Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat

Nick Rahaim, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“There’s not a lot of information out there about how to protect habitat in watersheds,” Green said. “Many people don’t realize fast-flowing, unobstructed creeks are not how this area evolved.”

Walking along the shaded banks of Dutch Bill Creek outside Occidental, geomorphologist John Green and environmental scientist Derek Acomb are satisfied with the winter that just passed. A deluge of water swelled thirsty watersheds, and strong winds knocked down an untold number of trees throughout the Sonoma County.

“It’s been a good year for trees coming down,” said Acomb, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s all about context; it’s all about where you are.”

While falling trees are a threat to both life and property, they create healthy habitats for coho salmon and steelhead trout. As much as dams, logging, agricultural runoff and overfishing throughout the decades have contributed to the collapse of salmon and trout populations, clearing creeks and rivers of downed trees and upended roots has been a major driver, too, Acomb said.

With more than 90 percent of the county’s watershed in private hands, the onus is on landowners to protect riparian habitat on their property. Before an individual can alter downed trees, logs and other forest material in waterways on their property, they must first receive a free permit from Fish and Wildlife — unless there is an immediate threat to life and property. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District can also assist in the process, said Green, the lead scientist and program manager there..

There are times when property owners call Fish and Wildlife, afraid debris in a nearby stream might flood their property or their homes. While there are serious emergencies, he said, most trees don’t pose an immediate threat.

“When they call, they’re in a survival state-of-mind,” Acomb said. “Then the following day the water has subsided and they see they’re going to be OK.”

Until the late 1990s, flood protection was the primary focus when managing creeks, streams and rivers, not habitat protection, said Green, overlooking a creek flowing through Westminster Woods where he has devoted a decade of work. The faster the water flows, the more quickly it can drain water when the rivers hit flood levels.

But without the protection from pools created by debris shaping the creek beds and slowing down the flow of water, juvenile salmon and trout are vulnerable to predators like river otters, raccoons and blue herons, Green said. Pools created by fallen timber also provide a place for coho to wait out a long, dry Californian summer before they finally venture out to the ocean in the winter months, he continued.

“With a little less flood capacity you can have a huge increase in habitat,” Acomb said, standing on the mossy bank next to Green. While the two work for different agencies, they have partnered to restore habitat in west Sonoma County.

Read more at: Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Standing Rock activist speaks at SRJC

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“This is a low-level oil war going on right in our country,” he [Iron Eyes] said, adding that activists “faced deadly force, people faced corporate-sponsored, state-executed” violence, and that the Keystone project will bring more of the same.

Even though oil has begun to flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline, the months-long battle against the controversial pipeline has fueled resistance against an economic system that puts corporate interests ahead of people’s rights, said Chase Iron Eyes, a Native American activist and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Speaking Monday afternoon to a packed crowd of students, faculty and local activists gathered at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Bertolini Student Center, Iron Eyes said the activism at Standing Rock has also energized political resistance against President Donald Trump, who green-lighted the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL, and also resurrected the Keystone XL pipeline.

DAPL’s final segment was recently completed after Trump signed an executive order in January lifting President Barack Obama’s administrative opposition to the project. Obama rejected the Keystone project in 2015.

Iron Eyes said those who supported the movement against DAPL have a “responsibility, the duty to take what is powerful from Standing Rock, from the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers” and consider it a victory, even though the protest camps have been razed.

Read more at: Standing Rock activist at SRJC: Standing Rock protest energized political resistance | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable Living, Water

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

Pernicious pesticides hiding in plain sight

Megan Kaun, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

We talk a lot these days about the importance of civic engagement. If you are convinced that pesticides and your family should not mix, adopt your favorite park or school campus. Though they might be hesitant initially to change the way things are done, with persistence and a smile they will probably allow you to do their job for them.

What’s yellow and orange and dead all over?

Bright orange streaks pop from the verdant Sonoma County landscape this spring. These are poisoned plants, treated by glyphosate. If you are like me, you may have overlooked this phenomenon, but once you know, it is impossible to ignore.Glyphosate (ɡlīf-ə-sāt), the active ingredient in products like RoundUp®, is the chemical of choice for weed control.

Originally promoted for its safety compared to other pesticides, increasing evidence links glyphosate to cancer and other significant health issues. However, these dangers are largely unrecognized by its users and the general public. In fact, the County of Sonoma alone sprayed over 3,800 gallons of glyphosate-based pesticides in public spaces in 2015; from Spring Lake in Santa Rosa to Sunset Beach in Guerneville.

For a long time, I didn’t notice the dead orange weeds along the sidewalks, nor did I think about how they might be affecting my family’s health and local wildlife. I avoided using pesticides at home, but I didn’t consider use at our parks and schools. I am an environmental engineer, who spent my early career cleaning up toxic waste, so I should have known better. Two years ago I was unaware. Then a personal experience woke me up.

Read more at: Pernicious Pesticides – Hiding in Plain Sight – April 2017

Filed under Sustainable Living

Petaluma’s Enphase Energy strives to survive as solar industry transforms 

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

New opportunities are expected to shine soon on the world’s solar industry, and Petaluma’s Enphase Energy is striving to survive long enough to enjoy them.

The energy tech company with 350 employees has reported annual losses every year since it went public in 2012, including nearly $67.5 million worth of red ink last year. Since September, it has gone through two rounds of layoffs and raised about $26 million by issuing new stock and bringing in two major investors.

Enphase officials say with confidence that a turnaround is underway and the company is on track to make a profit in the second half of 2017. Its employees have worked to significantly cut the cost of producing its signature devices, microinverters that take DC, or direct current, power from solar panels and transform it into AC, or alternating current, power for homes.

And one of its recent products, an encased home battery system, is making its U.S. debut just as the rules governing solar energy rates are changing in California, home to half the nation’s solar production.

Due to the rate change, new rooftop solar owners are expected to make less money than their predecessors for the power they sell to utilities in the Golden State. As such, energy storage systems and rate-savvy monitoring technology could one day help future solar owners take advantage of the best times to buy, sell and store power.“

The way people are approaching the solar business today will look antiquated in just a couple of years from now,” said Enphase President and CEO Paul Nahi.

Residents won’t simply buy solar panels, but complete energy packages that include storage and operating systems managed in the cloud, he said. And Enphase has the products and software technology to maximize efficiency.

Read more at: Petaluma’s Enphase Energy strives to survive as solar industry transforms | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Strong surge in solar in county

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County shared in the U.S. solar industry’s boom times last year, with strong job growth reported here, a jump partly attributed to increased customer demand and a rush to take advantage of federal tax credits.

The county ranked 13th for 2016 among the nation’s metropolitan areas based on the number of solar-related jobs, according to a new report by the Solar Foundation of Washington, D.C. Employment in the county’s solar sector grew 44 percent from a year earlier to 3,476 jobs.

Some Northern California communities enjoyed even bigger growth rates.

The San Francisco/Oakland area, the top-ranked metro area in the United States for solar jobs, reported a total of 26,000 such workers last year, an increase of 67 percent from 2015.Sacramento, which ranked sixth, saw its solar jobs grow 99 percent, while San Luis Obispo, ranked 15th, had an increase of 137 percent.

In contrast, the nation’s solar workforce grew by 25 percent last year. That compares with an annual growth rate of about 20 percent for the previous three years.“California is obviously the leading market in terms of solar in the U.S.,” said Andrea Luecke, the foundation’s president and executive director.

Santa Rosa has distinguished itself for encouraging solar by becoming one of only 21 communities in the nation to receive the top-ranked SolSmart Gold designation, Luecke noted. The recognition is part of a U.S. Department of Energy program that is administered by the Solar Foundation.

Read more at: Sonoma County solar industry ranks 13th in nation for job numbers | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy

Op-Ed: Paulin Creek Preserve is a place worth keeping 

Tim Stafford, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Early in 2002, I asked then-Mayor Mike Martini if he would like to take a short hike on land that was coming up for a Santa Rosa zoning decision. I knew Martini casually because our kids went to school together. Like a lot of my neighbors, I had concerns about a developer’s plans to build houses on land where we had taken innumerable walks and where my children had spent many hours exploring. He accepted my offer, so on a rainy day I showed him the land.

I didn’t try to discuss the land-use decision with Martini, and he didn’t say much as we hiked. I had the impression, however, that he was stunned by the beauty he saw. That impression was ratified by his subsequent actions. Within days, he had talked to the major players involved and helped arrange for the Open Space District to buy the land.

The arrangement was celebrated as a win for everybody. The Press Democrat wrote an editorial citing it as a great example of government working together for the common good. Chris Coursey, then a columnist for the paper, wrote enthusiastically of the “little slice of wilderness” that had been preserved.

Joined to two adjacent parcels that run along Paulin Creek — one a small pie-shaped county-owned property known as Parcel J, the other a larger parcel owned by the Water Agency for flood control — the open-space property was named Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve and shown on Open Space District maps. A large sign at the head of Beverly Way, the only road access to Parcel J, was put up by a county agency stating the existence of Paulin Creek Preserve as an entity preserved by multiple government agencies and urging that it be used with care. We neighbors believed the matter was settled forever.

In Coursey’s column, he quoted Martini saying, “I didn’t know places like this existed in Santa Rosa anymore.” Fifteen years later, it still does. But it may not, if the county’s plan to include Parcel J in the sale of the old Sutter Hospital property goes through. Parcel J has nothing to do with the hospital properties. They are adjacent, but they don’t access each other, not even on foot. But Parcel J is critical to the Paulin Creek Preserve. Without it, the other two properties are cut off from each other.

To be clear, the neighbors trying to separate Parcel J from the land sale have no objection to the development of the hospital lands. We know that housing is needed, and even though we live very close to that potential development, we aren’t opposed to it. What we hope to preserve is the small, beautiful swath of meadow and oak-studded hills, the wetlands and the creek that make up the Paulin Creek Preserve.

Read more at: Close to Home: Paulin Creek Preserve is a place worth keeping | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use

Sonoma County supervisors to serve on boards of three new groundwater agencies 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County is pressing forward with plans to regulate local groundwater use for the first time as officials move to establish three new agencies that will be charged with managing one of the area’s most critical resources.

The Board of Supervisors weighed in Tuesday on the efforts of county staff members to implement a 2014 state law mandating the creation of so-called groundwater sustainability agencies in certain areas by June 30. Based on the law’s requirements, the county is forming such agencies for three of its groundwater basins: the Santa Rosa Plain, the Petaluma Valley and the Sonoma Valley.

Each agency will be governed by a board with elected or appointed members from various entities eligible to participate under the law, called the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The law empowers the groundwater agencies to, among other duties, conduct studies, regulate extraction and assess fees. California landowners have historically not been limited in their ability to extract the groundwater beneath their properties.

“It’s certainly never easy to form a new regulatory entity, especially one that eventually will meddle, quite frankly, in something that for decades — if not longer — has not been meddled in,” Supervisor David Rabbitt said.

Read more at: Sonoma County supervisors to serve on boards of three new groundwater agencies | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Bill McNamara is Glen Ellen’s ‘Indiana Jones’ of rare plants 

Meg McConahey, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“When the plants go extinct, the animals that depend on them go extinct. And it’s completely ignored,” [McNamara] said. “Most biologists who are aware of this are convinced that by the end of the century, if current trends continue, we will lose half of all animals and half of all plants will be gone.”

For a onetime landscaper from California, it was a Cinderella moment — standing beneath the glass vaulted ceiling of the Edwardian Lindley Hall in London, accepting one of the world’s highest honors in horticulture.

The crowd that applauded American Bill McNamara as he accepted the prestigious Veitch Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society on Feb. 22, included finely dressed members of England’s titled gentry and some of the biggest names in the botanical realm over which Great Britain still rules.

“It was such a big honor, it was a shock,” said McNamara, now comfortably back in his bluejeans at Quarryhill Botanical Garden, a refuge for rare and endangered Asian plants that he gathered himself from seed in wild and remote corners of China. In just 30 years, a mere baby in the world of botanical gardens, Quarryhill has come to be considered one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world, numbering close to 2,000 species plants in their natural form, unchanged by man through hybridization.

Read more at: Bill McNamara is Glen Ellen’s ‘Indiana Jones’ of rare plants | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Land Use