Animals

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Back to the Beach: Kids Ocean Day 2022

Posted By on Thu, Jun 2, 2022 at 5:10 PM

Local school children participated in this year's Kids Ocean Day. - PHOTO BY J PATRICK CUDAHY
  • Photo by J Patrick Cudahy
  • Local school children participated in this year's Kids Ocean Day.
Hundreds of Humboldt County school children participated in this year's 17th annual Kids Ocean Day event by helping to restore dune habitat at the Mike Thompson Wildlife Area on the South Spit of Humboldt Bay.

To mark the day, the kids joined together with their classmates, teachers and volunteers to form the shape of three ochre sea stars and the message, "Restore Joy," which was captured from the air by photographer J Patrick Cudahy with the help of pilot Mark Harris.

The choice highlights not only the plight of the sea creatures devastated by sea star wasting disease in recent years but also the encouraging signs that the brightly colored echinoderms are once again becoming a familiar sight up and down the West Coast.

“This is our 17th Annual Kids Ocean Day event in Humboldt County, and our first time back since 2019. This is our comeback story, much like the ochre sea stars, and I am so proud to be a part of it,” Friends of the Dunes education coordinator Emily Baxter said in a release. “During this event students from all over Humboldt County come together to not only be coastal stewards but also to have fun! For many of these kids, this is one of their first field trips since coming back to school full time, so we are excited to bring back a joyous occasion that they look forward to every year.”

The event is part of a statewide educational program funded by the California Coastal Commission.

“It’s so wonderful that we are able to hold this event once again,’’ said Coastal Commission Chair Donne Brownsey said in a release. “The students who take part in Kid’s Ocean Day are demonstrating how to be good stewards of our precious coast and ocean, and reminding us of the joy of connecting with nature. They are truly role models.”

Read more in the Friends of the Dunes release below:

About 700 local students spent their school day caring for the coast during the 17th Annual Kids Ocean Day event at the Mike Thompson Wildlife Area, South Spit of the Humboldt Bay.

After spending the day restoring dune habitat and picking up trash, students, teachers, and volunteers formed three ochre sea stars with the message "Restore Joy.”

Local pilot Mark Harris flew over while photographer Patrick Cudahy captured the image.

Friends of the Dunes and the Bureau of Land Management Arcata Field Office organized the Kids Ocean Day event locally, with help from the California Conservation Corps, California State Parks Lifeguards, and US Fish & Wildlife Service.

The Humboldt County event was part of the statewide Kids Ocean Day program funded by the California Coastal Commission, a series of student cleanups and aerial art displays at five sites along the California Coast.

Across the state, students received classroom presentations highlighting the biodiversity of California’s coastal environments, how we are connected to these habitats through watersheds, and the importance of protecting our coast and ocean.

Kids all along the coast of California participated in beach cleanup events throughout late May and early June, leading up to World Ocean Day on June 8, a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future.

In Humboldt County, students participated in a day of ecosystem restoration, removing non-native invasive plant species to create space for native biodiversity, along with trash removal.

This year each site focused on a message of Joy. Our image of three ochre stars (Pisaster ochraceus) was chosen because these ocean animals were hit hard by a sea star wasting syndrome almost 10 years ago with huge die-offs along the west coast.

In recent years, populations of sea stars have been recovering and they are once again becoming a common sighting on northern California beaches.

“This is our 17th Annual Kids Ocean Day event in Humboldt County, and our first time back since 2019. This is our comeback story, much like the ochre sea stars, and I am so proud to be a part of it.” said Emily Baxter, Friends of the Dunes Education Coordinator. “During this event students from all over Humboldt County come together to not only be coastal stewards but also to have fun! For many of these kids, this is one of their first field trips since coming back to school full time, so we are excited to bring back a joyous occasion that they look forward to every year.”

“It’s so wonderful that we are able to hold this event once again,’’ said Coastal Commission Chair Donne Brownsey. “The students who take part in Kid’s Ocean Day are demonstrating how to be good stewards of our precious coast and ocean, and reminding us of the joy of connecting with nature. They are truly role models.”

