Monday, October 12, 2009

Save Rose Canyon!

I wrote the following letter to the deputy director of the California High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA), after being told that the HSRA is seriously considering Rose Canyon as a thoroughfare for high-speed rail (HSR) between San Diego and Los Angeles.

Preface: "The HSRA is gathering public comments to make a crucial decision: which routes they will study in depth in their upcoming Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the LA - San Diego section of the statewide HSR system. They are not currently planning to include the I-15-Qualcomm route [which would have less environmental impact] in the EIR." -- Friends of Rose Canyon

Dear Deputy Director,

I urge your group to do a full study of the I-15 to Qualcomm Stadium route. I am staunchly opposed to building the high-speed rail line through Rose Canyon. I run, birdwatch, and bike through this canyon on an almost daily basis, and I am witness to the amazing variety of fauna and flora that flourish in its ecosystem. I regularly see at least four species of birds of prey, including a family of white-tailed kites. The canyon is a true wilderness. Not too long ago, late in the afternoon, I saw a bobcat--a veritable litmus test of true wilderness--while birdwatching through the canyon. A few days ago, I had the immensely good fortune of seeing an adult golden eagle.

Rose Canyon is a hidden gem of the San Diego park system, and a high-speed rail line would devastate its ecosystem, the surrounding residential neighborhoods (and there are many residences which adjoin this canyon), and the citizens who enjoy the park. I abhor the two rail lines already present in the canyon: the trains that intermittently pass by create noise pollution that reverberates through the canyon and disturbs all life--including mine. I occasionally have to cover my ears while jogging or biking through, because the noise can be intolerable.

A new rail system that would have trains passing through every five minutes would greatly increase the ambient noise pollution, even if the trains are relatively quiet. It would create persistent, omnipresent, inescapable background noise.

It has been repeatedly shown through legitimate scientific studies that noise pollution, even mild noise pollution, increases circulating levels of stress hormones and (perhaps relatedly) the rates of heart disease and myocardial infarction. A recent paper shows that avian communities, including predator-prey relationships, are changed drastically by ambient human noise pollution, with cascading consequences. Another paper shows that ambient noise pollution affects woodland bird communities negatively. There are at least six species of birds of prey (that I have seen or heard) in Rose Canyon, and numerous species of songbirds, jays, and others--in all, at least one hundred species of birds depend on its ecosystem.

Additionally, the physical alteration of the canyon necessary to house the high-speed rail line could have unpredictable effects on the current ecosystem. No analysis is complete, because any analysis abstracts and therefore elides details which could prove important in retrospect. This is unacceptable, because the Rose Canyon ecosystem is priceless (that such a group as "Friends of Rose Canyon" exists is sufficient proof of the immense value, to humans, of this place). Finally, no estimates of the cost, feasibility, location, and impact on homes and on Rose Canyon, by the proposed rail line, have been provided to the public.

Once again, I strongly urge your group to do a full study of the I-15 to Qualcomm Stadium route. I staunchly oppose building any new rail line(s) through Rose Canyon.

Golden Eagle

A few weekends ago, I biked through Rose Canyon (in San Diego). It was the first cold day we've had since I moved here. Almost as soon as I reached the canyon, which is just a minute or so away from our apartment complex, I saw a large brown bird of prey dueling with a smaller bird of prey (red-tailed hawk). The larger bird turned toward us and flew low over our heads, and it was indisputably a golden eagle (it's remotely possible that it was a juvenile bald eagle). It seemed agitated, because it flew over some homes on the other side of the street and circled back to meet the red-tailed hawk. Another red-tailed hawk joined the aerial fight; the three birds had a sudden backdrop of six or more red and white jets flying in formation -- an air show had been going on over the past few days, and these jets were the famous Canadian "Snowbirds". I surmise that the two red-tailed hawks were a couple, and that the golden eagle had invaded their territory. It was clearly larger, clearly not a hawk, and its wings had the same S-shaped curvature, when viewed head-on, that soaring brown pelicans display here.

Update: Members of the Friends of Rose Canyon tell me that this is the first recorded sighting of a golden eagle in Rose Canyon. The birdwatchers in the club think that the eagle likely lives in the Miramar area and left its territory because it was disturbed by the air show.