Category Archives: Sonoma Coast

Campaign seeks to defend California marine sanctuaries in face of Trump energy order 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Top political leaders are joining North Coast counties and environmentalists in supporting marine sanctuaries in the face of President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider additions to all four of the sanctuaries that protect the California coast from oil drilling.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and the Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino county boards of supervisors have officially called for preserving sanctuaries that surround the Channel Islands and protect the coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

“Californians cherish their Pacific coastline and ocean resources,” Feinstein and Harris said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last week, extolling the value of the sanctuaries. “These areas are simply irreplaceable.”

The four sanctuaries cover more than 12,300 square miles — about the size of the coastal counties from Marin to Del Norte plus Napa and Lake counties — and protect places such as the Monterey Canyon, Farallon Islands and Cordell Bank, a biologically rich seamount off the Marin coast.

The pro-sanctuary campaign gained focus Friday with an announcement that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will open on Monday a 30-day public comment period on a review of recent additions to the sanctuaries ordered by Trump on April 28.

Read more at: Campaign seeks to defend California marine sanctuaries in face of Trump energy order | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast

More limits foreseen for California abalone fishery as scientist raises alarm 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The crisis comes in the wake of a massive deterioration in the spread and health of North Coast kelp forest over the past several years, a consequence of what scientists call “a perfect storm” of large-scale stressors that include two years of unprecedented and prolonged warm ocean conditions.

A marine wildlife expert put California fish and game commissioners on notice Thursday that significant new restrictions in the abalone fishery — including more closures — may be necessary next year because of continued starvation and die-off among the sought-after mollusks.

Even a shutdown of the iconic North Coast sport fishery should be on the table, though only as a worst-case scenario, said Sonke Mastrup, invertebrate program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“What we’re seeing is going to have long-term implications,” Mastrup said in an interview. “This is not a temporary problem, and what that turns into, we don’t know yet, and it’s appropriate to start having the conversation so people aren’t shocked down the road.”

No decisions regarding the 2018 season need to be made until later this year, after the results of annual underwater surveys conducted in August and September are available, Mastrup told the California Fish and Game Commission at its regular, bi-monthly meeting, held in Smith River.

But commissioners and the public need to be prepared for the possibility of drastic measures, given declining health and reproductive capacity among red abalone on the North Coast, he told commissioners.

Read more at: More limits foreseen for California abalone fishery as scientist raises alarm | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast, 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

State monitors domoic acid on coast

HALF MOON BAY REVIEW

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton H. Bonham is extending the emergency commercial rock crab fishery closure for areas north of Bodega Bay, which was due to expire May 16. Meanwhile, all crab — Dungeness and rock — is deemed safe to eat south of the North Bay.

State health agencies determined last fall that rock crabs north of Pigeon Point to the Oregon border had unhealthy levels of domoic acid and recommended a commercial fishery closure. Subsequently, Bonham submitted an emergency rule to close the commercial rock crab fishery north of Pigeon Point. That authority is new to the director this year.

Following new recommendations of state health agencies, the CDFW director announced on Feb. 10 that the open area of the commercial rock crab fishery had been extended northward to Bodega Bay in Sonoma County. CDFW is continuing to work closely with state health agencies to monitor levels of domoic acid in rock crabs and other species not affected by this closure.

This closure shall remain in effect until the director of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, in consultation with the Department of Public Health, determines that domoic acid levels no longer pose a significant risk to public health and recommends the fishery be open.

The recreational fishery for rock crab remained open statewide, but the California Department of Public Health issued a warning to avoid consuming the viscera of rock crab caught in the closure area. As a precaution, state authorities recommend avoiding the viscera in Dungeness crab as well.

State officials continue to test domoic acid levels in crab along the coast to determine when the fishery can safely be opened.Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin produced by a naturally occurring marine alga. Those levels can be increased under certain ocean conditions.

Source: State monitors domoic acid on coast | Local News Stories | hmbreview.com

Filed under Sonoma Coast, 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

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