Monday, November 28, 2011

2011-11-28 "Walmart Chairman Rob Walton: The Worst of the One Percent?" by Dan Bacher
 Brave New Films, the film studio that produced the ground-breaking documentary, “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price,” is holding an online vote to pick the "worst of the 1%." They’re looking for the person who is doing the most with their wealth to exploit the rest of the country - and to privatize public services and public trust resources.
 Walmart Watch ( is urging people to vote for Rob Walton, chairman of Walmart and an heir to the Walton’s family fortune, as the worst of the one percenters. Walmart Watch is an organization that "seeks to hold Walmart fully accountable for its impact on communities, the American workforce, the retail sector, the environment and the nation's economy."
 I also strongly urge everybody to vote for Rob Walton as "worst of the 1%" for his efforts to crush labor and human rights and drive local "mom and pop" operations out of business, as well for funding corporate environmental NGO efforts to privatize the oceans by promoting "catch shares" programs and Arnold Schwarzenegger's privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative.
 To vote, go to:
 "When it comes to the 1%, Rob Walton and the Walton family are it," according to Walmart Watch. "The Walton family has amassed more than $93 billion in wealth, making them the richest family in the country."
 "The Waltons inherited that wealth, much of it was created by paying many workers at poverty-level wages, offering poor benefits, and lowering conditions in the supply chain by demanding ever-lower prices. Walmart’s trade deficit with China alone eliminated hundreds of thousands of US manufacturing jobs," the group ntoed.
 Rob Walton himself has an overall estimated worth of $21 billion running the world’s largest private employer. It is estimated now that 1.4 million people work for Walmart or 1 out of every 222 people in the U.S.
 "The dividends of the Walmart stock the Waltons own alone could go a long way toward making Walmart jobs good, living wage jobs. Instead he chooses to keep the average employee below the family poverty line and cut health benefits for hundreds of thousands employees," the group added.
 The Waltons have used the Walton Family Foundation to advance an extreme anti-worker and anti-human rights agenda. In the last five years, the Walton Family Foundation (where Rob sits on the board) has given money to the Heritage Foundation, the National Right to Work Foundation and other groups that advance the agenda of Wall Street banksters and other corporate operatives who have looted the economy.
 Walmart Watch stated, "In 2010, the Walton Family Foundation spent more than $157 million to support the so-called school choice movement. This movement generally seeks to divert money from public schools to private schools through policies such as vouchers and charter schools. These donations make the Walton Family Foundation one of the largest funders of efforts to undermine public education."

 Wal-Mart gives $36 million to ocean privatization efforts -
 In addition to anti-worker and school privatization campaigns, the corporate giant also dumps millions into "environmental" programs to greenwash the privatization of public trust resources.
 The Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), a national grassroots recreational fishing organization, in August slammed the Walton Family Foundation's contribution of $36 million to ocean privatization efforts through "catch shares" programs and the creation of so-called "marine protected areas."
 "Wal-Mart announced this week its efforts to help fund the demise of both the recreational and commercial fishing industry while also working to ensure that the next generation of sportsmen will have less access to coastal fish stocks than at any point in U.S. history," according to a news release from RFA (
 In a August 16th news release from Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, the Walton Family Foundation announced "investments" totaling more than $71.8 million awarded to various "environmental" initiatives in 2010. The foundation handed over $36 million alone to Marine Conservation grantees including Ocean Conservancy, Conservation International Foundation, Marine Stewardship Council, World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
 The five top grantees were: Conservation International, $18,640,917; the Nature Conservancy,$9,305,449; Environmental Defense Fund $7,086,054; the Marine Stewardship Council, $4,500,000; and the Ocean Conservancy, $3,757,768 ((
 Critics of Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, have blasted the company for decades for being able to sell its products at cheap prices only by employing sweatshops, undercutting competitors, wielding its market power to cripple both competitors and suppliers, and flouting national and international health, safety, labor, and environmental standards. Anti-corporate globalization opponents have long regarded Wal-Mart as a virtual "Darth Vader" of retailers, as documented in the film, "The High Price of Low Cost." (

 Greenwashing Wal-Mart's image -
 However, in 2006 the retail giant hired Adam Werbach former Sierra Club president to "polish" its image ( This latest Wal-Mart release is apparently part of a carefully orchestrated campaign to greenwash its image - and extend control over public trust resources.
 According to the release, the Walton Family Foundation "focuses on globally important marine areas and works with grantees and other partners to create networks of effectively managed protected areas that conserve key biological features, and ensure the sustainable utilization of marine resources - especially fisheries - in a way that benefits both nature and people."
 "We focus our work in the United States' primary river systems and in some of the world's most ecologically significant marine areas," said Scott Burns, director of the foundation's Environment Focus Area and the former director of marine conservation at the World Wildlife Fund. "It's important to us to protect and conserve natural resources while also recognizing the roles these waters play in the livelihoods of those who live nearby."
 The RFA countered that these specially managed areas of coastal waters are also referred to as "marine protected areas" or "marine reserves," and the end result is denied angler access, of little or no benefit to the very people whom Wal-Mart claims to benefit.

 Marine protected areas without real protection -
 "A quick visit to the Ocean Conservancy website should be telling enough for anglers interested in learning where Wal-Mart's profits are being spent," said RFA executive director Jim Donofrio. "These folks are pushing hard to complete California's network of exclusionary zones throughout the entire length of coastline, and they've made it very clear that they would like to see the West Coast version of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) extended into other coastal U.S. waters."
 Grassroots environmentalists, fishermen, members of Indian Tribes, civil liberties activists and environmental justice advocates have criticized Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, privately funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, for its numerous conflicts of interest and the violation of numerous state, federal and international laws.
 The so-called "marine protected areas" established under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil drilling and spills, water pollution, wave and wind energy projects, military testing, corporate aquaculture, habitat destruction and all other human impacts upon the ocean other than fishing and gathering. In an extreme case of corporate greenwashing, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, served as chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force that created these questionable "marine protected areas" on the Southern California coast. She also served on the task forces for the North Central and North Central Coasts.
 When not chairing or serving on these rigged panels, Reheis-Boyd has been busy lobbying for new oil drillling off the California coast, tar sands drillling in Canada (, and for the weakening of environmental regulations throughout the West.
 The Walton Family Foundation release also said that so-called "marine protected areas" being promoted with the foundation's money include those in Indonesia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico.
 "Here's an organization which has publicly opposed creation of artificial reefs used by Wal-Mart's tackle buyers, in some cases openly advocating for their removal, yet the Walton family is handing over tons of money for support," Donofrio said of Ocean Conservancy in particular.
 Jack Sobel, a senior scientist for the Ocean Conservancy, has said "There's little evidence that artificial reefs have a net benefit," citing concerns such as toxicity, damage to ecosystems and concentrating fish into one place (worsening overfishing).(

 Wal-Mart boycott follows Safeway boycott -
 "Shopping for fishing equipment at Wal-Mart is contributing directly to the demise of our sport, it's supporting lost fishing opportunities and decreased coastal access for all Americans," Donofrio said. "I hope all RFA members across the country will remember that when it's time to gear up, but I would also wonder if perhaps our industry can help spread the message and support our local tackle shops by also pulling product off Wal-Mart's shelves."
 RFA in April 2011 announced its support of a national boycott of the Safeway Supermarket chain, including Genuardi's in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, because of that corporation's support for California's widely-contested MLPA initiative.
 "Apparently Safeway has gotten some bad advice from the people in the ocean protection racket, a community to which the California-based mega-corporation is now donating profits," said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the RFA. "Safeway says it is supporting groups that make a difference like the Food Marketing Institute's Sustainable Seafood Working Group, the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions and the World Wildlife Fund's Aquaculture Dialogues, but it's little more than corporate greenwashing."
 RFA believes it's time that Wal-Mart was added to the angler boycott list as well.
 "The Walton family created this huge corporate entity which has threatened the vibrancy of our local retail outlets, and now they're essentially doing the same thing with our fishing communities," Donofrio said.
 "Much like Safeway has done with their financial investment in the environmental business community, Wal-Mart apparently prefers customers buy farm-raised fish and seafood caught by foreign countries outside of U.S. waters, while denying individual anglers the ability to head down to the ocean to score a few fish for their own table," noted Donofrio.

