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Op-Ed: Measure AA is vital for future of the bay 

Dave Koehler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The San Francisco Bay defines our region — a shared natural resource that unites residents and visitors with its breathtaking beauty. The truth is, the bay is highly threatened by pollution and sea-level rise. Thousands of acres of wetlands must be restored because miles of bay shoreline face increasing flood threats from extreme weather and rising seas. If we are going to pass on a healthy, beautiful bay to our children and grandchildren, we need to come together and act now to protect and restore it.
For the first time in our history, the entire Bay Area has an opportunity to financially support the San Francisco Bay and make it healthier and safer for future generations. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot in all nine Bay Area counties is a small parcel tax that generates big benefits. For only $12 per year per parcel, amounting to $1 per month, Measure AA will raise $500 million over 20 years to restore wetlands around the bay — including in Sonoma County — that will provide habitat for fish and wildlife and filter out pollutants from the water. These wetlands — such as the Sonoma Land Trust’s own Sears Point Wetland Restoration project along Highway 37 — also provide a natural barrier against flooding and offer recreational open space for all of us.
North Bay counties will receive millions from Measure AA for essential wetland restoration projects. The allegation made by some that these counties — and Sonoma County in particular — will receive less than our fair share of the $500 million in funding is simply inaccurate. Measure AA has many built-in provisions to ensure the funds are used where they are most needed. Sonoma County has thousands of acres of wetlands restoration projects ready to go, and our projects will be highly competitive with other regions.
Of all the anti-AA arguments, the claim that the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority is not answerable to the public completely distorts the truth. The restoration Authority board was set up under state law and is made up entirely of local elected officials. In other words, they are the same county supervisors and city council members who we rely on and interact with every day. Each region of the bay has a designated representative on the board. The current North Bay representative is Supervisor Keith Caldwell from Napa.
Our own Supervisor Susan Gorin has expressed interest in being nominated to the authority for the North Bay seat when it opens up for a term change. Measure AA also includes an additional level of openness and accountability by establishing a citizen oversight committee whose sole job is to make sure the authority is following the law and being transparent with its funding decisions.
Measure AA is endorsed by the most diverse coalition the Bay Area has ever seen, including local and national environmental organizations, leading businesses and organized labor and mayors and other elected officials, from Gov. Jerry Brown to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson — more than 600 groups and individuals in all. They understand Measure AA will bring us critical bay improvements for people and wildlife, and green infrastructure that will help protect our cities from flooding.
Sonoma Land Trust is campaigning hard for Measure AA because we have confidence in its safeguards and believe it is our best chance to fund the restoration of large sections of the Sonoma and northern bayshore before ocean levels rise even higher. We trust you won’t believe the scare tactics of the anti-tax groups. Please free to reach out to us if you have additional questions.
Dave Koehler is the Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust.
Source: Close to Home: Measure AA is vital for future of the bay | The Press Democrat

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Living on Earth: Saving the Bay Area

Emmett Fitzgerald, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
Air Date: Week of May 27, 2016
stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Alviso wetlands
Much of San Francisco Bay used to look like the small wetlands in Alviso (Photo: Emmett Fitzgerald)

In June, San Francisco Bay Area residents will vote on Measure AA, a proposed tax that would fund wetland restoration. Bringing back wetlands would provide habitat for many bird species, and could help save the Bay Area from the rising seas expected from global warming. But some argue the funding mechanism is unfair.
Source: Living on Earth: Saving the Bay Area

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Planning Commission votes to protect Atascadero Creek Wetlands

Carol Benfell, Friends of Atascadero Wetlands, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Protection for one of the last fresh water marshes in Sonoma County won support from the Sonoma County Planning Commission on May 5th, when commissioners voted 4 -1 to approve a General Plan amendment that will identify and protect wetlands along West County’s Atascadero Creek.
The General Plan is the county’s blueprint for land use and development. The amendment will designate which areas along the creek are wetlands and require that agriculture and development keep 100 feet away from wetland boundaries, unless a future, more detailed study shows the boundaries designated for wetlands are inaccurate.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to protect these important environments,” said Pam Davis, the commissioner representing the Fifth District, which includes West County.
The hope is that preserving and protecting the wetlands will lead to restoration of a once-flourishing run of endangered coho salmon and protect groundwater supplies for homes and ranches. Wetlands also provide habitat for plant and animal species, including native and migrating birds.
Read more at: General Plan Amendment proposal for Atascadero Creek Environment

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New hiking trail opens up along San Pablo Bay 

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s newest hiking trail officially opened Sunday just a few hundred yards from the often backed up and typically frustrating Highway 37.
The Eliot Trail, located at the edge of tidal wetlands near where Lakeville Highway meets Highway 37, gives travelers an experience opposite to the nearby roadway.
The two-and-a-half mile trail offers walkers, joggers and cyclists a tranquil view of Mount Tamalpais and the skyscrapers of San Francisco as they traverse the flank of the new northern border of San Pablo Bay.
“It is such nice place to take a run,” said Julian Meisler, the Baylands program manager for Sonoma Land Trust. “For Sonoma County, this is one of the best access points we have to the bay.”
Jim Jackson of Sonoma said he was impressed with the extremely flat trail after doing the round-trip five-mile hike with his wife, Sharon.
“You get great views of the entire bay. It’s extremely peaceful and quiet out there. You can hear the water lapping by you,” Jackson said. “You realize how quickly you are away from 37.”
Read more at: New Sonoma County hiking trail opens up along San Pablo Bay | The Press Democrat

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Devoted senior dedicated to observing seals at Jenner Headlands

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Baby harbor seals at rest alongside their mothers on the banks of the Russian River estuary mark the arrival of another pupping season and the passage of another year that Elinor Twohy, 94, has kept watch.
Stationed in and around her riverfront cottage on the northernmost reaches of the estuary, Twohy has maintained a record of daily observations on the seal colony for more than a quarter century, taking on the mantle of citizen science long before the phrase was in common use.
Hers is a commitment built on curiosity and scrupulous attention that evolved after she and her late-husband, John, first bought what was then a cozy weekend home at the river’s end 52 years ago, acquiring close-up views of the ever-changing world right outside their doors.
But Twohy’s work also has served to inform a number of scientific studies over time, supplying long-term, standardized data on the seals’ haul-out habits, as well as river conditions and other observations at a level of detail and quality seldom available.
“These sorts of 30- or 40-year data sets don’t exist,” said Bay Area hydrologist Dane Behrens, who used Twohy’s observations and photos as a UC Davis doctoral student in his research on dynamics that shape the river’s tidal lagoon. “For someone to have done this for so long, so diligently… I mean, it was at the point where if she went on vacation, she found someone to do it for her.”
Twohy’s preoccupation with the Jenner seals arose decades ago through her growing interest in coastal wildlife and a burgeoning awareness of the importance of conservation, born in part through her participation in a late 1960s campaign to fend off plans to dredge gravel from the Russian River estuary. Twohy said her initial encounter and friendship with a local environmentalist, the late Virginia Hechtman, helped crystallize her appreciation for the coast and her understanding that “we could lose all the natural wonders here.”
Twohy later helped battle a planned housing division and, with her husband, called for permanent protection of the Jenner Headlands more than three decades before a conservation purchase in 2009 made it so, Jenner Headlands Preserve Manager Brook Edwards said.
In the early 1970s, around the time she and her husband moved full time to Jenner, Twohy began noticing increasing numbers of harbor seals hauling out at the river mouth. They have since become a year-round colony.
Read more at: Devoted senior dedicated to observing seals at Jenner Headlands | The Press Democrat

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Logging plan along Gualala River faces opposition

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For more information on the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan, see Friends of the Gualala River.

A disputed plan to log century- old redwoods along the Gualala River is running into stiff opposition from environmentalists who say the days of timber operations near North Coast streams, even on land long used for commercial logging, should be over.
Opponents of the proposed timber harvest in northwestern Sonoma County are again taking aim at a project they say poses potential harm to wildlife and plants. It would harvest trees on about 330 acres in the river’s flood plain.
The use of heavy equipment in such an area to handle and haul away downed trees is not appropriate and shouldn’t be allowed by the state, opponents say.
“It’s an ecosystem. It’s not just a tree farm,” said Chris Poehlmann, president of Friends of the Gualala River, a nonprofit group that has taken a tough stand on other logging and vineyard conversion projects in the watershed, home to greatly diminished runs of coho salmon and steelhead trout.
But representatives of Gualala Redwood Timber Inc. say the proposed logging, revised from original plans, is not the intense harvest that critics fear and will be carried out with safeguards for the environment. The company is the relatively new owner of more than 29,000 acres of timberland straddling the Sonoma-Mendocino county line and stretching inland from the coastal town of Gualala and the mouth of the Gualala River, site of a Sonoma County park.
State rules prohibit any logging within 30 feet of a stream, said Gualala Redwood Timber spokesman Henry Alden, and require 80 percent of the canopy cover left intact within 150 feet.
Read more at: Logging plan along Gualala River faces opposition | The Press Democrat

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Op-Ed: The promise of protection for the Atascadero Marsh

Jeffrey W. Holtzman, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County General Plan’s promise of protection for the Atascadero Marsh is one step closer as county officials consider measures to help make the promise a reality. The challenge is whether we as a community have the foresight and political will to protect one of our most sensitive wetlands against the intense wave of vineyard and winery development while still maintaining a healthy and hearty wine industry.
Sonoma County has the capability to meet this challenge because there are tens of thousands of acres appropriate for growing grapes that are not in sensitive wetlands and we have a community commitment to an environmental ethos that values sustainability and sound planning.
The wetlands zone emanating along either bank of Atascadero Creek in the Sebastopol and Graton area is one of only a handful of freshwater marshes recognized in the general plan as important biotic zones. Wetlands are essential in order to manage floods, reduce pollution, recharge aquifers, and to provide a habitat for the flora and fauna that so enriches the lives of all Sonoma County residents and visitors.
Of particular significance is the prospect of restoring historical populations of endangered salmon and to encourage and nurture new nurseries in a habitat well suited for this purpose. Countless public and private organizations have spent millions of dollars and undertaken Herculean efforts to stave off the extinction of salmon in Sonoma County. Enacting the proposed changes to establish a Biotic Habitat zone in the Atascadero Marsh will support and strengthen community efforts to protect salmon rather than continuing to allow development that undermines these efforts.
The time to act is now, as a series of unfortunate, ill advised and sometimes illegal activities — driven primarily by intense pressure to develop the area into vineyards and wineries, have acted to degrade the Marsh. A permit granted here, an exemption granted there, and soon you have death by a thousand paper cuts unless action is taken.
Read more at: Close to Home: The promise of protection for the Atascadero Marsh | The Press Democrat

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Sebastopol’s Atascadero Creek has a rich history

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Atascadero Creek flows from its headwaters southwest of Sebastopol under Bodega Highway through Ragle Ranch Park and continues north to meet Green Valley Creek near Graton. One explanation for its name is that it’s a native word meaning “dirty water” or “lots of water.”

In Spanish, atascadero means “bog” or “marsh,” a place with “lots of water.” An atascadero also can be a bottleneck or stumbling block, something that impedes progress. Atascar, the verb, means “to be stuck,” and an atasco is a “traffic jam.” We use the same metaphor in English when we get “bogged down with the details,” when moving forward feels as painfully slow as slogging through mud.

It’s probably no coincidence that Atascadero Creek once watered an extensive wetland above its confluence with Green Valley Creek. That marsh captured water in the winter and released it slowly through the dry summer (which may account for how Green Valley got its name as well). Before pavement and bridges, that atascadero would have been a place to avoid on foot or horseback.

Like most wetlands in California, those along Atascadero Creek have suffered. Early maps of Sonoma County show that significant changes to our watersheds were already underway by 1875 — wetlands drained, creeks rerouted, channels dug — all done with only the power of men, shovels and sometimes horses. This trajectory has continued up to today, though the machinery has become more powerful.

Several endangered species make the Atascadero Creek watershed their home, including steelhead, freshwater shrimp and the Pitkin marsh lily (which grows in a marsh on a tributary of the main stem). Coho salmon were present in the past but have not been seen recently. In 1998, the state designated 44 acres as the Atascadero Creek Marsh Ecological Reserve. Its mix of riparian forest and seasonal and permanent wetlands draws large numbers of water birds, raptors and passerine species (also called songbirds).

Local groups like the Atascadero/Green Valley Watershed Council and the Friends of the Atascadero Wetlands are focused on protecting and restoring more of the wetlands. A study is underway that will help protect them under the County General Plan. The atascadero for which the creek is named seems to be undergoing a transformation from obstacle to opportunity. Pausing by a marsh, even along the road, is a chance to slow down and tune into what’s right in front of you. You may even forget where you were going.

Source: Sebastopol’s Atascadero Creek has a rich history

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ACTION: General Plan Amendment proposal for Atascadero Creek wetlands

Rue Furch, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Atascadero Creek near Graton has marshy wetlands that are home to dozens of species of birds and wildlife. Wetlands store water during winter rains and release it into the underground where it supplies water for our wells.

HELP PROTECT THIS NATURAL RESOURCE!
On May 5, the County Planning Commission will decide if these wetlands should be included in county planning documents. If they vote “yes,” it will mean “hands off” to vintners, developers and builders who want to fill or plant or dredge these critical areas.
SHOW UP AND SHOW YOUR SUPPORT!
LET THE COMMISSIONERS KNOW OUR WETLANDS ARE IMPORTANT!
MAY 5, 2016 – 1:00 P.M. 
PERMIT AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT DEPT. 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa CA 95403 
FYI: County schedules can change at the last minute. Call the Planning Department at 707-526-1900 the morning of May 5th and ask if the Atascadero Marsh Wetlands study is still on the agenda.
To learn more about the Atascadero Watershed area: The Atascadero / Green Valley Watershed Council
To read about restoration of this watershed area: Preserving the Atascadero Wetlands

Atascadero wetlands
A Google maps view of Atascadero Creek as it flows through the wetlands near its junction with Green Valley Creek.

A proposed General Plan Amendment to expand wetland designations for the Atascadero marsh area is to designate the Atascadero wetlands, and add the Biotic Habitat (BH) combining zone which will help protect this sensitive habitat area from future development and impacts from agricultural, orchard and vineyard uses.  The proposed changes would provide a 100 foot setback from potential wetlands.  The purpose of project is to enhance protection for natural habitat, especially wetlands that adjoin the already protected riparian corridor along Atascadero Creek.
The proposal is to designate the wetland areas on the Opens Space maps with the BH combining zone.  The general plan requires a 100 foot setback for discretionary projects from designated wetlands.  VESCO also requires a 100 foot setback from wetlands designated in the General Plan.  So the protections would apply to discretionary projects (wineries, etc) and orchard and vineyards.  The Ag Commissioner has BMPs for other ag that may consider designated wetlands.
The planning commission hearing is set for May 5th, 1:00.  The staff report should be available the Friday before the PC meeting (April 29).
Read more at: General Plan Amendment proposal for Atascadero Creek Environment

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Collapse of kelp forest imperils North Coast ocean ecosystem

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

How to help: State scientists are seeking help with data collection and other activities, as well as observational accounts, photos and videos related to the urchin barren. Shared images and information should, if possible, include the date, location and depth at which they were acquired. Contact Cynthia Catton at Cynthia.Catton@wildlife.ca.gov or 875-2072.

Large tracts of kelp forest that once blanketed the sea off the North Coast have vanished over the past two years, a startling transformation that scientists say stems from rapid ecological change and has potentially far-reaching impacts, including on several valuable fisheries.
The unprecedented collapse has been observed along hundreds of miles of coastline from San Francisco to Oregon. The region’s once-lush stands of bull kelp, a large brown alga that provides food and habitat for a host of wildlife species, have been devoured by small, voracious purple urchins. In the most-affected areas, denuded kelp stalks are almost all that remains of plant life.
Scientists have described the landscape left behind as an “urchin barren.” Other factors, including warmer water, also are to blame, they say.
“It’s no longer a kelp forest,” said Cynthia Catton, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, stationed in Bodega Bay.Laura Rogers-Bennett, another Bodega Bay scientist, said it is as if whole terrestrial forests were disappearing, only in this case they are underwater and out of sight.
“A lot fewer people swim through the kelp forest,” she said. “But if they do right now, they‘re going to really see that there are huge changes that have taken place in the last year and a half or so.
”The discovery has taken shape as California scientists and policy makers are raising a broader alarm over the ebbing health of ocean waters, pointing to their increasing warmth, acidity and other conditions that have affected wildlife and the fishing industry.
Read more at: Collapse of kelp forest imperils North Coast ocean ecosystem | The Press Democrat