The Coastal Commission provides financial support to Kids Ocean Day efforts statewide with proceeds from the Whale Tail License Plate and voluntary donations on the state tax return to the Protect Our Coast and Oceans Fund.

Participating Schools included: Blue Lake Elementary, Bridgeville Elementary, Fuente Nueva Charter School, Jacoby Creek, Loleta, McKinleyville Middle, Pacific Union School, Redway Elementary, Sunny Brae Middle School, Walker (South Fortuna) Elementary, and Washington Elementary.

Friends of the Dunes is dedicated to conserving the natural diversity of coastal environments through community supported education and stewardship programs. Projects include the Bay to Dunes school education program, Dune Ecosystem Restoration Team, and the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center. For more information visit friendsofthedunes.org.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Arcata Field Office is responsible for the administration of natural resources, lands, and mineral programs on approximately 200,000 acres of public land in Northwestern California. The Area includes the 60,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area and the 7,472-acre Headwaters Forest Reserve.

This annual event was started by the Malibu Foundation for Environmental Education and the California Coastal Commission in Los Angeles in 1994.

With funding from the Whale Tail License Plate, this program expanded to the North Coast in 2005. The program focuses on reaching children in underserved and inland schools.

The California Coastal Commission is committed to protecting and enhancing California’s coast and ocean for present and future generations. It does so through careful planning and regulation of environmentally-sustainable development, strong public participation, education, and effective intergovernmental coordination.

The Kids’ Ocean Day program is part of the Commission’s effort to raise public awareness of marine and coastal resources and promote coastal stewardship. Funding for this program comes from sales of the WHALE TAIL® License Plate and donations to the Protect Our Coast and Oceans Fund on the California state tax return. For more information about the California Coastal Commission’s programs and how to buy a Whale Tail Plate, call (800) COAST-4U or visit www.coastforyou.org.
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Monday, May 23, 2022

Third Condor Set to Fly Free

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2022 at 6:19 PM

A2 and A3 interact after A3 returns to the enclosure site after a two-week absence. - YUROK TRIBE FACEBOOK
  • Yurok Tribe Facebook
  • A2 and A3 interact after A3 returns to the enclosure site after a two-week absence.
The Northern California Condor Restoration Program is readying to send a third condor out into the wilds of Humboldt County on Wednesday to join two others — A2 and A3 — that took their first foray earlier this month.

A change in the weather forecast is delaying the previous plan to go forward on Tuesday.

The release of A0 — which will be live streamed —  marks the first flight of a female condor in the region in more than a century. But first, the bird has to cooperate by entering a smaller pen next to the main enclosure that has a door to the outside, a process successfully navigated by A2 and A3 on May 3.


After leaving first, A3 was nicknamed "Poy’-we-son," which the Yurok Tribe said translates to "the one who goes ahead, but also harks back to the traditional name for a headman of a village, who helps lead and guide the village in a good way,” while A2’s nickname, "Nes-kwe-chokw,’" translates to “He returns” or “He arrives."


The last of the young condors is expected to be let out sometime next month.



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Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Condors Return to the North Coast's Skies (with Video)

Posted By on Tue, May 3, 2022 at 3:34 PM

The first two condors were released today, A3 and A2. - COURTESY OF THE YUROK TRIBE
  • Courtesy of the Yurok Tribe
  • The first two condors were released today, A3 and A2.
Just around 10:30 a.m. today, two young California condors made their first venture into the wild and the Northern California Condor Restoration Program took flight, bringing the bird known to the Yurok Tribe as prey-go-neesh back to the skies over their ancestral lands after more than a century of absence.

The moment culminates 15 years of planning, outreach and research by the Yurok Tribe, which is spearheading the program in partnership with the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and marks the critically endangered species' first release into the northern reaches of its former territory.

