Posted on Categories ForestsTags , , , ,

Arborists: Charred trees may still regrow

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Danny and Sky Matula have tied bright green ribbons near the base of about 50 charred Douglas fir trees standing behind the ruins of their home in the rolling hills west of Kenwood.

“They’re just toast,” Sky Matula said, as light rain fell on the ashen remains of the home his father built on the wooded 10-acre parcel adjoining Trione-Annadel State Park.

The black, denuded firs — including two that stand about 150 feet tall — are almost certainly dead, and stand far too close for comfort to the once and future family home.

The green ribbons mark them for removal by one means or another.

But like countless other homeowners, the Matulas are stuck in an uncomfortable dilemma regarding the fate of fire-scarred trees, including stout oaks and tall, slender firs, that impart majesty to their property.

Like California’s iconic redwoods, oaks are cloaked in thick, protective bark that enables several of their species to survive all but the worst wildfires, experts say.

And as homeowners begin to plot their post-fire recovery, tree advocates are urging restraint in removing burned trees and shrubs in favor of waiting at least until spring to see if fresh green growth emerges from vegetation that has adapted to survive fire.

Read more at: Burned trees in North Coast fire areas pose dilemma for homeowners

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

First aid for Sonoma County’s fire damaged soil

Douglas Kent, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Douglas Kent is the author of Firescaping: Creating fire-resistant landscapes, gardens and properties in California’s diverse environments

You are battered and fatigued, but the fight to save your property and community is far from over.

In the wake of recent wildfires on the North Coast, the risk of topsoil loss and the flow of debris has grown.

Erosion leaps as high as 200 percent following fires in urbanized areas. With this increase comes mass sedimentation, alteration of streambeds, property and infrastructure damage, and, in some cases, even injury and death.

We need to hold our ground.

Fires eliminate canopies, burn off leaf litter and expose the soil. When there is nothing to slow or stop them, wind and water gain leverage. Soil gets shoved around as a consequence.

But the problem is not just the lack of protective cover. Recently burnt landscapes also have to contend with repellency. Fires cook the waxes that are natural to our soils. When these waxes cool, they coat the first inch of soil with a repellency layer, stopping water from infiltrating.

The consequences can be dire when the lack of protective cover and repellency are combined. Fire-scarred communities can produce incredible amounts of runoff and debris flow.This runoff and debris can overwhelm storm water drainage systems, leading to extensive erosion elsewhere. Worse still, debris flowing down slopes can overrun homes, businesses and small communities. These types of events can, and have, lead to personal injury and death.

Read more at: First aid for Sonoma County’s fire damaged soil | The Press Democrat –

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , , , ,

Assembly bill carries renewed hope of improvements for Clear Lake

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cloud-shrouded mountains towered above the glistening waters of Clear Lake on a recent April day as pelicans dove for fish and pairs of grebes dashed side by side across the water in a mating ritual. But not all is pristine on the lake, which suffers from chronic problems with algae overgrowth and mercury contamination from old mining operations, issues that have plagued the ancient lake for decades.

Local, state and federal officials over the years have launched numerous efforts to address the problems and avoid potential new ones like invasive mussels, with limited success. The efforts have included three failed county tax measures since 2012 aimed at improving lake quality, an ongoing federal cleanup of a mercury mine and a long-awaited wetlands restoration project.

Now, a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, is offering new hope for lake improvements. AB 707 doesn’t currently include funding, but local and state officials say it could make such financing easier to obtain by getting multiple agencies and groups to work together on a common goal.

“This is a big deal,” said Lake County Supervisor Jim Steele, a former Fish and Wildlife scientist and manager.

AB 707 would create a “blue ribbon” committee that would bring together a battery of scientists, elected officials, tribal members, environmentalists and others to study the problems and come up with potential solutions.

