Saturday, April 23, 2005

Earth Day at John Muir Historic Site

By happy coincidence, Earth Day falls a day after John Muir's birthday. Muir is a California hero: a naturalist and conservationist, co-founder of the Sierra Club, and highly influential in the creation of Yosemite, Sequoia, and other National Parks.

Muir lived in Martinez, and his house and part of the surrounding fruit ranch are preserved as the John Muir National Historic Site. For Earth Day, it's hosting a special event with various conservation and nature exhibitors.

There's a certain amount of beardy-wierdness at this sort of event, but it was a fun day out: lots of local volunteer and governmental organisations out to show what they do. Contra Costa Clean Water Program were showing a diorama on water protection, showing how both surface runoff (paint food colouring onto the model, spray it down with a mister) and storm drain contamination (squirt food colouring down a storm drain with a turkey baster) affect water supply. Popular with the kids, but maybe a little too popular: polluting the model looked like fun.

And the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District were pretty scary. This is the second year of West Nile Virus in the county, and they think it's going to be a bad one. West Nile Virus is tracked in several ways:
  1. Dead bird reports: some birds are particularly susceptible to WNV. The CCMVCD recommend reporting dead birds to the California Department of Health Services, who may come and pick it up for WNV testing.
  2. Mosquito pools: samples of collected mosquitoes are tested for WNV.
  3. Chicken flocks: chickens carry, but no not contract, the virus. The state maintains flocks of sentinel chickens from which blood samples are regularly taken and tested for mosquito-borne viruses.
The District does a lot of mosquito control, and a lot of education. The biggest source of mosquitoes is standing water in private backyards. And this is particularly cool: one of the controls they use is biological. The mosquitofish feeds on mosquito larvae and other insects. CCMVCD provides mosquitofish free to Contra Costa residents.

And as if West Nile wasn't enough: we also have Lyme disease to contend with, so watch out for, and take precautions against, ticks. Largely common sense: avoid tick habitats, cover your skin, and check for ticks frequently. But still, ugh: it's unnerving that there are so many nasties out on the trails.

And speaking of nasties: I really should learn what poison oak looks like, too.