Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WildlifeTags , ,

Light pollution is key ‘bringer of insect apocalypse’

Damian Carrington, THE GUARDIAN

Light pollution is a significant but overlooked driver of the rapid decline of insect populations, according to the most comprehensive review of the scientific evidence to date.

Artificial light at night can affect every aspect of insects’ lives, the researchers said, from luring moths to their deaths around bulbs, to spotlighting insect prey for rats and toads, to obscuring the mating signals of fireflies.

“We strongly believe artificial light at night – in combination with habitat loss, chemical pollution, invasive species, and climate change – is driving insect declines,” the scientists concluded after assessing more than 150 studies. “We posit here that artificial light at night is another important – but often overlooked – bringer of the insect apocalypse.”

However, unlike other drivers of decline, light pollution was relatively easy to prevent, the team said, by switching off unnecessary lights and using proper shades. “Doing so could greatly reduce insect losses immediately,” they said.

Brett Seymoure, a behavioural ecologist at Washington University in St Louis and senior author of the review, said: “Artificial light at night is human-caused lighting – ranging from streetlights to gas flares from oil extraction. It can affect insects in pretty much every imaginable part of their lives.”

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/22/light-pollution-insect-apocalypse

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Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists

Alastair Bland, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/11/18/774859696/wine-moguls-destroy-land-and-pay-small-fines-as-cost-of-business-say-activists

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As bears move into Sonoma County, wildlife advocates seek to keep them safe, wild

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Aaron Bennett’s thinking goes something like this: Black bears had long since claimed territory in the Anderson Valley lands where his parents established Navarro Vineyards decades ago, so when the family planted pinot noir at high elevation in the mid-1990s, it was the humans who would have to learn to share.

That’s why he, his parents and sister so willingly tolerate the nighttime visitors to their vineyard, even supplying a playful Winnie the Pooh soundtrack to a compilation video they’ve posted online documenting hungry bears roaming through the grapevines in recent months.

“I grew up on the ranch. I see the bears just as cohabitants of the land,” said Bennett, 41.

The bears eat a ton or two of grapes each season — perhaps as much as $10,000 worth. It’s a sizable hit, but “it’s not the bear’s fault that we put pinot noir on the hills,” Bennett aid.

But even he acknowledged his view of the situation is not one that’s universally shared.

Data from California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife reflects a sometimes adverse human-bear relationship in Mendocino County and other rural North Coast counties, where the bear population is particularly dense.

But that could change. And with the increased presence of bears around the wild edges of Sonoma County in recent years has come a budding movement to prepare for their expansion south, in a bid to keep them wild and safe.

The newly formed North Bay Bear Collaborative is the product of conversations going back several years, when early signs began to indicate that what had been mostly transient visitors were beginning to settle in year-round.

The aim is to help humans adjust to their new neighbors and head off any conflicts.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10188029-181/as-bears-move-into-sonoma

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

Will overhauling Scott Dam save native fish?

Alastair Bland, THE BOHEMIAN

Salmon three feet long seem to clog the water as the chrome-colored fish, fresh from the ocean, begin their journey upriver toward the high-elevation gravel riffles where they were born. Here, in the remotest tendrils of the watershed, they will lay and fertilize the eggs that ensure the next generation of salmon.

At least that’s how it once was early each autumn on the Eel River. But nature’s security system for fish survival is only as good as the health of a river. In the case of the Eel, a local power company built a dam on the Eel’s main fork in 1920. As a result, Chinook salmon lost access to about 100 miles of spawning habitat.

Steelhead, which swam farther upstream into smaller tributaries, suffered even greater impacts. Intensive in-river commercial fishing, water diversions, logging and other land degradation took their toll, too. Today, annual salmon runs in Eel River that once may have totaled a million or so adults consist of a few thousand. Lamprey eels, too, have dwindled.

Now, there is serious talk of removing Scott Dam, owned by PG&E since 1930.

For fishery proponents, such a river makeover is the optimal way to revive the Eel’s salmon runs.

“We want to see volitional passage, both ways,” says Curtis Knight, executive director of the conservation group California Trout.

Volitional, in this context, means the salmon are able to make their historic migration on their own—downstream as newly born juveniles and, later, upstream as sexually mature adults—all without the assistance of human hands.

“We think dam removal is one possibility here,” Knight says.