Read more at: Assembly bill carries renewed hope of improvements for Clear Lake | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, WaterTags , ,

Shrinking Kenwood Marsh protects a beauty, the endangered checkerbloom

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When conditions are right, ghosts form at night over Kenwood, linger until dawn, then melt away in the morning sun. On rare occasions during midwinter storms, they become more substantial. You can recognize them if you know what you’re looking for.

Many residents of Kenwood have heard of the Kenwood Marsh and may have noticed small pockets of willows and tules here and there. Yet today, what remains of the marsh is pretty well hidden.

What was the marsh like before the town of Kenwood was founded in 1888? While hard to come by, there are clues in early maps and descriptions, in the patterns of soils and heritage oaks, in the memories of elders who grew up here.

The picture that emerges is complicated. Conditions in the marsh must have changed dramatically from season to season, as well as from year to year. But cobbling the clues together does give an idea of what it was like.

An early observer remarked “Sonoma Creek spreads out and loses itself… forming a kind of willow thicket and marsh or lagoon.”Even toward the end of the summer, there were wet places on the valley floor. Winter rains on the hills ran down the creeks and into the marsh, which acted like a giant sponge. That sponge slowed the flow of water downstream, lessening winter floods and increasing summer flows in Sonoma Creek.

The earliest maps show not one big marsh but a string of wetlands covering hundreds of acres and stretching between modern-day Oakmont and Dunbar School. These wetlands were part of a mosaic that included drier areas supporting grasslands and oaks.

Within the marsh were tules, willows and ponds of open water. These and other resources seem to have made it an attractive place for the area’s First Peoples.

Read more at: Shrinking Kenwood Marsh protects a beauty | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, Local Organizations, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , ,

Op-Ed: Measure AA is vital for future of the bay 

Dave Koehler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The San Francisco Bay defines our region — a shared natural resource that unites residents and visitors with its breathtaking beauty. The truth is, the bay is highly threatened by pollution and sea-level rise. Thousands of acres of wetlands must be restored because miles of bay shoreline face increasing flood threats from extreme weather and rising seas. If we are going to pass on a healthy, beautiful bay to our children and grandchildren, we need to come together and act now to protect and restore it.

For the first time in our history, the entire Bay Area has an opportunity to financially support the San Francisco Bay and make it healthier and safer for future generations. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot in all nine Bay Area counties is a small parcel tax that generates big benefits. For only $12 per year per parcel, amounting to $1 per month, Measure AA will raise $500 million over 20 years to restore wetlands around the bay — including in Sonoma County — that will provide habitat for fish and wildlife and filter out pollutants from the water. These wetlands — such as the Sonoma Land Trust’s own Sears Point Wetland Restoration project along Highway 37 — also provide a natural barrier against flooding and offer recreational open space for all of us.

North Bay counties will receive millions from Measure AA for essential wetland restoration projects. The allegation made by some that these counties — and Sonoma County in particular — will receive less than our fair share of the $500 million in funding is simply inaccurate. Measure AA has many built-in provisions to ensure the funds are used where they are most needed. Sonoma County has thousands of acres of wetlands restoration projects ready to go, and our projects will be highly competitive with other regions.

Of all the anti-AA arguments, the claim that the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority is not answerable to the public completely distorts the truth. The restoration Authority board was set up under state law and is made up entirely of local elected officials. In other words, they are the same county supervisors and city council members who we rely on and interact with every day. Each region of the bay has a designated representative on the board. The current North Bay representative is Supervisor Keith Caldwell from Napa.

Our own Supervisor Susan Gorin has expressed interest in being nominated to the authority for the North Bay seat when it opens up for a term change. Measure AA also includes an additional level of openness and accountability by establishing a citizen oversight committee whose sole job is to make sure the authority is following the law and being transparent with its funding decisions.

Measure AA is endorsed by the most diverse coalition the Bay Area has ever seen, including local and national environmental organizations, leading businesses and organized labor and mayors and other elected officials, from Gov. Jerry Brown to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Reps. Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson — more than 600 groups and individuals in all. They understand Measure AA will bring us critical bay improvements for people and wildlife, and green infrastructure that will help protect our cities from flooding.

