Transition-Ready in Del Norte

By Jane Moran and Adam Spencer


Del Norte County, nestled in the far northwest corner of California, is most famous for its redwoods and its tsunamis.  With a total population of 27,000 and only one incorporated town - Crescent City - it is one of the most wild and unpopulated counties in the state, and one of the more conservative and poorest.  Logging and fishing were the longtime economic foundations of the area, and these crumbling industries have yet to be replaced by much more than a prison, a WalMart supercenter, fast food and motels.  Our greatest resource, though - our natural surroundings - draws visitors from all over the world and provides a high quality of life for locals, many of whom hope that Crescent City never gets “discovered.”


Although the “official” Transition movement has only just begun here, this remote, wild corner of California has always had an independent streak; locals have been practicing resilience and self sufficiency for centuries.  Even today, secession into the State of Jefferson is a hot topic, and many - if not most - people can carry a conversation about growing their own food, raising goats and chickens, cutting firewood, or fishing and crabbing in the area’s bountiful rivers and coastline.  There is still a strong native presence, and knowledge of indigenous traditions - including food gathering, preparation and other self-reliancy skills - have not been entirely lost.  


14 years ago, Del Norte County was the first municipality in the country to adopt a Zero Waste strategy, as a long term solution to the high cost of exporting landfill waste.  Although the plan has since dissolved in political disagreements, the remoteness of our community means that in many ways we already functioning as an island and are motivated to be self reliant, even as we continue to rely on imported power and exporting waste.  


This tradition of independence and resilient community provides fertile ground for a Transition movement in Del Norte County.  Organizers and attendees were thrilled with turnout at TDN’s first meeting this September, as over 40 people from all walks of life filled the room. Larry Goldberg, one of the founders of Transition Humboldt, congratulated attendees, adding that Transition Del Norte’s first meeting was easily two to three times greater than first Transition meetings in several other much larger cities in our region, including his own.  


Before showing the documentary, “Transition 2.0,” organizer Dan Schultz offered some background on the movement and his own interest and involvement.  “I got on this track six years ago when I learned about peak oil,” he explained.  “I realized that we are going to have to transition to entirely different ways of living.”  He mentioned Del Norte’s unique need for self-reliance: living with the risks of tsunamis and earthquakes only emphasizes our fragile situation.


A week before the meeting, nearly the entire county had lost power for half a stormy day when heavy winds downed the only lines that bring power over the treacherous Siskiyou Pass from Oregon.  Even major retailers shut down, illustrating the tenuous nature of our imported power supply.  


“And if nothing bad happens at all, well then, we get together and get to know each other,” Schultz told the crowd that included the lead administrator of the Del Norte Community Health Center, the board president of the county’s largest social services organization, members of the local Food Council, and reporters from both local newspapers.


Some attendees were interested in the fact that grocery stores would run out of food for the local population within three days of a catastrophe. Others were interested in gardening and skill sharing, and a couple from a nearby Oregon town shared their work and visions around creating a “trail of food” - spreading knowledge and planting edible food forests from Oregon to California.  Local, renewable energy was a hot topic; the year-round abundance of creeks and rivers was cited as a potential source of micro-hydroelectricity.  


Wide interest in energy issues led organizers to follow up with a “Local Energy Forum,” where local alternative energy consultant Clarke Moore and Matthew Marshall, Executive Director of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, shared information and answered questions related to renewable energy.  Personal conservation was emphasized, and possibilities for personal solar and other off-grid installations were discussed.  Some members came away with an interest in researching Community Supported Energy models for our community.  


This December, TDN hosted a screening of “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil,” followed by a round-table discussion that ranged from the dangers of fracking and police militarization to the possibility of municipal composting.  


Moving forward, TDN hopes to build on local traditions of self-reliance and find non-partisan ways to address pressing issues including energy independence, food security, and emergency preparedness.  Armed with grit and muck boots, we are up to the task!

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