Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags ,

California monarch butterfly population down 86 percent in one year

Tiffany Camhi, THE CALIFORNIA REPORT, KQED

“We think that it has to do with habitat loss, the increasing high use of pesticides and the loss of the milkweed populations, which is the plant the monarch needs to lay its eggs on,” Monroe said.

California’s coast, from Bolinas to Pismo Beach, is a popular overwintering site for the western population of monarch butterflies. Historically, you could find millions of the orange and black winged invertebrates around this time of year, using coastal eucalyptus trees as shelter.

But there’s been a troubling trend over the past few decades. Each year, fewer monarchs have been showing up to overwinter on the state’s coast, according to preliminary numbers from the Xerces Society, an environmental conservation nonprofit. The group’s annual Thanksgiving count found the 2018 population of these butterflies is down to 20,456 compared to 2017’s 148,000. That’s a one year, 86 percent decline.

“It’s been hard for me, as I remember the millions of monarchs of the 1980s,” said Mia Monroe, a Bay Area-based Xerces Society member who helps lead California’s monarch population count. “We only have less than one percent of the monarchs that we once historically had.”

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/news/11715197/california-monarch-butterfly-population-down-86-percent-in-one-year

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Wildland development escalates California fire costs

Bay City News, NPR

The sky above Ron Beeny turned black.

The 71-year-old was stuck in traffic as he evacuated from his home in Paradise on the morning of Nov. 8.

Trees and brush lined both sides of the two-lane road. In the darkness, Beeny had no idea where the fire was. A former firefighter, he knew that getting trapped between walls of fuel could be deadly.

“[When] daytime turns to night, the fire is burning extremely intense,” he said.

For more than an hour Beeny inched forward in his red Toyota pickup, heading west toward Chico. His home of 41 years was incinerated by the Camp Fire. The blaze that destroyed Beeny’s home is just the latest mega-fire in California — and the cost of fighting such fires has risen dramatically.

California dwarfs other states in fire-suppression costs, an analysis by a Stanford journalism class has found. The Stanford class analyzed daily reports from the most expensive fires in every state from 2014 to 2017, and found that dense development at the border of wildlands — in communities like Paradise, Cobb, and Santa Rosa — helps explain California fires’ exceptional damage and expense to put out.

A 2015 federal audit showed that fire suppression costs vastly more in these transition zones between wild and developed areas — Wildland Urban Interface areas, or WUIs, for short.

The Stanford analysis of fire costs found that, among the states that spend the most on suppression, California fires overlapped far more with the WUI: More than 30 percent of the 2015 Butte Fire, for example, burned on WUI lands, destroying almost 1,000 buildings. Much of the state’s WUI is made up of chaparral — dry shrubland — that burns fast and hot.

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/news/11713393/wildland-development-escalates-california-fire-costs

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California extends ban on abalone fishing until 2021

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California fish and game commissioners on Wednesday extended the ban on recreational abalone fishing another two years to give the ailing species more time to recover from a near-total collapse on the North Coast.

The vote continued until April 2021 an existing closure approved a year ago in the wake of a sharp, multi-year decline in the popular fishery, with no signs of a rebound, a key state official said Tuesday.

“There’s no positive news,” said Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the lead expert on abalone matters. “We’re still seeing starving abalone this last season during the surveys. We’re still seeing fresh empty shells.”

The closure had been expected but is nonetheless a painful reminder of the uncertain future of a cherished tradition that brings friends and family together and is often passed down from one generation to the next. It could be years before abalone hunting on the level seen in recent decades along the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts, the prime destination, is allowed again, Mastrup said.

Read more at om/news/9058818-181/california-extends-ban-on-abalone?ref=related

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Invasive species are a threat in Sonoma County parks

Steven Nett, SONOMA COUNTY REGIONAL PARKS BLOG

No, it’s not the zombie apocalypse. This threat is from invasive plant and animal species that have wormed their way into Sonoma County despite best efforts to stop them. Some are just as scary, gruesome and strange as fantasy creatures. But unlike the fictional walking dead, these invaders can do actual harm.

Take the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater.) Cowbirds originally lived on the Great Plains, following bison that scared up a rich diet of insects. Because their food source was mobile, cowbirds, didn’t have the luxury of sitting on nests to raise their young. Instead, they developed the strategy of laying eggs in the nests of other birds, who then unwittingly feed and raise them. To ensure they do, cowbirds often remove the host bird’s own eggs.