Sonoma Land Trust is campaigning hard for Measure AA because we have confidence in its safeguards and believe it is our best chance to fund the restoration of large sections of the Sonoma and northern bayshore before ocean levels rise even higher. We trust you won’t believe the scare tactics of the anti-tax groups. Please free to reach out to us if you have additional questions.

Dave Koehler is the Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust.

Source: Close to Home: Measure AA is vital for future of the bay | The Press Democrat

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

Living on Earth: Saving the Bay Area

Emmett Fitzgerald, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

Air Date: Week of May 27, 2016

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

Alviso wetlands
Much of San Francisco Bay used to look like the small wetlands in Alviso (Photo: Emmett Fitzgerald)

In June, San Francisco Bay Area residents will vote on Measure AA, a proposed tax that would fund wetland restoration. Bringing back wetlands would provide habitat for many bird species, and could help save the Bay Area from the rising seas expected from global warming. But some argue the funding mechanism is unfair.

Source: Living on Earth: Saving the Bay Area

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

PD Editorial: Yes on Measure AA for the bay

Consider that by the 1960s, nearly 90 percent of the wetlands that had once surrounded San Francisco Bay were gone. Thanks in large part to the environmental awakening that occurred shortly after that, the filling-in of the bay came to a halt and thousands of wetlands have since been preserved. But it has been slow-going. The tidal marsh area, which once totaled nearly 200,000 acres, is only at about 44,000 acres today.

Bay Area voters will soon have an opportunity to accelerate these efforts in a significant way. Measure AA on the June 7 ballot calls for approval of a $12-per-parcel annual tax for enhancing wetlands and wildlife habitat, for the expansion of public access and recreational opportunities and for the protection of public infrastructure — from highways to wastewater treatment plants to schools — from the threat of rising sea levels.

The tax would raise $500 million over 20 years. Half would be distributed to each Bay Area county based on population. The other half would be available through competitive grants, But the North Bay stands to benefit significantly as restoration projects have already been identified and public-private partnerships are in place to make them happen.

The kind of work involved was on display in October when crews broke through a 140-year-old levee at Sears Point, allowing saltwater to reclaim more than 1,000 acres at the southern tip of Sonoma County, land that had been used for hayfields. Another 35,000 acres of land has been acquired around the Bay Area, the largest estuary on the West Coast. But money is needed for restoration of those lands.

Officials from the Sonoma County Water Agency say the North Bay stands to receive at least $45 million, which would be used to leverage state and federal dollars for restoration projects along Sonoma Creek, the Petaluma River and in San Pablo Bay.

Tax funds also will be used to help protect infrastructure threatened by rising sea levels. According to the National Academy of Sciences, bay water levels are expected to rise by at least two feet by 2050 and as much as five feet by 2100. Studies by the Bay Area Council have found that such a rise would put an estimated 1,780 miles of roads and highways and 89 schools and health care facilities at risk of flooding. Flooding also would occur at the Oakland and San Francisco airports. Restoring wetlands would help provide protection from these storm surges.

The tax would be administered by the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, which was created by state law in 2008 to restore wetlands in the Bay and along the shoreline.

As David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, said, “The sooner we start, the sooner they can provide benefits.” But it won’t be easy. The tax requires a two-thirds majority vote of residents in the nine Bay Area counties. It’s an ambitious goal. Yet, it’s a modest sum — $1 a month — for the cumulative benefit involved. Other regions — such as the Puget Sound area, Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes areas — receive significantly more federal dollars than the Bay Area for habitat and water protection. Measure AA would, once and for all, provide a stable revenue source that would allow Bay Area residents to ensure we get our share of those dollars while protecting this natural resource that binds us all.

We encourage a yes vote on Measure AA on June 7.

