Public Transit, Yikes!

Story from California Globe.

An excerpt.

“There is not a single public transit system in the United States that earns enough money in fares to cover its expenses.

“In fact, the systems with the highest “farebox recovery ratio” – which is the percentage of the annual operations and maintenance budget (not including capital costs like building the systems) that is paid for by people using the service – are actually both here in California:  CalTrain and BART.

“CalTrain brings in 70 cents for every dollar it spends; BART between 50 and 60  cents.

“Again – those are the best “farebox recovery” numbers in the entire country.

“Los Angeles Metro covers 11 percent of its budget through fares, Sacramento about 12 percent.

“Orange County roughly 16 percent, and San Jose brings in only about 7 percent (San Diego, at 27, and LA’s Metrolink at 34 percent do a bit better.)

“Thinking that it’s just California and it’s “car culture” and significant commutes?  Nope – Miami is at 9 percent, Chicago at about 15 percent, and even in the progressive bastion that is what remains of Portland, Oregon, the farebox recovery is only 19 percent.

“Thinking it’s just a selfish America – with all its freeways – problem?  Also incorrect.  In our increasingly politically worrisome neighbors to the north – Canada – transit systems do better than here but still max out at about 50 percent farebox recovery.  Densely populated, densely bureaucratized, and place transit advocates point to as a model for the future of the United States – Europe –  only averages about 60 percent (except for the London Underground which actually earns a pretty tidy profit off of the nearly 1 million people it moves every day.)

“It must be noted that most transit systems in Asia actually break even and some, like the London Tube, make money. Services in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and most systems in Japan earn a profit.

“This brings us to issue of making transit free

“The idea of dropping all fares for public transit is becoming a bit more widespread nationally of late, and here in California LA Metro has dusted off the concept for a second look.

“The systems – like LA Metro – that are seriously considering moving to free all tend to have very low farebox recovery rates.  This makes the argument sound much simpler – if it will only cost 10 percent more, what’s the point in having a fare?  Probably costs that much to collect it anyway…

“While it is true “10 percent” may not sound like much, in LA Metro’s case that would be at least $200 million a year, money that has to come from somewhere, with that somewhere most likely being new taxes on people who have the temerity to drive their own cars.

“But even advocates of eliminating fares as a way to increase usage admit there is a problem, a big stinky problem:  the prevalence of the use of trains and buses as rolling flop houses by the homeless.

“While the problem already exists and is growing, the elimination of any fare would remove the last barrier to people just simply riding the trains and buses all day to stay off of the streets.  This idea terrifies most other riders and is already a top reason people cite when asked why they don’t use public transit, and for good reason: and this story about “Metro mayhem” from Fox LA.

“Citing safety as the primary reason, female Metro ridership has dipped sharply, with women making up about 53 percent of passengers in 2019 and only 44 percent last year.”

Farebox Recovery: Free is Not Good Enough – California Globe

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Sacramento Leadership Still Dithering About Illegal Camping in the Parkway

Final paragraph (in bold) of this excerpt from a Sacramento Bee article notes this.

An excerpt.

“At least 7,000 homeless people live outdoors without a shelter bed in Sacramento. City and county officials are unlikely to open nearly enough shelters and apartments to get a significant portion of them indoors in 2023.

“But local leaders plan several significant changes to wrestle with the area’s most pressing issue.

“The county this year plans to open two large shelters — a North Highlands warehouse to shelter 250 people in tiny homes, and two tiny home villages for 180 people in south Sacramento.

“The sites will be the largest shelters the county has ever opened. The county could also open 200 new beds in the city, but only if the city provides a “shovel ready” site.


“Some beds could also go away.

“The county in spring plans to close its last two remaining Project Roomkey motels, which have been sheltering hundreds of homeless people through a state program since the coronavirus pandemic struck.

“California Gov. Gavin Newsom in September signed a bill to open a shelter for hundreds of people at Cal Expo, potentially providing space for people living off the American River Parkway.

“It’s unclear if that will happen, but the county during last week’s storms opened a homeless warming center at the fairgrounds for first time in at least a decade. The county has since closed the site, despite nighttime temperatures still dipping into the 30s, which is cold enough to cause hypothermia.

“At the city level, no new large shelters are planned.

“City leaders recently shifted their focus to affordable housing, funding over 800 new units, which could start to open in late 2023.


“The November election moved the council further left, which could lead to fewer sweeps and more shelters, even if it means cutting other parts of the city budget.

“Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, the council’s most liberal member who now leads the council’s powerful Law and Legislation Committee, said earlier this month she wants to revisit the council’s controversial decision to keep towing vehicles used by homeless people.

“At the time of the December 2021 vote, the decision was 6-3, with Valenzuela, Mai Vang and Mayor Darrell Steinberg voting to stop towing homeless vehicles.

“The decision sparked outrage, with more than 200 people signing a letter in July urging the council to reverse the decision.

“The city again caught heat when it towed at least five homeless vehicles on Jan. 6, the morning before a major rain and wind storm. It’s possible new council members Caity Maple, Karina Talamantes, and Lisa Kaplan could provide the extra two votes needed to halt towing.


“While enforcement on homeless vehicles and RVs in the capital city could get more lax, enforcement of tent encampments could get more strict.

“City residents in November approved Measure O, which is now in effect. It allows the city to sweep camps of four or more unrelated people on public property even without offering a shelter bed.

“City and county bans on camping along the Parkway and on tents that block the sidewalk are also in effect, but it does not appear those policies are leading to sweeps.”

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Local Homeless Nonprofit

Story from Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“Eight months pregnant, Jessica Gilbert sleeps outdoors, her baby swing at her side. All her belongings are soaked from a recent rainstorm. In November, her car was towed and her tent was stolen. She can’t find her kitten. In Oak Park, Sharon Pendarvis, 58, with neuropathic pain, sleeps in a lawn chair at the entrance to McClatchy Park, a pink metal T-ball bat by her side. Some nights the cold prevents her from leaving the warmth of her three blankets to walk to the restroom, so she pees in a water jug.

“In south Sacramento, Paula Riboni, 54, sleeps on a mattress on the floor of a friend’s house, where she’s been for three years. There is no heat. Her back and legs have been hurting for months. All three unhoused women thought their days on the streets were finally over when they scored rooms in houses from Sacramento Self-Help Housing, a nonprofit property manager that plays an outsized role in the city’s and county’s efforts to house the homeless. Instead, the three women lost their housing for different reasons: two over alleged rule violations, and one over a funding setback at the nonprofit organization. They haven’t found a way back into housing. Their stories illustrate a hole in Sacramento’s safety net for homeless or nearly homeless people. Sacramento Self-Help Housing is one of just a handful of organizations in the city that places people directly from the streets into a house or apartment, and people have few other places to look for assistance when a placement with the nonprofit fails.

“Its services are critical in Sacramento County, where studio apartments go for at least $1,100 a month, more than 54,000 people are on waiting lists for housing vouchers and all 2,300 city and county shelter beds are full on any given night. SSHH serves as a middleman, linking someone in need with a willing landlord.

“Right now housing is so challenging to provide and this is certainly a less expensive way per person to provide housing with, I think, the socialization benefits of the community it forms there,” SSHH founder John Foley said in a video interview in 2017, as Sacramento’s surge in rents was starting to escalate. But when SSHH kicks people out, they are again homeless. In some cases, they’re worse off than before because they have eviction on their reco“I’m big and pregnant, about to have a baby in a tent, it’s raining, this freakin’ tent is like flooded in here as you can see,” Gilbert, holding back tears, said in a video message early December, days after SSHH evicted her out of a North Highlands group home. “Nobody deserves to have to live like this” SSHH, founded in 1990, started placing homeless people in housing in 2000. It grew out of a counseling service at the Loaves and Fishes nonprofit in downtown Sacramento. It’s well-regarded by Sacramento leaders, including Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who, at an April City Council meeting, praised Foley as a “hero.” SSHH has 418 people in permanent housing at any given time, and it moves about 400 people through temporary housing each year, said Cynthia Lawrence, an attorney representing the organization.

“The nonprofit’s annual revenue has surged alongside Sacramento County’s homeless population, growing from $2 million in 2015 to $14.5 million in 2020. Most of the money comes from gifts, grants and contributions, according to its 2019 tax return, the most recent available. Part of the growth stems from Sacramento County dramatically expanding its work with the nonprofit. The county now funds 145 SSHH beds, up from 75 in 2018, Foley said in an email to The Bee. Few details are available to the public about its revenue and expenses. SSHH has not submitted an annual audit — its only apparent form of oversight — to the county since 2018. It has received about $36 million in contracts from the city and county since 2017.

“The nonprofit has evicted at least 23 people over the past five years. That number includes only those resulting from SSHH filing an unlawful detainer in Sacramento Superior Court, prompting deputies to change the locks. The actual number of people pushed out of SSHH could be much higher, as most tenants leave long before the courts get involved, experts say.

