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An almost unimaginable amount of rain has fallen on parts of California and that atmospheric river keeps flowing. Parts of the Santa Monica Mountains have received more than 10 inches of rain just since the start of the New Year, and more is in the forecast. Future Californians may have a way to capture more of that rain to help provide water for an ever-growing human population, but for now, most of it goes out to sea.

Rain! Enough to fill long-dry creeks with life-giving water, revive forgotten waterfalls and pools, and cover the canyons in new green growth. Native plants are quick to take advantage of the recent rainfall. Chaparral current is already in bloom, and the first snow-like flowers are beginning to appear on the ceanothus bushes. Ferns and mosses have revived on stony canyon walls, and the bright green shoots of miner’s lettuce are sprouting by the roadside. Down on the coast, the giant coreopsis plants are performing an astonishing magic trick. Dormant plants looking more like heaps of driftwood than living organisms are bursting forth with lush fern-like greenery and golden flowers. 

Unfortunately, the invasive plants are also taking advantage of the abundant rain. Mustard has its own magic trick: growing so fast it seems one must be able to see it happen, while foxtail grass, burr medic plant, brome, thistles and other thorny nuisances are springing up to bedevil dogs and horses, and ruin one’s hiking socks. 

It is easy to imagine that in the crest of this massive wave Neptune’s wild horses toss their manes as they race to the shore, like the horses in the famous illustration by nineteenth century British artist Walter Crane. The recent storms, combined with king tides, brought impressively big surf to the coast, some of it too wild for even the most experienced big wave surfers to ride.

The combination of heavy rain, storm swell and astronomical high tides have resulted in closures at Thornhill Broome Beach and Leo Carrillo State Park, and have exacerbated ongoing erosion problems at Westward Beach, but that is an inescapable part of life on the coast.

When TNT went to press, the Santa Monica Mountains had—so far, at least—been spared the extreme damage being experienced in other parts of the state. The rain here has been mostly a blessing or a fairly minor inconvenience, depending on one’s perspective, but not a catastrophe. Not yet.

Will the abundant rains continue throughout the winter, or will the pattern shift back to a more typical La Nina year? No one knows for sure, but now is a good time to savor the sights and scents of rain in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The new year started with good news on the environmental front. Congress finally passed the bipartisan Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act and the bill was signed into law by the President. The goal is to phase out the use of deadly large-mesh drift gillnets in federal waters. It’s being hailed as a long-overdue protection for the animals that all too often get caught by the nets, including whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.

California and Oregon are the last places in the United States where this kind of net is allowed to be used to catch swordfish. Large-scale drift gillnets are prohibited internationally on the high seas and are banned in many other countries. California banned the use in state waters in 2018, but could do nothing about the use in Federal waters, despite the gruesome fact that these nets claim the lives of thousands of dolphins, and is a serious threat to migrating whales, who have no way to know where the line between state and federal waters is drawn or that they need to stay on one side of it to avoid a slow and grisly death. The federal ban will make the California coast safer for all of the species impacted

Sharks also received new protections. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, introduced in 2021, has become law. The  bill makes it illegal to possess, buy, sell, or transport shark fins or any product containing shark fins, except for certain dogfish fins. The maximum civil penalty for each violation is $100,000, or the fair market value of the shark fins.

Several major pieces of environmental legislation ended up being excluded from the final round of legislative approvals, including legislation that would have added the Rim of the Valley to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Its supporters will continue to advocate for the long-desired project. This project has had bipartisan support for years, but it never seems to be quite enough. Maybe 2023 will be the year. Little by little, one travels far.

Lunar New Year arrives early this year: January 22. Some of us are not sorry to bid farewell to the wild, unpredictable tiger, and welcome the gentle, peace-loving rabbit. TNT contributor Elizabeth Guldimann shares rabbit lore, and some ideas on how and where to celebrate Lunar New Year, which is now an official California State holiday. We also welcome back @LostCanyonsLA creator Emmeline Summerton, for part one of a look at film industry history and its connection to L.A.’s canyon communities. The Coastwatchers return to our Storyland section, TNT historian Jimmy P. Morgan is in fine form, and we’re tracking a mountain lion in our Discover section. It’s a new year filled with the promise of amazing things, and here at TNT we can’t wait to begin. 

Stay safe, be well. Happy New Year!

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