Friday, June 28, 2013

Valero Benicia's bringing increased mercury pollution and ecocide through it's "crude-by-rail" project...

More information can be found at [], which, beginning 2013-06, according to a note on the website's main page from the editor & publisher Roger Straw, "This new edition of the Benicia Independent asks questions and explores answers related to Valero Benicia's proposed crude-by-rail project".
Media contact for Roger Straw []

Railroad tracks along Goodyear Road near Valero Benicia Refinery. Note the nearby Suisun Marsh.

Some repercussions:
"Greenpeace: This is What It’s Like to Live in an Oil Industry Disaster; Months after the March 29 ExxonMobil oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, residents are still getting sick", posted at []. "Mayflower" []: Testimonials from the first Keystone XL Refugees, of Mayflower, Arkansas

Crude Consensus: A Community Meeting on Valero’s Proposed Rail Terminal
IMPORTANT! Attend the Community meeting on July 9!
Valero's proposed rail terminal could significantly impact the Suisun Marsh, emergency response time, traffic, and noise. Could it also open the door to increase supplies of very high-sulfur, low-quality crude oil from Canada's tar sands to Valero's Benicia Refinery? Join the Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee and the Natural Resources Defense Council to learn more about potential hazards to Benicia residents, and ways to participate in the City's evaluation of the project.
NRDC will present the findings of expert research commissioned by them on potential environmental impacts of the project, including local air pollution.
Snacks and refreshments will be provided.

6:30-8:30 p.m. July 9, 2013
 Benicia Community Center
 370 East L Street
 Benicia, CA 94510

Share on Facebook: []

2013-06-12 "Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?" letter by Roger Straw to the editor of the "Benicia Herald" newspaper []:
MANY THANKS TO BENICIA HERALD REPORTER Donna Beth Weilenmann for her detailed report, “Valero rail project: City has no control over oil source” (June 12) []. It is unfortunate that City Manager Brad Kilger is quoted saying, “The city does not have the authority to control the refinery’s crude sources.”
The source of Valero’s crude is important — here in Solano County, and globally. Since the city can’t control it, perhaps those of us who live here should persuade our friendly giant Valero to stay away from Canadian tar-sands oil of its own volition.
The world is dying, not so slowly, from the burning of fossil fuels. The most polluting of these fuels is mined in Alberta, Canada, where investors are extracting a thick, tar-like substance called “bitumen” from deep layers of sand. This sludge is blasted out of the sand with heated water. Millions of gallons of water are used daily, which first must be heated by natural gas, so the process is not energy efficient and can never be truly competitive with regard to “return on investment” after all costs are factored.
Moreover, additional costs are too often not accounted for — in particular the destruction of miles and miles of pristine northern boreal forests, and in their place the creation of a hellish network of open pit mines, wells, roads, pipes and hundreds of toxic “lakes” from the water used in the extraction process. The destruction has expanded to an area larger than Ohio or Pennsylvania.
Next comes the problem of creating a “blend” of crude oil from the tar-like bitumen that is fluid enough to be transportable by pipeline (Keystone XL), or now by rail. The gazillion-dollar heated railroad cars, we are told by Mr. Kilger, who cites a study paid for by Valero, are “specifically designed not to rupture,” and the city, county, state and feds are all well-prepared to take care of any emergency.
Sure. Tell that to the residents who live near Kalamazoo, Mich., where my daughter was born. We have friends and family nearby there, and their story of leaked tar-sands crude is horrific. After spending more than $765 million on a three-year cleanup there, the Kalamazoo River is still plagued by sunken heavy balls of tar-sands bitumen, threatening habitat, wildlife and human health. For background, see “April Flooding Could Affect Cleanup of 2010 Michigan Oil Spill,” by David Hasemyer []: “Removing dilbit (diluted bitumen) from water is more difficult than removing conventional oil because the chemicals used to thin the bitumen gradually evaporate, while the bitumen sinks to the river bottom.”
Imagine that gunk flowing into our Suisun Marsh after a train derailment — what would that look like? For an idea, read InsideClimate News’ Pulitzer Prize-winning authors’ “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of” [], about “a project that began with a seven-month investigation into the million-gallon spill of Canadian tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. It broadened into an examination of national pipeline safety issues, and how unprepared the nation is for the impending flood of imports of a more corrosive and more dangerous form of oil.”
We in Benicia — including our neighbors in positions of influence at Valero — need to do some very important homework and ask a lot of questions before this new crude-by-rail project is approved. Imagine a disaster here, or better yet, imagine no opportunity for one. The hearing at the Planning Commission is set for July 11. Comments should be sent by July 1 to City Manager Brad Kilger at City Hall, 250 East L St., Benicia, or by email to

2013-06-27 "Crude by rail to Benicia? Yes or no? Emergency plans? Sources?"
by Roger Straw []:

Valero Benicia Refinery has proposed a project to transport crude oil for processing by rail cars rather than ships.
In early June, Charlie Knox, former director of Community Development Benicia released a one-page Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration [] for Valero's "Crude By Rail" project along with a 190-page DRAFT Mitigated Negative Declaration and Initial Study [], which will be reviewed and either adopted or rejected by Benicia's Planning Commission on July 11, 2013.
It is vital that everyday citizens of Benicia learn about this project, ask questions and voice their concerns to the Planning Commission before the July 1, 2013 deadline. Read on below, and then send your comments to City Manager Brad Kilger at City Hall, 250 East L St., Benicia, or by email to

In our Benicia Herald:
* 6/5/13, "Public comment open on oil-by-rail project" []
* 6/12/13, "For Valero rail project, city has no control over oil source" []
* Article by Roger Straw, 6/14,13, "Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?" []

Critical documents for review before July 1, 2013:
* Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration []
* Mitigated Negative Declaration & Initial Study (careful - this is a large download, a 190 page PDF) []

Outside perspectives on Valero's crude-by-rail plan:
* Canadian tar sands crude heads to Bay Area refineries, by Matthias Gafni, Contra Costa Times []
* []
* []
* []
* []
* []

All about Tar-Sands strip-mining in Alberta Canada:
* Canadian tar sands crude heads to Bay Area refineries, by Matthias Gafni, Contra Costa Times []
* "In Photos: The True Cost of the Tar Sands” - a talk by conservation photographer Garth Lenz (
* “Game Over for the Climate,” James Hansen []
* “The Biggest Criminal Enterprise in History | Terracide and the Terrarists Destroying the Planet for Record Profits,” Tom Engelhardt []

Valero's and Union Pacific Railroad's Perspective
* See the 3/3/13 Benicia Herald article, "Valero oil plan needs Planning Commission OK" [] and read Valero's Project Description (p. 12-25) in the Mitigated Negative Declaration & Initial Study (careful - this is a large download, a 190 page PDF) []
* See also: Valero's Investor Relations pages, including their First Quarter 2013 Results []

On Global Warming and Climate Change
* “NASA Scientists On 400 ppm CO2” []

2013-06-27 "Review of the Mitigated Negative Declaration and Initial Study; Action to be taken July 11, 2013 at Benicia Planning Commission"
by Roger Straw []:
This is a rough draft of comments I plan to submit to the Planning Commission by July 1.

Overview – Planning in a Wider Context:
Vision - Planning is a future-oriented thing. Our best planning is visionary, and aimed toward a future that improves our overall condition. The Planning Commission must always be asking, “What kind of Benicia do we want to see in a decade, or fifty or a hundred years from now?” and, “How does this application move us toward the future envisioned in Benicia’s General Plan?”
Context - Context is critical. Benicia and Valero do not exist in isolation. At this time in history, the world is transitioning from fossil fuel driven economies to one powered by alternative technologies. The decisions we make together (Benicia and Valero) cannot be short-term decisions, focusing on investments that will pay off in the short run, but long-term decisions, investments that will prepare for a different kind of world – and that will lead the way for other communities to prepare for that different kind of world.

