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In the News - Friday, march 24, 2006


Sheriff’s race

highlighted by

law-enforcement forum

    In each election since 1998, candidates have made campaign stops in Three Rivers to woo local voters and address the issues. Although there have been some programs of interest leading up to these election days, none have had the urgency or importance of this upcoming Town Meeting.
     That’s because as rural residents and property owners, law enforcement and personal safety is the greatest single challenge confronting the community. Whether we like to be proactive or choose not to get involved, the law and our sheriff’s department affect each and every one of us on a daily basis.
In unincorporated Tulare County, the responsibility of meeting this challenge falls squarely on the shoulders of the sheriff. In county government, the sheriff-coroner is a non-partisan office, meaning that a candidate’s political party is not necessarily a priority to being nominated or elected.
     Since being organized as a county in 1852, Tulare County has had 29 sheriffs. In 1863, one elected sheriff never actually served a day in that line of duty. During these Civil War years, he was dismissed as being a rebel sympathizer, not an uncommon sentiment among the early citizenry of Tulare County.
Since 1951, there have been just four sheriffs. Bob Wiley, who served from 1967 to 1991, served the longest tenure. The new detention center that opened in 1987 is named for Sheriff Wiley.
     Melvin “Butch” Coley was elected in 1990 and served one term. In 1995, the current incumbent, Bill Wittman, began his tenure and has been serving the citizens of Tulare County for the past decade.
     For this upcoming June 6th election, Sheriff Wittman, who is seeking a third four-year term, has a challenger — John Zapalac, Woodlake’s police chief and former Tulare County sheriff’s deputy.
     Both candidates will have the opportunity to speak at the gathering. Following these speeches, there will be a panel discussion with several prearranged questions for each candidate.
     There will also be, with time permitting, a question-and-answer period with audience participation. As a part of the evening’s program, representatives from the Sheriff’s Department’s local VIP program (Volunteers in Patrol) will also give a brief presentation on how this group supports the resident deputy and opportunities for more residents to become involved.

Bear in mind:

Property purchase

comes with

resident bruin

     There are many benefits to living in Kaweah Country. Three Rivers never ceases to amaze — the changing seasons, the mountain vistas, and the opportunity to experience a truly wild place and see an array of critters as they make their way to and from the Kaweah River.
     But for one Three Rivers family, who recently bought an Eggers Drive home, they might have bargained for an extra amenity that wasn’t mentioned in their purchase agreement. In fact, it appears that they are sharing at least a portion of their property with a large black bear.
     According to Jerida Hathcock, who with her husband, Don, moved into the hillside home just before Christmas, the bear has been very accepting of the new resident owners.

   “Evidently, the house has had some renters in the past but recently it was vacant,” Jerida said. “Last Sunday night around 10 p.m. we met our new neighbor and were surprised when we realized a big black bear has actually been sleeping in our yard.”
     The Hathcocks, who moved up from Visalia two years ago, first lived behind the Sequoia Motel on Sierra Drive. Jerida said they saw bears on occasion while they were living there but they always looked mangy and uncomfortable being around people.
     Jerida estimates that this critter weighs more than 400 pounds and seems most willing to accept the fact that somebody has moved into the house.

   “On Sunday night I left some taco shells in our garbage can, which usually I’m very careful not to do, and I guess that’s what attracted the bear to make an appearance,” Jerida said. “He certainly didn’t mind having his picture taken and just ignored our two Yorkies who kept barking at him the entire time he was here just below our deck.”
     After Sunday’s encounter, they noticed even more signs of the bear as they began making plans to clear the property’s overgrown landscape.

   “We found a place down below our house where the bear has been laying down and sleeping in our yard,” Jerida said. “On one of the trees, there are claw marks that reach up eight feet off the ground.”
     Part of that tree, a mature eucalyptus, was snapped off a couple days ago, evidently giving way under the weight of the bodacious bruin.

   “I guess that’s one tree that we won’t have to worry about trimming,” Jerida said.
     This week, Jerida called a game warden to request assistance with the bear. She said she hopes that the bear will be able to be relocated and survive in the wild.