“The nonprofit is facing a lawsuit from Gilbert, who is due this month. It recently settled one from another tenant who lived with a severe rat infestation.

“Foley had served as the nonprofit’s executive director throughout its recent period of rapid growth. On Jan. 13, after receiving questions from The Bee for this story, SSHH announced Foley was no longer with the organization. It named Robert Spurlock as interim executive director and Ethan Evans as board chairman. SSHH leaders declined to say whether Foley quit or was terminated.”

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California’s Homelessness

Astounding and depressing statistic in the last paragraph of this excerpt from an article in the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt.

“California just became the nation’s most homeless state, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has had enough. In no uncertain terms, he insists on accountability — from others.

“Weeks after the federal government reported that his administration has presided over California’s ascent to the ignominious height of the homelessness ranks, the governor and self-styled presidential contender unveiled a state budget proposal promising no additional effort to correct the glaring failure. Worse, he persisted in his buck-stops-there blaming of local politicians for a statewide humanitarian crisis.

“This homelessness crisis is out of control,” Newsom said Tuesday in presenting his proposed budget, sounding more like a frustrated bystander than the chief executive of what he has often called a “nation-state.” “People that criticize it are right. We need to see progress. And that means we have to have a higher level of accountability.”

The governor called for legislation to force cities and counties to make the progress on homelessness that has been so wanting. And he reiterated his claim that when he was mayor of San Francisco, he didn’t dream of expecting the state to help.

“What we don’t want is 476 different strategies and goals … just every city running in different directions,” he added. “We’ve got to start aligning the goals” — all of which sounds like a job for, you know, a governor.

“Newsom, whose communications staff has documented his avid personal participation in clearing homeless camps, was particularly fixated on that politically powerful symbol of the festering problem. If local officials don’t mount more determined efforts to bulldoze the state’s burgeoning shantytowns, he said, he would be “hard-pressed to make a case to the Legislature to provide them one dollar more.”

“Ironically, the governor leveled this ultimatum in the course of presenting a budget that largely maintains status quo spending on homelessness services and cuts housing programs. Facing what he called a “modest deficit” for the first time in his tenure, the governor continued to rebuff calls to dedicate continuing spending to homelessness, much as he did throughout the go-go surpluses of his first term.

“Sharon Rapport, California policy director for the Corporation for Supportive Housing, said the governor’s call for local accountability “should be matched by accountability from the state for a budget plan that is predictable and grows … to meet the established needs of people experiencing homelessness in California.” She urged the Legislature, which must enact a final budget before the beginning of the next fiscal year in July, to craft a spending plan that “asserts the state’s leadership in ending a crisis rooted in our failure to build enough housing in California for decades.”

“A recent analysis by the group concluded that California could house its more than 170,000 homeless residents by spending about $8 billion annually for the next 12 years, less than 3% of the state budget. The Legislative Analyst’s Office has found that enough emergency shelter could be provided for significantly less.

“As an array of experts and advocates have noted, the consistency of the funding is as important as the commitment. As a businessman, Newsom must know that capital projects such as shelters and housing tend to rely on ongoing funding. And housing and shelter — not mere “cleaning up” of people who have none — is the solution.

“One-time investments will not solve this crisis,” said Carolyn Coleman, executive director of the League of California Cities. “We need ongoing state funding and a coordinated approach with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all levels of government.”

“California is an increasingly stark outlier in its failure even to alleviate this crisis, let alone solve it, with nearly a third of the nation’s homeless people and half the unsheltered — those sleeping in tents, vehicles, doorways and other outdoor locations. The latest census coordinated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that despite its shrinking overall population and world-class economy, California has risen from third to first among the states in homelessness per capita. The county from which Newsom ostensibly governs, Sacramento, is home to thousands more unsheltered people CoC_PopSub_CoC_CA-503-2022_CA_2022.pdf ( than the entire state of New York.” CoC_PopSub_State_NY_2022.pdf (

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Sacramento No. 1

Forbes Magazine says best place to live in California.

An excerpt.

“If you’ve ever argued that Sacramento is the best place to live in California — even better than San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego — you now have the data to back it up, courtesy of Forbes.

“In a ranking of the “Best Places to Live in California in 2023,” Forbes Advisor assessed metropolitan areas in the state and graded them based factors such as city size, diversity, crime rate, unemployment rate and living costs. It also considered public transit, activities and accessibility to healthcare.

“Sacramento made it at No. 1 on the list of 10.

