I’m getting tired of this. I mean, I enjoy writing. That’s not quite right. I love putting my thoughts in your head. That really means a lot to me. The fact that you are reading this right now totally turns me on. I want to keep you coming back for more. That’s why I go to the trouble of writing an essay every week, and then spend three or four hours stealing pictures to illustrate it. I’m happy to share what I have to offer, free of charge, but it sure isn’t easy. Believe it or not, we have no free public wifi anywhere in SoHum. There’s no wifi at the library, none at the Garberville CR campus, neither the Mateel nor KMUD nor any of the county buildings offer an open router. In order to use public wifi, in SoHum, you have to get on a bus, bound for Eureka, which costs money. I’ve done it, but working on the bus makes me nauseous. That only leaves two cafes, in all of SoHum that offer wifi. One of them makes sadistically bad coffee, and requires patrons to spend $5 an hour. At the other, I linger much too long over coffee and a cookie, and try to avoid the owner’s hairy eyeball. The staff is great, and always make me feel welcome, but both places have loud music or TVs blaring, making concentration difficult at best. Neither are good places to work. I’m really sick of it. So Hum needs a public internet connection at least as much as we need a library or a post office. I can’t even pay the sales tax I owe, as a small business owner, without an internet connection. If the government is going to require me to use the internet to pay my taxes, they damn well better provide someplace where I can get online to do it. I’ve written to my Supervisor about it, repeatedly, to no avail. I’ve even pointed her in the direction of a federal grant program to provide broadband service to rural communities. Nothing. Meanwhile, our Board of Supervisors hands out a $16,000 subsidy to local ranchers, so they don’t have to pay the full cost of their hazardous materials inspections. Just a couple weeks ago it was $67,000 a year, for the next four years for subsidized pest control, through a notoriously inhumane and environmentally destructive agency known as Wildlife Services, again for ranchers, and other rich people living in country estates. Before that, they let developers off the hook for the costs of infrastructure to serve new subdivisions, another huge giveaway for land speculators and developers. Every week, at the Board of Supervisors meetings, all of their rich rancher and developer friends whine about how hard it is to make a living on 1,600 acres in Humboldt County and why they need more subsidies, and our Board of Supervisors practically weep in sympathy for them. Meanwhile 2,000 or more Humboldt County residents sleep outside, under bridges behind stores, or anywhere they can find because they have no place to live, and the Supes want them arrested. It’s sickening. Wifi at the fucking library, that’s all I ask. I know that the library is only open four days a week. I can deal with that. Just don’t make me sit in that goddamned cafe all day. I come to town once a week, and once a week, I have work to do online. Out where I live, internet access costs about as much as I pay in rent, and half of the year, I don’t even have the electricity to use it, so an internet connection at home is out of the question for me. Allegedly, this is the birthplace of the back-to-the-land movement (don’t get me started). These hills should be full of people like me, who live simply, close to the earth, without a lot of luxuries, who need to get online from time to time, just like they need to go to the post office once in a while. I know that a lot of people need a public wifi connection in town. I see them at the cafe. I see them try in vain at the library, and I hear them complain about it. I sympathize. It sucks. I know a lot of people say we need more sheriff’s deputies. That’s bullshit. The cops around here are violent, corrupt and out-of-control. The last thing we need is more of them. Local merchants who call the cops every time they see a group of people hanging out on the sidewalk don’t want more sheriff’s deputies, they want subsidized bouncers, so they can treat Garberville like their own private country club. Now our teary-eyed Board of Supes wants to play Santa Claus to them too, and they want ME to pay for it. They want YOU to pay for it too. They want to raise the sales tax, so that every time we buy anything in Humboldt County, Lee Ulansey’s cronies on the Board of Supervisors skim the cream to finance big giveaways for rich developers and welfare ranchers, not to mention fat pensions for overpaid, crooked cops. They call it Measure Z, and they’re hoping you’ll sleep through it. Don’t! Measure Z puts Humboldt