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

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

“Apocalypse Cow:” Point Reyes National Seashore launches a propaganda war targeting independent journalism

Erik Molvar, COUNTERPUNCH

Grab your popcorn: The battle over livestock destruction of natural ecosystems at Point Reyes National Seashore is heating up. For years, conservationists have pointed out the ecologically catastrophic toll that beef and dairy ranching has been having on native coastal prairies, the wildlife that depend on these places, and public health and safety. As the news media has caught on, the tide of public opinion has turned against the livestock producers, in favor of protecting the very rare tule elk population and shifting management of the National Seashore away from livestock production toward public recreation and enjoyment. Now, a National Park Service unit is launching a propaganda war in a desperate effort to control the media narrative, and to cover up decades of laissez-faire mismanagement of livestock operations leasing Park Service lands on the National Seashore.

The flap centers around an investigative journalism piece titled “Apocalypse Cow: The Future of Life at Point Reyes National Park,” which ran in The Bohemian and the Pacific Sun, two local weekly newspapers that serve the counties surrounding Point Reyes National Seashore, and subsequently in Counterpunch. The article characterizes the Park Service analysis of environmental effects of cattle ranching on Point Reyes as “deeply flawed scientifically, culturally and ethically” and “politicized.” It’s a long and in-depth article, covering the politics of Point Reyes, and highlighting the ecologically harmful confinement of elk behind a massive fence on sometimes-waterless Tomales Point, the negative impact that cattle operations are having on climate change, commercial ranching’s destructive influence on rare and protected species of fish and wildlife, water contamination by livestock manure, and the contrast between coastal Miwok stewardship of Point Reyes’ native ecosystems and today’s destruction of those ecosystems at the hands of commercial ranching. Based on responses to the article, the locals seem to appreciate the insightful reporting.

The Park Service is doing its utmost to discredit the piece. On its webpage, “Frequently Asked Questions about the General Management Plan,” the Park Service has a section called “Corrections regarding misinformation published in the press.” The Park Service alleges errors; The Bohemian checked the verity of the article and stands behind it as factual reporting.

Read more at: https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/22/apocalypse-cow-point-reyes-national-seashore-launches-a-propaganda-war-targeting-independent-journalism/

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

Park Service pushes back on ‘Apocalypse Cow’

Staff, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

The Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) responded last week to an investigative report published in the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun in early December.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, PRNS staff sent out an email newsletter titled “Corrections to Media Coverage on the General Management Plan Amendment” to an unknown number of recipients. The agency posted the same text to a Frequently Asked Questions page of its website under the subtitle “Corrections regarding misinformation published in the press.”

The newsletter presents itself as an effort to correct alleged “factual inaccuracies” in “Apocalypse Cow: The Future of Life at Point Reyes National Park,” an investigative article by Peter Byrne published in the Bohemian and Pacific Sun on Dec. 9, 2020. However, PRNS management’s statements about the facts presented in the article are demonstrably inaccurate.

Two month’s prior to the seashore park’s posting of these public facing messages, on Dec.15, PRNS’s Melanie Gunn emailed the Pacific Sun’s editors contesting the accuracy of several facts as reported in “Apocalypse Cow.”

The editors reviewed Gunn’s allegations and decided that the article was accurate. In a Dec. 21 email, news editor Will Carruthers informed Gunn that the article was factually correct and offered to participate in an electronic meeting with Gunn and Byrne to discuss the documentation of the facts.

Read more at: https://bohemian.com/park-service-pushes-back-on-apocalypse-cow/

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Sustainable Living, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Global greenhouse gas emissions over the last century have made southern China a hotspot for bat-borne coronaviruses, by driving growth of forest habitat favoured by bats

Research News, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE

A new study published today in the journal Science of the Total Environment provides the first evidence of a mechanism by which climate change could have played a direct role in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study has revealed large-scale changes in the type of vegetation in the southern Chinese Yunnan province, and adjacent regions in Myanmar and Laos, over the last century. Climatic changes including increases in temperature, sunlight, and atmospheric carbon dioxide – which affect the growth of plants and trees – have changed natural habitats from tropical shrubland to tropical savannah and deciduous woodland. This created a suitable environment for many bat species that predominantly live in forests.

The number of coronaviruses in an area is closely linked to the number of different bat species present. The study found that an additional 40 bat species have moved into the southern Chinese Yunnan province in the past century, harbouring around 100 more types of bat-borne coronavirus. This ‘global hotspot’ is the region where genetic data suggests SARS-CoV-2 may have arisen.

“Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in the southern Chinese Yunnan province suitable for more bat species,” said Dr Robert Beyer, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and first author of the study, who has recently taken up a European research fellowship at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.