Need for a Public Process:
CEQA / EIR - Valero’s Application, Mitigated Negative Declaration and Initial Study must undergo a thorough CEQA review, calling for a full EIR.  It was premature of the City’s former Community Development Director to recommend approval of a Use Permit and adoption of a Mitigated Negative Declaration based unquestioningly on the accompanying ESA Initial Study prepared for the City and paid for by Valero.
A Public Hearing - The hearing before the Planning Commission on July 11, 2013 is the first – and perhaps the ONLY chance the public will have to question and raise public concerns about this project.  An EIR would greatly increase the City’s chances for avoiding huge and costly mistakes, mistakes that could be huge and costly for not only Benicia, but for the region and indeed the world.

Specific Questions and Concerns:
1. Rail spills and accidents - Public health and safety and environmental impacts associated with potential crude oil spills and accidents along rail routes, will include the protected waters of the Suisun Marsh and areas beyond Valero’s protective berm.  The Initial Study does not weigh the wider context of a possible oil spill, contaminating the protected waters of our Suisun Marsh or the places of business in Benicia’s Industrial Park.  Rail spills have increased dramatically in the U.S. as crude-by-rail shipping has grown in recent years.  A pipeline spill of diluted bitumen near Kalamazoo, Michigan caused an unimagined, unprepared-for nightmare, with chemical separation of the blended crude that led to evaporation of harmful chemicals and, even worse, the sinking of heavy tar-like globs of crude that have been near-impossible – even at great expense – to clean up in a watery environment.  Unique and unparalleled emergency planning for a new kind of spill should be included as a mitigation after a thorough EIR investigation.  The emergency plan should extend beyond Benicia through the Suisun Marsh and including rail lines throughout Solano County.  Costs for such an expensive clean-up should also be predicted, and funding sources identified.
2. Refinery accidents - Valero, the scientific community and the public know a lot more about refining of “sour” crude than we did when Valero was approved in 2002-03 for upgrades that allow for its current processing of such heavy crudes.  The massive explosion at Chevron in Richmond in 2012 has alerted Benicia citizens to the damaging corrosive effects of heavy crude on refinery pipes and equipment.  This unfolding knowledge should be explored in a full EIR, with careful plans and appropriate mitigations.
3. Potential for increase in crude processing - Although Valero states that it currently does not plan to increase its supply of crude oil, the project creates a potential for substantial increase in the supply of heavy, dirty diluted bitumen from North American locations over time.  How can the public know what the potential effects will be 10 or 50 years from now?
4. An open door to tar-sands crude - This project would position Valero, should it choose to do so, to import diluted bitumen from the tar-sands pit mines in Alberta.  The Initial Study designates “crude blends,” but does not spell out the types of blends or the commercial suppliers or their sources.  Questions put to refinery personnel are inconclusive, if not evasive.  The City and its partner corporation have a moral obligation and global responsibility to assure Benicia citizens and the world that opening this door will NOT at some future date result in support for a Canadian-government-supported industry that is stripping the Alberta boreal forests, endangering wildlife and human health there, and contributing at an alarming rate to global warming.
5. Air quality - There is great potential for an increase in air pollutants despite Valero's claim that emissions will remain at current levels.  Benicia needs a full EIR to fully investigate this issue.  A full EIR will examine the project in light of AB32, which governs industrial pollutants, sets goals for reductions in greenhouse gases, and lays out a vision for a sustainable economy.  (Note that nowhere in the Initial Study is California’s AB32 even mentioned.)  An EIR would also much more strenuously measure the project against Benicia’s General Plan, and a full EIR would carefully study how and whether this project contributes to and undercuts Benicia’s goals for reduction of greenhouse gases.  (Benicia’s Climate Action Plan is only mentioned briefly on p. 60 of the Initial Study.)
6. Traffic - There will be increased traffic delays due to increased rail traffic (two 100-car trains per day).  The public needs to hear from Industrial Park owners and workers whose business could be inconvenienced and profits diminished.  Even more importantly, EMS and emergency vehicle access to the Industrial Park could be affected, causing very real safety concerns.  These factors need greater study and additional mitigation strategies.

Thank you for this opportunity to work with you on planning for Benicia’s future and a prosperous, safe and sustainable Valero.

2013-07-06 "Canada train blast: At least one dead in Lac-Megantic"
from BBC News []:
Firefighters set up a perimeter around the blaze as worried residents looked on

Eyewitnesses reported that the town centre was crowded at the time of the blast

Police say at least one person has died after a driverless train carrying light crude oil exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic.    The blast sent a fireball and black smoke into the air, forcing the evacuation of 1,000 people.   
Dozens of buildings were destroyed in the town, about 250km (155 miles) east of Montreal.   
The train's cars reportedly uncoupled from a parked engine and derailed early on Saturday.   
Rail company spokesman Christophe Journet said the train had been immobilised in a neighbouring village before a scheduled crew change, but for an unknown reason had then started rolling downhill into Lac-Megantic.    
Eye witnesses said that by the time the driverless train reached the town it was travelling at considerable speed.   
Local media reported 60 people missing, although police officials have not confirmed this.    
The cause of the derailment was not immediately clear.   
Some 120 fire fighters have been fighting the blaze, which continued for hours after the blast.   
They have been unable to approach the centre of the devastation.   
Eyewitnesses reported that the town centre was crowded at the time of the blast, and that "chaos" ensued.

Explosion fears -
The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train had five locomotive engines and 73 cars filled with light crude oil, and was parked in the village of Nantes - about 7km (four miles) from Lac-Megantic - during an overnight driver shift-change, a company spokesman told Canada's La Presse newspaper.
The cars filled with fuel somehow became uncoupled, causing them to roll downhill into the town and derail, said the spokesman, Joe McGonigle.
"It seems that the brakes were tight on locomotives," Mr McGonigle told La Presse. "We found the locomotives higher up, half a mile (800m) away."
Some of the cars exploded, creating a massive fireball and setting fire to nearby homes and businesses.
A one-kilometre exclusion zone has been set up amid fears of more pressurised containers exploding.
Quebec police spokesman Sergeant Gregory Gomez del Prado told the BBC: "We do fear that there will be fatalities and from now we're trying to locate the people that are still missing."

'Everything gone' -
"When you see the centre of your town almost destroyed, you'll understand that we're asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event," an emotional Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche told a televised news briefing.
Resident Claude Bedard described the scene of the explosions as "dreadful''.
"We've never seen anything like it," he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.
"The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone."
Firefighters from across the border in the US are helping tackle the blaze.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of those affected by this morning's tragic train derailment and subsequent fires in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
"We hope evacuees can return to their homes safely and quickly.
"The people of Lac-Megantic and surrounding areas can rest assured that our government is monitoring the situation and we stand by ready to provide any assistance requested by the province."
Some of the train's cargo spilled into the nearby Chaudiere river, said Environment Quebec spokesman Christian Blanchette, adding that communities downstream of Lac-Megantic had been warned to take care if using river water.
A mobile laboratory had been set up to monitor the quality of the air, he added.
The train was carrying the crude oil from the Bakken Field in North Dakota. Montreal, Maine & Atlantic owns more than 800km (500 miles) of track serving Maine, Vermont, Quebec and New Brunswick.
A lakeside town that is home to some 6,000 people, Lac-Megantic is close to the US border with Vermont and 210 km (130 miles) north of Maine's capital, Augusta.

2013-07-06 "One dead and sixty missing as runaway train carrying hundreds of tons of oil derails and explodes in fireball in Canadian town center"
by Jessica Jerrat from "London Daily Mail" []:
* First confirmed victim of freight train fire
* About 30 buildings destroyed in Lac Megantic
* Force of blaze preventing rescue workers from checking for survivors
* Oil from train cars is spilling into nearby river

The center of a Quebec town has been wiped out, according to the mayor, after a runaway freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in a fireball at 1am on Saturday.
One person was killed and about 30 buildings were destroyed as the unmanned train exploded. About 60 people are believed to be missing, but the force of the fire has slowed rescue efforts.
Parts of the town were evacuated in the early hours as fireballs shot several metres in the air, flames spread to nearby homes and thick acrid smoke filled the air in Lac-Megantic, which is close to the Maine border and about 250km from Montreal.
The name of the person killed in the blaze, caused by a runaway Montreal Maine & Atlantic train, has not yet been named.
The train's conductor, who was in a hotel at the town at the time of the crash, is being questioned by police, according to CTV News.
He had parked the train in Nantes, about 12km away, as he waited for someone to take over his shift, when it somehow 'got released', the railway company's vice-president Joseph McGonigle said.
'We're not sure what happened, but the engineer did everything by the book. He had parked the train and was waiting for his relief,' he added.
The train's engine was found about 1km from where the explosions took place, creating what authorities have described as 'a war zone'.
About 30 shops and homes in the town center, including the library and local weekly newspaper's office, were destroyed by the fire, which is being dealt with by firefighters from Quebec and Maine.
'Words cannot tell the damage that had been done,' Sergeant Gregory Gomez del Prado, of Quebec Police, said.  'Many, many buildings have been damaged. It’s a catastrophe for the town of course, but also for the whole province.'
Witnesses said the blast flattened an apartment building and part of a bar, which had a terrace packed with people at the time of the fire, according to CBC.
Yvon Rosa had just left the bar when he saw the runaway train.
'I have never seen a train traveling that quickly into the center of Lac-Megantic,' he said. 'I saw the wagons come off the tracks ... everything exploded. In just one minute the center of the town was covered in fire.'
The ferocity of the blaze has made authorities fear for the safety of many of the lakeside town's 6,000 residents. About 120 firefighters are still trying to contain the fire in the town center.
'When you see the center of your town almost destroyed, you'll understand that we're asking ourselves how we are going to get through this event,' the town's mayor, Colette Roy-Laroche, said.
'We're told some people are missing but they may just be out of town or on vacation,' Lieutenant Michel Brunet, of Quebec police, said.
A Facebook page has been set up to help friends and family check on their loved ones, according to the Toronto Star.
About 250 residents have taken shelter in a Red Cross center set up in the town's high school, and more are expected to arrive there later today.
'Many parents are worried because they haven't been able to communicate with a member of their family or an acquaintance,' Ms Roy-Laroche said.
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent his sympathy to the stricken town.
'Thoughts & prayers are with those impacted in Lac Megantic. Horrible news,' he said on Twitter.
Flames could be seen from several miles away as the fire spread to several homes after the 73-car Montreal Maine & Atlantic train, which was heading towards Maine, derailed.
Zeph Kee, who lives about half an hour from Lac-Megantic, told CBC: 'It was total mayhem ... people not finding their kids.'
Resident Anne-Julie Hallee, who saw the explosion, said: 'It was like the end of the world.'
Another resident, Claude Bedard, said: 'It's terrible. We've never seen anything like it. The Metro store, Dollarama, everything that was there is gone.'
Only 1,000 litres of oil on board the train has been recovered, and firefighters said that all of the 73 cars were on fire, according to a press conference held in the town on Saturday afternoon.
A lot of the oil has leaked into a lake and the Chaudiere River, and plumes of thick smoke could be seen from about 10km away, nearly 10 hours after the blast.  
A 1km section of the town has been cordoned off and boats have been banned from coming close on the river, after flames were allegedly seen in two aqueducts.
'We have a mobile laboratory here to monitor the quality of the air,' Environment Quebec spokesman Christian Blanchette said.
'Firefighters are working hard to extinguish that fire, but it’s burning hard because of the crude oil,' Gergeant Gomez del Prado said,adding that it would take a while for the fire to be contained. 
'We also have a spill on the lake and the river that is concerning us. We have advised the local municipalities downstream to be careful if they take their water from the Chaudiere River.'
Firefighters have set up a perimeter around the town as they try to tackle the blaze, which was caused when four of the cars that were pressurized blew up.
'There are still wagons which we think are pressurized. We're not sure because we can't get close, so we're working on the assumption that all the cars were pressurized and could explode. That's why progress is slow and tough,' local fire chief Denis Lauzon said.
The cause of the derailment is not yet known. The railway company's Mr McGonigle, said the middle section of the train had derailed, the Montreal Gazette said.
Investigators are headed to the town to begin gathering information and statements from witnesses.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Recovering species: California Least Terns

2013-06-19 "California least terns thrive in Bay Area"
by Carolyn Jones from "San Francisco Chronicle" []:
A fluffy California least tern chick. (Ian C. Bates, The Chronicle) 

It's party time in Tern Town.
About 150 very elusive, highly endangered California least terns have taken up summer residence on a three-quarter-acre island on the Hayward shoreline, creating a noisy, busy nesting colony that's among the most prosperous tern enclaves on the West Coast.
Dubbed Tern Town by the biologists who monitor it, the island is a flat expanse of oyster shells and sand just north of the San Mateo Bridge toll plaza. Isolated and quiet, it's a perfect habitat for the diminutive, elegant shorebirds.
"I am ecstatic they're doing so well," said David "Doc Quack" Riensche, a wildlife biologist for the East Bay Regional Park District who oversees Tern Town conservation efforts. "It's beautiful to see them hovering in the wind. ... Our world would be much poorer without them."
In the early 1970s, only about 1,000 pairs of California least terns remained along the Pacific Coast, from the southern tip of Baja California to the Bay Area. Mostly, they were victims of habitat loss. Urbanization of the coast, which destroyed nesting areas and ushered in predators like feral cats and raccoons, left the birds with little hope of survival.
Since placement on the state and federal endangered species lists in the early 1970s, the birds have slowly recovered. Their nesting grounds are protected and scientists and volunteers help create shelters for them.
Now California least tern pairs number about 5,000 spread across 33 colonies. Although most are clustered in Southern California, two significant colonies are in the Bay Area: the runway at the former Naval Air Station in Alameda and Tern Town on the Hayward shoreline.
Park district biologists and volunteers built Tern Town in 2001 in hopes of bringing the birds back to the shoreline, where a century ago they were plentiful members of the local bird population. Volunteers and staff built the island by hand, dumping 3 1/2 -gallon buckets of clay, sand and oyster shells in the middle of an old salt pond.
The project took over four years to complete, but then came the hard part: attracting terns. Staff set out solar-powered speakers with amplified sounds of terns mating.
"We tried to make it a tern singles bar," Riensche said. "Like this is where all the terns were coming for a good time. It worked."
The next challenge was fending off critters that snack on tern eggs and chicks. Staff set out several effigies of dead seagulls, and at critical times played audio recordings of seagulls under attack.
"Hear this?" Riensche asked, as he played a horrific screeching recording. "That's the sound of a gull having a very bad hair day. It scares the gulls away but the terns don't seem to mind it. In fact, they get sort of excited."
Volunteers are a critical part of Tern Town. They play the gull-horror tapes and scare away raccoons and red foxes in two daily shifts, morning and dusk. They also help count nests.
Tierra Groff, a former UC Davis biology student who interned at Tern Town, was immediately taken with the graceful birds.
"I didn't know much about terns when I started, but I became obsessed," she said. "They're in the same family as gulls, but are more elegant, more sleek. And they have a really quirky personality."
California least terns are about half the size of seagulls, with striking white bodies, pointy wings and black heads. They flutter and dart over Tern Town, chattering loudly as they deliver anchovies and smelt to their offspring.
The babies are fluffy and mottled, perfectly camouflaged against the oyster shells and sand.
Tern Town is off-limits to the public because of its sensitive ecology, but the public can watch the terns from the nearby Bay Trail and can volunteer.
"That's what I really loved - that with the public's help, how relatively easy it is to turn a species around," Groff said. "It was an amazing experience."