 Wal-Mart pushes catch shares program -
 The Walton Family Foundation is also working "to create economic incentives for ocean conservation," while candidly pledging their support for "projects that reverse the incentives to fish unsustainably that exist in 'open access fisheries' by creating catch share programs," according to the official news release.
 A broad coalition of commercial and recreational fishing, consumer and environmental groups is opposing the catch shares programs being pushed by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, a former vice-chair of the Board of Directors of Environmental Defense, because these programs amount to the privatization of public trust resources by concentrating fisheries in the hands of a few corporate hands. Wherever catch shares have been introduced, local fishing communities, fish populations and the environment have been devastated.
 "A catch share, also known as an individual fishing quota, is a transferable voucher that gives individuals or businesses the ability to access a fixed percentage of the total authorized catch of a particular species," according to Food and Water Watch ( "Fishery management systems based on catch shares turn a public resource into private property and have lead to socioeconomic and environmental problems. Contrary to arguments by catch share proponents – namely large commercial fishing interests – this management system has exacerbated unsustainable fishing practices."
 Donofrio emphasized, "Our local outfitters and tackle shops along the coast have had to face an immense challenge by going up against Wal-Mart's purchasing power during the last decade, but now that the Walton family is so up front about their opposition to open access fisheries, it's hard for me to believe that any sportsmen would ever be interested in shopping there again."
 "California anglers have been outraged to learn that money they spend at a Safeway grocery store might end up in the hands of anti-fishing groups like the EDF and the Ocean Conservancy, so I hope more anglers will join the national boycott by sending a message to Wal-Mart as well as Safeway," Martin added.
 Sam and Helen Walton launched their "modest retail business in 1962" with guiding principle of helping "increase opportunity and improve the lives of others along the way," according to the Walton Family Foundation website. It is that principle the foundation says, that makes them "more focused than ever on sustaining the Walton's timeless small-town values and deep commitment to making life better for individuals and communities alike."
 RFA said grassroots efforts to combat the corporate anti-fishing, pro-privatization agenda are more than just an uphill climb.
 "The EDF catch share coffers are already filled to the top, while Pew Charitable Trusts has billions in reserve," Donofrio said. "The individual anglers and local business owners are being denied opportunity, and I hope the federal trade representatives are willing to get onboard with their support of real small-town values." He emphasized that the Ocean Conservancy and EDF combined received more than $10 million in Walton Family Foundation grants in 2010.

 EDF: RFA's contention is 'just wrong' -
 The EDF public relations department was quick to respond in defense of their $7,086,054 Walton Family Foundation donation.
 Tom Lalley, communications director for the Oceans Program of the Environmental Defense Fund, claimed, "RFA’s contention that the contribution in question was made by Wal-Mart is just wrong."
 "The contribution was made by the Walton Family Fund and not Wal-Mart," Lalley told "These are two different entities. There is no connection between the two other than the fact that the fund’s money comes from private holdings of the same Waltons who started and managed Wal-Mart, but none of the money comes from the existing company. So it was the family, and specifically the family’s foundation, that made a contribution for sustainable fishing and ocean conservation, and not the store."
 According to RFA managing director Jim Hutchinson, Jr., the marketing executives at EDF are "some of the best in the ‘astroturfing’ business," but he calls Lalley’s claims "almost comical."
 “So I leave you a $1,000 bill in the cereal aisle at Wal-Mart, tucked under a box of sugar coated corn flakes, does that mean that Wal-Mart actually gave you the $1,000, or maybe EDF would argue it was really a contribution from Tony the Tiger himself,” Hutchinson laughed.
 “The heirs to the corporate fortune have spent two decades successfully building back their stake in this publicly held company to the point they now own over 50% of the Wal-Mart operation. The Walton Family Foundation is Wal-Mart, and the Walton family itself is making billions in our local communities, so to say that the two are separate entities is simply ridiculous. Actually expecting us to believe that statement is borderline insanity,” Hutchinson emphasized.

 Commercial fishermen join recreational anglers in denouncing Wal-Mart's support of privatization -
 Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), praised the RFA for criticizing Wal-Mart's contributions to ocean privatization efforts and welcomed the organization's call for a Wal-Mart boycott.
 "Wal-Mart is wrong on this issue, just as it has been in the past on labor and community issues," said Grader. "The privatization of public trust resources is the antithesis of conservation."
 "I've been boycotting Wal-Mart for decades and it's absolutely great that recreational and commercial fishermen are together on this," noted Grader.
 It is worth noting that Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy, the two top recipients of Walton Family Foundation funds, are known throughout the world for their top-down "environmental" programs that run roughshod over local communities to achieve their corporate greenwashing goals.

 Corporate environmental NGO 'leaders' support peripheral canal -
 The Nature Conservancy in California is a strong backer of state and federal plans to build a peripheral canal or tunnel to export more Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water to corporate agribusiness and southern California water agencies. Peripheral canal opponents, including recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Delta residents, family farmers and California Indian Tribes, believe the construction of the canal would result in the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other imperiled fish populations.
 The Walton Family Foundation's contribution to Conservation International is no surprise, since Rob Walton is chairman of the executive committee of Conservation International's Board of Directors (
 Also serving on the Board of Conservation International is Stewart A. Resnick, Chairman of the Board of Roll International Corporation, who is the largest tree fruit grower in the world and one of the biggest recipients of subsidized water from the imperiled California Delta. While making a tidy profit from selling his subsidized water back to the public, Resnick has waged a relentless campaign to divert more water from the Delta through the peripheral canal and has done everything in his power to eviscerate Endangered Species Act protections for Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Delta smelt and other listed species.
 Resnick's Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, an agribusiness "Astroturf" group, has also spent a great deal of effort in litigation attempting to eradicate striped bass from the Bay-Delta Estuary by falsely claiming that "striped bass," rather than water exports, are the cause of Delta smelt and salmon declines. For more information, go to:

 MLPA Initiative Background:
 The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, designed to create a network of marine protected areas off the California Coast. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 created the privately-funded MLPA "Initiative" to "implement" the law, effectively eviscerating the MLPA.
 The "marine protected areas" created under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.
 The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of "marine protected areas" included a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest. Catherine Reheis Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who is pushing for new oil drilling off the California coast, served as the chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast.
 The MLPA Initiative operates through a controversial private/public "partnership funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Schwarzenegger administration authorized the implementation of marine protected areas under the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the foundation and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

Saturday, November 26, 2011

2011-12-26 "Project aims to show crops, marshland can coexist" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"

Woodland, Yolo County --
Five acres of mud and rice stubble doesn't look much like fish habitat, but the rectangular patch of summertime cropland is in the process of being converted to a teeming marsh filled with young salmon.
 The conversion to wetland of the rice paddy at Knaggs Ranch, north of Woodland next to the Yolo Bypass, is an experiment that conservationists hope will eventually lead to the restoration of ancient floodplains all along the Sacramento and San Joaquin River corridors.
 The small piece of soon-to-be-flooded cropland is an attempt to combine agriculture with habitat restoration, flood prevention with the creation of more floodplain.
"There is a real push to just build levees higher and bigger rather than really taking into account ecosystem functions," said Jacob Katz, a biologist with the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. "We are hoping to say, 'Look, this is how you do it. You can protect against flooding this way, too.' "

Breaching levees -
The experiment, which involves the breaching of levees protecting the lower 5 acres of a 1,700-acre rice farm, is one example of the kind of innovation that conservationists hope will be inspired by California's first ever attempt to create a systemwide plan to manage floods.
The $4.9 billion FloodSAFE initiative, which was created by the Central Valley Flood Protection Act in 2006, involves an ambitious program to increase public safety, promote long-term economic stability and improve environmental stewardship in the areas that have historically flooded during winter rains.
 The state Department of Water Resources will issue a draft of its flood protection plan on Dec. 30, to be followed by a public comment period and hearings. The Central Valley Flood Protection Board, a panel of experts appointed by the Legislature, will have until July 1, 2012, to adopt the plan.

Salmon and rice -
 The document will set guidelines for flood protection and funding along the Sacramento River and around the Yolo Bypass, which was built almost a century ago as a relief valve for Sacramento River flood water. The specific programs will be developed by local and regional governments and communities.
The Knaggs Ranch study is being conducted by UC Davis, the state Department of Water Resources and rice paddy owner John Brennan, with support from Cal Trout and Trout Unlimited.
The plan is to trap the floodwater over the next month and, on Feb. 1, introduce 10,000 to 20,000 juvenile chinook salmon captured from the Feather River. Marshland habitat, including native grasses, is being restored inside the 5-acre plot.
Biologists will study the fish, waterfowl and nutrients in the water to determine the health of the wetland and to see how well the rice straw breaks down. One concern, Katz said, is that too much rotting rice straw could suck the oxygen out of the water and kill the fish.

