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October Surprise 

The appearance of giant firefighting helicopters above Topanga on October 19 wasn’t in response to a fire; it was Los Angeles County Fire Department’s annual training exercise at Helispot 69 Bravo. The four Quick Reaction Force (QRF) aircraft and their pilots from four counties practiced hovering to fill their airships’ water tanks from the helistop’s “pumpkin” reservoirs, and dropping water on targets. Now is a good time for residents to also practice getting ready for wildfire season by updating emergency plans and packing a “go bag” for each family member, including pets. The first major fire weather watch of the season went into effect last week, placing the Santa Monica Mountains under a red flag warning. Although the winds didn’t materialize at the levels feared, fire risk remains high.

October has been an active month for environmental news. One of the main elements of our mission statement here at the Topanga New Times is a commitment to reporting on all aspects of life in the WUI—the Wildland Urban Interface—and there is no more extensive expanse of WUI than the one between sea and shore. That interface suffered an environmental blow in Orange County this month, where an oil pipeline off the coast of Huntington Beach leaked as much as 140,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean. This spill won’t directly impact local beaches, but it does have a serious impact on the entire south coast of California. We’ll be taking a closer look at the disaster in our Discover section in the issue. Our readers can help support the recovery effort by donating to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center ( and the international Bird Rescue (, frontline responders saving and de-oiling wildlife caught in the spill.

The scariest news this week isn’t Halloween related. It’s a study confirming that the 2018 Woolsey Fire really did spread radiation from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory into several neighboring areas. We have a report in our newsbeat section.

There is good news, too. President Biden has restored nearly two million acres of federal land that was stripped from Bears Ears and Escalante Grand Staircase National Monuments in Utah during the Trump Administration. The restoration is being hailed as an environmental and Indigenous rights victory. A major part of what makes these two national monuments important is that they are part of the living heritage of many Native American peoples, including the Hopi, Zuni, Ute and Diné. 

Governor Gavin Newsom has signed SB 790, which will help promote wildlife corridors. P-22, the poster cat for safe routes for wildlife, will be raising awareness about the importance of protecting urban wildlife at the sixth annual P-22 Day, on October 23. This year, the festivities include a mix of in-person events at Griffith Park and online activities. Learn more at 

The increasingly threatened leatherback sea turtle received new protections this month. The California Fish and Game Commission voted to list the species as endangered under the state’s Endangered Species Act, making this ancient marine reptile a state conservation priority. 

On the world stage, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has officially recognized that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. It’s about time.

Here in Topanga, Halloween is in the air. Great horned owls are conversing politely from the treetops. Pumpkins are popping up in stores and at front doors. Cooler temperatures have brought the first touches of autumn color to canyon hillsides and gardens. Families are making plans once again for trick or treating—cautiously, because of COVID, but with more spirit than last year, when coronavirus fears shut down the holiday.  

TNT is celebrating Halloween with a special guest feature on bats by Rosi Dagit, the senior conservation biologist for the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a big story, because RCDSMM’s recent research has revealed a surprising number of species, including several that have never before been found in the local area. We also have a review of the 2000 Canadian indie cult horror film Ginger Snaps, and a look at a podcast that combines history with radio drama to create a compelling take on the death of Abraham Lincoln and the aftermath of the Civil War: ghosts that still haunt the American psyche.

We hope that Halloween this year, whether it involves costumes and pumpkins or lighting candles in memory of loved ones, is everything that it should be.

Stay safe, be well, and Happy Halloween!

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