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The Nature Observer 

Suzanne Guldimann is the editor of the Topanga New Times, and also TNT’s resident naturalist. She was recently asked to give a talk on being…

The Bear Truth 

We have a new neighbor in the Santa Monica Mountains. On April 23, National Park Service biologists captured and radio-collared a 210-pound black bear in…

Butterflies: Mythic Beauty 

Backyard Butterflies Fly, white butterflies, out to sea, Frail pale wings for the winds to try, Small white wings that we scarce can see Fly….

The Malibu Railway War 

From the moment the first transcontinental railroad steamed across the county in 1869, the nation had train mania. In California, that mania reached a fevered…


Our Neighbors 

A July 19 fire in Tuna Canyon that ignited at what appears to be a short term rental property with multiple campsites, spread to 15 acres before being contained, and fanned fears throughout Topanga. In Malibu, where two recent fires started at a transient camp under a bridge, changes are being proposed to nuisance laws in an effort to facilitate the removal of hazards like open fires—whether its a campfire under a bridge or in a backyard—but without additional sheriff’s department resources, the proposed changes may not make a meaningful difference.

Fire risk and fire fears remain high throughout the WUI—wildland urban interface—as residents of the Santa Monica Mountains face one of the worst fire seasons on record.  

All residents of Topanga Canyon and Sunset Mesa are encouraged to participate in a Virtual Evacuation Drill on Thursday, August 12 at 6 p.m. The event, which will feature a realistic fire scenario, is a joint effort between the Los Angeles County Fire Department, LA County Sheriff’s Department, Topanga Town Council, CHP, OEM, LA County Animal Care & Control, TCEP, Sunset Mesa, and the office of LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. 

That all of these agencies and organizations have prioritized coming together for this drill highlights its importance. Check our Newsbeat section on page 16 for more information on the drill and an in depth look at the recent fire incidents.

COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket in California. The state is beginning to lose much of the ground gained before the official “reopening”, leading to fears that a re-closing may soon be in our future. Here at TNT we know several Topanga residents who have recently contracted COVID-19. Masks and social distancing remain essential.

If COVID-19 isn’t enough of a threat, West Nile virus is back in Los Angeles County. The disease is carried by mosquitoes and has recently been detected in the West Valley. When we were listing potential water sources for mosquitos in our last issue we forgot to include flower vases. Although it sounds unlikely, one female mosquito can lay hundreds of eggs in a vase of flowers—a horror story scenario in miniature. 

Speaking of scary infectious illnesses, the veterinary community is reporting a significant increase in confirmed cases of Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can be fatal to dogs and can also be transmitted to humans. This disease is not common in southern California, but cases have been confirmed recently in local beach communities as well as in the San Fernando Valley. A boarding facility in Santa Monica is thought to be the source of the outbreak. The illness most commonly affects dogs, but it can be transmitted to cats and can also affect humans, especially people with compromised immune systems. There is a vaccine and the illness can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Learn more at

And now for something completely different: giant spiders. This is the migration season for the tarantula (​​our native species is Aphonopelma steindachneri). Watch out for eight-legged neighbors on the march. Male tarantulas can travel impressive distances in search of a mate. Unfortunately, their travels often take them across roads and sometimes into people’s houses. Although they look alarming and can bite if threatened, this is a gentle and benign species, and not a danger to humans or pets. Topangans can help this remarkable spider by stopping to let tarantulas safely cross the road, and by gently and carefully removing arachnid visitors from indoors. We keep an empty wastebasket and a piece of cardboard on hand just in case. 

The annual appearance of the tarantulas is a reminder that summer is almost halfway over. The days are already getting shorter, the sun is setting south of the western bulk of the Santa Monica Mountains. Now would be a good time for that day at the beach, that romantic weekend getaway, or family backyard campout under the stars—the brightest one in the sky right now is the planet Jupiter (not a star but still perfectly good to make wishes on). Summer will be over all too soon. “Carpe diem,” the tarantulas tell us, “seize the day”!

Stay safe, be well.

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