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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/

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Sonoma County mulls changes to controversial quarry project

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday revived one of their most controversial land-use debates, examining potential changes to a planned quarry west of Cotati that has been in the works for a decade and a half.

Quarry developer John Barella wants to alter some of the conditions the county imposed when it narrowly approved his project off Roblar Road eight years ago. The Board of Supervisors last year hired a consultant to study Barella’s proposed changes and is now considering a draft of the resulting environmental analysis.

Much of Tuesday’s discussion centered around a 1.6-mile stretch of Roblar Road that would be used hundreds of times daily by large trucks hauling aggregate from the quarry. Barella’s team says the original county requirement to widen the road to 40 feet proved unworkable and proposed constructing a road that’s 32 feet wide instead.

The proposal prompted safety concerns from some supervisors and community members, particularly since the road is used by cyclists.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the only current board member who was in office when the project was approved, called for further road improvements that would slow traffic and better accommodate bicycles.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8845302-181/sonoma-county-mulls-changes-to

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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

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Local habitat may be at risk

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Trump administration is seeking to alter key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a 45-year-old federal law that has shaped growth in Sonoma County during repeated battles between builders attempting to develop land and environmentalists seeking to protect rare plants and animals.

Federal officials contend the changes to the act — which protects local species like the coho salmon and the California tiger salamander — will streamline and improve it. Local environmentalists have called them a “coordinated attack” on science that could push fragile species into extinction.

The act, passed in 1973 during the Nixon presidency with strong bipartisan support, protects critically imperiled species and their habitats. In Sonoma County, development conflicts have arisen over those species, sometimes requiring costly mitigation measures for projects to advance. But the law has also been a salvation for wildlife on the North Coast, like the gray whale, the bald eagle and osprey, said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

A major change would eliminate language instructing officials to ignore economic impacts when determining how wildlife should be protected.

Other reforms include changing limits on the designation of critical habitat — areas with biological or physical features necessary for the conservation of a species. It also seeks to end to the automatic regulatory process that gives threatened plants and animals the same protection as those listed as endangered, and streamlines consultation between agencies when actions from the federal government could jeopardize a species.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8551721-181/sonoma-county-awaits-clarity-on

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , Leave a comment on GOP hurries to scale back Endangered Species Act before fall election

GOP hurries to scale back Endangered Species Act before fall election

Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman, THE NEW YORK TIMES

he Endangered Species Act, which for 45 years has safeguarded fragile wildlife while blocking ranching, logging and oil drilling on protected habitats, is coming under attack from lawmakers, the White House and industry on a scale not seen in decades, driven partly by fears that the Republicans will lose ground in November’s midterm elections.

In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives and amendments designed to weaken the law have been either introduced or voted on in Congress or proposed by the Trump administration.

The actions included a bill to strip protections from the gray wolf in Wyoming and along the western Great Lakes; a plan to keep the sage grouse, a chicken-size bird that inhabits millions of oil-rich acres in the West, from being listed as endangered for the next decade; and a measure to remove from the endangered list the American burying beetle, an orange-flecked insect that has long been the bane of oil companies that would like to drill on the land where it lives.

“It’s probably the best chance that we have had in 25 years to actually make any substantial changes,” said Richard Pombo, a former congressman from California who more than a decade ago led an attempt to rethink the act and is now a lobbyist whose clients include mining and water management companies.

He and others argue that the act has become skewed toward restricting economic development and Americans’ livelihoods rather than protecting threatened animals.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/22/climate/endangered-species-act-trump-administration.html

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Op-Ed: Stop efforts to kill salmon and fishing jobs

John McManus, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Today, many Northern California commercial fishermen sit in harbors along our coast worrying about their bills and waiting for another disastrously shortened salmon season to begin. Many businesses that serve the normally robust sport salmon fishery also have suffered because of the delay. River fishing guides have lost half their season as well.

Salmon numbers are predicted to be down from the lingering effects of the last drought and the damaging water allocation decisions that put salmon fishing families last. Meanwhile, San Joaquin Valley congressmen are hard at work tilting the balance of water in California toward valley agricultural barons.

These House members are acting like this is their last, best chance for a huge water grab. There are four separate riders in House budget bills aimed at seizing more Northern water at the expense of salmon and fishing families. None are responding to a crisis in agriculture. The past decade has seen record harvests, revenue and employment for California agriculture.

For salmon, it’s another story. During the past decade, California salmon fishermen have seen the two worst crises in state history. Our fishery was shut down entirely in 2008 and 2009 following record siphoning of Bay-Delta water. The Golden Gate Salmon Association and other fishing groups are seeing a second crisis today as salmon try to fight their way back from the drought.

The Bay-Delta’s salmon runs are the most important south of the Columbia River and the backbone of a $1.4 billion salmon fishing industry that supports 23,000 jobs.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8549850-181/close-to-home-stop-efforts

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How much water do Coho salmon need?

Alastair Bland, NEWS DEEPLY

For California’s endangered Coho salmon, just a trickle of water may mean survival in the small rivers and streams where the fish spend their first year, researchers found.

“Our hope is that people might be more inclined to sacrifice a little water now that they realize it’s not all that much and that it would be really meaningful for the fish,” [Obedzinski] said.

In California’s small coastal streams, where hundreds of thousands of Coho salmon once returned each year to spawn, most wild populations now barely cling to survival. Habitat loss and intensive water use have pushed them to the brink; now climate change and increasing competition for water resources could send them over the edge.

However, recent research offers some encouraging findings – that juveniles of Coho salmon, an endangered species in California, can survive in creeks where just a trickle of water remains flowing. Since Coho spend their entire first year in fresh water before heading for the sea, it’s critical that their creeks don’t dry out in the summer.

Scientist Mariska Obedzinski and three collaborators – Sarah Nossaman Pierce, a California Sea Grant Extension specialist; Gregg Horton, a principal environmental specialist at the Sonoma County Water Agency; and Matthew Deitch, an assistant professor of watershed management at the University of Florida – found that less than 1 gallon per second of flow in small streams is all it takes in some creeks to keep pools interconnected.

Read more at

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Plans to curb Green Valley Creek flooding

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

The Sonoma County Water Agency has released details of the agency’s Green Valley Creek flood control plans to reduce chronic wet weather flooding of Green Valley Road near Graton.

“Last year Green Valley Road was closed for over three weeks due to flooding,” said Lynda Hopkins, who as Fifth District county supervisor also serves as a Water Agency director. “The project would make Green Valley Road safer for the communities who rely on it, as well as the fish and wildlife who rely on the creek.”

When the creek floods, high water on the roadway cuts off access to the Graton community from the west, causing disrupted traffic on Green Valley and Graton roads.

The agency’s Green Valley Creek High Flow Channel Project will remove sediment in the creek west of Graton and restore the creek banks with native vegetation. The Water Agency released a draft initial study and Negative Declaration for the project on June 22. The public is invited to comment on the project before a July 24 deadline.

(An electronic copy of the draft environmental study is available at www.scwa.ca.gov/environmental-documents. )

Read more at http://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/plans-to-curb-green-valley-creek-flooding/article_02f401ba-79a8-11e8-8740-97d3a09e8cd0.html

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , , , ,

Santa Rosa settles salamander dispute

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa reached a settlement with a litigious local environmental group that threatened to sue over the city’s management of land that may be habitat for endangered tiger salamanders.

The city recently agreed to pay $25,000 to Sebastopol-based California River Watch, which has been pressuring government agencies for decades to comply with environmental regulations such as the federal Clean Water Act.

In this case, the group alleged the city may have violated the federal Endangered Species Act, improperly managing its agricultural properties in the Santa Rosa Plain near the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

The city denied any wrongdoing. But it agreed to settle after concluding it would likely pay more to challenge the group in court, said Mike Prinz, a deputy director of Santa Rosa Water.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8362344-181/santa-rosa-settles-salamander-dispute

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Water Agency will present river estuary plan May 31

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

The May 31 meeting at the Jenner Community Center on Highway 1 will include a Water Agency presentation on the Russian River Estuary Management Project and will provide information recapping the 2017 lagoon management season.

The Sonoma County Water Agency will host a meeting in Jenner next week to update the public on Russian River estuary management efforts to maintain a closed estuary during the summer months.

“Communities along the lower river have long been interested in the estuary management project,” said Fifth District Sonoma County Supervisor and Water Agency Director Lynda Hopkins in a media announcement of the meeting. “Each May to October, the Water Agency manages the estuary to improve steelhead and coho salmon habitat and minimize flood risk for riverside communities. Estuary management is a key part of the Russian River Biological Opinion. Our annual community meeting is a great opportunity to receive current information and ask questions.”

The biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in September 2008 required the Water Agency to change the way the Russian River estuary is managed in the summer. The purpose of the Estuary Management Project is to enhance summer habitat for young steelhead while minimizing flood risk to Jenner properties near the estuary. NMFS biologists believe that maintaining a summertime freshwater lagoon can create a healthier nursery for young steelhead. In other California rivers, the formation of similar “perched” lagoons has improved steelhead habitat during the summer months.

Since the mid-1990s the Water Agency has artificially breached the sandbar at the Russian River mouth when it closes and increases water levels in the estuary, threatening low-lying properties. The biological opinion calls for managing the estuary as a summer lagoon with an outlet channel in place to enhance conditions for steelhead to grow and thrive, giving them a better chance to survive ocean conditions, while continuing to minimize flood risk.

Read more at: http://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/water-agency-will-present-river-estuary-plan-may/article_54f6f7ea-5e11-11e8-9913-bbc538cabe8c.html