“California’s capital city is family-friendly, has ample educational opportunities and offers a reasonable cost of living,” Forbes stated in its ranking. “Its unemployment rate is among the lowest in the state as government, healthcare and technology are core industries.”

“San Diego landed at No. 2 and was noted for its abundant beach access and being home to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, which is known for employing people in biotech, healthcare and tourism.

“San Francisco is at No. 3. Although it is an “economic hub of northern California,” Forbes stated that the city is the most expensive to live in.

“Los Angeles ranked No. 4, with its congested traffic, poor walkability and high crime rates.

“Down the list, San Jose made No. 5, Vallejo at 6, Oxnard at 7 and Modesto at 8. Fresno made it at No. 9 for its fresh produce and healthcare employment. But its crime and overall unemployment rates are high; it has poor air quality and is known for its hot summers.

“Finishing the list is Bakersfield.”

Forbes ranks Sacramento one of the best cities to live in CA | The Sacramento Bee (

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Pretty Good Water Year So Far

Story from the San Jose Mercury.

An excerpt.

“Across the Bay Area and California, the past two weeks of soaking storms have brought mudslides, floods and power outages. They’ve also brought something not seen in years — billions of gallons of water rushing into reservoirs, renewing hopes that the state’s relentless drought may come to an end this spring.

“Six atmospheric river storms since the end of December have dumped half a year’s worth of rain on San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento and other Northern California cities in two weeks. The ferocious weather has saturated soils and bolstered runoff while also smothering the Sierra Nevada in snow, leaving the statewide snowpack Wednesday at a breathtaking 226% of its historical average and setting up reservoirs to receive more water when it melts later this spring.

“There’s no getting around it. This is great for reservoir storage,” said Jeffrey Mount, a professor emeritus at UC Davis and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California’s water center. “It will clearly help the drought. We are likely to have full reservoirs this spring because there’s such a huge snowpack.”

“Since Dec. 1, California’s 154 largest reservoirs have gone from 67% of their historical average capacity to 84%, adding roughly 4.7 million acre feet of water in six weeks — or enough for the annual consumption of 23 million people.

“Shasta, the state’s largest reservoir at 35 miles long, has risen 37 feet since Dec. 1. The second largest, Oroville, in Butte County, has risen 97 feet, barely a year after state officials shut off the hydroelectric turbines in its dam for the first time in its 50-year history because of extremely low water levels.

“We’re all ecstatic,” said Lesley Nickelson, owner of Oroville Cycle, a store that sells boating and motorcycle equipment a few miles from Oroville Dam. “The marina has been way down at the bottom of a dirt hill for the past few years. People haven’t been going out on the lake. Now the boat ramps are underwater again. People are going back.”

“The turnaround in some areas is stunning. On Monday, Lake Cachuma, the largest reservoir in Santa Barbara County, was 37% full. By Wednesday, following a pounding atmospheric river storm, it was 80% full.

“Some reservoirs, such as Folsom northeast of Sacramento or Millerton, near Fresno, have risen so fast that their operators are releasing water to free up space and reduce flood risk for homes and businesses downstream.

“When there is storm after storm, we’re trying to make sure we are ready and prepared,” said Kristin White, Central Valley Operations director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Folsom and Millerton.

“To be sure, many of California’s biggest reservoirs are steadily rising but are still a long way from being full. On Wednesday, Shasta, near Redding, was 42% full, up from 31% on Dec. 1 but still only 70% of its historic average for the date. Oroville was 47% full Wednesday, up from 27% on Dec. 1 and now at 88% of its historical average.

“Last year, a very wet December gave way to the driest January, February and March in a century, drawing the state back into drought after raising people’s hopes.

“We are certainly tracking better than last year,” said Molly White, operations manager of the State Water Project. “So far so good. This winter is on a good trajectory. We’ll see what happens in the next few months.”

“State and federal officials caution that unseasonably hot weather in the coming months could melt much of the snowpack, or strong high pressure ridges could block new storms.

“Last year the spigot turned off,” White said. “We need to be patient to see how the winter unfolds.”

“This week, many smaller local reservoirs already had filled completely.

“In Marin County, all seven reservoirs operated by the Marin Municipal Water District were 100% full for the first time in four years. Loch Lomond Reservoir near Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which provides water for nearly 100,000 people in Santa Cruz, began spilling Sunday.

“The seven reservoirs operated by the East Bay Municipal Utility District were 84% full Wednesday and rising. All three agencies said they do not expect to impose water restrictions or fines this summer.”