County’s richest hands, into it’s poorest’s pockets. Measure Z would make homeless alcoholics pay for utility hookups in new McMansion devos. Measure Z would make HSU students pay for that guy who kills a hundred raccoons every year for no good reason. Measure Z would make me pay someone to harass my friends on the streets of Garberville. Sales tax is a regressive form of taxation that unfairly burdens the poor. The rich have internet access at home, and can order stuff online, avoiding sales tax altogether. A lot of rich people own businesses and can buy what they need wholesale, at Costco, tax free with their merchant ID number. Poor people pay retail prices, at local shops. Poor local people will pay most of that tax. Single mothers will pay it when they shop for back-to-school supplies for their kids. Working people will pay it when they buy work clothes, shoes, furniture, and appliances. Homeless people will pay it when they buy prepared food because they have no kitchen to cook in. This new proposed sales tax will help Humboldt County’s richest and greediest suck more blood from underpaid workers, overcharged tenants, and poor families just struggling to survive. Not only that, a new sales tax will turn Humboldt County into one of those special sales tax districts. I hate those special sales tax districts. Those fucking special sales tax districts make it that much harder and take that much longer, to file my taxes, which really pisses me off when I’m trying to do it in a fucking cafe on my third cup of guilt-coffee, with teenage techno beats pounding in my ears. Well Fuck You Very Much Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.
Category Archives: Emerald Triangle
A tweaker asked me for spare change on the street the other day. He was in bad shape. His eyes were bugging out. He was twitching. His clothes were dirty and torn and I could barely figure out what he was asking me. However, he had recently shaved his face, and most of his head, except for a thin Mohawk strip that was also cut pretty close to the scalp. That just boggled my mind. “What is wrong with kids these days?” I thought.
I mean, if I knew, when I woke up, that by 11:00AM, I’d be standing in front of the Shell station incoherently begging for spare change and weed, I sure as hell wouldn’t have bothered to shave first. Obviously this guy lost his job, his home, his mind, his dignity and his toothbrush months ago, but he’s still got that razor. What is he thinking? Where are his priorities? What’s he got against hair?
If I don’t absolutely HAVE TO shave, and I mean literally required, mandated or threatened with poison gas, I would never shave, or cut the rest of my hair for that matter. I never liked shaving. If it wasn’t required by my boss, or necessary to insure that my respirator fit tightly enough to protect me from welding fumes, I would never shave. I can’t understand why people shave so much, even when they don’t have to.
Granted, it’s a little weird that we, as homo sapiens have so much hair on our heads and so little anywhere else, but that’s how we are. We’re weird looking apes with really hairy heads. That’s life. “Get used to it;” I say, but kids today don’t listen. Young people seem much too eager to divest themselves of their evolutionary hairitage, and this worries me.
Barbers have got to be making a killing! Every guy I see around here, under thirty, looks like they got their hair cut this morning, and there isn’t more than two weeks growth anywhere on their entire head. If they’re not completely clean-shaven, they’ve got some sculpted little high-maintenance topiary of a goatee. If they have it done, that’s way too much money thrown away like so many quarter-inch long pieces of hair around the barber’s chair. If they do it themselves, that’s too much time for a guy to spend staring at himself in a mirror. Either way, it’s too much.
I suspect this follicle-phobia also afflicts young women.
I’ve seen multiple ads for local salons offering Brazilian bikini wax service, and read recently that emergency room visits for “pubic grooming accidents” have skyrocketed in recent years. Emergency room visits… Remember, that’s how our parents found out what drugs were popular with us kids.
Unless my young female readers start sending selfies, I’m not likely to have the opportunity to survey what young women are doing with their pubic hair, but now that the idea has occurred to me, I would very much like my young female readers to send selfies showing their pubic hairstyle. I need to know more.
I suspect that these statistics reveal a trend, and the fact that this trend sends young people to hospital emergency rooms should trouble us all deeply. Do they think this looks good? A shaved head looks like a thumb with wings.