Testing the waters -
The researchers want to determine the right biological mix and, in collaboration with the owner, expand the off-season wetlands project to cover the entire 1,700 acres.
 The hope, assuming all goes well, is that access points would eventually be designed so that migrating salmon in the Sacramento River could enter restored floodplains throughout the 59,000 acres of agricultural land in the Yolo Bypass and elsewhere along the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
 It is important because the delta, built to funnel water through the 1,300-square-mile confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, is the heart of California's vast water network. The system of levees, dams, channels and pumps funnels snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada to 25 million people in the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California.
 The network was designed not just to provide drinking water, but also to prevent the kind of epic flooding that once occurred regularly in the Central Valley. Flooding was so bad in the winter of 1861-62 that the entire Central Valley became a vast lake.

Flooded rice farms -
The Yolo Bypass was approved in 1917 as an outlet for floodwaters every couple of years when the Sacramento River overtops what is known as the Fremont Weir. The land beneath the bypass, which is reserved for agriculture during the summer, becomes an inland sea during heavy flooding.
Migratory waterfowl regularly visit the flooded rice farms and a small area of restored wetlands called the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. Sometimes juvenile salmon spill over the weir into the bypass, but the area is not designed for fish, which often become trapped, when the water subsides, and die in evaporating pools.

Staggering fish migration -
 It is one of many reasons fisheries biologists believe California's once vast population of chinook salmon has been declining despite an enormous yearly infusion of hatchery-raised fish. Only about 5 percent of the original Sacramento floodplains still exist, Katz said.
The creation of a statewide flood management plan is an opportunity to restore the floodplains where migrating fish historically rested, foraged for food and fattened up before returning to the river, Katz said. It would also stagger the migration over the course of the winter and spring season.
 "Floodplains are important for foraging fish and for creating a more diverse portfolio of life histories," Katz said. "By taking away floodplains and channeling them into rivers, we have taken that diversity away."
The original idea behind the FloodSAFE initiative was to shore up the system of levees in the delta, which have failed 166 times over the past 100 years. The danger of flooding is now worse than ever, according to experts, who point out that the sea level is rising and land in the Central Valley is subsiding.
 The state's flood management plan, which could cost as much as $16 billion to fully implement, is expected to include a major expansion of the Yolo Bypass.
 "By expanding the bypass we open the door for increased ecosystem restoration while getting the dual benefit of reducing flood risk," said Michael Mierzwa, the supervising engineer and flood policy adviser for the Department of Water Resources. "The caveat that I put on that is that it is going to take decades to implement."

Commitment in spotlight -
The level of commitment to ecosystem restoration is the major concern among many environmentalists. Many local community leaders are vehemently opposed to converting farmland into wetlands. One big reason, Mierzwa said, is because both the agricultural land and the product grown on it are taxable. When you take a rice farm out of production, he said, you reduce the tax revenues which are, in turn, used to maintain the flood system.
The Knaggs Ranch experiment, Katz said, is designed to show how floodplain and habitat restoration can be accomplished without taking agricultural land out of production.
 "We're really talking about a paradigm shift in the way we push water around the landscape," Katz said. "It's going to be much cheaper to invest in a system that incorporates floodplain restoration now than it will be in the future. It will be better for ducks, better for fish and better for farms."

A flock of birds flies over the Yolo Bypass near Woodland, where conservationists hope to restore ancient floodplains.
Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

Rice farmer John Brennan monitors the amount of water flowing through the Yolo Bypass near Woodland.
Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle
Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

An egret flies above a water channel leading to the Yolo Bypass floodplain near Woodland.
Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

Jacob Katz holds unharvested rice from the Yolo Bypass flood plain in Woodland, Calif. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011. Water conservationists are floating a plan that they hope would eventually restore river flood plains in the Central Valley.
Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

Friday, November 25, 2011

2011-11-25 "Push to ban import of bullfrogs to California" by Louis Sahagun from "Los Angeles Times"
San Francisco - — San Francisco -- Miles Young strode down a narrow passageway in a bustling fish market in San Francisco's Chinatown, methodically scanning aquariums and plastic bins filled with hundreds of live frogs selling for $3.99 a pound.
They were imported from frog farms in Taiwan, the environmental activist and former game warden said.
The species is particularly susceptible to a skin fungus linked to vanishing amphibians around the world. And the conditions in which bullfrogs are raised, transported and sold are ideal breeding grounds for the fungus and its waterborne zoospores.
"It should be against the law to bring diseased nonnative animals into California," he grumbled. "But every time someone proposes a ban on bullfrogs, politics gets in the way and nothing gets done."
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis is a chytrid fungus that was first identified in 1998 and is thought to have originated in Japan. It causes a thickening of the skin, which impairs gas exchange and the animal's ability to absorb water, triggering rapid mass die-offs of frog populations.

Carriers of fungus -
Bullfrogs carry the fungus but do not die from it. Most of the millions of bullfrogs imported to California each year for use in the food, pet and dissection trades are infected with the fungus, according to several recent studies.
The disease can spread to native frog populations if an infected frog escapes captivity or is set free, or if the water from its holding tank is released into the environment.
Yet proposals to ban the importation of bullfrogs have cultural implications, which have pitted environmental organizations against Asian Americans who regard the animals as traditional cuisine and important commodities for family-owned businesses. A similar rift opened recently over banning the sale of shark fins.
"So long as nonnative frogs are brought into the state, it is inevitable that some will escape or be set free," said biologist Kerry Kriger, executive director of the nonprofit group Save the Frogs! "It is also inevitable that the infectious diseases these animals carry will enter California ecosystems."
The state Fish and Game Commission, which sets policy for the Department of Fish and Game, voted to ban permits authorizing importation of frogs and turtles. The department has chosen not to implement the ban.
 The squabble started in March 2010, when the commission voted unanimously to direct the department to stop issuing permits for the importation of live frogs and turtles for food. A month later, however, it held a "reconsideration hearing" at the request of Asian American leaders who included five Assembly Democrats and state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who called the ban an assault on their cultural heritage.
Opponents also said it unfairly targeted Asian American businesses because it did not affect the sale of turtles and frogs at pet stores.
 In testimony before the panel, Yee, an unsuccessful candidate in the Nov. 8 San Francisco mayoral election, said: "For over 5,000 years, it has been the practice of both the Chinese community and the Asian American community to consume these particular animals. They are part of our staple. They are part of our culture. They are part of our heritage."

Food for gold miners -
Kriger, however, testified that the vast majority of frogs being imported for food are American bullfrogs, which have only a relatively recent history in Asian cuisine. Native to eastern North America, the bullfrogs were introduced to California in the late 1800s to provide food for gold miners who had eaten native red-legged frogs to near extinction. Later, bullfrog farms in China, Taiwan and Brazil began supplying live amphibians to Asian markets around the world.
Despite pleas, the Fish and Game Commission decided not to rescind its decision. But the department opted to continue issuing permits to import frogs and turtles. Stopping the importation of frogs and turtles for food was "a low priority for the use of the department's very limited resources," Department of Fish and Game Director John McCamman wrote in a memorandum to the commission earlier this year.
"This is about a cultural practice, and the department doesn't like getting in the middle of those things," commission Executive Director Sonke Mastrup acknowledged in an interview. "We may revisit it again. But we would have to find the political will to bite the bullet and actually change the law."

Petition drive -
The battle over the bullfrog is far from over. In October, Save the Frogs! started a petition calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to ban the importation, sale, release and possession of American bullfrogs in California.
 Separately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is studying a proposal by Defenders of Wildlife to ban the importation of live frogs unless they are accompanied by a health certificate verifying that they are free of the chytrid fungus.
"It's a very complex subject," said Susan Jewell, a spokeswoman for the agency's aquatic invasive species branch. "We're still working on what our recommendation will be."
Then there is Santa Cruz County, home to dwindling populations of threatened California tiger salamanders and California red-legged frogs. Later this year, it expects to become the first county in the nation to ban American bullfrogs.
 Today, eradication of the bullfrog, known to scientists as Rana catesbeiana, is a costly and time-consuming priority of management plans for many of California's threatened amphibians.
When it comes to ecological destruction, few invasive species can match the havoc wrought by the American bullfrog's voracious appetite for anything that can fit in its big mouth, including ducks, bats, snakes and other amphibians.