When humans brought cattle to Sonoma County, the cowbirds followed. Today, two of California’s native birds, the least Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus) and willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii), are listed as endangered because of brown-headed cowbirds.

This is just one case of the silent ongoing battles between natives and invasive species in Sonoma County.

Then there’s medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae.) Medusahead is a fast-spreading grass with a nasty survival skill: The plant incorporates exceptionally large amounts of fine silica (the raw material used to make glass) into its leaves, stems and spiky awns, the needle-like crowns (pictured below) that give medusahead its fearsome name.

Read more at https://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Learn/Blog/Articles/Invasive-Plant-and-Animal-Species/?

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Report: Sonoma County’s natural resources worth billions

Hannah Beausang, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Conservation advocates have long touted the need to preserve Sonoma County’s bucolic landscape, but a report released last week for first time assigned a dollar value to those open spaces and their natural resources.

The value of services provided by undeveloped and working lands, both public and private, in Sonoma County ranges from $2.2 to $6.6 billion annually, according to the report from the Healthy Lands and Healthy Economies Initiative. The study stems from a years-long collaboration between open space and conservation districts in Sonoma, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

“It’s clear that our community values open space and working lands, but the main point of the report is that not only do we value them, but these lands have an immense value that’s not commonly understood in the typical market framework,” said Karen Gaffney, conservation planning manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

The report assigns value to a variety of ecosystems. It accounts for green spaces that absorb runoff to curb flooding while filtering out pollutants. It highlights the benefit of soil, which captures and stores atmospheric carbon and sustains ground cover to prevent damaging erosion. It quantifies the public health benefit provided by trees and plants, which boost air quality, and of open spaces that harbor insect- and wildlife that can limit pests.

It’s the first clear picture of the total estimated value of Sonoma County’s “natural capital,” or its stock of natural assets, and the way they can provide cost-effective alternatives to man-made infrastructure.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/8981145-181/report-sonoma-countys-natural-resources

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning

Seth Borenstein, SACRAMENTO BEE

Preventing an extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems on this fast-warming planet, an international panel of scientists reported Sunday. But they provide little hope the world will rise to the challenge.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its gloomy report at a meeting in Incheon, South Korea.

In the 728-page document, the U.N. organization detailed how Earth’s weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world’s leaders could somehow limit future human-caused warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C). Among other things:

— Half as many people would suffer from lack of water.

— There would be fewer deaths and illnesses from heat, smog and infectious diseases.

— Seas would rise nearly 4 inches (0.1 meters) less.

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/latest-news/article219656035.html#storylink=cpy

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Board of Supervisors approves mining amendment, employee fire leave, more

Will Carruthers, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday heard public comment on six lawsuits against the county, approved an amendment to the county’s mining ordinance and granted county employees affected by the fires 40 hours of leave time.

Friends of Chanate

The Supervisors received public comment on six lawsuits against the county before discussing the cases behind closed doors. One of the suits, Friends of Chanate vs. County of Sonoma, alleges that the County gave a local developer a sweetheart deal in its sale of a plot of public land.

Friends of Chanate argues that Bill Gallaher, a local developer, bought the 82-acre parcel of county land for between $6 and $12.5 million, far below the assessed value of the land, $30 million.

“That property was worth more than $6 million, even if you build only 40 luxury homes on the land,” a Friends of Chanate member said during the public comment period.

In late July, a judge in the lawsuit canceled the sale, disagreeing with the County’s assessment that the land deal was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.

Mining Ordinance Amendment

The Board of Supervisors amended a sentence of the County’s Mining Ordinance to “clarify that setbacks to critical habitat do not retroactively apply to quarry sites” affected under a new definition of critical habitat passed as part of the 2012 General Plan.

The amendment will allow two quarries located within 47,383 acres defined as Tiger Salamander critical habitat based a map from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to operate.

The two affected quarries – Stony Point Quarry and Roblar Road Quarry – were granted permits to operate before the new rules went into effect.

Stony Point Quarry has been active for 90 years while Roblar Road Quarry received permission to operate in 2010, before the new definition was passed, according to a staff report.

“There was never any expectation that the setbacks would apply to these quarries, and these setbacks were not intended to apply retroactively,” the staff report states.

