Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Scott Dam slated for removal in plan by Sonoma County and partners to control hydropower project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Enviro Updates: From the Eel River Action Plan 2016, by California Trout: “The Eel River is the third largest river entirely in California.The Eel River ecosystem, its salmon and steelhead populations, and other native fish and wildlife populations have been in decline for the past century and a half. It has been transformed from one of the most productive river ecosystems along the Pacific Coast to a degraded river with heavily impaired salmonid populations.”

A nearly century-old dam on the Eel River that impounds Lake Pillsbury is slated for removal under a $500 million proposal helmed by Sonoma County and four other regional partners seeking to take over from PG&E a remote but pivotal hydropower project in Mendocino County.

The coalition, including Mendocino and Humboldt counties, hailed the proposal as a milestone in their effort to meet the needs of all three counties, protecting water supplies for farmers, fish and communities, including a key source of supplemental water for the Russian River system that serves 600,000  customers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

The dam removal alone, a long-sought goal of environmental groups and fish advocates, would be the highest-profile project to improve habitat for imperiled North Coast salmon and steelhead in decades, perhaps behind only the dam removals planned on the Klamath River within the next two years.

“The good news is that Scott Dam is coming out,” said Scott Greacen, conservation director for Friends of the Eel River, a nonprofit that for decades has been pursuing removal to open up more than 300 miles of spawning habitat in the upper Eel. Due mainly to dams, water diversion and other development, the river’s salmon and steelhead “have paid a devastating price, going from a million fish a year to the brink of extinction,” he said.

The proposal, submitted Wednesday to federal officials, has also stirred passions among those dismayed by the prospective loss of a 2,300-acre recreational lake deep in the Lake County portion of Mendocino National Forest. Santa Rosa residents George and Carol Cinquini, who have held a cabin at Lake Pillsbury since the 1940s, are annoyed that the 450 homeowners, ranchers and small business owners in the lake community were excluded from the planning process.

“We tried to get our foot in the door,” said Carol Cinquini, vice president of the Lake Pillsbury Alliance, which was formed last year.

“We’re very upset,” said George Cinquini, an alliance board member. The reservoir, about two hours from Santa Rosa is a haven for water sports, and without it, Cinquini warned, Russian River flows will be diminished in dry years.

But North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who brought local shareholders together to chart the project’s future, said the proposal is the only way to guarantee a “really important water resource” for the Russian River.

The 98-year-old dam has long outlived its purpose, he said, and the coalition project, dubbed the Two-Basin Partnership, calls for habitat restoration “to rejuvenate one of our great salmon rivers in California.”

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, whose district stretches across both drainages, called for Lake County to be added to the partnership because Lake Pillsbury and most of the Eel River’s headwaters are in the county.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10960029-181/sonoma-county-backs-plan-to

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COVID-19 stimulus measures must save lives, protect livelihoods, and safeguard nature to reduce the risk of future pandemics

Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio and Dr. Peter Daszak, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

There is a single species that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic – us. As with the climate and biodiversity crises, recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity – particularly our global financial and economic systems, based on a limited paradigm that prizes economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.

Diseases like COVID-19 are caused by microorganisms that infect our bodies – with more than 70% of all emerging diseases affecting people having originated in wildlife and domesticated animals. Pandemics, however, are caused by activities that bring increasing numbers of people into direct contact and often conflict with the animals that carry these pathogens.

Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases from wildlife to people. This often occurs in areas where communities live that are most vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Our actions have significantly impacted more than three quarters of the Earth’s land surface, destroyed more than 85% of wetlands and dedicated more than a third of all land and almost 75% of available freshwater to crops and livestock production.

Add to this the unregulated trade in wild animals and the explosive growth of global air travel and it becomes clear how a virus that once circulated harmlessly among a species of bats in Southeast Asia has now infected almost 3 million people, brought untold human suffering and halted economies and societies around the world. This is the human hand in pandemic emergence.

Yet this may be only the beginning. Although animal-to-human diseases already cause an estimated 700,000 deaths each year, the potential for future pandemics is vast. As many as 1.7 million unidentified viruses of the type known to infect people are believed to still exist in mammals and water birds. Any one of these could be the next ‘Disease X’ – potentially even more disruptive and lethal than COVID-19.

Read more at https://ipbes.net/covid19stimulus

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Natural and working lands most cost-effective among our climate solutions

Grace Perry, CALIFORNIA CLIMATE & AGRICULTURE NETWORK (CALCAN)

The natural and working lands recommended carbon sink actions were selected by scientists from more than 50 carbon storage pathways because of their low cost and productivity estimates. In total, the study estimates that natural and working lands can sequester an estimated 25.5 million tons of carbon annually. Other studies suggest that natural and working lands climate strategies can sequester even greater amounts of carbon, but not without scaling up and accelerating better management of natural and working lands.

Natural and working lands solutions

Aligning with the variety of natural and working landscapes present throughout California, the LLNL report recommends a suite of natural and working lands interventions to achieve emission reductions—including forest, wetland and grassland restoration, and healthy soils practices. Additionally, the report acknowledges the importance of reducing the likelihood of natural and working lands to act as a carbon emitter through land preservation and wildfire management.

Forest, wetland and grassland practices

Forest, wetland and grassland interventions consist of scaling up restoration practices that enhance carbon sequestration capacity. Reforestation and changes to forest management are among the recommended practices.

Soil practices

The potential for increasing carbon sinks in soils is well documented. As such, the LLNL researchers focused heavily on the potential of soil emission reduction drawing on their own extensive research. They propose California adopt a broad range of healthy soils practices—including cover cropping and composting—to meet the carbon sequestration potential of natural and working lands. They also acknowledge the importance of reducing the rate of carbon emission from soils, which can be achieved by limiting physical disturbance through reduced or no-till farming. In total, the near-term potential for carbon sequestration in California soils is estimated to be around 3.9 million tons of CO2 per year. This yields a total of 25.5 million tons of CO2 per year of sequestration potential by 2045 when combined with other natural and working lands solutions.

Read more at http://calclimateag.org/natural-and-working-lands-most-cost-effective-among-our-climate-solutions-from-lawrence-livermore-national-laboratory/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

Environmental Working Group publishes its “Dirty Dozen” list for 2020

Zee Krstic, GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

Each spring, the Environmental Working Group (also known as the EWG) publishes a list of fruits and vegetables that experts at the nonprofit say contain elevated levels of pesticides that may be concerning. Now known as the Dirty Dozen list to health experts and in-the-know shoppers, the list has long called conventional farming methods into question, especially as the EWG also publishes a competing list called the Clean Fifteen that highlights produce containing little to no pesticides when grown conventionally.

Read more at https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a31916678/dirty-dozen-foods-2020-list/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags

Sonoma County farmworkers and the 2017 and 2019 wildfires

Martin Bennett, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Last year the trade publication Wine Enthusiast recognized Sonoma County as the ‘Wine Region of the Year,’ and the Sonoma County Winegrowers Association announced that 99 percent of the county vineyards achieved their ‘sustainability’ certification. But the county’s farmworkers — who produce the wealth of wine country — are mostly invisible to the public. Winegrowers and the media rarely recognize the actual value of their labor, and their contribution to the local economy is seldom acknowledged.

Winegrowers and the media rarely recognize the actual value of their labor, and their contribution to the local economy is seldom acknowledged. Image: pxhere.com-Creative Commons CC0

Winegrowers and the media rarely recognize the actual value of their labor, and their contribution to the local economy is seldom acknowledged. Image: pxhere.com-Creative Commons CC0
Most county farmworkers do not earn a living wage nor receive employer-provided health insurance, lack access to affordable housing, and confront dangerous health and safety conditions on the job. A just, equitable and, sustainable recovery from the 2017 and 2019 wildfires must include new public policy and grower initiatives to improve the economic security and public health of farmworkers.

Nine out of 10 Sonoma County farmworkers are employed in the wine industry. Farm labor analyst Don Villarejo examined the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2017 Census and calculated the average hourly wage for a county farmworker employed directly by a farm operator for at least 150 days was $15.43 an hour; the weighted annual average income of all farmworkers who were used by growers and farm labor contractors was $21,920–these figures are likely slightly higher today due to recent increases in the minimum wage and new overtime requirements for farmworkers.

The Department of Labor National Agricultural Survey reports that few California farmworkers are employed full-time in agriculture: on average, they work just 36 weeks annually. UC Davis economist Phillip Martin calculated that in 2015 the average California farmworker, employed primarily in agriculture, earned only $20,500 annually. Three out of four California farmworkers had only one employer and, just 15 percent crossed the border or migrated between California agricultural regions.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-farmworkers-and-a-just-recovery

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors select insider as next agricultural commissioner

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is set next week to appoint Andrew Smith as the next agricultural commissioner, selecting the deputy to the former commissioner to oversee the county farming sector that produces $1 billion worth of crops annually.

Smith will replace Tony Linegar, who retired in mid-February after working as ag commissioner since 2012. The supervisors are expected to make Smith’s appointment official on Tuesday. His annual salary would be $148,769.

A Sonoma County native, Smith has been deputy commissioner since July 2017 and has worked in the commissioner’s office since May 2002, starting as program assistant and performing such duties as pest detection and trapping. He could not be reached on Wednesday to comment on his appointment.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/10783070-181/sonoma-county-leaders-select-insider

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Trump delivers on pledge for wealthy California farmers

Ellen Knickmeyer & Adam Beam, WSLS.com

Hoisting the spoils of victories in California’s hard-fought water wars, President Donald Trump is directing more of the state’s precious water to wealthy farmers and other agriculture interests when he visits their Republican Central Valley stronghold Wednesday.

Changes by the Trump administration are altering how federal authorities decide who gets water, and how much, in California, the U.S. state with the biggest population and economy and most lucrative farm output. Climate change promises to only worsen the state’s droughts and water shortages, raising the stakes.

Campaigning in the Central Valley farm hub of Fresno in 2016, Trump pledged then he’d be “opening up the water” for farmers. Candidate Trump denounced “insane” environmental rules meant to ensure that enough fresh water stayed in rivers and the San Francisco Bay to sustain more than a dozen endangered fish and other native species, which are struggling as agriculture and development diverts more water and land from wildlife.

Visiting Bakersfield in the Central Valley on Wednesday, Trump is expected to ceremoniously sign his administration’s reworking of those environmental rules. Environmental advocates and the state say the changes will allow federal authorities to pump more water from California’s wetter north southward to its biggest cities and farms.

The Trump administration, Republican lawmakers, and farm and water agencies say the changes will allow for more flexibility in water deliveries. In California’s heavily engineered water system, giant state and federal water projects made up of hundreds of miles of pipes, canals, pumps and dams, carry runoff from rain and Sierra Nevada snow melt from north to south — and serve as field of battle for lawsuits and regional political fights over competing demands for water.

Environmental groups say the changes will speed the disappearance of endangered winter-run salmon and other native fish, and make life tougher for whales and other creatures in the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.

After an initial study by federal scientists found the rule changes would harm salmon and whales, the Trump administration ordered a new round of review, California news organizations reported last year.

Read more at https://www.wsls.com/news/politics/2020/02/18/trump-delivers-on-pledge-for-wealthy-california-farmers/

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Retiring Sonoma County ag leader: Cannabis can be lifeline for grape growers, dairy farmers

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After eight years at the helm, Tony Linegar retired last week as Sonoma County agricultural commissioner, having overseen a tremendous amount of change in the farming sector that fetched a local record $1 billion of crops in 2018.

The 54-year-old Chico State graduate will be most remembered for his advocacy to treat cannabis and hemp just like any other crop, helping erase weed’s lingering stigma as a “stoner drug.”

He was instrumental in drafting local regulations for cannabis and hemp cultivation. He had vast experience with cannabis — which California legalized for recreational sales in 2018 — since he had previously worked in Mendocino County as its ag commissioner. He earlier worked in Shasta County, where he started in 1995 as an ag inspector.

Linegar took action here when vineyard owners violated local rules and had been vocal about upholding environmental and pest and disease protections in his talks with the politically influential wine sector. Although wine grapes represent a dominant 70% of the overall crop value of the county’s ag sector, he sees an industry in transition due to competitive pressures and evolving consumer tastes.

He thinks cannabis can help those small grape growers who are struggling to survive. Area dairy farmers, who have dealt with declining prices in the organic milk market, also will start growing or leasing their land for hemp and cannabis cultivation, he said.

Linegar sees the county’s agricultural sector becoming more balanced after a decadeslong dominance by the wine grape business.

“I do see more diversity coming into agriculture almost by necessity,” said Linegar, who is moving to Hawaii. “Whenever you have so many eggs in one basket, you are really vulnerable not only to market fluctuations but also pests and diseases. If you get a devastating pest come in, that can wreak havoc on a monoculture.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/10697266-181/retiring-sonoma-county-ag-leader

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Rising ocean acidity bad news for West Coast’s $200 million Dungeness crab fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Acidification of the world’s oceans was supposed to be a distant problem — nothing to worry about until some time in the future.

But a new study of juvenile Dungeness crab collected off the Pacific Northwest coast shows the crustaceans are vulnerable to conditions that exist right now.

Published last week in the journal “Science of The Total Environment,” the study found that tiny developing crabs sampled from coastal waters off Oregon and Washington suffered damage to their shells as well as to bristly, hairlike sensory organs believed to help them orient to their surroundings.

The findings have unsettling implications for a roughly $200 million West Coast fishery — California’s most valuable ocean crop and a key economic driver for struggling fishing ports on the North and Central Coast.

The California fleet caught more than $47 million worth of Dungeness crab last year, including nearly $5 million worth of crustaceans landed in Bodega Bay.

The new research, said veteran Bodega Bay fishermen Tony Anello, sounds “very discouraging.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10644113-181/rising-ocean-acidity-bad-news

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‘Like sending bees to war’: the deadly truth behind your almond-milk obsession

Annette McGivney, THE GUARDIAN

Bees are essential to the functioning of America’s titanic almond industry – and billions are dying in the process

Dennis Arp was feeling optimistic last summer, which is unusual for a beekeeper these days.

Thanks to a record wet spring, his hundreds of hives, scattered across the central Arizona desert, produced a bounty of honey. Arp would have plenty to sell in stores, but more importantly, the bumper harvest would strengthen his bees for their biggest task of the coming year.

Like most commercial beekeepers in the US, at least half of Arp’s revenue now comes from pollinating almonds. Selling honey is far less lucrative then renting out his colonies to mega-farms in California’s fertile Central Valley, home to 80% of the world’s almond supply.

But as winter approached, with Arp just months away from taking his hives to California, his bees started getting sick. By October, 150 of Arp’s hives had been wiped out by mites, 12% of his inventory in just a few months. “My yard is currently filled with stacks of empty bee boxes that used to contain healthy hives,” he says.

This shouldn’t be happening to someone like Arp, a beekeeper with decades of experience. But his story is not unique. Commercial beekeepers who send their hives to the almond farms are seeing their bees die in record numbers, and nothing they do seems to stop the decline.

A recent survey of commercial beekeepers showed that 50 billion bees – more than seven times the world’s human population – were wiped out in a few months during winter 2018-19. This is more than one-third of commercial US bee colonies, the highest number since the annual survey started in the mid-2000s.

Beekeepers attributed the high mortality rate to pesticide exposure, diseases from parasites and habitat loss. However, environmentalists and organic beekeepers maintain that the real culprit is something more systemic: America’s reliance on industrial agriculture methods, especially those used by the almond industry, which demands a large-scale mechanization of one of nature’s most delicate natural processes.
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Honeybees thrive in a biodiverse landscape. But California’s almond industry places them in a monoculture where growers expect the bees to be predictably productive year after year.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/07/honeybees-deaths-almonds-hives-aoe