Category Archives: Wildlife

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

Here’s how big wine gets to avoid environmental rules in Napa

Alastair Bland, KCET

According to Anderson, vineyard managers frequently install drainage systems incorrectly, fail to plant required cover crops to control erosion, incorrectly place deer fences in a way that prevents free passage of smaller wildlife, and use pesticides illegally. She says erosion control measures often fail to work, causing loose sediment to wash into creeks. There it can smother gravel beds used by spawning salmon and steelhead, which have almost vanished from North Bay watersheds. Many biologists have pointed to vineyards as a leading cause of the fish declines.

In 2006, Napa County officials issued a permit for The Caves at Soda Canyon, a new winery in the hills east of the city of Napa. As most such project permits do, the document set strict limits on how the developer could build his winery.

But The Caves’ owner Ryan Waugh allegedly ignored some of these limitations. Waugh dug an unpermitted cave into a mountain, and hosted guests at unapproved ridgetop tasting patios. After county officials became aware of the violations, they ordered Waugh in 2014 to block off (but not fill in) the illegal cave, stop the unauthorized wine tastings and muffle a noisy generator.

Neighbors had complained about the generator’s din, claiming that Waugh had promised years earlier to connect his facility to silent power lines. They’re primarily concerned, however, about the winery’s impacts on local traffic and congestion.

County documents report that Waugh followed through on all orders to correct the violations (something neighbors, who say they can still hear the generator, dispute). Then, Waugh submitted a request for a modification to his permit, and in April, the Napa County Planning Commission voted to approve it. The new permit brings the unauthorized components of his operation into full legal compliance while also increasing The Cave’s annual production limit from 30,000 gallons of wine to 60,000. The decision is a win for Waugh, who has reportedly put his winery on the market for $12.5 million.

Neighbors say that laws don’t apply to people invested in Napa County’s influential wine industry.

“You can just drill an unpermitted cave and have unpermitted tastings, and just get retroactive approval from the county, and get more allowed production than you initially had,” says Anthony Arger, who lives nearby. Arger is concerned that The Caves’ enhanced use permits will lead to a dangerous increase in vehicle use on Soda Canyon Road.

The county’s decision to clear Waugh’s record while allowing him to enlarge his business illuminates what Arger and other community activists say is part of a countywide problem. They argue that Napa County officials, especially those in the Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, collude with the wine industry, ignoring violations of local rules, to increase wine production and tourist visits at the expense of the environment and local residents’ health and safety.

Read more at: Here’s How Big Wine Gets To Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa | KCET

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

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

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

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

Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit 

John Sammon, LEGAL NEWSLINE

Two Sonoma County vintners received a judgment in favor of their proposed wine making operation when an appeal by the Sierra Club was turned back by the state’s 1st Appellate District Court of Appeals.

The court found in favor of the defendants Ronald and Ernest Ohlson, operators of the Ohlson Ranch, who applied for a permit to turn grazing land on their property into a grape vineyard. The Agricultural Commissioner of Sonoma County (commissioner) issued the permit after making a determination the issuance was a “ministerial” act, and therefore exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards.

The commissioner’s decision was challenged by the Sierra Club, Friends of Gualala River and the Center for Biological Diversity, who asked for a writ of mandate, a court order to an agency or court to follow the law by correcting a previous action (issuing the permit).

Before the year 2000, grape growers in Sonoma County could plant vineyards without government review or permission.. Since then, new directives have been added, including submitting plans to address erosion controls, proper grading, drainage and other safeguards.

The Ohlsons filed an application in 2013 to turn 108 acres out of 132 acres of range land into a vineyard. The property included wetlands and marshy depressions but no trees or streams. Erosion was to be controlled by the use of anchoring grass, mulch, filter strips and cover crops.

Read more at: Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit | Legal Newsline

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, 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

State decides against salmon release in Bodega Bay

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“It’s not that we think the net pen project is necessarily a bad project,” the committee’s past chairman, Gordon Bennett, and president of Save Our Seashore, said, but the potential risks and mitigations need to be evaluated.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has pulled the plug on plans to release a quarter-million hatchery-born Chinook salmon into Bodega Bay after several North Bay conservation groups demanded the agency first conduct a full environmental review.

The decision to cancel the project came just weeks before the planned release, providing what commercial and recreational fishing interests hoped would be a boost to fishery stocks when the juvenile smolts matured in three years.

But limited experience with ocean releases, and available data on survival, migration and spawning habits of trucked hatchery fish raised concerns about how they might mix or out-compete endangered fish naturally occurring in the Russian River and Lagunitas Creek once the introduced fish reached spawning age.

The fish were to have been transported directly from the Mokelumne River Hatchery in San Joaquin County to Bodega Bay, bypassing the usual downstream voyage from native freshwater habitat to the ocean.

That plan would have left them subject to straying randomly upstream, a Marin County salmon restoration group wrote to state wildlife officials as part of its insistence on a full and public environmental review.

“We have already documented adult Chinook from Half Moon Bay releases straying into Lagunitas Creek,” said the letter from the Lagunitas Creek Technical Advisory Committee, an independent consortium of about two dozen local, state and federal natural resource and wildlife agencies.

The hatchery fish, the letter said, “could increase the extinction risk of the nearby wild and endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead,” potentially bringing disease, diluting the genetics of wild fish stocks or out-competing natural fish for food and habitat in both ocean and freshwater areas.

Read more at: State decides against salmon release in Bodega Bay | The Press Democrat

Filed under Wildlife