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Point Reyes Seashore is one step closer to national dairy farm

Joe Sweeney, THE CALIFORNIA AGGIE

The Park Service’s proposed management plan of the Point Reyes Seashore prioritizes agriculture over wildlife in a national park

In Marin County, ranching is more than just a nine to five for many residents, but a way of life. Roughly half the land in Marin County is designated for farming or ranchland. Ranching has existed in the Marin for years, going back to the first settlers’ arrival in the area. Nestled within this agricultural landscape are a few conservation gems like Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods and most of all the iconic Point Reyes National Seashore. Keeping this lengthy history in mind, agriculture has outstayed its welcome in the Seashore. The Point Reyes peninsula was just narrowly saved from development and remains a slice of wilderness in the rapidly changing landscape of California. There are thousands of acres of farmland across the Golden State, but only one National Seashore on the entire West Coast.

Point Reyes is so unique in fact, it is designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as an international biosphere preserve—home to hundreds of species which are endangered and only found in the peninsula. Despite this status, roughly a third of the park’s land is designated for agricultural use. This prevents visitors from using a large portion of the park and contributes to growing concerns about the environmental impact of ranching on the Seashore’s ecosystems. To truly understand this complex issue, we have to understand its history.

The modern history of Point Reyes has been characterized by compromise. When the park was founded in the ‘60s, it was not without controversy. Initially both sides, parts of the federal government and the ranching community, were vehemently against the Seashore’s establishment, but the Ranchers’ tune quickly changed realizing that federal subsidies would help keep the industry afloat.

Additional concerns were raised by members of Congress about leasing the park land as a national park, which would be a first. When the park was established, there was no mention of permanently establishing ranching in the 1962 legislation. Although later amendments added the possibility of extending leases, the intention that ranches be phased out is present from the very beginning of the Seashore. The original agreement was that the ranchers were allowed to reserve a right to use the land for 25 years or the life of the original owner. As that period came to an end, ranches were still there and coming up with any reason to stay.

“I know the people who put [The Point Reyes Act] together. At the 40th anniversary I talked to Stewart Udall, the Secretary of Interior. He remembered the same thing I did, that ranching was never intended to be permanent,” said Ken Brower, an environmental writer and son of David Brower. “The founder’s idea had nothing to do with what you’re hearing now from ranchers, that they’d be here forever.”

You may often hear that the Seashore ranches are “historic” and must be preserved on that basis for future generations. This is blatant propaganda. If these ranches truly had historic value, this “historic” status would logically also be applied to the oyster farms, which had been in business for nearly a hundred years before being shut down by the park service due to a variety of reasons.
Continue reading “Point Reyes Seashore is one step closer to national dairy farm”

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2021: Is this the year that wild delta smelt become extinct?

Peter Moyle, Karrigan Börk, John Durand, T-C Hung, and Andrew L. Rypel, CALIFORNIA WATER BLOG

2020 was a bad year for delta smelt. No smelt were found in the standard fish sampling programs (fall midwater trawl, summer townet survey). Surveys designed specifically to catch smelt (Spring Kodiak Trawl, Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring Program) caught just two of them despite many long hours of sampling. The program to net adult delta smelt for captive brood stock caught just one smelt in over 151 tries. All signs point to the Delta smelt as disappearing from the wild this year, or, perhaps, 2022. In case you had forgotten, the Delta smelt is an attractive, translucent little fish that eats plankton, has a one-year life cycle, and smells like cucumbers. It was listed as a threatened species in 1993 and has continued to decline since then. Former President Trump made it notorious when he called it a “certain little tiny fish” that was costing farmers millions of gallons of water (not true, of course).
Delta smelt, photo by Matt Young.

As part of the permitting process for Delta water infrastructure, the USFWS issued a Biological Opinion (BO), written by biologists, that found that increased export of water from the big pumps of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project would further endanger the smelt. The BO was then revised by non-biologists to conclude that increased pumping would not hurt the smelt. The reason given was that large-scale habitat improvement efforts, plus the development of a facility for spawning and rearing of domesticated smelt, would save the species. We have written a short, fairly readable, article for a law journal that describes why the revised BO will not save the smelt. We will not write further about the paper in this blog but encourage readers to give the full article a read (it is a free download).

