Email Vesta
Blog Home Page

Welcome to the Sonoma County Gazette ARCHIVE of PAST EDITIONS. Our NEW WEBSITE is up and running, so GazExtra is serving as your path to archived articles. Thanks for being part of our Sonoma County community...stay in touch...e-mail me - VESTA

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Heroes & Villains of Sonoma County's Environment

Sonoma County tends to be above average in environmental and social awareness, so when I got the call from a very upset visitor from Chico, I was rather taken aback by the tale she told.

Barbara brought her family to camp at Doran Park on the coast to get away from Central Valley heat over the 4th of July holidays. She, her husband and two children spent the afternoon enjoying the beach until they heard loud woops and laughter coming from a family of revelers who were carrying a cooler up to their BBQ filled with something they had gathered nearby. She watched in horror as they pulled starfish and tiny crabs out of the cooler and threw them on hot coals…just to watch them die.

Barbara immediately jumped up to stop the cruelty and was assaulted by a woman yelling at her to mind her own business. “We found them so they’re ours and we can do anything we want!” Barbara went to her husband for help, and with children in tow, tried to reason with these people. Nothing they said had any influence. Frustrated and crying, Barbara went with her family to the park ranger station at the entrance to Doran. With the help of park rangers, the offenders were arrested and what was left of the starfish and crabs were taken away.

Barbara called me because she had seen the photo of people lined up on the beach to protest the Gulf Oil Spill and offshore drilling in my July edition. What she saw were people who care… the perfect antidote to people who recklessly destroy life.

I contacted Sonoma County Regional Parks to find out what laws we have to protect these innocent critters and yes, we have laws but people are ignorant – and in this case - really didn’t care.

How do we stop destruction when laws are not enough?

Good People balance Bad People.
Shortly after Barbara’s call, I received an e-mail from a River's Edge kayak and canoe rental business in Healdsburg showing photos of how they were sending employees out in canoes to collect trash left behind over the holiday. Mountains of beer bottles were piled high among debris collected from river beaches where people cared little about the place they were visiting, nor about the people who would come next and risk cutting their feet on broken glass.

BUT – here was a business paying their employees to clean up the river. Yes, it’s the river that keeps them in business, but they could have been like so many other people and just complained to the city government that THEY should be cleaning up the mess. Instead they took it upon themselves to take care of the need.

Last month we ran a letter to the editor written by a woman asking people to be self-assigned clean-up crews along our coast because our government doesn’t have funding to hire people to do this job. “Just Do It” thinking has more people taking on tasks the great “they” aren’t accomplishing.

As our down economy falls further into debt, people need to get used to taking care of their own worlds rather than relying on government employees. This could be good for everyone as people get in touch with what it takes to maintain our home on every level. Being responsible always has lessons.

River Heroes on a Mission
We have articles all the time written by people who monitor our water systems both above and below ground. They are the individuals and groups we have come to rely upon to keep watch while the rest of us are running our lives, raising children, etc. One of these heroes asked me to take a canoe trip on the Russian River to see a problem that needs to be fixed.

Quite honestly it’s been a long time since I paddled down our river. The day couldn’t have been more beautiful with people out in droves floating on tubes and anything else that would allow them to drift down river on a leisurely day. I was impressed with how people seemed to be enjoying our home and river while treating it with respect. By the time we reached our destination I felt more confident in people’s consciousness of the river they were enjoying.

Not far west of Odd Fellows summer bridge is a long embankment where last year’s winter rains and elevated river washed away a whole section of river bank along a vineyard owned by Korbel. High up the bank, about three feet below the surface is evidence of a landfill dump that has been exposed.

River watchers found debris from this landfill far downstream and spent countless hours trying to clean plastic bags out of trees, etc. before summer canoe season. They brought me here to see if we can do something about this.

Apparently Korbel is aware of the problem but considers it beyond their financial means to fix the eroding bank. Discussions have occurred but so far nothing is in the works for removal of the debris or bank repair. Winter is fast approaching and river watchers are concerned.

At first glance it looks like a pretty simple task to dig up the trash and haul it away. Parts of it look recent and other parts look old. At this point large numbers of broken bottles and shards of glass have cascaded down the bank into the river. We picked up broken champagne bottles so thick it would take decades to break them down. Glass scattered across the river bottom where bathers were getting out of their canoes. This is dangerous.

This may be one of those projects where it’s simply too great a task for canoe clubs and river watchers to handle. As the bank continues to erode, every winter brings more trash and glass into the river. What we’re hoping is that increased awareness will bring a solution before rains begin this fall.


Water Heroes Clean Up
Every fall several groups of environmentalists and canoe/kayak clubs get together for a watershed clean-up. Tons of trash are removed from river banks throughout Sonoma County as well as up into tributaries where people leave debris all summer long. The goal is to clean up as much as humanly possible so that rains don’t wash this mess down river and out to sea.

Who creates all this trash? It’s a combination of people. Some are “campers’ finding a spot in the woods and they simply don’t clean up after themselves. Others are careless visitors who simply don’t care. And still others are people avoiding dump fees and throwing trash in places where they hope they won’t get caught. For a while the county had a surveillance system at the most frequently used dumping sites and were catching people in the act with video camera systems. But word is that this program has run out of money. That’s where citizen volunteers come in… yet again.

Keep an eye out for announcements of these upcoming clean-ups that happen in September and sometimes in October. It’s a wonderful opportunity to work hard with other caring people throughout a weekend and get the feeling that you have actually done something about a serious problem that needs time and attention. And keep in mind that you can alert authorities when you see an illegal dump. Yes, it’s against the law and fines help our county with clean-up. To report an illegal dump site, visit or call 877-565-DUMP (3867).

Being the Solution
There are two ways to balance environmental villains. One is to be responsible yourself and to influence others to care as much as you do. The other is to become involved with environmental heroes, people like water and river watchers, clean-up crews and watchdog groups.

If water is your passion, you can log on to for a list of like-minded groups across Sonoma County. There’s a full list – with links – to groups that actively work to maintain the environment many take for granted. These are the people you rarely see, but your life is impacted by their efforts. You can become one of them and be a hero.

You can also just start doing things in your daily life. See trash on the side of the road? Keep a bag and gloves in your vehicle and pick it up. Weed a public garden that isn’t getting enough attention because of low funding. Sweep an area where people frequent because it needs it.

You have too much to do at your own home to take care of the rest of the world? It’s that way for everyone. But some people consider it part of their responsibility for taking up room on this earth and using resources. Besides…you feel really good every time you do a good deed. So consider it selfish because you want that feeling more often. It’s a win/win for everyone.

Written by Vesta Copestakes with the guidance & canoe of Dave Kolman

Sec. 20-7. - Plants, animals and historic material.
No person shall remove, harm or destroy any plant, either living or dead, any animal, fish (see hunting and fishing, Section 20-9), reptile, amphibian or bird, including their nest and/or eggs, or the disturbance, removal or destruction of articles or artifacts of historical, archaeological, botanical, paleontological, geological or mineral resources, in, or from any park, except when permission is granted by park authorities.
Ord. No. 1832 § 2.) As found on

Labels: ,