A green year

2016 dominated by fracked oil, water and a president-elect

Charles Withuhn gives away free trees.

Charles Withuhn gives away free trees.

CN&R file photos

It’s pretty widely accepted that 2016 was a helluva year, 12 months overwhelmed by an unprecedented election and all of the hubbub that went with it. And while the majority of the environmental world may have been focused on the Native Americans, veterans and other activists gathered en masse in North Dakota to protest a fracked-oil pipeline that would endanger their water and sacred sites, the political drama most definitely permeated that discussion as well.

In looking back at a year of environmental news, locally it was dominated by water, fracking and trees. Here are a few of the high- (and low-) lights:

• In January, dogged tree activist Charles Withuhn continued his effort to replenish the urban forest by offering free trees to the public through his organization, Chico Tree Advocates. “What makes me grateful to live here is not the bushes. It’s these towering giants that have been here since Annie Bidwell, and they’re not being replaced,” he told CN&R.

• On March 1, Natalie Carter stepped down from her post as general manager at the Chico Certified Farmers’ Market to take the reins as executive director of Butte Environmental Council.

• Also in March, Chico State held its annual This Way to Sustainability Conference. During a gathering following the event, local organizers got together to discuss the topics du jour, namely protecting our watersheds, banning fracking and drought.

• On April 1, a new state mandate requiring businesses that generate a certain amount of food waste begin composting went into effect. It didn’t affect a ton of local businesses—mostly large restaurants and grocery stores—but it marked a shift in the way we handle compost.

• In the June primary, Butte County voters showed their overwhelming support for banning hydraulic fracturing locally: Measure E, sponsored by local group Frack-Free Butte County, won by 71.5 percent of the vote.

Frack-Free Butte County’s Dave Garcia holds up a petition that put banning fracking on the June 2016 ballot.

• Summertime marked the centennial for the National Park Service. In honor of that, there were many free park days and a particular push to preserve trails and untouched landscapes from erosion as well as trash.

• With the fifth straight drought year, people continued to conserve, while officials talked big-picture deals like Sites Reservoir and shipping water south. Nothing really new there, but as humans’ need for water increased, so did the strain on the river ecosystem in our backyard.

• Also related to the drought, millions of trees died in 2016, continuing a multiyear trend based on depleted water resources, which left pines in the Sierra Nevada forests vulnerable to the killer bark beetle.

The second half of the year was pretty much dominated by events at Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, which many locals became involved in, and the general election. The two stories even intersect. Here’s the big picture:

• The fight at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation had been underway for some time, but it gained mainstream media attention only after Democracy Now! released footage of guards hired by the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline attacking self-proclaimed “water protectors” with pepper spray and dogs. What’s more, because of that footage, North Dakota law enforcement issued a warrant for the arrest of the show’s host, Amy Goodman. She persisted, and the images went viral, spreading word of the pipeline protest to the rest of the world.

• Standing Rock protesters got a bit of a reprieve in early December, when the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit to Energy Transfer Partners, which is building the pipeline. Everybody is holding their breath, however, as it was also revealed this fall that President-elect Donald Trump has as much as $50,000 invested in Energy Transfer Partners.

• Speaking of energy and Trump, just before the Nov. 8 election, the CN&R offered readers a rundown of candidates and their environmental score cards, so to speak. At that time, Trump had promised to make America energy-independent. To do that, he would “unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves.”

• Since the election, Trump has put together his transition team, which includes Myron Ebell, a well-known climate change denier, leading the charge at the Environmental Protection Agency. Then he announced his nomination of Scott Pruitt, a skeptic of climate change, as new EPA chief. (Trump himself has said that he believes global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese.)

• The November election also resulted in California voting to uphold the plastic bag ban, meaning grocers in other areas of Butte County (Chico had its own bag ban in place already) will have to follow suit.