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

Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley

Teri Shore, SIERRA CLUB SONOMA GROUP

The future of the 945-acre expanse of open space lands and historic campus in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen) remains uncertain and contentious after the first round of public hearings on potential land use and planning options released last month.

Sonoma County planners proposed three similar variations of urban-style development on the historic campus that featured hundreds of single-family homes, a new hotel, restaurants, and commercial and office space, and a new road. The draft plans were intended as the foundation for developing a county SDC Specific Plan that will be reviewed under CEQA next year.

The surrounding 745 acres of open space were prioritized for conservation. However, the protection of the wildlife corridor, Sonoma Creek and other natural features were given little attention. The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor https://sonomalandtrust.org/current-initiatives/sonoma-valley-wildlife-corridor/ is a critical link for multiple keystone species such as mountain lions, bears and badgers to travel from as far as the Berryessa-Snow Mountain Wilderness to the East to the Pt. Reyes National Seashore and Sonoma Coast. Millions of public and private funds have been invested in acquiring lands and protecting the wildlife corridor for decades.

As proposed, the draft alternatives would comprise the biggest subdivision and development in the history of Sonoma Valley – equal in housing units to the sprawling Temelec, Chanterelle and & Flags subdivisions on the south end of Sonoma Valley. All three alternatives would drastically increase driving and associated Vehicle Miles Traveled and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and undermine decades of city-centered growth policies. The plans also conflict with local, county, regional and state polices to reduce climate-changing emissions, achieve equitable housing and preserve biodiversity.
Continue reading “Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley”

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Sonoma Valley advocates push for reintroduction of beavers

Cole Hersey, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

On the southwest side of the City of Sonoma, a small stream named Fryer Creek cuts through a quiet neighborhood.

In late October, the creek was, like most waterways in the Bay Area, inundated with water during the “bomb cyclone” storm. However, as the rains pounded Sonoma with seven and a half inches of rain, Fryer Creek stayed fairly tame for the beginning of the storm, according to nearby residents Barabara and Larry Audiss.

“The water was really low [during the storm], even with the heavy rain, and then all at once the water was extremely high,” Larry Audiss said. “We went up and you could see where the dam had been breached.”

Larry Audiss is referring to a beaver dam close to MacArthur Street. The waters proved too strong for part of the recently built dam along this tributary of Sonoma Creek, likely pushing more water downstream.

This was not the only beaver dam in Sonoma Valley that was affected by the storm. In upper Sonoma Creek, most beaver dams were leveled by rushing waters.

However, the three beaver dams along Fryer Creek remained largely intact after the storm, perhaps due to the smaller size of the waterway. Even the dam that was breached could be rebuilt come next spring.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/sonoma-valley-beavers/

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Beavers can help California’s environment, but state policy doesn’t help them

Carolina Cuellar, BAY NATURE

One month into 2020’s shelter in place order, Virginia Holsworth and her family decided to change things up by walking in the opposite direction of their usual daily stroll through suburban Fairfield. That’s when she first encountered the amassment of sticks blocking the path’s adjacent creek, Laurel Creek.

She suspected the sticks meant the work of a beaver. Curious, she inspected the area, finding webbed footprints along the creek bank and chew marks on surrounding wood. Still, it wasn’t until she caught a glimpse of a brown slicked-fur-covered head that she was certain — she’d stumbled upon a beaver dam. A few days later, she saw the beaver family of four that gave rise to a lush green haven in her neighborhood.

For the next few months she watched cormorants and blue herons among the cattails and tules. Supposedly the creek even contained so many rainbow trout, a member of the community — illegally — caught 40 of them. The way the beavers and their dam had changed the landscape and reinvigorated the habitat enthralled Holsworth, and she became devoted to preserving them in her community.

Holsworth soon connected with Heidi Perryman, the Bay Area’s most ardent beaver activist and founder of the Martinez-based nonprofit Worth a Dam. Perryman warned Holsworth that the ecological wonder she’d found might be in jeopardy. The city of Fairfield had a permit to remove dams and had already, in 2015, obtained a permit to kill beaver.

