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
Op-Ed: SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
When the president made good on a key campaign promise Tuesday to roll back federal environmental rules on wetlands, cheers went up across farmlands. The acronym meant little to city dwellers, but the promise to “repeal WOTUS” — a staple at Trump rallies — had secured much of the rural vote for Trump. Fearing rollbacks would weaken environmental protections for a state that has led the nation in environmental protections, Democratic legislators in Sacramento preemptively introduced a suite of legislation to “preserve” California.
WOTUS, or “waters of the U.S.,” refers to a rule intended to clarify the scope of the 1972 federal Clean Water Act, which tries to keep pollutants out of drinking water and wetlands wet. The rule was developed after years of public comment and a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court. In 2015, the Obama administration finalized the rule, which defined the extent of federal jurisdiction over small streams and tributaries.
The rule is particularly tricky to interpret in California because many streams and wetlands are ephemeral — they flow or are wet only immediately after it rains. Think arroyos in Southern California and vernal pools — seasonal ponds in small depressions with distinct plant and animal life — that dot the Central Valley.
Farmers and ranchers, of course, are not against clean water. But they object to rules that they say are impossible to interpret and that interfere with agricultural practices. The California Farm Bureau stepped in and has led the charge to roll back the rule.
The rhetoric on both sides has been escalating since long before the final rule was issued, particularly on the opposed side, after San Joaquin Valley farmer John Duarte was accused in 2012 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of damaging vernal pools when he plowed to plant wheat.
To fight the promised Trump rollback, California Democrats borrowed a move straight from the playbook of Scott Pruitt, who had sued the U.S. EPA 13 times and called for its destruction before Trump named him EPA administrator. State Senate Democratic leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles has introduced Senate Bill 49, which would use existing federal environmental law as the baseline for state law “so we can preserve the state we know and love, regardless of what happens in Washington.
”The California Farm Bureau welcomed the president’s executive order Wednesday as a rollback of confusing federal rules.
The chest bumping is good political theater, but California has the power to exert its authority over wetlands. The state already uses federal environmental law as a template for state law. And federal law largely leaves authority to the state.
The state needs to invest in institutional muscle at the State Water Resources Control Board to enforce rules that protect the environment from those who would fill wetlands and dump pollutants into streams or seasonal streambeds.
Californians know the value of wetlands in flood control and wildlife habitat. We all want clean water. If these are the priority state leaders say they are, the state should step up.
Source: California should take lead on wetlands protections – San Francisco Chronicle
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A federal plan for preserving the endangered California tiger salamander and three wildflower species calls for the purchase of 15,000 acres of land in the Santa Rosa Plain for an estimated $385 million over the next 50 years.
The 144-page plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not legally binding on any public or private landowners, but serves as a road map for recovery of the black-and-yellow amphibian that has frustrated Sonoma County builders and piled millions of dollars onto the cost of major developments, like the expansion of runways at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
But biologists are committed to saving the seldom-seen salamanders that have lost more than 80 percent of their habitat, primarily because of urban growth that has intensified over the past 20 years, according to the federal blueprint.
“With a recovery plan we can fight threats like habitat destruction that have pushed these salamanders to the brink of extinction,” said Jenny Loda, a biologist and attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, the conservation group whose lawsuit in 2012 prompted work on the plan released Monday by the federal wildlife agency.
The federal document aims to bolster three endangered flowering plants — Sonoma sunshine, Burke’s goldfields and Sebastopol meadowfoam — that grow only in seasonal wetlands.
The size of the salamander population is difficult to estimate, given the animal’s reclusive habits, but its historic range in Sonoma County of about 100,000 acres has been pared to about 20,000 acres of “fragmented habitat,” the plan said.
Tiger salamanders inhabit the Santa Rosa Plain, a narrow band of land from Cotati to Windsor, with a concentration of the amphibians between southwest Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park.
“They are in trouble,” said Josh Hull, a recovery division chief for Fish and Wildlife. The species’ endangered classification means they are “likely to become extinct in the foreseeable future.”
Read more at: Feds say $385 million needed to save California tiger salamander, endangered plants on Santa Rosa Plain | The Press Democrat
Melanie Parker, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A rare and showy plant is blooming right now. Its name is “Sonoma Sunshine” (Blennosperma bakeri), and it is aptly labeled, as it beams a brilliant shade of yellow. What makes this plant so special is that the world’s entire population is right here in Sonoma County, and it occupies a unique and often overlooked habitat in our region: vernal pools.
Vernal pools are places on the landscape that hold water in spring but dry up completely in summer. If you think about it, that’s a hard place to be a plant, so vernal pools are home to plants with innovative strategies for survival. Most of them are annuals, meaning they go through their entire life cycle in one season and survive the hot, dry summer season as seeds.
Sonoma Sunshine is one of these.
In the early spring the seeds germinate in the shallow saturated waters of the vernal pool and send roots down and leaves upward. The plant grows quickly in full knowledge that its time is limited. It reaches up toward the sky and develops its showy daisy-like flower. And then it waits.
Read more at: Appreciating the magic of Sonoma County’s vernal pools | The Press Democrat
Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A 50-year recovery plan for endangered species in the Santa Rosa Plain, including the California tiger salamander, will require the purchase of thousands of acres of habitat from Cotati to Windsor and continued study at a cost of $436 million.
That’s according to officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which recently released a draft plan for recovery of the imperiled amphibian and three plants — Sonoma sunshine, Burke’s goldfields and Sebastopol meadowfoam.
The plan, part of a settlement agreement with the Arizona- based Center for Biological Diversity, is recommended to ensure survival of the species.
“The salamander is suffering so many threats pushing it to the brink of extinction,” Collette Adkins Giese, a senior attorney with the center, said Friday. “We need to do everything we can to make sure they don’t vanish.”
Fish and Wildlife officials are seeking comment on the 146-page document, both in writing and at a public hearing in mid-January, before finishing it in about 18 months. Comments will be accepted through Feb. 9, spokeswoman Sarah Swenty said.
The exact time and place for the hearing has not been set, she said.
Swenty said the actions suggested in the plan are voluntary and not regulatory in nature. She compared it to a recently adopted $1.24 billion tidal marsh recovery plan for Northern and Central California.
“Basically, we are describing what the species need,” said Josh Hull, a recovery division chief for Fish and Wildlife.
Read more via 50-year plan recommends spending $463M to save species | The Press Democrat.
Neela Banerjee, LOS ANGELES TIMES
The Obama administration proposed a long-awaited rule on Tuesday to clarify that the Clean Water Act protects wetlands near rivers and waterways fed by seasonal thaws and rains — a decision that could particularly shield water sources in the West.
Proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, the draft Waters of the U.S. rule is aimed at defining the scope of the Clean Water Act after two Supreme Court decisions in the last 15 years led to confusion about which waterways were under federal protection, said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
At issue is the status of waterways that do not flow year-round or are not permanent lakes, but streams that flow intermittently or after heavy rains, and riparian wetlands. Many small, intermittent waterways feed into drinking-water sources, especially in the West. Without protections, theses tributaries and wetlands could be polluted or filled in, as has happened since the Supreme Court decisions, environmentalists said.
"The health of our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the smaller interconnected streams and wetlands that feed them," McCarthy said. "These places are where we get our drinking water. Our farmers rely on these vital waters to grow the fuel, food and fiber that feed our nation. Our businesses rely on abundant, usable water to manufacture."
via Clean Water Act proposal would protect more water sources in West – latimes.com.