Posted on Categories Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Something to celebrate: Beavers return to Sonoma Creek

SONOMA ECOLOGY CENTER

It’s been a long summer of extreme drought conditions in Sonoma Valley. In what seems like a steady stream of dire news for our watershed one glimmer of good news stands out: beavers are moving back into Sonoma Creek.

The return of these charming dam builders isn’t quite breaking news – since 1993 beavers have slowly made a comeback in Sonoma Valley. But this year, in the middle of our peak dry season, their increasing presence is something for celebration. From the perspective of drought resiliency and water retention in our watershed we’re observing how beavers are a positive factor in keeping what water we do have flowing in our creek beds and reducing hydrological impacts of water rushing through the main stem of Sonoma Creek.

Their natural impulse to build dams and create ponds is a major factor in retaining refuge habitat for species that rely on water to survive. Beavers provide refuge habitat for endangered salmonids, crawdads, California roach, Sacramento suckers, frogs and the endangered California freshwater shrimp which rely on deep pools and submerged, structural habitat like fine tree roots which are often present in the structure of a beaver dam. Any animal, insect, or crustacean that requires water to live in our creek is something that benefits from the damming that the beavers do.

Read more at https://sonomaecologycenter.org/beavers-return/

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , , , ,

Bay Area high school rescues 4,000 endangered salmon from the drought – they’ll grow up on campus

Tara Duggan, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

During fifth period at Petaluma’s Casa Grande High School last week, students scooped tiny, wriggling fish out of a tank.

They weren’t dealing with classroom pets. Instead, the 17-year-olds were taking care of some the state’s last remaining coho salmon at a fish hatchery right on the school’s campus. Last month, wildlife officials moved around 4,000 endangered coho to the school’s cool, indoor tanks after conditions at a hatchery in nearby Lake Sonoma became unhealthy because of the drought. The high school will receive an additional 650 endangered coho trucked in from Santa Cruz in the coming weeks.

Casa Grande students usually raise steelhead trout native to the local watershed, donated by other hatcheries as a learning experience. But this unprecedented drought year is the first time the school has ever rescued a federally endangered species with nowhere else to go.

“We have this opportunity to save coho salmon, to see that we can do it, if people put their minds to it,” said Cathryn Carlson, 17, president of a nonprofit called United Anglers of Casa Grande, which runs the hatchery. Carlson, who goes by Kate, had just put on boots and waders before hopping into one tank’s chest-deep water to scrub its windows.

In some ways, the timing couldn’t be better for students starved for in-person instruction after being away from the classroom for almost 17 months.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/california/article/Bay-Area-high-school-rescues-4-000-endangered-16486539.php#photo-21508817

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Point Reyes National Seashore capitulates to ranchers

George Wuerthner, THE WILDLIFE NEWS

The final Record of Decision (ROD) on livestock operations management at Point Reyes National Seashore was released this week. Unfortunately, and as feared, it not only maintains the ongoing degradation of this national park unit by privately owned domestic livestock, but it expands the opportunities for a handful of ranchers to do even more damage to the public’s landscape with additional lands opened for grazing, as well as the planting of row crops.

As in the draft document, the final management plan proposes to kill the native Tule elk if their populations grow beyond what the ranchers believe (as the NPS jumps to) is undesirable. The public submitted some 50,000 comments opposed to continued ranching and the killing of rare native Tule elk. Point Reyes Seashore is the only national park where Tule elk exist.

Among the impacts caused by the ongoing livestock operations is the pollution of the park’s waterways, increased soil erosion, the spread of exotic weeds, the transfer of park vegetation from wildlife use to consumption by domestic livestock, the use of public facilities j(the ranch buildings, etc. are all owned by the U.S. citizens but are used just as if they were private property, hindering public access to its lands.

Read more at http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2021/09/14/point-reyes-national-seashore-capitulates-to-ranchers/

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , ,

Kelp forests surge back on parts of the North Coast, with a lesson about environmental stability

Alastair Bland, BAY NATURE

An unexpected darkness has recently fallen over the seafloor of the Northern California coast – the shadows cast by bull kelp.

The giant marine alga nearly vanished after a perfect storm of environmental and ecological events, including a marine heatwave and a population boom of seaweed-eating sea urchins, disrupted the marine ecosystem between 2013 and 2015. Kelp forests collapsed by more than 90 percent in Northern California, and with them went both scenic appeal and marine biodiversity. Red abalone, which graze on kelp, starved in droves, and fish departed for deeper waters. What was left, and which persists in much of the region, is a bleak underwater landscape dominated by purple urchins and not much else.

