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20th Annual Coho Confab in the Mattole: August 24-26

SALMONID RESTORATION FEDERATION
Registration is still open for the 20th Annual Coho Confab in the scenic Mattole River valley in Humboldt County this August 24-26. SRF is coordinating this event in cooperation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Mattole Restoration Council, Mattole Salmon Group, and Sanctuary Forest. The Confab will feature workshops focused on coho recovery strategies and BMP land stewardship practices for landowners.
Field tours will include the Mattole estuary where participants will see off-channel slough, Heliwood placement, riparian restoration, forest and fuels reduction, water conservation, and stream bank stabilization projects.
Tours will also include a tour of the Salt River estuary restoration, beaver dam analogues, and groundwater recharge planning projects in the Mattole headwaters. One-day registration is now available.
Read more at: August 2017 eNewsletter Highlights | Salmonid Restoration Federation

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Fight over disputed Healdsburg logging plan escalates amid state delay

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The National Marine Fisheries Service, whose mission includes the protection of imperiled fish species, identified Felta Creek as “the only stream in the Dry Creek watershed where wild coho salmon have been observed frequently.”
“There were two years where Felta was the only stream in the entire Russian River watershed that we knew coho existed,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fisheries biologist with the California Sea Grant program who specializes in endangered salmon recovery.

A cold, clear stream that provides some of the last refuge for wild coho salmon in Sonoma County lies at the center of a dispute over logging plans in the forested hills above Healdsburg.
The proposed removal of redwood and Douglas fir trees from a steep hill above Felta Creek and the Russian River Valley poses a risk, opponents say, to remaining habitat for an endangered fish species once abundant in the freshwater streams and rivers of the North Coast.
Some of the trees marked for harvest on the 160-acre property grow on grades of 65 percent — so steep that foes of the plan, including neighbors and several environmental groups, say it could unleash significant erosion into the creek if carried forward. They are prepared to go to court to block the proposed harvest, which is being studied by state forestry officials.
Last week, those officials kicked the proposal back to landowner Ken Bareilles and his forester for significant additions and revisions
Read more at: Fight over disputed Healdsburg logging plan escalates amid state delay | The Press Democrat

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Fight for Felta Creek

Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
A Humboldt County businessman appears poised to get the green light from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) to log most of a forested 160-acre Healdsburg parcel crossed by Felta Creek.

Read more at: Fight for Felta | News | North Bay Bohemian

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Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat

Nick Rahaim, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“There’s not a lot of information out there about how to protect habitat in watersheds,” Green said. “Many people don’t realize fast-flowing, unobstructed creeks are not how this area evolved.”

Walking along the shaded banks of Dutch Bill Creek outside Occidental, geomorphologist John Green and environmental scientist Derek Acomb are satisfied with the winter that just passed. A deluge of water swelled thirsty watersheds, and strong winds knocked down an untold number of trees throughout the Sonoma County.
“It’s been a good year for trees coming down,” said Acomb, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s all about context; it’s all about where you are.”
While falling trees are a threat to both life and property, they create healthy habitats for coho salmon and steelhead trout. As much as dams, logging, agricultural runoff and overfishing throughout the decades have contributed to the collapse of salmon and trout populations, clearing creeks and rivers of downed trees and upended roots has been a major driver, too, Acomb said.
With more than 90 percent of the county’s watershed in private hands, the onus is on landowners to protect riparian habitat on their property. Before an individual can alter downed trees, logs and other forest material in waterways on their property, they must first receive a free permit from Fish and Wildlife — unless there is an immediate threat to life and property. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District can also assist in the process, said Green, the lead scientist and program manager there..
There are times when property owners call Fish and Wildlife, afraid debris in a nearby stream might flood their property or their homes. While there are serious emergencies, he said, most trees don’t pose an immediate threat.
“When they call, they’re in a survival state-of-mind,” Acomb said. “Then the following day the water has subsided and they see they’re going to be OK.”
Until the late 1990s, flood protection was the primary focus when managing creeks, streams and rivers, not habitat protection, said Green, overlooking a creek flowing through Westminster Woods where he has devoted a decade of work. The faster the water flows, the more quickly it can drain water when the rivers hit flood levels.
But without the protection from pools created by debris shaping the creek beds and slowing down the flow of water, juvenile salmon and trout are vulnerable to predators like river otters, raccoons and blue herons, Green said. Pools created by fallen timber also provide a place for coho to wait out a long, dry Californian summer before they finally venture out to the ocean in the winter months, he continued.
“With a little less flood capacity you can have a huge increase in habitat,” Acomb said, standing on the mossy bank next to Green. While the two work for different agencies, they have partnered to restore habitat in west Sonoma County.
Read more at: Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat | The Press Democrat

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Baby salmon trickle back to Russian River waterways after a long absence

