production costs creep up for strawberries, mushrooms, lettuce, asparagus, certain kinds of grapes, fresh cherries, and dozens of other fresh fruits and vegetables, some farmers will rip up crops they have tended for decades in favor of mass-planting walnuts or other crops that a machine can harvest with ease. Others, especially small farmers who can’t afford to raise wages enough, will continue to cut back their acreage each year, or give up their farms for good. Factors besides labor costs will influence these decisions, like water availability in drought-prone California, but ultimately farmers are unlikely to invest in crops too expensive for them to grow and for consumers to buy.
Michael says that regardless of their political beliefs, all western farmers know that they need immigrants. But gridlock in Washington has left him with little hope for improvement. He doesn’t think meaningful immigration reform for Californian farmers and farm workers will happen “until something breaks pretty badly – to the point where crops are rotting in the field.”
An academic study supports the notion that one way to mitigate wildfires is clearing out trees, brush and brambles in the forest understory, often with prescribed burns. But proponents face a slew of obstacles, from pollution concerns and shrinking seasonal windows, to the vast scale of undertreated western forestland.
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Western Articles and Media ElsewhereCompiled by Felicity Barringer, Madison Pobis,Sierra Garcia and Danielle Nguyen
California Fisherman Are Repeatedly Catching and Releasing Protected Great White Sharks Without Consequences due to cloudy language in the law. Although state regulations strictly prohibit killing a Great White, it’s almost impossible to prosecute because anglers can claim the catches were accidental. Changing ocean conditions mean that more of the animals are sticking around in Southern California, spurring advocates to call for heftier penalties for illegal takes. Hakai Magazine
More Than 80,000 Wild Horses Ended up in Foreign Slaughterhouses Last Year even though killing horses for food is illegal in in the U.S. “Kill buyers” say that exporting to Canada and Mexico decreases the exploding population and helps feed the world, but animal rights activists say that the Bureau of Land Management can do more to protect adoptable horses. The New Food Economy
The Western Rivers Conservancy Conserves Vital River Habitat by Purchasing Land and partnering with local managers. The recent acquisition of old-growth forest surrounding the Blue Creek watershed marks a 10-year effort to preserve critical salmon streams. The organization has purchased and conserved an estimated 175,000 acres of riparian habitat since its founding three decades ago. The acquisitions are handed over to stewards who are expected to implement long-term conservation management plans and make the lands more accessible to the public. Modern Conservationist
The Right of Personhood for the Klamath River Means It Can Bring Cases in Tribal Court, opening up avenues for legal advocacy and shifting the conversation around indigenous knowledge. The move follows a precedent set by New Zealand tribes and an international indigenous movement called Rights of Nature. Although no case has yet been brought to court, the Yurok Tribe’s resolution means that issues like pollution, diseased fish, and even climate change can now be addressed through tribal court. High Country News
A Small Alaska Town Is Slowly Being Consumed by Rusting Cars along with refrigerators, forks, shoes, and everything else imported by plane and boat. With limited options for removing waste once it arrives, Bethel’s citizens instead create graveyards of junk and spare parts. Native Yup’ik Elder Esther Green says that the abandoned cars are more than an eyesore — they’re a disturbance to their native land. “Everything around us has ears, and they can see and they can feel. Just like us human beings.” 99 Percent Invisible Podcast
Las Vegas is Thirsty for Snake Valley Groundwater even though there is not enough now for key wetlands and springs in this semi-arid region on the Utah-Nevada border, a U.S. Geological Survey study shows. There is certainly not enough to send the Las Vegas area, 250 miles to the south, as much as it wants. The Southern Nevada Water Authority, a regional wholesaler that serves Las Vegas, has applied for an additional 50,680 acre-feet of water per year, which would almost double the current volume of permitted withdrawals of 55,272 acre-feet per year. Circle of Blue
While Seeking Montana Land to Restore Biodiversity, a biologist made friends in Silicon Valley and enemies on the short-grass prairie. The American Prairie Reserve’s strategy was buying land from ranchers who had been struggling economically. After raising $156 million, mostly from Silicon Valley, buying 400,000 acres of land, and reintroducing 800 bison, the group is now a pariah locally. As one rancher said, “their media blitz was 'You guys have been doing it wrong all your lives, and we're about to buy you all up because you're all broke…They came in and insulted the culture and said, we're going to replace you all with bison." Sierra Magazine
From Monterey Bay to the Canadian Border, the Coast Would Become Protected Orca Habitat under a new federal proposal. If it becomes final, the area would be a massive expansion of the ocean area deemed critical for the survival of the killer whales of the Puget Sound. Their hunting ground extends from Southern California to the Salish Sea, but the fish they eat are disappearing, scientists have found, noting that the habitats where people have made major changes are the same ones feeling the extreme effects of climate change. The new area would begin just south of Santa Cruz and would include about 15,626 square miles. Seattle Times