He added: “Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Continue reading “Global greenhouse gas emissions over the last century have made southern China a hotspot for bat-borne coronaviruses, by driving growth of forest habitat favoured by bats”

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

A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas

Alastair Bland, AUDUBON MAGAZINE

The restoration of the Sonoma Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area not only corrects problems of the past, but also looks to the future.

The sun shines meekly through a veil of morning fog and wildfire smoke while several figures in orange vests, hard hats, and face masks move slowly through a marsh on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. Wielding brooms, they jab lightly at the vegetation, ruffling the tufts of native pickleweed. As biological monitors, their job is to flush out small animals—especially the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse—and usher them from the path of a rumbling excavator, which is about to dig a deep groove in the slick mud.

It’s early October at the mouth of Sonoma Creek, where an unusual conservation project that broke ground five years ago is nearing the finish line. Audubon California and partner agencies are turning what was once a 400-acre stagnant backwater into a thriving wetland ecosystem that will serve as a refuge from rising seas for decades to come.

This revitalization of Sonoma Creek marsh is more a story of creation than one of restoration. The place is a product of the Gold Rush era, when torrents of unearthed sediment choked the Sacramento River system and later settled downstream. While hawks, grebes, and plovers made use of the area, which is managed today as part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the marsh wasn’t exactly a haven. The unnatural mud buildup was too rapid, preventing the formation of the channel systems that typically run through wetlands like arteries and allow a healthy water exchange with adjacent bays and estuaries. “If this was a natural marsh, it would look like a lung—it would breathe,” says Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation at Audubon California.
Continue reading “A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas”

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Western Monarch population closer to extinction as the wait continues for Monarchs’ protection under the Endangered Species Act

Emma Pelton & Stephanie McKnight, XERXES.ORG

During the 24th Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, nearly 100 volunteers donned their masks and practiced social distancing to carefully survey groves of trees on the California and Northern Baja coast for monarch butterflies. Despite the challenges of conducting field work during a pandemic, volunteers surveyed 246 sites, three more sites than last year. Unfortunately, to the surprise and dismay of many, only 1,914 monarchs were counted at all the sites. This is a shocking 99.9% decline since the 1980s.

The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count has been done every year since 1997. It happens during the three-week period centered on Thanksgiving and is coordinated by the Xerces Society and Mia Monroe. It is the primary way that the western monarch population is assessed and has built up a body of data than demonstrates the long-term collapse of the monarch migration in western North America.

Iconic and beloved monarch overwintering sites like Pismo Beach and Natural Bridges reported only a few hundred monarchs during the count. More startling, Pacific Grove, which goes by the name “Butterfly Town, USA” because of its overwintering sites, had no monarchs at all. Each of these sites normally host thousands—in some years, tens of thousands—of butterflies during the winter months, and are locations where visitors travel to experience the marvel of glittery orange monarch clusters.

We had indications that there might be a significant decline this year. In 2017, when monarch populations were still in the hundreds of thousands, researchers used Thanksgiving Count data to develop a population viability analysis and posited that the extinction threshold for the western monarch migratory population was 30,000 butterflies. It seems that, unfortunately, this prediction was right. The 30,000-butterfly threshold was reached during the last two years (2018 and 2019), and the population has crashed further this year. We may be witnessing the collapse of the western migration of monarch butterflies. A migration of millions of monarchs reduced to two thousand in a few decades.

The decline of the monarch isn’t just happening in the West. During the spring and summer, monarchs reach towns, cities, and rural areas across the Lower 48, making it probably the country’s most widely recognized butterfly. However, sightings are not as common as they once were. The eastern migratory population has also declined by more than 80% since monitoring began in the 1990s.

Read more at: https://xerces.org/blog/western-monarch-population-closer-to-extinction-as-wait-continues-for-monarchs-protection

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

Point Reyes Seashore is one step closer to national dairy farm

Joe Sweeney, THE CALIFORNIA AGGIE

The Park Service’s proposed management plan of the Point Reyes Seashore prioritizes agriculture over wildlife in a national park

In Marin County, ranching is more than just a nine to five for many residents, but a way of life. Roughly half the land in Marin County is designated for farming or ranchland. Ranching has existed in the Marin for years, going back to the first settlers’ arrival in the area. Nestled within this agricultural landscape are a few conservation gems like Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods and most of all the iconic Point Reyes National Seashore. Keeping this lengthy history in mind, agriculture has outstayed its welcome in the Seashore. The Point Reyes peninsula was just narrowly saved from development and remains a slice of wilderness in the rapidly changing landscape of California. There are thousands of acres of farmland across the Golden State, but only one National Seashore on the entire West Coast.

