Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Winged Warning: Migrating Birds Hit Hard by California’s Drought

Posted By on Wed, Nov 10, 2021 at 3:10 PM

Migrating geese take to the sky early in the morning from the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge in March of 2020. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Migrating geese take to the sky early in the morning from the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge in March of 2020.
It says something about the complexity of California’s water crisis that there are so many actors in the state’s water wars, all clamoring for more. Nature, alone, is silent in this fight, relying on others to speak on behalf of the welfare of wildlife and waterways.

Across the state, biologists, farmers and hunters are lending nature a helping hand. It’s sometimes an extreme intervention: trucking young salmon when drought shrinks rivers.

But this year these lifelines aren’t enough. Migratory birds — protected by state and national laws and an international treaty — are suffering mightily during this drought, even more quickly than they did during the last major dry spell, which lasted five years and ended in early 2017.

California is the most critical link in the 4,000-mile-long Pacific Flyway, a route along the West Coast where millions of birds shuttle between their summer and winter homes. It’s an arduous journey, hopscotching from wetlands and waterways, allowing birds to rest and refuel, shoring up strength for their trip.

Wildlife experts say this year’s severe drought has uncoupled that connectivity. Normal routes — long imprinted in migrating birds’ navigation systems — have gone haywire.

The great dryness has eliminated many of the flyway’s rest stops in California — particularly in the far north Klamath region — forcing ducks, geese, eagles, herons and other traveling birds to stay aloft and keep looking. Biologists in Northern California and Oregon say they are tracking flocks deviating far off established flight paths, seeking water where there is little.

Experts say evidence is already emerging a year into this drought that their labored journey is weakening and stressing birds that struggle to find wetlands along their journey to rest and feed.

This year is the driest on record in the Lower Klamath Basin, a lush region of marshes and streams that straddles the Oregon-California border. The refuges there are “almost completely dry,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Susan Sawyer.

As a result, nearly all of the ducks have vanished. A recent aerial survey of the vast refuge showed about 34,000 ducks this year compared to 1.5 million in 1948; nearby Tule Lake refuge had only about 30,000 ducks in the survey, down from 3.5 million.

Migratory birds at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge complex in Willows on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters
Geese forage at the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge complex in Willows on Oct. 6, 2021. Migratory birds are arriving at the refuge hungry and exhausted since wetlands farther north, in the Klamath region, are dried up. Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters

In the span of a few human generations, even in years of plentiful rain, 90 percent of California’s wetlands have disappeared to development and agriculture, so migrating birds are especially vulnerable to prolonged droughts.

“The journey, from the human perspective, is enormous,” said Andrew Farnsworth, who researches bird migration at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “It requires a lot of energy. Some start in Alaska. Flights of 4,000 miles are absolutely quite common, and they will fly nonstop for a few days. Having the resources they need is critically important.”

Melanie Weaver, waterfowl coordinator for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, has confidence in the ability of migrating birds to adapt, saying “ducks and geese are wired to go through drought. They don’t fall out of the sky. They have wings, they move where food and water is.”

But the widespread nature of this drought throughout the West, and its severity and potential duration, may challenge even the most resilient wildlife.

“I’m concerned that we are not going to see the populations come back,” Weaver said. “This drought is bad. The odds are against us.”

Even recent winter storms — which dumped rain across the north and central parts of the state and swelled some rivers and streams — made no dent to ease California’s drought, wetlands loss or water shortage.

“I’m concerned that we are not going to see the populations come back. This drought is bad. The odds are against us.”

Melanie Weaver, state Department of Fish and Wildlife

Resilient but still struggling

Resting and feeding spots at wildlife refuges are overcrowded this year, which can foster spikes in the infectious or water-borne illnesses spread by close quarters. Avian botulism and cholera, present even in wet years, spike in arid times. A botulism outbreak in the lower Klamath Basin last year killed an estimated 60,000 birds, likely many more.

So far the Klamath refuges have not experienced a severe disease outbreak like the one that took place last year. “But the spring could be a different story if birds leave the Central Valley early and return to the Klamath where there is little to no available habitat,” Sawyer said.

Klamath’s marshes, streams and grasslands provide vital stops during birds’ long journeys — more than 80% of migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway use them as a stopover in spring and fall. But the region has been one of the hardest hit in this year’s statewide drought.

