Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Costly new wildfire suppression won’t prevent catastrophic fires

Dan Silver, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

A wildfire suppression plan adopted at the end of 2019 by the California Board of Forestry could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars but will do very little to actually reduce fire risk for communities in Sonoma County and throughout the state. Fire safety experts and environmental protection advocates filed suit on January 28 to block the new Vegetation Treatment Program (VTP) from going into effect.

Proposed by CalFire, the state’s fire management agency, the VTP will not provide protection against wind-driven fires. Yet it is wind-driven wildfires that caused the devastating loss of life and property seen in the state in recent years. The Kincade Fire of 2019, which was the largest fire in Sonoma County recorded history, burned almost 78,000 acres and destroyed almost 400 structures. Similarly, the Tubbs, Nuns and Pocket Fires of 2017 burned more than 85,000 acres in Sonoma and Napa Counties, destroyed 7,000 structures and killed 25 people.

Across the state, 87 percent of the destruction of homes in 2017 and 2018 was caused by only six fires, all of which were wind-driven. Yet the methods to be used by the VTP would not have prevented those six catastrophic fires.

The VTP calls for removal of native forests, sage scrub and chaparral on a grand scale – on the order of 250,000 acres each year – at enormous financial and ecological cost, including releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. This approach does not stand up to scientific scrutiny and in many locations would actually be counterproductive by promoting the growth of highly flammable weeds. In addition, the VTP does not properly differentiate between what might work for northern forests versus chaparral and sage scrub in Southern California; these habitat types require very different management approaches when it comes to wildfire safety.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/californias-wildfire-suppression-effort-won-t-prevent-catastrophic-fires

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

Stanford researchers explain how humanity has ‘engineered a world ripe for pandemics’

Josie Garthwaite, STANFORD NEWS

A pandemic can strike at any time. It takes little more than the right roll of genetic dice in a virus circulating among animals, followed by a chance encounter with a person or some go-between species, like pigs or mosquitoes. But as the new coronavirus whips around the world with a speed matched by few of the infectious diseases that have emerged in modern times, it poses the question: Why now?

According to Stanford biological anthropologist James Holland Jones, we have always had spillover events, in which disease jumps from animals to people. “What’s different now is that a spillover in one part of the world can have major consequences for the rest of the world,” he said. “We have engineered a world ripe for pandemics.”

Central to this vulnerability is the fact that our species moves around the world so much, and so quickly – whether for business, leisure, safety, education, economic necessity or other reasons. Many diseases are able to move right along with us. In fact, one of the most successful indicators of where pathogens will spread is the number of flight connections between cities, said Stanford biology Professor Erin Mordecai, who studies how climate, species interactions and global change influence infectious disease dynamics in both humans and natural ecosystems.

All this interconnectedness is particularly problematic with a disease like COVID-19, which can be transmitted by people who are not experiencing symptoms. “This disease is really nasty from a control standpoint,” said Mordecai, an assistant professor of biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences and a fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “If you don’t know you’re sick, you might get on the plane and shed virus everywhere.”

An engineered world

It’s not only our highly mobile lifestyles that are helping give pandemics a runway to spread around the globe. It’s also the way we crowd together in increasingly dense cities, interact with wildlife and alter the natural world.
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Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags

Formerly endangered white rhinos flood city streets mere days after humans quarantined indoors

THE ONION

Letting out deep, powerful grunts that echoed throughout the area’s countless deserted storefronts, thousands of formerly endangered white rhinos flooded the streets of New York City Thursday mere days after residents were quarantined indoors.

white rhinos in New York

“After just a week of human isolation, this once-dying species has come back with a vengeance and is now stampeding through Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens,” said NYU Professor of Biology Jasmine Damcot, who added that the 5,000-pound animals appear to be multiplying exponentially and have been spotted sprinting through Times Square, sunning themselves on the Brooklyn Bridge, and ramming their horns into glass windows along Fifth Avenue.

“Without humans in the picture, it’s been remarkable to watch these rhinos recover and quickly inhabit every abandoned subway platform and empty bodega they can find. Frankly, if it weren’t for the resurgence of Bengal tigers and polar bears on Staten Island, I think we’d be seeing a lot more of them.”

At press time, the white rhino had once again been classified as an endangered species after a single New York City resident left his apartment to go pick up some paper towels at a local 7-Eleven.

Source: https://www.theonion.com/thousands-of-formerly-endangered-white-rhinos-flood-cit-1842410309

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

‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?

John Vidal, THE GUARDIAN

As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics

Mayibout 2 is not a healthy place. The 150 or so people who live in the village, which sits on the south bank of the Ivindo River, deep in the great Minkebe Forest in northern Gabon, are used to occasional bouts of diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and sleeping sickness. Mostly they shrug them off.