Yurok Wildlife Department Director Tiana Williams-Claussen teared up during a live stream of the event as she watched the two captive-raised birds spread their massive wings in the wide open for the very first time.
"I'm so deeply happy," she said, thanking the indivuals and agencies that have been a part of the effort and especially thanking the tribe's elders for realizing the cultural and ecological importance of bringing the sacred bird back to Yurok lands. "I'm so grateful for the day to have finally come."

A3, an almost 2-year-old male that made his way out first, has been nicknamed 
"Poy’-we-son," which the Yurok Tribe said translates to "the one who goes ahead, but also harks back to the traditional name for a headman of a village, who helps lead and guide the village in a good way."

He has shown dominate traits during his stay with the three other juvenile condors as the group spent the last several weeks socializing and picking up lifeskills from mentor bird No. 46, which is currently on loan to the Northern California restoration program.

Williams-Claussen says she expects Poy'-we-son to be a leader of the flock that will be expanded with new birds every year for the next 20 years or so, with the goal of building up a self-sustaining population that eventually makes its way into the Pacific Northwest.

Second to take flight was A2, nicknamed "Nes-kwe-chokw,’" which translates to “He returns” or “He arrives," which Williams-Claussen says "is representative of the historic moment we just underwent, and condors’ return, free-flying, to the Yurok and surrounding landscape."

She describes A2 as a "confident bird" that is "often seen jockeying with A3 in play" but also to establish his place in the flock's hierarchy, and "with the will to do well in the wild."

The other two — A1 and A0, the sole female  — are slated to be released at a later date, in part because A1 has a broken satellite transmitter that can't be repaired until June or so.

While Poy’-we-son and  Nes-kwe-chokw are free to soar on the thermals that they can ride for 100 miles without flapping a wing, the program's staff will continue to monitor the birds' movements via radio and satellite transmitters.

The three remaining condors in the heavily fortressed enclosure in Redwoods National and State Parks are expected to draw Poy’-we-son and  Nes-kwe-chokw
back to the hillside, where staff will continue to put out carrion for feedings in an open but fenced area adjacent to the wire-encased atrium, allowing the socializing to continue through the mesh as the highly interactive birds adapt to their new surroundings.
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Monday, May 2, 2022

First Condor Release Set for Tomorrow

Posted By on Mon, May 2, 2022 at 4:53 PM

The Yurok Tribe is preparing for the first condor release tomorrow. - COURTESY OF THE YUROK TRIBE
  • Courtesy of the Yurok Tribe
  • The Yurok Tribe is preparing for the first condor release tomorrow.
Two California condors are slated to be released into Redwood National and State Parks tomorrow, becoming the first to soar over the North Coast in more than a century.

It's a moment the Yurok Tribe has been working toward for 15 years, with the flight not only marking the captive-born birds' first foray into the wild but a new beginning for the endangered species in the northern reaches of its historic range.

The tribe's connection with the bird they call prey-go-neesh goes back to the beginning of time, with the condor considered to be among Earth's first creatures and the one that carries their prayers to the Creator.

“For countless generations, the Yurok people have upheld a sacred responsibility to maintain balance in the natural world. Condor reintroduction is a real-life manifestation of our cultural commitment to restore and protect the planet for future generations,” said Joseph L. James, the Chair of the Yurok Tribe. “On behalf of the Yurok Tribe, I would like to thank all of the individuals, agencies and organizations that helped us prepare to welcome prey-go-neesh (condor) back to our homeland.”

But the first move is up to the condors, which will need to "voluntarily enter a designated staging area with access to the outside world," according to a release from the Yurok Tribe. "If the birds do not enter the transition zone by 4 p.m., a second attempt to release the birds will occur at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, May 4.

Two of the four young birds that arrived in Humboldt County back in March will be up for release first, with the others following at a later date. The release will be live streamed at www.yuroktribe.org/yurok-condor-live-feed and on the Yurok Tribe's Facebook page.

The last condor sighting on the North Coast was in 1892 after decades of decimation by settlers, who shot and poisoned the birds considered sacred in Yurok tradition.