California storms: Reservoirs are filling quickly, boosting water supplies after years of drought (

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Great letter from San Francisco Chronicle

“Water, water everywhere and nary a drop to drink. A parade of atmospheric rivers is drenching California with an estimated 22 trillion gallons of rain, enough to cover the entire state in several inches of water. 

“Tragically, we’re capturing only a fraction of it while $2.7 billion approved by voters in 2014 to expand water storage sits largely idle. The seven projects included in Proposition 1 have the collective capacity to increase the state’s water storage by 900 billion gallons, enough to supply up to 2.7 million homes for a year. But nearly five years after initial funding was awarded, none of the projects has yet broken ground. 

“It’s absolutely critical we accelerate these projects to begin storing water that can help us blunt future droughts. California and the federal government must work together on ways to streamline permits for infrastructure projects essential for adapting to climate change.

“Jim Wunderman, president and CEO, Bay Area Council”

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Water Infrastructure

Good words but will actions match, story from KCRA.

An excerpt.

“As California remains in a state of emergency for both flood and drought, elected officials at the state Capitol are working on how to avoid this dual state of emergency situation in the future.

“Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree: The state needs to update its water systems and boost California’s ability to capture and store water to alleviate the effects of drought, especially when major storms or atmospheric rivers dump rain.

“Updating the state’s water systems may be one of the few pushes this year when Democrats and Republicans work together. Here is a look at the proposals.

“Assembly Bill 62 – Statewide water storage expansion

“Weeks before the series of atmospheric rivers began hitting the state, Assm. Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, filed a proposal that sets statewide targets to increase above and below-ground water storage capacity by a total of 3.7 million acre-feet by 2030, to eventually reach the goal of 4 million acre-feet by 2040.

“Let’s get this storage done; let’s get it built,” said Mathis, who noted the numbers are based on a water strategy plan Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced last summer.

“The governor warned the state could lose 10% of its water supply by 2040.

“Mathis said his bill aims to hold the governor to his word. A spokesperson for the governor’s office said he does not generally comment on pending legislation.

“AB 62 would also require the state water board and the Department of Water Resources to design and implement measures to increase statewide water storage to achieve the 2030 and 2040 targets. It would also require the administration to submit progress reports to the Legislature starting in 2027.

“AB 30- Atmospheric Rivers Research and Forecast Improvement

“Assm. Chris Ward, D-San Diego, introduced this bill to optimize water supply and flood prevention with new technology.

“The bill would require the Department of Water Resources to research, develop and use new observations, prediction models and forecasting methods to improve predictions of atmospheric rivers. The bill also aims to improve predictions of an atmospheric river’s impacts on water supply, flooding, post-wildfire debris flows and environmental conditions.

“AB 30 would also require DWR to take all actions within its existing authority to operate reservoirs in a way that improves flood protection and to reoperate flood control and water storage facilities to capture water generated by atmospheric rivers. Ward notes the system hasn’t had improvements in nearly 20 years.

“Mathis said he looks forward to potentially working with Ward on the issue.

“AB 30 and AB 62 likely won’t be the only pieces of legislation filed to address the state’s water infrastructure. State lawmakers have until mid-February to introduce new bills.

Newsom’s Administration efforts

“The governor and state lawmakers agreed to earmark more than $8 billion over the last three years for water infrastructure improvements and response to drought.

“Newsom said the investments include improvements to conveyance, stormwater capture strategies, groundwater replenishment and strategies to capture flood flow during strong storms the state has been experiencing since the start of the year.

“The state is leveraging new technology to study atmospheric rivers to help prepare and respond to major storms. The governor said Sunday a C130 aircraft was flying around the latest system to collect data.”

Lawmakers want California to benefit more from atmospheric rivers (

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Storms Call for More Water Storage

Good article from the Orange County Register.

An excerpt.

“As Californians struggled to deal with a grueling drought that has led to water rationing and other extreme water-conservation measures, Mother Nature has this week intervened with an atmospheric river that has led to massive rainfalls and flooding — especially up north.

“This cycle of drought and flooding is nothing new. “California summers were characterized by the coughing in the pipes that meant the well was dry, and California winters by all-night watches on rivers about to crest,” wrote Joan Didion in her 1977 essay, “Holy Water.”

“Unfortunately, California has left itself dependent on the weather (or climate, if you prefer) because it hasn’t built significant water infrastructure since the time that essay was published — when the state had roughly 18 million fewer residents.

“Some environmentalists argue against building water storage when there’s little rain, but they only are correct if it doesn’t rain again.