Source: PD Editorial: Yes on Measure AA for the bay

Posted on Categories Habitats, Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

New Laguna de Santa Rosa trail shows an ecosystem in recovery

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of two dozen people on Saturday got the first official look at a multimillion-dollar restoration effort along a 1.7-mile stretch of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the broad freshwater wetland that flows into the Russian River.

A guided morning hike of the new Southern Laguna Discovery Trail outside Rohnert Park revealed a renewed ecosystem that is showing signs of recovery after decades of abuse and neglect. Steelhead trout and river otter populations are recovering, native plants and saplings are taking root and natural predators are returning.

“Check this out, it’s bobcat scat,” said Kevin Monroe, executive director of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, as a group of hikers gathered around him and cheered the discovery. “Seeing a top predator in this habitat is just wonderful. We still have much further to go, but this is a sign that some health and functionality is being returned to this ecosystem.”

Spearheaded by the foundation, and the Sonoma County Water Agency, restoration efforts along the middle reach of the Laguna de Santa Rosa have been underway since 2012. Just four years ago, the waterway that flows from Cotati and past Sebastopol before spilling into the Russian River was surrounded largely by grassland. Most of the native trees and shrubs were ripped out during the early 1970s, and the meandering waterway was straightened to help prevent flooding in Rohnert Park.

Runoff from urban areas and dairy farms led to other problems, spurring an explosion of invasive plants that choked off oxygen in the waters, leading to significant declines in wildlife populations.

Some of those issues have been stemmed by conservation efforts.“It’s a big experiment, but all of the plants and animals are starting to come back,” said Wendy Trowbridge, director of restoration and conservation science programs for the foundation. “And 20 years from now, this will be like walking in a lovely forest.”

Read more at: New Laguna de Santa Rosa trail unveiled outside Rohnert Park | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Land Use, Local Organizations, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Sonoma Land Trust giving preview of restored wetlands near Sears Point

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The completion of a major wetland restoration project south of Sonoma is months away, but already, the landscape along San Pablo Bay has been transformed.

Fresh water several feet deep covers former farmland, concealing all but the tops of hundreds of newly created marsh mounds. On Friday, the melodic sounds of thousands of shorebirds offered sweet relief from the foggy gloom.

Project officials were so surprised by the sudden transformation of the 1,000-acre property that they’ve decided to share the wonder with the public during a one-day preview Monday, on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the new 2.5-mile levee trail will be open to hikers, birdwatchers and leashed dogs.

“We were as stunned as anybody by this beautiful new landscape, and the thousands of birds that are enjoying it right now,” said Sheri Cardo, a spokeswoman for the Sonoma Land Trust. “We wanted to share it with everybody.”

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. The tidal marsh and levee system will support wildlife, provide flood control and offer new recreational opportunities for visitors. Upon completion, the site could become the premier access point into San Pablo Bay from within Sonoma County, organizers say.

via Sonoma Land Trust giving sneak peek of restored | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Transportation, Water, WildlifeTags , , , ,

SMART to restore wetlands, habitat

Matt Brown, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The agency tasked with building the North Bay’s commuter rail line is about to embark on a $1.9 million environmental restoration project that will create new wetlands, protect valuable habitat for endangered species and help the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority meet the conditions of its construction permits.

Without discussion, the SMART board Wednesday approved a deal with contractor Stacy and Witbeck/Herzog to restore the former Mira Monte marina site — 56 acres of marshland straddling the Sonoma-Marin county line at the spot where San Antonio Creek joins the Petaluma River.

The agency last year spent $2.5 million on the land that is a key piece of the Petaluma Marsh ecosystem, supporting an array of bird, plant and animal species including the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and California clapper rail. The habitat work is required by a slew of state and federal agencies that issued environmental permits to SMART as it builds the 43-mile commuter rail line from Santa Rosa to San Rafael. Service is expected to begin in late 2016.

Read more via SMART gives go-ahead to large wetland restoration | The Press Democrat.