Just a few months later, in fall 2020, the city public works department removed the beaver dam, citing the potential for flooding in the rainy season. Holsworth watched as the cattails wilted and birds quickly devoured the newly exposed crawfish.

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/11/11/beavers-can-help-californias-environment-but-state-policy-doesnt-help-them/?utm_source=Bay+Nature&utm_campaign=8e011401a0-BN+Newsletter+11%2F11%2F2021&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_092a5caaa2-8e011401a0-199023351&mc_cid=8e011401a0&mc_eid=94a0107f8c

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Sonoma Ecology Center’s vision for the former SDC campus

SONOMA ECOLOGY CENTER

Resources

If Sonoma Ecology Center has learned anything from 30 years helping our community care for its environment, it’s that everything is connected. If we want to succeed at solving the most pressing environmental issues, including climate change and the biodiversity crisis, we must find solutions that address multiple challenges simultaneously: environmental, social, and economic.

SDC is a place where all these interests come together. We have a chance to do something meaningful in this place for the site, our Valley community, and perhaps for life on earth. In the coming weeks, SEC will be engaging with the SDC Specific Plan process. The public has been invited to make recommendations on draft versions of this plan. Following are some of our recommendations, which are not adequately reflected in the current alternatives.

Protecting the SDC Campus’ Wild Spaces

First, new development on the site needs to protect the site’s wild spaces, especially its significant wildlife corridor. We would like to see the wildlife corridor expanded at its narrowest point along the north and northeast side of the campus, by pulling the boundary of the developable area inward. Setbacks along Sonoma Creek should be larger–100 feet–to make room for a reestablished floodplain, riparian habitat, steelhead recovery, and groundwater recharge. The wetlands in the eastern meadows should be protected and restored. The site’s many water features–reservoirs, springs, streams, wetlands–should be managed holistically to produce multiple benefits to the entire Valley’s people and ecosystems. Developed areas should all have foot trails connecting to natural spaces, for all the benefits that occur from human connection with them, while assuring that they retain their ecological function. Paths and recreational areas are good, but they should keep away from the wildlife corridor and Sonoma Creek. Built areas and paths should use Dark Sky standards.

Read more at https://sonomaecologycenter.org/sdc-vision/

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Sonoma Developmental Center Specific Plan updates

PERMIT SONOMA

Permit Sonoma has released the SDC Alternatives Report which presents and analyzes three draft land-use alternatives to guide redevelopment of the 900-acre site. Each alternative transforms the shuttered campus, bringing significant benefits to the community including affordable housing and diverse living-wage jobs. View the alternatives report here on the project website, and get ready to share your feedback at one of the community outreach events below!

Alternatives Overview
All of the alternatives create important community amenities. Plans call for between 990 and 1,290 housing units, creating a walkable community with an emphasis on affordable housing and active transportation to lessen automobile use. All three alternatives propose the protection of 700 acres of open space between Jack London State Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park, and each alternative expands the existing wildlife corridor and preserves Sonoma Creek and its tributaries. Commercial, recreational, and civic spaces are proposed to benefit residents, employees, and the greater Sonoma Valley.

Developed after extensive feedback from the community and technical experts, each alternative approaches achieving the goals for the campus differently:

Alternative A: Conserve and Enhance preserves the most historic buildings and the second most jobs of any proposal;
Alternative B: Core and Community creates the most housing units and creates a walkable mixed-use core;
Alternative C: Renew creates a regional innovation hub bringing the most jobs of any proposal, neighborhood agriculture, open space preservation, and housing units to support these uses.

Community Input
Permit Sonoma wants your feedback on the alternatives at three upcoming public meetings!

