Marin County ranchers, residents debate slaughter proposals

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Efforts by the Marin County ranching community to obtain more local options for killing and processing livestock have run into opposition from residents who don’t want slaughter operations there.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors next week will consider language that would allow ranchers to bring mobile slaughter units onto their properties for cattle and other livestock. The provisions also would allow permanent, small-scale poultry processing facilities on farmlands.

Marin ranchers echo what their counterparts around the North Coast have long maintained: A lack of slaughter facilities in the region threatens to hold back the growth of niche livestock operations that offer grass-fed beef and other premium meats. Petaluma does have a slaughterhouse in operation for cattle and other animals, but for years the region’s ranchers have taken sheep, hogs and poultry to processing plants in the Central Valley.

“If the consumers want a local food movement, then the county needs to support it,” said Lisa Poncia, who owns Stemple Creek Ranch outside Tomales with her husband Loren, a fourth-generation rancher there.

Read more at: Marin County ranchers, residents debate slaughter proposals | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living

EPA chief Scott Pruitt says CO2 not a primary contributor to warming

Tom DiChristopher, CNBC

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Thursday he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“But we don’t know that yet. … We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

The statement contradicts the public stance of the agency Pruitt leads. The EPA’s webpage on the causes of climate change states, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

Pruitt’s view is also at odds with the conclusion of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Read more at: EPA chief Scott Pruitt says CO2 not a primary contributor to warming

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Spring blooms with wildflowers in Sonoma County 

Jeanne Wirka, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Few spring sights in Sonoma County are as uplifting as the faces of the flowers that decorate our hillsides and valleys in a palette of lavenders and dark purples, creamy yellows and oranges, pinkish whites and everything in between. What we call the “early spring” wildflowers — like our delicate milkmaids and nodding shooting stars — actually begin to show up in the North Bay region in January and February, sometimes even December. Mid-March, however, is the main event. What better excuse to get outside with a sketchbook, or a camera, or just an appreciative eye.

Read more at: Spring blooms with wildflowers in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats

Sonoma County open space planners launch broadest, most extensive planning effort ever 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Open space planning public meetings – All meetings are 6-8 p.m.

March 14: Healdsburg Community Center, Healdsburg

March 15: El Molino High School library, Forestville

March 21: Petaluma Community Center, Petaluma

March 29: Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building dining room, Santa Rosa

March 30: Finnish American Home Association – Heritage Hall, Sonoma

More information: sonomaopenspace.org/vital-lands

Hoping to set a commanding agenda for conserving its landscapes, Sonoma County’s taxpayer-funded Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is launching its broadest, most extensive planning effort ever to guide its work for the next 15 years.

The open space district on Tuesday will mark the start of its so-called Vital Lands Initiative. Community outreach will include five public meetings throughout the county this month as officials gather input on how best to steward the county’s preserved farmland and natural spaces.

It’s the district’s most ambitious planning project in more than a decade — and likely its most wide-ranging such undertaking ever, according to general manager Bill Keene.

“It’s in all aspects of our work in protecting agricultural land, greenbelts, scenic hillsides, recreation, natural resources and watersheds,” Keene said. “It’s really going to cover everything we do.

Read more at: Sonoma County open space planners launch broadest, most extensive planning effort ever | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Local Organizations

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

Trump’s budget cuts: Even worse than you thought

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

As you dive into the details, things keep looking worse.Trump is proposing huge cuts to EPA and other agencies. That’s bad enough. We’re beginning to learn more details, and the message is grim.  While these cuts may not emerge from Congress at the end of the day, they do express the Administration’s goals. In particular, they demonstrate that the Administration is deeply hostile to environmental science and that it lacks any interest in continuing to clean up our air and water.

Here’s what we know as of now:

Environmental Science. I have posted previously about the threat to scientific research posed by the Trump Administration. The Administration’s attack on environmental science – climate science in particular – is now taking concrete form.

  • NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research would lose 26% ($126 million) of its current funding.NOAA’s satellite data division would lose 22% ($513 million) of its funding.
  • The Global Change Research, a program started by President George H.W. Bush, would be eliminated.EPA’s research on air, climate, energy (EPA) would be cut 50% (to $46 million)EPA’s research on chemical safety and sustainability would be cut 30% (to $62 million.)
  • Overall, EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) would be cut 40% (from $510 million to $290 million).
  • [Addendum] On March 9, the press reported that the Administration is planning at 30% cut for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which researches cutting edge energy technologies.

Read more at: Trump’s Budget Cuts: Even Worse Than You Thought | Legal Planet

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living

PG&E plans to repaint transmission towers coated with lead paint 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E is undertaking a campaign to repaint about 6,000 electric transmission towers coated with lead-based paint, including 65 of the tall structures in Sonoma County.

Letters will be sent this week to owners of the 32 properties where the towers are located months ahead of the work that’s expected to begin in the fall, said Nicole Liebelt, a PG&E spokeswoman.

The letters will be followed by phone calls and personal contact by PG&E representatives.

While use of lead paint is still allowed on commercial structures, Liebelt said PG&E is voluntarily undertaking the repainting program — expected to cost $300 million to $400 million — out of concern for pubic health. PG&E no longer uses lead paint on its towers, Liebelt said.

Read more at: PG&E plans to repaint transmission towers coated with lead paint | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living

SMART to build second commuter rail station in Petaluma

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A deal stuck last month between commuter and freight rail agencies could lead to the development of an east Petaluma rail station and a downtown mixed use project.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority, which is preparing to launch commuter train service from Santa Rosa to San Rafael later this year, reached the deal with the North Coast Railroad Authority, which operates freight trains on the same stretch of tracks.

As part of the sweeping operating agreement, the NCRA agreed to vacate the downtown rail yard adjacent to the train station on Lakeville Street. NCRA had an easement to park freight trains on the property, complicating SMART’s efforts to develop the land.

“It’s a positive step and a victory for Petaluma,”said Supervisor David Rabbitt, a SMART board member. “It does clear the way for things to move forward.”

With NCRA ceding its interest in the property, SMART is now free to pursue a deal with a developer to sell the downtown land in exchange for construction of a second Petaluma commuter rail platform at Corona Road. The long envisioned second station was promised to voters who approved the commuter rail agency in 2008, but was removed from the initial plans as the agency faced budget uncertainty during the recession.

Read more at: SMART deal could lead to second Petaluma station | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

Filed under Land Use, Transportation

Sonoma County Forests, Part Two: Changing woodlands

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a series about the indigenous forests that blanket Sonoma County — their past, present and threats to their future.This is the second in a series of three stories about Sonoma County forests that will be published in Sonoma Outdoors.

Part 1: The history of Sonoma County forests, January

Part 2: Where our forests stand now, February

Part 3: Our forests’ future, March

The 2017 North Coast Forest Conservation Conference, “Growing Resilience,” will take place June 7-9 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, 7450 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville.

More information: Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group, sonomaforests.org

For the latest on the Sonoma County Vegetation map, visit sonomavegmap.org

Our forests “are undergoing a sea change,” observes Mark Tukman, founder of Tukman Geospatial, who is spearheading the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District’s development of a fine-scale vegetation map.

“I’ve spent over a year looking at aerial photos and coordinating field teams. Many of our oak woodlands are disappearing rapidly, transitioning to Douglas fir and California bay,” he said.

In many places this is visible at ground level — dead manzanitas scattered beneath oaks dying in the shade of Douglas firs — a century of change visible in a glance. Of course, oaks and firs represent just a few of our native trees. Sonoma County’s wide range of geology, soils, landforms and climate has been described as “where Alaska meets Mexico.” With 10 species of oaks and 19 conifers, our forests reflect this diversity.

Close up, they can seem infinitely complex. But if you pull back, larger patterns emerge. Moving west to east, conifers grow in parallel bands — Bishop pine along the cool coast, then redwoods, and finally Douglas fir reaching warmer areas far inland. Interspersed are woodlands of oak, bay, madrone and other hardwoods. There are no hard boundaries between any of these types — in fact mixed conifer-hardwood forests are more common than either alone.

By the early 20th century, forested lands had seen severe impacts. Logged-off tracts of redwood and Douglas fir were now brushy and crowded with young trees. Oak and madrone woodlands, leveled for firewood, had become grassland. Settlements replaced oak savannahs. By all indications, there were far less trees 100 years ago than today.

Read more at: The state of Sonoma County’s forests | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats

Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After living along the Laguna de Santa Rosa for decades, Joe Aggio and his family have grown accustomed to having their land swamped with water, as has been the case this year, the waterway swollen to its greatest extent in more than a decade.

But the floodplain around their dairy farm also has become much more of a nuisance over the years.

Aggio, 32, said the wetland around his farm between Occidental Road and Guerneville Road used to be manageable and clean, flooding in the winter before draining off so his family could grow crops to feed their cows. But the waterway has become increasingly plugged with sediment, invasive Ludwigia plants, garbage and other discarded items like shopping carts and couches, he said.

“It no longer flows. It no longer drains. It’s just a stagnant mess,” Aggio said. “We’ve lost crops because of it. We haven’t gotten crops in because of it … It’s become increasingly difficult to farm the land.”

So Aggio’s hopes were raised recently when Sonoma County Water Agency officials secured a grant to move forward with plans that could eventually help alleviate the challenges faced by his farm and other landowners along the 22-mile waterway.

With funds from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Water Agency and environmental groups are embarking on a massive planning effort to revitalize the watershed that stretches from Cotati north to Windsor and takes in rural areas east and west of Santa Rosa.

The watershed, which includes Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks and many other smaller streams and wetlands, has been altered significantly over generations by agricultural and urban development.

One result of its transformation is the Laguna now fills with more sediment than it once did, at times hampering its ability to drain floodwaters into the Russian River.

“If this happens over a very long period of time — we’re talking hundreds of years — that eventually will get to a point where it could back up drainage back into Santa Rosa, Cotati and Rohnert Park,” said Mike Thompson, assistant general manager of the county Water Agency. “This is well beyond our lifetimes, but if it keeps filling up like that, the storage and flood protection of the Laguna that naturally occurs is being taken away.”

Armed with $517,000 in state grant funds, the Water Agency and other groups expect to spend the next three years developing a comprehensive restoration plan for the watershed. Project partners include the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.

Read more at: Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed | The Press Democrat

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