A shaved pussy looks like Homer Simpson’s maw. Is that a hot look?
Believe me, if I can see you pussy, it’s a hot look. Whether it’s shaved, bushy, braided, dyed, permed, sculpted or dread locked, if you are showing it to me, that’s hot. I can think of a couple of things I’d rather not see on a pussy, like sutures, an infected wound or even little dots of toilet paper with a spot of blood in the middle, so if you absolutely must shave your pussy, please be careful.
Personally, I have never been offended by a woman’s body hair. Underarm hair definitely turns me on, and I don’t even care if you shave your legs.
I certainly wouldn’t complain about sex with a shaved pussy, but I’m not so sure about 5 o’clock shadows, or five-day stubble. I don’t want to get razor burn from a pussy.
I imagine that once you start shaving your pussy, you probably have to shave it again, pretty soon, no doubt increasing your chances of suffering one of those pubic grooming accidents that lands you in the hospital.
Is any of this necessary? Any time you cut your hair, you bring sharp metal objects dangerously close to your own flesh. If you want to cut an eight-inch piece of hair down to four inches, you can hold the scissors four inches away from your body, giving you a four-inch safety margin.
When you constantly, day after day, trim your one inch hairs down to half an inch and that sixteenth-of-an-inch of stubble that grows everywhere else down to nothin’ flat, you’re bound to cut an artery sooner or later.
This seems like risky behavior. I worry about people who cut their hair too much the way I worry about people who wash their hands too often. It seems a little neurotic. When kids cut themselves intentionally, that’s a sign of serious emotional problems. Young people who habitually wield sharp objects within an inch of their own flesh are clearly “at risk.” Something needs to be done.
Everyone should try to be as hair-positive as possible. Hair is a good thing. It’s a natural thing. Tell kids about the Indian trackers recruited by the army. The US Army recruited the best Indian trackers they could find, but once the Indians joined the army and traded their long hair for the standard military crew cut, they lost their ability to track. Hair is power. Hair is strength. Hair is healthy.
I’ll do my best to set a good example, and whenever I can, I’ll remind young people that it’s OK to skip shaving. I’ll let them know that if they’re going on a drugged out bender, that’s fine, as long as they stay away from sharp metal objects. Drugs and razors don’t mix! There will be plenty of time to shave in rehab.
If you were to express my philosophy of life in just one sentence it would be: Don’t mess with nature, or nature will mess with you. Nature gave me a hairy head, and I don’t mess with it. I can’t say I’m unhappy with the result. Looks have never been my strong suit, and the less I think about how I look, the happier I am. I imagine there’s a reason we have so much hair on our heads, and I trust the forces that shaped us as human beings through eons of evolution to be my personal stylist.
Ok, I’ve had a lot of fun with the whole situation in Garberville, and I think the levity was completely in order, but a lot of people are very frustrated with the situation, and they want SOLUTIONS. So, I’m here to help, seriously, but we don’t get to solutions without doing some analysis first, and that includes taking responsibility for the disastrous consequences of our consumptive middle-class lifestyle, and it means taking responsibility for economic policies that have kept wages low, while housing, health-care, fuel and other costs soared. I don’t care whether you voted for Reagan or not, if you want solutions, take responsibility, otherwise we can just play the blame game till we’re blue in the face.
The middle-class really needs to get over their Boomer era Populuxe expectations, especially the expectation that they will be surrounded by only middle-class people. We can’t all be middle-class, and really, not that many of us should be middle-class, ecologically speaking. It takes a lot of working-class people to support a single middle-class person, so we should expect to have many more working-class people than middle-class people. Get used to it folks, there are a lot of poor people around.
On the other hand, it shouldn’t suck so much to be poor. Ever since Reagan, we’ve had this attitude that we should punish and humiliate the poor as much as possible, so that we might thereby motivate them to work harder to become middle-class. In reality, punishing the poor drives down wages and keeps housing prices high for everyone. Seeing desperately poor people on the street makes middle-class people feel less secure, and the super-rich exploit that insecurity.