“The loss of the condor has limited our capacity to be Yurok because prey-go-neesh is such an important part of our culture and traditions. In a very real way, restoring condor habitat and returning condor to Yurok skies is a clear restoration of the Yurok people, homeland, ecological systems, culture, and lifeway,” said Yurok Wildlife Department Director Tiana Williams-Claussen, a Yurok citizen and traditional culture bearer, who has dedicated her entire professional career to condor reintroduction.

“I have a 3-year-old-daughter. She is going to grow up with condors in her sky for her entire life. She is not going to know what it is to miss condors," Willams-Claussen said. "She will always live in relationship with condors, which is really what this project is all about — bringing condor home, back into our communities, back into our conversations, back into our households, and into the minds and hearts of our children on behalf of the hearts of our elders.”

Back in 1982, only 22 remained in a small pocket of mountainous area in Southern California. Five years later, the last of the wild condors were placed into captive breeding programs in a race against time to save the largest bird in North America.

Over the intervening years, the California Condor Recovery Program has seen many success stories, with close to 500 of the largest birds in North American now at release sites operating in California — including Big Sur and Pinnacles — as well as Arizona and Baja California, Mexico.

Now, Northern California is added to the list.


These first four condors (three are male and one is female) will be followed over the years by more releases, with the ultimate hope of creating a sustainable population that will eventually spreads its wings up into Oregon and Washington.

“We are fortunate to be able to develop our program based on an immense quantity of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and 30 years of real-world condor recovery experience from our partners within the California Condor Recovery Program," said Chris West, senior biologist and manager of the Yurok Condor Restoration Program. "We are truly standing on the shoulders of giants. For these reasons, I have no doubt that our reintroduction will serve as a gateway to bring the condor back to the Pacific Northwest.” 

Find the full release below:


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Thursday, April 14, 2022

Fish and Wildlife to Ban Crab Traps for Recreational Season

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2022 at 3:50 PM

Effective April 24 at 7 p.m., the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is prohibiting the use of crab traps for recreational catches due to an increased risk of whale entanglement.

"This restriction is being implemented because of the unusually large number of humpback whales that have migrated back to California waters earlier than in previous years and because of several recent humpback whale entanglements involving California commercial Dungeness crab fishing gear and gear of unknown origin," the CDFW announcement states. "This statewide trap restriction will help minimize risk of entanglement as humpback whales continue to return to forage in California waters during the spring and summer months."

The announcement comes one week after the CDFW made the decision to shut down the commercial season early, on April 20, for the same reasons. 



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Wednesday, April 6, 2022

North Coast's Commercial Dungeness Season Closing Due to Entanglement Risk

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2022 at 3:41 PM

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is closing the commercial Dungeness crab season statewide due to "assessed entanglement risk," with the North Coast season now ending on April 20 at noon.

“We received reports of additional humpback whale entanglements and moved quickly to close the fishery to protect migrating humpback whales that are just starting to return to California waters,” Director Charlton Bonham in a news release today. “While this poses an economic impact on certain sectors of our coastal fishing communities, it is important to protect both whales and the long-term viability of the commercial fishery. We will be working with the fishing fleet, researchers and other agencies to better understand these recent entanglement events and find ways to mitigate this risk in future seasons.” 

Closures in areas from the Sonoma/Mendocino County line to the border with Mexico are starting earlier.


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'Kevin' the Baby Seal Has a Name and New Home, For Now

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2022 at 1:34 PM

"Kevin" the seal is being rehabilitated at the North Coast Marine Mammal Center. - EUREKA POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Eureka Police Department
  • "Kevin" the seal is being rehabilitated at the North Coast Marine Mammal Center.
The baby seal rescued by Eureka Police Department officers who responded to a report of a couple taking the pup from near the Samoa Bridge, putting it into an aquarium and driving away has a new name: Kevin.

The young one is under the care of the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center, which reports the nonprofit "will raise him until he is old enough and eating fish on his own and then he will be released back into the wild."

Kevin's rehabilitation can be followed on the center's Facebook page.

In a Tuesday Facebook post, the center emphasized that "this, folks, is why you do NOT touch seal pups!!" and if a person is concerned that an animal is hurt or abandoned, they can call the center's stranding line at (707) 951-4722.

