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

Mark West Quarry faces hefty fine for polluting salmon habitat

Will Carruthers, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

A Sonoma County mining company faces a $4.5 million fine for allegedly allowing over 10 million gallons of tainted water to flow into a creek, damaging the habitat of endangered salmon.

In a September press release, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board announced that, at a Dec. 2 meeting, the agency’s board would consider approving a $4.5 million fine against the BoDean Company, Inc. for numerous alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the company’s Mark West Quarry several years ago. The North Coast water board is one of nine similar boards around the state charged with enforcing a variety of environmental laws.

Water Board staff first identified the problem in December 2018, when they noticed “sediment-laden stormwater” in Porter Creek downstream from the 120-acre quarry, which is used for hard-rock mining and materials processing. Over the next five months, Water Board officials visited the quarry 15 times total, documenting numerous similar incidents. All told, Water Board prosecutors estimate that 10.5 million gallons of tainted water flowed from the mountainside quarry into Porter Creek, which feeds into the Russian River.

Water Board photographs show that the investigators repeatedly discovered cloudy waters, known as “turbid” in Water Board lingo, emanating from the BoDean quarry. The creek serves as habitat for endangered California steelhead trout and Coho salmon, and the sediments flowing from the quarry could put those creatures at risk.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/bodean-water-fine/

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags ,

Seemingly headed for extinction in 2020, Western Monarchs boom back in 2021

Daniel Roman, BAY NATURE

Since 1997, volunteers organized by the conservation group Xerces Society have counted western monarchs over Thanksgiving at the butterflies’ overwintering sites around coastal California, as part of the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. In 2020, the count hit an all-time low — less than 2,000 monarchs; a number, Bay Nature reported last year, that “represents an astonishing continuation of the near-total collapse of the western migratory population of the species over the last few decades.” Scientists then weren’t certain if any of the butterflies would come back at all. The preliminary reports out of this year’s count, however, suggest that they did, and in a big way.

“We’re well over 100,000 butterflies at this point,” said Emma Pelton, the Xerces Society’s senior endangered species conservation biologist and western monarch lead.

Data from over 200 monitoring sites show significantly greater numbers than last year. For example, more than 10,000 monarchs were counted at overwintering sites in Pacific Grove, Pismo Beach, and Big Sur. Last year, those three sites had less than 300 butterflies total. Similar trends are being reported from sites in Santa Cruz, Ventura, and Los Angeles. “We definitely haven’t seen an increase of this magnitude before,” Pelton said. The final numbers from the count overall are expected to be reported sometime in January.

Though this rebound gives cause for hope for the struggling monarch population, it does beg the question: How did it happen?

“That’s the question of the day,” Pelton said. “I would love to know.”

There’s a couple of different theories, with some studies to back them up. One hypothesis is that this year’s boom is due to an influx of monarchs from the eastern migratory population — which typically migrates between Mexico and the United States and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains — joining western monarchs, thereby adding to the population. Another theory, based on a recent study, suggests that monarchs are spending winters breeding in backyards in the East Bay instead of sheltering as they’ve traditionally done, probably due to warmer weather. Pelton, however, said she doesn’t find these theories very compelling — especially the latter one. “I’m not totally sure why we would think brief winter breeding in a different area of the coast would lead to that increase,” she said. “We see a lot of that sort of behavior in Southern California and we have for decades. It has not helped the population.”

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/12/08/seemingly-headed-for-extinction-in-2020-western-monarchs-boom-back-in-2021/

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

Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley

Teri Shore, SIERRA CLUB SONOMA GROUP

The future of the 945-acre expanse of open space lands and historic campus in the heart of Sonoma Valley at the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), also known as Eldridge (next to Glen Ellen) remains uncertain and contentious after the first round of public hearings on potential land use and planning options released last month.

Sonoma County planners proposed three similar variations of urban-style development on the historic campus that featured hundreds of single-family homes, a new hotel, restaurants, and commercial and office space, and a new road. The draft plans were intended as the foundation for developing a county SDC Specific Plan that will be reviewed under CEQA next year.

The surrounding 745 acres of open space were prioritized for conservation. However, the protection of the wildlife corridor, Sonoma Creek and other natural features were given little attention. The Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor https://sonomalandtrust.org/current-initiatives/sonoma-valley-wildlife-corridor/ is a critical link for multiple keystone species such as mountain lions, bears and badgers to travel from as far as the Berryessa-Snow Mountain Wilderness to the East to the Pt. Reyes National Seashore and Sonoma Coast. Millions of public and private funds have been invested in acquiring lands and protecting the wildlife corridor for decades.

As proposed, the draft alternatives would comprise the biggest subdivision and development in the history of Sonoma Valley – equal in housing units to the sprawling Temelec, Chanterelle and & Flags subdivisions on the south end of Sonoma Valley. All three alternatives would drastically increase driving and associated Vehicle Miles Traveled and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and undermine decades of city-centered growth policies. The plans also conflict with local, county, regional and state polices to reduce climate-changing emissions, achieve equitable housing and preserve biodiversity.
Continue reading “Keep it wild, don’t urbanize!: Lands at risk in the heart of Sonoma Valley”

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Sonoma Valley advocates push for reintroduction of beavers

Cole Hersey, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

On the southwest side of the City of Sonoma, a small stream named Fryer Creek cuts through a quiet neighborhood.

In late October, the creek was, like most waterways in the Bay Area, inundated with water during the “bomb cyclone” storm. However, as the rains pounded Sonoma with seven and a half inches of rain, Fryer Creek stayed fairly tame for the beginning of the storm, according to nearby residents Barabara and Larry Audiss.

“The water was really low [during the storm], even with the heavy rain, and then all at once the water was extremely high,” Larry Audiss said. “We went up and you could see where the dam had been breached.”

Larry Audiss is referring to a beaver dam close to MacArthur Street. The waters proved too strong for part of the recently built dam along this tributary of Sonoma Creek, likely pushing more water downstream.

This was not the only beaver dam in Sonoma Valley that was affected by the storm. In upper Sonoma Creek, most beaver dams were leveled by rushing waters.

However, the three beaver dams along Fryer Creek remained largely intact after the storm, perhaps due to the smaller size of the waterway. Even the dam that was breached could be rebuilt come next spring.

Read more at https://bohemian.com/sonoma-valley-beavers/

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Beavers can help California’s environment, but state policy doesn’t help them

Carolina Cuellar, BAY NATURE

One month into 2020’s shelter in place order, Virginia Holsworth and her family decided to change things up by walking in the opposite direction of their usual daily stroll through suburban Fairfield. That’s when she first encountered the amassment of sticks blocking the path’s adjacent creek, Laurel Creek.

She suspected the sticks meant the work of a beaver. Curious, she inspected the area, finding webbed footprints along the creek bank and chew marks on surrounding wood. Still, it wasn’t until she caught a glimpse of a brown slicked-fur-covered head that she was certain — she’d stumbled upon a beaver dam. A few days later, she saw the beaver family of four that gave rise to a lush green haven in her neighborhood.

For the next few months she watched cormorants and blue herons among the cattails and tules. Supposedly the creek even contained so many rainbow trout, a member of the community — illegally — caught 40 of them. The way the beavers and their dam had changed the landscape and reinvigorated the habitat enthralled Holsworth, and she became devoted to preserving them in her community.

Holsworth soon connected with Heidi Perryman, the Bay Area’s most ardent beaver activist and founder of the Martinez-based nonprofit Worth a Dam. Perryman warned Holsworth that the ecological wonder she’d found might be in jeopardy. The city of Fairfield had a permit to remove dams and had already, in 2015, obtained a permit to kill beaver.

Just a few months later, in fall 2020, the city public works department removed the beaver dam, citing the potential for flooding in the rainy season. Holsworth watched as the cattails wilted and birds quickly devoured the newly exposed crawfish.

Read more at https://baynature.org/2021/11/11/beavers-can-help-californias-environment-but-state-policy-doesnt-help-them/?utm_source=Bay+Nature&utm_campaign=8e011401a0-BN+Newsletter+11%2F11%2F2021&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_092a5caaa2-8e011401a0-199023351&mc_cid=8e011401a0&mc_eid=94a0107f8c

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , ,

Sonoma Creek has salmon again!

SONOMA ECOLOGY CENTER

The abundant rainfall that Sonoma County received in late October created ideal conditions for Chinook (King salmon) to return to Sonoma Creek. Several streamside residents contacted Sonoma Ecology Center with the news and sent in photos and videos of salmon transiting their favorite creek viewing spots. In response, SEC’s Richard Dale and Research Program Manager and aquatic scientist Steven Lee jumped into action and ran out to the creeks to document the event. One outcome was this amazing video Steven assembled of the salmon as they made their journey upstream and began settling into their spawning habitats.

Chinook were known to have successfully spawned in Sonoma Creek a few years ago, and it’s possible some of these are their offspring returning to spawn. The Sonoma Ecology Center has conducted studies of young fish migrating out of Sonoma Creek and found, in addition to steelhead, a surprising number of young Chinook are heading out to the bay and ocean. It’s hard to know for sure if these fish originate from Sonoma Creek – there are many salmon released from hatcheries in the Central Valley who could be making their way up our waterways. Some of the fish we observed do have clipped adipose fins – an indication that they were raised in a hatchery. However, many of the fish in Sonoma Creek right now lack this indicator and their size suggests that they are the right age to have come from the last run here.

Read more at https://sonomaecologycenter.org/sonoma-creek-salmon/?

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