This is why grown adults with full-time jobs need a roommate to afford an apartment. This is why so many salaried employees put in 60 hour weeks to meet their work load. This is why fewer Americans than ever can afford their own home. This is why so many healthy able-bodied adults have decided that the jobs they can get don’t pay enough to be worth their time. That’s how the super-rich uses the dirt poor against the middle-class.
Look at where punishing the poor has gotten us. Still we have plenty of resentment to go around. We punish the crazy, because we don’t want halfway houses in our neighborhoods. We don’t want to see them and we don’t want to pay for them. We punish the addicted for their weakness. We punish the young and adventurous because they remind us of our lost youth and we punish the lost and confused because we just don’t have time for other people. We punish them all because we see them as blemishes on our middle-class dreams, but the ones we resent the most don’t have any excuse, do they?
I’m talking about the healthy young people who have decided that the jobs they can get, don’t pay well enough to be worth their time, and that their time is better spent learning to live without a job and without a home. More and more people are making that decision, not because it looks like an attractive option, but because it looks like a better option than any of their alternatives. They would rather sleep outside in the rain and scrounge for food then work themselves to death, and kiss ass all day for a rented room, a TV and enough beer to ease the pain. These people have resentments too. Just sayin’
We all like having someone to punish. It makes us feel better about how much we punish ourselves in this stupid economy. We punish the poor, because we want poor people to suffer more than we do in our struggle to be middle-class. The struggle to be middle-class sucks so much because being middle-class is a totally unsustainable lifestyle. It has nothing to do with the poor, except that every person now struggling to be middle-class makes the whole world poorer, and helps the super-rich enslave us all. That’s what middle-class people do. It’s nothing to be proud of.
Thanks to three decades of trickle-down economics, welfare reform, and the Great Recession our population of punishable people mushroomed. Despite the economic pressure, despite the social stigma and open hostility, they have learned to live outside of mainstream society, and there are now enough of them that they have their own society. The more they talk to each other, the more they identify with each other. The more they identify with each other, the more they support each other, and the more they support each other, the more insulated from, and immune to the punishments of, the mainstream culture they become. So, we become like the Israelis and the Palestinians, or like Black and White America, two segregated societies that hate each other, living in the same place.
This problem is not going away, and it’s never going to get better without compromise, leadership, foresight and understanding. Knowing this community as I do, that means it ain’t gonna happen, and instead, things will go from bad to worse. The whole situation is very revealing. Poor people can’t afford to conceal their ugliness, and having ugly poor people around brings out the ugliness of the middle-class. We now see just how ugly and dysfunctional American society has become. The situation is so pathetic that probably the best that will come from it was the small amount of humor, and insightful analysis I was able to glean from it for this blog.
But just imagine for a moment… What if we had some thoughtful, enlightened, cultural creatives among our local gentry? What could they do to make the situation better for everyone, and to make Garberville a much better place to live?
Right now the number one need in this community is housing. We need housing more than we need ball fields, schools, parks, roads or anything else. By ignoring that need, in favor of perks for the middle-class, like ball fields, concert venues or the town square, we provide adequate reason for the homeless to despise the gentry. Everything we do to relieve that pressure, will also reduce that hostility, and pay off in better life for everyone in Garberville.
SoHum prides itself as the heart of the “back to the land” movement, where once upon a time, people bought cheap land, and built their own homes without permits. The Boomers now make sure that no one ever gets a deal on land like they got, but a lot of people would still like to build their own tiny cabin, somewhere where a landlord won’t evict them, and the cops will not come tear it down.