California Trout is one of several local groups and agencies now formally considering taking over the operation of Scott Dam from PG&E. As a hydroelectric facility, Scott Dam is not very productive, and with PG&E’s operating license scheduled to expire in 2022, the utility giant recently stepped away from the project. PG&E even briefly put the Potter Valley Project up for auction, though the offer attracted no takers.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/saving-salmon/Content?oid=9360901

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags ,

California sues Trump administration over rollback of Endangered Species Act

Anna M. Phillips, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

California and 16 other states on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s weakening of the Endangered Species Act, a landmark law that has ensured the survival of the California condor, the grizzly bear and other animals close to extinction.

The lawsuit is California’s latest in a blitz of legal challenges to the president’s policies.

Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra has sued the Trump administration more than 60 times over its agenda of dismantling Obama-era environmental and public health regulations. Though most of those cases haven’t been decided, judges have so far sided with California and environmental groups in cases concerning air pollution, pesticides and the royalties that the government receives from companies that extract oil, gas and coal from public land.

In a statement, Becerra said the administration’s rollback of the Endangered Species Act could have major repercussions for California, which has more than 300 species listed as endangered or threatened — more than any other mainland state.

“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it,” Becerra said. “The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger.”

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2019-09-25/california-sues-trump-over-endangered-species-act

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , ,

Op-Ed: Do we care that birds are vanishing?

Michael Parr, AMERICAN BIRD CONSERVANCY

You probably see birds frequently — so much so that they may seem to be everywhere. The reality, of course, is that our subjective experience only goes so far. On Thursday, researchers released a large-scale study that shows that bird populations in North America are undergoing massive and unsustainable declines — even species that experts previously thought were adapting to human-modified landscapes.

Three billion is an unimaginably large number. But that’s the number of birds that have been lost from North America since 1970. It is more than a quarter of the total bird population of the continent. While some species have increased, those that are doing better are massively outweighed by the losers. Among the worst-hit bird groups are insect-eating birds such as swifts and swallows, grassland birds like meadowlarks and Savannah sparrows and the longest-distance migrants such as cerulean warblers and wood thrushes.

Birds are a critical part of the natural food chain, and this loss of birds represents a loss of ecological integrity that, along with climate change, suggests that nature as we know it is beginning to die.

This is a genuine crisis, yet there is still time to turn it around. We know what the problems are, and we know the actions needed to affect change. Alongside strong migratory bird, clean water and endangered species legislation, and critically important work to mitigate and adapt to climate impacts, maintaining habitat is paramount.

In fact, the single greatest cause of these bird declines has been the loss and degradation of high-quality habitat. Habitat loss can seem like “death by a thousand cuts,” but some cuts go deeper than others, and some are more easily healed. The condition of American public lands is based on a collective decision — and we as a nation must decide between an emphasis on exploitative and extractive uses or nature-based and recreational uses. By better managing public lands, we can do a lot to help birds, particularly grassland and sagebrush species such as the western meadowlark and greater sage-grouse, and birds found in fire-dependent forests in the West such as black-backed and white-headed woodpeckers. Policies benefiting these and other birds will help restore nature as a whole.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/10068896-181/parr-do-we-care-that

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Clean storm drains seen as key to safeguarding Russian River

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Most people pass by storm drains day in and day out, giving little thought to them as conduits to local waterways — and ultimately, the Russian River in much of Sonoma County.

An alliance of local cities, special districts and the county wants to change that.

The coalition has launched a regional campaign to raise public awareness about the link between surface streets and local creeks in hopes people will think again about allowing litter, pet waste and other pollutants to escape down the drain and into the Russian River watershed, home to salmon and steelhead trout and a wide range other aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

The $60,000 Streets to Creek campaign is intended to promote the fact that storm drains are basically extensions of creeks and streams. Anything left on or in the street — dripped motor oil, pesticide residue, discarded trash or cigarette butts — is basically left to be washed into the river.

“There is surprisingly little awareness about where storm drains actually flow to,” said Andy Rodgers, executive director of the Russian River Watershed Association, a stewardship group formed in 2003 by Sonoma and Mendocino counties, eight cities and the Sonoma County Water Agency. “There’s a number of folks who have the impression that all water goes to the wastewater treatment plants. Other people don’t really think about where it goes.”

