Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas

Alastair Bland, AUDUBON MAGAZINE

The restoration of the Sonoma Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area not only corrects problems of the past, but also looks to the future.

The sun shines meekly through a veil of morning fog and wildfire smoke while several figures in orange vests, hard hats, and face masks move slowly through a marsh on the north shore of San Francisco Bay. Wielding brooms, they jab lightly at the vegetation, ruffling the tufts of native pickleweed. As biological monitors, their job is to flush out small animals—especially the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse—and usher them from the path of a rumbling excavator, which is about to dig a deep groove in the slick mud.

It’s early October at the mouth of Sonoma Creek, where an unusual conservation project that broke ground five years ago is nearing the finish line. Audubon California and partner agencies are turning what was once a 400-acre stagnant backwater into a thriving wetland ecosystem that will serve as a refuge from rising seas for decades to come.

This revitalization of Sonoma Creek marsh is more a story of creation than one of restoration. The place is a product of the Gold Rush era, when torrents of unearthed sediment choked the Sacramento River system and later settled downstream. While hawks, grebes, and plovers made use of the area, which is managed today as part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the marsh wasn’t exactly a haven. The unnatural mud buildup was too rapid, preventing the formation of the channel systems that typically run through wetlands like arteries and allow a healthy water exchange with adjacent bays and estuaries. “If this was a natural marsh, it would look like a lung—it would breathe,” says Andrea Jones, director of bird conservation at Audubon California.
Continue reading “A struggling California marsh gets an overhaul to prepare for rising seas”

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

How beavers became North America’s best firefighter

Ben Goldfarb, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The American West is ablaze with fires fueled by climate change and a century of misguided fire suppression. In California, wildfire has blackened more than three million acres; in Oregon, a once-in-a-generation crisis has forced half a million people to flee their homes. All the while, one of our most valuable firefighting allies has remained overlooked: The beaver.

A new study concludes that, by building dams, forming ponds, and digging canals, beavers irrigate vast stream corridors and create fireproof refuges in which plants and animals can shelter. In some cases, the rodents’ engineering can even stop fire in its tracks.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s a wildfire right next door,” says study leader Emily Fairfax, an ecohydrologist at California State University Channel Islands. “Beaver-dammed areas are green and happy and healthy-looking.”

For decades, scientists have recognized that the North American beaver, Castor canadensis, provides a litany of ecological benefits throughout its range from northern Mexico to Alaska. Beaver ponds and wetlands have been shown to filter out water pollution, support salmon, sequester carbon, and attenuate floods. Researchers have long suspected that these paddle-tailed architects offer yet another crucial service: slowing the spread of wildfire.

This beaver-dammed wetland in Baugh Creek, Idaho, is a so-called “emerald refuge” that can serve as a firebreak and refuge for other species during wildfires. Source: Joe Wheaton, Utah State University.

“It’s really not complicated: water doesn’t burn,” says Joe Wheaton, a geomorphologist at Utah State University. After the Sharps Fire charred 65,000 acres in Idaho in 2018, for instance, Wheaton stumbled upon a lush pocket of green glistening within the burn zone—a beaver wetland that had withstood the flames. Yet no scientist had ever rigorously studied the phenomenon.

Read more at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/09/beavers-firefighters-wildfires-california-oregon/

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land UseTags , , , ,

Petaluma approves controversial Sid Commons apartments

Kathryn Palmer, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

For the second time in two weeks, Petaluma’s City Council on Monday opted to move ahead with a controversial housing development, approving the 180-unit Sid Commons apartment project alongside the Petaluma River.

The development, first proposed more than 10 years ago, was downsized after running into a raft of opposition and questions in a Nov. 19 hearing before the Planning Commission.

Those changes failed to mollify a vocal group of citizens and some planning commissioners who remained concerned about environmental impacts.

But the project, approved by the council on a 5-2 vote, has now undergone all required environmental study and will be subject to state regulations and permits. Questions about the adequacy of that review and those safeguards lingered this week, fueling public scrutiny that colored much of the project’s presentation at City Hall.

Petaluma’s senior planner and its environmental planner went through staff findings and recommendations nearly line by line. Council members split over their confidence in the environmental report and thus their support for the project.