Alaska Summer Heat Means Disappearing Water and Worries about the future. Residents of the Native village of Nanwalek on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage are suffering from a severe drought and working hard to conserve their freshwater. Last month, town officials decided to shut off the taps for 12 hours every night. Nanwalek was one of six communities suffering water shortages during the unusually hot summer. The village, home to the Sugpiaq tribe, is trying to find funds to purchase a reverse osmosis machine to desalinate sea water. Npr
Duck Fat Is for Gentrified City Dwellers. Bear Fat is for Lovers of the Wild. Pastries using bear fat get rave reviews, one hunter-cook says. But the old habit of using bear fat has languished because the quality of the fat depends on what the bears eat – and many eat mostly human garbage. From baking to curing baldness to predicting the weather, the many uses of bear fat over the centuries, and the way the creation of the teddy bear curbed human appetites for bear fat. Atlas Obscura
The Destructive ‘Blob’ of Warm Pacific Water May Be Coming Back if warming surface waters are not scattered by winds over the next few months, federal scientists say. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports the current Alaska-to-California swath of strikingly warm water closely resembles its predecessor. The ‘Blob’ led to the deaths of millions of sea lions and sea birds five years ago, and was associated with the sharp decline in salmon runs. Seattle Times
Administration Targets California’s Authority to Set Standards for Auto Emissions, while the Justice Department opens an antitrust investigation into four automakers who had made a pact with the state about the pollution limits that they would meet in years to come. The four automakers, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW, earlier this summer said they would follow stricter emission standards than those set by the Trump administration. The administration is opening the antitrust investigation while the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency both are telling California it lacks authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The state has had independent authority to regulate auto emissions for more than four decades. Politico
Utah Trees On the Chopping Block The Bureau of Land Management is working with heavy earth-moving equipment to wrest knots of juniper and tall pinyon pines from the landsape around the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The stated purpose is to improve habitat for sage grouse and allow the growth of fodder for cattle and deer – prized targets for hunters. But the area of slightly more than 1,000 square miles where the activity is set to place has been the site of significant archaeological and cultural finds. Less than 10 percent of the ground has been surveyed, and undiscovered artifacts could be endangered by the activity. Also, the use of heavy equipment in these delicate landscapes can lead to the incursion of invasive species. National Geographic
Changing Wyoming’s Economics As Its Superpower, Coal, Crumbles A decade ago, the state of Wyoming collected $500 million more from tax and related revenues on coal extraction than it does today. Mines are shutting, wrenching the economies of counties that depended on them. Two reporters worked to get under the skin of what these developments – and the way coal is losing out to competitors like natural gas and renewables – mean for the Jim Bridger mine in southwestern Wyoming. A seven-part package called “Powering Down” looks at coal as both a cultural touchstone and an economic driver, and contemplates a future when the mineral superpower has no more strength. Wyofile
Could a New ‘Grand Bargain’ on the Colorado River Gain Traction? The law of the river has tended to give the lower basin states of the Colorado River watershed – like California and Arizona – the right to call on the upper basin states, like Colorado, Utah to ensure they get their share of water, as allocated in a 1922 compact. But that compact was based on overgenerous assumptions about the river’s total flow. And the severe drought of recent years has reduced the river’s flows – never as big as once believed – by about six percent. There is talk, but not yet action, on creating a “grand bargain” that would take away states’ rights to demand their 1922 share, while ensuring that they would maintain access to water for crucial needs. The idea, which makes clear that the river’s flow is 2.5 million acre-feet below the 15 million acre-feet calculated in 1922, is enshrined in a paper circulated at a University of Colorado forum this summer. The question now is whether it will gain traction. Denver Post
What’s In A Name? The landscapes of the West have been called by many names, as different civilizations passed through. Now the names given in the last 200 years by western Europeans are getting another look. Davis Mountain in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park is getting a new name – it was named for Jefferson Davis in 1855, before the southern states seceded and he became the president of a rebellious slave-owning confederation. As of last month, it is called Doso Doyabi, or “white mountain” in Shoshoni. A series of similar naming questions are popping up from Washington – should Mt. Rainier bear the name of a British officer? – to Wyoming to Alaska. A look at how the people of the 21st century are reconsidering the names of the 19th. National Parks Magazine
Many of The West's Estuaries Have Vanished, replaced with farmland and cities, leaving only 15 percent of the original wetlands intact. Although wetland destruction has been rampant across the United States for centuries, the recent study is the first to estimate the full scope of the lost wetlands that once existed where much of Los Angeles county, the Puget Sound’s northern embankment, and the area near Tillamook Bay where dairy cows stand today. Wetlands shield coastal communities from sea-level rise and extreme storms; researchers emphasize that intact wetlands will be the best protectors for coastal communities, making them the least likely to vanish under rising seas. Oregon Public Broadcasting