But this year the bull kelp forests of memory have surged back along parts of the Northern California coast. Areas that were completely devoid of kelp as recently as last winter are now marine jungles of tangled underwater stems and dense floating mats of fronds. James Ray, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist and kelp researcher, says the comeback seemed to begin in 2020 “with a little bump in kelp cover.”

“Now we’re seeing a much bigger bump along much of the coast,” he says.

The rapid resurgence, possibly the result of strong springtime upwelling of cold water, has other experts both delighted and a bit mystified.

“The rebound of the forests in Sonoma and Mendocino counties has been surprising and profound considering how devastated they were just a few years ago,” says Franklin Moitoza, a graduate student at Humboldt State who, working with a team of collaborators, has closely tracked kelp forest health and recovery. He says he has seen pronounced kelp regrowth from Bodega Bay to Trinidad within the past year.

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/09/13/kelp-forests-surge-back-on-the-north-coast-with-a-lesson-about-stable-environments/?utm_source=Bay+Nature&utm_campaign=947f98b27d-BN+Newsletter+09%2F16%2F2021&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_092a5caaa2-947f98b27d-199023351&mc_cid=947f98b27d&mc_eid=94a0107f8c

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

New UC Davis study finds dams are ineffective for cold-water conservation for salmon and trout

Dan Bacher, DAILY KOS

For many years, federal, state and corporate proponents of building more dams in California have touted cold water river releases provided by increased water storage behind dams as a key tool in “saving” struggling salmon and steelhead populations.

Yet a just published study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, Dams Ineffective for Cold-Water Conservation – 8/25/21, has found that dams are ineffective for the cold water conservation that is needed to preserved imperiled salmon, steelhead and other fish species.

”Dams poorly mimic the temperature patterns California streams require to support the state’s native salmon and trout — more than three-quarters of which risk extinction,” according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE by the University of California, Davis. “Bold actions are needed to reverse extinction trends and protect cold-water streams that are resilient to climate warming.”

The study helps identify where high-quality, cold-water habitat remains to help managers prioritize conservation efforts.

“It is no longer a good investment to put all our cold-water conservation eggs in a dam-regulated basket,” said lead author Ann Willis, a senior staff researcher at the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and a fellow for the John Muir Institute of the Environment. “We need to consider places where the natural processes can occur again.”

Read more at https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/8/26/2048396/-New-UC-Davis-Study-Finds-Dams-Are-Ineffective-for-Cold-Water-Conservation-for-Salmon-and-Trout

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Thousands of endangered coho salmon moved from Lake Sonoma hatchery amid rising water temperatures

Guy Kovner, PRESS DEMOCRAT

As Lake Sonoma plummeted to record low levels this summer, the water has warmed enough to threaten the coho salmon raised in the state hatchery at the base of its 319-foot dam northwest of Healdsburg.

With signs of disease appearing in the juvenile coho, an endangered species in the Russian River, federal biologists took an unprecedented step in the local watershed: trucking about 2,000 fish nearly 50 miles south to a student-operated hatchery at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma.

“They’re welcome here,” Dan Hubacker, a science teacher and director of the school’s 38-year-old United Anglers program, said after the final load of 92 fish arrived Tuesday afternoon. “We’re here to help.”

The remarkable strategy comes during a severe statewide drought and escalating climate change that has crimped water supplies to North Bay farms and cities and caused rural wells to run dry.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/thousands-of-endangered-coho-salmon-moved-from-lake-sonoma-hatchery-amid-ri/

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

Death by design: National Park Service vs tule elk

Peter Byrne, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Instagram users love the captive tule elk hoofing Tomales Point at the northern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore.

The sleek, befurred mammals seem to commune with tourists who stroll a well-traveled trail in the preserve. Tule elk are Yoda-like, with big, brown eyes. They trumpet, munch flowers and make love in harems.

According to a 1998 National Park Service brochure, “Given the mild climate and lush habitat of Tomales Point, the elk live in a virtual paradise.”

Let’s take a closer look. Using the fact-focusing lens of science, we learn that hundreds of tule elk inside the preserve are dying in agony from starvation and thirst and eating poisonous plants. They are trapped in an ecological hellscape operated by a bureaucracy that fences the animals away from forage and water for political reasons.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/death-by-design-how-the-national-park-service-experiments-on-tule-elk/

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

State water regulators to consider emergency limits on as many as 2,400 Russian River users

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are considering sweeping drought emergency rules that would let them suspend the diversion of water from the Russian River by as many as 2,400 homes, businesses, municipal agencies and other users. The proposal, which would cover both the upper and lower parts of the watershed, could greatly extend the list of more than 900 water suppliers, agricultural producers and property owners already notified there has been too little rainfall for them to exercise their water rights this year.

The draft regulation goes before the state water board next Tuesday and could account for substantial monthly savings, depending when diversions are limited, Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the state water board’s Division of Water Rights, said during a virtual Sonoma County Town Hall on the drought last week.

Those affected would include residents of both Sonoma and Mendocino counties, a region singled out by Gov. Gavin Newsom in April for being at particular risk of water shortage after two dry years because of its dependence on a reservoir system subject to rapid depletion in the absence of regular rainfall.

With storage in Lake Mendocino, the smaller of the reservoirs, diminishing by the day, state regulators are hoping they can slow its consumption by reserving withdrawals for those with the oldest, most senior water claims and, potentially, curtailing even them.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/state-water-regulators-to-consider-emergency-limits-on-at-least-1600-russi/

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Video: Recovery and resiliency in California salmonids

Friends of the Gualala River

Video: Friends of Gualala River (FoGR) celebrated Earth Day, Thursday, April 22, 2021, with a free webinar on salmonids presented by Dr. Jacob Katz, senior scientist with California Trout. Click on the image below to go to the FoGR website and watch the video.

California Trout is a non-profit dedicated to protecting and restoring the state’s 32 species of salmonid fish. Dr. Katz directs the organization’s Central California region where his work focuses on redesigning California’s antiquated water infrastructure to help restore habitat for declining salmonid populations.

Once, before the waters of the great Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers were dammed, impounded, pumped, and channeled into hundreds of miles of concrete canals in the state and federal water projects, millions of Chinook salmon swam upstream in spring and fall runs from the Pacific Ocean through the San Francisco Bay Delta to natal streams where they could spawn.

There, juvenile fish could hide from predators and feed off the rich supply of invertebrates found in the marshes and floodplains. Fattened and strengthened for the rigors of life in the ocean, they migrated back down the rivers and out to the Pacific for a period before returning to complete the cycle of life.

But today salmon teeter on the brink of extinction with their populations plummeting to a few thousand, their habitat severely reduced and degraded. Demands on water in the state are sky high, and water wars are protracted and unproductive.

Is the extinction of these iconic California natives inevitable? Or, could there be a possible solution in the notion of sharing water and habitat rather than fighting? Would flooded rice fields prove as rich a nursery as the marshes and floodplains of old? Would ranchers, farmers, and water districts be amenable to engineering a cooperative solution? California Trout and Dr. Katz seem to have found a way.

Here along the North Coast, the salmon and steelhead runs are also threatened and endangered. While our terrain and ecosystems differ from the Central Valley, the root problems are the same: extraction and degradation of water and natural resources are destroying the fish.

In the Gualala River watershed, there is the prospect of beginning salmonid restoration through the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy’s acquisition and management of the Mill Bend property in the estuary. State and federal regulators are interested. Intelligent stewardship means that much more will need to be done along the main stem of the river and upper portions of the watershed where the needs of fish will have to be integrated with working lands to reconnect and restore habitat.

Dr. Katz’s presentation is part of FoGR’s outreach program to educate the community about the extraordinary natural resources found within the Gualala River watershed and to increase awareness and commitment to its stewardship.

This presentation was hosted by Friends of Gualala River’s (FoGR) Education and Outreach Committee on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Eel River to some, Wiya’t to the tribe that fishes it

Arthur Dawson, PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Eel River runs through Lake, Mendocino, and Trinity counties before reaching the Pacific Ocean in southern Humboldt County. Its name was given by Josiah Gregg in 1850 as he was exploring and looking for land to settle. Coming upon a group of Indigenous Wiyot fishermen, he traded a frying pan for some Pacific lampreys, which he mistook for eels.

Those Wiyot fishermen had probably been up most of the night — a good time for catching lamprey. Some of the best fishing spots were in the breaking waves at the river’s mouth. Waving redwood-splinter torches over the water, they attracted the lamprey with the flames. With quick reflexes and a carved stick, they snatched them from the water. And because lampreys are so slippery, the Wiyot twirl them over their heads before setting them on dry ground — otherwise they can slide off back into the river.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/eel-river-to-some-wiyat-to-the-tribe-that-fishes-it/