March/April 2014 issue

Decoding Bird Language
Jon Young
Author: What the Robin Knows, How the Birds
Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World

Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 7:30 p.m.
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade

What Birds Say Can Help Us All

The birds in the backyard, in the garden, forest and fields and along beaches, speak to each other constantly. Since our beginnings, people did—and still can—learn to decode the basic messages of interspecies communication with a few keys and some routine observation. It’s really fun to experience, learn and share the power of decoding deep bird language with others.

While it is fun, there are important additional benefits to learning bird language that can help individuals, families and communities. Learning this ancient technology harmonizes with the way the human organism is designed, with profound implications. The resulting relationships stimulated and nurtured by tuning into and participating in the conversation among the birds have direct and measurable benefits for the future of conservation.

A lifelong birder, tracker and naturalist, Jon Young is the author of several books on nature and nature connection. His most recent book is What the Robin Knows, How the Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World. Recently Jon, and the team he works with, 8 Shields, have become involved in a national project to merge a model for learning bird language in the backyard with community building and conservation.

Jon is guided in his work and teaching by 3 basic premises: 1) The robin, junco and other songbirds know everything important about their environment, be it backyard or forest; 2) by tuning in to their vocalizations and behavior, we can acquire much of this wisdom for our own pleasure and benefit; and 3) the birds’ companion calls and warning alarms are just as important as their songs.

“The intrinsic motivation to take care of people, animals, environments or things is linked directly to the connection one feels with the people, animals, environments or things requiring care,” Jon says. “Connection builds over time through particular processes driven by very specific conditions that are not addressed in our modern world to a meaningful degree. To ensure a future for the life support systems of our planet, the citizenry of planet earth will need to be connected to the life support systems with enough critical mass to ensure the intrinsic motivation to care.”

At the March 12 RBDA meeting, Jon, a Bonny Dooner, will speak about the relationship between learning bird language in the backyard and the effort of his organization to foster a deep nature connection through this ancient, inspiring learning journey into the world of bird language.

Owl photo by Ted Benhari    
Less Wine on Pine Flat, More on Smith Grade?

Beauregard Vineyards has dropped all winery expansion plans and will not pursue permission to hold large events at the winery and tasting room facility at 10 Pine Flat Road. Meanwhile, an application for a new small winery on Smith Grade has been filed and is under Planning Dept. review.

According to Santa Cruz County planner Samantha Haschert, the Beauregards have modified their application and are now only asking to legalize the dwelling at the back of the property. The previous application had asked for permission for up to 10 Thursday night community events a year, up to 6 evening events (most of these have been fundraisers for various community organizations), and to increase wine production from 20,000 to 45,000 gallons per year.

The Beauregards’ application was filed last May but never started wending its way through Planning Dept. review as the staff asked for more infrastructure details and information. The current permit, originally issued to Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Vineyards in 1988, limits the site to 49 guests at a time.

“We will create a monitoring plan to ensure they comply with the existing permit," Haschert said.

The Beauregards are also being asked to submit a riparian restoration plan; if the county finds them out of compliance it will set up a monitoring plan.

The application to legalize the popular community and fundraising events opened up a heated controversy as some of the nearby neighbors (the property is only 1.5 acres) raised strong objections to additional noise and traffic, while other close neighbors and Bonny Dooners supported it. Winery expansion would inevitably have led to greater water resource usage and placed additional environmental pressures on Mill Creek, (which flows into San Vicente Creek, the source of Davenport’s water), an essential part of our fragile watershed.

Recently there has been another winery application, this time for a property on Smith Grade, about 2 miles from the Empire Grade intersection, near the Majors Creek switchback. The application, made by Michelle and Marty Paisley, asks permission to develop a small winery with production capacity of greater than 1,000 gallons annually; and to legalize the construction of a 4,113 square foot 2-story dwelling that is 6 ft. higher than the 28 foot height limit; a 996 square foot second dwelling, and a horse barn, along with a few peripheral structures. Additionally, the Paisleys are requesting recognition of construction of an 8,000 square foot pond.

A Zoning Administrator hearing on the application on Feb. 7 was continued until July 18, so people still have a chance to study the project and comment. Site drawings are available at the County Planning Dept. offices (application number 10-0038). The fact that a large amount of work—a large house, a pond, grading and clearing—has been done without permits is probably causing the county to give extra scrutiny to this application, and it is likely an ongoing monitoring plan will be ordered to ensure adherence to the terms of any permit that is approved.

