At the height of the sport fishery, in the 1950s, annual runs brought some 60,000 steelhead into the river, according to the Russian River Wild Steelhead Society.
Steelhead trout are tough, ocean- going fish and they seemed to affirm that in the way they came slamming through the trap door Saturday into a square elevator of water at the fish hatchery below Lake Sonoma.
“They’re strong and they’re very hardy,” said Danny Garcia, a state Fish and Wildlife technician supervising operations at the Don Clausen Hatchery at Warm Springs Dam.
“That’s probably why they got the name steelhead,” he said, smiling, “but don’t quote me on that.”
The fish, a favorite with anglers, were in the spotlight at the annual Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival, put on by the Friends of Lake Sonoma.
“It’s about kids, education and the importance of freshwater,” said Richard Thomas, president of the nonprofit group.
He estimated that nearly 6,000 people would attend during the one-day event, a crowd up slightly over last year’s numbers.
“We want to draw attention to Lake Sonoma as a public facility and the hatchery is part of that — our goal is the preservation of steelhead in the Russian River,” Thomas said.
After living in the ocean for several years, the steelhead make their way up the river and into Dry Creek, where a fish ladder leads to the hatchery. The hatchery’s job to manage and boost runs of the once-bountiful fish, which is no longer able to reach spawning streams cut off by the dam.
Read more at: Lake Sonoma Steelhead Festival offers close look at | The Press Democrat
Paul Rogers, CONTRA COSTA TIMES
In a clear sign that the largest wetlands restoration project on the West Coast is already improving the health of San Francisco Bay, bird populations have doubled over the past 13 years on thousands acres of former industrial salt-evaporation ponds that ring the bay’s southern shoreline, scientists reported Thursday.
The overall population of ducks and shorebirds in that area, which is about the size of Manhattan, has increased from roughly 100,000 in 2002 to 200,000 today, researchers doing detailed counts every winter found.
“It shows that what’s been done so far appears to be working. It’s really great,” said Susan De La Cruz, a wildlife biologist in Vallejo with the U.S. Geological Survey who has conducted much of the research.
In a landmark deal in 2003, Minneapolis-based Cargill Salt sold 15,100 acres of its bayfront salt ponds, which stretch from Hayward to San Jose to Redwood City, to state and federal agencies for $100 million. That sale also included an additional 1,400 acres near Napa.
The idea was to take the ponds — used for a century to harvest salt for food, medicine and road de-icing — and restore them back to natural conditions over 50 years, bringing back birds, fish, harbor seals, leopard sharks and dozens of other species that have struggled in the bay because of development and a burgeoning human population.
San Francisco Bay has shrunk by a third since the Gold Rush of 1849 due to diking, filling and development. Most of that stopped in the 1980s with the advent of the federal Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws.
Now, scientists, environmental groups and many political leaders are trying to turn back the clock and expand the bay out again, bringing back wetlands, along with the wildlife, public trails and natural flood control that come with expanded marshes.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Plans to harvest century-old redwoods along the Gualala River are stirring opposition in the wake of an unsuccessful bid to acquire the commercial timberland for conservation purposes, including the expansion of a public park.
The logging proposal covers more than 500 acres upstream from the town of Gualala and includes extensive operations in the flood plain at the mouth of the Gualala River in northwestern Sonoma County.
In an era of diminished logging along the North Coast, the dispute over Gualala Redwood Timber’s plans reflects the debate about how, if at all, sensitive land in the region is logged and whether such private acreage commercially logged for a century should be set aside for conservation.
Proponents behind the logging proposal — actually two separate timber harvest plans — say it has been fully vetted by environmental regulators and meets safeguards established to protect the river and habitat for salmon, steelhead trout and other plants and wildlife.
But opponents, including environmental activists, say felling the trees, especially in the flood plain, will diminish the beauty and health of the river’s scenic South Fork and adversely affect already impaired fish and wildlife habitat, in addition to threatening river flows by pulling water to control dust on logging roads.
County officials also are raising questions about the impacts of logging on recreation and the adjacent Gualala Point Regional Park, which takes in 195 acres at the mouth of the river.
“We are very concerned about this,” said Chris Poehlmann, who leads a local group called Friends of the Gualala River that has been an active critic of logging and forest-to-vineyard conversion projects in the area. “It will be a lost opportunity if the community doesn’t respond. I hope that it won’t be business as usual and people will look backward and say, ‘We should have done something about that.’ ”
Rob Jordan, STANFORD REPORT
The risk of acquiring Lyme disease from ticks, such as this western black-legged tick, is higher than had been assumed, according to a new Stanford study.
The San Francisco Bay Area’s broad swaths of trail-lined open space hold higher risks of tick-borne disease than previously thought, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.
The scientists collected 622 ticks (typically western black-legged ticks) from 20 sites in recreational areas from Sonoma County in the north to Santa Cruz County in the south by dragging white flannel blankets along the vegetation and leaf clutter. After bringing the ticks to a lab, the researchers extracted and analyzed their DNA.
Among other surprising discoveries, they found that a higher percentage of nymphal (young) ticks were infected with the bacteria Borrelia miyamotoi, a recently discovered human pathogen, than on the East Coast. The corkscrew-shaped bacteria produce Lyme disease-like symptoms.
Nymphal ticks are much smaller than adult ticks and thus are less likely to be discovered when they hitch themselves onto humans walking outdoors.
“Users of recreation areas in the Bay Area need to know the risk of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme is real, and not limited to other parts of the country,” said co-author Eric Lambin, the George and Setsuko Ishiyama Provostial Professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.
The research, published in PLOS ONE, found the density of non-infected ticks, infected ticks and disease risk varies widely and unpredictably among different habitats (e.g., coast live oak, redwood, grassland) and geographic areas. However, tick-borne disease risk appears to be higher in redwood forests than previously believed.
Although ticks are found in lower densities among redwoods than some other habitats, they are consistently present and harbor B. miyamotoi and Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. Also, tick-borne disease exposure appears highest in coast live oak-dominated woodlands. The authors caution, however, that the statistical association is too weak to serve as a basis for targeted preventive public health policies and awareness campaigns.
Read more at: Stanford researchers find surprising level of tick-borne disease risk on local trails
Amber Manfree, CALIFORNIA WATER BLOG
In the historic heart of Napa Valley, a moderate climate and the alluvial soils deposited by the Napa River create perfect conditions for world-class cabernets. An acre of vines here sells for around $300,000, or 25 times the state average for irrigated cropland.
Yet a group of landowners have ripped out 20 acres of these prized vineyards to make room for river restoration, with levee setbacks, terraced banks and native plants.
The project runs the length of Rutherford Reach, a 4.5-mile stretch of the Napa River between St. Helena and Oakville. Landowners say the changes will bring economic benefits over the long term by reducing crop losses from floods and plant disease. Most of all, they feel good about giving back to the river that has brought them so much.
Rutherford Reach is one several sites undergoing major habitat and flood control improvements on the Napa River. Some projects started more than 40 years ago. Others are just getting off the ground.
Far from postage-stamp restorations, these efforts are steadily transforming a huge swath of wetlands in a very lived-in area, re-establishing geomorphic function at the landscape scale.
Innovative funding, inclusive planning and adaptive management power these projects and offer lessons for river restoration elsewhere.
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A bill that sought to close the Sonoma Developmental Center and a similar facility in Southern California on an accelerated timeline was held over Tuesday until next year.
The bill’s author, Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, said he agreed to the delay after he and Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, met Monday to discuss McGuire’s concerns about the proposal.
McGuire is chairman of the Senate’s Human Services Committee, which heard SB 639 Tuesday.A month ago, McGuire publicly criticized Stone for bringing the bill, saying the Riverside County senator “would be challenged to find Sonoma on a map.”
Read more via: Breathing room for Sonoma Developmental Center advocates | The Press Democrat
The site is at the heart of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, linking more than 9,000 acres of protected land running west to east from Sonoma Mountain to the Mayacamas mountains. The property also is a bridge between Jack London State Historic Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park.
Deer, mountain lion, coyote, bobcat and rare species that include steelhead trout, northern spotted owl and California red-legged frog live on or frequent the site. Sonoma Creek, which runs through the center’s property for about three-quarters of a mile, is one of the county’s most significant streams for steelhead.
A coalition led by the Sonoma Land Trust has launched an intensive review of potential uses for nearly 1,000 acres of prime real estate and the buildings that make up the Sonoma Developmental Center should the state close the facility.
Dubbed the “Transform SDC Project,” the 18-month review includes a series of public meetings for people to weigh in on the center’s future. The first meeting is scheduled for May 2 in Sonoma.
“We’re hoping anyone that cares about SDC will see this as the place to bring their ideas,” said John McCaull, the Sonoma Valley land acquisitions project manager for the Land Trust.
The center near Glen Ellen is battling declining admissions, licensing problems and calls to shut down to save taxpayers money. But what to do with the campus, which includes 145 buildings, and pristine grounds surrounding it is the source of an intensifying political and land-use battle.
About 400 or so developmentally disabled people still reside at the center and receive around-the-clock care there. With about 1,300 employees, the center also is Sonoma Valley’s largest employer.
One model being touted for the center’s future use is for a government entity to maintain ownership of the buildings and lease space to generate revenue. The surrounding property under this vision would be maintained as open space or become additions to nearby county or state parks.
Read more via: Charting path for developmental center’s site | The Press Democrat
Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The most fascinating creature caught on wildlife cameras in the Bay Area may be the mountain lion, a large carnivore that lives close by, occasionally slipping among us, but rarely seen.
Sherry Adams, a biologist who lives at the Modini Mayacamas Preserves northeast of Healdsburg, jokes that “the mountain lions know me by name,” even though they stay out of sight.
“They are in fact there,” she said. “The cameras show them enough. We know they are around more often than we see them.”
Biologists say the big cats with the long, thick tails are among the first species to disappear as the natural habitat becomes fragmented.
But scientists say these top predators, or “ecosystem regulators,” are important to help maintain the balance of plants and animals.
They keep deer herds on the move so they don’t overgraze, resulting in less erosion along riverbanks, for example. They also open up habitat for other species, according to organizations devoted to protecting mountain lions.
Read more via Caught on camera: Mountain lions nearer to us | The Press Democrat.
Ultimately, Dr. Palumbi warned, slowing extinctions in the oceans will mean cutting back on carbon emissions, not just adapting to them.
A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.
“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.
But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.
Read more via Ocean Life Faces Mass Extinction, Broad Study Says – NYTimes.com.
Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The agency tasked with building the North Bay’s commuter rail line is about to embark on a $1.9 million environmental restoration project that will create new wetlands, protect valuable habitat for endangered species and help the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority meet the conditions of its construction permits.
Without discussion, the SMART board Wednesday approved a deal with contractor Stacy and Witbeck/Herzog to restore the former Mira Monte marina site — 56 acres of marshland straddling the Sonoma-Marin county line at the spot where San Antonio Creek joins the Petaluma River.
The agency last year spent $2.5 million on the land that is a key piece of the Petaluma Marsh ecosystem, supporting an array of bird, plant and animal species including the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and California clapper rail. The habitat work is required by a slew of state and federal agencies that issued environmental permits to SMART as it builds the 43-mile commuter rail line from Santa Rosa to San Rafael. Service is expected to begin in late 2016.
Read more via SMART gives go-ahead to large wetland restoration | The Press Democrat.