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 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

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , ,

New plan to safeguard Russian River targets contamination from human and animal waste

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

An on-again, off-again effort by state regulators to better protect the Russian River and its tributaries against failing septic systems, livestock waste and other potential sources of bacterial contamination is in its final stages, with hopes that an action plan for the entire watershed will be approved this August and go into effect next year.

The move, controversial and closely watched in years past, could impose stricter regulations and mandatory septic system upgrades on thousands of landowners with properties near the river or its connected waterways.

Opportunities still exist for residents to weigh in on the complicated, far-reaching strategy designed to safeguard the region’s recreational hub and main source of drinking water, with bacterial threats ranging from everyday pet waste to rain-swollen sewage holding ponds and homeless encampments.

Now in its third iteration since 2015, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board’s new draft action plan is out for public review and comment through 5 p.m. June 24.

The board’s staff will host a public workshop at its Santa Rosa offices on Thursday afternoon, and a public hearing will be held during the board’s regular meeting Aug. 14 and 15, when it considers adopting the plan.

The water quality control program is required under the federal Clean Water Act as well as state regulations designed to ensure that people swimming, wading, fishing or otherwise recreating in the river and tributary creeks aren’t exposed to bacteria from human or animal waste — a problem in waterways around California, state officials say.

Key concerns include aging, under-equipped and potentially faulty septic systems and cesspools installed decades ago on steep slopes with too little soil to provide adequate percolation. Testing also shows livestock grazing in close proximity to waterways is a problem in many areas.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9693049-181/new-plan-to-safeguard-russian

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , , ,

State plans tighter oversight to stem Russian River pollution

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Public workshop dates
A newly developed plan designed to improve water quality in the Russian River and address fecal bacterial contamination throughout the watershed will have profound ramifications for many North Coast residents, as state regulators target faulty sewage systems and other means through which human and animal waste may be entering waterways.
The state move, outlined in a draft action plan released by regulators last month, highlights the critical role the river plays as a water supply to more than 600,000 North Bay residents and as a popular recreational destination, offering swimming, boating and fishing opportunities.
It also shows the contamination problems facing the river are complex and multifaceted, affected by everything from failing municipal sewer lines, sewage holding ponds and residential septic tanks to homeless encampments, grazing cattle and dirty diapers left on river beaches.
Communities throughout the 1,484-square-mile watershed and thousands of residents dependent on septic tanks will be affected to varying degrees by the state step, if only because they must demonstrate their systems are operating correctly.
The plan has implications particularly for those in defined “high priority areas” — neighborhoods where bacterial levels have most often exceeded acceptable levels and where onsite waste disposal systems, like septic tanks, are densely located, in close proximity to the river and its feeder streams.
Read more at: State plans tighter oversight to stem Russian River | The Press Democrat