Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , Leave a comment on Unanimous county vote approves stream setbacks

Unanimous county vote approves stream setbacks

Sonoma County supervisors Monday adopted a hard-won compromise between farmers and environmental groups, advancing protective buffer zones along 3,200 miles of streams and rivers in the county.
“This is a historic day,” Board Chairman David Rabbitt said. “It wasn’t easy to get here.”
Supervisors unanimously approved the measure shielding 82,000 acres of land outside city limits, most of it on private property, from future farming and development.
The decision followed a four-hour public hearing, where 25 speakers from a standing-room-only crowd called the once-controversial policy now workable.
“This has been a long process,” said Bob Anderson, executive director for United Winegrowers for Sonoma County, who has been heavily involved in negotiating new rules. “It is pretty amazing in this county to have all interests singing from the same sheet of music.”
Officials said the buffer zones along waterways throughout the county will provide critical ecosystem functions, including groundwater recharge, water quality, river bank stability and habitat for imperiled fish species.
Most of the speakers were in favor of the proposal and applauded the compromise. The new rules were first approved under the county’s general plan, adopted six years ago, and will now be aligned with county zoning codes, officials said.
“For people who violate the law, I can go after them now,” said Tennis Wick, director for the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department. “Yesterday I couldn’t.”
The new countywide ordinance prevents property owners from cultivating land or building on land that is 50 to 200 feet from rivers and streams. At issue Monday were details in the proposal, including where to draw the edge of the setback zone, vehicle turnarounds for farming operations and whether to allow wells within buffer zones.
via Unanimous county vote approves stream setbacks | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , Leave a comment on Stream protections vs. private property rights in Sonoma County

Stream protections vs. private property rights in Sonoma County

Sonoma County’s effort to implement one of its most controversial land use policies — protective buffer zones along 3,200 miles of rivers and streams — has reignited a pitched debate between environmental organizations, farmers and private property rights activists about how to best protect and manage waterways throughout the county.
The dispute is fundamentally about the reach of government regulation onto private land to safeguard public resources, including water quality and wildlife. The debate has been closely monitored by environmental and agriculture groups, and county officials have acknowledged that the outcome will have far-reaching implications.
Read more via Stream protections vs. private property rights in Sonoma | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , Leave a comment on New species of coral discovered off Sonoma Coast

New species of coral discovered off Sonoma Coast


This Sept. 6, 2014 photo released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a new species of deep-sea white coral found by NOAA researchers off the coast of Sonoma County, Calif. The research team also found a “highly unusual” nursery area for catsharks and skates in the underwater canyons close to the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries.

Scientists surveying the sea floor off the Sonoma Coast have discovered a new species of coral in an area proposed for a national marine sanctuary extension, highlighting the still-unexplored, biologically diverse habitat that would be protected if the expansion goes forward.

The white coral specimen under examination at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco is one of two key findings made by a research team during a six-day trip through two deep sea zones north of Bodega Head. Scientists also found underwater areas where hundreds of skate egg cases, or “mermaid purses,” were scattered among catshark nests in a rare, possibly unique case of nurseries for those species overlapping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced.

The discoveries underscore the rich, productive habitat at stake in the debate over marine sanctuary boundaries, with particularly profound implications for fish and fisheries, as well as the potential for future revelations, scientists said.

“It’s exciting in that we’ve never really looked at the sea bottom off the San Francisco Coast in this detail,” said Academy of Sciences zoologist Gary Williams, invertebrates curator for the facility. “Before this, we really didn’t have an idea of what the bottom looked like, and it’s not just a uniform plain. It’s highly varied, with highly diversified habitats.”

Read more via New species of coral discovered off Sonoma Coast | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, WildlifeTags , , , , Leave a comment on How to mend the conservation divide

How to mend the conservation divide

A SCHISM has recently divided those who love nature.

“New conservationists” have been shaking up the field, proposing new approaches that break old taboos — moving species to new ranges in advance of climate change, intervening in designated wilderness areas, using nonnative species as functional stand-ins for those that have become extinct, and embracing novel ecosystems that spring up in humanized landscapes.

Some “old conservationists” have reacted angrily to this, preferring to keep the focus on protecting wilderness and performing classical restoration that keeps ecosystems as they were hundreds of years ago. Editorials, essays and books have been lobbed back and forth, feathers have been ruffled and conservation groups and government officials have felt pressure from both sides.

The truth is, despite the disagreements, both groups love nature and want to protect it. These seemingly competing alternatives are really complementary parts of the smartest strategy: We should try everything.

Conservation used to seem pretty straightforward: set aside tracts of nature and they will take care of themselves. It is not so simple anymore. Nature left unmanaged is changing in surprising ways because of the great and accelerating human influences of what is being called the Anthropocene — the new epoch of climate change, species movements and global-scale land-use change. Today, keeping nature functioning the way it did before the Industrial Revolution requires increasingly hard and expensive work.

At Yellowstone National Park, for example, nonnative trout are fished out of lakes; nonnative plants are ripped up; bison are culled to preset numbers. In California, salmon fry are trucked down to the ocean when drought dries up streams. In Maryland and Virginia, baby oysters are raised in hatcheries, then released into the Chesapeake Bay.

At the same time, we have begun tinkering with nature to help it cope. In North Carolina, blight-resistant genes from Asian trees are bred into American chestnuts so that the mighty trees, devastated by human-introduced disease, might again dot Eastern forests. In the Indian Ocean, tortoises from the Seychelles are introduced to other islands to play the role of extinct tortoises there, eating fruit and dispersing seeds. In Canada, foresters replant harvested areas with seedlings from areas farther south or lower in altitude, betting that they will better survive a warmer climate.

In other cases, what seemed obviously helpful has turned out to hurt. A gallfly introduced to control spotted knapweed in the West ended up nourishing deer mice, which flourished and began gorging themselves on the seeds of the native plants the knapweed was threatening. In California, restoration projects to pull out nonnative spartina grass on beaches were called into question when the endangered clapper rail was found to nest there. Controlling nature can be risky.

So what should we do? Should we continue to invest in keeping ecosystems in historical configurations? Should we attempt to engineer landscapes to be resilient to tomorrow’s conditions? Or should we just let nature adapt on its own?

We should do all three. In the face of great uncertainty, the sensible thing to do is hedge our bets and allocate large swaths of landscape to all three approaches: restoration, innovation and hands-off observation.

In the United States, the large landholdings of the federal government should be managed this way. We can classically restore in culturally resonant places like national parks, preserving the beloved landscapes and dynamics that sustained those ecosystems over thousands of years. Where we innovate, ideally in landscapes already significantly altered, we can focus our scientific talents and technology on species conservation, preserving the fantastic diversity of life.

And where we keep our hands off, perhaps in areas already set aside as wilderness, we can preserve nature wild and untrammeled. Unmanaged places like wilderness areas will most likely take on new and unexpected aspects as the climate changes. Familiar species will disappear and new species will move in. But we can learn as nature adapts to these challenges without our meddling.

No one approach will save everything. Ceasing all management will put many threatened species at risk for extinction. Restoring ecosystems to historical baselines may prevent them from adapting to change and lead to collapse. And innovation means creating untested systems that may also fail. Mistakes are inevitable. But at each site, we should fully commit to a single strategy. Otherwise, we risk a haphazard stew of approaches that don’t meet any goal.

The vast majority of conservationists are neither old nor new. They don’t even self-identify as conservationists. But if you would rather that bulldozers not raze the woods, desert or beach you love, then you are a conservationist. If you would rather that the tiger or bog turtle not go extinct, then you are a conservationist. And, if you like the idea that some places should be truly wild and free, then you are a conservationist.

No matter which reason motivates you most, working together and using a diversity of approaches is far better than inaction or squabbling. With hard work, political support and lots of money, we can have the cherished landscapes, the most endangered species, and the comfort of knowing there is still wild nature left. We just can’t expect to have them all in the same place.


Posted on Categories Land Use, WildlifeTags , Leave a comment on Wildlife crossing gets protection in land deal

Wildlife crossing gets protection in land deal

Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
When he was a child, Paul Curreri was convinced he could dig a tunnel through the ridge behind his home near Glen Ellen to get to a pond on the other side.
“I dug for hours,” he recalled, adding that land that his father, Norman, had purchased off Highway 12 in 1948 served as his playground for much of his childhood.
That land will soon be opened for all Sonoma County’s residents to enjoy.
Curreri is selling the 29-acre parcel for $1.1 million to the Sonoma Land Trust, which has been eying the site for years because of its importance to a significant wildlife corridor across Sonoma Valley. It sits in a “pinch point,” a narrow open area between development to the north and south that’s used by wildlife to cross the grape-growing valley.
The trust is buying the property with support from the county after the Board of Supervisors this week authorized spending more than $500,000 in open space funds. The land will become part of the existing 162-acre Sonoma Valley Regional Park, giving visitors more woodlands and grasslands to explore.
via Wildlife crossing gets protection in land deal | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags Leave a comment on Reclaiming wilderness

Reclaiming wilderness


It tells us who we are, and we lose it at our peril

Gila Wilderness with human dwellings.

When Dave Foreman heard that I was going to speak at the biennial Geography of Hope conference last year in Marin County, California, he made a request: “Try to get wolves and wilderness in.” Foreman, the cofounder of Earth First! and a leader of the rewilding movement, is one of the two most riveting environmental evangelists I’ve ever heard preach; he ends his talks by howling like a wolf. The howling I can interpret, but his request puzzled me a bit. The conference was billed as three days dedicated to the ideas of Aldo Leopold. How could you celebrate Leopold without wolves and wilderness?
At the conference, I found out. In session after session, before an audience at Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, speaker after speaker had nothing to say about either the wolf or the place it lives. Leopold’s “land ethic” and his ideas on sustainability and restoration drew all the attention. The great forester’s campaign leading to the 1924 designation of New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, the first anywhere, and his seminal writing on wildness in A Sand County Almanac went missing. When wilderness finally did come up, it was by way of dismissal. Wilderness is an antiquated notion, one panelist said. We have a new paradigm, said another. J. Baird Callicott, one of academia’s leading wilderness deniers–or “wilderness deconstructionists,” as Foreman calls this breed–told us that wilderness is a flawed idea and an imperialistic enterprise. If Leopold were alive and here today, Callicott said, he would have very different ideas on wilderness.
Yes, and Jefferson, if only we could fetch him, would disown his Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln his Emancipation Proclamation. For years I had laughed off this kind of revisionism, but now, at a Leopold symposium in Marin County, one of the greenest spots in the nation, I realized that we are losing the wilderness idea.
Read more via Reclaiming Wilderness | Sierra Club.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , Leave a comment on Sonoma County Planning Commission signs off on stream protection rules

Sonoma County Planning Commission signs off on stream protection rules


Sonoma County planning commissioners Thursday night signed off on a new ordinance spelling out a wide set of regulations that limit agriculture and development along 3,200 miles of streams and rivers.

The controversial changes, decades in the making, would create buffer zones around waterways and protect sensitive plant and animal habitat on roughly 82,000 acres of unincorporated parts of the county. Thursday’s 4-1 vote followed eight hours of sometimes heated deliberation, and sends the regulation to the Board of Supervisors, who are expected to vote on the zoning rules sometime this fall.

More than 70 people packed a county meeting room Thursday, while roughly a dozen others spilled out into the hallway to fill out speaking cards and read opposition letters. Speakers, many of whom were farmers and ranchers, said they were concerned about changes affecting grazing operations, habitat protection areas that extend past the riparian corridor to include tree lines and rules guiding underground wells.

“There is always going to be someone who doesn’t get what they want,” said Don Bennett, chairman of the commission. “We’ve had a lot of meetings; it’s now our job to get this into shape to the Board of Supervisors. It’s just the last step in implementing the county’s general plan.”

via Sonoma County Planning Commission signs off on stream | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , , Leave a comment on County stream protection rules back for debate

County stream protection rules back for debate


August 28 Planning Commission Agenda

For decades, property owners, environmentalists and policymakers in Sonoma County have been split over how to protect 3,200 miles of streams and creeks outside city boundaries.

The ongoing debate, which some landowners view as a direct threat to their property rights, took a turn in 1989, when the county drafted a new general plan that mandated protections for year-round and seasonal creeks and rivers.

The debate grew especially heated eight years ago, when the county began discussions that would ultimately lead to increased general plan restrictions on farming, grazing and building near streams. Two public hearings at the time drew hundreds of people and packed a theater at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.

Now county planning commissioners are expected to take the next step in settling the standoff, weighing an ordinance that would align county zoning rules with the land-use restrictions spelled out in the general plan. The Planning Commission’s public hearing on the zoning changes is at 1 p.m. Thursday. Any final decision would be up to the Board of Supervisors.

County officials said the proposed zoning changes were designed to reinforce practices already underway.

“We’ve heard a lot of concerns raised by the public, so these new zoning rules would clear up any misunderstanding about what this ordinance would and would not do,” said Jennifer Barrett, a deputy director with the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department. “It might look like we’re adding a whole new code, but what we’re actually doing is changing the language to make it more clear.”

via County stream protection rules back for debate | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , Leave a comment on Ambitious project seeks to restore Sears Point wetlands

Ambitious project seeks to restore Sears Point wetlands


Bulldozers ripped into a hayfield Friday, beginning a project to transform nearly 1,000 acres south of Sonoma into a tidal marsh and levee system that organizers say will support wildlife, provide flood control and offer new recreational opportunities for visitors.

The $18 million project, one of California’s most ambitious wetland restoration efforts, is the culmination of a decadelong effort to return Sears Point Ranch to its natural state. Upon completion, the site could become the premier access point into San Pablo Bay from within Sonoma County, organizers say.

“This project will actually require that we rewrite the map of San Francisco Bay. That’s a major, major accomplishment,” said Julian Meisler, a program manager with the Sonoma Land Trust, which is leading the restoration effort along with Ducks Unlimited.

via | Petaluma Argus-Courier | Petaluma, CA.

Posted on Categories Land Use, WildlifeTags , , Leave a comment on Wildlife corridor at risk in Sonoma Valley

Wildlife corridor at risk in Sonoma Valley

Enviro Updates
A state task force recommended on Friday that the Sonoma Developmental Center be downsized dramatically, putting into limbo the futures of the severely disabled long-term residents of the Center. The decision will also open the property to development, threatening a crucial wildlife corridor. A coalition of groups has formed to protect both the Center’s services and the environmental resources of the property.

At almost 1,000 acres, the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC)
property is the largest and most significant unprotected land in the
Sonoma Valley. In addition to providing services for developmentally
disabled individuals, this property is situated at the heart of the
Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a crucial passage for wildlife that
extends over 5 miles from Sonoma Mountain to the Mayacamas
Mountains and is at risk of being developed.
Sonoma Developmental Center Coalition

Press Democrat: Major changes eyed for Sonoma Developmental Center