Category Archives: Habitats

Granting of Point Reyes ranch long-term leases halted in lawsuit settlement

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Granting long-term leases to the two dozen ranching families that have raised cattle for generations at Point Reyes National Seashore would be halted under a proposed court settlement announced Wednesday to resolve a lawsuit brought last year by three environmental groups.

The tentative deal, which involves the groups and the National Park Service, manager of the 71,000-acre seashore on the Marin County coast, requires park managers to study impacts on the environment from decades of ranching and opens up the possibility that grazing dairy and beef cattle could be curtailed or ended.

Both the ranchers and environmental groups claimed victory in the settlement of a closely watched case, seen as having wider implications for management of federal land.

“This is what we asked for in the lawsuit,” said Deborah Moskowitz, president of the Resource Renewal Institute, one of the environmental groups. “It’s good news.”

Dairy rancher Jarrod Mendoza said the settlement was “a temporary win” for ranchers, who would get five-year leases.

Ranchers have been operating on one-year leases and Mendoza, a fourth-generation rancher, said he was “hopeful” that 20-year terms would ultimately be allowed. Mendoza, who milks about 200 cows a day at his ranch, said he hopes to continue in agriculture for the rest of his life.

Moskowitz and Mendoza acknowledged the settlement does not address the question of whether cattle can coexist with wilderness on a scenic peninsula inhabited by tule elk, eagles, black-tailed deer and bobcats.“I think those questions will be answered in the general management plan,” Mendoza said, referring to a park planning update required by the settlement,

Read more at: Granting of Point Reyes ranch long-term leases halted in lawsuit settlement | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, Wildlife

Carbon in atmosphere is rising, even as emissions stabilize 

Justin Gillis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Scientists say their inability to know for certain is a reflection not just of the scientific difficulty of the problem, but also of society’s failure to invest in an adequate monitoring system to keep up with the profound changes humans are wreaking on the planet.

CAPE GRIM, Tasmania — On the best days, the wind howling across this rugged promontory has not touched land for thousands of miles, and the arriving air seems as if it should be the cleanest in the world.

But on a cliff above the sea, inside a low-slung government building, a bank of sophisticated machines sniffs that air day and night, revealing telltale indicators of the way human activity is altering the planet on a major scale.

For more than two years, the monitoring station here, along with its counterparts across the world, has been flashing a warning: The excess carbon dioxide scorching the planet rose at the highest rate on record in 2015 and 2016. A slightly slower but still unusual rate of increase has continued into 2017.

Scientists are concerned about the cause of the rapid rises because, in one of the most hopeful signs since the global climate crisis became widely understood in the 1980s, the amount of carbon dioxide that people are pumping into the air seems to have stabilized in recent years, at least judging from the data that countries compile on their own emissions.

That raises a conundrum: If the amount of the gas that people are putting out has stopped rising, how can the amount that stays in the air be going up faster than ever? Does it mean the natural sponges that have been absorbing carbon dioxide are now changing?

“To me, it’s a warning,” said Josep G. Canadell, an Australian climate scientist who runs the Global Carbon Project, a collaboration among several countries to monitor emissions trends.

Read more at: Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize – The New York Times

Filed under Air, Climate Change & Energy, Habitats

Disputed Gualala River logging plan stalled pending revised study 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

See the Friends of the Gualala River website for more information about this logging plan.

A disputed 2-year-old plan to log along several miles of the Gualala River floodplain remains in limbo five months after a Sonoma County judge nullified its approval and sent it back to state forestry officials for revision and additional public review.

Acting on a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau ruled in January that the 330-acre project was deficient because it failed to account for the cumulative impacts of a different logging plan in development when the proposal at issue was first submitted.

It’s not clear just how much revision of the so-called Dogwood plan submitted by Gualala Redwood Timber will be necessary before it earns a pass from the judge, and there is likely more courtroom action ahead in any case.

“I think everyone expects that this is the first round of litigation,” said Eric Huff, forestry practice chief with Cal Fire, the state forestry agency.