Given the current drought and the uncertainty orbiting climate change forecasts, we feel that placing additional use burdens on Bonny Doon’s water resources must be very carefully considered. Although the property owner appears to have rights to spring water on their property, we feel that exercise of such rights must take into account impacts on the greater environment.

UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram, in a new book that details her studies of California tree rings, writes that the 20th century was unusually wet, and that droughts in the past lasted for many years and even centuries, especially during periods of global warming. That is a cautionary note for us all in using water and embarking on new development.

Marilyn Hummel, Local Hero

Marilyn Hummel, who led an exemplary life of public service, and whose crowning achievement is the creation of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve, died on Dec. 31. Among her many public services Marilyn served for years on the RBDA board on two different occasions. She was a brave, determined and very resourceful woman, and yet she was modest almost to a fault; she never sought the limelight for her significant achievements.

Over several decades, Marilyn was a leader of the local Sierra Club chapter, a Planning Commission alternate, president of the Santa Cruz affiliate of the League of Women Voters, and served many years on the County Housing Authority.

She, and her husband Don, who predeceased her, were the prime movers in first recognizing the unique nature of the Eco Reserve, now known as one of the few sites of Santa Cruz Sand Hills ecology. Trying to keep the area from becoming a golf course and housing development, the RBDA board at the time supported what they thought might be the only alternative, a vineyard. Funding a lawsuit and a botanical study, with the backing of the Harmons, Jill (also now deceased) and Bill (parents of our current board chair, Meggin), Marilyn demonstrated the rarity of the flora on the Eco Reserve, won over the RBDA board and the courts, and the vineyard permit was voided. That cleared the way for the Nature Conservancy to acquire the property in 1990 and turn it over to California’s Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) Dept. for management.

Although Marilyn would probably not have wanted it, because of her modesty, and may have expressed that to people, we feel it would not be inappropriate to honor her life and achievement in some way at the Eco Reserve site. It would be a tribute not only to Marilyn, but also to the spirit of an individual standing up for a cause and persevering despite long odds. We cannot help but feel that despite her demurrers, Marilyn would not be unhappy if somehow her life could be celebrated there. It takes people like Marilyn Hummel, who are fearless champions of the environment, to stand up to protect it when it is threatened.

In Memoriam: Frank Wylie, Tom Carey

We also note the passing of two other former RBDA board members, Frank Wylie and Tom Carey, who were neighbors on Smith Grade but separated by decades in board service. Frank, who had a very successful career in public relations before retiring to Bonny Doon, was on the board from 2000 to 2001, while Tom, who, after coming home from a distinguished career in the Armed Forces in World War II, operated a large commercial apple orchard for many years on Smith Grade near the top of Back Ranch Road. He served as RBDA chairman in the 1970s. Our hearts go out to their families.

National Focus on Santa Cruz Biotech Woes

The problems at Santa Cruz Biotech’s goat ranch in San Luis Obispo County were spotlighted on The New Yorker magazine blog site recently. Dooners will remember the careless handling of manure from the large goat herd that led the Coastal Commission to halt operations at SCB’s Back Ranch Road ranch several years ago. During storms pathogen-bearing manure and urine were washing down the hill into the Coast Road neighborhood. After the ruling, SCB owners John and Brenda Stephenson rapidly transferred the animals to a remote site on their Shandon ranch, south of Lost Hills Highway (Hwy. 46).

The New Yorker blog detailed problems of sick animal neglect and inadequate veterinary care. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has inspected the goat ranch many times from 2010 to 2013, and cited problems after each visit. In the early 2000s SCB paid $4,600 in fines—small change to a company with tens of millions in revenues—for numerous citations.

In its January 2013 issue the journal Nature reported that SCB was keeping 841 goats in a secret barn out of sight of the USDA inspectors. SCB, of course, denies the various charges. A court hearing is scheduled for this July. SCB faces additional legal challenges in a suit by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which is now moving through the courts.

SCB still operates its lab for producing lucrative antibodies for research at its Westside Santa Cruz building. Although the company has been highly successful—it is number 2 in its industry—and is expanding into China, some researchers, who are only now becoming more aware of the allegations against SCB, have stopped buying the company’s products until the company is cleared of the charges or cleans up its operation.

Changes on the RBDA Board

The RBDA Board very regretfully accepted the resignation of Joe Christy last month, but quickly found someone who we feel will be an excellent replacement when Jeff Alford volunteered to serve on the board.