“I have to base my decision on objective evidence, and that’s what is laid out here,” said Councilman Mike Healy, who joined in the majority that approved the project and its environmental impact report. “This project is not within the 100-year floodplain, and the (river) terracing will be a benefit for the city.”

Mayor Teresa Barrett and Vice Mayor D’Lynda Fischer formed the opposition on the council, voicing doubts over the environmental study.

Continue reading “Petaluma approves controversial Sid Commons apartments”

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , ,

Best places to spot migrating newts in the North Bay

Jeanne Wirka, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s breeding season for some species of amphibians – an ideal time to find them out and about

Holding a newt is one of the most sought-after wildlife encounters among the North Bay’s elementary school set. Each year, thousands of school kids eagerly await their field trip to one of our regional newt hotspots — Stuart Creek at Bouverie Preserve, the Frog Pond at Spring Lake Regional Park, Ledson Marsh at Trione-Annadel State Park and Martin Griffin Preserve on Bolinas Lagoon, to name a few.

It’s no wonder kids warm to these tiny cold-blooded critters. Unlike other wildlife their size, newts are eminently watchable. They don’t run or fly away, bite, scratch or sting. They don’t slime you with mucus like a banana slug, smear you in musk like a garter snake or pee on you like a toad.

You don’t have to be a kid, however, for a newt to steal your heart.

“Newts are so sweet, and soft and innocent-looking,” said Sally Gale of Chileno Valley in Marin County.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/10572558-181/how-to-spot-north-bay

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

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

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

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.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9886319-181/notable-sonoma-county-wine-executives

Posted on Categories WildlifeTags , ,

A new effort to save birds pinpoints in amazing detail where they fly

Anders Gyllenhaal, WASHINGTON POST

For years, as California’s Central Valley grew into the nation’s leading agricultural corridor, the region gradually lost almost all of the wetlands that birds, from the tiny sandpiper to the great blue heron, depend on during their migrations along the West Coast.

But a dramatic turnaround is underway in the valley. Dozens of farmers leave water on their fields for a few extra weeks each season to create rest stops for birds. The campaign has not only helped salvage a vital stretch of the north-south migration path called the Pacific Flyway but also tested a fresh model for protecting wildlife.

The experiment is built on new research by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which blends the sightings of tens of thousands of birdwatchers with satellite photos and wildlife data. The combination produces digital maps so precise that they can predict when and where birds will come through, so that farmers know when to flood their fields.

“The amount of information in these maps is way beyond what any single source or even combination of sources could give you,’’ said Marshall Iliff, project co-leader of Cornell’s eBird Project. “It’s on a scale that’s never been done before.’’
A sandhill crane, one of 107 species included in the Cornell Lab’s eBird Project migration maps. (Anders Gyllenhaal for The Washington Post/FTWP)
A sandhill crane, one of 107 species included in the Cornell Lab’s eBird Project migration maps. (Anders Gyllenhaal for The Washington Post/FTWP)

At a time when 40 percent of the Earth’s 10,000 bird species are in decline, according to the State of the World’s Birds 2018 report, the still-developing eBird Project helps to remake traditional conservation.

The way eBird works is simple: Cornell collects millions of sightings from birdwatchers using the eBird app that records the location of every species spotted. It computes where birds are over the course of the year, how they move with the seasons and which species are thriving and which are struggling.

Compared with the cumbersome practice of banding birds one by one to track their travels, eBird data produce a far more comprehensive picture for hundreds of species at a time. The targeted approach is also much less expensive than alternatives: The Central Valley “pop-up” wetlands — created by paying farmers small fees to keep fields wet for a few weeks — costs 85 percent less than buying land outright, according to the Nature Conservancy.

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/with-many-bird-species-in-decline-a-new-effort-to-save-them-pinpoints-in-amazing-detail-where-they-fly/2019/04/26/6413c850-5638-11e9-8ef3-fbd41a2ce4d5_story.html

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WaterTags , ,

California adopts new wetland protections as Trump administration eases them

Kurtis Alexander, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

California water regulators adopted a far-reaching plan Tuesday to prevent more of the state’s creeks, ponds and wetlands from being plowed or paved over, a move that comes as the Trump administration scales back protections under the federal Clean Water Act.

The new state policy targets the rampant spread of suburbia and agriculture across California’s watery landscapes, areas that have become increasingly sparse yet remain important for drinking water, flood protection, groundwater recharge and wildlife.

