Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Friends of Gualala River move to halt Dogwood logging plan


Friends of Gualala River (FoGR) recently took legal action to appeal the decision on the Dogwood timber harvest plan (THP) to the State Appellate Court. In addition, FoGR sought an injunction on logging until the appeal could be heard. The court granted the injunction last week which temporarily suspends logging of Dogwood. Gualala Redwood Timber’s (GRT) logging of Dogwood could have commenced as early as April 15. A hearing date for the appeal is presently unknown.

The Dogwood THP includes logging 342 acres of second-growth and mature redwood forest within the sensitive floodplain of the Gualala River. The THP area is located close to the Sonoma County Gualala Point Regional Park Campground, extending up river to Switchville, at the Green Bridge, and continuing along the South Fork which flows parallel to The Sea Ranch and directly across from, and beyond, the “Hot Spot.” Additional tracts of land containing large redwoods are included in the expansive THP including units beyond twin bridges and along creeks in the Gualala River Watershed.

The THP abuts a portion of the main stem of Gualala River which is designated as a Wild and Scenic river by the State of California for its natural beauty and recreational value. The river is also listed as “impaired” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to excessive sediment and temperature.

FoGR first filed suit to challenge the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (Cal Fire) approval of Dogwood in 2016. FoGR prevailed in its initial and subsequent suit against Cal Fire on the grounds that Cal Fire failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

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Russian Riverkeeper works to protect, restore Russian River


Rivers are vital. Like life-giving arteries, they deliver water for drinking and irrigation and fertile soil for vineyards and farms. They support watersheds teeming with life.

But humans are hard on rivers. We crowd their banks, dump waste in them and take out water, fish and other resources. In the process, waterways often end up reduced to narrow, dirty channels, shadows of their former selves.

When that happens, who speaks for the river?

For our longest local river, that voice has often been the nonprofit Russian Riverkeeper. The Healdsburg-based organization has spent decades working to protect, celebrate and restore the Russian River, from its headwaters above Ukiah to its final plunge into the Pacific at Jenner, 110 miles below.

On a recent winter day, Don McEnhill stopped his mud-spattered pickup on a narrow dirt levee high above the river. The spot is at an old mining site, the Hanson gravel pits near Windsor. With staff and a hydrological engineer, Riverkeeper’s chief executive was laying 80 feet of cable through dense brush down a steep bank to set up a water measurement sensor.

Below him was a chain of four wide lakes, the largest as big as a football stadium. The lakes, McEnhill explained, aren’t what they appear to be. They’re actually 30- to 40-foot-deep holes, left when the river gravel deposits were dug out and hauled away.

For a century and a half, gravel has been mined up and down the river and shipped south, to build much of the Bay Area. It’s even in the base of the Golden Gate bridge towers.

The old gravel pits are now filled with water and sediments, including toxic mercury from native ore upstream and runoff nutrients like phosphorus. The Russian River watershed once had dozens of mercury mines, McEnhill said.

Riverkeeper has been working for more than a decade to restore the Hanson property, which is just downriver from the giant wellheads that supply water to Windsor. Tall levees and barriers built to keep the river out of the aging pits are badly eroding, and in some places have been breached altogether.


Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County wine executive’s vineyard business firm accused of water quality violations


Prominent Sonoma County wine executive Hugh Reimers, who last month abruptly left as president of Foley Family Wines, faces allegations that his grape growing company has violated regional, state and federal water quality laws for improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board accused his Santa Rosa vineyard management company, Krasilsa Pacific Farms, of violations of the water board’s local water rules, the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The water quality board concluded the work on a section of Krasilsa Pacific’s more than 2,000-acre property was done without applying or obtaining the necessary permits required by the county to operate a vineyard.

The board filed a notice of its violations on June 6 to Reimers, as manager of Krasilsa, listing 28 different locations on the property three miles east of Cloverdale where infractions were found by investigators with the board and Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. Many of those spots had multiple violations within the cleared land: a steep, grassy ridge featuring oak woodland between the Russian River and Big Sulfur Creek.

The water quality agency’s findings have not been linked to Reimers’ sudden resignation from Foley’s Santa Rosa wine company he joined in 2017 and he led as president since January 2018.

The water agency is in the process of determining what sanctions to levy against Krasilsa, said Josh Curtis, assistant executive for the agency. The penalties could range from a cleanup of the property in an attempt to return it as close as possible to its condition before Krasilsa’s work started in late 2017 or early 2018, to the assessment of fines.

Investigators with the water board and county ag department have forwarded their report and underlying findings regarding the Krasilsa land to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The case is under review by the district attorney’s environmental and consumer law division, office spokeswoman Joan Croft said.


Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, WaterTags , , , , , , ,

California flood protection starts giving rivers more room 

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
After more than a century of building levees higher to hold back its rivers, California took another step Friday toward a flood-control policy that aims to give raging rivers more room to spread out instead.

The plan, adopted by the flood-control board for the Central Valley, a 500-mile swathe from Mount Shasta to Bakersfield that includes the state’s two largest rivers and the United States’ richest agricultural region, emphasizes flood plains, wetlands and river bypasses as well as levees.
Backers say the changing strategy will better handle the rising seas and heavier rain of climate change, which is projected to send two-thirds more water thundering down the Central Valley’s San Joaquin River at times of flooding.
The idea: “Spread it out, slow it down, sink it in, give the river more room,” said Kris Tjernell, special assistant for water policy at California’s Natural Resources Agency.
Handled right, the effort will allow farmers and wildlife — including native species harmed by the decades of concrete-heavy flood-control projects — to make maximum use of the rivers and adjoining lands as well, supporters say.
They point to Northern California’s Yolo Bypass, which this winter again protected California’s capital, Sacramento, from near-record rains. Wetlands and flood plains in the area allow rice farmers, migratory birds and baby salmon all to thrive there.
For farmers, the plan offers help moving to crops more suitable to seasonally flooded lands along rivers, as well as payments for lending land to flood control and habitat support.

Read more at: California Flood Protection Starts Giving Rivers More Room | California News | US News

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Habitats, Land Use, Sonoma Coast, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , , , ,

In wine regions, vineyards and conservationists battle for the hills

Alastair Bland, YALE ENVIRONMENT 360
Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions, and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.
“They want to take all of this out,” says Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she says.
Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it that are now pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.
In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County, and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists, and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” says Hackett.
Read more at: In Napa Valley, Vineyards and Conservationists Battle for the Hills – Yale E360

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sustainable Living, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Wildlife-friendly fencing catching on across Sonoma County


For more information about how to protect wildlife from fencing:
Landowner’s guide to fencing
Creating a wildlife-friendly fence

Have you ever watched as a fawn, a coyote or a quail scurries in a panic to find its way around, over or through a fence?
Fences of all descriptions crisscross Sonoma County, and they are a major obstacle for animals simply trying to find food, water and shelter.
There are literally thousands of miles of fence in the county, built for many different purposes: for privacy, to keep pets or livestock in, to mark boundaries, to protect crops, to keep deer out, to protect property from vandalism, to keep animals from entering roadsides. There are many types of fences, some that allow wildlife to safely pass through while others that are actually quite hazardous.
According to those who have researched this issue, the most lethal type of fencing is woven-wire, with one or two strands of barbed wire over the top. These fences block smaller animals from crawling underneath, and often snare one leg of animals like deer that attempt to jump them.
Perhaps you’ve seen the remains of a doe or fawn that has met its fate in this manner, left to die dangling from one foot on the far side of the fence. In fact, one study in Utah found that fawns accounted for 90% of the mortalities on woven wire fences.
These are uncomfortable realities, but ones that many different land owners and land managers are confronting. We are doing out part at Sonoma County Regional Parks, working with partners and volunteers to remove old fences in places like Sonoma Valley Regional Park. The best fence often is no fence at all.
We also are working to replace old barbed wire fences with new ones that have smooth wires on the top and bottom, none of which is more than 40 inches tall. They adhere to guidelines set out by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and mirror those being used all across the West.
These wildlife-friendly fences allow us to keep cattle in where we want grazing for natural resource benefit, while allowing wildlife safe passage.
Wildlife-friendly fences benefit a wide range of animal species, including large carnivores like mountain lions, wide-ranging omnivores like black bears, smaller predators such as badgers, and even raptors and upland game birds.
Science is helping us discover which Bay Area lands are most important to wildlife as it passes through. By analyzing the areas where that movement is concentrated — streams and ridgelines and areas that still are relatively undeveloped — several maps have been drawn that indicate priority areas for conservation.
While they are helpful, it is important to recognize that micro linkages exist along every small waterway and ridgeline throughout the county. Much can be done at the scale of small farms, individual homes and backyards to address wildlife connectivity.
The most important thing you can do in your own yards is to consider making enclosures as small as possible to meet your needs. Rather than putting a deer fence around the entire property, for example, focus just on your garden space. If you have wilder portions of your property along streams or wetlands, consider removing all fencing that is nonessential.
Read more at: Wildlife-friendly fencing catching on across Sonoma County | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Habitats, WaterTags ,

Sebastopol’s Atascadero Creek has a rich history


Atascadero Creek flows from its headwaters southwest of Sebastopol under Bodega Highway through Ragle Ranch Park and continues north to meet Green Valley Creek near Graton. One explanation for its name is that it’s a native word meaning “dirty water” or “lots of water.”

In Spanish, atascadero means “bog” or “marsh,” a place with “lots of water.” An atascadero also can be a bottleneck or stumbling block, something that impedes progress. Atascar, the verb, means “to be stuck,” and an atasco is a “traffic jam.” We use the same metaphor in English when we get “bogged down with the details,” when moving forward feels as painfully slow as slogging through mud.

It’s probably no coincidence that Atascadero Creek once watered an extensive wetland above its confluence with Green Valley Creek. That marsh captured water in the winter and released it slowly through the dry summer (which may account for how Green Valley got its name as well). Before pavement and bridges, that atascadero would have been a place to avoid on foot or horseback.

Like most wetlands in California, those along Atascadero Creek have suffered. Early maps of Sonoma County show that significant changes to our watersheds were already underway by 1875 — wetlands drained, creeks rerouted, channels dug — all done with only the power of men, shovels and sometimes horses. This trajectory has continued up to today, though the machinery has become more powerful.

Several endangered species make the Atascadero Creek watershed their home, including steelhead, freshwater shrimp and the Pitkin marsh lily (which grows in a marsh on a tributary of the main stem). Coho salmon were present in the past but have not been seen recently. In 1998, the state designated 44 acres as the Atascadero Creek Marsh Ecological Reserve. Its mix of riparian forest and seasonal and permanent wetlands draws large numbers of water birds, raptors and passerine species (also called songbirds).

Local groups like the Atascadero/Green Valley Watershed Council and the Friends of the Atascadero Wetlands are focused on protecting and restoring more of the wetlands. A study is underway that will help protect them under the County General Plan. The atascadero for which the creek is named seems to be undergoing a transformation from obstacle to opportunity. Pausing by a marsh, even along the road, is a chance to slow down and tune into what’s right in front of you. You may even forget where you were going.

Source: Sebastopol’s Atascadero Creek has a rich history

Posted on Categories Habitats, WaterTags , , , ,

ACTION: General Plan Amendment proposal for Atascadero Creek wetlands

Atascadero Creek near Graton has marshy wetlands that are home to dozens of species of birds and wildlife. Wetlands store water during winter rains and release it into the underground where it supplies water for our wells.

On May 5, the County Planning Commission will decide if these wetlands should be included in county planning documents. If they vote “yes,” it will mean “hands off” to vintners, developers and builders who want to fill or plant or dredge these critical areas.
MAY 5, 2016 – 1:00 P.M. 
PERMIT AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT DEPT. 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa CA 95403 
FYI: County schedules can change at the last minute. Call the Planning Department at 707-526-1900 the morning of May 5th and ask if the Atascadero Marsh Wetlands study is still on the agenda.
To learn more about the Atascadero Watershed area: The Atascadero / Green Valley Watershed Council
To read about restoration of this watershed area: Preserving the Atascadero Wetlands

Atascadero wetlands
A Google maps view of Atascadero Creek as it flows through the wetlands near its junction with Green Valley Creek.

A proposed General Plan Amendment to expand wetland designations for the Atascadero marsh area is to designate the Atascadero wetlands, and add the Biotic Habitat (BH) combining zone which will help protect this sensitive habitat area from future development and impacts from agricultural, orchard and vineyard uses.  The proposed changes would provide a 100 foot setback from potential wetlands.  The purpose of project is to enhance protection for natural habitat, especially wetlands that adjoin the already protected riparian corridor along Atascadero Creek.
The proposal is to designate the wetland areas on the Opens Space maps with the BH combining zone.  The general plan requires a 100 foot setback for discretionary projects from designated wetlands.  VESCO also requires a 100 foot setback from wetlands designated in the General Plan.  So the protections would apply to discretionary projects (wineries, etc) and orchard and vineyards.  The Ag Commissioner has BMPs for other ag that may consider designated wetlands.
The planning commission hearing is set for May 5th, 1:00.  The staff report should be available the Friday before the PC meeting (April 29).
Read more at: General Plan Amendment proposal for Atascadero Creek Environment

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local Organizations, WaterTags , , , ,

Sonoma County coalition awarded $8 million grant for water conservation work


Supplemented by local funding, the venture aims to boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries.

A coalition of Sonoma County resource agencies has been awarded $8 million in federal funds to advance an ambitious series of conservation projects intended to improve water supply and quality and enhance wildlife habitat on local agricultural lands.

The efforts will take in vineyards and farmland and aim to reduce erosion, boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries while restoring habitat for imperiled fish and wildlife species.Sonoma County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is the lead agency and will contribute $14 million of the $15.8 million local match for the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
Most of the funding will go toward the purchase of conservation easements on farmland along key stream corridors and in areas where flood plains and groundwater basins can benefit.
One objective is to fortify the water supply for growers and wildlife in the face of drought and amid the uncertainty posed by climate change.

Read more at: Sonoma County coalition awarded $8 million grant for water conservation work