If you’ve been to Oregon Country Fair you’ve no doubt noticed how harmoniously hippie architecture can blend into a natural environment. It doesn’t happen by accident. OCF has volunteer building inspectors that look for genuinely dangerous or particularly ugly structures, and cites them, but mostly, people can build what they want. A lot of people would really appreciate an opportunity to build their own little home, and would have a lot of motivation to make it work. Half Habitat for Humanity, half Oregon Country Fair, part campground, part tree-fort residential subdivision, entirely innovative, entirely SoHum, we could make it happen if only someone with some land around here actually gave a fuck.
Even without building a single other structure, we could probably solve our housing problem another way.
Right now, about half of this county’s available residential housing has been converted to indoor marijuana farms. Why are half of our residential houses full of marijuana plants, while thousands of people sleep outside? That’s insane. Every grow house is a crime against humanity, and a crime against nature, and if there is any role for the cops it should be to bust every indoor grow scene in Humboldt County.
Frankly, I don’t think the cops will be much help. Cops aren’t going to solve this problem. This is a “crumbling society” problem, not a “law and order” problem. If our social problems could be solved by a pin-headed red-neck with a gun, they’d have all been solved a long time ago. These problems were created by pin-headed red-necks with guns. We need unarmed hippie solutions, the kind we used to have when pot was cheap and it all came from Mexico, before we got greedy and decided we wanted to be middle-class.
The pressure should come from the community. We should hear PSAs on KMUD about how to recognize a grow house, how much damage to the environment comes from growing marijuana indoors, and especially about how many families go homeless because greedy drug dealers have taken over our residential neighborhoods. Homes are for people! Get the pot farms out of our residential neighborhoods. This isn’t just common sense, it’s common decency.
Another common sense, absolute desperate necessity is a reasonably priced campground with bathrooms and a coin-operated shower. State campgrounds charge $35 a night for camping, which is highway robbery (Fuck You, State of California!). That’s why you only find rich retirees camping at them anymore. The county charges $15 dollars a night for their campgrounds. That’s closer to reasonable. Reasonable does not mean, “competitive,” reasonable means a price that people will actually pay, rather than take their chances finding a place where they can crash for free.
We get a lot of budget conscious tourists who are resourceful enough that they don’t ever have to pay tourist prices for camping. Currently, the only people who welcome them are the homeless. If the townsfolk welcomed them with the kinds of services they need at a price they’re willing to spend, these tourists would not so quickly identify with, and become a part of the local subculture, and local entrepreneurs would make money from them. Again, this is just common sense.
Here’s something a little more ambitious, but desperately needed, an affordable, cannabis-therapy-based treatment and recovery camp. We all know people who have beat serious addictions to alcohol, narcotics, tobacco,cocaine or speed, by using cannabis. Decades of prohibition have deeply enmeshed cannabis users and growers alike into the black-market drug trade. A large part of the money that comes into this county, comes from individuals and organizations that deal in other, more addictive substances, along with Humboldt’s finest cannabis.
Addiction is a huge problem both among SoHum’s housed community as well as the unhoused. A very rustic, drug-free, cult-like, cannabis intensive retreat, built around a culture of recovery, mutual support, mutual-sufficiency and community service has enormous potential around here. We have the rustic. We have the addicts. All we need is one good Pot Doc with cult-leader aspirations. At the very least, it would help a lot of people quit hard drugs, take a lot of pressure off of the community, and do a lot of research on cannabis and addiction.
And while we’re dreaming…. Here’s another good idea: Economic diversity, and by that I mean, make space for tiny businesses, and local artists. Support them. Celebrate them, don’t just exploit them, or force them out of town.
Eureka and Arcata both have rocking Arts Alive nights every month. Garberville could do it too, but it would take planning, and some commitment to make it happen.
Now, I expect most of the people who own land around here to think: “Why should I do anything for them?” Here’s why: Doing all of these things helps to shrink that “problem population,” and it creates the illusion that people actually give a fuck about their fellow human beings. That makes it harder for people like me to make fun of the situation, and it gives people more options, which makes it harder to take sides. In reality, it’s a diabolical strategy designed to subdue insurgents. They call it Psy-Ops.
