Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Sustainable LivingTags ,

How to protect trees: Policy for a 21st century

Kimberly Burr, FOREST UNLIMITED

The County of Sonoma has long carried on its books a permissive policy that paves the way for developers broadly speaking to cut down trees – in small and in large numbers.

With the support, however of the three female County Supervisors – Zane, Gorin, and Hopkins, Forest Unlimited and its supporters have just achieved an important step towards properly valuing and protecting trees. The Update of the Tree Ordinance is now on the County’s Two Year Work Plan.

THE PROBLEM
As reported earlier, locally between 2007-13 approximately 950 – acres of Sonoma County were converted from woodlands to non woodlands. And there is no end in sight as new tree removal proposals are submitted virtually every week. Where cool breezes once emanated and where water was efficiently created, cleaned, and stored, there are now hot exposed soils, re-contoured hills that drive polluted water off the land into ditches and streams carrying dust, spray, fertilizers (sometimes called “nutrients”) into water bodies during the winter and feeding algae in the summer. As to whether there are more trees now that the climate has warmed up, the facts in Sonoma County are that the trees are still coming down at alarming rates.

Good rules on canopy cover are needed now to protect and enhance – as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends for trees and woodlands. (9.5 million km2 increase in forests by 2050 relative to 2010. (IPCC Summary for Policy Makers). Reforestation and afforestation are needed to take carbon out of atmosphere quickly.

True Measure of a Sustainable County
Sustaining natural systems through clear policy is the true measure of a sustainable county. We know from history that societies as a whole have sometimes failed to recognize and to implement changes when environmental destruction was occurring. Many societies over-extended, exhausted their resources, and starved to death. We know this challenge. It is not new. Today, science and reason empower good policy even in the face of entrenched interests. Hopefully those that benefit from tree removals will not stand in the way of rational measures needed to minimize our highly destructive development patterns especially relative to our trees and watersheds. Better yet, perhaps the industries will lead and drive positive change in the expedited manner that is necessary. Who will it be?

The informed public has the most vital position to play on the team and must not abandon the field. In order to prevent more damage to important canopy cover, we must demand timely action for effective positive protections.

As science tells us, the momentum now is toward rapid extinction. We have very little time to improve our practices and prevent even more tragic fires, droughts, biological declines, and disasters. We all must do as much as we can each day to turn the tide. Some folks are in a position to do more than others…namely politicians and industry leaders. We are confident that the vast majority of folks see the good sense in protecting mature trees especially in the 21st Century.

We know Sonoma County business leaders, agriculture, and people are capable of leading an advertising campaign, and we urge them to put at least that much time and talent towards educating the public and our representatives about the immediate challenges with which are faced like preserving the County’s tree canopy. It not only absorbs the green house gas carbon dioxide but protects us from direct solar heat.

How Do We Achieve Success?
We will only get one chance at this. We need to re-evaluate the true costs of tree removal to the community. What is an adequate mitigation for the destruction of a 200 year old oak or oak woodland? Do a few baby ornamental trees installed to take the place of the mature trees that once touched the sky, recharged the ground water, cooled the air, and absorbed vast amounts of green house gases do the best job in the short time we have left? Or do we protect the vast majority of the trees we have and plant even more? Do we continue to give free passes to large landowners to do whatever they think is best for them at the expense of the watersheds and climate we all rely upon? What timeline is relevant today? What trade-offs does science say make the most sense? What values should be attributed to trees and woodlands?

We must ask the question of ourselves, can we fulfill our dreams of success, richness, security, and happiness without large scale destruction of woodlands, forests, and mature trees? We need practical minds that will contribute practical and effective measures. Economic arguments are powerful and innately trigger certain responses, however unless economies works with nature, as we now know, we will fall far short of the actions needed. We need to grapple with whether all development is good development and if some development is exempted from common sense rules what effect does that have on our goals to restore, protect, and enhance our tree canopy?

We recognize, like many civilizations before us could not, that our area is rich in more ways than one. The question remains if whether our big brains and our collective will to survive is up to the task of using reason, cooperation, and problem solving, to stop the tragic destruction of our County’s important forests and woodlands.