Marine mammals, like seal pups, whales and dolphins, are federally protected, with touching or harassing one punishable by fines of up to $10,000 and jail time. During pupping season, mothers will often leave the baby seals on the beach while feeding but know exactly where to find them, the FB post states. However, having dogs off leash or standing too close to a pup will stop the mothers from returning.

Whatever the motivation, the people who took Kevin away from the place where his mother left him in safety has separated a wildlife family.

"We now have a perfectly healthy pup who is orphaned and in our care, that should still be out in the wild with mom," the center's states.

To find out more about the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center and how to help fund the rescue and rehabilitation of animals like Kevin, visit the nonprofits website by clicking here

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Report to California Legislature: Prepare for Devastating Effects of Climate Change

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2022 at 10:43 AM

Wildfire smoke turned Humboldt County skies orange throughout the day in September of 2020. These pictures are from around 9:30 a.m. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Wildfire smoke turned Humboldt County skies orange throughout the day in September of 2020. These pictures are from around 9:30 a.m.
Painting alarming scenes of fires, floods and economic disruption, the California Legislature’s advisors on Tuesday released a series of reports that lay out in stark terms the impacts of climate change across the state.

The typically reserved, nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office outlined dire consequences for Californians as climate change continues to alter most aspects of daily life. Much of the focus of the six-part series is detailing the economic cost as the changing climate alters where and how Californians build, grow food and protect the most vulnerable residents. 

  • Wildfires, heat and floods will force more frequent school closures, disrupting education, child care and availability of free school lunches. More than 1,600 schools temporarily closed because of wildfires each year between 2017 and 2020, affecting nearly a million students a year.
  • Outdoor workers — 10 percent of California’s workforce and mostly Latino — will continue to bear the brunt of extreme heat and smoke.
  • Wildfire smoke may have killed about 20 people per 100,000 adults older than 65 in 2020, and is projected to become more deadly. Just a 50 percent increase in smoke could cause the deaths of nine to 20 additional people among every 100,000 older residents exposed each year.
  • Housing, rail lines, bridges, power plants and other structures are vulnerable to rising seas and tides. “Between $8 billion and $10 billion of existing property in California is likely to be underwater by 2050, with an additional $6 billion to $10 billion at risk during high tide.”
  • Extreme heat is projected to cause nine deaths per 100,000 people each year, “roughly equivalent to the 2019 annual mortality rate from automobile accidents in California.”
  • Lower-income Californians, who live in communities at greater risk for heat and floods because of discriminatory housing practices, will be hit especially hard by climate change and have fewer resources to adapt.
  • Housing will be lost: For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area alone, 13,000 existing housing units and 104,000 job spaces “will no longer be usable” because of sea rise over the next next 40 to 100 years.
  • Beaches will disappear, too: Up to two-thirds of Southern California beaches may become completely eroded by 2100.

The report’s unsaid but unambiguous conclusion: Climate change could alter everything, spare no one in California, so legislators should consider preparing for sweeping impacts.

“These hazards will threaten public health, safety, and well-being — including from life-threatening events, damage to public and private property and infrastructure, and impaired natural resources,” the reports say.

Scientists say it’s not too late to stop the most severe effects, although the clock is ticking. Technologies and other solutions already exist to reduce greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and other sources and prevent more irreversible harm, according to a landmark international scientific report released Monday. But international accords and plans continue to fall far short, with emissions expected to keep increasing

“These hazards will threaten public health, safety, and well-being — including from life-threatening events, damage to property and infrastructure, and impaired natural resources.”

Legislative Analyst’s Office report

California’s legislative analysts did not conduct new research; instead, they compiled existing data and projections, providing a comprehensive clearinghouse for legislators as they enact policies and approve budgets.

State Sen. Bob Wieckowski, a Democrat from Fremont and chair of the budget subcommittee on resources, environmental protection and energy, said he plans to turn to the reports as references and rationale for the subcommittee’s budget proposals. 