Every time you put someone in a home, you cut the homeless population by one. Every time you get an addict off of drugs and into a cult, your problem shrinks. Every time a tourist sees an entrepreneur bending over backwards to accommodate them, the less likely it is that they will camp with the homeless, get to know them and and decide to stick around. And of course, every artist who can count on reliable local work because someone at the C of C makes Arts Alive a priority, means one sarcastic critic with a sharp pen, has something better to do.
This vein is just too rich to ignore, so today I’m mining the irony of the whole sad situation in Garberville yet again. I realize that this situation has upset many people, and I think people should be upset. In fact, people should be outraged, just not at the poor, the young and the homeless. Instead, I think we should blame it on the Baby Boomers.
Never before have so many taken so much, and yet demanded so much more as the Baby Boomer generation, and it couldn’t be truer here in SoHum. Here in SoHum, a small community of Baby Boomers bought land here dirt cheap, and took advantage of the Drug War to turn enormous profits growing black-market marijuana. Today a small community of Baby Boomers still control most of the real estate in SoHum, and they make damn sure that no one ever gets a deal like they got. They supply half of the nation with marijuana, which turns people into hippies, but the money they got for it, turned them into yuppies. Now that they have become crotchety old geezers, what do we hear them complain about?
Hippies! The Baby Boomers in Garberville are complaining about hippies!
You know what folks, what goes around, comes around, and sometimes the karma runs over the dogma. You might not be old enough to remember this, but there was a time when there were even more scuzzy, smelly, obnoxious hippies around than there are today.
Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, you wouldn’t believe how many filthy, dirty fucked-up hippies there were. They were everywhere. They took every imaginable drug, meth, heroin, cocaine, LSD, PCP, Quaaludes and anything else they could get their hands on.
They freaked-out spectacularly. They fucked-up catastrophically, and they passed-out in their own vomit. Not only were they totally “in your face” everywhere you went, they had to have their loud music blaring all the time as accompaniment.
And talk about attitude. They treated the whole world as if it belonged to them, exclusively, right from the start. They rioted, for God’s sake, big raucous riots where they turned over police cars and set fire to buildings. They’d never shut-up and sit down at music concerts, and they’d never turn their music down anywhere else. They wore faded, ripped, shabby clothing and they never took a bath. They were disgusting, repulsive, and obnoxious, and they took over every park, square and sidewalk in the whole country.
They didn’t like how anyone else did anything. They wanted a revolution so they could do everything their way, and “their way” meant “at a party and on drugs,” and they thought that that made them cultural revolutionaries. To this day, SoHum Boomers still believe they can solve all of their problems at a party and on drugs.
To be fair, the boomers did change our culture. They changed us from a culture of stilted, stiff, sexually repressed, uptight consumerism into a culture of dumbed-down, hyper-sexualized, casual, convenient consumerism. Spirituality replaced religion. Positivity replaced compassion, and self-serving non-profit organizations replaced charities.
The War on Poverty became the War on Drugs because suddenly Americans hated hippies more than they feared black people. With cocaine, they turned a rich man’s drug into a poor mans drug and annihilated a generation of inner-city youth. With marijuana, they turned a poor man’s drug into a luxury only the rich could afford, and they made income discrimination more socially acceptable than racial discrimination.
Go ahead and ask any of our local Baby boomers about the 60’s and ’70s and they’ll tell you how long their hair used to be. They’ll tell you about all of the drugs they used to take and all of the crazy shit they used to do, and they’ll tell you it was the best time of their life. My how times change.
One thing hasn’t changed however, Baby Boomers thought they owned the whole world then, and they still think the whole fucking world belongs to them. Now that they’re all shriveled-up, they don’t think anyone else deserves the opportunity to be young and irresponsible, and no one else has the right to come here and make a home in the woods without giving them a quarter-of-a-million dollars first. I guess they’ve still got some lessons to learn because it’s their bad karma that keeps bringing more hippies to Garberville, and I don’t think anyone deserves them more.