“History suggests the rains will always come. If California expands its storage capacity with reservoirs, off-stream storage and groundwater banking, it will have enough water to get us through the dry spells.

“The official government drought maps show that almost the entire state is facing some form of drought, but that the latest storm system has helped bolster reservoir levels. Most of our reservoirs were perilously empty, but after the latest storms Folsom is now at 74% of normal and Castaic is at 53% of normal. Those levels should rise after the next wave of expected storms.

“Building infrastructure takes time. Instead of being content that we’ve dodged another water-shortage bullet, the state’s leaders need to follow through with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water plan.

“That means jump-starting water projects (Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat) that have been on the drawing board for decades.

“It also means quicker approval of desalination facilities (such as the proposal in Huntington Beach that the California Coastal Commission rejected) and water-recycling strategies. The state also needs to invest more heavily in rebuilding its aging levees to help protect communities threatened by floods.”

Recent flooding shows the need for water storage – Orange County Register (

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Our Forests

A beautiful story about them, from the Washington Post.

An excerpt.

“MALCOLM KNAPP RESEARCH FOREST, British Columbia — Suzanne Simard walks into the forest with a churchgoer’s reverence. The soaring canopies of Douglas firs are her cathedral’s ceiling. Shifting branches of cedars, maples and hemlocks filter the sunlight like stained-glass windows. A songbird chorus echoes from the treetops, accompanied by the wind whistling through pine boughs and a woodpecker’s steady drumming.

“But beauty alone is not what makes this place sacred to Simard. In each colossal tree, the University of British Columbia forest ecologist sees a source of oxygen, a filter for water and a home for hundreds of different creatures. To her, the lush, multilayered understory is proof of a thriving community, where a variety of species ensures that every wavelength of light is put to good use.

“And although Simard cannot hear their conversation, she knows the trees are in communion with the fungi beneath her feet — bartering carbon for water and nutrients in a raucous exchange older than the forests themselves.

“Crouching low, Simard pulls a trowel from her pocket and cuts deep into the earth, through layers of moss, duff and debris.

“See this?” In her cupped hands, she holds a palmful of soil flecked with thin, white filaments. “Mycorrhizal fungi,” she says. “It’s joining all these trees together.”

“Through decades of study, Simard and other ecologists have revealed how fungi and trees are linked in vast, subterranean networks through which organisms send messages and swap resources. The findings have helped revolutionize the way the world sees forests, turning static stands of trees into complex societies of interdependent species, where scenes of both fierce competition and startling cooperation play out on a grand scale.

“Now, Simard is attempting to translate that research into a road map for protecting forests from the demands of logging and the ravages of climate change. In an experiment spanning hundreds of miles, she and her colleagues aim to show the benefits of preserving “mother trees” — giant elders of the forest, which Simard believes play a critical role in maintaining fungal networks, nurturing younger seedlings and safeguarding millions of tons of carbon stored in vegetation and soil.

“Adopting such practices would fundamentally alter forest industries, Simard admits. It would mean logging less, using fewer wood-based products and investing more in restoring battered ecosystems. It would require people to behave a bit more like creatures of the forest — to recognize our interdependence, to learn from elders, to take less than we give.

“But she argues that change is necessary to avert dangerous warming that threatens both trees and humans.

“What it comes down to,” she says, “is we have to save our forests, or we’re done.”

“Opening her cupped palms, Simard allows her handful of fungal filaments to fall back to the earth.

“It comes down to whether we value our environment as something to take from, or something to tend.”

“The hubs of the forest

“Simard brushes dirt from her hands, then trudges to the edge of the stand. “Let’s go see the clear cut.”

“On the other side of the road is a 50-acre expanse of tree stumps, shrubs and child-sized Douglas fir saplings. A sign identifies it as part of Simard’s Mother Tree Project, one of five experimental plots here in the Malcolm Knapp Research Forest, an hour east of Vancouver, Canada.

“With her trowel, Simard digs another hole in the ground. Four years after the plot was logged and replanted, the soil is dusty and shallow. There’s little of the moss and partly-decomposed debris she found in the uncut forest.

“There’s hardly any forest floor left,” she says.

“Simard’s career began in landscapes like this one. The daughter and granddaughter of tree cutters, her first job was as a forester for a Canadian logging company, flagging the biggest and most valuable trees to be harvested and hauled away. Afterward, the clear-cut site would be sprayed with herbicides — a measure meant to help newly planted commercial seedlings by killing off competitors for sunshine and nutrients.”

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