“It’s impressive,” he said. “(It) turns the climate conversation into an all-hands-on-deck versus, ‘Oh, this is just some tree hugger over here.’” 

The analysts make no explicit policy recommendations but they advise legislators to consider such questions as: How can the state avoid exacerbating climate impacts? How can lawmakers protect the most vulnerable Californians? And how should California pay to prepare and respond to climate change? 

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat from South Gate, asked the Legislative Analyst’s Office to assess the impacts of climate change on a variety of policy sectors, and the reports grew from there. They frame climate change as a complex, multi-disciplinary problem that requires response from all of the state’s agencies.

Project manager Rachel Ehlers said the aim is to assist lawmakers incorporate climate change into decisions outside of traditionally environmental realms, including housing, health and education. For instance, would a new housing policy “have the potential to inadvertently worsen climate change impacts?” she said.

Last year’s budget package reflected the overarching scope of the problem, proposing to spend $9.3 billion over three years to bolster the state’s responses to drought, floods, fire and sea level rise. 

Despite the state’s climate-forward reputation, critics and many legislators note that California’s follow-through has been inconsistent.

The reports come in the lead-up to California Gov. Gavin’s Newsom’s May revision to his January budget blueprint, when the administration can reframe and update its proposals. Thus far, the proposed budget included more than $22 billion for climate change efforts that include protecting communities against wildfires and extreme heat. 

Despite the state’s climate-forward reputation, critics and many legislators note that California’s follow-through has been inconsistent.

“I don’t at all feel that we are leading the world anymore,” Rendon, a Democrat from South Gate, told CalMatters last year. 

Despite the passage of a $15 billion climate budget, California Environmental Voters, an advocacy group, gave the state its first “D” grade for what it called its climate inaction last year. 

“We’re plagued by ‘climate delayers’ in Sacramento – members of the Legislature who talk about climate change but don’t back up those words with action,” CEO Mary Creasman wrote in a CalMatters commentary

Last month, a coalition of California’s environmental justice advocacy organizations pushed for a phase-out of fossil fuels, and warned that clean air regulators have failed to adequately consider public health in crafting the state’s blueprint for curbing greenhouse gas pollution. 

California is already reeling from climate change

The analysis made clear that many of the worst consequences are already here, even as it noted that future impacts are coming sooner and may be worse than scientists had predicted.

Summer temperatures scorched records as the state’s second-largest wildfire tore across Northern California during the third-driest year on record for rain and snowfall. California must brace for yet more climate hazards, the reports warn, from extreme heat to more severe wildfires, whiplash from drought to flood and sea level rise along the coast. 

Drought clutches California and a statewide heat wave forecast for Wednesday is poised to sap the remaining snowpack that supplies about a third of the state’s water. California’s firefighting arm warns that a record-dry start to the year could spell a devastating fire season ahead.

It’s a disaster drumbeat Californians have heard many times before. The Legislative Analyst’s Office has released report after report assessing the state’s climate policies and spending. It has warned that sea level rise will submerge billions of dollars in homes, roads and businesses by 2050, and that the state must accelerate planning to protect state assets including college campuses, prisons and even state workers from soaring heat, flooding, fire and extreme weather.

Newsom’s administration launched a preemptive response to the reports, with the Monday release of its updated climate adaptation strategy. The guidelines pull together plans from 38 departments and address priority issues, such as protecting communities vulnerable to climate change and combating risks to health and safety. 

California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said the strategy is “a matter of protecting our residents and our communities or natural places from climate threats that are already here.” 

State officials regularly recalibrate the official response to climate change, often in response to dire reports. Four years ago, California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment released under former Gov. Jerry Brown warned that climate change would lead to death and property damage on the order of tens of billions of dollars by 2050. 