This starfish wasting syndrome is not funny folks. In case you haven’t heard the story, an epidemic of disease among Pacific starfish, specifically pisaster ochraceous, or Ocher Starfish, the big orange “stars” of beaches and tidepools, is causing them to waste away, fall apart and die in alarming numbers.
Humans have adored these strangely beautiful creatures for eons, and their popularity hasn’t waned one bit, but within the tidal ecosystem, the ocher starfish is a feared predator, at least to the degree that a bivalve mollusk can experience fear.
Frightening or not, the ocher starfish plays the same role in the intertidal zone as lions do on the Serengeti, or that wolves do in Yellowstone National Park. The ocher starfish is the apex predator of Pacific tide-pools. In fact, scientists have learned a lot of what they know about apex predators, like lions and wolves, from studying ocher starfish.
Ecology, especially ecosystem ecology, is a very new field of scientific inquiry. It seems hard to believe today, but before World War II, nobody really gave a rats ass about how ecosystems worked. The story of civilization has been one of “plunder first, ask questions later,” and so it goes that the science of studying ecosystems didn’t get under way until well after most of the world’s ecosystems had been severely impacted by industrial exploitation. As a result, we may never know how a healthy ecosystem operates. In a sense, studying ecosystem ecology today, must be a lot like trying to learn about antebellum life and culture by observing a confederate field hospital towards the end of the Civil War.
Still the nascent field of ecosystem ecology can teach us a few things about what happens to an ecosystem when you remove a keystone species. In fact, one of the landmark studies in the field of ecosystem ecology looked at the effects of removing just this particular species, pisaster ochraceous from a tide-pool ecosystem.
The scientist in this study, Robert T. Paine, marked off two equal sized patches of tide-pool habitat. A couple of times a month, Robert would go to one of those marked off areas, and within it he would meticulously remove every single ocher starfish from that area, and hurl them, as far as he could, into the surf. In the other marked-off area, he did nothing but observe.
Every two weeks or so, for a year, Robert went down to his little marked-off areas and began chucking starfish. Doesn’t this make “ecosystem ecologist” sound like a pretty sweet job? Spend your days splashing around on the beach skipping starfish across the water. How do I sign up? I guess his hands got pretty torn-up from the abrasive skin of starfish, but it still sounds like a pretty good job to me.
Over the course of the year, Paine observed the results of his strange new obsession. In the area where Paine had removed all of the ocher starfish, the ecosystem collapsed. Initially Paine observed dozens of different species living together in that area. Within a year, half of those species had disappeared completely, and those that remained, did so only tenuously. Before long, all but one species completely vanished from the experimental area.
The only species left inhabiting the area, had completely taken over. Every square inch of the marked off area was covered with large mussels, mytilus californianus, the ocher starfish’s favorite prey. In absence of starfish, nothing could stop the mussels from squeezing everyone else out of the picture, leaving a desolate monoculture where there was once a thriving, diverse ecosystem.
Paine published the results of his experiment in 1966 in the scientific journal American Naturalist, and it has become a foundational work in this emerging new field. Paine’s experiment revealed that certain species, specifically predators, have a greater effect on their ecosystem than their numbers suggest.
Paine’s work with starfish eventually led to federal protection of keystone predators like the spotted owl, and to the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Paine had demonstrated that predators are critical to maintaining healthy ecosystems, and that without them, complex and diverse ecosystems quickly collapse into desolate wastelands overrun with pests.
Like I said, ecosystem ecology is a new field, and its progress has been greatly compromised by the impacts of industrial exploitation. As a science, ecosystem ecology remains in its infancy, especially regarding marine ecosystems, but when it comes to the question “What happens to intertidal ecosystems when ocher starfish disappear?” thanks to Robert T Paine, science can give us a pretty good answer. Unfortunately the answer itself is neither pretty nor good.