Category Archives: Sonoma Coast

After tons of drama with the California Coastal Commission, things are looking up

Steve Lopez, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Yes it’s true, sharks are everywhere along the California coast this summer. But by all appearances, a far bigger threat to your enjoyment of the state’s fabulous beaches has been contained for now.

It’s a new day at the California Coastal Commission.

You remember the drama last year, right?

I don’t get to take up an entire section of the newspaper, so I can only touch on the many ways in which the coast was imperiled by conflicts of interest, the clout of pro-development forces, the undermining of staff experts and a head-smacking lack of professionalism among certain members of the Coastal Commission.

In February 2016, commissioners — appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders — stunned and angered hundreds of spectators when they summarily dismissed the agency’s respected executive director. Charles Lester had staunchly defended his staff’s independence from outside influence while adhering to the letter of the law on coastal preservation, and he made a dramatic appeal to keep his job, to no avail.

But in an unintended way, the firing was a blessing.

“They got away with getting rid of Charles,” said former Commissioner Sara Wan, “but they didn’t get away with the public response.”

In fact, the fall of Lester has led to the toppling of a hyperactive commission that seemed at times to have forgotten its duty to the Coastal Act, and to the guiding principle that the unsurpassed 1,100-mile coast is not anybody’s — it’s everybody’s.

Read more at: After tons of drama with the California Coastal Commission, things are looking up – LA Times

Filed under Sonoma Coast

Uncertain salmon season launches in Bodega Bay 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The rising hum of activity in the port of Bodega Bay over recent days reveals an unexpected level of interest in the commercial salmon season that starts today, despite a three-month delay and what’s been an extremely grim outlook for the beleaguered fishery.

A large proportion of the local fleet has been gearing up to head out to open ocean, ready to drop their lines and test the waters. But the satisfied, even boisterous enthusiasm that once characterized the marinas during preseasons past has diminished during years of struggle in the fishing industry, some say.

A time that once carried the promise of hard work and dependable results now brims with uncertainty.

“It just isn’t there anymore, the old vim and vigor, and the excitement about getting ready for an opener, and this kind of stuff,” veteran fisherman Dan Kammerer, 75, said, recalling laughter and jokes that used to be shared along the docks. “It just isn’t fun anymore.”

Chinook salmon, also called king salmon, were once a prized staple of the North Coast’s fishing grounds, ranked just ahead or behind Dungeness crab in annual landings. But the population has been in severe decline, due in part to historic drought and disrupted ocean conditions that have reduced the survival of young salmon in freshwater streams and coastal waters.

After two dreadful seasons, state and federal wildlife biologists last spring forecast the lowest chinook salmon stocks off the Pacific Coast since 2009, when both sport and commercial fisheries were closed for the second consecutive year.

Read more: Uncertain salmon season launches in Bodega Bay | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, Wildlife

Environmentalists, officials push back on Trump offshore oil move

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Citizens, environmental groups and lawmakers from coast to coast are calling for a barrage of public comments opposing President Donald Trump’s order to reconsider additions to the four marine sanctuaries that protect the California coast from oil drilling.

More than 43,000 comments had been officially recorded at a government website Monday in a nationwide effort to protect 11 national sanctuaries and monuments, including four that surround the Channel Islands and protect the coast from San Luis Obispo County to Point Arena in Mendocino County.

Other sanctuaries and monuments stretch from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes, Hawaii and Samoa.

The comment deadline — barring a last-minute extension — is 8:59 p.m. Pacific Time Wednesday.

“This is an all-out fight for the future of the California coast,” said Richard Charter of Bodega Bay, an offshore oil drilling opponent since the 1970s.

His organization, The Ocean Foundation, has formed a “spontaneous coalition” with 40 other environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Russian Riverkeeper and Sonoma Coast Surfrider.

Read more at: Environmentalists, officials push back on Trump offshore oil move | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sonoma Coast

Sonoma court awards attorney’s fees in ‘Dogwood’ timber harvest case

FRIENDS OF THE GUALALA RIVER

After halting logging in the environmentally sensitive mature floodplain redwood forest of the lower Gualala River, Judge René Chouteau of Sonoma County Superior Court awarded $162,000 in attorney’s fees to the successful parties in environmental litigation over CAL FIRE’s approval of the Dogwood Timber Harvest Plan. The successful parties are the Petitioners, Friends of Gualala River, Forest Unlimited, and California Native Plant Society, represented by attorney Edward Yates. The fee award ruling was issued June 27, 2017.

CAL FIRE’s consideration and approval of the Dogwood logging plan sparked public opposition for over a year culminating in a public protest demonstration in July 2016. Members of the public, including the Petitioners, were concerned that the proposed logging would significantly affect Gualala River reaches that are designated as Wild and Scenic, especially those reaches above the Gualala River’s mouth and estuary and adjacent to a regional Park. The forester hired by the timber company and landowner, Gualala Redwoods Timber (GRT), prepared the environmental analysis used by CAL FIRE to justify the five miles of floodplain logging on the lower Gualala River. It concluded logging would have no significant impacts, despite a lack of evidence or even basic scientific surveys for wetlands or rare plants and wildlife known to occur in the floodplain.

Petitioners filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court on August 4, 2016, to compel the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to set aside the agency’s final approval of the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan. California Native Plant Society joined the Petitioners in the lawsuit in September 2016. Acting in the public interest, the three nonprofit environmental groups challenged CAL FIRE’s approval of the unprecedented largescale floodplain redwood logging plan. This plan allows for significant impacts to over 400 acres of Gualala River wetlands, rare plants and endangered wildlife.

On January 25, 2017, Judge Chouteau made an unexpected ruling to remand the entire Dogwood THP back to CAL FIRE to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Forest Practices Act (FPA). The Court’s judgment was that CAL FIRE’s approval of Dogwood included a defective cumulative impact analysis that omitted a subsequent foreseeable floodplain logging plan by the same applicant, Gualala Redwoods Timber. This ruling provided CAL FIRE with an opportunity to fully overhaul the incomplete or defective environmental review.

Read more at Friends of the Gualala River.

Filed under Forests, 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