How to help -
To volunteer or donate to help the California least tern colony, call (888) 327-2757 or go to []

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Suisun Marsh ecology threatened by Super-Dump

2006-05-08 “Crowd gathers in Suisun to protest dump expansion”
by Kimberly K. Fu from “Vacaville Reporter” newspaper:
A small assemblage from Suisun City 's Lawler Ranch area gathered Sunday at nearby McCoy Creek Park to protest expansion of the Potrero Hills Landfill and decry the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter within the community.
 Either action will negatively impact the community, said Dwight Acey, spokesperson for grassroots organization Citizens Against the Dump Expansion.
 According to Acey, the landfill is already overwhelmed with waste. Layer upon layer of refuse is packed into about 300 acres, he said, and that muck includes tons of out-of-county garbage. The landfill is a regional dumping ground, he said, and accepts waste from counties within a 150-mile radius.
 "We should be responsible for Solano County garbage, not anyone else's," he said.
 That garbage, he said, encroaches upon the Suisun Marsh and poses a potential danger to animals grazing in the area.
 He also intimated that residents also are in harm's way, suffering from medical ailments reportedly brought on by their proximity to the dump.
 Environmentally, Acey said, the ecology is threatened because birds traversing the area, which is in the middle of the Pacific Flyway, are being prevented from stopping in. Peregrines unleashed by the countyare keeping the birds away, he said. And yet, other creatures attracted to the waste - and nitrogen contained within - are overrunning the neighborhood.
 Thousands of pigeons have flocked to Lawler Ranch, Acey said, and pesky bugs indigenous to the area are crossing from the marsh bordering the dump into the residential area and biting inhabitants.
 An expansion of the dump, he emphasized, would also negatively impact air quality.
 Ushering in a Wal-Mart Supercenter, on the other hand, would have the same effect all around, Acey said. He claimed that the city would claim less tax revenue from the business while bringing in a heavier traffic and crime flow.
 At the event, the organization also endorsed Karin MacMillan for the post of Solano County Supervisor, 3rd District.

Seed Balls

2010-10-10 “Seed balls - lob one, let nature take its course”
by Janny Hu from “San Francisco Chronicle” []:
 On a recent sun-kissed afternoon, we got our hands dirty in The Chronicle's rooftop garden. We mushed together some clay, soil, seeds and water in a large bucket, then packed the sludge into hollowed-out eggshells.
 We were making seed balls, a sort of all-in-one tool for preserving and propagating plants. And while our eggshell versions may have been on the fancy side, how they work is simple.
 Just scatter the seed balls over soil and wait. When the rainy season comes, the seed balls will decompose. When warmer weather arrives, the seeds will germinate. Over time, you'll have budding plants on your hands, without ever having to dig.
 It's a low-cost, low-maintenance way of planting that the late Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka helped pioneer over the last half century. Fukuoka's focus was on natural farming - he believed that the no-till method was best for the soil and ecosystem - and seed balls offered several advantages.
 First, the hard casing protects the seeds from being blown away or eaten by birds and other animals. Second, they don't require watering or planting. Third, they can help rejuvenate soil once they break down.
 "They're great for places where you're not going to be around to care for, but still want to improve the soil or property," says Fred Bové, our gardening instructor from the San Francisco Permaculture Guild.
 Not surprisingly, seed balls have become a guerrilla gardener's best friend: Simply sprinkle or lob the balls into vacant lots, then watch plants pop up over time. (This, in fact, is the idea behind the Greenaid Seed Bomb dispensers set up at stores like Bi-Rite in San Francisco. Drop 50 cents into the converted gumball machine, and instead of candy you get some native wildflower seed balls.)
 As for the home gardener, seed balls offer a distinctive way to save seeds. It's a fun project that kids can help with, and the seed balls themselves make great gifts, as with our tidy eggshell packages.
 Making seed balls isn't an exact science, but the overall composition is important. Bové suggests a 3:2:1 ratio of clay to soil to seeds to prevent overcrowding once the seeds germinate.
 The clay holds the ball together, forming a hard sphere when dry. Red clay is recommended, but you can substitute potter's clay, which is available at most craft stores. Just make sure to add some coarse sand to keep the balls from getting too hard.
 The soil component can include compost and worm castings to enrich the native soil. We also added a dash of Healthy Harvest Farms' Natural Grow worm castings as an extra soil amendment.
 As for the seeds, you'll want to choose plants that require little maintenance, such as native wildflowers like California poppies, tickseed and purple cosmos. Plants that need attention, like lettuces, won't do as well, given the hands-off nature of sowing seed balls. It's also a good idea to add legumes and white clover, which help fix nitrogen to the soil and act as ground cover.
 We used a blend of field peas, oats, flaxseeds and sunflower seeds - the latter of which Bové included as an easy-to-spot (and pretty-to-the-eye) indicator that our seed balls have taken.
 Once you've gathered your ingredients, add just enough water to mix the clay, soil and seeds into a tacky consistency similar to pie dough. Stuffing the mixture into eggshells, as we did, makes for a pretty final product, but it's just as effective to simply roll the seed balls into walnut-size nuggets.
 Either way, let the seed balls dry in a shaded place outdoors for a day or so. They'll keep for several years, but the potency of the seeds will decrease over time. Once you're ready to use them, just adhere to the seed mantra: Scatter and wait.

 How to make seed balls -
Seed balls are simple to make and a great project for kids. Follow theses steps:
Step 1: Gather the components: soil, clay and seeds. The soil can include compost and worm castings for an extra boost. Red clay is recommended, but you can substitute potter's clay, available at most craft stores. Just add some coarse sand to help soften the mixture a bit. Choose seeds of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant native plants such as California poppies and purple cosmos.

Step 2: Mix a 3:2:1 ratio of soil, clay and seeds with enough water to form a mixture the consistency of pie dough.

Step 3. Roll the mixture into walnut-size spheres or stuff into hollowed-out eggshells (be sure to pack tightly to avoid air pockets). Set in a cardboard box outdoors in a shady spot and allow to dry for 24 hours.

 Pack the mixture in eggshells or simply roll into a ball. Sunflower seeds are a good indicator that the plants have taken. (photo credit: Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle)

Inviting Wildlife into your backyard



Butterfly Gardening

2011-06 produced by East Bay Regional Park District


North-West Napa Valley regional parks

Rush Ranch (Solano county)

2070 acres near Fairfield city in Solano county

2006-04-29 “A jewel of Solano” from “Vacaville Reporter” newspaper:
California poppies grow near the Suisun Slough on Rush Ranch, which is open to the public for tours.
from “Bay City News Wire”:
 The California Coastal Conservancy has approved a $500,000 grant to the Solano Land Trust for a nature center at Rush Ranch where visitors learn about one of the last remaining examples of slightly salty marsh in the United States.
 The nature center on the 2,070-acre Rush Ranch will be part of a complex of historic ranch buildings that includes a working blacksmith shop, a 1932 Sears kit house, a barn, water tower and working windmill.
 Rush Ranch is not connected to a power grid and wind and solar power supply most of its energy needs.
 "For anyone who wants to understand the history of the North Bay marshlands or to enjoy their sights, sounds and smells, Rush Ranch is a must visit,'' said Douglas Bosco, chairman of the Coastal Conservancy.
 The nature center will be open to school groups and other visitors who want to learn about the ranch's history and the natural environment of the Suisun Marsh. Trails through fields and along the edges of the marsh provide glimpses of the area as it has existed and changed through the least few centuries.
 The ranch is home to several threatened and endangered plants and animals and contains many artifacts from the property's Native American habitations and nineteenth-century farmstead.
 The conservancy's funding is available through Proposition 50, a resources bond act approved by voters in 2002. It will be joined by $500,000 from the National Estuarine Research Center Reserve and $250,000 from an anonymous donor.
 The conservancy provided $1.5 million for the land trust's purchase of Rush Ranch in 1988 and over $400,000 for improvements to the ranch.
 The Solano Land Trust has protected more than 16,000 acres of natural areas and farmland and Rush Ranch is the trust's largest and oldest open space preserve.
 The Coastal Conservancy has helped open more than 100 miles of coast and bay shores to the public and preserved more than 185,000 acres of wetland, wildlife bird habitat, park and farmland.
 Construction of the nature center is expected to begin this summer and be completed by the end of the year.

