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ACTION: General Plan Amendment proposal for Atascadero Creek wetlands

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.

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.
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

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

Collapse of kelp forest imperils North Coast ocean ecosystem


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 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

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Appreciating the magic of Sonoma County’s vernal pools 

A rare and showy plant is blooming right now. Its name is “Sonoma Sunshine” (Blennosperma bakeri), and it is aptly labeled, as it beams a brilliant shade of yellow. What makes this plant so special is that the world’s entire population is right here in Sonoma County, and it occupies a unique and often overlooked habitat in our region: vernal pools.
Vernal pools are places on the landscape that hold water in spring but dry up completely in summer. If you think about it, that’s a hard place to be a plant, so vernal pools are home to plants with innovative strategies for survival. Most of them are annuals, meaning they go through their entire life cycle in one season and survive the hot, dry summer season as seeds.
Sonoma Sunshine is one of these.
In the early spring the seeds germinate in the shallow saturated waters of the vernal pool and send roots down and leaves upward. The plant grows quickly in full knowledge that its time is limited. It reaches up toward the sky and develops its showy daisy-like flower. And then it waits.
Read more at: Appreciating the magic of Sonoma County’s vernal pools | The Press Democrat

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New Laguna de Santa Rosa trail shows an ecosystem in recovery

A group of two dozen people on Saturday got the first official look at a multimillion-dollar restoration effort along a 1.7-mile stretch of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the broad freshwater wetland that flows into the Russian River.
A guided morning hike of the new Southern Laguna Discovery Trail outside Rohnert Park revealed a renewed ecosystem that is showing signs of recovery after decades of abuse and neglect. Steelhead trout and river otter populations are recovering, native plants and saplings are taking root and natural predators are returning.
“Check this out, it’s bobcat scat,” said Kevin Monroe, executive director of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, as a group of hikers gathered around him and cheered the discovery. “Seeing a top predator in this habitat is just wonderful. We still have much further to go, but this is a sign that some health and functionality is being returned to this ecosystem.”
Spearheaded by the foundation, and the Sonoma County Water Agency, restoration efforts along the middle reach of the Laguna de Santa Rosa have been underway since 2012. Just four years ago, the waterway that flows from Cotati and past Sebastopol before spilling into the Russian River was surrounded largely by grassland. Most of the native trees and shrubs were ripped out during the early 1970s, and the meandering waterway was straightened to help prevent flooding in Rohnert Park.
Runoff from urban areas and dairy farms led to other problems, spurring an explosion of invasive plants that choked off oxygen in the waters, leading to significant declines in wildlife populations.
Some of those issues have been stemmed by conservation efforts.“It’s a big experiment, but all of the plants and animals are starting to come back,” said Wendy Trowbridge, director of restoration and conservation science programs for the foundation. “And 20 years from now, this will be like walking in a lovely forest.”
Read more at: New Laguna de Santa Rosa trail unveiled outside Rohnert Park | The Press Democrat