Welcome to the 75th issue of Bay Nature magazine. For 74 issues we’ve chosen cover art and photos that capture the inspirational power and beauty, from the vast to the diminutive, of Bay Area nature. So, it was with considerable thought and discussion that we elected to publish a cover photograph this summer that tells an uncomfortable story. We know it’s disturbing to look at rows and rows of dead almond trees in the warming and increasingly parched Central Valley. It depicts the tremendous and unpredictable change that’s already begun all around us.
Veteran environmental journalist Mark Schapiro has spent years reporting in the Central Valley, where the $17 billion agricultural industry that supplies food for much of the country is without question scrambling to adapt to warmer winters, more erratic weather, and an imminent end to unfettered groundwater use. In his reporting about the changing valley for Bay Nature, Schapiro spoke to farmers betting on new crops that can withstand harsher conditions and to others who are experimenting with regenerative techniques that improve the soil, fortify crops, and lower water demands.
He also looked at the state’s soon-to-be regulated groundwater supply that regardless of farming strategies will lead to roughly 10 percent, or 500,000 acres, of the valley’s farmland going fallow over the next 20 years, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. The future of those half million acres is up for debate, and conservationists have proposed that roughly 30 percent of it could support restored riparian corridors, intermittent wetlands, floodplains, San Joaquin desert habitat, and solar energy installations. The Environmental Defense Fund and other groups are working on financial instruments to pay farmers for the restoration. It’s anything but clear what might happen on the other 350,000 acres.
The dead almond orchards on the cover are as much a story about the end of an era as they are about the transition to another.
Our 75th issue also celebrates perseverance: the knowledge that comes from watching a tidepool for 85 years; the accomplishments that have mounted with building the San Francisco Bay Trail for 30 years; the new ideas that keep our state parks open through eight years of struggle; and the importance of taking risks after 19 years of successfully publishing Bay Nature.
Summer’s a good time to reflect on what we know, as the images of our future challenge us.