So, is this the year the smelt becomes extinct in the wild? Frankly, we are impressed by its resilience (see previous California WaterBlogs on smelt status) but small populations of endangered pelagic fish in large habitats tend to disappear, no matter what we do, partly the result of random events.

Source: https://californiawaterblog.com/2021/01/10/2021-is-this-the-year-that-wild-delta-smelt-become-extinct/

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Apocalypse cow: The future of life at Point Reyes National Park

Peter Byrne, THE BOHEMIAN

The North Bay community is divided by conflicted views on whether commercial dairy and cattle ranching should continue at Point Reyes National Seashore. This reporter has hiked the varied terrains of the 71,000-acre park for decades. Initially, I had no opinion on the ranching issue. Then, I studied historical and eco-biologic books and science journals. I read government records, including the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Point Reyes released by the National Park Service in September. The 250-page report concludes that the ranching industry covering one third of the park should be expanded and protected for economic and cultural reasons. This, despite acknowledging that the park ranches are sources of climate-heating greenhouse gases, water pollution, species extinctions and soil degradation.

The Bohemian/Pacific Sun investigation reveals that the EIS is deeply flawed scientifically, culturally and ethically. It is politicized.

Sixty million years ago a chunk of granite located near Los Angeles began moving northwards. Propelled by the energy of earthquakes over eons, Point Reyes slid hundreds of miles along the San Andreas fault at the divide between two colliding tectonic plates.

During the last Ice Age, 30,000 years ago, much of the Earth’s waters were locked up in glaciers, and the Pacific Ocean was 400 feet lower than it is today. “The Farallon Islands were then rugged hills rising above a broad, gently sloping plain with a rocky coastline lying to the west,” according to California Prehistory—Colonization, Culture, and Complexity.

Humans migrated from Asia walking the coastal plains toward Tierra del Fuego. Then, 12,000 years ago, the climate warmed and glaciers melted. Seas rose, submerging the plains. A wave of immigrants flowed south from Asia over thawed land bridges. Their subsequent generations explored and civilized the Americas, coalescing into nations, including in West Marin and Point Reyes.

Novelist and scholar Greg Sarris is the tribal chair of the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria. The tribe’s ancestors are known as Southern Poma and Coast Miwok. In The Once and Future Forest, Sarris tells the story of how the first people came to be in Marin and Sonoma counties. “Coyote created the world from the top of Sonoma Mountain with the assistance of his nephew, Chicken Hawk. At that time, all of the animals and birds and plants and trees were people. … The landscape was our sacred text and we listened to what it told us. Everywhere you looked there were stories. … Everything, even a mere pebble, was thought to have power … Cutting down a tree was a violent act. … An elder prophesied that one day white people would come to us to ‘learn our ways in order to save the earth and all living things. … You young people must not forget the things us old ones is telling you.’”

Read more at: https://bohemian.com/apocalypse-cow-the-future-of-life-at-point-reyes-national-park/

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California commits to conserving 30 percent of its land and water by 2030. What does that mean?

Eric Simons,BAY NATURE

On October 7 California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the state to create a new California Biodiversity Collaborative and conserve 30 percent of its land and coastal waters by 2030.

Conservationists have celebrated the enshrinement of biodiversity preservation among the state’s priorities, as well as the state aligning with an international “30 by 30” goal shared by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and many of the world’s most prominent conservation scientists.

Now comes the hard part: figuring out which 30 percent of California, and making it clear what it means to truly “conserve” it.

After a summer and fall of record-breaking wildfires and arguments between the state and the Trump Administration about who was to blame for them, many Californians now know that 45 percent of the total land area of the state is owned and managed by the federal government. That includes 15 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land, much of which is held in vast swathes of the eastern deserts and inner coast range; 7.6 million acres of National Park Service land; and 20.8 million acres of US Forest Service land.

If you consider California’s federal land more or less protected — it’s publicly owned and rarely ever sold, though it can be developed for solar energy or used for mining, drilling, grazing, and logging — it shouldn’t be hard to rope off 30 percent of the state by 2030. And that’s not all. California State Parks already manages 1.4 million acres. The executive order also mentions the importance of agricultural and working lands, with the first point under the 30 percent line calling for guaranteeing “economic sustainability and food security” — adding the potential for California’s 43 million acres of agricultural land to count toward the goal, too. The order also highlights the importance of marine protected areas, which currently protect one half-million acres in state waters offshore, and tribal lands, which add up to another half-million acres.

All in all, then, it’s defining the nature of “conserve” that will be much more challenging than drawing lines on a map around one third of the state’s land. How much use is too much use? What kinds of use make land count as “not conserved”? How do fishing, hunting, hiking, birding, logging, or ranching factor in? Does a flooded rice field that’s habitat for endangered birds and fish count? Can the state protect 30 percent of its land in a way that reflects its full redwoods-to-desert and coast-to-mountains biodiversity?

Read more at https://baynature.org/2020/12/02/california-commits-to-conserving-30-percent-of-its-land-and-water-by-2030-what-does-that-mean/?utm_source=Bay+Nature&utm_campaign=365749edfb-BN+Newsletter+Dec+3&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_092a5caaa2-365749edfb-199023351&mc_cid=365749edfb&mc_eid=94a0107f8c

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Federal Court Declares Genetically Engineered Salmon Unlawful

EARTHJUSTICE

San Francisco, CA — Link to ruling

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) violated core environmental laws in approving the genetically engineered (GE) salmon. The Court ruled that FDA ignored the serious environmental consequences of approving genetically engineered salmon and the full extent of plans to grow and commercialize the salmon in the U.S. and around the world, violating the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Court also ruled that FDA’s unilateral decision that genetically engineered salmon could have no possible effect on highly-endangered, wild Atlantic salmon was wrong, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The Court ordered FDA to go back to the drawing board and FDA must now thoroughly analyze the environmental consequences of an escape of genetically engineered salmon into the wild.

In 2016, Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice — representing a broad client coalition of environmental, consumer, commercial and recreational fishing organizations, and the Quinault Indian Nation — sued the FDA for approving the first-ever commercial genetically engineered animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as its wild counterpart. The genetically engineered salmon was produced by AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. with DNA from Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon, and Arctic ocean eelpout. This marks the first time any government in the world has approved a commercially genetically engineered animal as food.

“This decision underscores what scientists have been telling FDA for years — that creating genetically engineered salmon poses an unacceptable risk if the fish escape and interact with our wild salmon and that FDA must understand that risk to prevent harm,” said Earthjustice managing attorney Steve Mashuda. “Our efforts should be focused on saving the wild salmon populations we already have — not manufacturing new species that pose yet another threat to their survival.”

The Court ruled that FDA failed to consider and study the environmental risks of this novel GE fish. When GE salmon escape or are accidentally released into the environment, the new species could threaten wild populations by mating with endangered salmon species, outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, and/or introducing new diseases. The world’s preeminent experts on GE fish and risk assessment, as well as biologists at U.S. wildlife agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife, heavily criticized FDA’s approval for failing to evaluate the impacts of GE salmon on native salmon populations. Yet FDA ignored their concerns in the final approval.

Read more at https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/federal-court-declares-genetically-engineered-salmon-unlawful

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How beavers became North America’s best firefighter

Ben Goldfarb, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The American West is ablaze with fires fueled by climate change and a century of misguided fire suppression. In California, wildfire has blackened more than three million acres; in Oregon, a once-in-a-generation crisis has forced half a million people to flee their homes. All the while, one of our most valuable firefighting allies has remained overlooked: The beaver.

A new study concludes that, by building dams, forming ponds, and digging canals, beavers irrigate vast stream corridors and create fireproof refuges in which plants and animals can shelter. In some cases, the rodents’ engineering can even stop fire in its tracks.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s a wildfire right next door,” says study leader Emily Fairfax, an ecohydrologist at California State University Channel Islands. “Beaver-dammed areas are green and happy and healthy-looking.”

For decades, scientists have recognized that the North American beaver, Castor canadensis, provides a litany of ecological benefits throughout its range from northern Mexico to Alaska. Beaver ponds and wetlands have been shown to filter out water pollution, support salmon, sequester carbon, and attenuate floods. Researchers have long suspected that these paddle-tailed architects offer yet another crucial service: slowing the spread of wildfire.

This beaver-dammed wetland in Baugh Creek, Idaho, is a so-called “emerald refuge” that can serve as a firebreak and refuge for other species during wildfires. Source: Joe Wheaton, Utah State University.

“It’s really not complicated: water doesn’t burn,” says Joe Wheaton, a geomorphologist at Utah State University. After the Sharps Fire charred 65,000 acres in Idaho in 2018, for instance, Wheaton stumbled upon a lush pocket of green glistening within the burn zone—a beaver wetland that had withstood the flames. Yet no scientist had ever rigorously studied the phenomenon.

Read more at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/09/beavers-firefighters-wildfires-california-oregon/

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Landmark lawsuit settlement between environmentalists and state water boards strengthens Delta protections

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, MAVEN’S NOTEBOOK

Three California environmental nonprofits secured a landmark settlement agreement with the California State Water Resources Control Board to uphold the common law Public Trust Doctrine and other legal protections for imperiled fish species in the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay/Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta Estuary.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015 by the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (“CSPA”), the California Water Impact Network (“CWIN”), and AquAlliance, brought sweeping claims against the State Water Board. It alleged that the agency’s management of the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay-Delta displayed an overarching pattern and practice of:

failure to comply with the Public Trust Doctrine;
failure to implement Sacramento River temperature management requirements;
failure to ensure that fish below dams be maintained in “good condition”; and
acceptance of water quality below minimum Clean Water Act standards.

“The Water Board’s long-standing pattern and practice of inadequately implementing foundational environmental laws has brought the Central Valley aquatic ecosystem to the brink of collapse. This settlement agreement is a major step forward, compelling the State Water Board to fulfill crucial legal requirements it had previously ignored,” said Bill Jennings, CSPA Executive Director.

Read/download the full press release here

Source: https://mavensnotebook.com/2020/07/21/lawsuit-settlement-landmark-lawsuit-settlement-between-environmentalists-and-state-water-boards-strengthens-delta-protections/

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Op-Ed: PacifiCorp should move forward with historic Klamath dams agreement

Russell ‘Buster’ Attebery and Joseph L. James, OREGONLIVE

Attebery is chairman of the Karuk Tribe. James is chairman of the Yurok Tribe.

For nearly 20 years, Klamath River tribes and our allies have fought tirelessly to see the removal of four aging Klamath River dams. We have engaged in protests, attended countless meetings, commissioned technical reports, filed lawsuits and negotiated directly with dam owner PacifiCorp and dozens of other stakeholders. For us, dam removal is absolutely necessary to restore our struggling fisheries, maintain cultural practices, and provide tribal members who struggle to make ends meet access to traditional subsistence foods.

At the same time, dam removal and fisheries restoration would help our neighbors who depend on agriculture as well, resulting in fewer regulatory burdens and greater water security for them. That win-win for struggling rural communities in the Klamath Basin helped bring us together to negotiate with the dam owner, PacifiCorp. It wasn’t easy, but by building trust and respect one discussion at a time, we ­– along Oregon, California and PacifiCorp, owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway – signed the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement in 2016.

It seemed a historic success. In exchange for supporting dam removal, PacifiCorp was assured that its financial contribution for such an effort would be capped at $200 million. In addition, the agreement called for protecting the utility from liability by transferring the license of the dams to an independent nonprofit entity before the dam removal process starts.

Unfortunately, PacifiCorp is now rethinking its commitment to that agreement, after a July ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The commission, which must approve the license transfer, decided that PacifiCorp could partially transfer the dams to the Klamath River Renewal Corp., the nonprofit created to manage the dam removal and related environmental restoration activities. But the commission ruled that PacifiCorp must remain a co-licensee.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: PacifiCorp should move forward with historic Klamath dams agreement”

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Sorax, the Ghost of Salmon Past, speaks at the Board of Supervisors in 2012 on the passing of the VESCO ordinance

I am a ghost of Coho Salmons past, once born and raised in Dutch Bill Creek below Occidental. My last reported sighting there was in the 1960’s. I speak for all salmon and wildlife species not able to attend your meetings.


Do you realize that as public servants and supposed stewards of the Russian River that it is the only river in California to have three listed Salmonid species: Coho, Chinook and Steelhead? That is three distinct species of unique, ancient animals. Shall I remind you that humans, all 6 billion of you, compromise only one distinct species, which at this point ought to be renamed “Homo consumous.”

We as salmon, as recently in our evolution as 150 years ago, used to live in peace with the humans of this land, and we co-evolved with the harbor seals and sea lions and our natal forested creeks. The abundance of our families was so great that your early pioneering families remarked “that we were so numerous” they could “walk on our backs.” This all changed with your arrival. In the last 100 years, or during the time of those 3rd, 4th & 5th generation families who so proudly and loudly exclaim in your newspapers to be stewards of the land, it was they who cleared this land of over 95% of its old growth forests, 95% of its riparian forests, drained 95% of its wetlands.

I ask you where are my friends the Grizzly, the Elk, the Antelope, the Marbled Murrelet? My Coho ancestors used to number 500,000 in California rivers and now our runs number less than 5,000, to as low as 1,000 individuals! We are nearing the brink of functional extinction simultaneously with such gloating of stewardship.

It is critical for all of you to recognize that, compared to the past, this land is actually in a highly degraded state. You all need to own up to the fact that your ancestors are indisputably responsible for the overwhelming genocide of the Pomo and Miwok peoples, the silvacide of the great forests, the soilacide (as your activities have eroded and compacted the once rich fertility) and the salmonicide (as I stand before you at the tail end of our existence). If you have the vision and courage, this can change, you can turn this around if you act in earnest now.

This erosion ordinance you pass today with its especially inadequate riparian setbacks is a feeble first step and leaves me with fear for my children, but a critical move in the right direction if you decide to take more steps and begin walking towards a future vision of ecological watershed integrity.

Remember, I am a fish of the forest. Without trees, my breeding streams fill with sediment, dry up due to lack of groundwater recharge and what water remains becomes lethally hot for my young. Every aspect of your development paradigm must be questioned and reevaluated with restorative criteria. You must question your roads, parking lots, housing, industrial, agricultural, logging and mining practices. We the salmon are dying from the cumulative impacts of your collective inabilities to think like a watershed. If we go extinct and fade from memory, so will you!

In closing, since my spawning gravels are so embedded with silt from the denuded, compacted hillsides, I want to offer each of you, as servants of the public trust, an egg of mine that hopefully will help your thoughts to incubate on taking the recovery of Totem Salmon seriously and birthing a new vision of a shared watershed commons for the sake of all our relations.

Thank you,

The Sorax, aka Brock Dolman, Director of the Water Institute at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.

Source: https://oaec.org/our-work/projects-and-partnerships/water-institute/

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Salmonid counts below replacement level in Eel River, CDFW announces

Lana Cohen, THE MENDOCINO VOICE

Many elements have contributed to the decline of these fish species, including warmer and lower water, sediment flowing into the river, invasive species, and dams as factors that have had the most devastating impact.

In order for the Chinook and steelhead, whose populations are plummeting up and down the West Coast, to rebound in the Eel River, there should be at least 26,400 fish returning from the ocean to the Eel to spawn annually, according to the State of Salmon, a salmon information sharing venue run by The Nature Conservancy.

Although the Eels fish population was larger this year than last, Fish and Wildlife’s June 1 report shows that the population fell far below the margin for species recovery. Only 8,263 made the journey, they wrote.

Due to the dwindling population of fish, Fish and Wildlife has set a two fish limit per day for recreational salmon fishing. More details can be found at the Fish and Wildlife’s Ocean Salmon Sport Regulations page.

Read more at https://mendovoice.com/2020/06/salmonid-counts-below-replacement-level-in-eel-river-cdfw-announces/