 2006-05-10 “Land trust to establish 'off-the-grid' nature center”
by Danielle Samaniego from “Contra Costa Times”:
 Our goal would be to have different programs going on, suitable for all sorts of classes and events
 With $1 million secured, the Solano Land Trust is preparing to break ground on a nature center that would turn its Rush Ranch near Fairfield into a science hub for professionals and students alike.
 Plans are to build an 'off-the-grid' nature center and new caretaker residence, complete with restrooms and a classroom with nature displays, a working lab, offices and living quarters for visiting scientists. Solar and wind energy will provide most of the center's power needs because Rush Ranch is not connected to the power grid, according to the trust.
 'Our goal would be to have different programs going on, suitable for all sorts of classes and events,' said Marilyn Farley, executive director of the land trust. 'Another goal is to educate people about the marsh and the habitat and have more people have an opportunity to see what's there.'
 Construction is expected to begin in July, trust officials said.
 Rush Ranch protects 2,070 acres of Solano County marsh and rolling hills located on Grizzly Island Road, two miles off of Highway 12. According to the trust, the preserve is considered one of the best remaining examples of brackish marsh habitat in the United States and is home to rare and endangered plants and animals.
 Plans for the nature center kicked off last year thanks to a $500,000 grant from the National Estuarine Research Reserve, a Rush Ranch partner. Just last month, the State Coastal Conservancy granted $500,000 toward the center, which is expected to cost about $1 million to complete.
 'The property is and has always been a part of the work of the land trust ... and it provides a lot of education to school children and the public -- not only of the nature of the marsh, but the history of the area as well,' said Bob Berman, president of the trust's board.
 He added that the nature center will enhance the land 'just in terms of making a better visitor attraction and in terms of Rush Ranch.'
 Another benefit will be having a caretaker on site 24 hours a day, trust officials said.
 With the center now financially on track, the trust is looking to raise $2 million for a stewardship endowment fund to pay for annual costs of preserving and managing Rush Ranch's natural resources. It would also support the nature center, wildlife habitat improvements, trail construction and repairs and educational and research programs. An anonymous donor just gave $250,000 and pledged up to $200,000 more if the trust can raise $450,000 from other supporters before Oct. 1.
 The Solano Land Trust, formed in 1986, aims to protect open space for public access and farming, either by buying the land outright or by acquiring conservation easements.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Lynch Canyon (Solano County)

“Room to Roam; Open-space designation may burden fire district”
by Kimberly K. Fu from “Vacaville Reporter” newspaper: 
Cordelia Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Aaron McAlister opens a gate while driving through Lynch Canyon recently. (Brad Zweerink/ The Reporter)

 Within the year, more than 1,000 acres of open space in Cordelia known as Lynch Canyon is expected to become a park.
 Which means more room to roam, hike, picnic and otherwise enjoy outdoor activities.
 But more access also means more people, and that is what concerns the Cordelia Fire Protection District.
 Assistant Fire Chief Aaron McAlister said officials are not opposed to the park concept. They're just worried about funding and their ability to respond to the needs of those in their 56-square-mile jurisdiction.
 "We need to supplement the funding for things that are added to our mission," he said. "We need to pre-plan, put in as many fire lanes, all-weather, as possible, (and) widen roads."
 McAlister said that fire breaks would have to be cut in Lynch Canyon, roads built in any public-accessible area and spaces designated as medical helicopter landing zones.
 The open space area would also require a general clearing of brush and other debris to tamp down the potential for fires.
 "We talked about closing the park on red flag (high chance of fire) days," he said. "Less fires start, no rescue issues."
 Lynch Canyon measures 1,039 acres and is owned by the Solano Land Trust, a local nonprofit organization that promotes preservation of Solano farmlands and open spaces.
 Lynch Canyon is located in the area of Lynch and McGary roads, and the property falls within the purview of the Cordelia fire district.
 All medical calls, as well as reports of fire in the area would be answered by district firefighters.
 The district currently serves about 5,000 residents of Cordelia, Green Valley, Rockville and lower Suisun Valley.
 When Solano Community College is in session, or during the summertime when nearby Rockville Park is host to numerous visitors, the population the district serves drastically increases, fire officials said.
 A new coverage area will require the department to buy specialized equipment in order to respond to that area's needs, Chief Jay Huysoon said, and there's just no money to do that.
 The Cordelia district operates on a small budget that, together with funding provided through tax assessments via the Measure I bond measure that barely passed in 2002, offers no frills but keeps station doors open, Huysoon said.
 As an example of the shortage of funds, he cited decades-old firefighting vehicles that should be retired, but instead act as the district's front-line equipment.
 "We budgeted $22,000 for repairs," Huysoon said. "This year, it'll cost us $65,000."
 Increased response times are another concern. Should firefighters be on a call within Lynch Canyon , he said, and another emergency occur in another part of the district, officials cannot guarantee a quick response time.
 "If they do this, we may not be able to put an engine in front of someone's home who pays taxes," Huysoon said.
 Should Lynch Canyon become a park, the small tax revenue generated by the property would stop, he said.
 Larger districts seem to get more funding, Huysoon said, while Cordelia is forgotten.
 "Everything costs us the same as bigger agencies," he added.
 Marilyn Farley, executive director of the Solano Land Trust, said officials are working with the county to address these concerns.
 "Public access implies making sure you have park rangers there, fire and emergency services, and that your trails are maintained," she said. "The question now moves to whether we can make arrangements with the county and I hope we can do that."
 Officials hope to come to terms with the county regarding the park by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
 "But that doesn't mean that it'll open July 1," Farley said.
 Supervisor John Vasquez said the fire district's concern regarding funding is very real, and that the county doesn't want to add to the district's burden.
 "They need help," he acknowledged.
 But the park, he added, would be a great benefit to many. County officials are researching ways to make the situation work, and even looking at partnership possibilities.
 "We're looking at what it would take to run Lynch Canyon for three to five years until it could run on its own," Vasquez said.
 All Green Valley resident Marvin Schechtman wants is to know that, when help is needed, it will come. Even if it means chipping in more money to help stabilize the fire district's coffers.
 "We can all afford a little more, but you can't afford to be cut off," he said. "These guys are so dedicated. You can't help but want to help. It could be a concern that we'll be diluting their services. They still need more money to just do what they do."