‘Snow Droughts’ Are Coming For The American West more often because of climate change. The new research estimates that the likelihood of an intense four-year drought like the one California faced from 2012 to 2016 will increase a hundredfold by the second half of this century. The forecast is disastrous for the region’s multi-billion dollar ski resort industry, which will also face peak snowpack shifting to before the spring break height of the season. National Geographic
Federal Scientists Produced A Report Showing Water Diversions Would be a Critical Blow to endangered winter-run Chinook salmon in California and could cost struggling orca whales offshore their food supply. Immediately, other federal officials were dispatched to vet, and possibly revise, it. Just two days passed before fisheries and water officials got an e-mail telling them “fresh eyes” would examine the data for the next two months. Environmental groups have called foul. Sacramento Bee
What Happens When Public Lands Become Tribal Lands Again? A reporter investigates after a multi-decadal legal battle, only in this case, within months of the transfer, a fire burned a large chunk of the land. The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians had some of their traditional lands in southwest Oregon restored in 2018, after 165 years of illegal federal use in violation of a treaty signed with the tribe. The issue of land ownership pitted some environmentalists against tribal leaders, who proposed controlled burns and limited lumber extraction on their land. The recent wildfire ravaged more than a fifth of the land recently transferred back to the tribe. High Country News
A French Saddlemaker Embraces the American West by learning, perfecting, and now teaching the art of traditional western leathercraft. Pedro Pedrini’s passion for the American West and classic western saddles drove him from the Alps in his native France to Oregon, California, and Canada. After four decades of practicing his chosen craft in the United States, he is seen as a consummate artisan. In addition to crafting saddles, he now teaches classes in northern California on leather tooling and saddle creation, hoping to ensure that the knowledge and techniques of western saddle-craft will live on. East Oregonian
The World’s Largest Wildlife Bridge Will Allow Mountain Lions – and other species – to regain most of their old range in the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles. The Guardian
The Desert Gets A Biocrust Skin Graft in an attempt to reverse the severe erosion, amounting to up to 8,900 pounds of annual soil loss per acre in the Southwest. The thin but hardy film of microbes helps maintain desert ecosystems, ensures healthier air and water, and protects archeological resources. But it can take anywhere from 20 to 2,000 years to regrow once destroyed by oil and gas development or recreational land use. Ecologists who have grown successful artificial biocrusts in labs and greenhouses are now struggling to transplant the homegrown biocrusts onto the desert. These efforts have sparked internal disagreement between land managers and scientists about whether to continue to replace biocrust, or focus time and money on preserving still-intact desert areas instead. High Country News
A Clean Energy Breakthrough Could Be Buried Deep Beneath Rural Utah in a subterranean salt dome, part of which is across the street from an existing transmission line to Los Angeles County. The vast network of salt caverns could act as an enormous battery, using a decades-old technique to store large amounts of energy — in this case,renewable energy. With the neighboring coal plant scheduled to close in 2025, the salt dome is in a perfect position to become a major component of Los Angeles County’s commitment to be 100 percent renewable by 2045. Los Angeles Times
Mountain Goat Eradication Is A High-Flying Balancing Act In Olympic National Park. Helicopter teams are charged with capturing, hog tying, and safely relocating these tenacious invasive animals. The elaborate airborne relocation efforts aim to eradicate all mountain goats from the park, where they have wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. They are being moved to their natural habitat of the North Cascades Range, where the native mountain goat population is in decline. The project transported 115 goats last year alone, and so far, tracking devices show that the transported goats are surviving as well as their Cascadian-born kin. The goats that altogether evade their captors, or “muggers,” will eventually be killed to rid Olympic National Park of mountain goats for good. High Country News
This Remote Corner of Nevada Is One Of The Darkest Places in The World, and is now also the newest and largest Dark Sky Sanctuary in the United States. Like all Dark Sky Sanctuaries, the 100,000-acre sanctuary at Massacre Rim lacks legal protection. The International Dark Sky Association bestowed the title on Massacre Rim, recognizing it as one of the best spots in the world to view a night sky unobstructed by light pollution. The area is more than an hour’s drive from the nearest settlement and over four hours from the nearest city; its extreme isolation allows visitors to see the Milky Way shine so brightly that it casts shadows. The audio segment of this story is under four minutes and accompanied by a short written article. NPR
The Pacific Coast Salmon That Are Most Threatened by Climate Change travel furthest to spawn, new research shows. Dams for flood control and irrigation, water diversions and logging have pushed more than 50 runs of salmonids onto lists of endangered and threatened species; climate change may be the coup de grace for some. Inland waterways far from the coast, where some salmon spawn, are getting warmer, and may get too warm for young salmon to survive. Chinook salmon at the greatest risk in three places: California's Central Valley and the Columbia and Willamette River basins. Also at risk are coho salmon in Northern California and Oregon and sockeye salmon from Idaho’s Snake River basin. Inside Climate News
See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »
A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »
Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »
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