John Barella, the owner of the quarry, first applied to develop the land in 2003 but the project has been significantly delayed by environmental lawsuits. In 2014, a three-judge panel approved Barella’s plans in a lawsuit brought by the Citizens Advocating for Roblar Rural Quality.

In 2017, Barella restarted the process of applying forpublic approval for the quarry and applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year.

When asked by Zane why the item was before the board, a county staff member said that Roblar Road Quarry “will be proposing some changes to their conditions of approval and you will see that project come before you next month.”

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-board-of-supervisors-september-11-2018

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Judge puts controversial Healdsburg logging plan on hold

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Planned logging near a Healdsburg stream that provides some of the last refuge in the region for wild coho salmon has been put on hold after a court decision overturned a timber harvest plan for the 160-acre site.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau determined last month that the plan approved by Cal Fire last fall inadequately analyzed potential impacts for endangered and threatened fish species in Felta Creek and the greater Russian River watershed into which it drains.

Chouteau also agreed with neighbors’ claim that property owner Ken Bareilles failed to sufficiently address the effects of logging trucks on narrow roadways and five rural bridges they would travel to haul lumber from the remote parcel.

The resolution is unlikely to be the final chapter in the dispute, with both sides anticipating ongoing legal battles.

“The land isn’t safe until it has a conservation easement on it or a harvest plan geared for limited, smaller-scale logging, said Lucy Kotter, a one-time forester and a spokeswoman for Friends of Felta Creek, which was formed to block the plan.

Bareilles, a Eureka attorney, said Wednesday he still hopes he can start logging in the spring and intended to revise and resubmit his timber harvest plan for approval in the meantime.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8729540-181/judge-puts-controversial-healdsburg-logging

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Local habitat may be at risk

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Trump administration is seeking to alter key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a 45-year-old federal law that has shaped growth in Sonoma County during repeated battles between builders attempting to develop land and environmentalists seeking to protect rare plants and animals.

Federal officials contend the changes to the act — which protects local species like the coho salmon and the California tiger salamander — will streamline and improve it. Local environmentalists have called them a “coordinated attack” on science that could push fragile species into extinction.

The act, passed in 1973 during the Nixon presidency with strong bipartisan support, protects critically imperiled species and their habitats. In Sonoma County, development conflicts have arisen over those species, sometimes requiring costly mitigation measures for projects to advance. But the law has also been a salvation for wildlife on the North Coast, like the gray whale, the bald eagle and osprey, said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

A major change would eliminate language instructing officials to ignore economic impacts when determining how wildlife should be protected.

Other reforms include changing limits on the designation of critical habitat — areas with biological or physical features necessary for the conservation of a species. It also seeks to end to the automatic regulatory process that gives threatened plants and animals the same protection as those listed as endangered, and streamlines consultation between agencies when actions from the federal government could jeopardize a species.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8551721-181/sonoma-county-awaits-clarity-on

Posted on Categories Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , Leave a comment on Intercepted Lake Mendocino boat had invasive quagga mussels aboard

Intercepted Lake Mendocino boat had invasive quagga mussels aboard

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

DNA analysis confirmed this week that stowaway shellfish intercepted at the Lake Mendocino boat ramp early this month were invasive quagga mussels, as initially feared.

The finding by state Fish and Wildlife personnel validates just how close the region came to confronting a destructive scourge. Infestation by the nonnative bivalve could have had profound implications for wildlife and recreation in the lake, as well as water-supply infrastructure serving more than 600,000 residents in Sonoma and northern Marin counties, officials said.

But for the moment, it appears the crisis was averted, thanks to a sweet-faced, blond Labrador named Noah. The mussel-sniffing dog and his handler have been showered with gratitude from recreational boaters since they detected tiny quagga mussels aboard a vessel about to be launched into Lake Mendocino on June 2.

“It’s been amazing, the community response,” said Brad Sherwood, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Water Agency, which contracts with Central Valley-based Mussel Dogs for weekend boat inspections at both lakes Sonoma and Mendocino. “The mussel inspection team has gotten nothing but praise and support from the community.”

Fish and Wildlife personnel still are trying to determine where the vessel, owned by a Marin County man, had been used before Lake Mendocino, and if any other water bodies may inadvertently have been exposed, said Martha Volkoff, environmental program manager for the agency’s habitat conservation planning branch.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8483530-181/intercepted-lake-mendocino-boat-had