But in January 1996, Ebola, a deadly virus then barely known to humans, unexpectedly spilled out of the forest in a wave of small epidemics. The disease killed 21 of 37 villagers who were reported to have been infected, including a number who had carried, skinned, chopped or eaten a chimpanzee from the nearby forest.

I travelled to Mayibout 2 in 2004 to investigate why deadly diseases new to humans were emerging from biodiversity “hotspots” such as tropical rainforests and bushmeat markets in African and Asian cities.

It took a day by canoe and then many hours along degraded forest logging roads, passing Baka villages and a small goldmine, to reach the village. There, I found traumatised people still fearful that the deadly virus, which kills up to 90% of the people it infects, would return.

Villagers told me how children had gone into the forest with dogs that had killed the chimp. They said that everyone who cooked or ate it got a terrible fever within a few hours. Some died immediately, while others were taken down the river to hospital. A few, like Nesto Bematsick, recovered. “We used to love the forest, now we fear it,” he told me. Many of Bematsick’s family members died.

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?
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“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbour so many species of animals and plants – and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses,” David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/18/tip-of-the-iceberg-is-our-destruction-of-nature-responsible-for-covid-19-aoe

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Scientists say decades are needed to rebuild California’s abalone collapsed fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It could take until at least 2032 before California reopens even the slightest season for abalone diving and hunting along the North Coast, where depleted stocks have shut the popular sport fishery since 2018.

But that’s a best-case scenario envisioned by scientists studying the beleaguered red abalone population, as nothing like the open seasons of the recent past is likely for up to three to six decades under the current range of environmental circumstances and reproductive projections that have sunk the species, the scientific team has concluded.

That rough timeline, though subject to ongoing debate and changes based on ocean conditions and population shifts in the coming years, suggests a whole generation of people could miss out on a sport that has inspired adventure and deeply held tradition for legions of families and friends across Northern California.

It also could mean die-hard divers in upper age groups may have to make peace with having bagged their last abalone.

“Some of us won’t live long enough to get back in the water, so that’s not making a lot of people happy,” said longtime ab diver Sonke Mastrup, invertebrate program manager and chief representative in the process for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Jack Likins, a 74-year-old Gualala ab hunter known for bagging trophy sized shellfish, summed up the gloom that has taken hold in the sport’s community. “I think fishermen like me are pretty discouraged,” he said.

The projections are part of a framework prepared for the state Fish and Game Commission to help guide management of the abalone fishery beginning next year, when an emergency three-year ban on the harvest of the mollusks expires.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10789434-181/scientists-say-decades-are-needed

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Trump delivers on pledge for wealthy California farmers

Ellen Knickmeyer & Adam Beam, WSLS.com

Hoisting the spoils of victories in California’s hard-fought water wars, President Donald Trump is directing more of the state’s precious water to wealthy farmers and other agriculture interests when he visits their Republican Central Valley stronghold Wednesday.

Changes by the Trump administration are altering how federal authorities decide who gets water, and how much, in California, the U.S. state with the biggest population and economy and most lucrative farm output. Climate change promises to only worsen the state’s droughts and water shortages, raising the stakes.

Campaigning in the Central Valley farm hub of Fresno in 2016, Trump pledged then he’d be “opening up the water” for farmers. Candidate Trump denounced “insane” environmental rules meant to ensure that enough fresh water stayed in rivers and the San Francisco Bay to sustain more than a dozen endangered fish and other native species, which are struggling as agriculture and development diverts more water and land from wildlife.

Visiting Bakersfield in the Central Valley on Wednesday, Trump is expected to ceremoniously sign his administration’s reworking of those environmental rules. Environmental advocates and the state say the changes will allow federal authorities to pump more water from California’s wetter north southward to its biggest cities and farms.

The Trump administration, Republican lawmakers, and farm and water agencies say the changes will allow for more flexibility in water deliveries. In California’s heavily engineered water system, giant state and federal water projects made up of hundreds of miles of pipes, canals, pumps and dams, carry runoff from rain and Sierra Nevada snow melt from north to south — and serve as field of battle for lawsuits and regional political fights over competing demands for water.

Environmental groups say the changes will speed the disappearance of endangered winter-run salmon and other native fish, and make life tougher for whales and other creatures in the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.

After an initial study by federal scientists found the rule changes would harm salmon and whales, the Trump administration ordered a new round of review, California news organizations reported last year.

