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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Posted on Categories Forests, HabitatsTags , , , , , ,

Fight over disputed Healdsburg logging plan escalates amid state delay

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The National Marine Fisheries Service, whose mission includes the protection of imperiled fish species, identified Felta Creek as “the only stream in the Dry Creek watershed where wild coho salmon have been observed frequently.”

“There were two years where Felta was the only stream in the entire Russian River watershed that we knew coho existed,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fisheries biologist with the California Sea Grant program who specializes in endangered salmon recovery.

A cold, clear stream that provides some of the last refuge for wild coho salmon in Sonoma County lies at the center of a dispute over logging plans in the forested hills above Healdsburg.

The proposed removal of redwood and Douglas fir trees from a steep hill above Felta Creek and the Russian River Valley poses a risk, opponents say, to remaining habitat for an endangered fish species once abundant in the freshwater streams and rivers of the North Coast.

Some of the trees marked for harvest on the 160-acre property grow on grades of 65 percent — so steep that foes of the plan, including neighbors and several environmental groups, say it could unleash significant erosion into the creek if carried forward. They are prepared to go to court to block the proposed harvest, which is being studied by state forestry officials.

Last week, those officials kicked the proposal back to landowner Ken Bareilles and his forester for significant additions and revisions

Read more at: Fight over disputed Healdsburg logging plan escalates amid state delay | The Press Democrat

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

Uncertain salmon season launches in Bodega Bay 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The rising hum of activity in the port of Bodega Bay over recent days reveals an unexpected level of interest in the commercial salmon season that starts today, despite a three-month delay and what’s been an extremely grim outlook for the beleaguered fishery.

A large proportion of the local fleet has been gearing up to head out to open ocean, ready to drop their lines and test the waters. But the satisfied, even boisterous enthusiasm that once characterized the marinas during preseasons past has diminished during years of struggle in the fishing industry, some say.

A time that once carried the promise of hard work and dependable results now brims with uncertainty.

“It just isn’t there anymore, the old vim and vigor, and the excitement about getting ready for an opener, and this kind of stuff,” veteran fisherman Dan Kammerer, 75, said, recalling laughter and jokes that used to be shared along the docks. “It just isn’t fun anymore.”

Chinook salmon, also called king salmon, were once a prized staple of the North Coast’s fishing grounds, ranked just ahead or behind Dungeness crab in annual landings. But the population has been in severe decline, due in part to historic drought and disrupted ocean conditions that have reduced the survival of young salmon in freshwater streams and coastal waters.

After two dreadful seasons, state and federal wildlife biologists last spring forecast the lowest chinook salmon stocks off the Pacific Coast since 2009, when both sport and commercial fisheries were closed for the second consecutive year.

Read more: Uncertain salmon season launches in Bodega Bay | The Press Democrat

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Fight for Felta Creek

Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

A Humboldt County businessman appears poised to get the green light from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) to log most of a forested 160-acre Healdsburg parcel crossed by Felta Creek.

Read more at: Fight for Felta | News | North Bay Bohemian

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Crews break through blockage to reopen river

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

High surf conditions closed the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner for about a week before Sonoma County Water Agency crews dug a channel that biologists hope will balance the interests of the river’s endangered native salmon and steelhead trout along with flood prevention.

On July 17, the Water Agency opened an outlet channel on the beach at Goat Rock State Park appears to be working this week.“ The goal of the outlet channel is to enhance habitat for federally listed juvenile salmon and minimizing flood risks by keeping freshwater levels in the estuary while allowing river water to flow out of the estuary and prevent ocean water from entering,” said Water Agency spokesperson Ann DuBay.

She said the Water Agency will monitor conditions at the estuary and manage the lagoon’s depth this summer so that high water doesn’t flood low-lying areas in Jenner such as the visitor center on Highway 1.

Ideally the outlet channel would remain in place until mid-October to maintain the estuary lagoon.

The Water Agency is conferring with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies to discuss an appropriate outlet channel and lagoon management strategy, said DuBay.

The Water Agency has been trying, with limited success, to maintain a summer lagoon since 2008 when NMFS issued a biological opinion that ordered changes in the agency’s Russian River operations.

Since the biological opinion was issued calling for the Water Agency to maintain a closed summer estuary if and when the Jenner sandbar closes naturally, a maintenance plan has been implemented three times, said Water Agency Environmental Resources Manager Jessica Martini-Lamb.

Read more at: Crews break through blockage to reopen river | News | sonomawest.com