The regulation, to the chagrin of many industry groups, establishes strict rules for virtually any human activity that could disrupt the natural flow of water, like farming, home building and highway construction, on public and private property.

While the policy has been in the works for more than a decade, its adoption by the State Water Resources Control Board puts it in front of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rollback of the Clean Water Act, ensuring that California is largely insulated from any new latitude that Washington provides for watershed development.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/science/article/California-adopts-new-wetland-protections-as-13736056.php

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , , ,

Major fixes for addressing traffic, sea level rise on Highway 37 identified

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Imagine driving along a four-lane elevated causeway above the brackish San Pablo Bay, shaving more than an hour off the normal Highway 37 commute.

Transportation planners have for years envisioned remaking the 20-mile route from Novato to Vallejo into the North Bay’s most important east-west corridor. Now, they are ready to act.

Officials in Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties have been meeting for several years, pondering solutions to Highway 37’s notorious bottlenecks, where 45,000 cars per day stretch the normal 20-minute commute to as much as 100 minutes. They have also acknowledged that traffic improvements will be irrelevant without addressing sea level rise — without action, the highway will be underwater in 30 years.

The first fixes will be completed within the next seven years, officials say, and a new formal partnership defines the roles various agencies will play and sets the process in motion.

Branded as Resilient State Route 37, the program that includes the transportation agencies of the four counties plus Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority, is planning vast changes to the highway. The Sonoma County Transportation Authority signed onto the partnership on Monday.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9236578-181/major-fixes-for-addressing-traffic

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , ,

Petaluma Wetlands added to international conservation list

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The Mekong River Delta, the Great Barrier Reef, the Amazon Rain Forest, and now the Petaluma Wetlands, all share an important distinction. They are sites included in an international list of critical wetlands worth protecting.

Petaluma wildlife advocates received notice last month that the Petaluma Wetlands are included as Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance, a designation from the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature. The official designation means the Petaluma Wetlands are joining the 400,000-acre San Francisco Bay Estuary, which was awarded international status in 2013.

The Ramsar designation, named after the Iranian city that held the international Convention on Wetlands in 1971, doesn’t include additional funding, but is helpful in securing grants for wildlife conservation, said Susan Kirks, president of the Madrone Audubon Society.

“This is a significant recognition for the sensitive wetlands habitat, birds and wildlife of the Petaluma Wetlands,” she said.

The Petaluma Wetlands include Alman Marsh Tidal Wetlands, Shollenberger Park Wetlands, Ellis Creek Wetlands, Gray’s Marsh Wetland and Hill Property Tidal Marsh, all environmentally sensitive spots along the Petaluma River that are home to a diversity of species, including the salt marsh harvest mouse, river otter and an array of birds.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8191606-181/petaluma-wetlands-added-to-international

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Transportation, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Op-Ed: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic 

Fraser Shilling and Steven Moore, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
State Route 37 — which snakes across Solano, Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California — is living on borrowed time.
At times, the highway appears to be impassable because of the 44,000-plus vehicles that travel portions of it every day. However, the effects of climate change will render this critical northern Bay Area crossing absolutely impassable during high tides unless we collaborate regionally on the best way to balance traffic needs and the valuable wetlands the roadway straddles.
The societal challenge we face is adapting to environmental changes in a resilient way while being ecologically sustainable. In the Bay Area, rebuilding State Route 37 to avoid its potential loss in the next 20 years because of flooding will be our first regional foray into adapting to sea level rise — an issue that will threaten most of our shoreline infrastructure, coastal ecosystems and population centers.
State Route 37 provides a critical “northern crossing” of the San Pablo Bay as it stretches from Interstate 80 in the east, to Highway 101 in the west, serving local residents, commuters and visitors, as well as freight haulers traveling between the Central Valley and the Santa Rosa area. Today the highway is built atop a berm, an outdated method of building roads across marshes and waterways that constricts the ability of the bay to improve water quality by filtering out pollutants, produce more fish and wildlife, and absorb floods.
The temptation may be to work on a quick, easy fix that reduces traffic congestion while ignoring long-term consequences. These consequences include traffic congestion returning to current levels in a few years, and the San Pablo Bay tidal marshes being cut off from the life-giving ebb and flow of the tides.
Read more at: Rebuild State Route 37 to address sea level rise and traffic – San Francisco Chronicle