Nina D'More, amphibian biologist at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Monterey County, searches for California red-legged frogs.
Credit: Photos by Louis Sahagun / Los Angeles Times / MCT

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Napa County

2011-11-23 "Fish blockage cleared from Zinfandel Lane" from "Napa Valley Register"
Sixty miles of prime spawning ground in the Napa River and its tributaries are now open.
On Friday, representatives from the county and environmental groups celebrated the completion of a $1 million project that eliminated a concrete apron under the Zinfandel Lane bridge. The apron was blocking Chinook salmon and steelhead trout from swimming upstream to their preferred spawning grounds.
Over the years, erosion formed a ledge and the jump necessary to get upstream became so daunting that all but the very strongest fish were stranded on the downstream side.
“A lot of Chinook salmon would spawn just downstream, right on top of each other,” said Jonathan Kohler, a fish biologist from the Napa County Resource Conservation District whom officials credited with bringing the barrier to the county’s attention about seven years ago.
“I have video of fish bashing their heads against the old concrete apron,” he said. “It was heartbreaking.”
The new passageway is “not even going to be a blip on their radar screen,” Kohler said.
The barrier also interfered with younger fish swimming downstream toward the ocean, said Rick Thomasser, watershed and flood operations manager for the county.
The new structure, completed in October, includes a fishway, a bypass channel and a trough to dissipate the energy of the water and prevent downstream erosion.
Sam Schuchat, executive director of the California Coastal Conservancy, said the Napa River was recently identified as one of eight “anchor watersheds” for Chinook and steelhead in the Bay Area.
“This project frees up 50 percent more habitat for fish,” he said. “So it’s a lot of bang for our fish buck.”
The project was financed by county Measure A funds, a $400,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, and design and engineering funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Gasser Foundation.
The county will monitor fish passage and spawning behavior to verify that the fish are using the new passage.
The project should also please history buffs interested in preserving the Zinfandel Lane bridge, which was built in 1913.
Geotechnical studies raised doubts about the stability of the bridge’s central pier, Thomasser said. So in addition to the fishway and bypass channel, an underwater cutoff wall was installed to tie the pier into the bedrock and prevent erosion from destabilizing the bridge.
“We got a two-fer here,” said District 3 Supervisor Diane Dillon. “We got wonderful fish passage and we helped this old bridge.”
Dillon thanked vintner and vineyard manager Davie Pina for championing river restoration on behalf of landowners, and Kohler for identifying the barrier and working on a solution.
The bridge apron was the most serious fish barrier in the watershed, but the county is seeking funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to fix another 20 barriers, said Leigh Sharp, executive director of the Napa County Resource Conservation District.
In addition to the $400,000 grant for the Zinfandel Lane bridge project, Schuchat announced that staff from the California Coastal Conservancy will ask their board for another $1 million for further restoration work along the Napa River.
Officials planted eight oak trees along the eastern bank of the river to commemorate the project’s completion.

Chinook salmon and steelhead trout are now able to pass under the Zinfandel Lane bridge, thanks to a $1 million project to construct a fishway and bypass channel under the 98-year-old bridge. Jesse Duarte photo
2011-11-23 "Candlestick Point wetland reclaimed as key habitat; Long buried in debris, vital wetland near Candlestick Point to welcome back birds" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
The newest restored wetland in San Francisco was little more than a mound of mud surrounded by water Tuesday, but the messy quagmire was like gold to Elizabeth Goldstein.
 The executive director of the California State Parks Foundation stood ankle deep in sticky wet clay at Yosemite Slough and called to everyone around, "Look, over your head - a red-tailed hawk being chased by a crow!"
 The 7-acre site at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area was officially reclaimed as a wetland by the incoming high tide Tuesday, and the hawk and crow were the first wildlife visitors.
 That's a pretty good start for a location that was until recently covered with decrepit warehouses and discarded construction debris.
 Two new tidal bays and a sandy shell-covered island designed exclusively for birds are the featured attractions in this $9 million first phase of the restoration of Yosemite Slough Wetlands, a 10-year-old project by the parks foundation and California State Parks to bring bayside recreation to Bayview-Hunters Point.
"What you are seeing are the two bays that we've been dreaming of for almost a decade," Goldstein said, pointing out the flooded wetland that workers created out of a diked area on the slough's northeast side.
"This was a very important project for the community - not only for the recreation but because it is an environmental justice project" that involved the removal of polluted soil, toxic substances and rubble, she said.

Priority habitat for birds -
The area, like much of the San Francisco shoreline, was historically a wetland and a major stop on the Pacific Flyway, providing important habitat for the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.
About 80 percent of wetlands and marshes around the Bay Area have been filled over the past century, a catastrophe for shorebirds and mammals. Because of wetlands' ability to absorb high tides, the destruction of the habitat concerns scientists who foresee the inundation of entire coastlines because of climate change over the next century.
 Tidal mudflats and shallow ponds were recently highlighted by conservationists as a priority habitat for the 1 million shorebirds believed to visit San Francisco Bay every year. A recent PRBO Conservation Science report urged communities around the bay to begin identifying areas where tidal marshes can be expanded or created.
Much of the tidal marshland that was filled in along the Bayview-Hunters Point shoreline was incorporated into the Candlestick recreation area when it became California's first urban state park in 1977.
 The new 7-acre marsh area is part of the Yosemite Slough Restoration plan, which will return 34 acres of shoreline to its natural state, creating the largest contiguous wetland area in San Francisco.

Buildings cleared -
Four metal warehouse buildings, including a 4,000-square-foot former woodworking shop, were removed from the site in June. Workers also removed more than 3,500 pounds of debris, including chunks of concrete, asphalt and bricks. The dirt was sifted and tested for lead, arsenic and petroleum. The polluted dirt was removed and cleaned.
The compacted soil was removed to create the tidal marsh, and the dike holding back the bay was breached last Wednesday, said George Salvaggio, the landscape architect for WRA Inc., which designed the project. On Tuesday, the tide was at its highest point since the breach, creating the two bays and the piece de resistance - bird island.
 "We're giving it back to the bay, and with that we are giving it life," Salvaggio said, nodding toward the island that not a single bird had yet discovered.

Planting grasses -
There is still a lot of work to do. Native grasses will be planted to stabilize the muddy shoreline, and in the spring, 40,000 shrubs and plants will be added for erosion control. As many as 40 children involved in the local Literacy for Environmental Justice program are raising the shrubbery and are expected to help with the planting.
 An additional $10 million will be spent restoring 13 more acres, including 5 acres of wetland, on the opposite side of Yosemite Slough over the next three years. Up to $4 million more will be spent adding an interpretive center, parking, a trail around the site, picnic tables, restrooms and lawns by 2015, when the project is expected to be completed.
The parks foundation plans to raise money for the rest of the project given that the park system is broke and Candlestick Point is on the state's closure list. Park officials and supporters believe the long-term environmental benefits will outweigh what they hope is at most a short-term closure.
 "We're reaching our goal, which is the restoration of the disappearing wetlands environment on the bay," said Ann Meneguzzi, the supervising ranger for the recreation area. "It is wonderful and rare to see an area created where people can come, enjoy themselves and be safe while experiencing nature in the city."

2011-11-23 "Top o' the morning" from "Vallejo Times Herald"

Friday, November 18, 2011

2011-11-18 "UC researchers get forest land from PG&E" by Debra Levi Holtz from "San Francisco Chronicle"
University of California research on the effects of climate change on trees and wildlife is getting a big boost by the donation of more than 4,500 acres of Northern California woodlands that will double the size of the university's research forests.
The donation to UC was approved Wednesday by the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council, a private foundation created in 2004 as part of a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bankruptcy settlement to permanently protect more than 140,000 acres of California's pristine watershed lands from development.
The donated land includes 3,100 acres near the Pit River in Shasta County and 1,484 acres in the Lake Spaulding area of Nevada County that are owned by PG&E, and is the largest single acquisition of forestland in the university's history. The land will be transferred to the UC Center for Forestry in about a year, after final approval by the California Public Utilities Commission.
"I'm just so excited I could bust," said J. Keith Gilless, dean of the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources, which houses the UC Center for Forestry.
"For us, this is a dream come true to have a network of research sites on a north-south transection through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges that will dramatically improve our capacity to do work on forest ecosystems that is responsive to the questions we all have about the impacts of climate change on those regions," Gilless said.
The UC Center for Forestry operates four research sites on 5,131 acres in Contra Costa, Plumas, Tulare and El Dorado counties. The new lands, which are farther north, will enable UC researchers to study a more geographically diverse range of forests.
Gilless said the goal of the center's research is to provide scientific knowledge that California needs to make policy decisions about how to best manage forestlands and to ensure that future generations have better information than is currently available.
"As a society we've done very badly, because we have profoundly underinvested in monitoring the function of these ecosystems," he said.
John Battles, a professor of forest ecology at UC Berkeley, said research is needed to find ways to minimize the risks of fire, invasive species and insect attacks on trees expected to be brought on by climate changes such as higher temperatures and longer dry seasons.
"We want to learn how to manage these forests to be resilient to these kinds of challenges," said Battles.
In addition to conducting research over the next few decades, the university also plans to teach California schoolchildren and other members of the public about the ecosystems of the forests by inviting groups to its research sites.
The Stewardship Council also approved the transfer of 7,016 acres of forest to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection for demonstration projects on forest management and watershed protection. The land is adjacent to the new UC forest parcel in Shasta County.
The UC Center for Forestry will work closely with Cal Fire, as well as with environmental organizations, American Indian tribes and local governments, to learn how to manage and protect the state's forests.
"Our goal is to harvest knowledge, not trees," said Gilless.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2011-11-17 "Climate change: Sea rise could kill vital marshes" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
The critical tidal marshes of San Francisco Bay - habitat for tens of thousands of birds and other animals - will virtually disappear within a century if the sea rises as high as some scientists predict it will as a result of global warming.
 The sea would inundate the coastline and eliminate 93 percent of the bay's tidal wetlands if carbon emissions continue unchecked and the ocean rises 5.4 feet, as predicted by scientists under a worst-case scenario, according to a new study by PRBO Conservation Science.
The tidal areas closest to the Golden Gate, including Richardson Bay in Marin County and much of the East Bay coastline, were identified as most vulnerable to sea level rise.
 "Marshes cannot keep up with the high-end sea level rise predictions," said Diana Stralberg, a research associate with PRBO, also known as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, and the lead author of the study, which was published Wednesday in the online science journal PLoS One.
"If we can't slow down sea level rise," said Stralberg, who is working on a doctorate degree at the University of Alberta, "we will need to identify and protect areas where marshes can migrate to."
The researchers measured the depth of mud, sediment and plant material in the existing marshes along the San Francisco Bay coastline and analyzed the impact on the wetlands under a variety of different scenarios.

Charting sea level rise -
The report, the first comprehensive look at the impact of climate change on bay wetlands, started with a 1.6-foot sea level rise this century, a level that scientists consider very optimistic, and then moved up in increments to 5.4 feet.
 The 93 percent reduction in tidal marshland would occur over the next 50 to 100 years only if the worst projections come true and assuming the bay does not suddenly become awash in new sediment, according to the report.
 Previous studies have predicted that future storms would increase runoff from the state's rivers and cause huge swaths of land to erode into the ocean over the next several decades, conceivably increasing the amount of mud available for marsh expansion.

Increased runoff -
The PRBO report said that under the best-case scenario - that is, with only a 1.6-foot rise in sea level - the marshes would actually increase in size over the next century.
"Some of the marshes will move upslope in areas where there are no barriers," said Julian Wood, the San Francisco Bay program manager for PRBO and a co-author of the study. "In that case, we will increase marsh extent."
 But that is a very unlikely scenario, he said. Climate scientists say the sea level at the mouth of San Francisco Bay has already risen almost 8 inches over the past century. About 45 billion tons of carbon dioxide is spewing into the atmosphere worldwide every year. As a result, recent estimates of the impact of global warming on the ocean off the California coast show a rise in sea level of between 6 and 16 feet by the end of the century.
California is implementing a greenhouse gas reduction law, which Stralberg said could be helpful in reducing sea level rise, especially if other states and nations follow suit.
Bay tidal marshes are vital to migratory birds, various rodents, fish and invertebrates, according to conservationists. The marshlands filter out pollutants, sequester carbon and act like giant sponges, protecting communities, roadways and businesses from flooding. The abundant food and habitat in wetland areas also helps sustain commercial fisheries.
 It is not too late to protect bay wetlands, researchers said, especially considering that the major effects of global warming are not expected to hit until at least 2050 and the mass inundation of coastal wetlands probably won't happen until the end of the century.

IDing expansion areas -
Stralberg said communities around the bay must begin identifying areas where tidal marshes can expand and where new wetlands can be created. The best locations, she said, are undeveloped lowland areas, including diked sloughs, where coastal expansion is not blocked by levees, developments, roads, parking lots or other barriers.
 "The priority should be in sediment-rich areas," Stralberg said. "At this point any low-lying land is potential marsh, and it would be wise to consider them for marsh restoration, considering we have so little land available. Those areas, in my opinion, should not be considered for development."
About 8,000 acres have been identified by researchers, much of it in the Napa and Suisun areas, along the Petaluma River and in the South Bay.
"We must start thinking now about where tidal marshes could move up to - the future potential wetlands," she said.

Marsh maps -
View maps of where the marshes would be under various scenarios over the next 100 years at [].

Friday, November 11, 2011

2011-11-11 "Lawsuit says polluted water illegally discharged" by Gosia Wozniacka from "Associated Press" newswire
Fresno --
California fishing and conservation groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court, accusing farmers of illegally discharging polluted groundwater into tributaries of the San Joaquin River.
The suit is the latest move in a decades-long battle over selenium-tainted farmland and agricultural drainage problems on the western side of the San Joaquin Valley.
The suit claims the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority allowed contaminated groundwater to co-mingle with irrigation drain water.
The mixture was then discharged without a federal wastewater permit into a canal and a slough that feed to the San Joaquin River and San Francisco Bay-Delta, the lawsuit states.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Lynnette Wirth declined to comment on the litigation.
In a press release, officials with the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority said the lawsuit wastes taxpayers' money and fails to recognize the benefits of a federal water project that's used to manage agricultural drainage.
Any facility that discharges wastewater directly to surface water must obtain a wastewater discharge permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the state. While irrigation drain water is exempt from the permitting process, polluted groundwater isn't.

Agricultural runoff -
The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority is made up of 29 districts, seven of which discharge agricultural runoff into the San Luis Drain and the Mud Slough, a tributary of the San Joaquin River.
That polluted groundwater, according to the suit, is harmful to threatened fish species and contaminates the drinking water used by millions of Californians.
Soils and groundwater in the area are contaminated with selenium and other chemicals such as boron and mercury.
Selenium is highly toxic to fish and wildlife. In the 1980s, millions of birds were born deformed after nesting at Kesterson Wildlife Refuge, where the government routed selenium-laced agricultural runoff.

Leaching -
While selenium is a naturally occurring element, irrigation causes it to leach from the soil.
After the Kesterson die-off, the Bureau of Reclamation - which runs a massive irrigation complex that makes farming possible in the arid valley - ceased pumping agricultural drainage water into wildlife refuges and wetlands.
Since 1996, the federal Grasslands Water Project - which serves the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority - has discharged agricultural irrigation water into the canal and the slough. Some of the drainage water is also reused to water 6,000 acres of salt-resistant crops.
The project is a successful model, because it has reduced drainage discharges, said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. It has been endorsed by state and federal agencies, Wade said.
Environmental groups claim that because the water project collects its discharge water from tile drainage systems, it necessarily discharges polluted groundwater along with irrigation water, and that discharge should be regulated with a permit.
A federal permit would require that officials comply with water quality standards, said Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, one of the parties to the lawsuit.
The fishing and conservation groups also claim selenium continues to harm birds and wildlife. They point to a deformed bird embryo found in 2008 in the Panoche re-use area, where drainage water is discharged to irrigate salt-tolerant crops and to reduce toxic drainage volumes.
The deformities of the embryo exhibited the effects of exposure to high selenium concentrations, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife report. It's the only such embryo found in a decade of monitoring.
"There's an assumption that Kesterson had the deformed birds and that pollution has been cleaned up, but that's just not the case," Jennings said.
Jennings acknowledged that farmers in the area have made progress by instituting practices to reduce discharges. But the problem of what to do with the polluted water remains, he said.
After the Kesterson disaster, the government scrapped plans to build a huge drain to carry the runoff out to sea.
Irrigators sued in the mid-1990s, claiming federal officials reneged on their obligation to help them dispose of the tainted water.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

