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

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WaterTags , ,

California adopts new wetland protections as Trump administration eases them

Kurtis Alexander, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

California water regulators adopted a far-reaching plan Tuesday to prevent more of the state’s creeks, ponds and wetlands from being plowed or paved over, a move that comes as the Trump administration scales back protections under the federal Clean Water Act.

The new state policy targets the rampant spread of suburbia and agriculture across California’s watery landscapes, areas that have become increasingly sparse yet remain important for drinking water, flood protection, groundwater recharge and wildlife.

The regulation, to the chagrin of many industry groups, establishes strict rules for virtually any human activity that could disrupt the natural flow of water, like farming, home building and highway construction, on public and private property.

While the policy has been in the works for more than a decade, its adoption by the State Water Resources Control Board puts it in front of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rollback of the Clean Water Act, ensuring that California is largely insulated from any new latitude that Washington provides for watershed development.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/California-adopts-new-wetland-protections-as-13736056.php

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags ,

Return of long-lost bees creating a lot of Presidio buzz

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The sudden appearance of buzzing insects around Brian Hildebidle’s feet as he surveyed a dune restoration project in the Presidio last week startled him and prompted alarming visions of volunteer workers fleeing from angry yellow jackets.

The stewardship coordinator for the Presidio Trust was about to run when he noticed the insects were a grayish color and swirling in a strange pattern close to the ground.

“I was really curious because I had never seen that flying pattern,” said Hildebidle, who leads volunteers on weekly weed-pulling and planting expeditions and is quite familiar with the park’s bug denizens.

The insects, which he said numbered in the hundreds, turned out to be silver digger bees, a rare sand-loving species that had not been seen in San Francisco in significant numbers for the better part of a century.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/Return-of-long-lost-bees-creating-a-lot-of-13725086.php

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Shorter season imposed on California’s Dungeness crab fleet to safeguard whales

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California’s commercial crabbing fleet will be fishing significantly shorter seasons going forward and with greater safeguards in place to avoid ensnaring endangered marine life in potentially deadly gear under a legal settlement announced Tuesday.

The deal, reached between state regulators, environmentalists and representatives of the crab fleet, is meant especially to protect whales, some of them endangered, that feed in abundance during the spring off the Central and North Coast.

The framework unveiled Tuesday will cut the current season and future seasons by as much as 2½ months and mandate a near-constant watch on the entanglement risks posed to sealife. If those risks are too high, regulators could trigger mid-season closures of some areas.

“It’s been my view almost always we can do right by our natural resources and do right by Californians, and do it better together than in a courtroom,” state Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham said during a media call on the settlement.

Other parties to the deal included the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the state in 2017 over a sharp rise in the number of whale entanglements, and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

To a large extent, the complex settlement reinforces and formalizes efforts already being developed by wildlife regulators and partners to ensure that imperiled wildlife and the crab fishery can thrive.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, whose North Coast district accounts for most of the state’s crab catch, one of California’s most lucrative fisheries, said the cooperation was a sign of the “extremely proactive” posture the state has adopted “to ensure California’s majestic whale population and our crabbing fleet can co-exist.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9433839-181/shorter-season-imposed-on-californias

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma CoastTags , ,

Ocean heat wave brought 67 rare, warm-water species to North Coast

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An extended ocean heat wave that spurred a series of ecological anomalies off the Northern California coast — including toxic algae, mass sea lion strandings and the collapse of the bull kelp forest — also promoted the northward migration of an unprecedented number of southern, warm-water species.

Sixty-seven rare, warm-water creatures, including 37 whose presence has never been documented so far north, were found in the region and points poleward, according to a UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory study published Tuesday in “Scientific Reports.” Everything from bottlenose dolphins to two kinds of sea turtles to barnacles and small sea snails were present during the study period between 2014 and early 2017.

One colorless, tiny snail cousin, the striated sea butterfly, hadn’t previously been seen north of the tip of Baja California. It turned up in sampling nets collecting whatever critters might be floating past the Bodega Bay lab, said lead author Eric Sanford, a UC Davis professor of ecology and evolution.

Similarly, pelagic red crabs — four still alive at the lab — that came ashore at Salmon Creek Beach in January 2017 normally would have been closer to Baja, he said. Also found in the bay was the molted shell of a spiny lobster more commonplace in Baja.

With the planet and the ocean warming, the recent, extended marine heat wave “provides a glimpse of what the Northern California coast might look like in the future,” as species move toward cooler environments to survive, Sanford said.

“We’re basically seeing these communities change before our eyes as more southern species become part of these communities,” he said. “That’s pretty dramatic.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9376990-181/ocean-heat-wave-brought-67

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma CoastTags

Plant smugglers take ‘massive’ toll on California’s Dudleya farinosa succulent species

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ohis belly in the bushes in a camouflage ghillie suit, California game warden Patrick Freeling came across a bulging backpack resting on a blufftop and knew he was onto something big.

California Fish and Wildlife Warden Pat Freeling trained his K9 partner Cali to sniff out wild Dudleya farinosa after discovering the underground trade in the succulent last year. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
In the preceding months, he had seen evidence of some illicit activity having to do with coastal succulents — a large shipment of boxes to Asia from the Mendocino post office; a man stealing plants from a Caltrans right-of-way.

But it was the expedition pack he discovered on the ground that March day last year near Point Arena that crystallized the caper in his mind. The sack was stuffed with native succulents called Dudleya farinosa that only grow along the Central and North Coast. Smugglers were coming to these shores to poach the plants and send them in bulk overseas for profit on the black market.

Investigators now believe several hundred thousands plants worth tens of millions of dollars on the Asian black market have been torn illegally from bluffs along the Northern California coast over the past several years, in some cases stripping whole areas of the plant species, said Adrian Foss, a captain with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9327697-181/plant-smugglers-take-massive-toll

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

Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal

Damian Carrington, THE GUARDIAN

Extreme temperatures destroy kelp, seagrass and corals – with alarming impacts for humanity

The number of heatwaves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, scientists have revealed, killing swathes of sea-life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest”.

The damage caused in these hotspots is also harmful for humanity, which relies on the oceans for oxygen, food, storm protection and the removal of climate-warming carbon dioxide the atmosphere, they say.

Global warming is gradually increasing the average temperature of the oceans, but the new research is the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves, when temperatures reach extremes for five days or more.

The research found heatwaves are becoming more frequent, prolonged and severe, with the number of heatwave days tripling in the last couple of years studied. In the longer term, the number of heatwave days jumped by more than 50% in the 30 years to 2016, compared with the period of 1925 to 1954.

As heatwaves have increased, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs have been lost. These foundation species are critical to life in the ocean. They provide shelter and food to many others, but have been hit on coasts from California to Australia to Spain.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/04/heatwaves-sweeping-oceans-like-wildfires-scientists-reveal

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

CalTrout report lists old dams whose removal will free up salmonid habitat

California Trout

Announcing the release of CalTrout’s Top 5 California DAMS OUT Report highlighting five dams that are ripe for removal and that must, for the health of the ecosystem and communities around them, come out.

California has thousands of dams, from smallearthen barriers to large dams hundreds of feet tall. More than 1,400 of those dams are large enough to fall under state safety regulations. A great number of them provide critical water supply, flood control, and hydroelectric power. But many have outlived their functional lifespan and the ecosystem and economic benefits of removal far outweigh the cost of leaving them in place.

California Trout’s Top 5 California DAMS OUT Report highlights five dams that are ripe for removal and that must, for the health of the ecosystem and communities around them, come out. The five dams were selected by analyzing information found in several studies to assess the overall benefits that removing the dam would present to native fish, water, and people.

Read more at https://caltrout.org/2019/01/top-5-california-damsout-2019-report/