Chouteau’s formal order, filed April 18, gave Cal Fire wide discretion to determine how broadly the Dogwood harvest plan should be reconsidered.

Larkspur attorney Ed Yates, who represents several environmental groups trying to block logging in the floodplain, said it would behoove Gualala Redwood Timber to substantially adjust its plan, given the many objections plaintiffs have lodged against it.

The Dogwood proposal “is legally inadequate in many different areas: plants, endangered species, water quality, climate change, alternatives, mitigations,” Yates said.

Read more at: Disputed Gualala River logging plan stalled pending revised study | The Press Democrat

Filed under Forests, Habitats, Water

Dams be damned: California rebuilds the salmon habitat it destroyed

Monica Heger, YES! Magazine, for TRUTHOUT

A consequence of the creek being confined to its channel is that, over years, the water has dug away at the creek bed — or substrate — making it deeper and narrower, and increasing the speed at which water flows. This has decreased the chances that water will spill over the banks. The larger substrate materials that made the creek bed stable — boulders, gravel, and logs — have been washed out, but are not being replaced. Instead, the creek bed is becoming ever finer and more prone to being further incised. In this environment, salmon eggs are more likely to be washed away.

Wander out the back door of the tasting room at Truett Hurst Winery in Sonoma County, California, and follow the dirt path to the red Adirondack chairs next to Dry Creek. Look just downstream to the side channel that splits off the main waterway. You will see sets of interwoven logs and overturned trees with roots that splay along the banks. These aren’t the result of a particularly rough storm — they are there by design. As Dry Creek rushes by, these logs and root beds point the way to a newly excavated side channel — prime habitat for spawning and juvenile salmon.

In freshwater waterways along the coast from Marin to Mendocino counties, agencies are restoring salmonid streams to create habitat diversity, areas that provide deep pooling, predator protection, and side channels of slower-moving water. California salmon are in dire straits. Decades of dam building and development have destroyed or altered salmon habitat, eliminating the diversity of habitat these fish need.

As a result, salmon populations have plummeted. The number of coho salmon that return to the California waterways from the Pacific Ocean each year has dropped from around 350,000 in the 1940s to less than 500 in 2009. Although they’ve rebounded slightly, numbers are still 90 percent to 99 percent below historic levels, and many scientists are worried that California’s historic five-year drought followed by an exceptionally rainy winter could wreak further havoc.

Salmon provide enormous environmental and economic benefits. They are an integral component of marine and freshwater foodwebs and play a role in transporting nutrients from the ocean into rivers. In California, salmon are the backbone of a $1.5 billion commercial and recreational fishing industry.

The Warm Springs Dam, which crosses Dry Creek, is one of two drinking water sources for around 600,000 customers in Sonoma County, but the year-round flows it produces are a problem for salmon.

“Dry Creek is a tremendous misnomer,” says David Manning, environmental resources manager at the Sonoma County Water Agency. “It flows so quickly that it doesn’t provide habitat for steelhead and coho,” and young fish are often washed downstream. To combat this, Manning and others are building “off-ramps” that will allow salmon to exit the Dry Creek freeway.

Read more at: Dams Be Damned: California Rebuilds the Salmon Habitat It Destroyed

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Along the North Coast, mixed news about the health of the undersea kelp forest 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Aerial surveys conducted each year to gauge abundance in the iconic kelp forests off the North Coast showed a slight improvement last fall, offering a glimmer of hope for the recovery of the coastal marine habitat, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has reported.

But conditions for the “bull kelp,” an annual type of seaweed — especially off Sonoma County — have become so bleak in recent years that even a reported doubling of the forest canopy during last year’s growing season has done little to bring the underwater habitat back to full strength, scientists said.

Despite patches that resemble the historic ecosystem in some ways, large swaths of ocean floor off the North Coast remain devoid of bull kelp and other fleshy algal species, prompting continued starvation among common marine herbivores like red abalone and urchins, they said.