   “When he is gone we’ll miss seeing that bear around here,” Jerida said. “He has a very fluffy coat and is very beautiful. He seems very accepting and most content to have let us move in and share his home.”
     Neighbors who live in the area have reported seeing a “huge” black bear for several years. Evidently, the large bruin has become very comfortable with his Three Rivers lifestyle and high protein diet, and like Jellystone’s Yogi, is larger and smarter than your average bear.

Spring will stay

winter a little longer

     High temperatures in Kaweah Country for the first 22 days of March have been below normal, making the recent flirtation on Thursday and Friday with the 70s feeling that much more pleasant.
     That 75-degree reading on March 23 marked the highest temperature since November. But don’t put away that cold weather gear just yet.
     Clouds will increase early Saturday with a better than average chance for rain in the foothills and snow in the nearby mountains.
     Daytime high temperatures will remain consistently below normal with yet another chance for a wet, cold storm system on Tuesday, March 28.
     All that wintry weather has really piled on some impressive snow totals. The Faculty Flat reporting station at 7,300 feet in Mineral King has nearly a six-foot snowpack.
     A little farther up the canyon at the Farewell Gap snow stake (9,500 feet), there is more than 12 feet of snow with 60 inches of water content.
     Next week, survey teams will begin gathering new data for the April 1 readings, the traditional end to the month-by-month snow monitoring season. Those snowpack totals from the Kaweah-Kern-Kings watersheds are expected to come in anywhere from 110 to 125 percent above normal.
     In Three Rivers, rainfall totals are running very close to last season and well ahead of the 13.01 inches for two years ago.
     As of yesterday (Thursday, March 23), local collection at 1,000 feet totaled 18.61 inches. Last season on the same date, after receiving one inch of rainfall in that 24-hour period, Three Rivers had recorded 19.98 inches of rainfall.
     The weekend snowplay and skiing forecast calls for more snow in the local mountains. Hills and trails in and around Wolverton, the hub of winter activity in Sequoia National Park, are sporting a foot of powder from the last storm on a base of nearly seven feet.
     With the arrival of April, more kayakers will begin their annual spring runs on the Kaweah River. Warmer weather by late-April should usher in what promises to be a thunderous whitewater rafting season and a filled-to-capacity Lake Kaweah by Memorial Day.

Schools receive

annual report card

     Five Tulare County schools reached the state goal of 800 or above on the 2005 Academic Performance Index (API). That’s up from just two schools last year.
     This year, Three Rivers School, which is always straddling mere points above or below the 800 mark received a grade of 810 for the 2004-2005 school year.
     Released on Tuesday, March 21, API scores are based on results of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program — or STAR tests — and also for some students, the California High School Exit Exam. Second through 11th-graders took the test last spring.
     Resulting API scores range from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000, with 800 being the state’s goal for all schools.
Schools must show a five-percent increase in the difference between their last score and the 800-point target.
     Last year, TRUS received a grade of 796. This year, they exceeded the state goal with an 810. They are joined in this 800-plus club by four other Tulare County middle and elementary schools: Columbine (south of Porterville), 15-student Sierra, and Visalia’s Linwood, Oak Grove, and perennial leader Royal Oaks with an 852 this year.
     Woodlake High School has made huge strides in the last few years and broke into the 600s for the first time with a 613. In fact, all Tulare County high schools are in the 600s, except for the highest-scoring school — Tulare High with a 721 — and the lowest — Orosi with a 571.
     Tulare Western is the second highest-scoring high school with a 688; Exeter High is third with a 679.
     Statewide, high schools consistently receive lower scores than elementary schools and have a harder time achieving the 800 goal. Although by no means the only way to measure a school’s performance, the API offers a way to assess how students, teachers, and specific programs are doing.
     Kaweah Country students will take this year’s round of STAR tests, determining next year’s API, in April and May.

