A green (or was it brown?) year

A look back at environmental happenings in 2015

Gene Anna and O.J. McMillan replaced their lawn with native habitat in 2015, with a little help from a local eco-friendly gardener.

Gene Anna and O.J. McMillan replaced their lawn with native habitat in 2015, with a little help from a local eco-friendly gardener.

File photo by Brittany Waterstradt

This past year’s environmental news, not surprisingly, was very much dominated by climate change. Pope Francis published his encyclical calling on the world to aid the ailing planet. And speakers flowed through Chico offering varying messages of hope and despair—one of them even touted therapy for those who are grieving over the state of the environment. The Butte Environmental Council, whose mission is to protect our land, air and water, turned 40 in 2015, and continued its many efforts to educate, act and advocate for the environment. Toward the end of the year, in advance of the Paris Climate Talks, a local chapter of 350.org, dubbed Chico 350, attracted hundreds to march on City Plaza on behalf of climate change.

There is usually a spring here. This summer, it was dry.

CN&R file photo

The CN&R covered many of these happenings and the people behind them in this, our environmental section. Other issues rose to the level of cover story, such as the November publication of Letters to the Future, a collection of essays from authors, artists and activists that appeared in alternative newspapers across the country but was conceived at the Sacramento News & Review.

Aside from climate change, the biggest singular issue facing us locally was the drought. It affected, most visibly, the creeks and rivers, Lake Oroville, agriculture and our lawns. But the implications were greater: We were quite literally forced to pay attention to water usage and take steps to conserve.

Gerard Ungerman and Stacey Wear, through their Respectful Revolution project, travel the country and document people and groups doing respectful things.

Photo courtesy of Respectful Revolution

Since conservation is one of the cornerstones of the sustainability movement, it’s only fitting that in 2015, the fourth year of an epic drought, the CN&R focused heavily on ways people can cut back on water usage to preserve our local habitats and water security.

In March, we featured the good work of the Chico Permaculture Guild, which provides tools and workshops for people to create sustainable, agricultural ecosystems in their own backyards. At the time, co-organizer Stephanie Ladwig-Cooper told the CN&R that attendance at workshops had gone up, and she surmised that that may have been due to the drought.

In April, we met Gene Anna and O.J. McMillan, a Chico couple who decided to kill their lawn and replace it with drought-resistant native plants with the help of Oroville-based eco-friendly gardener John Whittlesey. They also got hooked up with a cool sign, courtesy of the Altacal Audubon Society, acknowledging their “Certified Neighborhood Habitat.” Other signs, furnished by Cal Water, started popping up around town to notify neighbors that residents were intentionally killing their lawns.

A hike in June to the headwaters of Big Chico Creek with Butte Environmental Council’s Citizen Science Outings revealed those headwaters to be dry. And wildlife, including bears, started to be sighted closer to civilization, the theory being they were following the water, which was scarcer.

In 2015, the CN&R also highlighted a number of individuals and organizations that contribute in a positive way to environmental and sustainability causes. Some of the ones that stood out: GRID Alternatives, which helps low-income residents get solar panels to decrease their electric bills and help the planet; 17-year-old Allison Boyer, active in the fight against palm oil because of the harm it does to orangutan habitat, made waves internationally with her nonprofit, Purses for Primates; and Stacey Wear and Gerard Ungerman’s Respectful Revolution project, which uses short films to tell positive stories, got the attention of a national TV station.