Read more at https://www.wsls.com/news/politics/2020/02/18/trump-delivers-on-pledge-for-wealthy-california-farmers/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Why were whales increasingly caught in crab lines? Because of the climate crisis

Katharine Gammon, THE GUARDIAN

New study shows marine heat wave was causing marine life to cluster in an area that made feeding dangerous

When humpback whales began to appear in large numbers off the California coast in 2015 and 2016, people celebrated the comeback of the whales after a near-miss with extinction.

However, the excitement was quickly met with new worries – the whales increasingly got caught up in fishermen’s crab ropes. By 2016, there were more than 50 recorded entanglements that left whales injured or killed. Whales got ropes tangled around their mouths, making it difficult for them to eat. Crab lines cut through tissue and caused infections.

Although whales and fishing had coexisted for decades, this was a new problem. So what was driving it?

A new study published in the journal Nature Communications points at climate breakdown as a factor in the mass entanglements.

When the situation was unfolding in 2015 and 2016, it surprised most people, but not Jarrod Santora, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the lead author of the paper.

Santora was studying the ecosystem effects of the marine heat wave, known as “the blob”, that was happening off the coast of California at the time. Heat waves alter the ocean’s upwelling – the process in which deep, cold, nutrient-rich water rises to the surface. The upwelling in 2015 and 2016 shrunk to just a narrow band along the coast, causing organisms to cluster there. Due to a heatwave-related decline in krill, whales switched to feeding on anchovies in shallower and shallower waters. In addition, the crab fishing season – an $88m industry on the US west coast – had been delayed from November to April, and came to coincide with the whales’ presence.

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

Rising ocean acidity bad news for West Coast’s $200 million Dungeness crab fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Acidification of the world’s oceans was supposed to be a distant problem — nothing to worry about until some time in the future.

But a new study of juvenile Dungeness crab collected off the Pacific Northwest coast shows the crustaceans are vulnerable to conditions that exist right now.

Published last week in the journal “Science of The Total Environment,” the study found that tiny developing crabs sampled from coastal waters off Oregon and Washington suffered damage to their shells as well as to bristly, hairlike sensory organs believed to help them orient to their surroundings.

The findings have unsettling implications for a roughly $200 million West Coast fishery — California’s most valuable ocean crop and a key economic driver for struggling fishing ports on the North and Central Coast.

The California fleet caught more than $47 million worth of Dungeness crab last year, including nearly $5 million worth of crustaceans landed in Bodega Bay.

The new research, said veteran Bodega Bay fishermen Tony Anello, sounds “very discouraging.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10644113-181/rising-ocean-acidity-bad-news

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Best places to spot migrating newts in the North Bay

Jeanne Wirka, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s breeding season for some species of amphibians – an ideal time to find them out and about

Holding a newt is one of the most sought-after wildlife encounters among the North Bay’s elementary school set. Each year, thousands of school kids eagerly await their field trip to one of our regional newt hotspots — Stuart Creek at Bouverie Preserve, the Frog Pond at Spring Lake Regional Park, Ledson Marsh at Trione-Annadel State Park and Martin Griffin Preserve on Bolinas Lagoon, to name a few.

It’s no wonder kids warm to these tiny cold-blooded critters. Unlike other wildlife their size, newts are eminently watchable. They don’t run or fly away, bite, scratch or sting. They don’t slime you with mucus like a banana slug, smear you in musk like a garter snake or pee on you like a toad.

You don’t have to be a kid, however, for a newt to steal your heart.

“Newts are so sweet, and soft and innocent-looking,” said Sally Gale of Chileno Valley in Marin County.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/10572558-181/how-to-spot-north-bay

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

Monarch butterfly population critically low on California coast – again

Associated Press, THE GUARDIAN

Study finds 29,000 butterflies, compared with 4.5 million during the 1980s, as experts point to habitat destruction

The western monarch butterfly population wintering along California’s coast remains critically low for the second year in a row, a count by an environmental group released Thursday showed.

The count of the orange-and-black insects by the Xerces Society, a not-for-profit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates, recorded about 29,000 butterflies in its annual survey. That’s not much different than last year’s tally, when an all-time low 27,000 monarchs were counted.

“We had hoped that the western monarch population would have rebounded at least modestly, but unfortunately it has not,” said Emma Pelton, a monarch conservation expert with the Xerces Society.

By comparison, about 4.5 million monarch butterflies wintered in forested groves along the California coast in the 1980s. Scientists say the butterflies are at critically low levels in the Western US due to the destruction of their milkweed habitat along their migratory route as housing expands into their territory and use of pesticides and herbicides increases.

Researchers also have noted the effect of climate change. Along with farming, climate change is one of the main drivers of the monarch’s threatened extinction, disrupting an annual 3,000-mile migration synced to springtime and the blossoming of wildflowers.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/22/monarch-butterfly-population-decline-california-coast