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Sense of Place: Lomas Muertas grasslands still changing

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Coastal prairie once roamed by mammoths, covered with bunch grasses

The Lomas Muertas, or Dead Hills, appear on a Mexican map of a ranch that stretched between Two Rock in Sonoma County and the modern hamlet of Tomales in Marin County.

Ghoulish as it sounds, the name doesn’t imply any ghostly spirits. Found in several places along the coast, it refers to grasslands where trees are virtually absent.

Botanists classify our local lomas muertas as coastal prairie — a grassland type found within 50 miles of the ocean. An account from the 1850s described the prairie near the mouth of the Russian River as “waving grasses higher than a man’s head, with deer, bear, and other big game everywhere … ” that included tule elk and pronghorn.

Prior to the 19th century, coastal prairies were largely perennial bunch grasses like purple needlegrass (our state grass), oat grass and several fescue species, as well as many kinds of wildflowers. Bunch grassroots can grow 16 feet deep, providing water during the dry months. Summer is also when coastal fog creeps inland — some prairie plants are able to harvest this moisture as well.

If you had visited our coastal prairies 15,000 years ago, you would have found wildlife rivaling East Africa’s today. Grizzlies, short-faced bears, herds of bison, elk, pronghorn and mammoth, and many other large animals roamed the coastal prairies. By trampling the ground, wallowing in water holes and consuming huge amounts of leaves, bark and twigs, mammoths in particular may have played a key role in creating and maintaining a nearly treeless landscape.

Coastal grasslands are considered a “disturbance dependent habitat.” Now that the mammoths are gone, grazing and burrowing by other animals, as well as fire and drought, keep it from converting to shrubs or trees.

Before Spanish settlement, indigenous people also kept the landscape open by setting fires on a regular basis. Burning recycles nutrients back into the soil, resulting in healthier plants, which means more food for humans and game animals.

Red more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9892635-181/sense-of-place-you-wont

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Land use policy key to reining in global warming, U.N. report warns

Julia Rosen and Anna M. Phillips, THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE

Slashing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and power plants won’t be enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change. To meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, experts say, humanity also needs a new approach to managing the land beneath its feet.

A sweeping new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the myriad ways that rising temperatures have impacted agriculture, wildfire risk, soil health and biodiversity. The report also examines how land and its uses can exacerbate the effects of global warming — or help mitigate them.

“It tells us that land is already doing a lot of service for us, but also that we can do a lot with land,” said Louis Verchot, a forester at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Palmira, Colombia.

A summary of the IPCC’s assessment was released Thursday after a marathon overnight negotiating session in Geneva. It will inform United Nations climate negotiations in Santiago, Chile, later this year, when countries will revisit their pledges to reduce emissions.

One of the report’s major themes is that forests play an important role in absorbing the carbon dioxide generated by human activities, and protecting them is crucial to reining in warming.

The report also emphasizes the need for a new approach to agriculture that would feed a growing population while using natural resources more sustainably.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees [Celsius] will involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and land has a critical role to play,” said Jim Skea , co-chair of the climate change mitigation working group.

Read more at https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/environment/story/2019-08-08/ipcc-land-use-global-warming?_amp=true

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags , ,

Point Reyes management plan calls for shooting elk, preserving ranches

Guy Kovner and Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

How To Get Involved
To comment on the plan through Sept. 23, go to parkplanning.nps.gov/poregmpa
Two informational meetings are planned on the proposal:
When: Aug. 27, 5-7 p.m.
Where: West Marin School Gym, Point Reyes Station
When: Aug. 28, 5-7 p.m.
Where: Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito

Tule elk in the Point Reyes National Seashore could be shot to control their swelling numbers, and cattle ranchers would be assured a lengthy future and latitude to expand their farming operations under a proposed management plan aimed at bridging a sharp divide over the presence of commercial agriculture in the 71,000-acre national park.

The plan, which cost nearly $1 million to develop and won’t be implemented until next year, was released Thursday by the National Park Service, which manages the sprawling seashore on the Marin County coast.

Reviving a controversy that dates back to the agency’s decision in 2012 to evict an oyster farm from a Pacific Ocean inlet in the seashore, the plan — described as “shockingly anti-wildlife” by one conservationist — could also send environmentalists and the federal government back into court over the conflict between farming for profit and land preservation.