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After an absence of more than a decade, a trickle of salmon are finally finding their way back to Sonoma County streams, thanks to private landowners and a coalition of conservationists.
Roughly 22 million years ago, the fish we know as salmon evolved the complicated biology they needed to commute between inland freshwater streams and the open salty ocean. Thus began one of the most remarkable life cycle journeys known on the planet.
Two million years ago, on the ancient California coastline, the salmon would have found a perfect cold and clear waterway emptying into the Pacific near the mouth of today’s Russian River. Running a hundred miles back among high ridges and dense redwood forest, its widely branching network of creeks and tributaries made ideal habitat for the spawning fish and its young.
And that paleo-Russian River has been the salmon’s home ever since.
So it came as a shock in 2001 when naturalists, fishermen and the community discovered that the number of coho salmon counted returning to the Russian River, once totaling 100,000, had dwindled to only 5.
It was found that throughout the watershed, the populations had crashed, and the salmon were disappearing, stream by stream. By 2004, only 3 of 39 tributaries and creeks in the entire watershed held any coho at all.
This past December, in a quiet event out of public view, red-flushed mature coho salmon were once again found spawning in the tree-shaded upper reaches of Mill Creek west of Healdsburg, where they had been virtually absent for decades.
That small, exciting homecoming was no accident. It came after more than 10 years of study and planning, captive breeding and painstaking stream rehabilitation by a smorgasbord of local, state, and federal agencies, private groups, academic institutions, community coalitions and concerned individuals.
And the vital key and the unsung heroes of the salmon rescue, according to those involved, are some of the private landowners whose property surrounds Mill Creek. In a scene that’s playing out along hundreds of miles of streams and creeks across Sonoma County, individual landowners are proving to be the crucial link in bringing the salmon home again.
Read more at: Baby salmon trickle back to Russian River waterways after a long absence | The Press Democrat

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Occidental eyes inexpensive wastewater treatment plan

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Occidental district has been under water board orders since 1997 to quit storing treated wastewater in a pond next to the treatment plant and discharging it into Dutch Bill Creek, a coho salmon spawning stream.

Twenty years of headaches over handling wastewater from the tiny west county community of Occidental appear to be nearing an end with a relatively inexpensive, although admittedly inelegant solution: Truck it down the road for treatment in Guerneville.
After scrapping plans to upgrade the Occidental treatment plant and pipe the effluent to a storage pond on a nearby vineyard at a price tag of up to $6 million, county officials settled instead on a $1.4 million project that depends on existing facilities and a pair of 5,000-gallon water trucks.
“It’s the most economical solution we could find,” said Cordel Stillman, Sonoma County Water Agency deputy chief engineer.
Cost has always been a factor, since the Occidental sanitation district, which serves about 118 parcels clustered along Bohemian Highway, already has the highest rate in the county — and among the highest in the state — at $2,086 a year per equivalent single-family dwelling.
A subsidy of about $400,000 a year from the water agency’s general fund has offset rate hikes, and the bargain-priced project won’t cause any increases, Stillman said.
Under the new plan, the trucks would haul Occidental’s wastewater, which averages 17,000 gallons a day in dry weather and up to 100,000 gallons during rainstorms, from the lift station on the Occidental Camp Meeker Road about nine miles to the Guerneville treatment plant, also operated by the water agency.
As a backup plan, when wastewater volume is high or roads are closed, Occidental’s wastewater would be trucked — in the opposite direction — to another one of the water agency’s eight treatment plants located next to the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
Both the Guerneville and airport plants provide tertiary treatment of wastewater, the highest level of sewage processing.
Read more at: Occidental eyes inexpensive wastewater treatment plan | The Press Democrat

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Young hatchery coho salmon released at new home in Porter Creek

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Coho were once so abundant in the Russian River system they supported a commercial harvest of more than 13,000 fish a year. But decades of development, including construction of dams at Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, reduced the population to about 100 adult fish in 1999.

Dipping a small net into the clear water of Porter Creek, biologist Ben White delivered a few dozen squirming, silver coho salmon fingerlings into their new home Monday.
Morning fog lingered over the creek, a tributary of the nearby Russian River, as White and his three-man team from the Warm Springs Dam fish hatchery donned waterproof waders to deliver about 6,000 of the hatchery’s latest offspring into their adopted home.
Several of the 4-inch-long salmon immediately took shelter beneath the overhang of an underwater rock, a good choice, White said. Scientists expect the fish, about 10 months old, to quickly form a biological imprint with the creek and return, should they survive, in two or three years to spawn as adults.
“The hope is they will hunker down for the winter in Porter Creek and migrate out (to the ocean) in spring,” said White, who is lead biologist for the hatchery-based coho salmon recovery program.
Prized by anglers, the coho are closely monitored, as if they were precious cargo, for they represent the future of a diminished and officially endangered species.
Read more at: Young coho salmon arrive at new home in Porter Creek | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County vintner Steve Kistler to pay more than $500,000 to settle creek pollution case