Suisun Thistle

2009-04 “Natural Community and Species Accounts”
Administrative Draft Solano HCP produced by “LSA Associates, Inc.” for Solano County Water Agency []:
SUISUN THISTLE (Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum)
USFWS: Endangered
CDFG: None
CNPS: List 1B
Species Account
Status and Description.
Suisun thistle (Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum) was federally-listed  as endangered November 20, 1997 (62 FR 61916) and is on CNPS’ List 1B. Three locations in  Solano County were designated as Critical habitat on April 12,  2007 (Federal Register Volume 72, Number 70). 
 Suisun thistle is a biennial or short-lived perennial herb in the  thistle tribe (Cardueae) of the sunflower family (Asteraceae).  This thistle has 1 to 2 m tall, erect stems that are branched above.  The margins of the leaf-blades and leaf-stems are spiny and both  leaf surfaces are thinly, cob-webby hairy. The flowerheads of  rose-purple flowers are 2 to 3 cm long and born singly or in small  clusters on the stems. The phyllaries (bracts below the  flowerheads) are spine-fringed with narrow, sticky-glandular  areas (Hickman 1993, USFWS 2003).
Range and Distribution. Suisun thistle is endemic to Solano  County, occurring only in Suisun Marsh. In 1975, this species  was reported as possibly extinct due to hybridization with bull  thistle (Cirsium vulgare) (California Department of Water  Resources 1994), because it had not been collected for about 15  years (USFWS 2003). It was rediscovered in 1989 by N. Havlik. Three  populations of this thistle are reported from Suisun Marsh: one at Grizzly Island Wildlife Refuge, one  at Peytonia Slough Ecological Reserve (CDFG lands), and one at Rush Ranch (Solano County Open  Space Foundation)(CNDDB 2008, CNPS 2008). All three sites are designated as Critical Habitat.
Habitat and Ecology. Suisun thistle grows in the upper reaches of tidal marshes, most often near  small watercourses such as sloughs or ditches dug for mosquito abatement. At Rush Ranch, it is most  commonly found growing with bullrushes (Scirpus spp.) and saltgrass (Distichlis spicata). Other  associated plants include alkali heath (Frankenia salina), pickleweed (Salicornia virginica), broadleaved  pepper-weed (Lepidium latifolium), and rushes (Juncus spp). At Peytonia Slough Ecological  Reserve, Suisun thistle was observed growing in peaty soil with cinquefoil (Potentilla sp.), water  parsley (Oenanthe sarmentosa), triglochin (Triglochin sp.), and rushes. It has been observed growing  with another endangered species, soft bird’s-beak (Cordylanthus mollis ssp. mollis). Suisun thistle  blooms July through September (CNPS 2008).
Suisun thistle appears to be more abundant in years with lower water levels or higher salinities when  competing species are less abundant (CDWR 1996). Annual observations of the Rush Ranch  population began in 1991 and has revealed a significant decline in the number of Suisun thistle plants  with some recovery in 1996. The Peytonia Slough population declined significantly in 1995 and 1996 while competing species increased. Considering the fact that this thistle grows along bare  sections of watercourses and appears to colonize disturbed areas (CNDDB 2008), Suisun thistle may  be a poor competitor and may require bare soil for seedling establishment.
Population Levels and Occurrence in the Plan Area. Three populations of Suisun thistle are  known from Suisun Marsh (see above). Population sizes reported for Suisun thistle on Grizzly Island  range from “five plants” to “three colonies” to “thousands of plants” (CNDDB 2008). More detailed  studies at Rush Ranch in 2003 estimated the Suisun thistle population there to be approximately  137,500 (22,300 – 873,200) that were lumped into 47 subpopulations (L.C. Lee Associates 2003), far  more plants than few thousand plants that were previously estimated by the USFWS (2003). The  long-term effects of a recent burn at Peytonia Slough Ecological Reserve on this thistle is not known.
Threats to the Species. In the past, marshland habitat was lost through development, dredge  disposal, diking, and agricultural conversion. Currently, changes in hydrology, invasive plant species,  including peppergrass (Lepidium latifolium), erosion, and feral pigs pose the greatest threats to Suisun  thistle (CNPS 2008; L.C. Lee Associates 2003). Indirect effects from urban development, mosquito  abatement activities, potential hybridization with non-native thistles, water pollution, and the  alteration of tidal regimes threaten the Suisun thistle (USFWS 2003). Furthermore, its highly  restricted distribution increases its susceptibility to random catastrophic evens such as disease or pest  outbreak, severe drought, oil spills, or other natural or human-caused disasters (USFWS 2003).  Populations are partly protected on the CDFG Grizzly Island Wildlife Refuge and Peytonia Slough  Ecological Reserve [CNDDB 2008, CNPS 2008]).
Literature Cited
 * California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). 2008. California Natural Diversity Data Base (CNDDB). Sacramento, California.
 * California Department of Water Resource (CDWR). 1994. Summary of sensitive plant and wildlife resources in Suisun Marsh during water years 1984-1994. Environmental Services Office.
 * California Department of Water Resource (CDWR). 1996. Brackish Marsh. Vegetation
Subcommittee Report. Interagency Ecological Program, Suisun Ecological Workshop.
 * California Native Plant Society (CNPS). 2008. Electronic Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California. Sacramento, California.
 * L.C. Lee Associates. 2003. Geographic Distribution and Population Parameters of the Endangered Suisun Thistle (Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum) at Rush Ranch In Solano County, California. Final Report. Prepared for the Solano County Water Agency.
 * Hickman, J.C. Ed. 1993. The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University of California Press. Berkeley, California.
 * U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2003. Suisun Thistle (Cirsium hydrophilum var.
hydrophilum). accts/suisun_thistle
2008-06-05 “Final Critical Habitat for Suisun Thistle and Soft Bird’s Beak”
map posted at []:

“Map 2. Critical Habitat Units 1, 2, and 3 for Suisun Thistle”
posted at []:

2007-04-15 “Designation of critical habitat for Suisun thistle and soft bird's-beak” 
 Fish and Wildlife Service
 50 CFR Part 17
 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum (Suisun thistle) and Cordylanthus mollis ssp. mollis (soft bird's-beak)
 AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
 ACTION: Final rule.
 SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service), are designating critical habitat for Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum (Suisun thistle) and Cordylanthus mollis ssp. mollis (soft bird's-beak) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). In total, approximately 2,052 acres (ac) (830 hectares (ha)) fall within the boundaries of the critical habitat designation for C. hydrophilum var. hydrophilum in Solano County, California, and approximately 2,276 ac (921 ha) for C. mollis ssp. mollis in Contra Costa, Napa, and Solano Counties, California. Due to overlap of some units, the total area of critical habitat designation for both subspecies is 2,621 ac (1,061 ha).
 DATES: This rule becomes effective on May 14, 2007.
 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, California 95825; telephone, 916-414-6600; facsimile, 916-414-6713. People who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

2007-04-13 “U.S. widens habitat for two plants”
by Danny Bernardini from “Vacaville Reporter” newspaper []:
 In an attempt to further preserve two endangered wetland plants, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 2,621 acres of marshland in Solano, Contra Costa and Napa counties as critical habitat.
 The final ruling, published Thursday under the Endangered Species Act, will protect the Suisun Thistle and the soft bird's-beak. The two plants are found only in the tidal wetlands of the Suisun and San Pablo bays.
 Critical habitat is an area containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species that may require special management considerations or protection.
 Most of the designated land, 2,215 acres, sits in Solano County, with 384 acres in Napa County and 22 acres in Contra Costa County. The designation includes 2,052 acres of critical habitat in Solano County for the Suisun thistle and 2,276 acres for the soft bird's-beak in Contra Costa, Napa, and Solano Counties.
 Among the critical habitat for the two endangered species, there is an overlap regarding the number of acres designated. That overlap, approximately 1,706 acres, is in Solano County in the Hill Slough and Rush Ranch units in the northern portion of the Suisun Marsh
 Most of the wetlands are owned by the state, public agencies and the Solano Land Trust. Only 309 acres are privately owned. Because this land is already protected there will be little change, according to Al Donner, assistant field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
 Donner said the designation won't greatly affect how the area is managed, but rather bring attention to the plants and the areas.
 "It's like raising a billboard about the plant," he said. "It just makes people a little more aware of the tidal marshes."
 Critical habitat is an area containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species that may require special management considerations or protection.
 Ben Wallace, conservation project manager with the Solano Land Trust, said the area already protects the two plants and would take any appropriate steps to do so further if prompted to by the fish and wildlife service.
 "We've always been careful with the use of the marsh," Wallace said. "We try and work proactively. If we have any questions, we would call them."
 One of the main adversaries of the plants are the feral pigs that inhabit the area. He said licensed hunters are brought in to combat the problem, but they continue to be a nuisance.
 "There's only so much we can do. Pigs go where they want," Wallace said.
2006-04-11 “Critical habitat suggested for 2 Bay Area tidal plants; Public review period open for 60 days”
from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service []:
 The U.S.F.W.S. published today a suggested rule to designate approximately 2,726 acres of critical habitat in Solano, Contra Costa and Napa counties, California for 2 federally endangered plants, the Suisun thistle and the soft bird's-beak, found only in the tidal wetlands of Suisun and San Pablo bays.
 The Service is proposing to designate 2,119 acres of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Solano Co. for the Suisun thistle and 2,313 acres for the soft bird's-beak in Contra Costa, Napa, and Solano Counties. Some 1,706 acres overlap between the 2 plants as suggested critical habitat.
 Most of the critical habitat occurs on lands owned by the State, public agencies or preservation land trusts. About 327 acres are privately owned. Remaining populations of the plants occur in higher tidal marshes with small channels -- that is, higher marsh areas that drain into tidal sloughs.
 Public comments on the suggested rule will be accepted for 60 days. Comments may be directed by email to:, or by mail to: Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-2605, Sacramento, California 95825.
 The Service is exempting the Concord Naval Weapons Station from the critical-habitat designation because it has adopted a resource-management project providing for conservation of the species. The station has approximately 402 acres of habitat for the Suisun thistle.
 The Service is also seeking public review on whether to exclude Suisun Marsh from critical habitat, on the basis that the pending Suisun Marsh Habitat Management, Preservation, and Restoration Project provides a better alternative for conservation of the species. The Project is being developed by the Suisun Marsh Charter Group (Charter Group), a collaborative effort among Federal, state and local agencies with primary responsibility for actions in Suisun Marsh. Among the group principals are the Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, California Department of Fish and Game, California Department of Water Resources, Suisun Resource Conservation District, California Bay-Delta Authority, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Countrywide Marine Fisheries Service.
 Critical habitat is a term in the ESA. It identifies geographic areas containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations or protection. Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the U.S.F.W.S. to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat. The designation does not affect purely private or state actions on private or state lands, nor require non-Federal lands to be positively managed for conservation.
 The Service listed the 2 plants, Suisun thistle and soft bird's-beak, as endangered in November 1997 but did not designate critical habitat. In November 2003, several organizations filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California challenging the decision not to designate critical habitat. On June 14, 2004, the court approved a settlement in which the Service agreed to propose critical habitat for the 2 plants by April 2006 and complete a final critical habitat rule by April 2007. Today's action, published in the Federal Register, responds to that agreement.
 Suisun thistle is a perennial herb in the aster family, while soft bird's-beak is an yearly herb in the snapdragon family. Both species are threatened by the loss, fragmentation and degradation of tidal marsh habitat in the San Francisco Bay Estuary.
 In 30 years of implementing the ESA, the Service has found that designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection for most listed species, while preventing the agency from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits.
 In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnership, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat. Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the ESA, including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements, and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Service's Private Stewardship Grants and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife plan also restore habitat. Habitat for listed species is provided on many of the Service's National Wildlife Refuges and state wildlife management areas.
 A copy of the suggested rule and other information about the Suisun thistle and soft bird's-beak is accessible on the Internet at, or by contacting Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-2605, Sacramento, California 95825 at 916-414-6600.
 The Service is preparing a outline economic analysis of the suggested critical habitat that will be released for public review and review at a later date.
 The U.S.F.W.S. is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 National wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 Countrywide fish hatcheries, 64 Fish and Wildlife Management offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
2006-04-12 “Habitat Protection Proposed for Two Bay Salt Marsh Plants”
from “Center for Biological Diversity” & “California Native Plant Society” []:

