Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , ,

‘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

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Op-Ed: Newsom is being played by Big Ag on Delta water

Editorial Board, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

Governor must use best available science to protect California’s fresh water supply

He won’t admit it, but Gavin Newsom is being played by Big Ag interests as he tries fruitlessly to negotiate a truce in California’s water wars.

The governor’s apparent willingness to play into the hands of monied, agri-business players at the expense of the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta remains the biggest mystery of his short tenure. It also threatens to trash his reputation as a strong protector of California’s environment.

The Delta supplies water for 25 million Californians, including about one-third of Bay Area residents. Scientists agree that allowing more, not less, water to flow through the Delta and west toward San Francisco Bay is essential for protecting fish life and providing a clean supply of drinking water for current and future generations. That means restricting pumping of water out the south end of the Delta into Central Valley farmland.

The governor has been trying for months to get the major urban and ag players to reach a voluntary agreement on water flows from the Delta. His stated goal has been to avoid the lengthy lawsuits that follow a state mandate. But on Dec. 10, the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural district in the nation, threatened to pull out of the talks. Westlands General Manager Tom Birmingham said “it would be impossible to reach a voluntary agreement” if Newsom followed through on his November pledge to sue the Trump administration over the federal government’s plan to pump more water south to Central Valley farmers.

It’s the same strategy Westlands used in September to pressure the governor to veto SB 1. The bill would have established as state standards the federal environmental protections that existed before Trump became president.

SB 1 offered Newsom the tool needed to thwart the Trump administration. It might have also given the governor leverage to bring environmentalists and farming interests to the table to reach a voluntary agreement on Delta water flows. But the governor caved to Big Ag interests in hopes that they would work cooperatively on a negotiated deal. We see how well that strategy worked.

The question now is whether Newsom will capitulate again to agriculture interests by backing down on his promise of a lawsuit to block the federal government’s planned increase of Delta water diversions.

The governor has repeatedly made clear that he “will rely on the best available science to protect our environment.” That science is unequivocal.

In the same week that Newsom vowed to sue the Trump administration, the state released a draft environmental impact report based on “a decade of science and a quantitative analysis of best-available data on flows, modeling, habitat and climate change impacts.” The report made clear that the operating rules proposed by the Trump administration “are not scientifically adequate and fall short of protecting species and the state’s interests.”

The scientists in charge of the drafting the federal government’s environmental impact plan said much the same. That is, until the Trump administration got wind of the conclusions and promptly replaced the scientists. In short order, a new report emerged saying pumping an additional 500,000 acre-feet (one acre foot of water is enough to supply two households for a year) to the Central Valley wouldn’t hurt the Delta’s health.

The ball is in Newsom’s court. The governor should follow through on his lawsuit against the Trump administration and act on the best available science to secure California’s fresh water supply.

Source: https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/12/29/editorial-newsom-is-being-played-by-big-ag-on-delta-water/

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

Crab harvest is not only light, but late

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The rush to renew a North Coast New Year’s tradition — feasting on freshly caught Dungeness crab — may help ease the pinch of a late start to the season for fishermen and retailers, but mediocre early returns have so far added a little lemon juice to the cut endured this year by the fleet.

“I won’t say it’s poor,” said Bodega Bay fisherman Dick Ogg, before offering a laugh. “I’ll say it’s less than good. It’s not exactly what we had expected. Our original anticipation was that there were a fair quantity of crabs in the area. Unfortunately, that is not the case.”

The prediction of a mountain of Dungeness crab lying in wait at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean prompted a number of fishing boats from outside the area to descend this month on Bodega Bay.

They had time, as the season was delayed a month until Dec. 15 to allow endangered humpback whales time to clear the area and head south to their winter home off the coast of Mexico.

Ogg, the vice president of Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Marketing Association, said the added pressure didn’t help matters, but it ultimately comes down to this: There just aren’t as many crabs as predicted. And at this point, Ogg said, “the majority have been caught.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/10528717-181/north-coast-tradition-renewed-as

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Trawlers return to Pacific fishing area in rare environmental success story

Associated Press, THE GUARDIAN

A rare environmental success story is unfolding in waters off the US west coast.

After years of fear and uncertainty, bottom trawler fishermen – those who use nets to catch rockfish, bocaccio, sole, Pacific Ocean perch and other deep-dwelling fish – are making a comeback here, reinventing themselves as a sustainable industry less than two decades after authorities closed huge stretches of the Pacific Ocean because of the species’ depletion.

The ban devastated fishermen, but on 1 January, regulators will reopen an area roughly three times the size of Rhode Island off Oregon and California to groundfish bottom trawling – all with the approval of environmental groups that were once the industry’s biggest foes.

The rapid turnaround features collaboration between the fishermen and environmentalists who spent years refining a long-term fishing plan that will continue to resuscitate the groundfish industry while permanently protecting thousands of square miles of reefs and coral beds that benefit the overfished species.

Now, the fishermen who see their livelihood returning must solve another piece of the puzzle: drumming up consumer demand for fish that haven’t been in grocery stores or on menus for a generation.

“It’s really a conservation home run,” said Shems Jud, regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund’s ocean program. “The recovery is decades ahead of schedule. It’s the biggest environmental story that no one knows about.”

Read more at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/26/fishing-groundfish-trawlers-oregon-california-environment

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Petaluma ranchers beefing about slaughterhouse access

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS COURIER

Last month, Pam Torliatt loaded 25 grass-fed black Angus beef cows onto trucks and shipped them off for sale. The mass exodus represented a quarter of the herd she raised with partner Leo Ghirardelli on organic pastures in Tomales and Pepper Road west of Petaluma.

Since starting the Progressive Pastures label in 2006, Torliatt has peddled beef at Petaluma Market, giving local customers the satisfaction that their food was raised, harvested and sold within a 16-mile radius.

But all that is coming to an end after this year.

Marin Sun Farms, which owns the slaughterhouse on Petaluma Boulevard North — the only USDA-certified meat processing plant in the Bay Area — has informed ranchers that, starting in January, it will no longer process animals for private labels such as Progressive Pastures.

“This puts us out of the business of selling to the retail market,” said Torliatt, a former Petaluma mayor. “Knowing that our community is losing the ability to harvest locally, it’s going to have a tremendous impact on agricultural infrastructure. It’s going to have a negative affect on local agriculture.”

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/home/a1/10320684-181/petaluma-ranchers-beefing-about-slaughterhouse

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Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists

Alastair Bland, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/11/18/774859696/wine-moguls-destroy-land-and-pay-small-fines-as-cost-of-business-say-activists

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As bears move into Sonoma County, wildlife advocates seek to keep them safe, wild

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Aaron Bennett’s thinking goes something like this: Black bears had long since claimed territory in the Anderson Valley lands where his parents established Navarro Vineyards decades ago, so when the family planted pinot noir at high elevation in the mid-1990s, it was the humans who would have to learn to share.

That’s why he, his parents and sister so willingly tolerate the nighttime visitors to their vineyard, even supplying a playful Winnie the Pooh soundtrack to a compilation video they’ve posted online documenting hungry bears roaming through the grapevines in recent months.

“I grew up on the ranch. I see the bears just as cohabitants of the land,” said Bennett, 41.

The bears eat a ton or two of grapes each season — perhaps as much as $10,000 worth. It’s a sizable hit, but “it’s not the bear’s fault that we put pinot noir on the hills,” Bennett aid.

But even he acknowledged his view of the situation is not one that’s universally shared.

Data from California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife reflects a sometimes adverse human-bear relationship in Mendocino County and other rural North Coast counties, where the bear population is particularly dense.

But that could change. And with the increased presence of bears around the wild edges of Sonoma County in recent years has come a budding movement to prepare for their expansion south, in a bid to keep them wild and safe.

The newly formed North Bay Bear Collaborative is the product of conversations going back several years, when early signs began to indicate that what had been mostly transient visitors were beginning to settle in year-round.

The aim is to help humans adjust to their new neighbors and head off any conflicts.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10188029-181/as-bears-move-into-sonoma

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Sonoma County drills wells to study groundwater sustainability

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The shallow wells Sonoma County’s water agency is drilling near 11 waterways have nothing to do with delivering water to 600,000 residents of Sonoma and Marin counties.

Instead, the 21 wells will serve as measuring sticks to determine whether pumping groundwater in the county’s three basins — the Santa Rosa Plain, Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley — is curbing the flow in creeks inhabited by federally protected fish and other species.

The $300,000 project is the latest consequence of a state law, enacted during California’s five-year drought, requiring long-term sustainability of underground water supplies that were heavily tapped during the prolonged dry spell.

And that means assessing the connection between surface water and groundwater and possibly, for the first time in state history, setting limits on use of well water by residents, ranchers, businesses and public water systems.

“We can’t see what’s beneath the surface, so these monitoring wells will act like underground telescopes. They can help us see how much and when water is available,” county Supervisor Susan Gorin said in a statement.

Gorin is chairwoman of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which covers the basin seen as most susceptible to depletion. Local agencies were formed in 2017 in each of the county’s basins to implement mandates of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that became law in 2015 amid the state’s historic drought.

Farming interests generally have taken a dim view of the increased monitoring and prospect of pumping limits. During the recent drought, when stream flows were greatly diminished statewide, Central Valley farmers especially drew heavily on groundwater at rates that officials said were unsustainable, risking a whole host of related environmental impacts — on drinking water, soil and wildlife.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10275251-181/sonoma-county-drills-wells-to

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Sonoma County wine industry seeks to sway county planners on land-use regulations

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Leaders of Sonoma County’s wine industry on Monday fired a new volley in the protracted, cyclical battle over the expansion of their industry, hosting political appointees and county staff for a “mobile educational workshop” in an effort to inject industry-friendly language into long-delayed land-use policy.

Sonoma County Vintners, an industry trade association, organized the unique public meeting of the county’s Planning Commission, with stops including a recently completed 24-person, dormitory-style farmworker residence near Cloverdale, MacRostie Winery Estate west of Healdsburg and Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens north of Santa Rosa.

In Cloverdale, it was housing; at Kendall-Jackson, code enforcement. But the backdrop for the meeting was Permit Sonoma’s move to update an ordinance related to agricultural promotional activities — wine tastings and other events that fuel traffic and other impacts in rural areas.

Milan Nevajda, deputy director for Permit Sonoma, the county’s planning department, said the goal is to create an ordinance that balances the tension between what the industry needs and ensuring it can be a good neighbor.

The tension has existed for two decades, as hundreds of new wineries have come on line since the turn of the century, and the business model has shifted to seek more direct-to-consumer sales that have brought forth wine clubs, more tasting rooms and weddings and special, members-only dinners.

Opponents of that expansion have complained about the noise and the traffic, which they say detracts from the bucolic feel of the countryside.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10203620-181/sonoma-county-wine-industry-seeks

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Sonoma County supervisors remove granny unit restrictions on some farm parcels

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Last year, Jennifer Mann sold her home in Santa Rosa’s Junior College District around the same time her son and daughter-in-law sold their home in downtown Sebastopol.

With the goal of establishing a “family compound,” they bought a home in rural Sebastopol, a unique, three-story, dome-shaped house that looks like a cross between a barn and an observatory.

It’s cramped for a growing family. Mann, a retired Santa Rosa Junior College employee, lives on the first floor, her two grandkids on the second and her son and daughter-in-law on the third.

“We have three acres and we always planned to build a second unit for me, so I could live on the land,” Mann said.

Until recently those plans were hindered by a county zoning restriction known as a “Z District,” which prohibits the construction of granny units in certain agricultural zones.

The restriction was aimed at preserving the county’s agricultural resources and preventing nonfarming residences from encroaching into agricultural lands. However, many smaller parcels restricted by a Z District do not qualify for farm-related housing because they do not meet size and agriculture production requirements.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10091428-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-remove-granny