Case in point: On Aug. 10, three people living in a motorhome were caught by a neighbor emptying a 50-gallon tank of raw sewage into a storm drain in Santa Rosa’s Junior College neighborhood.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9934996-181/russian-river-watershed-protection-campaign

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Sense of Place: Lomas Muertas grasslands still changing

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Coastal prairie once roamed by mammoths, covered with bunch grasses

The Lomas Muertas, or Dead Hills, appear on a Mexican map of a ranch that stretched between Two Rock in Sonoma County and the modern hamlet of Tomales in Marin County.

Ghoulish as it sounds, the name doesn’t imply any ghostly spirits. Found in several places along the coast, it refers to grasslands where trees are virtually absent.

Botanists classify our local lomas muertas as coastal prairie — a grassland type found within 50 miles of the ocean. An account from the 1850s described the prairie near the mouth of the Russian River as “waving grasses higher than a man’s head, with deer, bear, and other big game everywhere … ” that included tule elk and pronghorn.

Prior to the 19th century, coastal prairies were largely perennial bunch grasses like purple needlegrass (our state grass), oat grass and several fescue species, as well as many kinds of wildflowers. Bunch grassroots can grow 16 feet deep, providing water during the dry months. Summer is also when coastal fog creeps inland — some prairie plants are able to harvest this moisture as well.

If you had visited our coastal prairies 15,000 years ago, you would have found wildlife rivaling East Africa’s today. Grizzlies, short-faced bears, herds of bison, elk, pronghorn and mammoth, and many other large animals roamed the coastal prairies. By trampling the ground, wallowing in water holes and consuming huge amounts of leaves, bark and twigs, mammoths in particular may have played a key role in creating and maintaining a nearly treeless landscape.

Coastal grasslands are considered a “disturbance dependent habitat.” Now that the mammoths are gone, grazing and burrowing by other animals, as well as fire and drought, keep it from converting to shrubs or trees.

Before Spanish settlement, indigenous people also kept the landscape open by setting fires on a regular basis. Burning recycles nutrients back into the soil, resulting in healthier plants, which means more food for humans and game animals.

Red more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9892635-181/sense-of-place-you-wont

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags ,

US government weakens application of Endangered Species Act

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Trump administration moved on Monday to weaken how it applies the 45-year-old Endangered Species Act, ordering changes that critics said will speed the loss of animals and plants at a time of record global extinctions .

The action, which expands the administration’s rewrite of U.S. environmental laws, is the latest that targets protections, including for water, air and public lands. Two states — California and Massachusetts, frequent foes of President Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks — promised lawsuits to try to block the changes in the law. So did some conservation groups.

Pushing back against the criticism, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and other administration officials contend the changes improve efficiency of oversight while continuing to protect rare species.

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species,” he said in a statement. “An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Under the enforcement changes, officials for the first time will be able to publicly attach a cost to saving an animal or plant. Blanket protections for creatures newly listed as threatened will be removed. Among several other changes, the action could allow the government to disregard the possible impact of climate change, which conservation groups call a major and growing threat to wildlife.

https://www.apnews.com/9bf4541d89e6444783814e53302ce479

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

Point Reyes management plan calls for shooting elk, preserving ranches

Guy Kovner and Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

How To Get Involved
To comment on the plan through Sept. 23, go to parkplanning.nps.gov/poregmpa
Two informational meetings are planned on the proposal:
When: Aug. 27, 5-7 p.m.
Where: West Marin School Gym, Point Reyes Station
When: Aug. 28, 5-7 p.m.
Where: Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito

Tule elk in the Point Reyes National Seashore could be shot to control their swelling numbers, and cattle ranchers would be assured a lengthy future and latitude to expand their farming operations under a proposed management plan aimed at bridging a sharp divide over the presence of commercial agriculture in the 71,000-acre national park.

The plan, which cost nearly $1 million to develop and won’t be implemented until next year, was released Thursday by the National Park Service, which manages the sprawling seashore on the Marin County coast.

Reviving a controversy that dates back to the agency’s decision in 2012 to evict an oyster farm from a Pacific Ocean inlet in the seashore, the plan — described as “shockingly anti-wildlife” by one conservationist — could also send environmentalists and the federal government back into court over the conflict between farming for profit and land preservation.

The proposal has been identified by the National Seashore staff as the “preferred alternative” of six variations developed over the past two years. The public now has 45 days to review and comment on the document.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9858446-181/point-reyes-seashore-plan-balances