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Judge: PG&E put profits over wildfire safety

A U.S. judge berated Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. on Wednesday, accusing the nation’s largest utility of enriching shareholders instead of clearing trees that can fall on its power lines and start fires and making “excuses” to avoid turning off electricity when fire risk is high.

Judge William Alsup in San Francisco did not immediately order PG&E to take any of the dramatic measures he has proposed to try to stop more wildfires.

But he warned that he was not ruling out at least some new requirements on the company if it did not come up with a plan to “solve” the problem of catastrophic wildfires in California.

“To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, ‘PG&E continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.'”

Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E on pipeline safety charges stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

He proposed earlier this month as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions and shut off power when fire is a risk regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit.

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PG&E cutting trees near power lines in high fire-risk areas

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E is trimming and removing trees near a high-voltage transmission line along River Road west of Highway 101, an area the utility says has been plagued by outages because of falling trees.

The work, conducted by a PG&E contractor, will cover a 40-foot swath — 20 feet to each side of a 60,000-volt transmission line that runs along the road from PG&E’s Fulton substation to Forestville, said Deanna Contreras, a spokeswoman for the utility.

It comes as the utility, which serves 5.4 million electric customers from Bakersfield to Eureka, is engaged in an accelerated and expanded campaign to clear trees and brush away from overhead power lines.

Standards adopted by the state Public Utilities Commission in the wake of last year’s wildfires require power companies to maintain a minimum 4-foot vegetation clearance around their lines year-round in extreme fire-threat areas, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.

These areas, officially designated as Tier 3, cover a broad zone largely in the Mayacamas Mountains from Cloverdale to Sonoma, including the Mark West Creek area, Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, as well as the west county wooded areas stretching nearly to the coast.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8866874-181/pge-cutting-trees-near-power

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Sonoma County planning discussions crowd the horizon

Will Carruthers, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Nearly a year after the Sonoma County Complex Fires destroyed 5,300 homes and ten years after the last housing crash slowed Sonoma County’s economy to a crawl, discussions about the future of housing, transportation and the economy are proliferating.

In the coming months, city, county, regional and business-led planning processes will each form an image of what Sonoma County and the North Bay should look like in the future.

Although many of the problems up for debate preexisted the fires, discussions at public meetings and behind closed doors in the coming months may well determine what course the county and North Bay region take for years to come.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/north-bay-sonoma-county-planning-efforts-proliferate

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , , , ,

Trione-Annadel park struggling to protect hidden treasures

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

To help close part of the gap in support to maintain and protect Annadel, a new nonprofit community group, Friends of Trione-Annadel State Park, was formed this year by outdoorsman and retired executive Dan Stamps and other concerned Santa Rosans. Information about the group and their June fundraiser can be found at their website fotasp.com.

From the air, Trione-Annadel State Park — affectionately just “Annadel” to many — stands like a tall, 5-mile- long island, floating between the flat valleys of Santa Rosa on the west and Sonoma to the east. And like an island adrift in a sea of development, the massif carries a trove of lost natural treasures. Despite Annadel’s 40 miles of official trails, many of its treasures lie hidden from casual view: Few know, for example, that Annadel is home to four types of blooming orchids.

That low profile is a mixed blessing to the small team entrusted with its care. Concealed in the wild, Annadel’s unique features are spared the damage that often comes with human contact. But if they’re kept secret, the public may not support the long-term efforts required to protect them.

While the park today is primarily a recreation magnet, the landscape itself has stories to tell, and the natural history of Annadel is a fascinating tour through time and change.

History of wildfires

October’s firestorm was not the first time flames have swept the Annadel landscape, and how often the fires return is an important question. To find out, Mark Finney, a young Berkeley researcher, hit on the idea of examining ancient redwood stumps in Annadel, looking for burn scars amid the tree rings, which he could then count to track time between fires. What he found was unexpected. Before the mid-1800s, there were fires every six to 23 years on average, and as often as every two years.

Posted on Categories Local Organizations, Sonoma CoastTags , , ,

Bodega lab scientist Susan Williams was key voice for conservation, mentor to students worldwide

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Susan Williams was a Bodega Bay marine biologist and professor whose scientific expertise was instrumental in a decadeslong effort to expand federal protections for North Coast marine ecosystems.

She directed the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and served as a key advisor to California lawmakers working to protect coastal waters from oil and gas development. Her research showed how ocean health is connected to the wellbeing of coastal communities and humanity at large, and her ability to communicate simply about complicated science made her an essential adviser, said former U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a Petaluma Democrat who relied on Williams’ counsel in her battles for environmental protections.

“What a loss for our country and our oceans and everybody that has ever met her,” said Woolsey, who served in Congress until 2013. “She was able to put words to science and make it real.”

Willams, 66, was the lone fatality Tuesday in a six-vehicle crash on Lakeville Highway in Petaluma, where her Toyota Prius was struck head-on by Chevrolet Silverado pickup that authorities said crossed over into her lane.

Williams studied seagrass and coral reefs at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, and her research documented the impacts of warming ocean waters and human activity. Her studies covered the impact of invasive species brought into ports and the prevalence of plastic in the sea.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8257601-181/bodega-lab-scientist-susan-williams?utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pd_daily&utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pd_daily

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local Organizations, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Hood Mountain Regional Park to grow with donation of Santa Rosa Creek property

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A pristine, quarter-mile stretch of upper Santa Rosa Creek will be permanently protected as part of Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve after the Sonoma Land Trust’s recent purchase of a 40-acre parcel on the park boundary.

The new property, located near the Los Alamos Road entrance at the northern end of the park, contains the last stand of redwoods in headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek and a cool shaded creek canyon ideal for rare steelhead trout, one of which was spotted in its waters just last week, land trust representatives said.

The newly acquired property is relatively small — particularly compared to the 1,750-acre wilderness park it adjoins — but it has important value as a buffer between the park and a growing number of estate homes being built in the area, along Los Alamos Road, the nonprofit group said.

It also extends an established wildlife corridor through the hills above Highway 12 and the Oakmont/Kenwood areas. That corridor has become a focal point of local conservation efforts in recent years, as land managers seek to create room for mountain lions, deer, bear and a host of other critters to roam across Sonoma and neighboring counties.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8172398-181/hood-mountain-regional-park-to

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Land Use, Local Organizations, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Dr. Lisa Micheli of Pepperwood Preserve earns Bay Nature Environmental Hero of the Year

Nate Seltenrich, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

Perched on a ridgeline in the Mayacamas Mountains northeast of Santa Rosa, Pepperwood Preserve spans 3,200 acres, protecting the headwaters of three watersheds that feed the Russian River and offering refuge to more than 900 species of native plants and animals. President and CEO Lisa Micheli, who took the helm at Pepperwood in 2009, has led the private preserve’s transformation into “a field station of global significance” recognized by the National Science Foundation. More than a dozen research projects—studying anything from climate change and hydrology to grasslands and phenology—are underway at Pepperwood at any given time, while the preserve and its 9,400-square-foot Dwight Center for Conservation Science also serves as a lab and nature-education center for students and citizen scientists of all ages.

Research, teaching, and outreach have come together at the preserve under Micheli, who holds a civil engineering master’s in Environmental Water Resources and a Ph.D. in Energy and Resources, both from UC Berkeley. In recognition of Pepperwood’s commitment to world-class science, environmental education, and community involvement, Micheli has been named Bay Nature’s 2018 Local Hero for Environmental Education.

Read the interview with Dr. Micheli at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/dr-lisa-micheli-of-pepperwood-preserve-earns-bay-nature-environmental-hero-of-the-year

Posted on Categories Habitats, Local OrganizationsTags ,

2018 Environmental Education Local Hero: Lisa Micheli

Nate Seltenrich, BAY NATURE
Perched on a ridgeline in the Mayacamas Mountains northeast of Santa Rosa, Pepperwood Preserve spans 3,200 acres, protecting the headwaters of three watersheds that feed the Russian River and offering refuge to more than 900 species of native plants and animals. President and CEO Lisa Micheli, who took the helm at Pepperwood in 2009, has led the private preserve’s transformation into “a field station of global significance” recognized by the National Science Foundation. More than a dozen research projects—studying anything from climate change and hydrology to grasslands and phenology—are underway at Pepperwood at any given time, while the preserve and its 9,400-square-foot Dwight Center for Conservation Science also serves as a lab and nature-education center for students and citizen scientists of all ages.

Research, teaching, and outreach have come together at the preserve under Micheli, who holds a civil engineering master’s in Environmental Water Resources and a Ph.D. in Energy and Resources, both from UC Berkeley. In recognition of Pepperwood’s commitment to world-class science, environmental education, and community involvement, Micheli has been named Bay Nature’s 2018 Local Hero for Environmental Education.

Read more at https://baynature.org/article/2018-environmental-education-local-hero-lisa-micheli/

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Local Organizations, WaterTags , , , , , , , ,

Threat to Gualala River Dogwood Forest logging ends with court decision

Peter Baye and Rick Coates, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

“The real problem isn’t going to go away until the Board of Forestry and CAL FIRE follow their own rules, including CEQA. Until they do, we are not going away, either” said Charlie Ivor, president of Friends of Gualala River. “The Gualala River floodplain forest is going to be protected according to law, no exceptions.”

The lawsuit to stop logging the Gualala River floodplain redwood forest tract in the “Dogwood” timber harvest plan (THP) is over. CAL FIRE was ordered by Sonoma County Superior Court to vacate (revoke) the Gualala Redwood Timber Company timber harvest plan on April 18, 2017. CAL FIRE finally responded to the writ sending a “Notice of Director’s Decision Vacating Approval” to GRT’s forester Art Haschak on September 7, 2017, prohibiting any further logging in the Dogwood THP area. GRT must now file a new timber harvest plan if it seeks to log some or all of the floodplain redwood forest in the vacated “Dogwood” THP.
The Dogwood THP was shut down by the Court after logging on one tributary had begun. The five miles of riparian redwood forest along the main stem of the river in the Dogwood THP area has not been logged.In March, the court also ordered CAL FIRE to “reconsider” its approval of the Dogwood THP within 150 days. The Court entered judgment against CAL FIRE on March 23, 2017, based on the agency’s failure to assess any cumulative impacts of another floodplain timber harvest plan submitted by Gualala Redwood Timber during the Dogwood timber harvest plan review period, the “German South” THP.
While environmentalist plaintiffs are celebrating their victory, and the fact that the century-old floodplain redwood forest in the Dogwood THP area will be spared for now, they remain concerned CAL FIRE has not improved or reformed its environmental reviews of floodplain forest logging. The Court ordered CAL FIRE to “reconsider” approval of the Dogwood THP, including direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts to wetlands, rare plants, floodplain forest, and listed fish and wildlife species. But after being ordered to revoke the logging permit, CAL FIRE and GRT made a minimal, nominal effort to meet this order. Rather than substantially reconsider or correct the many basic environmental flaws of the timber plan, CAL FIRE and GRT minimally complied with Judge René Chouteau’s order to “reconsider” its approval by submitting only a single supplemental page, three paragraphs long, with minor changes.
Read more at: Threat to Gualala River Dogwood Forest logging ends with court decision

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California Coastal Cleanup Day coming Saturday, needs volunteers in Sonoma County

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma Coast Cleanup 2017: sonomabeachcleanup.org
Laguna de Santa Rosa and Sebastopol Laguna Wetlands Preserve 2017: lagunadesantarosa.org/volunteer_lagunastewards.html
Petaluma River Cleanup 2017: friendsofthepetalumariver.org/project/conserve
Russian River Watershed Cleanup 2017: russianrivercleanup.org
Santa Rosa Creek-to-Coast Cleanup: srcity.org/2290/Creek-to-Coast-Cleanup
Mendocino County Coastal Cleanup Day: mendocinolandtrust.org/connect/coastal-cleanup-day
Sonoma Ecology Center Cleanup 2017: brownpapertickets.com/event/3042967

Do you find yourself dismayed or even tormented by images of seabirds, marine mammals, fish and other sealife with their guts full of plastic and other trash?
Here’s your chance to help, and it only takes a few hours.
Saturday marks the 33rd annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, an opportunity to rise to the defense of the ocean and its inhabitants by removing litter from local beaches and watersheds before winter rains and storm surges can sweep it out to sea.
Dozens of sites around the North Coast, both inland and at the ocean’s edge, are among more than 870 locations chosen statewide for volunteer cleanup crews to go to work on Saturday.
Locally, they include state and county beaches along the Sonoma Coast, from Jenner to Bodega Bay, as well as public beaches up and down the Mendocino Coast.But in growing recognition of the volume of discarded litter that washes coastward from rivers and streams, dozens of inland cleanups are planned, as well. Targeted waterways include the Russian River from Ukiah to Monte Rio, the Petaluma River, Santa Rosa Creek, the Laguna de Santa Rosa and several Sonoma-area parks and preserves.
“Ideally, this is the day everybody gives back to clean waterways,” Russian Riverkeeper Executive Director Don McEnhill said.
Read more at: California Coastal Cleanup Day coming Saturday, needs volunteers in Sonoma County | The Press Democrat –