The proposal has been identified by the National Seashore staff as the “preferred alternative” of six variations developed over the past two years. The public now has 45 days to review and comment on the document.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9858446-181/point-reyes-seashore-plan-balances

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

California fights US plan to drop rat poison on Farallon Islands

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Federal wildlife officials were urged Wednesday to withdraw a proposal to drop 1.5 tons of rat poison on remote islands off the coast of California to kill a mice infestation until they address questions on the impact to wildlife.

The California Coastal Commission heard public comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan, which has drawn criticism from local conservation groups. The commission is seeking to determine whether the plan complies with state coastal management rules.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a report presented to the commission in March that a massive house mice population is threatening the whole ecosystem on the rugged Farallon Islands, 27 miles (44 kilometers) off the coast of San Francisco.

The archipelago is home to the largest seabird breeding colony in the contiguous United States, with approximately 300,000 to 350,000 birds of 13 species, including the rare ashy storm petrels. The islands are also used by marine mammal species for resting and breeding and by migratory birds.

Federal wildlife officials proposed using helicopters to dump 2,900 pounds (1,315 kilograms) of cereal grain pellets laced with brodifacoum, an anticoagulant that causes rodents to bleed to death. The substance is banned in California.

Officials acknowledged the plan will kill some seagulls and other species but argue that the benefits of eliminating the invasive species will heal the whole ecosystem.
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Coastal seabird die-off puzzles experts

“The only way to protect these species and allow the ecosystem to recover is 100% eradication of the mice,” said Pete Warzibok, a biologist who has worked on the Farallon Islands for more than 20 years. “Anything else is simply a stopgap measure that will not adequately address the problem.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9786599-181/california-fights-us-plan-to

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

California’s early June heat wave cooked coastal mussels in place

Eric Simons, BAY NATURE

Bodega Marine Reserve research coordinator Jackie Sones has worked in or walked on the rocky shores of the North Coast almost every day for the last 15 years. But while she was surveying the reserve for sea stars in mid-June, she saw something new: strips of bleached algae draped across the rocks, like frost, and a swath of dead mussels, hundreds or maybe thousands of them, black shells agape, orange tissue shining in the sun, stretching across 500 feet of rocky tidepools.

“It’s one of the first things you see, coming down the rocks into the middle of the intertidal zone,” she said. “They were very visibly dead.”

In all her time in Bodega Bay, she wrote in her blog The Natural History of Bodega Head, she’d never seen a mussel die-off that size, or affecting so many individual mussels.

She suspected immediately that the algae had bleached and the mussels had overheated earlier in the month. While many Bay Area residents fled toward fans or movie theaters or air-conditioned libraries to escape the record-breaking early June heat wave, the mussels, which attach themselves to rocks with super-strong threads and never look back, would have just roasted in place. The air temperature in Bodega Bay on June 11 hit an unusually warm 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The normal June sea breeze disappeared. A series of mid-day low tides stranded the tidepool animals out of the water for hours while the sun beat down from high overhead.

“In the past we’ve seen patches die, but in this case it was everywhere,” Sones said. “Every part of the mussel bed I touched, there were mussels that had died.”

She went back to the lab and talked to BML marine biologist Eric Sanford, who had seen the same thing in the part of the reserve where he’d been working. The next day Sones walked a longer stretch of shoreline, covering about a quarter-mile, and still saw the same pattern of mussel death. Further reports came in of die-offs around Bodega Bay at Dillon Beach and Pinnacle Gulch, at Sea Ranch, and at Kibesillah Hill north of Fort Bragg.

Northeastern University marine ecologist Brian Helmuth, who studies the effects of air temperature on marine creatures, said that on a 75 degree Fahrenheit day, the tissues inside a marine creature glued to a rock out of the water might rise to 105 degrees. The animals try to vent the heat building up inside of them but can’t without a breeze to carry it away. The mussels’ black shells trap even more heat. “They were just literally cooking out there,” Helmuth said. “Unfortunately this was the worst possible time.”

Read more at https://baynature.org/2019/06/26/californias-early-june-heat-wave-cooked-coastal-mussels-in-place/

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Sonoma Valley zoologist seeks creative ways to save mountain lions — and the planet

Austin Murphy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The day after a young male mountain lion made national news by paying a visit to the Santa Rosa Plaza in April, Quinton Martins ventured a guess as to why the feline ended up at the mall.