Sierra Grant awarded

to community group

     The Bank of the Sierra has awarded a Sierra Grant of $1,400 to the Three Rivers Village Foundation.
     The funding is earmarked to assist with the startup expenses associated with the establishment of a chamber of commerce to represent the businesses in the gateway communities — Three Rivers and Lemon Cove — of Sequoia National Park.
     The Sierra Grant program’s mission is to improve the quality of life for the families, especially children, who reflect the diversity within Bank of the Sierra branch communities. The focus of the program is on three areas: community services, national park and public lands preservation, and education.

   “We were glad to make a contribution to the Three Rivers Village Foundation,” said Jim Holly, Bank of the Sierra president and CEO. “An effective chamber of commerce plays an important role in a community and we are happy to help make it happen.”
     Anyone involved in a nonprofit program who is interested in a Sierra Grant may pick up an instructional brochure at any Bank of the Sierra branch.

Summer Bible school

now taking signups

     The annual interdenominational Vacation Bible School, for children in preschool to sixth grades, is gearing up for its summer run. St. Anthony Retreat will be hosting the event this year.
     The day camp is scheduled for Monday through Friday, June 19 to 23, from 8:45 a.m. to noon.
Parents may currently register their children as VBS students. Early registration will assist in the planning of the activities.
     Community kids in seventh-grade through high school may sign on as counselors. An orientation will be held prior to the event and community-service hours will be earned.
     Adults volunteers are also needed. Currently, the drama and music sections need leaders.
     Assistance is also needed for the snacks and crafts stations. Set-building, painting, and decorating will be needed as well.
     For more information, to register students, or to volunteer, call Portia Gunnerud, 561-3302, or the Community Presbyterian Church, 561-3385.

The Shape of

Things to Come:

3R artists add

dimension to art show

     Artists from Three Rivers and throughout the Central Valley are busy in their studios creating new, never-before-seen pieces for The Courthouse Gallery’s upcoming spring exhibit, “That Extra Dimension.” The show will open Saturday, April 1, and continue each weekend through June.
     An artists’ reception is scheduled for Sunday, April 9, from 2 to 4 p.m. The public is invited.
     This is the second annual gathering of the three-dimensional artists, and there will be handmade items made of clay, metal, gourds, fabric, paint, and wood. A quintet of Three Rivers artists will participate.
Marn Reich was the curator of last year’s show, which was held in Visalia, and has returned for an encore this year. She had one requirement for the artists: all new 3-D pieces.
     In her own art, which will also be on display, Marn reaches for new ideas in every piece. Animals and humans inspire her, she says.
     Another Three Rivers artist whose work was seen at the previous show is Nancy Jonnum, a talented ceramist who has written articles for Ceramics Monthly and the American Ceramic Society newsletter. Nancy’s ceramics include the special animals she creates using red sculpture clay. Each piece captures the animal’s own unique personality.
     Nancy isn’t telling what new creature she is in the process of designing so surprises are definitely in store.
     Carole Clum’s stoneware collection called “Dancing Women,” built of slabs and coils, has graced art galleries and fairs around the state. It gives us a glimpse of the perfection she aims to achieve.
     Only time will tell what Carole is in the process of creating in her Three Rivers studio in preparation of the show.
Anne Haxton will brighten the gallery with her sculptural light fixtures. Mike Perez will complete the décor with his wood furnishings.
     More than a dozen other artists from around the Central Valley will also participate in the show: Mark Ahlstrand, Richard Arenas, Toni Best, Verne Chapman, Valerie Deveraux, Paul Dutton, Moni Mauch, Eleanor (Sam) McKinney, Michael T. Murphy, Joe Nunes, Jim Ritter, Sherley Tucker, and Linda Victory.
     The Courthouse Gallery is located at 125 South B Street in Exeter. It is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free
     For more information, call 592-9695.