San Francisco, Calif.—In response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and California Native Plant Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yesterday issued a proposal to designate and protect critical habitat in San Pablo and Suisun Bays for two endangered plant species. Suisun Thistle (Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum) and Soft Bird's-beak (Cordylanthus mollis ssp. Mollis) were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1997.
 "Yesterday's announcement is a victory for science, these plants, the Suisun Marsh and wetlands in general," said Carol Witham, former President of the California Native Plant Society. "This critical habitat designation will be a powerful addition to ongoing efforts to restore and conserve these special species and wetlands."
 Both plants are extremely rare. Between 70 and 80 percent of the tidal marsh habitat that once supported the plants has been destroyed. Suisun Thistle was once believed to be extinct in Suisun Bay. It was rediscovered in 1989 and is currently restricted to a few scattered sites in less disturbed areas of Suisun Marsh. Soft Bird's-beak has been lost from large portions of its original range, including tidal marshes along the Petaluma River, Napa River and San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta. Migratory birds, recreationists and communities depend on these marshes for habitat, enjoyment and water quality maintenance.
 The Suisun Marsh Habitat Management, Preservation, and Restoration Plan is being developed to conserve and restore the area. The Plan has been in development since 2001, and a draft is currently expected to be released in fall 2006.
 "These species and the Marsh will benefit tremendously from this critical habitat designation," said Emily Roberson, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Native Plant Conservation Campaign. "Although we look forward to the Marsh Plan, and we commend those who are working so hard to create it, we still have not even seen a formal draft. Such plans are often delayed by budget problems or political interference. There is no guarantee that the Plan will be completed expeditiously or funded adequately. Conversely, protection of designated critical habitat is mandatory under the Endangered Species Act. This is why critical habitat is one of our strongest tools to assure protection–and promote recovery–of plants, fish and wildlife."
 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service data show that species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to recover as those without habitat protection. Current legislative proposals would gut critical habitat provisions from the Endangered Species Act, and could undermine efforts to protect endangered species like the Soft Bird's-beak and Suisun Thistle if passed. The legislation, HR 3824, passed the House of Representatives in September 2005. Similar legislation is being considered in the Senate.
 "This legislation would completely derail the endangered species listing program, remove protections for endangered species habitat and cut federal scientific oversight of projects that threaten endangered species," said Peter Galvin, Conservation Director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "If this legislation becomes law, our ability to protect endangered species and our natural heritage will be largely lost."
 The name and case number of this lawsuit is: Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. Gale Norton, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, et al., CV 03-5126-CW

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Risks to the Estuary

* Massive water-tunnels outlined in Bay Delta Conservation Plan [link]
* Consumer trash submerged in the river habitat [link]
* Acidification of habitat by Municipal and Industrial trash [link]

Friday, June 7, 2013

San Onofre nuclear plant has been shut down!

Message from Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director for "Western States Legal Foundation" (Working for Peace & Justice in a Nuclear Free World) [] []:
San Onofre, until recently, was one of California's two operating nuclear power plants.  The decision by the corrupt Southern California Edison utility to shut it down, comes after years of sustained grassroots campaigning. This will have huge ripple effects around the world! For more information, read the article in today’s Los Angeles Times.

2013-06-07 "Edison will shut down the San Onofre nuclear plant for good"
by Joseph Serna and Abby Sewell from "Los Angeles Times" [,0,7920425.story]:
Southern California Edison announced Friday it would shut down the troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant.
The move comes 17 months after the San Onofre plant was closed because of problems in steam generator systems. The plant powered about 1.4 million households in Southern California before the outage.
Until now, Edison had vowed to restart the plant. But the company released a statement Friday saying it would stop the process to fire up the plant.
Southern California Edison announced Friday it would shut down the troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant.
The move comes 17 months after the San Onofre plant was closed because of problems in steam generator systems. The plant powered about 1.4 million households in Southern California before the outage.
Until now, Edison had vowed to restart the plant. But the company released a statement Friday saying it would stop the process to fire up the plant.
San Onofre was shuttered after a tube in the plant's replacement steam generator system leaked a small amount of radioactive steam on Jan. 31, 2012. Eight other tubes in the same reactor unit later failed pressure tests, an unprecedented number in the industry, and thousands more tubes in both of the plant's units showed signs of wear.
The wear was blamed on tube vibration caused by excessively dry and high-velocity steam and inadequate support structures, particularly in one of the plant's two units. Tube vibration and wear has been a problem at other plants, but the specific type of vibration at San Onofre had not been experienced in the industry.
Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — which has a 20% stake in the plant — spent more than $780 million replacing the steam generators several years ago, which ratepayers are now repaying.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

2013-06-06 "Found fox"

text and photo by Robbi Pengelly from "Sonoma Index-Tribune" []:
A resident in Diamond A discovered this young grey fox on his property last week, and called Lyon Ranch for assistance. Pictured here is Rob Lyon, who picked up the orphaned fox. He delivered the critter to the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, which picks up injured animals all over the county, offers medical care and makes every attempt to keep creatures feral so they can be safely returned to the wild once they’ve matured. If you find an orphaned baby animal, do not touch it – instead call the SCWR hotline at 526-9453. Visit to make a donation to help the rescue support more animals.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Jepson Prairie