Please join us to discuss the alternatives and the future of the SDC site at one or more of the following meetings:

SDC Alternatives Workshop on Nov 13 at 10-11:30 am
Zoom registration: https://dyettandbhatia.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYvdeqopjksH9WSm0ml5nN1evaOGrARPZOP

SDC Spanish Language Town Hall on Nov. 16 at 5:30-7 pm
In person at Hunt Hall @ St. Leo’s Catholic Church, 601 W. Agua Caliente Rd Sonoma, CA 95476
Joint SMAC/NSVMAC/SVCAC Meeting on Nov. 17 at 6:30 pm
Zoom link: https://sonomacounty.zoom.us/j/96931443054?pwd=UFAxc2o1bHRTRW9waWxSR2NCdDZqZz09

In addition to the public meetings, stay tuned for an online survey that will ask you to give input on the options presented in each of the Alternatives, as well as other priorities for the site.

You can read the draft report and register for upcoming public participation opportunities at https://www.sdcspecificplan.com/.

Source: https://mailchi.mp/18b2fd7e8006/sonoma-developmental-center-specific-plan-updates-13413680?e=d2966a32b0

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Supervisors to protect Paulin Meadow in Santa Rosa as open space

SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected this week to approve the transfer of Paulin Meadow, a 10.42-acre property adjacent to the County of Sonoma-owned Chanate campus, to the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space). The transfer from the county’s general services department will ensure the protection of the woodland area as open space in perpetuity.

This collection of parcels consists of Paulin Meadow, Ag + Open Space’s Paulin Creek Preserve (8.89 acres), and land owned by Sonoma Water (26.57 acres). These properties function together as an informal urban nature preserve and recreation space, with the approximately 1 mile of informal trails on Paulin Meadow connecting the Sonoma Water parcel to Ag + Open Space’s Paulin Creek Preserve, as well as to the surrounding neighborhood.

“It has been a long-time goal of the community and a promise by the county to protect this particular property for the benefit of the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the wildlife that inhabit the meadow,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey, whose district includes Paulin Meadow. “We are happy to find a solution that ensures this well-loved open space area remains protected forever and will become part of the larger nature preserve along Paulin Creek.”

“Paulin Meadow is a wonderful nature preserve; a community gem,” said Caroline Judy, Director of General Services. “We are so happy to have an agreement that will ensure it is protected.”

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/supervisors-to-protect-paulin-meadow-in-santa-rosa-as-open-space/

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Something to celebrate: Beavers return to Sonoma Creek

SONOMA ECOLOGY CENTER

It’s been a long summer of extreme drought conditions in Sonoma Valley. In what seems like a steady stream of dire news for our watershed one glimmer of good news stands out: beavers are moving back into Sonoma Creek.

The return of these charming dam builders isn’t quite breaking news – since 1993 beavers have slowly made a comeback in Sonoma Valley. But this year, in the middle of our peak dry season, their increasing presence is something for celebration. From the perspective of drought resiliency and water retention in our watershed we’re observing how beavers are a positive factor in keeping what water we do have flowing in our creek beds and reducing hydrological impacts of water rushing through the main stem of Sonoma Creek.

Their natural impulse to build dams and create ponds is a major factor in retaining refuge habitat for species that rely on water to survive. Beavers provide refuge habitat for endangered salmonids, crawdads, California roach, Sacramento suckers, frogs and the endangered California freshwater shrimp which rely on deep pools and submerged, structural habitat like fine tree roots which are often present in the structure of a beaver dam. Any animal, insect, or crustacean that requires water to live in our creek is something that benefits from the damming that the beavers do.

Read more at https://sonomaecologycenter.org/beavers-return/

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Kelp forests surge back on parts of the North Coast, with a lesson about environmental stability

Alastair Bland, BAY NATURE

An unexpected darkness has recently fallen over the seafloor of the Northern California coast – the shadows cast by bull kelp.

The giant marine alga nearly vanished after a perfect storm of environmental and ecological events, including a marine heatwave and a population boom of seaweed-eating sea urchins, disrupted the marine ecosystem between 2013 and 2015. Kelp forests collapsed by more than 90 percent in Northern California, and with them went both scenic appeal and marine biodiversity. Red abalone, which graze on kelp, starved in droves, and fish departed for deeper waters. What was left, and which persists in much of the region, is a bleak underwater landscape dominated by purple urchins and not much else.

But this year the bull kelp forests of memory have surged back along parts of the Northern California coast. Areas that were completely devoid of kelp as recently as last winter are now marine jungles of tangled underwater stems and dense floating mats of fronds. James Ray, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist and kelp researcher, says the comeback seemed to begin in 2020 “with a little bump in kelp cover.”

“Now we’re seeing a much bigger bump along much of the coast,” he says.

The rapid resurgence, possibly the result of strong springtime upwelling of cold water, has other experts both delighted and a bit mystified.

“The rebound of the forests in Sonoma and Mendocino counties has been surprising and profound considering how devastated they were just a few years ago,” says Franklin Moitoza, a graduate student at Humboldt State who, working with a team of collaborators, has closely tracked kelp forest health and recovery. He says he has seen pronounced kelp regrowth from Bodega Bay to Trinidad within the past year.

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/09/13/kelp-forests-surge-back-on-the-north-coast-with-a-lesson-about-stable-environments/?utm_source=Bay+Nature&utm_campaign=947f98b27d-BN+Newsletter+09%2F16%2F2021&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_092a5caaa2-947f98b27d-199023351&mc_cid=947f98b27d&mc_eid=94a0107f8c

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Sonoma CoastTags , , , , , , , , ,

Scientists grappling with persistent and alarming collapse of North Coast’s bull kelp forests

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Five years after marine scientists first sounded the alarm about a sudden collapse of the bull kelp forest off the Northern California coast, the state of the ocean offers little prospect of recovery any time soon.

Where lush stands of leafy kelp once swayed amid the waves, providing cover to young finfish and forage for abalones and other creatures on the ocean floor, a stark new world has materialized — one dominated by millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have stripped the ocean floor down to rock in some places. Were a tender frond of new kelp to sprout, it wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving long.

The barrens left behind are a stark and alarming contrast to what is typically one of the most thriving marine environments — seasonal kelp forests that support a rich ecosystem with life stretching from the sea floor to the surface, and up the food chain, supporting recreational and commercial fisheries and home to some of the North Coast’s most iconic wildlife, including abalone and sea otters.

The kelp forests also are a key barometer for the wider health of the world’s oceans, and without some recovery, their future as biodiverse stores for marine life and people hangs in the balance.

Laura Rogers-Bennett, a veteran biologist who works out of the UC Davis-Bodega Marine Lab, likened the kelp forest to a great floating woodlands stretching hundreds of miles along the coast.

“To lose 95% of your forest in a year and a half, that’s a catastrophe, an ecological disaster, and it’s had so much socioeconomic impacts, as well,” she said.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/scientists-grappling-with-persistent-and-alarming-collapse-of-north-coasts/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WaterTags , , , ,

California unveils sweeping wildfire prevention plan amid record fire losses and drought

John Myers, LOS ANGELES TIMES

California Wildfire and Resilience Action Plan

After the worst fire season in California history and as drought conditions raise fears of what’s to come, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders unveiled a $536-million proposal Thursday to boost efforts at firefighting and a variety of prevention measures, including vegetation management and the construction of fire-resistant structures across the state.

The proposal, which the Legislature could send to the governor’s desk as soon as Monday, marks an early agreement by the governor and lawmakers to spend more than half of the $1 billion in wildfire funding Newsom called for in his state budget proposal in January. The gravity of the issue became clear last week after state officials reported the water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack stood at 59% of the average for early spring.

“The science is clear: Warming winter temperatures and warming summer temperatures across the American West are creating more challenging and dangerous wildfire conditions,” said Wade Crowfoot, the governor’s secretary of natural resources.

According to an outline provided by legislative staff, more than $350 million will be spent on fire prevention and suppression efforts, including prescribed fires and other projects designed to reduce the vegetation growth that has fueled California’s most devastating fires. The package also includes $25 million for fortifying older homes that weren’t built using fire-resistance methods required during construction over the last decade.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-04-08/california-wildfire-prevention-536-million-newsom-lawmakers