Jeff was active in the very successful campaign (Yes on Measure P) to ensure that a saltwater desalination plant can only be built if the City of Santa Cruz voters approve it. He is a native Californian who came to Santa Cruz with his wife in 1995 and lived there until they moved to Bonny Doon in 2012.  He has been an attorney since 1981, working at different times with a legal publishing company, with non-profit environmental and poverty law organizations, and as a sole practitioner.  He is a long-time member of the Sierra Club and several other environmental organizations.  In his free time Jeff is passionate in his enjoyment of hiking, camping, swimming, gardening, and traveling abroad. Jeff says he is thrilled to be living in Bonny Doon, and is enthusiastic about joining the RBDA board to work for the protection of our shared environmental values.

As per our bylaws, Jeff will serve until the RBDA Annual Meeting in January 2015, when he will have to be elected by the membership to continue on the board. Welcome aboard, Jeff, and thanks for stepping up.

We already miss the wit and wisdom of Joe Christy, who was first elected to the board in 2008 and served through 2013, including a stint as chairman from 2009 through 2012. Joe was re-elected in January but found that his volunteer work as head of the Bonny Doon Fire Safe Council, which he founded, has been taking up more and more of his time. The BDFSC currently is undertaking a massive shaded fuel break cleanup on CEMEX Redwoods.

There is still one vacancy on the RBDA board, due to the resignation in December of Jacob Pollock, who for personal reasons had to move into town. If you share the RBDA’s values and want to help ensure that they remain vital by serving on the board, email us at

RBDA Now on Facebook

To make it easier and more immediate for RBDA members to discuss important Bonny Doon issues and stay more current with significant developments, we are starting an RBDA Facebook group.

To post or read posts on the group page, you will have to be an RBDA member, and of course, have a Facebook account. We encourage posts on subjects of importance to the RBDA’s mission to preserve the character of Bonny Doon, and to be good stewards of the environment, as well as on important public issues like road maintenance, fire safety, law enforcement and mail delivery.

The RBDA board will administrate the group. We reserve the right to take down posts that are inflammatory, off topic, libelous, or threaten the violent overthrow of the RBDA board, and we may block a member from posting after repeated violations.

We encourage all our members to log on to the Facebook site for “RBDA” and asking to join.

More Money for Fire Safety

California Proposition 172 created a half-cent sales tax to help each county fund law enforcement and emergency/fire protection. The money collected is allocated between these services by the Board of Supervisors.

As Steve Homan and Russ Mackey of Friends of Bonny Doon Fire wrote in the February Battle Mountain News, Santa Cruz allocates far less of the collected taxes to fire safety, only one-half of 1%, than any other California county. For 2010, the last figures available, counties ranged from about 50% (San Francisco) to 10% (Kern).

A few years ago, after a ridiculously inept campaign in support, a measure to increase local taxes for fire safety went down in flames. There has been talk, but no action, to revive it, and something will have to be done soon to ensure that rural areas like Bonny Doon are adequately protected. Note that these funds aren’t for wildland fires; money for that comes out of a different pot.

Considering the financial woes facing County Fire, we urge the Supervisors to make the split of the nearly $15 million collected more equitable. How about increasing it to at least the level of the next lowest county? If you agree, contact Supervisor Neal Coonerty’s office,

RBDA Board Actions - Feb. 19, 2014
1. Voted to create a Facebook page for RBDA members. Ayes 4, Meggin Harmon, Ted Benhari, Tom Hearn, Lad Wallace. Nays 1: Marty Demare
2. Voted to send a letter to Supervisor Coonerty urging a change in the allocation of Prop. 172 funding. Unanimous.
3. Appointed Jeff Alford to the RBDA board to fill the position vacated by Joe Christy, and elected him Vice Chair. Unanimous.

Support the RBDA by renewing your membership now: all 1-year memberships expire on January 31st.

Ideas for RBDA Meeting Topics

We are always open to suggestions for interesting programs and speakers at our bimonthly (except July) RBDA public meetings.

What are you interested in? Local flora and fauna, gardening, environmental and political issues, Bonny Doon history or geology, public safety?

What were some of your favorite speakers or presentations at past RBDA meetings?
Were there any that you would like us to repeat?

Please email us with your ideas and comments at


A late February 2014 storm batters Panther Beach, just south of Bonny Doon beach—photo by Paul Babb 

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The Highlander
The Rural Bonny Doon Association Newsletter
Box 551 • Felton, CA 95018

Bonny Doon's voice in preserving our special quality of life, 
The Highlander is mailed free to Bonny Doon residents prior to the 
RBDA General Meetings, which are usually held on second Wednesdays of 
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The Bonny Doon Planning District
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If you live in or own property within this district, roughly from Empire Grade to the ocean and from San Vicente Creek to the City of Santa Cruz border, you are eligible to be an RBDA member.

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