Under wide-open skies, Jepson Prairie Preserve explodes into color during its spring wildflower display. Dry and dormant most of the year, the prairie is transformed by winter rains into a tapestry of stunning colors, and its vernal pools host a rich diversity of rare aquatic life.
Located ten miles south of Dixon, Jepson Prairie is the premier—and one of the few remaining—vernal pool habitats and native bunchgrass prairies in California. Purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1980, the land was transferred to Solano Land Trust in 1997.
Today, vernal pools are rare. Before European settlement, bunchgrass prairies and vernal pools covered California’s vast Central Valley. In addition to Native American inhabitants, they supported large grazing animals and enormous clouds of migratory birds. As California’s population grew, and the majority of its 13 million acres of grasslands were converted to agriculture, the poor soils at Jepson made it more suitable for livestock grazing. Unlike other vernal pools that were filled and developed, the pools at Jepson still remain.
Vernal pools are temporary bodies of water formed when an impermeable layer of soil prevents ground water seepage and traps winter rain in shallow pools. Vernal pools host plants and animals during a brief lifecycle that ends when the pools evaporate and the land becomes arid. A vernal pool larger than an acre is called a playa lake. The largest of these lakes within the Jepson Prairie Preserve is the 93-acre Olcott Lake. This ephemeral lake supports numerous threatened and endangered species, including the Delta green ground beetle known only from the 10 square-mile area surrounding the preserve. Other endangered, threatened or rare species include vernal pool fairy shrimp, Conservancy fairy shrimp, vernal pool tadpole shrimp, and California tiger salamander. The preserve also provides critical habitat for 400 species of plants, including 15 rare and endangered species such as Bogg’s Lake hedge-hyssop, dwarf Downingia, Baker’s navarretia, Colusa grass, and Solano grass (a new species discovered in 1959, but not seen since the mid-1990s).
The vernal pool flora at Jepson were first described in 1892 by botanist Willis Linn Jepson, but it took another 80 years for scientists and conservationists to gain enough momentum for protection. In the mid-1970s a committee was formed to protect Olcott Lake and the surrounding prairie.
Two years after the Nature Conservancy purchased the 1,566-acre site, it was dedicated as the Willis Linn Jepson Prairie Preserve in 1982. In 1983, the University of California brought the preserve into the University’s Natural Reserve System. In 1987 the National Park Service designated Dixon Vernal Pools, of which Jepson is the centerpiece, a National Natural Landmark.
Solano Land Trust assumes primary responsibility for the management of the land with the goal to preserve, protect and enhance the habitat for native plants and animals. SLT works in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, University of California Natural Reserve System, Department of Fish and Game, and our dedicated volunteer docents.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tar-Sand Oil contributes to Carquinez Cancer Alley

More info about the Carquinez Cancer Alley []
2013-06-01 "Canadian tar sands crude heads to Bay Area refineries" 
by Matthias Gafni from "Contra Costa Times" []:

A photo of the Valero refinery taken at night in Benicia, Calif., on Tuesday, May 14, 2014. Benicia's Valero refinery is one of the Bay Area's five refineries that have moved toward acquiring Canadian tar sands crude by rail. The refinery wants to bring in 70,000 barrels a day of North American crude by rail and spend $30 million to increase its infrastructure to handle it. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

While politicians, environmentalists and Big Oil fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, the Bay Area's five refineries have quietly moved toward transporting controversial Canadian tar sands crude oil via another means: rail.
Phillips 66 in Rodeo already brings in trains filled with tar sands crude, and Chevron Richmond refines it. Shell in Martinez receives processed tar sands oil in the form of synthetic crude. Tesoro Golden Eagle in Avon, near Martinez, wants to bring in the heavy crude -- which is refined from an unconventional petroleum deposit that has the texture and smell of tar mixed with sand -- by rail. And Benicia's Valero refinery hopes to bring in 70,000 barrels a day of North American crude by rail and spend $30 million to increase its infrastructure to handle it, according to investment reports, environmental studies and company profiles.
With rail mishaps more common than pipeline failures, Bay Area environmentalists who have previously fought the Keystone pipeline from afar are now paying attention to the possibility of trains full of the heavy crude materials or already refined bitumen rolling through local neighborhoods and into refineries. They say the method of extracting tar sands crude makes it the dirtiest of all fossil fuels and thus a bigger climate change threat, and they worry any increase in infrastructure locally will support an expansion of oil fields in Alberta, Canada, and elsewhere.
"The pipeline is an issue, but so is the development of this type of crude," said Michelle Myers, the Sierra Club's San Francisco chapter director.

Could the East Bay's refinery belt be the next tar sands battleground?
Big Oil has been telling investors the Canadian crude, which involves strip mining and the use of large amounts of water and energy, will help ease its reliance on expensive overseas oil. Analysts and oil executives say it makes economic sense to ship the heavy crude by rail.
"There's no question rail is growing very rapidly by every single company and part of it is because of some of the uncertainty with the pipelines," Valero Chairman and CEO Bill Klesse told investors recently.
In 2008, BNSF railway moved 1.3 million barrels of oil; by 2012, the company -- with rail routes mostly between Chicago and the West Coast -- moved 100 million barrels, it boasts in a news release. By December, a State Department report predicts 200,000 barrels a day or more of Canadian heavy crude oil will reach refineries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas by train.
While pipelines are the cheapest way to move oil, there aren't enough of them. The Keystone XL proposal would link the Alberta tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast refineries by a pipeline. Most of that pipeline has already been built, but environmentalists have been fighting an expansion -- which would enable the transport of up to 830,000 more barrels a day -- and a decision is expected by the Obama administration by the end of the year.
"Essentially it's landlocked and it's hard to move the oil," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for "So, there's a glut of it and they need to sell it at deep discounts to get rid of it."
While the jockeying for cheaper and dirtier North American crude may make financial sense for companies, DeHaan said he doubts consumers will see any relief at the pump.
Meanwhile, environmentalists -- who worry about added pollution, corrosion, train spills and greenhouse gases -- are gearing up. An East Bay tar sands activist group has lobbied for change and opponents have been organizing tar sands protests for later this year.
Some of them say the heavier crude, with higher sulfur content, increases pollution and the corrosion of pipes in the refining process, similar to the sulfur corrosion that helped cause the Richmond refinery fire in August.
"It's more corrosive, and particularly more corrosive at refinery temperatures it becomes a significant risk," said Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Benicia project -
In December, Valero applied to build a $30 million rail project at its Benicia refinery. Valero said the project would reduce pollution, with an increase in rail deliveries offsetting a decrease in smoggy marine shipments. Valero spokeswoman Sue Fisher said about 120 skilled-craftsman jobs would be created during the six months of construction, and that about 30 full-time jobs would be added upon completion.
The refinery hopes to bring two 50-car trains into the refinery between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. each day, said Charlie Knox, Benicia's community development director.
Asked whether any crude would be refined or unrefined Canadian tar sands, Fisher said, "The Benicia project will allow the refinery to increase its use of light, North American crudes, primarily mid-continent crudes. These crudes are similar in composition to the Alaska North Slope crudes the Benicia refinery began processing in the late 1960s."
However, company executives make it clear in comments to investors that Canadian tar sands are being targeted. That concerns Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson.
"We shouldn't be promoting the idea of using tar sands with the high costs of extraction," she said.
Marilyn Bardet, a member of the Benicia Good Neighbor Steering Committee and self-described Valero watchdog, said the project is so new, she's awaiting specifics. But the prospect of using tar sands sets off alarm bells.
"That is the highest level of concern," she said.

Tar sands concerns -
A 2012 U.S. Energy Information Administration report said the Canadian tar sands extraction would "exacerbate climate change," and it highlighted other environmental concerns, such as "land use, water use, water quality, the impacts of toxic tailing ponds and the possibility of oil spills."
Denny Larson, who has fought to stem emissions at the Chevron Richmond refinery for years, said refining the heavier crudes increases particulate and sulfur emissions and other pollutants, in addition to increasing refinery upsets, which can spike pollution. He said trains must travel from Canada with dangerous loads.
"Ships don't pass through the middle of towns and I think they're trying to ignore the whole idea of the train route," said Larson, whose Global Community Monitor is part of the East Bay delegation of the Tar Sands Refinery Neighbor Collaborative.
The crude-by-rail spike has also led to more U.S. railway oil spills -- 14 from 2007-09 to 158 between 2010-12, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. In a recent International Energy Agency report based on U.S. Department of Transportation data, the risk of a train spill was six times greater than a pipeline incident between 2004 and 2012.
On March 27, a train derailed in Minnesota, spilling 15,000 gallons of Canadian tar sands crude.

Guidelines -
No matter how the tar sands crude gets to California, refineries must follow the unique-to-this-state Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which takes into account emissions during a fuel's life cycle. David Clegern, a California Air Resources Board spokesman, said heavy crudes can be blended with lighter crudes to reduce the negative effects.
"We aren't banning any particular fuel," he said. "If they mix it right, they can make it work."