Though the reports were focused largely on how California must adapt to the ravages of climate change, the Legislative Analyst’s Office has also warned repeatedly that California’s landmark greenhouse gas market, cap and trade, will fail to meet California’s goals to reduce emissions

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Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Eureka Police Save Baby Seal Being Taken Away in Car (with Video)

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2022 at 1:08 PM

The baby seal. - EPD
  • EPD
  • The baby seal.
Eureka Police Department officers saved a baby seal from a couple who took the pup from an area near the Samoa Bridge, put it into an aquarium in their car and were attempting to drive away.

A person who witnessed the incident called police, who were able to locate the car and bring the seal to safety. It is now in the care of the North Coast Marine Mammal Center.

The couple, who were not identified, was detained and the case is being investigated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. They face civil fines of up to $11,000, a year in jail and the forefeit of their vehicle.
This time of year, wildlife mothers, such as deer and seals, often leave their young in a safe spot while they go to feed, including local beaches and mudflats on Humboldt Bay.

"Many people assume the newborn seal is abandoned, but that is rarely the case," the EPD release states. "The best thing to do is keep your distance and leave the animal alone. The mother will return. If people think the animal is in fact abandoned or hurt, they should not approach or touch it and call the North Coast Marine Mammal Center at 707-951-4722."

The EPD gave a special thanks to the witness who called in the incident and provided descriptions of the couple and their car.

Read the EPD release below:

On Saturday we responded to the area of the Samoa Bridge after a caller reported witnessing a couple take a seal pup from the bay and put it in an aquarium in their vehicle. Officers quickly stopped the vehicle and rescued the seal pup. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the North Coast Marine Mammal Center responded to take over the investigation and care for the seal pup.

CDFW says this is the time of year many wildlife species from seals to deer leave their young unattended in safe areas, sometime hidden, while the mother leaves to feed. With seals, this commonly means on a mudflat in Humboldt Bay. Many people assume the newborn seal is abandoned, but that is rarely the case. The best thing to do is keep your distance and leave the animal alone. The mother will return. If people think the animal is in fact abandoned or hurt, they should not approach or touch it and call the North Coast Marine Mammal Center at 707-951-4722.

The occupants of the vehicle were detained and the investigation by CDFW is ongoing. Marine mammals are protected federally by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is unlawful to feed or harass wild marine mammals including dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals and sea lions. If prosecuted, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement could enforce civil penalties up to 11,000, up to 1 year in prison plus criminal fines, and forfeiture of the vessel involved. The public is instructed by NOAA to keep at least 50 yards (150 feet) away from seals. State laws also protect marine mammals and violators can be charged criminally with a misdemeanor.

Thank you to the alert witness who called this in and provided a detailed description of suspects and vehicle!
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Friday, April 1, 2022

Sierra Snowpack Worsens, Falls to Lowest Level in 7 Years

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2022 at 12:18 PM

Scene at the March 1, 2022 snow survey at Phillips Station. - CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF WATER RESOURCES
  • California Department of Water Resources
  • Scene at the March 1, 2022 snow survey at Phillips Station.
Seven years ago today, during the height of the last drought, California Gov. Jerry Brown stood on the barren slopes of the Sierra Nevada, watching as engineers measured the worst snowpack in state history.

Today, snow measurements aren’t quite so bleak. But the snowy scene belies the severity of the drought. The snowpack — which provides a third of California’s water supply — is 39 percent of average statewide.

Worse than last year, worse even than last month, this year’s snowpack is the worst it’s been in seven years, tying with 2007 for the sixth lowest April measurement in state history. It’s not as bad as the last drought, however: The snowpack contains about eight times more water than in 2015. 

The amount of snow in April is considered critical because it indicates how much water will be available through the summer. The snow, historically at its deepest in April, melts and flows into rivers, streams and reservoirs that serve much of the state.

As California’s water officials discovered last year, climate change is upending their forecasts for how much melting snow the thirsty state can truly expect to refill its dwindling stores.

It’s a dismal end to a water year that began with great promise, with early storms in October and December. By Jan. 1, the plush snowpack was 160 percent of average for that date statewide, and already a little over half the seasonal total. 

“Our great snowpack — the water tower of the West and the world — was looking good. We had real high hopes,” Benjamin Hatchett, an assistant research professor with the Western Regional Climate Center and Desert Research Institute, said in a recent drought presentation.

