Category Archives: Sonoma Coast

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

Offshore drilling off the Sonoma Coast? California legislature fights to stop it

Amie Windsor, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

In a move pitting itself against the federal government, the California State Senate passed a resolution on Friday, May 5 opposing President Donald Trump’s “America First Offshore Energy Strategy” executive order.

The President’s executive order directs U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to explore offshore drilling options throughout the coastal United States. Zinke already began implementing Trump’s executive order on Monday, May 1 by initiating development on a five-year plan for oil and gas exploration in offshore waters, including California’s Sonoma County coast.

The orders received harsh criticism and backlash in California government, big and small, including from Senator Mike McGuire and Sonoma County Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. Senator McGuire represents almost 40 percent of the state’s coastline from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, including all 55 miles of Sonoma County coastline.

“The ocean is part of our life and livelihood on the North Coast,” said Senator Mike McGuire. “I grew up going to the coast with my mom. It’s truly a world wonder.”

On Facebook, Hopkins expressed her concern. “I’m honored to represent 55 miles of beautiful coastline … with no offshore oil rigs … and I’m ready to fight to keep it that way,” Hopkins wrote on Thursday, April 27.

In response to the President’s executive order, McGuire coauthored Senate Resolution 35 (SR-35), which states that California, “strongly and unequivocally supports the current federal prohibition on new oil or gas drilling in federal waters offshore California, opposes attempts to modify the prohibition and will consider any appropriate actions to maintain the prohibition.”

According to the resolution, there has been no new offshore oil and gas drilling in California since the Jan. 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill that spewed roughly 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean and created a 35-mile long oil slick along the coastline.

Read more at: Offshore drilling off the Sonoma Coast? | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast

California says oceans expected to rise higher than thought

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Read the report: Rising Seas in California

New climate-change findings mean the Pacific Ocean off California may rise higher, and storms and high tides hit harder, than previously thought, officials said.

The state’s Ocean Protection Council on Wednesday revised upward its predictions for how much water off California will rise as the climate warms. The forecast helps agencies in the nation’s most populous state plan for climate change as rising water seeps toward low-lying airports, highways and communities, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Discoveries that ice sheets are melting increasingly fast in Antarctica, which holds nearly 90 percent of the world’s ice, largely spurred the change.

As fossil-fuel emissions warm the Earth’s atmosphere, melting Antarctic ice is expected to raise the water off California’s 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) of coastline even more than for the world as a whole.

Read more at: California says oceans expected to rise higher than thought | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast

Trump’s order opens door to offshore oil drilling, provokes California protest

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

President Donald Trump has doubled down on his call for greater U.S. fossil fuel production, setting the stage Friday for expanded offshore oil drilling and potentially rolling back the North Coast’s sole defense against the prospect of oil rigs dotting the scenic shoreline.

The 30th executive order signed by the president in his first 99 days in office called for leasing of oil drilling tracts “to the maximum extent permitted by law,” accompanied by Trump’s verbal pledge that it would create thousands of high-paying jobs and make the nation more secure.

“This is a great day for American workers and families,” Trump said at a White House ceremony.

Veterans of the decadeslong push to ban oil drilling on California coast, however, said the order amounted to the clearest threat of new drilling since Congress banned new offshore extraction in 1982.

The state’s top Democrats, including Gov. Jerry Brown, blasted Trump’s action. Sen. Dianne Feinstein called the order “reckless and unnecessary.”

“It’s frightening that something we thought was secure and safe could be undone,” said Lynn Woolsey, the former North Coast congresswoman from Petaluma who worked for expansion of two national marine sanctuaries for most of her 20-year career on the Hill. She saw it finally accomplished three years after she retired in 2012.

Read more at: Trump’s offshore oil plan promises jobs, provokes California protest | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

UC Davis study: North Coast water changes affecting marine life 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Scientists at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory say a new study shows that the response by certain aquatic animals to warming ocean temperatures may make them more vulnerable to growing acidification, a secondary effect of climate change already measurable off the Sonoma Coast.

The research showed that organisms called bryozoan changed the composition of their skeletons in warm water to ones that quickly dissolved when exposed to water of higher acidity, causing the animals to shut down, lead author Dan Swezey said. He said the study mimicked condititions expected to be widespread by the end of the century.

The findings suggest that some marine life faced with adapting to a shifting ocean environment may be in a double bind when confronted with the “one-two punch” of global warming, a university representative said, with implications for sea stars, sea urchins, coralline algae and other ecologically significant marine life that depend on mineralized skeletons containing magnesium.

UC Davis spokeswoman Kat Kerlin likened the bryozoan to a “canary in a coal mine.”

“Our results add to this growing body of evidence that ocean acidification is a threat for lots of marine animals that are producing hard shells and skeletons,” said the study’s co-author, Eric Sanford, a professor of evolution and ecology. “But that might be increasingly true if the trend of acidification is combined with this trend of warming oceans.”

Read more at: UC Davis study: North Coast water changes affecting marine life | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Unprecedented delay in California abalone season

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Wildlife managers hope lessening pressure on the imperiled mollusks will help the fishery rebound from a catastrophic mix of ocean conditions that have prompted extensive starvation in abalone stocks.

In a normal year, veteran diver Matt Mattison would likely have started this weekend clad in neoprene, plying the waves off the Sonoma Coast, eager to bag his first red abalone of the season.

Instead, the Monte Rio resident was among a group of volunteers who fanned out Saturday along the North Coast’s most popular abalone hunting grounds to head off any divers or rock pickers who mistakenly turned up and to inform them the traditional season start has been delayed.

A jubilant occasion that typically draws hundreds, perhaps thousands, of restless abalone hunters to coastal waters each year, the April 1 opener is a little like Christmas for those who pursue the succulent sea snails. It’s a rite of spring.

But after four decades of time-honored ritual — cause for reunions of family and friends on the Sonoma and Mendocino coast every year — the California Fish and Game Commission has taken emergency action curtailing this year’s season, axing both April and November from the calendar and sharply reducing the allowable annual catch, from 18 abalones to 12.

It will be the first April since 1921 — a time when the season began in mid-March — that red abalone cannot legally be harvested, according to Jerry Kashiwada, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Read more at: Unprecedented delay in California abalone season shuts down North Coast in April | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Tail end of gray whale migration happening off Sonoma, Mendocino coasts in April, May, June

Jeanne A. Jackson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Just off our coastline, more than 20,000 gray whales travel thousands of miles on their great migration. In autumn, they begin their journey from their feeding grounds in the Arctic Circle to their birthing, mating and nursery waters in the lagoons off Baja California. It’s a trip of five to seven thousand miles, one-way. And the whales do not eat until they return to the Arctic in the spring.

The first to leave the Arctic are the pregnant females. They are followed by those gray whales who will be mating. Those whales not mature enough to mate, will then follow, though some will linger off the coast.

While in the warm waters off Baja, mother whales give birth to their calves. Each mother whale births one calf. The mothers and calves will stay in the lagoons for the calves to gain enough strength to swim the thousands of miles north. The mothers will feed their calves with their rich, calorie-dense milk. They nurse their babies as human mothers nurse their young. Gray whale bodies have many similarities to human bodies.

The first whales to leave Baja and head north in late winter are the newly pregnant females. They swim fast and hard, as they need to reach their feeding ground where they will be eating for two.

The last to leave Baja are the mother/calf pairs, and that is what is occurring now. April, May and early June are the perfect times to whale watch, as the mother/calf pairs are closer to shore due to the current, and the whales come up more often for their offspring to breathe.

Read more at: Tail end of gray whale migration happening off Sonoma, Mendocino coasts in April, May, June | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Worst salmon season in eight years projected in California 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California fishermen are bracing for the worst salmon season in eight years, one so grim that many will likely sit the season out completely.

Years of drought and unfavorably warm ocean conditions that existed when this year’s potential crop of king salmon was young have reduced the adult population to the lowest level forecast since 2009, when projections were so pathetic both sport and commercial salmon seasons were canceled.

Some hope that abundant winter rainfall and last year’s welcome spring rains will help restore next year’s salmon fishery to something approximating full strength. But until then, “we have one more bad drought hangover year to work through,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

“It looks horrible,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Lorne Edwards, who may skip what would be his third season in a row.

The recreational salmon fishery opens to California sport fisherman on April 1 every year and would normally open to the commercial fleet May 1.

But it will be several weeks yet before the season schedule is set, based on complex modeling and statistical projections aimed at estimating the number of adult salmon waiting in the ocean for the signal to swim upstream and spawn throughout the intensively managed West Coast fishery off California, Oregon and Washington states.

Analysts weigh a host of factors, including the previous year’s landings, the number of adult salmon found dead after spawning and the number of fish set aside for Native American tribes to catch. State and federal biologists consider each distinct natural and hatchery salmon population and their historic distribution in the ocean to determine where and when sport fishers and trollers are allowed to drop their lines in a given year.

Read more at: Worst salmon season in eight years projected in California | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Caltrans moving ahead with Gleason Beach project

Amie West, SONOMA COUNTY TIMES & NEWS

Proposed roadway. (Caltrans)

The public is invited to a meeting Thursday to discuss the state’s Gleason Beach project, a Highway 1 realignment that would shift the roadway inland and away from ocean erosion of cliffs about five miles north of Bodega Bay.

The meeting will be at the Bodega Bay Marine Lab lecture hall, 2099 Westshore Road in Bodega Bay from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Attendees will be able to view and provide input on the latest roadway and bridge project designs.

The purpose of the project is to provide a safe coastside transportation that avoids erosion undermining the coastal highway. Late last year, Caltrans issued an emergency work order to temporarily stabilize Highway 1 near Gleason Beach after damage from multiple erosive forces made the roadway vulnerable, especially in storms and extreme weather. According to Caltrans, at the current rate of coastal retreat, the roadway at Gleason Beach abutting the coastal bluffs is expected to be undermined within the five years.

The project would construct a 3,700-foot, two-lane roadway and 850-foot long bridge span over Scotty Creek, shifting the entire roadway to the east, away from the eroding cliff side. The road and bridge would be 49 feet wide and include 6-to-8-foot shoulders and a 6-foot wide sidewalk in the southbound direction for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The project also includes improving three access roads to Highway 1, plus additional improvements to vehicle turnouts and adding a dedicated parking area.

The realignment project has already conducted and received a certified Final Environmental Impact/Environmental Assessment under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR states that no significant impact is expected from the project, though Caltrans states the bridge structure will change the visual character of the coastal landscaping looking inland from Gleason Beach.

Caltrans has plans to help mitigate impacts to coastal wetlands, the Scotty Creek floodplain, water quality, federally listed threatened and endangered species, including the Myrtle’s silverspot butterfly, and the rural character of the coastal Sonoma County landscape.  Caltrans expects the project will improve the environmental baseline of the Scotty Creek floodplain because the bridge will span the floodplain and remove a culvert currently spanning the creek that creates a potential barrier to migrating salmonids.

Read more at: Caltrans moving ahead with Gleason Beach project | News | sonomawest.com

Filed under Sonoma Coast, Transportation

Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

 Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The hatchery-reared fish will be trucked directly to Sonoma County from the state-run Mokelumne River hatchery near Lodi as part of a continuing effort to augment California’s declining Chinook salmon stocks, which took an especially hard hit during the prolonged drought.

Modeled after similar programs elsewhere on the California coast, the operation involves the use of a custom-made net pen to be positioned in the water, dockside, at Spud Point Marina in order to receive the smolts. The pen will provide a place for the young fish to adjust after their tanker ride and to acclimate to salt water before they head toward open water with the outgoing tide a few hours after their arrival.

The key advantage of such an effort is it allows the young fish to bypass the obstacles they would otherwise face getting downstream to the ocean, past unscreened water pumps and other dangers in the Sacramento River/San Joaquin River system, enhancing their chance of surviving to adulthood.

“The delta pumps just eat all those fish coming down, the little smolts coming down the river, and this makes sure that they make it northward to Bodega Bay, as a start,” said veteran Petaluma angler Victor Gonella, founder of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a sport and commercial industry group that put the project together.“This is just really good news for the fishermen in Bodega, the businesses in Bodega, anybody who loves salmon,” Gonella said. “We’re all hopeful that it will continue for years to come as we continue this process.”

Read more at: Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife