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

Our love of almonds is seriously jeopardizing honeybees

Paige Embrey, HUFF POST

In January, with the almond bloom in California’s orchards a month away, beekeepers across the country were fretting over their hives. A lot of their bees were dead or sick. Beekeepers reported losing as much as half their hives over the winter.

Jack Brumley, a California beekeeper, said he’d heard of people losing 80% of their bees. Denise Qualls, a bee broker who connects keepers with growers, said she was seeing “a lot more panic occurring earlier.”

Rumors swirled of a potential shortage; almond growers scrambled to ensure they had enough bees to pollinate their valuable crop, reaching out to beekeepers as far away as Florida, striking deals with mom-and-pop operations that kept no more than a few hundred bees. NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a segment on the looming crisis in the almond groves.

By May, it was clear that California’s almond growers — who supply 80% of the world’s almonds — had successfully negotiated the threat of a bee shortage and were expected to produce a record crop of 2.5 billion pounds, up 10% from last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But the panic, it turns out, was justified. The results of this year’s annual Bee Informed Partnership survey, a collaboration by leading research labs released Wednesday, found that winter colony losses were nearly 38%, the highest rate since the survey began 13 years ago and almost 9% higher than the average loss.

The panic underscored a fundamental problem with the relationship between almonds and bees: Every year, the almond industry expands while the population of honeybees, beset by a host of afflictions, struggles to keep pace.

Read more at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/honey-bee-census-almonds_n_5d0a8726e4b0f7b7442b3aaa?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9uZXdzLmdvb2dsZS5jb20v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAGJJBiDGRCve7o6jN4qUrECrkbbhGDnhUcRQUW1kZcFn7P04RMyb9W9JKjmXY3Wk3I_uT-5O6weQrkuir5KZs5KJMF__gto7nuGAd6lTmxupeKBzyVN4YWJ1DlV_8QtfZpy72-bVD4mVdod1i9-3iaoZ5y7ZWFQ6GSHHbMRm0CFU

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

Animal welfare activists protest at Sonoma County Jail, courthouse

Nashelly Chavez, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Animal welfare activists gathered in front of the Sonoma County Jail on Tuesday, protesting the arrest of about 80 people who demonstrated a day earlier at a west Petaluma duck farm.

Tuesday’s action drew about 50 members of Direct Action Everywhere. The group organized the protest at Reichardt Duck Farm that included at least 300 demonstrators and prompted a response of more than 50 local and state law enforcement officers.

Monday’s arrests mostly involved suspected trespassing and felony conspiring to commit a crime, Sonoma County Sheriff’s spokesman Spencer Crum said. Protesters were given the option to be cited out of jail, though many refused to sign the citation form, he said.

“We’re calling upon Sonoma County authorities to prosecute criminal animal cruelty, not the whistleblowers,” said Cassie King, who took part in both protests.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9667427-181/animal-welfare-activists-protest-at

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California to ban pesticide chlorpyrifos

Brian Melley, ASSOCIATED PRESS

The nation’s most productive agricultural state moved Wednesday to ban a controversial pesticide widely used to control a range of insects but blamed for harming brain development in babies.

The move cheered by environmentalists would outlaw chlorpyrifos after scientists deemed it a toxic air contaminant and discovered it to be more dangerous than previously thought. California Environmental Secretary Jared Blumenfeld said it’s the first time the state has sought to ban a pesticide and the move was overdue.

“This pesticide is a neurotoxin, and it was first put on the market in 1965,” Blumenfeld said. “So it’s been on the shelf a long time, and it’s past its sell-by date.”

The decision comes after regulators in several states have taken steps in recent years to restrict the pesticide used on about 60 different crops in California, including grapes, almonds and oranges. Hawaii banned it last year, and New York lawmakers recently sent a measure to the governor outlawing use of the pesticide.

DowDuPont, which produces the pesticide, said it was disappointed with the decision and that farmers who rely on the pesticide say it will hurt their ability to control insects.

Read more at https://www.apnews.com/94c594ce51f441b6998fb83a4cda2c79

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

County of Sonoma proposing changes to Accessory Dwelling Unit Exclusions on AG Land

SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The County of Sonoma is proposing changes to the Z (Accessory Dwelling Unit Exclusion) Combining District. PRMD File No. ZPE18-0001. The Sonoma County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to review the proposed amendments and make its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

The public hearing will be held on May 2, 2019, at or after 1:20 p.m. at: Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department Hearing Room.2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the matter at a later date which will be publicly noticed at thattime.

Z District parcels in Agriculture zoned areas. Click to enlarge.

The proposed project would rezone smaller parcels in agricultural zones to remove the Z (Accessory Dwelling Unit Exclusion) Combining District, consistent with policies and programs in the Sonoma County General Plan. Rezoning would remove the prohibition on accessory dwelling units on affected parcels, but would not change the base zone or any other uses.

Eligible parcels were identified because they meet all of the following criteria:

Zoned Diverse Agriculture (DA), Land Intensive Agriculture (LIA), or Land Extensive Agriculture (LEA).
Not located in the Coastal Zone
Not under with a Land Conservation (Williamson Act) Contract
Not located in a Septic System Waiver Prohibition Area
Not located in the Traffic Sensitive Combining Zone
Not located in a High or Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone
Not located in the designated critical habitat area for the California Tiger Salamander

The following mapping tool may be used to determine whether your property may be affected by the proposed action.https://bit.ly/2QyXRxM.

The project also includes a proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment which would extend the applicability of groundwater standards to future accessory dwelling units proposed in areas where additional groundwater use has the potential to threaten groundwater dependent ecosystems.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Additional details of the project are available at the Permit and Resource Management Department at the address noted above or on the County’s website at:https://bit.ly/2PdJuf

The department has determined that this project is statutorily exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act pursuant to Public Resources Code Section 21080.17 because the proposed action would implement an accessory dwelling unit ordinance pursuant to Government Code sec. 65852.2.

GET INVOLVED: Written comments may be submitted prior to or at the hearing. Please submit written materials 5 days prior to the hearing date so that it can be distributed and considered by the decision- makers. Any written material submitted after this date will be distributed to the decision-makers prior to or at the hearing.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the proposed project, you may contact project planner, Doug Bush atDoug.Bush@sonoma-county.orgor (707) 565-5276.

If you challenge the decision on the project in court you may be limited to raising only those issues you or someone else raised at the public hearing described in this notice, or in written correspondence delivered to the Permit and Resource Management Department at or prior to the public hearing.

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/county-of-sonoma-proposing-changes-to-accessory-dwelling-unit-exclusions-on-ag-land

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Work to continue on second half of Dry Creek restoration

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overlooking water that was swiftly running through a broad channel that was mostly a patch of thick brush and trees until last year, local and federal officials and others on Monday marked the halfway point in a 13-year, $81 million fish habitat restoration project along Dry Creek.

In the past seven years, Sonoma Water and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have completed about 3 of the 6 miles of streambed they intend to rehabilitate and enhance to give endangered salmonid species that call the creek home a better chance to survive.

“This is, I think, one of the gems of our region and really a highlight project,” Army Corps Brigadier General Kimberly Colloton told those assembled.

As they toasted the conclusion of the final phase in the first round of projects at the edge of a Ferrari-Carano vineyard in Healdsburg, the two key partners approved an agreement committing to continued work on the effort.

But they have little choice. A 2008 biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service required the two agencies to restore 6 out of 14 miles of Dry Creek. The work had to be done if they were to continue operating the Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma for flood control and water deliveries to 600,000 consumers throughout Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

The order came in response to findings that water releases made since completion of the dam in 1984 were often at too high a velocity for juvenile fish to rest or feed adequately. Moreover, such fast-moving water further scoured and straightened out the streambed, exacerbating the problem.

The work they’ve been doing since is designed to spread the creek out, creating side- and cross-channels and dead-ended alcoves that slow the water down to a stop. They’ve added giant root wads, boulders, tree stumps and other woody debris to create places for small fish to hide and rest, and put in willows and other plants on the banks for shade.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9516210-181/work-to-continue-on-second

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

Best salmon return since 2014 leads to longer season for North Coast fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast fishing crews idled by an early end to the Dungeness crab season will have a longer 2019 salmon season than in recent years after fishery managers finalized dates Tuesday, a reflection of this year’s healthier projected adult spawning run.

In fact, this generation of returning adult king salmon is thought to be the most abundant since 2014, allowing for a season opener beginning May 16 and stretching to at least late September in coastal waters between Point Arena on the southern Mendocino Coast and Pigeon Point on the coast of San Mateo County.

That 122-day span is nearly twice the 73 days provided to commercial boats in 2018 — a reflection, experts say, of abundant rainfall when this year’s adult spawners were juveniles two years ago, making their way down freshwater streams to the Pacific Ocean.

The brighter forecast comes amid generally declining conditions across ocean fisheries and continued restrictions needed to rebuild West Coast salmon stocks, twin blows that have landed hard on California’s struggling commercial fishing fleet.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9505574-181/best-salmon-return-since-2014

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags ,

Sonoma County zoning board approves first large-scale pot farm outside Petaluma

Andrew Beale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A large cannabis-growing farm planned for west of Petaluma got a green light from Sonoma County zoning officials.

Despite vigorous opposition from neighbors, Petaluma Hills Farm’s proposal to cultivate 1 acre of marijuana on a rural property at 334 Purvine Road that used to be a chicken ranch was unanimously approved Thursday night by the county Board of Zoning Adjustments.

It’s the first large cannabis operation county officials have approved since they started taking applications two years ago for such pot operations. The single- acre tract designated for the cannabis farm — the largest allowed by the county — sits on a 37-acre property with other agriculture operations and a single-family home.

Opponents of the pot farm say it will cause a strong odor in a rural community west of Petaluma, and could bring crime and security concerns. Despite the zoning board’s approval, the battle is not over yet. Opponents have 10 days to appeal the board’s decision, which would force county supervisors to make the final ruling on the proposal.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9489518-181/sonoma-county-zoning-board-unanimously

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

As home pot growers left the region last year, Sonoma Clean Power lost $10 million in revenue

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

They’re called “superusers” within the power industry, those electricity customers using as much as 200 times the amount of energy in a month than a typical household.

Some of them have big estates, horse stables or electric cars. A small number are older mobile home parks operating on one utility meter. Most are likely growing marijuana indoors, local power agency officials said.

Last year, these “superuser” customers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties with monthly electric bills as high as $20,000 started to disappear.

About 300 homes using the most power in the region closed their accounts or dramatically decreased energy consumption in May and June of 2018, according to Sonoma Clean Power, the area’s green power agency. Although small in number, the loss of these major customers contributed to an unexpected $10 million drop in revenue and expenses last year, agency CEO Geof Syphers said.

After scrambling to figure out why these customers were disappearing, power agency officials determined they corresponded with a marked shift in where marijuana is and isn’t being grown in the region and state, he said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9453610-181/as-home-pot-growers-left

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

The wrong way to plan for cannabis cultivation

Ray Krauss and Craig S. Harrison, THE KENWOOD PRESS

On April 16, the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to direct Permit Sonoma to address the severe compatibility problems with cannabis cultivation in rural neighborhoods. Last year the supervisors publicly committed to amending the cannabis ordinance to fix these problems, but ultimately failed to do much.

The supervisors need to acknowledge the fundamental problem. The primary reason there are so many “problem sites” with cannabis cultivation is that they turned the planning process upside down. Even if all problem sites today were denied permits, there will be more applications for new problem sites in the future.

The proper way to proceed is to identify sites that are suitable based on a set of planning criteria, not identify sites where there may be problems. That is how all other planning is done. For example, in preparing the General Plan and Zoning Maps, planners identify those areas where specified uses are environmentally suitable and compatible with surrounding uses. Thus, we end up with identified commercial zones, industrial zones, multi-residential zones (apartments and condos) and residential zones. Those areas not so identified do not allow any of these uses.

Similarly, the county should study its environmental and land use information and identify locations where cannabis grows are suitable based on criteria such as:

• Areas where public water and other necessary public services are available including power, sewer, storm water drainage, etc.

• If not on public water, areas located in a groundwater basin where water use will not impact environmental resources.

• Areas served by adequate and safe road access.

• Areas remote from incompatible residential sites.

• Areas remote from public and private schools.

• Areas remote from public and private parks, children’s camps, trails and other recreation sites.

• Areas easily secured and accessible to law enforcement.

• Areas free of extreme or high danger of wildfire.

• Areas free of landslides, flooding and other natural hazards.

• Areas free of rare and endangered or sensitive plants.

• Areas free of historic and/or archaeological resources.

• Areas free of important wildlife habitat and corridors.

• Areas free of other identified incompatibilities.

Once areas meeting these criteria are identified and mapped, planners would normally do an assessment of how much suitable land can be projected as reasonably necessary to meet current and future demand (20 years for a General Plan).

The proposed suitable areas are then presented to the public in hearings, and after considering all public comment, the planners select those areas where permits for grows will be considered.

Individual proposals are then evaluated to make sure that they indeed meet all of the necessary criteria. They go through the Conditional Use Permit and California Environmental Quality Act processes where the public has an opportunity to provide comment and participate in public hearings.

This is how planning has always been done. The county’s failure to undertake the appropriate planning process is why we have problems with grows in unsuitable areas. The county has never previously done planning for any other land use by asking for the public to identify unsuitable or problem sites. They always do an analysis and pick areas that are most likely to be suitable. The county’s approach is like allowing anyone to locate a junkyard anywhere unless enough neighbors show up after the fact and complain.

These controversies could have been avoided if the county had undertaken the usual, normal planning process that is applied to all other land uses. The proposed Phase II compatibility planning process should follow the normal and appropriate planning process described above.

The supervisors should never have assigned the planning effort to Economic Development instead of Permit Sonoma. Economic Development does not have the experience or expertise to manage the land use planning for cannabis grows.

The county got into its public controversy dilemma because it falsely assumed that cannabis grows are “just agriculture.” That’s like saying pig farms and dairies are “just agriculture.”

Most of the remote places proposed for commercial cannabis cultivation would otherwise only accommodate what is called “extensive agriculture.” Perhaps a few cattle at best. The sites in the Mark West Watershed would not be suitable for vineyards or any other intensive agriculture. Most wouldn’t even support grazing.

Growers use imported soil and heated containers in commercial structures with artificial lighting, none of which is normal agriculture.

Once the county assumed cannabis production is the equivalent of a vegetable garden (or a potato patch, as one county official opined) and ignored the accompanying huge water use, fire hazards, multiple employees, traffic generation, pesticide use, noxious odors, crime, and a plethora of other impacts that of necessity accompany cannabis production, the planning process went awry.

To address adequately the compatibility problems with rural neighborhoods, the supervisors need to acknowledge the impacts and quit trying to fit the round cannabis peg in the square “just agriculture” hole.

Ray Krauss is a retired environmental planner who lives in the Mark West Watershed.

Craig S. Harrison is a retired lawyer who lives in Bennett Valley.

Source: http://www.kenwoodpress.com/pub/a/10428?full=1

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

Straus Family Creamery moo-ving from Marin, hoofing it to Sonoma County

Austin Murphy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Strolling past his company’s aging creamery in Marshall on Thursday morning, Albert Straus called to mind a pasteurized version of Willy Wonka:

“We’ve got ice cream here, yogurt over there, and there’s the butter room” said the 63-year-old dairy farmer and CEO of Straus Family Creamery. “Our soft-serve ice cream is made in those vats.”

It won’t be for long.

On Monday, construction begins on the company’s new creamery, a $20 million, 70,000-square-foot structure in Rohnert Park. While the Marshall dairy plant produces 16,000 gallons of milk a day, the new one “will have the capacity to almost double that, and do it much more efficiently,” Straus said. That increased capacity is key: the 25-year-old company is expected to double in size over the next seven to 10 years, according to its founder.

With more and more North Bay dairy farmers switching to the production of organic milk in recent years, prices have softened considerably. Despite that glut, Straus Family Creamery has remained profitable, and is moving full speed ahead on its creamery upgrade.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9434361-181/straus-family-creamery-moo-ving-from