2011-11-10 "High Permit Fees Hinder Businesses' Switch to Solar" by Rachel Raskin-Zrihen from "Vallejo Times-Herald"
Since lowering many of its permit fees last month, Vallejo, Calif.'s residential solar panel fees are now in the normal range, but the same cannot be said on the commercial side, a Sierra Club spokesman said this week.
 And this may be keeping some business owners and others from going solar, he said.
 A new Sierra Club study shows Vallejo's commercial solar permit fee is more than $20,000, by far the county's highest. Dixon is next, with a $14,500 fee. Vacaville's $400 fee is the county's least expensive, the study shows.
 Having these fees so far outside the norm for the area and exceeding by so much what's needed to recover costs, could be discouraging Vallejo business owners from going with the "greener" energy alternative, Sierra Club Redwood and Loma Prieta Chapters spokesman Kurt Newick said.
 Newick said he's conducted hundreds of comparative studies on the issue as part of a campaign to encourage cities to lower these fees and make it easier for people to opt for rooftop solar panel systems.
 "Vallejo's commercial fees are eight to 10 times higher than they need to be," Newick said.
 The problem, Newick said, is that the city calculates the permit fee based on the project's cost, like permit fees are, but this violates two state laws meant to encourage solar installations.
 "There is no connection between what it costs to inspect a project like this and the cost of the project," he said.
 Assistant City Manager Craig Whittom said officials are aware that the fees are too high and are examining the issue.
 "We are looking at those," Whittom said. "We had a good outcome with our residential fees, and it has come to our attention that our commercial fees are not competitive with other cities. We're reviewing that and expect to get back to the council with proposed modifications to those fees."
 That will likely be within the next couple of months, he said.
 A 2006 Sierra Club study of residential solar permit fee study for all San Francisco Bay Area cities found four of Solano County's eight municipalities (including the county itself) were over-charging for residential permits, Newick said.
 The most recent survey, conducted this month, reveals that 75 percent of Solano County cities, including Vallejo, have significantly lowered those fees since then. The fee in Vallejo was lowered from $671 to $394. Dixon is the only city in the county now over-charging -- and it's not by much, Newick said. The permit cost $500 in Dixon and should cost around $350, he said.
 Vallejo Chamber of Commerce board president Michael Coan said the commercial fees would stop him from going solar.
 "It kind of makes you lose the incentive to try and do it," Coan said. "If you want to encourage going green, having such a huge discrepancy won't help."
 Last month, the survey team notified four municipalities with commercial solar project fees exceeding $5,000, that their fees were excessive and requested they review their calculation methods, Newick said. He said charging more for solar permits than the reasonable costs to administer them violates California Government Code Section 66014, which provides that fees associated with building inspections and building permits "shall not exceed the estimated reasonable cost of providing the service for which the fee is charged."
 After getting that letter, Fairfield "promptly slashed their commercial (solar) permit fees," but it is the only city to do so so far.
 The study's authors developed a free fee calculator spreadsheet for roof-mounted commercial solar systems to help municipalities determine cost recovery, Newick said. It is accessible at PVFeeCalcCommercial.xls.

 Solar permits in Solano County today vs. 2006 -
  Source: Sierra Club Redwood Chapter (Solano Group) & Loma Prieta Chapter, Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif.
                            Residential:                              Commercial:
 --Benicia             $150, up from $125                 * $1,538
 --Dixon               $500, up from $149                 * $14,531
 --Fairfield            $221, up from $203                 * $3,519, from $7,300
 --Rio Vista          $250, down from $783             * $11,311
 --Solano County $352, down from $1,113          * $1,188, from $22,477 (2010)
 --Suisun City       $118, down from $282             * $463
 --Vacaville          $185, down from $404             * $400
 --Vallejo             $394, down from $671             * $20,696

Monday, November 7, 2011

2011-11-07 "Vallejo garbage gets a little less trashy" by Jessica A. York from "Vallejo Times-Herald"
It is not often that city officials can describe their trash cans as "high-end on the technology."
But that's exactly what Vallejo Recycling Coordinator Derek Crutchfield said Monday, standing in admiration before the city's relatively new solar-powered trash compactor and recycling bin.
"It would be better if they were all like that," Crutchfield said of the trash compactor. "(One unit is) a small savings now, but as we tend to purchase more -- ideally, what we'd like to do is look at doing the waterfront."
A second solar compacting unit stands waiting its future placement near the Ferry Building once the waterfront parking facility is complete, Crutchfield said.
"This is something that is very sleek, very nice and pleasing to the eye, as opposed to those great concrete monstrosities that you see all over town," Crutchfield said.
It's also shatterproof, graffiti-resistant and very quiet -- for a trash compactor.
Assisting with the cleaner look for the sidewalk in front of City Hall is the trash unit's door -- it's a "mailbox top," which limits the size and amount of waste going in at any one time, Crutchfield said.
The high-tech unit has called the pavement in front of City Hall home for the past two months, and has only been emptied of its trash once, said city maintenance worker Josh Davidson. On the other hand, the less secure recycling collection portion of the device has been emptied regularly -- by "scavengers," Crutchfield said.
"Because the bottles are by themselves, people aren't breaking into the garbage compactor to get out the bottles," a problem with the old trash can, Crutchfield said. "The fact that the doors aren't bent and torn means that it's working."
The way city workers knew when it was finally time to pick up the new unit's trash? Davidson said he checked its fullness level via his mobile phone. The "smart" trash unit has several internal sensors that are "phoned" in to to the unit's maker, BigBelly, after which the information is accessible to city workers online.
Davidson estimated one unit can hold up to 60 pounds of compacted trash.
"Green means it's fine, yellow means pick up immediately, red means you should have picked it up yesterday," Davidson said of three lights on the face of the unit and on the website.
Typically, Davidson said that three times a week he travels up and down Mare Island Way to empty the more standard city trash bins along the waterfront. Each outing takes up about half his work day, he said.
 Funding for the compactor, which can run from $2,000 to $6,000 per unit, came from the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), Crutchfield said. Jurisdictions statewide are allocated annual anti-litter funding, based on population, from the department. In past years, the funds have gone to the city Code Enforcement Division, Crutchfield said.
The state funding was also used to purchase new water fountains for city hall, that have special water bottle filling stations and filtered water. The fountain on City Hall's main second floor estimates, by its own count, the elimination of 2,053 disposable water bottles since about July.
2011-11-07 "Commercial and Residential Solar PV Permit Campaign: Solano County" from "Sierra Club"
 A summer 2011 survey by the Sierra Club revealed wide variations in permit fees charged for commercial and residential rooftop photovoltaic (PV) energy systems by municipalities in Solano County. The survey found that fees for commercial PV projects of 131 kW in size varied from $400 to over $20,000 (survey responses are based on a $1,200,000 project valuation, current market valuations are closer to $700,000, see appendix A in the full report for survey details). High fees can discourage businesses and residences from making good, long-term, high-yield investments in solar power. Most municipalities are charging fees that exceed the maximum cost-recovery levels identified in this report for commercial PV projects. Three cities are charging more than $10,000 for a commercial PV permit (about 4 times higher than an estimated maximum fee that enables full cost recovery). For 3 kW residential PV permits, one city in Solano County is charging excessive fees.
Figure of 131 kW commercial survey results

Figure of 3 kW residential survey results

The time needed for city staff to review and inspect a commercial PV project does not vary linearly by system size. For instance, interviews conducted in the preparation of this report revealed that the difference in time needed to process a 100 kW PV project is about two to three times longer than a 10 kW project (not ten times longer). Some efficient jurisdictions can do plan reviews and inspections for large commercial PV projects that take only slightly longer than a medium sized commercial PV project. Basing fees on the value of the solar equipment inflates permit costs to unreasonably high levels, especially for larger, more expensive solar power projects. To recover costs, therefore, permit fees should be based on specific review times and billable hourly rates and not on PV project valuations.
 The authors of this study have developed a free, public fee calculator spreadsheet to help municipalities determine cost recovery [].
 You can see the detailed (dynamically updated) survey responses and current PV permit fees at: []
 This report recommends best practices that municipalities can adopt to assure greater consistency, and help businesses develop an energy source that leads to a healthier, safer, and more stable community. These include setting permit fees at cost-recovery levels, and instituting streamlined permit processing procedures.
PV permitting recommendations []
Executive summary of Solar Electric Permit Fees for Commercial and Residential Installations in Solano County []
View the full Report of Solar Electric Permit Fees for Commercial and Residential Installations in Solano County []

