Posted on Categories Forests, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Landowner under fire for post-Walbridge salvage logging violations

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

To hear Ken Bareilles tell it, the worst thing to happen on his land west of Healdsburg since the 2020 Walbridge Fire was the felling of charred Douglas fir trees that now lie on the ground, dried and cracking, because there’s so little demand at the mills.

To hear his neighbors tell it, the worst thing to happen since the Walbridge Fire has been Ken Bareilles.

It’s not just the neighbors. He’s seen as a bad actor by environmental watchdogs, regulators and others who have watched his emergency timber operation unfold on 106 acres in the sensitive Felta Creek watershed. Set among lush redwoods and ferns, the creek is a last refuge for endangered coho salmon.

Bareilles, for his part, has a different take on the unauthorized creek crossing, the hillside erosion, the flowing sediment, the tractor driven into the bed of Felta Creek and the host of violations documented by three state regulatory agencies over the past year.

According to him, they are the result of bad luck, poor advice, miscommunication and the relentless griping from residents who object to him logging fire-damaged trees up the hill from their homes along a narrow, private road.

He says Cal Fire and other agencies are only trying to pacify the critics by cracking down on him, and anyway, it’s only words and paper. So far there have been no fines or interference in his logging — though he remains under investigation by at least two state agencies. His one-year emergency logging permit, initially set to expire in October 2021, was even extended a year, like everyone else’s.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/landowner-under-fire-for-post-walbridge-fire-salvage-logging-violations/?ref=moststory

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Focus on the SDC: Open space and the public trust

Tracy Salcedo, THE KENWOOD PRESS

The SDC’s wildlands are public now. Do they have to be privatized to become public again?

From day one, my community activism has focused on preservation of the open space at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). Of all the worthy transformations contemplated for the storied property, ensuring the wildlands remain forever wild has been my highest priority.

From day one, I’ve heard promises from elected officials at the county and state levels, along with planners, consultants, and bureaucrats, that preserving the open space was a done deal.

From day one, I’ve asked: If that’s the case, why do we have to wait? Why don’t we set it aside now?

Don’t worry, the officials have responded. There’s a process. Have faith.

I’m worried. In its recently released request for proposals (RFP), the California Department of General Services (DGS) has reiterated its intent to sell the entire 945-acre SDC property, including the open space, to a private party. That’s not preservation in the public trust. That’s creation of private property.

I’m worried.

The process trumps the promise

The timelines for Sonoma County’s specific planning process and the state’s disposition process have always overlapped, but the original idea was that by the time the property was put up for sale, the specific plan would be done, the open space boundaries would be delineated, and a means of transfer to state parks, regional parks, or a land trust would be in place.

Enter wildfire, pandemic, inflexibility, and bureaucracy. Now, if the state sticks to its timeline, it will sell the property before the Board of Supervisors adopts the beleaguered specific plan. If a sale goes forward, the buyer will own not only the campus, but also the surrounding wetlands, woodlands, grasslands, trails, and much of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor.

Read more at https://www.kenwoodpress.com/2022/06/01/focus-on-the-sdc-open-space-and-the-public-trust/

Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , ,

Sonoma County vintner, business face $3.75 million fine for alleged environmental damage

Emily Wilder, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are seeking to impose a $3.75 million fine on a Sonoma County wine executive and his business for allegedly causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Hugh Reimers, an Australian vintner, and his company Krasilsa Pacific Farms LLC of improperly clearing trees, grading land and disposing of construction and earthen waste materials in a way that was detrimental to wetland waters and wildlife, according to a May 9 complaint by the North Coast Water Board’s enforcement staff.

A 2019 investigation by the water board of the 2,278-acre property, which Krasilsa Pacific purchased in September 2017, found the company violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act by removing oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries.

The actions harmed streams that fed into the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks, according to the complaint.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-vintner-business-face-3-75-million-fine-for-alleged-environ/

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

Endangered coho salmon battered by 3rd year of drought. Here’s why it matters

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Russian River’s once celebrated salmon populations have long been imperiled by logging, development, gravel mining and other human activities that have eliminated flood plains, channelized river and stream flows, and limited the woody debris and shade that keeps the water cool enough for young fish to survive.

More intense and frequent droughts have further eroded conditions, not just for the coho, but for steelhead and chinook salmon, both listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

They were once abundant in the cold, clear water of North Bay creeks and streams. Now, the survival of coho salmon is being challenged like never before.

The coho has a three-year life cycle that takes it from stream to ocean and back to stream to spawn the next generation.

But the changing climate now threatens the species at every life stage, raising new questions about their recovery.

It’s not just a species at stake. At risk is the very resilience of the forest and watershed that evolved around them, fed by marine nutrients brought upstream and deposited inland by adult spawners that, after reproducing, die and decompose.

“Salmon are a keystone species, which means they perform a really important ecosystem service,” said Sarah Nossaman Pierce, a California Sea Grant fisheries biologist with the Russian River Monitoring Program. “Salmon and steelhead (trout) bring marine-based nutrients into the system and essentially feed the forest, plants, birds and wildlife.”

The challenge, she said, is “ecosystem resilience”

“People say, ‘Why do you care about the salmon?’ Unfortunately, if they can’t survive, human beings aren’t far behind,” she said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/endangered-coho-salmon-battered-by-3rd-year-of-drought-heres-why-it-matte/

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

Op-Ed: Expand and restore Bay wetlands to fight climate change

Carin High and Arthur Feinstein, THE MERCURY NEWS

Report must spur us to look at actions we can take to reduce emissions and prepare our communities to adapt

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from the world’s scientific community leaves no doubt that we must take urgent action on climate change while we still have a chance to prevent the most destructive impacts to the globe’s communities and ecosystems. This report must spur every one of us to look at actions we can take in our region to rapidly reduce emissions and prepare our communities to adapt.

More than issuing a wake-up call, this report offers concrete actions that we can take and emphasizes the valuable role of nature-based solutions that reduce climate change risks, while providing numerous benefits to both our communities and the planet.

One of the most effective nature-based solutions is the expansion and restoration of coastal wetlands. Wetlands not only provide valuable habitat for fish and birds, acting as the base of the marine ecosystem, but wetlands have also been shown to be one of nature’s most efficient plant communities for capturing carbon from the atmosphere, trapping organic carbon quicker and better than forests, thus reducing carbon in the atmosphere.

Coastal wetlands also help to buffer our communities from sea level rise, acting as a sponge to capture flood waters before they reach our homes and businesses. In short, wetlands, if protected, expanded and restored, are one of the most valuable ecosystem tools for reducing the impact of climate change.

Read more at https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/30/opinion-expand-and-restore-bay-wetlands-to-fight-climate-change/

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

Fishery groups plan to sue PG&E over Potter Valley plant and related Scott, Cape Horn dams

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A coalition of fishery groups has formally notified PG&E that it plans to file suit under the Endangered Species Act, alleging the continued injury to once abundant federally protected salmon and steelhead trout as a result of operations at the utility’s aging Potter Valley powerhouse.

The legal maneuver is part of an effort to expedite removal of Scott and Cape Horn dams, which pose a threat to vulnerable fish species in the Eel River and block access to hundreds of miles of prime habitat upstream.

The plaintiffs contend that last Thursday’s expiration of PG&E’s license for the project means the utility is no longer protected from liability and must be found in violation of the Endangered Species Act — a point the utility disputes.

A formal notice filed Friday by the coalition gives PG&E 60 days to remedy the situation or face litigation. It also echoes comments about project inadequacies made in a March 16 letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in advance of the expiration of the utility’s license.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/fishery-groups-plan-to-sue-pge-over-potter-valley-plant-and-related-scott/

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

Critics rip ‘half-baked’ federal plan to save California salmon

Nick Cahill, COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Both conservationists and water suppliers are upset with a proposal that federal and state officials say is aimed at ensuring Chinook salmon survive the California drought.

Fishing groups and water suppliers fighting the Biden administration’s proposed drought rules for California’s water system told a federal judge Friday the emergency plans won’t stop the demise of endangered salmon.

With California trudging through another disappointingly dry winter, the federal government and state officials have agreed upon a set of temporary rules they claim are necessary to preserve enough cold water on the Sacramento River for Chinook salmon this spring and summer. The rules call for new water temperature targets and improved collaboration between federal and state officials on the management of California’s two main water conveyance systems.

But the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and other conservation groups cast the “interim operations plan” as a half-baked measure that will lead to a third consecutive year of salmon die-offs. They want the feds to hold off on upcoming water deliveries and subsequently store more cold water behind Shasta Dam in the event hydrological conditions remain dreadful.

In addition, a group of water agencies claim the interim plan was untested and, if implemented, would likely violate their contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The overarching issue are endangered species permits or biological opinions adopted by the Trump administration in 2019 that critics said severely weakened protections for salmon and water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Read more at https://www.courthousenews.com/critics-rip-feds-half-baked-plan-to-save-california-salmon/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Plan to acquire Mendocino County power plant unravels

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans to acquire an aging power plant in Mendocino County to ensure continued flows of Eel River water into Lake Mendocino and Sonoma County have unraveled.

A coalition of organizations from Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties abandoned their quest to acquire the century-old Potter Valley hydroelectric plant, saying it could not meet an April 14 deadline for submitting a federal license application.

The plant, about 80 miles north of Santa Rosa, is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, which in 2019 announced plans to abandon it and surrender its license.

Water users downstream maintained the plant was critical because Eel River water is diverted through its turbines into Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. That, in turn, supplies users as far south as Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

Without the option of acquiring the plant, stakeholders predict years of uncertainty, quarreling and, ultimately, higher costs to water users.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/multicounty-partnership-yields-on-potter-valley-power-plant-license-scramb/

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

‘Haven’t been seen for 25 years’: rains bring salmon back to California streams

Reuters, THE GUARDIAN

Endangered coho salmon spotted returning to spawning grounds after well-timed precipitation

The heavy rains that soaked California late last year were welcomed by farmers, urban planners – and endangered coho salmon.

“We’ve seen fish in places that they haven’t been for almost 25 years,” said Preston Brown, the director of watershed conservation for the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (Spawn).

California received more precipitation from October to December than in the previous 12 months, according to the National Weather Service.

The abundance of rain and snow arrived in time for the November-to-January spawning season in the resource-rich Tomales Bay watershed north of San Francisco, enabling some fish to reach tributaries to the Lagunitas Creek, at least 13 miles inland in Marin County.

Some fish have been spotted a mile upstream from where the San Geronimo Creek had been dammed until little more than a year ago, experts say.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jan/19/coho-salmon-california-spawning-rain-drought

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

Russian River flows at risk: New studies show potential path forward for Potter Valley project

Mother of All Groups (MOAG), SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

PG&E’s license to operate the Potter Valley Project expires in April of 2022. For more information until then: http://pottervalleyproject.org/

A group of studies released last month paint a clearer picture of how Sonoma and Mendocino counties can meet future water needs while reducing environmental impacts in the face of a decision by PG&E to cease operation of an aging hydroelectric power project.

The Potter Valley Project (PVP) is located approximately 15 miles north of the City of Ukiah on the Eel River. The Project’s facilities include two dams, a diversion tunnel and a hydroelectric plant located in Potter Valley in the headwaters of the Russian River. The 100-year-old project produces little electricity by modern standards and is a net money loser, but Sonoma and Mendocino County water users have grown accustomed to the water diverted by the Project which flows from the Eel River into the Russian River watershed where it is stored in Lake Mendocino – ultimately flowing down the Russian River where it benefits agricultural interests and residents.

This arrangement was put in jeopardy when PG&E announced in 2019 that it would not seek to renew its federal license to operate the Project, which expires in April 2022. In recent weeks, PG&E also notified the public that the Project’s powerhouse had suffered a transformer failure, which eliminated its ability to generate electricity and reduced water diversions into the Russian River. Given PG&E’s goal to dispense with the Project, it is unlikely the powerhouse will be repaired or that the Project will ever function as it once did.

In response to PG&E’s decision to divest from the Project, a diverse group of stakeholders called the Two-Basin Partnership was formed to develop a plan to take over and modify the Project in a way that reflects regional needs and priorities in both basins. Among these priorities are fisheries recovery in the Eel River – one of the few major rivers left in California that has the potential to support abundant, self-sustaining wild populations of salmon and steelhead – and water supply reliability for Russian River water users. The Partnership’s proposed plan included the removal of Scott Dam, restoration of the drained Lake Pillsbury footprint and modifications or the replacement of Cape Horn Dam to maintain a diversion.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/russian-river-flows-at-risk-new-studies-show-potential-path-forward-for-po/