Typically, the snowpack would continue to build until April. But a record-dry January and February followed by unseasonably warm and dry conditions in March sapped the frozen stores, which by the end of the month were already melting at levels that would be expected in April or May.  

Now, “we would consider this to be deep into snow drought,” Hatchett said.

“Our great snowpack — the water tower of the West and the world — was looking good. We had real high hopes.”

Benjamin Hatchett, Western Regional Climate Center and Desert Research Institute

Though state officials reported that early snowmelt has started to refill foothill reservoirs, the water level in massive Lake Shasta, critical to federal supplies for farms, people and endangered salmon, sits at less than half the average for this date. Lake Oroville is only slightly better, at 67 percent of its historic average. 

From Andrew Schwartz’s vantage point north of Lake Tahoe at the University of California, Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab, it still looks wintry, with about three feet of snow, “plus or minus six inches,” he said. 

It’s a far cry from the grassy field further south at Phillips Station where former Gov. Jerry Brown stood for the survey seven years ago. 

“It’s been a false sense of security when you come up here,” Schwartz said of the snow lab. “Statewide as a whole, it’s not looking great.”

There could be a number of consequences to the early snowmelt, Schwartz said. It could result in more water loss as early snowmelt evaporates in reservoirs, disrupting the balance of mountain ecosystems and speeding the start of fire season. 

“Without the snow, once things dry out, it’s just going to be catastrophic again,” Schwartz said. 

From left, Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, and Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. joined the Department of Water Resources for a manual snow survey on April 1, 2015. This was the first early-April measurement that found no snow at Phillips, an indication, the Governor said, of the drought's extreme severity. Photo by Kelly M. Grow/California Department of Water Resources
In 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown joined the Department of Water Resources for a manual snow survey. It was the first early-April measurement that found no snow there, an indication of the drought’s severity. Photo by Kelly M. Grow/California Department of Water Resources

Early snowmelt can also complicate reservoir operations if managers need to release water to preserve flood control space, said Nathan Patrick, a hydrologist with the federal California Nevada River Forecast Center.  

California’s water supply will be determined by how much snowmelt continues to flow into major reservoirs versus how much will seep into the soil or disappear into the air. Climate change is already transforming this pattern as the weather swings between extremes, and warmer temperatures suck moisture from the soil and melt snow earlier in the year. 

California’s Department of Water Resources is working to overhaul its runoff forecast calculations, an effort that has grown increasingly urgent. Last year, the state’s projections for runoff from the Sierra Nevada overshot reality by so much that water regulators were left scrambling to protect drinking water supplies and preserve enough water in storage

Assemblymember Adam Gray, a Democrat from Merced, has called for a state audit of the calculations. “Has the state learned anything from this disaster?” he asked in a CalMatters op-ed. 

This year, the California Nevada River Forecast Center’s Patrick expects more of the snow to reach reservoirs. 

The soils, for one thing, are wetter — the result of powerful October storms that soaked the state. That means more of the snowmelt may flow into rivers and streams. Generally, he said, “We expect it to be better this year.”

Still, increased runoff can’t make up for a paltry snowpack — particularly in the Northern Sierra.  The snowpack there is the lowest in the state, just 31 percent the seasonal average, compared to 42 percent and 43 percent in the Central and Southern Sierra. 

Patrick sees a trend emerging in the runoff and streamflow measurements over the past three years. “One after another have been below normal,” he said. 

“You can deal with one or two bad years, but when you start to get these compounding, three bad years … it’s hard to recover.” 

A boat crosses Lake Oroville below trees scorched in the 2020 North Complex Fire, May 23, 2021. At the time of this photo, the reservoir was at 39 percent of capacity and 46 percent of its historical average. (Photo by Noah Berger, AP Photo

LESSONS LEARNED: DROUGHT THEN AND NOW

A CalMatters series investigates what’s improved and what’s worsened since the last drought — and vividly portrays the impacts on California’s places and people.

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