Sunday, November 6, 2011

2011-11-06 "When nest was destroyed, raptor team flew to rescue" by ANGELA CISTONE ZIERENBERG from "Napa Valley Register"
It was an unseasonably cold and windy morning in late April when a call came in to the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County. The caller, a landscaper, was working in a local vineyard when he noticed two very young owls huddled together at the base of a large redwood tree.
The caller was advised by the dispatch operator to wait near the birds until members of the Raptor Rescue Team could arrive. When my husband, Chad Zierenberg and I, directors of raptor care for the organization, arrived, we identified the babies as great horned owlets, approximately two and a half weeks old.
They were about the size of grapefruits and covered in a layer of white fuzzy down. We could see that the hatchlings were cold, having been without the warmth of their mother, but were in otherwise good condition.
Great horned owls are not skillful nest-builders. In fact, they most often will use an old abandoned hawk’s or crow’s nest to lay their eggs and raise their young. After locating the not-so-sound nest and remembering the windy weather from the night before, we concluded that the owlets had been blown from their home in the storm. We took the displaced babies into care for further assessment and a full physical examination.
We were pleased to discover that no injuries had occurred from the fall and that both babies were healthy. This meant that the tiny great horned owlets were perfect candidates for renesting.
Whenever possible, the Wildlife Rescue Center rehabilitators work tirelessly to reunite families of all species. All mammals and birds have the best chance at a successful life if they are raised by their parents. This is especially true for great horned owls.
 These nocturnal raptors have a long and extended childhood, staying with their parents for the first seven months of their lives. During this period, the young owls learn survival skills such as hunting and continue to depend on their parents for food.
Knowing how vital it was to reunite the young fallen owlets, we rehydrated the babies and placed them in an incubator for warmth. After returning to the nest site, we decided that the wind-blown nest was too damaged to withstand the weight of the growing babies and their mother.
 This meant that a makeshift nest would have to be used in place of the original weathered residence. Another key component in reuniting the owl family came when an adult great horned owl was spotted in a tree near the broken nest. This was an excellent sign, and we could only assume that this was one of the parents. While the owlets recovered from shock and warmed up in the incubator, we quickly formulated a plan to replace the old nest and put a new, sturdier nest — and the babies — back up into the tree.
We decided that a square-shaped laundry basket lined with foliage collected from the nest site would be the owl family’s new dwelling. Rockzilla, a local climbing gym, graciously loaned us equipment to safely climb the tall tree.
Chad, an experienced climber, hoisted the basket up as he climbed to the old nest area. Using ropes, he securely attached the new nest to the trunk of the tree 30 feet up. When the basket was firmly in place and made sturdy enough to resist a storm’s fury, it was time to renest the owlets.
We had not given the babies any food while they recuperated for the short time they spent in the incubator. A hungry owlet will vocalize to its parents when it needs to eat. The hope was that these calls would lead the mother to the new nest, where she would find her babies.
Carefully, we lifted the two fallen owlets up into the tree and placed them in their new laundry-basket home. The babies were still too young to regulate their temperature, and they would need the warmth and protection of their mother as soon as possible.
The adult great horned owl that had been seen earlier that day was still in a tree close by, so we left the nest site and hoped the owl family would reconnect before nightfall. After several nerve-wracking hours, we returned to check on the family at dusk. We were relieved to find the great horned owl mother in the new laundry basket nest with her babies.
After this successful and rewarding reunion, we continued to monitor the owl family. The owlets successfully fledged out of their laundry-basket nest and have been observed hunting with both parents in the surrounding vineyards. The laundry-basket nest remains in place in hopes that the family will return this spring with a new set of chicks.

The raptor team monitored the juvenile great horned owls’ progress. Here the juvenile birds are perched in a nearby tree after fledging from their laundry-basket nest.

Friday, November 4, 2011

2011-11-04 "On a steep hillside along the spectacularly rugged..." by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
On a steep hillside along the spectacularly rugged Mendocino County coast is an 11-acre grove of ancient redwood trees with twisted trunks and branches that shoot out wildly in all directions as if frozen in the middle of a conniption fit.
The contorted trees, most of which are at least 500 years old, survived only because their bent wood could not be turned into lumber, but they are a biological gold mine to conservationists.
The grove of "candelabra" redwoods, known as the Enchanted Forest, is one of the primary reasons why San Francisco-based Save the Redwoods League purchased the spectacular 957-acre piece of coastline known as Shady Dell, where the gnarled old trees live.
"This is an example of redwoods responding to the environment - the coastal wind," said Emily Limm, the league's director of science, as she stood under a humongous branch jutting sideways out from the trunk. "The tops of these trees get broken off by the wind, so they re-grow near the trunk and take more horizontal space. We're interested in them from a scientific perspective because these funky structures provide habitat."
The acquisition, completed Oct. 27 and announced today, is part of a complex transaction designed to preserve 50,635 acres of the Usal Redwood Forest, a remote coastal area north of Fort Bragg (Mendocino County) where environmental activists and loggers once battled over the fate of California's mighty stands of timber.
It will extend by a mile the rugged Lost Coast, the longest roadless stretch of land in the 48 contiguous states.
The nonprofit Redwood Forest Foundation, which has owned the property for four years, sold Shady Dell outright to the Redwoods League. The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit, then purchased a $20 million conservation easement preventing development, including vineyards, in the Usal forest, a total of 49,678 acres.
The $25.5 million deal will preserve the entire forest in perpetuity and allow the Forest Foundation to start paying back the $65 million loan it used to purchase the land from a lumber company in 2007.
The foundation bought the land intending to create a working forest that benefits the local community, but needed revenue to complete the job. The easement will allow limited logging to help pay for interpretive programs, environmental improvements and to assist local communities and Indian tribes.
"One of the things that we aspire to is a closer relationship between jobs in the woods and people who live in communities around these forests," said Kathy Moxon, president of the Redwood Forest Foundation. "Bringing wood out of the forest should not degrade the forest over time. We should be able to take wood in a way that keeps the forest healthy, wildlife healthy and the fish still there for many, many generations."
The transaction links the Usal forest and Shady Dell with the 7,800-acre Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, Sinkyone Intertribal Wilderness Council land and the 60,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area.
"It's the largest working forest conservation easement in California and probably in the West," said Chris Kelly, the California program director for The Conservation Fund. Combined with land it already manages, "almost 100,000 acres of productive forestland is now owned and operated by nonprofits. This is an evolution in thinking of how forest conservation can work."

Logging history -
The Usal is a particularly important piece of property for anyone who cares about redwoods.
The entire mountainous region down to the coast was once covered by old growth trees. Starting in the 1850s, loggers moved into the area. A logging town with 400 people had been set up on Usal Beach by 1900, and the saw mills were in full operation by 1906, when North Coast redwood trees were used to rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake and fire.
Ruskin Hartley, the executive director of Save the Redwoods, said the league was formed in 1918 after the founders visited the region.
"What they saw was a trail of fallen giants," Hartley said. "It wasn't until they got to this forest that they saw an intact forest."
The Usal, too, soon fell to the ax.
The clear-cutting began in earnest after World War II, when mechanized equipment was brought in, according to Art Harwood, a former logging company owner in the area.
Environmental activists began protesting the clear cutting of ancient redwoods in the area beginning in the 1960s. By 1987, the protests were in full swing. Logging roads were blocked, activists were sitting in trees and Doctor Seuss' antilogging screed "The Lorax" was required reading in local schools.
"All you have to do is look at what the big lumber companies were doing then and you realize that these people were right," Harwood said. "There is no question that they probably saved the timber industry from itself."
Determined to find a middle ground, Harwood helped found the Redwood Forest Foundation 14 years ago with the goal of combining conservation with sustainable logging. In 2007, the foundation bought the Usal Forest from the Hawthorne Timber Co.

Wildlife benefits -
The deal with the Conservation Fund closed on the same day Save the Redwoods bought Shady Dell for $5.5 million. The Wildlife Conservation Board contributed $19.5 million for the conservation easement and the California State Coastal Conservancy contributed $3 million for Shady Dell. Save the Redwoods still needs to raise $1 million by Dec. 31.
The conservation easement limits logging to no more than 2.9 percent of the standing timber each year, an amount that will allow more trees to grow larger over time, said Harwood, the foundation's former executive director. In the meantime, he said, forest habitat will be restored for 250 wildlife species, including osprey, northern spotted owl, mountain lion and black bear.
Conditions for coho salmon, chinook and steelhead trout will also be improved in Usal Creek and on the south fork of the Eel River, he said. The foundation, which will manage the forest, intends to sell carbon credits and set up an experimental bio-char facility, a clean-burning contraption that turns excess forest brush into nutrient-rich soil additives.

'Enchanted' protection -
Only Shady Dell includes a beach, but there is no question in anyone's mind that the wind-twisted trees of the Enchanted Forest are the most spectacular and pristine natural wonders in the preserve, where logging will be banned.
Limm said the thick, sprawling branches create habitat for bats, mammals like red tree voles, spotted owls and a wide variety of birds. This kind of redwood habitat, which normally occurs 200 feet high, happens close to the ground in these particular trees, she said, a situation that could prove to be a scientific bonanza.
Christine Ambrose, the land project manager for Save the Redwoods, tromped through the marshy ivy-covered flatlands at the bottom of the Shady Dell Creek watershed and nearly jumped out of her shoes when she spotted an eye-level patch of Polypodium scouleri, known to most people as leather fern.
"That is just a stunning example of the integrity that is left here," said Ambrose, as only a dyed-in-the-wool naturalist could. "Leather fern is strongly associated with old growth, but normally it is high up in the canopy. The fact that it is so low to the ground makes this so amazing. This is going to be really fun."

Learn more -
Information on the property and campaign: []

Christine Ambrose, project manager of the Shady Dell project and a member of the Save the Redwoods League, walks through the, trees of mystery, part of the dense redwood forest on the acquired Shady Dell property in Usal, Ca. on Wednesday November 02, 2011. Save the Redwoods League is working with partners to protect 957 acres of remote redwood forest known as Shady Dell and extend California's rugged Lost Coast Trail. Credit: Michael Macor

2011-11-04 "Smelt Supreme Court ruling goes against farmers" by Bob Egelko from "San Francisco Chronicle"
SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Supreme Court has denied an appeal by Central California farmers who claimed the federal government lacks constitutional authority to protect the imperiled delta smelt by limiting north-to-south water shipments.
Three San Joaquin Valley growers challenged the government's use of the Endangered Species Act to protect a fish that exists only in California and has no commercial value.
But the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in March that the law is constitutional because preserving rare wildlife from extinction is a form of economic regulation that is part of Congress' constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.
Courts around the nation have agreed that "the protection of threatened or endangered species implicates economic concerns," even for species found only in one state, the three-judge panel said. The Supreme Court denied review Monday without comment.
The Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights organization that represented the growers, said it would continue to fight restrictions on water shipments. "This is a long-term battle to stop federal intrusion that robs people of their livelihoods and liberties," said foundation attorney Brandon Middleton.
Jason Rylander, a lawyer with Defenders of Wildlife, said it was the sixth time that the high court had "rebuffed radical attacks on the constitutionality of the Endangered Species Act."
The case is Stewart & Jasper Orchards vs. Salazar, 10-1551.

2011-11-26 "Saving our species" letter by Jane Reldan of La Jolla to the editor of "San Francisco Chronicle"
I would like to thank The Chronicle for the article "Central Valley farmers lose fight over delta smelt, water" (Nov. 4) regarding endangered species.
It is important that your readers know that Congress is attempting to weaken protections for many endangered species using underhanded, anti-environmental riders attached to budget bills.
 These attacks on species and the public lands that protect them are impending. Congress will be voting on a budget bill sometime in the coming weeks.
The current anti-environmental Congress must not be allowed to usher in a new era of extinction. I urge my senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to oppose budget provisions that weaken the Endangered Species Act or cut off funding for public lands.
Biologists tell us that the next 50 years, 30 percent of some 1,500 species of mammals on the planet are projected to go extinct, largely because of the human-caused collapse of healthy, wild ecosystems. We have a responsibility to future generations to prevent the extinction of fish, plants and wildlife. Once they are gone, we cannot bring them back. Extinction is forever.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011-11-02 "Hawk shot with nail gun returned to wild in good health" by Sarah Gantz from the San Francisco Examiner"
A hawk believed to have been shot with a nail gun returned home Wednesday in good health.
The hawk’s medical caretakers, the team that captured the bird, and San Francisco Animal Care and Control gathered at the Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park to release the bird in the same spot where it was captured Oct. 22.
“We didn’t want to release her anywhere else,” said Rebecca Dmytryk, director of WildRescue, the wildlife emergency responder organization that captured the bird.
The juvenile red-tailed hawk flew around Golden Gate Park with a nail piercing its skull for about two weeks before rescuers were able to trap the bird and bring it to a medical center.
The hawk was treated at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley.
Authorities are still searching for the person responsible for shooting the bird with a nail gun, a federal animal cruelty charge.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Napa County

2011-11 "End of an era" by John Stephens from "Activist News" newsletter:
Chris had reported to authorities numerous times a creek-bed gravel mining operation at 2700 Pope Canyon Rd.
The county has finally issued a Notice of Non-Compliance for the Pope Creek Quarry / Gravel Pit Surface Mining Permit, and set a hearing for Nov. 16th.
The aerials show the in-stream gravel bars were mined, widened, and altered at bends in the creek.
The County wants a bond to insure compliance, removal of heavy equipment, and land reclamation through decompaction, re-countering the facility, erosion control measures, and native vegetation.
The stream falls to Fish & Game to order restoration to the stream.
The owner still wants to hard-rock mine for the gravel nearby.

Sonoma County

2011-10-14 "CalPERS fires partner in struggling winery investments" by Dale Kasler from "Sacramento Bee" newspaper
 CalPERS expected to harvest a fortune from lush fields of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir.
But like many of the pension fund's big-time real estate deals of the past decade, the pension fund's investment in the wine industry turned sour.
After pouring $200 million into vineyards across California, Oregon and Washington, CalPERS said this week that it is firing the firm that has been its investment partner and land manager.
 The investment has lost 40 percent of its value and was worth $122 million as of March 31, the latest figures available.
The California Public Employees' Retirement System isn't bailing out of the wine business. Instead, spokesman Brad Pacheco, said CalPERS is negotiating to bring on a new partner by year's end.
The dismissal of Premier Pacific Vineyards, the Napa company that teamed up with CalPERS nine years ago, marks the latest effort by the pension fund to fix a real estate program that lost billions during the crash.
"This is part of the ongoing restructuring of our real estate portfolio," Pacheco said.
Premier Pacific became the sixth real estate partner to have resigned or been fired by CalPERS over the past two years. CalPERS has adopted a more conservative strategy for future investments, concentrating on safer deals such as leased-up office buildings.
Richard Wollack, managing principal of Premier Pacific, declined to comment.
Unlike many of CalPERS' other real estate investments, the vineyard deal hasn't been crushed by falling land values. Prices have actually held up pretty well across wine country.
Instead, the problem lies with overall weaknesses in the economy and the wine market. The investment has also been tripped up by environmental issues, particularly with a controversial Sonoma coast project.
The vineyard venture was CalPERS' first agriculture investment. It was part of a growing movement among institutional investors to get into the wine business.
"They're not alone," said industry expert and professor emeritus Robert Smiley of the University of California, Davis. "A lot of institutions have invested – major university endowments, major pension funds."
The CalPERS-Premier partnership purchased thousands of acres of prime grape-growing land from Santa Barbara County to Washington's Columbia Valley. It has sold grapes and, on occasion, entire vineyards to wineries.
CalPERS went into the deal expecting 15 percent annual profits. And in 2007, the partnership sold off three of its properties "at double-digit returns," said William Hill, a founder and former executive at Premier Pacific. "Things were looking pretty darn good in 2007 and early 2008."
The vineyard deal seemed so bountiful, in fact, that another big investor joined up. Commonfund, a Connecticut firm that invests for college endowment funds and nonprofits, put $50 million into the partnership in 2008.
Then the economy collapsed. The CalPERS partnership had concentrated on grapes for the high-end market, wines that sell for $50 or more a bottle. That business slumped badly, drying up demand for the CalPERS grapes and land, according to Smiley and other experts.
Another problem: Because of environmental restrictions, the partnership tied up millions of dollars in property that it hasn't been able to plant yet.
In eastern Napa Valley, plans for 330 acres of cabernet sauvignon have been pending for five years while the partnership completes environmental studies.
And for the past seven years, the partnership has been battling environmentalists over a proposal to chop down redwoods to make way for vines.
The partnership paid $28 million for a 20,000-acre forest in the coastal mountains of northwest Sonoma County. The plan: Clear-cut an 1,800-acre tract, known as Preservation Ranch, and plant grapes on it.
The investors said profit from the vineyard would pay for restoration of the rest of the forest. They also pledged to donate 2,400 acres for a wildlife preserve.
But the Sierra Club and other groups protested, saying the plan violated CalPERS' promises to avoid environmental harm. CalPERS said it was comfortable with the proposal.
A Premier Pacific official, Tom Adams, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that his company's removal by CalPERS shouldn't hurt the project. But wine industry officials say the future of Preservation Ranch is hazy.
"Who knows what'll happen now?" said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.

2011-11 "Behind the scenes with the CalPERS pullout" by John Stephens from "Activist News" newsletter:
In 2005 I alerted the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club about a two-inch article in the Chronicle Business section that said CalPERS, the public employees $33 billion pension fund, had invested in a massive forest to vineyard project in Sonoma County called Preservation Ranch.
Chris and I are public employee annuitants in the program, and we wrote our objections about using our retirement funds to clear forests.
In a follow-up letter the Redwood Chapter pointed out that it was inconsistent with CalPERS' stated purpose and mission. CalPERS has lost 40% of its investment on the project.
On Oct. 12 of this year CalPERS announced it was pulling out. Forest activists in Sonoma are rejoicing.