Instances of young birds being “stranded” are amplified during drought. Dabbling ducks, which includes mallards and pintails, nest in upland areas and must walk to water sources. During dry periods those marches can be too long for young birds that have no flight feathers so they can’t survive. Biologists say this happens all over the state, even in normal years, but is more common during drought.

While the Klamath region is the hardest hit, wetlands farther south on the flyway are in bad shape, too. At the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge, the October bird count is not encouraging. By the third week in October last year, the rough waterfowl count was nearly 800,000 birds. This year, it was 600,000.

And, to illustrate how the intensity of this drought is coming sooner than the last: The refuge’s geese population today is less than half than it was for the same month in 2015, which was the region’s worst year during the last drought.

Migratory birds at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge complex in Willows on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters
The Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge complex received 75% of its water allocations this year. Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters

Biologists talk about the resilience of birds, hard-wired to just keep pushing on, but there is little good news now and even less for the near future. The National Audubon Society estimates that two-thirds of North American birds are at increasing risk of extinction because of climate change.

That vulnerability is repeated around the world: Only 9 percent of the planet’s migratory birds have protected areas along their routes, and loss of habitat and climate change is “a contributing factor to the decline of more than half of the migratory bird species across all major flyways in the last 30 years.”

Migrating birds, which a century ago filled the sky and blotted out the sun during trips along California’s long spine, need help.

To make the state more hospitable to migrating birds during the drought, state and federal programs are paying farmers to keep water on their fields. The state Department of Water Resources invested $8 million this fall. In the northern end of the Central Valley, agricultural land is flooded and managed as migratory bird habitat for exhausted annual travelers flapping in from as far away as Alaska and Russia.

“This past summer there was extremely reduced waterfowl reproduction on the (Klamath) refuge due to the very limited available habitat.”

SUSAN SAWYER, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

But the amount of water from rivers and lakes allocated for wildlife refuges has been cut back substantially this year. The Lower Klamath Refuge has been operating with half its water allocations from rivers and streams since 2006, but this year has been devastating: It received less than 1 percent of its allocations.

With the loss of more than 99 percent of its wetlands, few chicks were born in the refuge this year. Most birds didn’t bother stopping there to nest, moving instead to refuges the Sacramento area, which received 75 percent of their usual water allocation.

“This past summer there was extremely reduced waterfowl reproduction on the (Klamath) refuge due to the very limited available habitat,” Sawyer said.

Diagnosis: drought

The juvenile golden eagle, tagged as No. 2-21-0824, lay splayed on his back on a stainless-steel necropsy table at the state Wildlife Health Laboratory north of Sacramento. He had been discovered dead in Bakersfield, on the ground and emaciated, and taken to a wildlife rescue organization. His carcass was placed in a black trash bag, frozen and sent by FedEx to Krysta Rogers, head of avian investigations for the state fish and wildlife agency.

Rogers’ job is to discover what caused the young bird’s death. She selected large pruning shears, the sort gardeners might use to lop off a large tree branch. With a loud crack, she snapped the bird’s femur, setting aside a section of bone for further analysis.

Methodically examining the carcass, Rogers knew that the bird was not among the uncounted animals to succumb to drought-related causes. Instead, the young bird’s death was a case of bad housekeeping. It’s likely that the eagle’s parents brought home meals of especially fatty squirrels, Rogers said. The fat coated the bird’s wings, rendering it unable to fly. In a final blow, it’s possible that his nest-mate pushed him out of the family home to keep the food to itself.

Krysta Rogers, a Senior Environmental Scientist at the Avian Investigations Wildlife Health Laboratory at the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, gets ready to perform a necropsy on a Banned-Tailed Pigeon in Sacramento on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters
Krysta Rogers, a senior environmental scientist at the state’s Avian Investigations Wildlife Health Laboratory, gets ready to perform a necropsy on a band-tailed pigeon in Sacramento on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters
Krysta Rogers, a Senior Environmental Scientist at the Avian Investigations Wildlife Health Laboratory at the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, gets ready to perform a necropsy on a Banned-Tailed Pigeon in Sacramento on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters
Photo by Nina Riggio for CalMatters

Ascribing a death to drought is a complex puzzle to solve, when nature offers so many ways to die. “It’s not often a direct, causative thing,” Rogers said, still hunched over the bird. “But we can say that in some cases it (drought) is a contributing factor” to bird deaths.