Mountain yellow-legged

frog faces extinction

     Frogs are the stuff of fairy tales and around these parts that may be the only place they’re ever heard from again. That is, unless some local experts can make headway on a mountain mystery that has targeted the already-threatened yellow-legged frog.
     The mountain yellow-legged frog has survived for thousands of years in lakes and streams carved by glaciers, living up to nine months under snow and ice and then emerging each summer to issue its raspy chorus across the Sierra Nevada range.
     But the frog’s call is rapidly disappearing as a fungus pushes the high-country amphibian toward extinction in its remaining refuge in Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks.
     At last count, there were about 650 populations left in these three parks, but most lakes have only a handful of frogs — not enough to guarantee their survival — and 85 percent of them are already infected with the deadly fungus.
     Historically, the frogs were so thick in mountain lakes that tadpoles frothed the water and it was hard not to step on one if walking along the shore.
     Their decline started when trout were stocked in Sierra lakes — first carried in buckets by mule and, these days, dropped by plane — to supply fishermen.

   “Due to the widespread introduction of predatory trout that eliminated mountain yellow-legged frog populations from the majority of lakes in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, [park scientists] have been conducting ecological restoration in several park lakes since 2001,” said Danny Boiano, aquatic ecologist at Sequoia-Kings Canyon. “We have been removing introduced trout populations, with an emphasis on improving the habitat and abundance of adjacent mountain yellow-legged frog populations.”
     Danny reports that this work has proven successful, citing increases in the number of mountain yellow-legged frog populations in the restoration areas.
     The alien fish, which are still being introduced via aerial drops into the High Sierra outside park boundaries, are leaving only isolated groups of frogs scattered over widespread lakes as high as 13,000 feet.
     But in spite of living within the protective borders of national parks, the remaining frogs can’t deter the onslaught of the fungus and can’t travel far enough in trout-infested streams to repopulate areas devastated by the fungus.
     For the past five years, the frogs have been disappearing at a rate of 10 percent a year. That’s what a gathering of experts in Yosemite was told in January.
     The group of 24, which included Boiano and Harold Werner, Sequoia-Kings Canyon’s wildlife biologist, put their heads together to step up efforts to save the frog.
     The chytrid fungus — which has been linked to the extinction of amphibians in places as far away as Australia and Costa Rica and is blamed in part on global warming — kills the frogs by growing on their skin, making it hard for them to use their pores and regulate water intake. The frogs then die of thirst in the water.
     While the species deserves to be designated as endangered, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lacks the funds to complete the process. The frog remains on a waiting list.
     Listing the frog as endangered probably wouldn’t help anyway, since the immediate threat isn’t coming from any activity — such as development or agriculture — that can be revised or restricted.

   “There is much research currently being conducted,” said Danny.
     He is hopeful that in the next few years, the research will determine (1) whether the fungus has been present in the Sierra Nevada for a long time or has recently arrived, (2) how the fungus moves across the landscape and becomes established in a new basin, (3) whether there is a synergism between the fungus and other factors such as contaminants, and (4) if there are local environmental factors or genetic diversity in infected mountain yellow-legged frog populations that may mitigate the effects of the fungus.

   “Point number four is very important because if one mountain yellow-legged frog population goes extinct, there is limited opportunity for that site to be recolonized by mountain yellow-legged frogs migrating from other persisting populations,” Danny continued. “This is because existing mountain yellow-legged frog populations are located far apart from one another due to the prevalence of introduced trout across the landscape and the primary mountain yellow-legged frog migration corridors are streams, most of which are occupied by introduced trout that prevent most frogs from migrating long distances.”
     The frog’s disappearance would affect about 300 other species in the rugged high country, from the insects they prey on to the garter snakes and coyotes that eat them.
     What’s both baffling and disturbing about the fungus’s attack on amphibians is that it kills quickly, even in untouched habitats.
     No research has yet been done to prove a link between climate change in the High Sierra and the fungus’s lethal spread. In reality, there isn’t even time to wait for such studies.
     Park biologists are currently examining the possibility of breeding the frogs in captivity, even though there are no documented success stories of this method. They also may reestablish frogs in areas where they’ve disappeared and will continue their quest to remove non-native trout from some lakes.
     It’s obvious that trout removal has had promising results for the frog in Sequoia-Kings Canyon. But eliminating the fish from lakes can be a touchy subject.
     Many equate fishing in high mountain lakes with the backcountry wilderness experience. The biologists realize this but, then again, lives are at stake.
     Amphibians are facing an ecological disaster on a global scale. Basically, because they are the most sensitive, they also may be providing us a glimpse into the future. Think about it: Which species might be the next to succumb to global warming? When will humans start suffering its effects?
     The Global Amphibian Assessment, a worldwide collaborative survey by hundreds of scientists completed in 2004, found that one-third of the world’s 5,743 amphibian species are threatened and 168 are possibly extinct.
     Scientists strongly suspect that climate change is generally involved in these declines. Even though the human race may someday realize that the world needs to completely transition to cleaner energy technologies and sources of energy — water, wind, solar — it might be too late for the mountain yellow-legged frogs.