Even with growth in the overall canopy last year, data indicates the kelp off Sonoma and Mendocino counties covered at least 95 percent less surface area in 2016 than it did in the banner year of 2008, said Cynthia Catton, an environmental scientist with the state wildlife agency.

The apparent expansion of the kelp canopy “is deceptive,” said Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager for the agency’s invertebrate program, “because 2016 is still way below anything we would consider normal.”

Read more at: Along the North Coast, mixed news about the health of the undersea kelp forest | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Sonoma Coast

New report says California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction in 50 years

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Fish in Hot Water” report includes a road map for addressing the threats to California’s native fish, including restoration and protection of critical habitats, such as spring-fed rivers, flood plains and estuaries as well as river system headwaters.

Read the report here: http://www.caltrout.org/sos

On a tree-shaded bend in Dutch Bill Creek at Monte Rio, three technicians from the Sonoma County Water Agency huddled on a gravel bar to examine the day’s catch, all in the name of science and a sustained campaign to restore one of California’s most endangered fish.

Retrieving 163 coho salmon smolts, or young fish, from a wooden fish trap set in knee-deep, clear flowing water, the crew bathed the four- to six-inch salmon in a bucket of Alka-Seltzer solution, briefly numbing them for easier handling.

The technicians measured, weighed and counted the year-old, hatchery-bred fish before releasing them to continue a perilous journey to the nearby Russian River and out to the Pacific Ocean.

If the young coho, swimming mostly by night to evade predators, make it to the ocean and grow to adulthood, they may in about 18 months return to the Russian River and be counted once again before they spawn and die.

There’s a lot riding on the coho completing their short, human-assisted life cycle.Nearly half of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout — 14 out of 31 species — are facing extinction in 50 years under current conditions, according to a scientific study released last week.

Another nine species are likely to vanish in 100 years unless steps are taken to address threats such as low water flows, pollution, urban growth, dams and degraded habitat, exacerbated by the recent drought and climate change, the 106-page report by the conservation nonprofit California Trout and the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences said.

Read more at: California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction, with climate change a major cause | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Endangered Species Day: Inside the effort to kill the Endangered Species Act

Christopher Ketcham, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

During the past five months Republicans have introduced 25 proposals to skirt, hamper, defang, or undermine endangered species protections. These include bills to amend the ESA to abandon its requirement to use “best available science” in listing decisions and to hand oversight of some of the law’s key management and decision-making provisions to state governments historically hostile to the act.

The Crow tribespeople call the grizzly bear their ancestor, the Elder Brother who protects their home, which is the land.

They have grizzly bear songs, grizzly dances, grizzly names for their children, grizzly lullabies that women sing to infants, and grizzly spirits that guide warrior societies and guard tepees, transform into human beings, and beguile their daughters.

Critics say the ESA is ineffective because so many species remain on the list, but supporters say that is exactly what illustrates its enormous success. Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife.

So when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service said that grizzly populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—encompassing portions of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho—would be removed from the U.S. government’s endangered species list this year and opened for hunting, I traveled to Montana to meet the chairman of the Crow Nation, A. J. Not Afraid, who has lobbied to stop the delisting.

We stood on a promontory in the Big Horn Mountains called Pretty Eagle Point, where Not Afraid showed me the grizzly habitat on the 2.3-million-acre reservation. In the distance there were snowbound peaks where grizzlies in summer eat army cutworm moths, and broad plateaus where the bears graze the grass and dig for grubs.

There were forests of fir and pine, watersheds feeding the streams that over millions of years carved the dark chasms of Big Horn Canyon and Black Canyon, where the bears like to amble in the rushing flow looking for fish.

Not Afraid, 43, had testified before Congress a few weeks before my April visit. He said he believed that delisting the grizzly would be a calamity for the animal.