Point Reyes is so unique in fact, it is designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an international biosphere preserve—home to hundreds of species which are endangered and only found in the peninsula. Despite this status, roughly a third of the park’s land is designated for agricultural use. This prevents visitors from using a large portion of the park and contributes to growing concerns about the environmental impact of ranching on the Seashore’s ecosystems. To truly understand this complex issue, we have to understand its history.

The modern history of Point Reyes has been characterized by compromise. When the park was founded in the ‘60s, it was not without controversy. Initially both sides, parts of the federal government and the ranching community, were vehemently against the Seashore’s establishment, but the Ranchers’ tune quickly changed realizing that federal subsidies would help keep the industry afloat.

Additional concerns were raised by members of Congress about leasing the park land as a national park, which would be a first. When the park was established, there was no mention of permanently establishing ranching in the 1962 legislation. Although later amendments added the possibility of extending leases, the intention that ranches be phased out is present from the very beginning of the Seashore. The original agreement was that the ranchers were allowed to reserve a right to use the land for 25 years or the life of the original owner. As that period came to an end, ranches were still there and coming up with any reason to stay.

“I know the people who put [The Point Reyes Act] together. At the 40th anniversary I talked to Stewart Udall, the Secretary of Interior. He remembered the same thing I did, that ranching was never intended to be permanent,” said Ken Brower, an environmental writer and son of David Brower. “The founder’s idea had nothing to do with what you’re hearing now from ranchers, that they’d be here forever.”

You may often hear that the Seashore ranches are “historic” and must be preserved on that basis for future generations. This is blatant propaganda. If these ranches truly had historic value, this “historic” status would logically also be applied to the oyster farms, which had been in business for nearly a hundred years before being shut down by the park service due to a variety of reasons.
Continue reading “Point Reyes Seashore is one step closer to national dairy farm”

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

2021: Is this the year that wild delta smelt become extinct?

Peter Moyle, Karrigan Börk, John Durand, T-C Hung, and Andrew L. Rypel, CALIFORNIA WATER BLOG

2020 was a bad year for delta smelt. No smelt were found in the standard fish sampling programs (fall midwater trawl, summer townet survey). Surveys designed specifically to catch smelt (Spring Kodiak Trawl, Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring Program) caught just two of them despite many long hours of sampling. The program to net adult delta smelt for captive brood stock caught just one smelt in over 151 tries. All signs point to the Delta smelt as disappearing from the wild this year, or, perhaps, 2022. In case you had forgotten, the Delta smelt is an attractive, translucent little fish that eats plankton, has a one-year life cycle, and smells like cucumbers. It was listed as a threatened species in 1993 and has continued to decline since then. Former President Trump made it notorious when he called it a “certain little tiny fish” that was costing farmers millions of gallons of water (not true, of course).
Delta smelt, photo by Matt Young.

As part of the permitting process for Delta water infrastructure, the USFWS issued a Biological Opinion (BO), written by biologists, that found that increased export of water from the big pumps of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project would further endanger the smelt. The BO was then revised by non-biologists to conclude that increased pumping would not hurt the smelt. The reason given was that large-scale habitat improvement efforts, plus the development of a facility for spawning and rearing of domesticated smelt, would save the species. We have written a short, fairly readable, article for a law journal that describes why the revised BO will not save the smelt. We will not write further about the paper in this blog but encourage readers to give the full article a read (it is a free download).

So, is this the year the smelt becomes extinct in the wild? Frankly, we are impressed by its resilience (see previous California WaterBlogs on smelt status) but small populations of endangered pelagic fish in large habitats tend to disappear, no matter what we do, partly the result of random events.

Source: https://californiawaterblog.com/2021/01/10/2021-is-this-the-year-that-wild-delta-smelt-become-extinct/

Posted on Categories Forests, HabitatsTags , , , ,

Sonoma County parklands a mosaic of ash and unburned islands after Glass fire

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

From a distance, wildfire ash almost looks like snow peaking out from stands of barren trees and pockets of green canopy on the ridges and slopes encompassing 8,800 acres of parkland in the Mayacamas Mountains straddling the Sonoma and Napa valleys.

The Glass fire burned through the majority of these treasured preserved lands, moving throughout all of Hood Mountain Regional Park and roughly 90% of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, leaving pockets of green islands within the burn scars.

Stewards of these lands say the next several months will involve urgent work to prevent traumatic erosion to the land, stop large sediment deposits from clogging creeks, and tamping down invasive weeds so that native plants have a chance to grow back and thrive.

Though it could be months before the public is allowed to return to the trails and the stunning panoramic view of the valley from Gunsight Rock, the outlook is far from grim for the flora and creatures adapted to fire.

“It’s not a tragedy when a park burns,” said Melanie Parker, deputy director of Sonoma County Regional Parks.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-parklands-a-mosaic-of-ash-and-unburned-islands-after-glass-fi/