Packers invited

to apply

     The National Park Service is currently soliciting for offers to operate two pack stations in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park and the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon and a riding stable in Kings Canyon’s Grant Grove.
     The businesses will operate under a 10-year concession contract beginning Jan. 1, 2007. These stock operations will provide visitors an opportunity to enjoy one of the traditional methods of visiting the parks — by horseback.
     A prospectus was issued March 6 for a 64-day response period. It is available online at: www.concessions.nps.gov/news.cfm or (for a fee) by contacting Kim Gagliolo at (510) 817-1368 or writing her in care of the address below.
     Any contract bid proposal must be received by Tuesday, May 9, 4 p.m. Proposals may be delivered to: Concessions Program Manager, National Park Service, Pacific West Region, 1111 Jackson St., Suite 700, Oakland, CA 94607.

After 63 years,

U.S. airman

receives proper burial

     The remains of a World War II soldier recovered from a glacier in Kings Canyon National Park in October 2005 were positively identified last month as Aviation Cadet Leo Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn. Mustonen was one of four soldiers onboard an AT-7 Navigator aircraft that crashed into the Darwin Glacier during a training mission in November 1942.
     A team of park rangers and a forensic anthropologist from the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii recovered the remains and transported them to the Fresno County Coroner’s Office, and from there, they were flown to Hawaii.
     Mustonen was identified using mitochondrial DNA and circumstantial evidence, which included a corroded nameplate.
     All four families involved have been notified of the identification.
     Visitation was held yesterday (Thursday, March 23) in Brainerd. The funeral will be conducted today at the First Lutheran Church in Brainerd with the interment immediately following in the community cemetery where his mother is buried.
     A news conference was also scheduled by the family for today (Friday, March 24).

Parks update

backcountry regulations

     Each year, staff at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks conducts an assessment of the condition of the parks’ wilderness to determine if regulations or policy need to be adjusted to forward resource preservation.
     For 2006, this assessment has led to few changes from 2005. Restrictions are applied to ensure that areas that have seen notable impacts from use are allowed to recover.
     Specific meadows have stock-grazing restrictions placed on them in order to reduce impacts on vegetation and allow them to recover. Stock use is not prohibited from these areas provided that stock are held and fed or led to nearby open areas to graze.
     Temporary campfire restrictions are in place in several areas to allow for the continued recovery of the wood resources. These heavily-used areas are closed to campfires due to lack of dead and down wood and damage to standing and live trees resulting from firewood scavenging.
     To preserve the natural behavior of bears and protect visitor safety, portable, NPS-approved, bear-proof food-storage containers (with the capacity to store all garbage and scented and food items) are required for all overnight parties traveling in three restricted areas: Rae Lakes loop and vicinity and Dusy Basin area in Kings Canyon and the Rock Creek area of Sequoia.
     A camping limit restriction in the Pear and Emerald lakes areas will be in effect this summer to alleviate overcrowding of these popular destinations.
     For additional information on these regulations and other wilderness-travel specifics, contact the parks’ Wilderness Office, 565-3766, or go online to: www.nps.gov/seki/bcinfo.htm.

 
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