He said that grizzly populations in the region did not appear to have recovered since being protected 42 years ago, as the Fish and Wildlife Service claimed, that Crows hardly ever see them anymore on the reservation, and that the trophy hunting unleashed with delisting would be an affront to tribes that hold the creature sacred.

“Fall of 2013 was the last time I saw a grizzly,” he said. He was hunting elk. There was a buffalo carcass on a slope where the bear had been feeding. The bear passed before him at a lope, 50 yards away. He recalled the vision sadly. “Because of the decrease in grizzlies, we encounter them only every few years now.”

Read more at: Inside the Effort to Kill the Endangered Species Act, Savior of Bald Eagles and Gray Wolves

Filed under Habitats, Land Use, Wildlife

State launches Sonoma Developmental Center ‘site assessment’ 

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

See the Transform SDC website for community and nonprofit input on what should be done with the SDC site and this Sonoma Land Trust article on the importance of the wildlife corridor through the site.

After what has sometimes seemed like an interminable delay, the wheels are starting to turn on the rollout toward closure of the Sonoma Develomental Center.

At least that’s how it looks now that the state Department of General Services has announced that a $2 million contract has been signed with a Bay Area engineering firm to perform a “site assessment” of the 860-acre SDC campus for use after the closure of the facility, scheduled for the end of 2018.San Francisco-based Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) entered the contract with the state in mid-April. The first step will be a “kick-off meeting” and team introduction, with the goal to develop a project schedule and define areas of responsibility and research for WRT and its subcontractors.

That meeting was scheduled for Monday afternoon, May 15, at the Slater Building on the SDC property. A final report of the group’s assessments is due in late December, after a number of intermediary benchmarks.

1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who’s also on the leadership team of the Coalition to Preserve SDC, said she’s “anxious” to work with the site assessment team and help facilitate community meetings so “they can fully gauge the community’s concerns, interests in eventual reuse of the campus and constraints to development.”

Read more at: State launches Sonoma Developmental Center ‘site assessment’ | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Filed under Habitats, Land Use, Local Organizations, Wildlife

In wine regions, vineyards and conservationists battle for the hills

Alastair Bland, YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions, and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.

“They want to take all of this out,” says Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she says.

Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it that are now pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.

In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County, and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists, and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” says Hackett.

Read more at: In Napa Valley, Vineyards and Conservationists Battle for the Hills – Yale E360

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Sonoma Coast, Water, Wildlife

EPA dismisses half of key board’s scientific advisers; Interior suspends more than 200 advisory panels

Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, THE WASHINGTON POST

Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department are overhauling a slew of outside advisory boards that inform how their agencies assess the science underpinning policies, the first step in a broader effort by Republicans to change the way the federal government evaluates the scientific basis for its regulations. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided to replace half of the members on one of its key scientific review boards, while Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is “reviewing the charter and charge” of more than 200 advisory boards, committees and other entities both within and outside his department. EPA and Interior officials began informing current members of the move Friday, and notifications continued over the weekend.

Pruitt’s move could significantly change the makeup of the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), which advises EPA’s prime scientific arm on whether the research it does has sufficient rigor and integrity, and addresses important scientific questions. All of the people being dismissed were at the end of serving at least one three-year term, although these terms are often renewed instead of terminated.

EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said in an email that “no one has been fired or terminated” and that Pruitt had simply decided to bring in fresh advisers. The agency informed the outside academics on Friday that their terms would not be renewed.

“We’re not going to rubber-stamp the last administration’s appointees. Instead, they should participate in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool,” Freire said. “This approach is what was always intended for the board, and we’re making a clean break with the last administration’s approach.”

Separately, Zinke has postponed all outside committees as he reviews their composition and work. The review will effectively freeze the work of the Bureau of Land Management’s 38 resource advisory councils, along with other panels focused on a sweep of issues, from one assessing the threat of invasive species to the science technical advisory panel for Alaska’s North Slope.

Read more at: EPA dismisses half of key board’s scientific advisers; Interior suspends more than 200 advisory panels – The Washington Post

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Land Use, Wildlife