“Maybe he was going to the Apple Store to upgrade his Sierra,” deadpanned Martins, a big cat expert with a doctorate in zoology, a robust sense of humor and some unconventional ideas about how best to save the planet.

He followed that one-liner with a slew of scientific analysis. But the quip was vintage Martins, whose public relations instincts are as sharp as his tranquilizer darts. He is the South African-born founder of Glen Ellen’s Living With Lions, a project he leads for Audubon Canyon Ranch. One of his missions is to educate landowners, to show them that it’s better to coexist with apex predators than it is to shoot them.

With the help of volunteers and veterinarians on his team, Martins traps the big cats and collars them, allowing the public to monitor their movements and, in a way, get to know them. Not everyone is on board with this marketing-based approach.

“He’s told us many times he wants his animals to be media stars,” said Greg Martinelli, lands program manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “There’s a difference between science and advocacy.” With Martins, he thinks, “those lines are a little blurred.”

Martins, for his part, makes no apologies for his unorthodox approach.

“Obviously we need to keep doing science,” he said. “But we have enough scientific information to know that the environment is in a desperate state, and something drastic needs to be done.”

The man who seeks nothing less than to overhaul and defibrillate the conservation movement grew up in Welkom, South Africa, which he describes as “a crappy gold-mining town” 90 miles northeast of Bloemfontein. His happiest hours were spent outdoors, camping and fishing with his father.

“We used to go to some pretty cool, wild places, to go fishing,” Martins said. “I remember the connection to nature, just sitting quietly, enjoying that peace.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9652183-181/sonoma-valley-zoologist-seeks-creative

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Land UseTags , , , ,

Sonoma County couple ordered to pay nearly $600,000 for damage to protected property

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma Land Trust Stewardship Director Bob Neale had seen pictures.

So he thought he had a good idea of what awaited him when he went out to inspect a protected piece of land on the north flank of Sonoma Mountain a few years back. A concerned neighbor had reported heavy equipment and questionable activity on property protected under a conservation easement and, thus, intended to remain in its natural state.

But while photos conveyed “a sense of it, it’s nothing compared to actually seeing it,” Neale, a soft-spoken man, said of the environmental damage he witnessed that day in 2014. “I was not prepared.”

Neale and an associate found a patch of private landscape above Bennett Valley scraped down to bedrock in some places and a trenched, 180-year-old oak uprooted and bound so it could be dragged to an adjoining parcel to adorn the grounds of a newly constructed estate home, according to court documents.

That heritage oak and two others the landowners sought to move over a haul road they bulldozed through the previously undisturbed site all died, along with a dozen more trees and other vegetation, according to court records.

The damage would eventually prompt Sonoma Land Trust to sue the property owners, Peter and Toni Thompson, a highly unusual step for the private nonprofit. Last month, it prevailed in what representatives hailed as a landmark legal victory.

The court battle came well after the full extent of the losses was discovered on the 34-acre conservation property. Grading for the haul road in 2014 removed more than 3,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock, the ruling found. No permits were obtained for any of the work, according to court documents.

The Thompsons had construction crews dredge an existing lake on their adjacent 47-acre residential spread, known as Henstooth Ranch, and dump the soil on the protected parcel, extending the haul road to accomplish that work, according to court documents.

“It was,” said Neale, a 25-year veteran in the open space field, “really the most willful, egregious violation of a conservation easement I’ve ever seen.”

In his blunt 57-page ruling, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick sided strongly with the land trust, calling out the Thompsons for “knowing and intentional” violations of a legally binding conservation deal. He said the couple had shown a “persistent failure to tell the truth” as the case unfolded and had “demonstrated an arrogance and complete disregard for the mandatory terms of the easement.”

Broderick ordered the couple to pay more than $586,000 in damages toward environmental restoration and other costs outlined in a judgment finalized last week.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9556824-181/sonoma-county-couple-ordered-to

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

Humans are speeding extinction and altering the natural world at an ‘unprecedented’ pace

Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in. When combined with the other ways humans are damaging the environment, climate change is now pushing a growing number of species, such as the Bengal tiger, closer to extinction.

Read more at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/06/climate/biodiversity-extinction-united-nations.html

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

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