What drought does is render the already precarious existence for wildlife all the more dicey.

When normal weather patterns are off kilter, even in a small way, the impact on birds and their environment can be profound.

Birds can die during extreme heat events that sometimes accompany drought. That happened this spring and summer, with young barn owls dying of heat stress when sheltering in nesting boxes that people built in their yards in Contra Costa, Humboldt, Marin, San Diego, Stanislaus, Yolo and Los Angeles counties.

Water quality problems can occur when well-meaning people maintain backyard bird baths with stagnant, non-circulating water that speeds the spread of parasites. Disease can be spread when raptors or other animals prey on sick birds.

“Streams and creeks are not running like they typically would,” Rogers said. “Birds and other animals rely more heavily on artificial sources of water and food. I expect to see disease outbreaks at bird feeders and artificial sources of water such as bird baths and fountains.”

State wildlife officials can’t say with assurance that populations of migratory birds have declined; nearly two years of COVID-19 has grounded bird survey flights and this year’s winter migration has months to go.

But they have the last drought to go by, and that suggests migrating birds are in for trouble.

Scientists expect current data to mirror the declines during the height of the last drought. California’s population of breeding ducks in 2015 fell 30% compared to 2014, according to a U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife survey.

“That didn’t surprise us,” said Weaver, of the state wildlife agency, who also sits on the Pacific Flyway Council. “Why breed when your habitat isn’t there? Local populations decline. They recover when conditions improve.”

Still, she said, the endless cycles of drought throughout the West, combined with drastic wetlands loss, could mean that migratory bird populations may not ever return to historic numbers.

Fields flooded for birds

In normal years, when water is plentiful and affordable, some 270,000 acres of winter rice fields in the Sacramento Valley are lightly flooded and available to receive wintering shorebirds, such as white faced ibis, great blue herons and many varieties of geese and ducks.

The Central Valley, with its usual bounty of food and space, supports 30 percent of the shorebirds and 60 percent of the ducks and geese in the entire Pacific Flyway, nearly 3 million ducks, 1 million geese and a half-million shorebirds overwintering annually.

Given the severe drought conditions and paucity of available water, there is substantially less habitat for those flocks this year. Luke Matthews, a biologist with the California Rice Commission, said his group estimates there are only 60,000 acres of flooded rice land this year. Adding the acreage supported by various state and private conservation programs brings the total agricultural winter habitat to just over 100,000 acres, Matthews said.

“We grow two crops: We grow rice and we grow birds.”

Nicole Montna Van Vleck, Montna Farms in Yuba City

Still, from the perspective of hungry, exhausted migratory birds, the Sacramento Valley must appear from the air like a spa retreat featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Once settled, the birds will derive 50 percent of their diet from rice left on the ground after the fall harvest. As much as 300 pounds of rice per acre is available to birds after the crop is harvested.

Agricultural lands have proved critical for filling in the gaps from California’s wetlands loss. Dense, clay soil is nearly impermeable – a shallow vessel of water ideal for growing rice and hosting birds. Since air pollution concerns almost ended the practice of burning off rice straw after harvest, flooding harvested fields benefit both farmer and bird: While feeding in the fields, tiny bird feet and stomping geese churn and aerate soils, helping rice straw decompose, preparing the land for the next season’s crop.

A disparate collection of agencies and private groups is funding “pop-up wetlands.”Farmers are increasingly raising their hands to host wetlands, seeing a dual benefit: For rice farmers, winter flooding makes financial sense but also appeals to those with a conservation mindset.

“We grow two crops: We grow rice and we grow birds,” said Nicole Montna Van Vleck, president of Montna Farms in Yuba City.

Nicole Montna Van Vleck stands on a levee holding some stalks of the family crop at Montna Farms in Yuba City on Nov. 1, 2021. Photo by Karlos Rene Ayala for CalMatters
Nicole Montna Van Vleck stands on a levee holding stalks of rice at Montna Farms in Yuba City. Photo by Karlos Rene Ayala for CalMatters

Flooded fields on Montna Van Vleck’s sprawling 5,000-acre farm look like shallow kiddie pools. Some paddocks are dark with thousands of resting birds, with white molting-season feathers collected around the edges like a bathtub ring.

“Every season for me is awe-inspiring,” she said, surveying the flat expanse of water and birds. “You can almost imagine what it was like when this was a natural floodplain, when you get out here and see these ricelands work. We’ve created this ecosystem for them. There’s plenty of food for them. I never get tired of it.”

One conservation program, called BirdReturns, was launched during the last drought and is operated in part by Audubon California, the Nature Conservancy and Point Blue Conservation Science. It creates a marketplace for private landowners to provide shallow flooding, mostly for shorebirds.

A similar program, called Bid4Birds, operated by the California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation, encourages rice farmers to participate in a marketplace where they are compensated for the cost of leaving water on their land for migratory birds.

Paul Buttner, California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation’s executive director, called the outlook “really, really dismal.”

The BirdReturns program has a goal of creating an additional 100,000 acres of habitat available every year, said Rodd Kelsey, The Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist on the project.

Despite the gains made since its inception in 2014, “this drought is much worse,” Kelsey said. Rice farmers “will tell you that the water situation is something they have not seen since the late 70s drought.”

Paul Buttner, California Ricelands Waterbird Foundation’s executive director, called the outlook “really, really dismal.”

The severity of the last drought drove once-bickering sides into collaborative problem-solving. The drought was a “stark and shocking wakeup call,” prompting bird groups, farmers, duck hunting clubs and state and federal wildlife managers to begin conversations, said Meghan Hertel, Audubon California’s director of land and water conservation.

More than half of the wetlands in the Sacramento Valley are privately owned, operated by duck clubs established for bird hunting. Land managers regularly called each other to track birds on the move, Hertel said. “They’d say, ‘Hey I’ve got 100,000 snow geese coming your way, hold on to your water.”

A place of refuge

Steering an SUV through the slanting afternoon light at the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge, Craig Isola keeps a pair of binoculars handy. As deputy manager, Isola is trying to get a fix on how this drought might play out there.

The birds, he said, are arriving at the refuge hungry as they couldn’t find wetlands or food during their journey south.

“We are seeing birds show up earlier here because of lack of water in the north, in the Klamath Basin,” he said. “Historically birds will stage and hold up in the Klamath Valley before flying down to Sacramento. But when there’s nothing to the north, they move south. The birds are coming in hungry.”

“We are seeing birds show up earlier here because of lack of water in the north…The birds are coming in hungry.”

Craig Isola, Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge

The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is a string of five managed wetlands, seasonal pools and streams spread over 39,000 acres about an hour’s drive north of Sacramento. Established in 1937, the refuge provides critical wintering habitat for the Pacific Flyway’s birds.

Already, in October, tens of thousands of birds were scattered across the 10,000-acre Sacramento River Refuge, which is receiving water from Lake Shasta, via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, into the rain-starved marshes to accommodate the early arrivals. The refuge is operating on 75 percent of its usual water allocation, a generous amount compared to less than 1 percent at the Lower Klamath refuge and 16 percent at the Klamath region’s Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge’s water grass and smartweed provide protein and fats to augment the carbohydrates birds get from the nearby rice farms. The flocks loaf in the refuge during the day and in the evening make their way to pick through the fields, where most of the rice is already harvested. It’s the time of day when the distant boom-boom of cannons echoes, fired off by growers to scare birds away from farms that have yet to harvest.

Craig Isola, deputy project leader for U.S. Fish & Wildlife at the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge complex in Willows on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo by Nina Riggio/CalMatters
Craig Isola, deputy manager of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge, said the health of birds is the most important indicator of the health of the refuge. Photo by Nina Riggio/CalMatters

The newly arrived birds are jumpy, Isola said, not yet settled into their surroundings. Dusk is a restless time at the refuge, with a constant soundtrack of chittering and squeaking. Even a hint of a raptor gliding overhead causes an explosion of wings and water as flocks take to the air. Bald eagles and peregrine Falcons won’t attack migratory birds while they are flying.

Wildlife managers have an obligation to support migrating birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and in some cases state and federal endangered species laws. Beyond that legal charge, the animals’ health is a window into California’s environmental stewardship.

“Wildlife are the ultimate indicators on how this land is doing,” Isola said. “They represent the idea of maintaining biodiversity and the ability to evolve into the future, for all of us.”

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Tuesday, November 9, 2021

As UN Tackles Twin Climate Threats, California Struggles with Them, Too

Posted By on Tue, Nov 9, 2021 at 5:18 AM

Nations around the globe this month have pledged to tackle two thorny and critical threats to Earth’s climate: methane, which is the most potent planet-warming pollutant, and widespread destruction of forests.

Both of these are major contributors to climate change that California has tried — yet struggled — to address.

More than 100 countries inched toward progress on tackling climate change by signing an international pledge, launched Nov. 2 at the United Nations’ climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, to slash methane pollution by nearly a third over the next ten years.

The nations also promised to end worldwide deforestation — a widespread practice that warms the planet — in the same time period, an ambitious goal that would be backed by nearly $20 billion in public and private funds.

President Joe Biden paired the pledges with an announcement of an expansive strategy to cut methane, following the lead of states, including California, that began crafting policies to stop it from seeping into the atmosphere years before.

“It was remarkable to be able to already have a great outline of a methane action plan,” National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said at the international summit. “We can do this because of the work that has been done by everyone else.”

California has long-standing rules tackling methane from landfills, the oil and gas industry, dairies and other major sources. But it’s also home to a large natural gas storage facility that had a major leak starting in 2015. State officials voted Nov. 5 to increase natural gas storage at the facility while they evaluate how to shut it down.

“The role of nature has been underappreciated as a part of our climate solution.”

Wade Crowfoot, California Resource Secretary

California’s methane emissions largely haven’t increased over the past decade, but they also haven’t dropped significantly — signaling the challenge ahead for governments that signed on to the pledge.

The pledge from the UN nations “is sort of the lowest common denominator that you could get everyone to agree to,” said Arvind Ravikumar, a research associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “That said, 30 percent does not mean it’s easy.”

When it comes to forests, California is losing the ability of its trees to store planet-warming carbon. The state’s forests are no longer burned or razed to clear land for agriculture, as is common in the developing world, but large tracts are burning nonetheless — from wildfires.

“The role of nature has been underappreciated as a part of our climate solution,” California Resource Secretary Wade Crowfoot said in an interview.

“The world’s forests are burning up,” he said. “In the Southern Hemisphere it’s through a policy of land clearing, in California our forests are burning as a result of climate change or forest management.”

Cows and landfills

Methane, the key ingredient in natural gas, is a shorter-lived but more powerful greenhouse gas than the more-infamous carbon dioxide. It makes up about 10% of greenhouse gases that people pump out across the United States, but accounts for about 30% of today’s warming.

It’s largely regulated by the federal government, except where states have stepped in.

Biden’s new plans include proposing a rule under the Clean Air Act to cut methane pollution from new and existing oil and gas facilities, and finalizing another that would increase oversight of certain natural gas pipelines. The White House also said state agencies would ramp up incentives and other efforts to curb methane from landfills and agriculture.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s draft oil and gas rule, expected to be finalized by the end 2022, is one more example of the regulatory whiplash that industries have faced over the past five years.

Cows at the New Hope Dairy in Galt. - ANNE WERNIKOFF FOR CALMATTERS
  • Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
  • Cows at the New Hope Dairy in Galt.

No sooner had President Barack Obama finalized in 2016 the first-ever federal rules to directly regulate methane from new and modified oil and gas sources, than President Donald Trump’s administration began trying to undo them. Congress undid the Trump administration’s rollbacks this year, and now even more stringent rules are set to take their place.

“On methane, specifically for oil and gas companies, they have seen quite a bit of change in Washington,” Lauren Sanchez, senior advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom on climate, told CalMatters from Scotland. “What California brings is kind of a consistency in message and, for them, consistency in business direction.”

The California Air Resources Board is still figuring out how the federal proposal and California’s existing methane rules overlap, said Carolyn Lozo, who leads the air board’s oil and gas and greenhouse gas mitigation branch.

“In many ways, the state methane rule has very similar controls to what the EPA proposal has,” said Lozo.

Since the landmark California Global Warming Solutions Act passed in 2006, the state has adopted a number of methane policies — rolling out requirements for methane capture at landfills, increasing oversight and monitoring to prevent leaks in natural gas pipelines and storage facilities, and setting a statewide target to cut methane pollution 40% below 2013 levels by 2030.

“We need to dig down a little deeper and see, is there a delta? Is there a place that we need to shore up the state regulation?”

Carolyn Lozo, California Air Resources Board

The air board adopted regulations in 2017 requiring regular monitoring, leak detection and repair at both new and existing oil and gas facilities, and set emissions standards and other requirements for certain oil and gas equipment. The rules expanded on a patchwork of existing policies to prevent toxic compounds and gases escaping from wells enacted by some air districts, which can also reduce methane emissions, Lozo said.

“We need to dig down a little deeper and see, is there a delta? Is there a place that we need to shore up the state regulation?” Lozo said.

Kevin Slagle, a spokesperson for the influential Western States Petroleum Association, said it’s too soon to contrast California’s program and the yet-to-be finalized EPA rules, which he said they will review.

Echoing the American Petroleum Institute, he said, “we support the direct regulation of methane from new and existing sources and are committed to building on the progress we have achieved in reducing methane emissions.”

More controversial is California’s approach to regulating methane from the dairy industry, which accounted for nearly half of the state’s methane emissions in 2013. California’s regulators tackle those emissions entirely with incentive programs, funding efforts to harness and convert methane emissions from manure into fuel.

Environmental justice groups say these incentives encourage the persistence of large-scale farming operations near communities.

“The state has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer and ratepayer money into programs that benefit the factory farm and gas industries and that do not address either the air quality or water quality or climate crises impacting San Joaquin Valley residents,” said Phoebe Seaton, co-executive director of Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “It’s past time to take our dairy problem seriously.”

The Biden administration is “failing to learn from the mistakes that California has made over the last decade.”

Jamie Katz, the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability

Like California, the Biden administration’s plans rely largely on voluntary incentive programs for agriculture.

“USDA does not regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector,” said Mirvat Sewadeh, a spokesperson for the United States Department of Agriculture. “Our climate strategy is farmer, rancher and landowner-led and will ensure that rural America plays a key role in our transition to cleaner sources of energy.”

That’s a problem, said Jamie Katz, staff attorney at the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. The Biden administration is “failing to learn from the mistakes that California has made over the last decade.”

And methane pollution continues. Cows’ digestive tracts produce methane, and the gas released by their belches is unregulated in California, which could hinder future methane reductions. And an aerial survey reported massive plumes of methane released by some landfills.

Still, California’s climate regulators say there’s more progress ahead. State law requires diverting 75 percent of all rotting, methane-spewing organic waste from landfills by 2025. California’s air board announced a collaborative plan to launch a flock of carbon-sniffing satellites to detect methane and other gases. More incentive-funded manure-digesters are expected to come online, and scientists are working to crack the problem of bovine belches.

“What we need to do is really deploy more dairy digesters, cap more fugitive methane emissions, move off of fossil natural gas — which will hopefully reduce our fossil fugitive methane emissions as well,” said Matthew Botill, chief of the air board’s Industrial Strategies Division. “And doing that, over this next decade, is really pivotal.”

Protecting forests to protect climate

Assemblymember Ash Kalra, a Democrat from San Jose, says the state hasn’t gone far enough to address deforestation, including on an international scale. He sponsored a bill that would have required companies doing business with the state to certify their products were not harvested from areas where tropical deforestation occurred.

The legislation passed but was vetoed by Newsom last month. Kalra said he welcomes the international pledges to end deforestation and attention to the problem, but said, “we can do more.”

“A lot of countries make pledges, and you don’t see much follow up. I’m not interested in pledges, I’m interested in action to save this planet.”

Land use practices, including agriculture and burning forests for development, account for about 23 percent of total annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

It’s a circular problem: Burning forests to clear land releases carbon. And losing trees means losing their ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere.

California policy makers came to the same conclusion. An executive order signed by Newsom last year made it a priority to harness natural landscapes to promote biodiversity and “accelerate natural removal of carbon and build climate resilience in our forests…”

The initiative is still in draft form but much of the focus is on forest loss through wildfires and will set goals for carbon storage in forests and soils.

The state has increased its measurements of both carbon stored – or sequestered – in California’s forests and the alarming increase in emissions from severe fires.

“Our challenge in California is to restore the health of our forests to enable them to be carbon sinks instead of carbon sources,” Crowfoot said.

“A lot of countries make pledges, and you don’t see much follow up. I’m not interested in pledges, I’m interested in action to save this planet.”

Assemblymember Ash Kalra, D-San Jose

Matthew D. Hurteau of University of New Mexico has been studying forests in the southern Sierra Nevada, measuring climate change and fire and their impact on healthy forest function. His research has been used as the underpinning for much of California’s forest and fire management policy.

“California has a forest loss problem,” he said. “These significant tree-killing wildfire events are happening in the context of ongoing drought and high temperatures. It impedes the ability of new trees to grow.”

He modeled historical, low-severity burns that occurred every 17 years. Those moderate fires took out smaller trees and emitted carbon, but that was offset by the surviving larger trees, which absorbed the carbon from the fires.

“The big trees are where the carbon uptake happens,” Hurteau said.

He said the practice by fire agencies of thinning forests with low-intensity burns that target the removal of smaller trees achieves the twin goals of making forests more fire-resistant and maintaining their ability to store carbon.

Using forests and other lands to address the climate crisis is overdue, he said.

“We’ve paid lip service to the role of natural systems in helping to regulate the climate,” he said.

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Sunday, November 7, 2021

Heading for Charlie Moon Way

Posted By on Sun, Nov 7, 2021 at 12:04 PM

This summer during the Eureka Street Art Festival, artist Dave Young Kim painted a mural depicting a Mandarin duck and Ben Chin, the first Chinese American to open a business in Eureka in 1955, 70 years after the mass expulsion of Chinese people from the town. That mural, emblazoned with the word “hometown,” stands in an alley between E and F streets and Fourth and Fifth streets, where Eureka’s Chinatown once served as home to more than 200 immigrant workers. And at the Nov. 2 Eureka City Council meeting, the council voted to approve renaming that alley Charlie Moon Way, honoring one of the Chinese residents who resisted the expulsion and remained in Humboldt County.
Representatives from mural sponsors Papa & Barkley, as well as the city of Eureka, join artists Dave Kim and Cate Be posing with Mary Chin, widow of Ben, and their youngest son Don, with ECP members Alex Ozaki-McNeill, Patty Hecht and Brianne Mirjah D’Souza, and Jean Pfaelzer in front of the completed mural “Fowl.” - PHOTO BY ALEXANDER WOODARD
  • Photo by Alexander Woodard
  • Representatives from mural sponsors Papa & Barkley, as well as the city of Eureka, join artists Dave Kim and Cate Be posing with Mary Chin, widow of Ben, and their youngest son Don, with ECP members Alex Ozaki-McNeill, Patty Hecht and Brianne Mirjah D’Souza, and Jean Pfaelzer in front of the completed mural “Fowl.”

The hope is to “create a space for learning about those stories,” according to Brieanne Mirjah D’Souza of the Eureka Chinatown Project, which first proposed the renaming before the city council in May. While a number of names for the alley were considered, “We really thought naming this after a person specifically would be a way to color in the lines of the story” of Chinese people in Humboldt. And Moon, she says, “represents so much more, and a crossing of communities.” Given the number of local Native people who can trace their lineage back to Moon, Mirjah D’Souza says, “We’re not just honoring someone who’s passed — it’s his descendents that will be around.”

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Friday, November 5, 2021

Get Ready to 'Fall Back' this Weekend

Posted By on Fri, Nov 5, 2021 at 5:12 AM

Remember to set those clocks back an hour. - FILE
  • File
  • Remember to set those clocks back an hour.
It's that "fall back" time of year, again. At 2 a.m. Sunday, daylight saving time comes to an end.

And, once again, North Coast Congressmember Jared Huffman is working with his Republican colleague Buddy Carter of Utah on a bipartisan bill that would allow states the option of staying on daylight saving time all year.

"I think a lot of people agree that keeping an extra hour of daylight all year makes a lot of sense," