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

Judge puts controversial Healdsburg logging plan on hold

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Planned logging near a Healdsburg stream that provides some of the last refuge in the region for wild coho salmon has been put on hold after a court decision overturned a timber harvest plan for the 160-acre site.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau determined last month that the plan approved by Cal Fire last fall inadequately analyzed potential impacts for endangered and threatened fish species in Felta Creek and the greater Russian River watershed into which it drains.

Chouteau also agreed with neighbors’ claim that property owner Ken Bareilles failed to sufficiently address the effects of logging trucks on narrow roadways and five rural bridges they would travel to haul lumber from the remote parcel.

The resolution is unlikely to be the final chapter in the dispute, with both sides anticipating ongoing legal battles.

“The land isn’t safe until it has a conservation easement on it or a harvest plan geared for limited, smaller-scale logging, said Lucy Kotter, a one-time forester and a spokeswoman for Friends of Felta Creek, which was formed to block the plan.

Bareilles, a Eureka attorney, said Wednesday he still hopes he can start logging in the spring and intended to revise and resubmit his timber harvest plan for approval in the meantime.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8729540-181/judge-puts-controversial-healdsburg-logging

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 Water, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Forecast shows California salmon fishermen in for another year of sharp limits

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A third straight year of low king salmon runs is expected to deliver another blow to one of the North Coast’s most iconic and lucrative fisheries, wildlife managers indicated Thursday, as both regulators and fishermen faced the prospect of a federally mandated plan to reverse the trend and rebuild key stocks.

The grim news comes amid a dramatic, yearslong decline in the state’s commercial salmon landings, which are down 97 percent last year from their most recent peak, in 2013, when they hit 12.7 million pounds.

The full picture for commercial and sport seasons won’t be clear for several more weeks, but spawning projections show Sacramento River salmon — historically the largest source for the state’s ocean and freshwater harvests — have fallen so low that they’re now considered by regulators to be “overfished.”

Wildlife officials acknowledged that term minimizes the many factors that have led to this point, including shifting conditions in the ocean and years of low river flows during the drought, all of which have pummeled stocks.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8055549-181/forecast-shows-california-salmon-fishermen

Posted on Categories WaterTags , , , , , ,

Fire retardant use explodes as worries about water, wildlife grow

Matt Weiser, KQED SCIENCE

In 2014, scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service published a study showing that two fire-retardant formulations are deadly to Chinook salmon, even when heavily diluted in streams.

Chemical fire retardants are considered a vital wildland firefighting tool, helping to slow the spread of flames while ground crews move into position. But as their use increases, the harmful side effects of these chemicals are coming under increasing scrutiny.
The chemicals, usually dropped from low-flying aircraft, largely consist of ammonia compounds, which are known toxins to fish and other aquatic life. Studies have shown retardants can kill fish, alter soil chemistry, feed harmful algae blooms and even encourage the spread of invasive plants. Yet there is little regulation of their use, and no safer alternatives on the market.
In California, state firefighting crews have applied 15.3 million gallons of chemical fire retardants so far this year, according to data provided by CalFire, the state’s wildland firefighting agency. That’s a new record, and double the amount used just three years ago.
CalFire applied 2.7 million gallons of retardant in a single one-week period starting October 9 – also a record. Of that amount, about 2 million gallons were used on the North Bay wildfires, which killed 43 people and burned more than 8,000 structures in October as they swept across several counties north of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Sonoma and Napa.

Read more at: Fire Retardant Use Explodes as Worries About Water, Wildlife Grow | KQED Science

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Students work to protect environment

John Jackson, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER
The success of the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School program has created the program’s greatest challenge.
The United Anglers of Casa Grande is a nonprofit educational organization located on the Casa Grande High School campus. Members of the organization are students who learn about fisheries, especially salmon and steelhead, and promote environmental awareness and activism through hands-on habitat restoration. United Anglers students operate and maintain a state-of-the-art conservation fish hatchery on the campus.
Interest in the program has exploded in recent years from around 30 students to more than 100, and now includes participants from Petaluma High School as well as Casa Grande.
Since the United Anglers program is a nonprofit and must raise all its own funds, the challenge comes in raising enough money to support the increase in membership, particularly at a time when the recent fires and disasters in other parts of the country are vying for benevolent contributions.
“I’m torn,” said program director and teacher Dan Hubacker. “We depend on support from families and businesses, but at the same time how do you ask them for donations after so many people have been affected by the fires?”
But Hubacker also said he feels an obligation to honor those, like himself, who have benefited by the program by keeping it going.
Read more at: A popular program

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

In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners 

Alastair Bland, GREENBIZ
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,” said 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 said.
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 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,” said Hackett.
“Napa is getting really carved up,” said Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who began studying the ecological impacts of vineyard conversions in the 1990s. “We see it all over the western and eastern ridges — it’s been relentless.” The transformation of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards threatens wildlife migration corridors, she said. “We’re down to the final pinch points,” said Merenlender, referring to narrow corridors that eventually could become functionally severed from the relatively expansive wilderness areas in the mountains north of Napa County.
Federal fisheries scientists also have expressed concerns that the wine industry is harming endangered populations of steelhead trout. The creeks flowing off the hills of Napa County are critical to remnant populations of steelhead and salmon, and biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the irrigation of vineyards has reduced stream flows and clogged waterways with eroded soils. “Extensive water diversions, groundwater pumping, and increased agriculture (vineyards) water use during the dry season have reduced the extent of suitable summer rearing habitat  … throughout much of the Napa River watershed,” NMFS scientists wrote in the Napa River chapter (PDF) of a 2016 report.
Read more at: In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners | GreenBiz

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, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Salmon season flops: Drought years cut North Coast fishing

James Dunn, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Soon after the commercial salmon season opened on Aug. 1, Chris Lawson steered his 53-foot boat named Seaward out of the marina at Bodega Bay into ocean waters where he figured chinook salmon would travel. He spent the day trolling, his lines carefully prepared to entice the spirited, iridescent fish.
There were plenty of salmon, but mostly two-year-olds too small for a commercial fisherman to keep.
Lawson shook off nearly 100 short fish from his lines and kept just seven longer than the minimum size — 27 inches. He snagged $9 a pound for 63 pounds, yielding $567 for the day’s work before fuel expenses and pay to one crew member, who gets 20 percent.
Local stores, including Andy’s in Sebastopol and Whole Foods markets, sell fresh salmon for $22 to $30 a pound. Cut into fillets, a 9-pound fish yields roughly half that in final product.
“Seven hours, we had seven fish,” Lawson said. “You make a little bit of money. There were a lot of short fish,” said Lawson, interviewed alongside his boat on Aug. 10. “It looks better for next year. Recreational guys are having an OK season.” Their size limit is smaller.
“We’re just harassing the shorties,” said Lawson, who has fished for 41 of his 56 years. “Let ‘em be.”Some fishermen “are hurting so they’ll bring them in anyway,” Lawson said. “They need a paycheck.”
The salmon season off Sonoma and Marin coastlines was severely trimmed this year. Usually it starts in May and the best fishing months go through July. But the 2017 season just started in August and runs to the end of September. On Sept. 1, the minimum commercial size drops an inch to 26 inches, according to California’s Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.
Read more at: Salmon season flops: Drought years cut North Coast fishing | The North Bay Business Journal