Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Endangered coho returning to North Bay to spawn in streams, with mixed results

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Standing on a stone bridge overlooking Lagunitas Creek in west Marin County, giddy onlookers observed a male coho salmon swimming upstream toward a nesting area guarded by a female.

Naturalist Catie Clune explained that male coho have a mere 20 seconds to fertilize hundreds of eggs laid by females. It’s a delicate, acutely time-sensitive task crucial for the survival of one of Northern California’s iconic species — and one most people have never witnessed.

Yes, you read that right, 20 seconds.

“This is amazing,” said Larry Martin, a retired food and wine professional from Forestville. “I’ve pretty much lived here my whole life and never seen a salmon spawning in a creek.”

This year’s salmon spawning season so far appears to be a mixed bag, with some locations, such as Lagunitas Creek, showing robust activity, and others, including the Russian River in Sonoma County, falling short of expectations.

Officials with the Sonoma County Water Agency observed about 1,200 to 1,500 chinook salmon in the Russian River this winter, roughly half the historical average of 3,200, according to Gregg Horton, a principal environmental specialist for the organization.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/9145531-181/endangered-coho-returning-to-north

 

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

Oceans are warming even faster than previously thought

Kendra Pierre-Louis, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Scientists say the world’s oceans are warming far more quickly than previously thought, a finding with dire implications for climate change because almost all the excess heat absorbed by the planet ends up stored in their waters.

A new analysis, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the oceans are heating up 40 percent faster on average than a United Nations panel estimated five years ago. The researchers also concluded that ocean temperatures have broken records for several straight years.

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a critical buffer. They have slowed the effects of climate change by absorbing 93 percent of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases humans pump into the atmosphere.

“If the ocean wasn’t absorbing as much heat, the surface of the land would heat up much faster than it is right now,” said Malin L. Pinsky, an associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers University. “In fact, the ocean is saving us from massive warming right now.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/10/climate/ocean-warming-climate-change.html

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags ,

California monarch butterfly population down 86 percent in one year

Tiffany Camhi, THE CALIFORNIA REPORT, KQED

“We think that it has to do with habitat loss, the increasing high use of pesticides and the loss of the milkweed populations, which is the plant the monarch needs to lay its eggs on,” Monroe said.

California’s coast, from Bolinas to Pismo Beach, is a popular overwintering site for the western population of monarch butterflies. Historically, you could find millions of the orange and black winged invertebrates around this time of year, using coastal eucalyptus trees as shelter.

But there’s been a troubling trend over the past few decades. Each year, fewer monarchs have been showing up to overwinter on the state’s coast, according to preliminary numbers from the Xerces Society, an environmental conservation nonprofit. The group’s annual Thanksgiving count found the 2018 population of these butterflies is down to 20,456 compared to 2017’s 148,000. That’s a one year, 86 percent decline.

“It’s been hard for me, as I remember the millions of monarchs of the 1980s,” said Mia Monroe, a Bay Area-based Xerces Society member who helps lead California’s monarch population count. “We only have less than one percent of the monarchs that we once historically had.”

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/news/11715197/california-monarch-butterfly-population-down-86-percent-in-one-year

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

Owners give up developmental rights to protect critical watershed land in Mark West

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ambling through a forest on his rural Mark West area property, Ray Krauss bent over to pinch a fir tree sprout and pull it from the rain-damp ground. If the tiny green seedling grew much larger, Krauss would have to nip it with pruning shears, and were it to become a substantial tree he would fell it with a chainsaw.

But the 76-year-old retiree, who wears a bright red bicycle cap to keep his bald head warm, is considered a patron saint — not a plunderer — of the 63 acres of critical watershed land he has stewarded for nearly half a century.

“It’s been an utter privilege to live here all these years,” Krauss said. “It’s such a special location.”

Were the land and the wildlife on it able to speak, they might thank him for his dedication.

Sonoma Land Trust, which has protected more than 50,000 acres of land for future generations, embraced the early Christmas gift it got last week from Krauss and his wife, Barbara Shumsky. The couple donated a conservation easement, prohibiting development and guaranteeing the land will remain largely unchanged in perpetuity, foregoing the potential for substantial profit.

“We have a special affection for the Mark West watershed,” Ariel Patashnik, the Santa Rosa nonprofit’s land acquisition program manager, said while visiting the property on a foggy afternoon.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9088793-181/owners-give-up-developmental-rights

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

California extends ban on abalone fishing until 2021

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

California fish and game commissioners on Wednesday extended the ban on recreational abalone fishing another two years to give the ailing species more time to recover from a near-total collapse on the North Coast.

The vote continued until April 2021 an existing closure approved a year ago in the wake of a sharp, multi-year decline in the popular fishery, with no signs of a rebound, a key state official said Tuesday.

“There’s no positive news,” said Sonke Mastrup, environmental program manager for the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the lead expert on abalone matters. “We’re still seeing starving abalone this last season during the surveys. We’re still seeing fresh empty shells.”

The closure had been expected but is nonetheless a painful reminder of the uncertain future of a cherished tradition that brings friends and family together and is often passed down from one generation to the next. It could be years before abalone hunting on the level seen in recent decades along the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts, the prime destination, is allowed again, Mastrup said.

Read more at om/news/9058818-181/california-extends-ban-on-abalone?ref=related

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Invasive species are a threat in Sonoma County parks

Steven Nett, SONOMA COUNTY REGIONAL PARKS BLOG

No, it’s not the zombie apocalypse. This threat is from invasive plant and animal species that have wormed their way into Sonoma County despite best efforts to stop them. Some are just as scary, gruesome and strange as fantasy creatures. But unlike the fictional walking dead, these invaders can do actual harm.

Take the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater.) Cowbirds originally lived on the Great Plains, following bison that scared up a rich diet of insects. Because their food source was mobile, cowbirds, didn’t have the luxury of sitting on nests to raise their young. Instead, they developed the strategy of laying eggs in the nests of other birds, who then unwittingly feed and raise them. To ensure they do, cowbirds often remove the host bird’s own eggs.

When humans brought cattle to Sonoma County, the cowbirds followed. Today, two of California’s native birds, the least Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus) and willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii), are listed as endangered because of brown-headed cowbirds.

This is just one case of the silent ongoing battles between natives and invasive species in Sonoma County.

Then there’s medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae.) Medusahead is a fast-spreading grass with a nasty survival skill: The plant incorporates exceptionally large amounts of fine silica (the raw material used to make glass) into its leaves, stems and spiky awns, the needle-like crowns (pictured below) that give medusahead its fearsome name.

Read more at https://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Learn/Blog/Articles/Invasive-Plant-and-Animal-Species/?

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , ,

Friends of the Eel River ask state, feds to protect NW California summer steelhead

FRIENDS OF THE EEL RIVER

Friends of the Eel River submitted both federal ESA and CESA petitions to list Northern California Summer Steelhead as an Endangered Distinct Population Segment.

Both petitions are largely based on a combination of the extensive 2017 report by Moyle et al on the status of California salmonids, State of the Salmonids: Status of California’s Emblematic Fishes 2017, and two papers that have come out of Mike Miller’s UC Davis lab over the last couple of years.

Northern California summer steelhead are truly extraordinary fish. They include the largest adult steelhead in coastal rivers, the southernmost surviving summer steelhead, and fish (in the interior rivers like the Eel) capable of withstanding higher stream velocities and jumping higher than any other salmonid. As Moyle et al make clear, once you accept that summer steelhead are biologically and reproductively distinct from winter steelhead, the status of summer steelhead on the far North Coast is quite dire. There are probably fewer than 1000 adults spawning in all of the rivers they still inhabit, from Redwood Creek in the north to the Mattole in the south.

However, our primary strategic goal at FOER in seeking recognition and protection for summer steelhead was to advance the cause of cause of removing Scott Dam. The dam blocks 98% of potential habitat for the Upper mainstem Eel River population of summer steelhead that was apparently wiped out by dam construction. If a population of summer steelhead could be restored to the upper main Eel, it would be the longest summer steelhead run in the state. It would also hugely improve the conservation status of the overall summer steelhead population on the North Coast. Because we call O. mykiss steelhead when they run to the ocean, but rainbow trout when they stay in freshwater, there remains some possibility that surviving native rainbow trout above the Lake Pillsbury reservoir could still retain the key premature migration gene.

Source: https://eelriver.org/2018/11/27/protect-nw-california-summer-steelhead/

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

Report: Sonoma County’s natural resources worth billions

Hannah Beausang, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Conservation advocates have long touted the need to preserve Sonoma County’s bucolic landscape, but a report released last week for first time assigned a dollar value to those open spaces and their natural resources.

The value of services provided by undeveloped and working lands, both public and private, in Sonoma County ranges from $2.2 to $6.6 billion annually, according to the report from the Healthy Lands and Healthy Economies Initiative. The study stems from a years-long collaboration between open space and conservation districts in Sonoma, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

“It’s clear that our community values open space and working lands, but the main point of the report is that not only do we value them, but these lands have an immense value that’s not commonly understood in the typical market framework,” said Karen Gaffney, conservation planning manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

The report assigns value to a variety of ecosystems. It accounts for green spaces that absorb runoff to curb flooding while filtering out pollutants. It highlights the benefit of soil, which captures and stores atmospheric carbon and sustains ground cover to prevent damaging erosion. It quantifies the public health benefit provided by trees and plants, which boost air quality, and of open spaces that harbor insect- and wildlife that can limit pests.

It’s the first clear picture of the total estimated value of Sonoma County’s “natural capital,” or its stock of natural assets, and the way they can provide cost-effective alternatives to man-made infrastructure.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/8981145-181/report-sonoma-countys-natural-resources

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Sustainable Living, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning

Seth Borenstein, SACRAMENTO BEE

Preventing an extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems on this fast-warming planet, an international panel of scientists reported Sunday. But they provide little hope the world will rise to the challenge.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its gloomy report at a meeting in Incheon, South Korea.

In the 728-page document, the U.N. organization detailed how Earth’s weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world’s leaders could somehow limit future human-caused warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C). Among other things:

— Half as many people would suffer from lack of water.

— There would be fewer deaths and illnesses from heat, smog and infectious diseases.

— Seas would rise nearly 4 inches (0.1 meters) less.

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/latest-news/article219656035.html#storylink=cpy

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

Board of Supervisors approves mining amendment, employee fire leave, more

Will Carruthers, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday heard public comment on six lawsuits against the county, approved an amendment to the county’s mining ordinance and granted county employees affected by the fires 40 hours of leave time.

Friends of Chanate

The Supervisors received public comment on six lawsuits against the county before discussing the cases behind closed doors. One of the suits, Friends of Chanate vs. County of Sonoma, alleges that the County gave a local developer a sweetheart deal in its sale of a plot of public land.

Friends of Chanate argues that Bill Gallaher, a local developer, bought the 82-acre parcel of county land for between $6 and $12.5 million, far below the assessed value of the land, $30 million.

“That property was worth more than $6 million, even if you build only 40 luxury homes on the land,” a Friends of Chanate member said during the public comment period.

In late July, a judge in the lawsuit canceled the sale, disagreeing with the County’s assessment that the land deal was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act.

Mining Ordinance Amendment

The Board of Supervisors amended a sentence of the County’s Mining Ordinance to “clarify that setbacks to critical habitat do not retroactively apply to quarry sites” affected under a new definition of critical habitat passed as part of the 2012 General Plan.

The amendment will allow two quarries located within 47,383 acres defined as Tiger Salamander critical habitat based a map from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to operate.

The two affected quarries – Stony Point Quarry and Roblar Road Quarry – were granted permits to operate before the new rules went into effect.

Stony Point Quarry has been active for 90 years while Roblar Road Quarry received permission to operate in 2010, before the new definition was passed, according to a staff report.

“There was never any expectation that the setbacks would apply to these quarries, and these setbacks were not intended to apply retroactively,” the staff report states.

John Barella, the owner of the quarry, first applied to develop the land in 2003 but the project has been significantly delayed by environmental lawsuits. In 2014, a three-judge panel approved Barella’s plans in a lawsuit brought by the Citizens Advocating for Roblar Rural Quality.

In 2017, Barella restarted the process of applying forpublic approval for the quarry and applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year.

When asked by Zane why the item was before the board, a county staff member said that Roblar Road Quarry “will be proposing some changes to their conditions of approval and you will see that project come before you next month.”

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/sonoma-county-board-of-supervisors-september-11-2018