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Sonoma County vintner has agreed to pay $579,700 to settle water code violations stemming from the release of muddy pond water into a Valley Ford creek that supports spawning fish, state officials announced Thursday.
Steve Kistler (Kistler Vineyards) became the focus of enforcement action after officials traced the April 2013 sediment discharge to Bodega Highway property the longtime vintner owns east of the historic Watson School.
Officials said Kistler directed an employee to pump water from a partially constructed pond into a second, smaller pond, which then overflowed, spilling an estimated 739,910 gallons of turbid water into a tributary of Salmon Creek.
The water appeared so milky that officials with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and other investigating agencies at first surmised that the source had to be a dairy, said Stormer Feiler, an environmental scientist with the water board’s North Coast region.
He said the environmental impacts may have lasted as long as six days and likely killed juvenile coho salmon and steelhead trout living in the creek.
Read more at: Sonoma County vintner Steve Kistler to pay more than $500,000 to settle creek pollution case | The Press Democrat

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Laguna de Santa Rosa docents dedicated to waterway

Ariana Reguzzoni, PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation’s mission is to “restore, conserve and inspire,” but people involved in it say it does much more than that. The 22-mile waterway is the main artery in a 254-square-mile watershed that starts in Cotati and extends to Forestville and the Russian River. While some people in Sonoma County are just discovering the reach and value of the Laguna, there is a dedicated band of volunteers who return year after year to steward the important ecosystem.
“There are so many reasons to love the Laguna: the plants, wildlife, birds, but I find so often that I am fulfilled by the connections to the people who care about the land,” said Christine Fontaine, director of education programs for the Laguna Foundation. “It’s the people coming together that keeps sustaining me in my work.”
Longtime Sonoma County residents Steve and Suzanne Abrams are two members of what Fontaine refers to as the “Laguna people.” The retired parole agent and teacher, respectively, moved to Santa Rosa over 40 years ago, but didn’t really know about the Laguna until recently. In 2012, they decided to volunteer as Laguna guides, inspired in part by the death of a friend who had led hikes through the area. The couple said they love learning about the Laguna’s cultural and natural history but, echoing Fontaine’s sentiments, meeting and educating the community stands out most for them — especially the people who are born and raised nearby.
“Surprisingly, a lot of people who are from this area have no knowledge of the Laguna,” said Steve Abrams. “It flabbergasted me!”
Read more at: Laguna de Santa Rosa docents dedicated to waterway | The Press Democrat

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Under the influence? How the wine industry dominates Sonoma County election campaigns

Will Parrish, SONOMA VALLEY SUN
For at least two decades, Sonoma County officials have sided with the wine industry in nearly every major political dispute. The reason? The industry dominates the county’s economy – and financially dominates county election campaigns.
Last spring, Sonoma County supervisors Efren Carrillo, James Gore, and Susan Gorin traveled to Sacramento to meet with some of California’s highest-ranking regulatory officials: California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, Secretary of Fish and Wildlife Charles Bonham, senior staff members at the State Water Resources Control Board, and State Water Resources Control Board member Dee Dee D’Adamo.‏​
The subject of the closed-door session was a pending drought-related emergency order governing water use in four sections of the Russian River watershed, which the state and federal governments had deemed crucial to the survival of the endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. According to Supervisor Gore, in an interview with me last year, the specific focus of the conversation was to determine “what we could do to achieve the goal of water in the creeks for coho.”‏​
Soon after, the Water Board announced the terms of the regulatory order, which spans 270 days – and remains in effect as of this writing. It applies to an estimated 13,000 Sonoma County residents. It forbids watering of lawns. It places limits on car washing and watering residential gardens. It does not, however, place mandatory limits on water used by irrigated vineyards, which are arguably the main recent cause of the iconic fish species’ perilous decline in the four areas in question.
‏​The failure to regulate the wine industry outraged hundreds of local residents, who vented their opinions in public comment sessions at a series of public meetings held by the Water Board last year. Ironically, based on statements by the Water Board’s D’Adamo, the three elected Sonoma County representatives may have had a role in preventing exactly the restrictions for which these residents advocated.‏​
In a 2015 public meeting, a Mark West Creek resident asked D’Adamo why the wine industry was exempt from the order. D’Adamo noted that “the county” had requested that the regulations not cause “an economic impact.” In a later interview with me, D’Adamo echoed this statement. “Our target is not irrigation [for wine-grapes] that provides an economic benefit,” she said.‏​
Eventually, a slight majority of vineyard operators in the four watersheds (71 out of roughly 130 at last count) voluntarily committed to reducing their water use by 25 percent, relative to 2013 levels. Many onlookers question the efficacy of this voluntary effort, which they note lacks oversight. Meanwhile, one of Sonoma County’s largest wine corporations, Jackson Family Wines, agreed to pump 2.3 million gallons of water from a reservoir serving a pinot noir vineyard into Green Valley Creek. ​To many residents and environmentalists, though, this episode involving the Water Board reflects an elementary truth of Sonoma County’s modern power structure: The wine industry receives constant support from Sonoma County policymakers in every major political battle, even as it invades neighborhoods and pollutes the environment.
Read more at: Under the influence? How the wine industry dominates Sonoma County election campaigns | Sonoma Sun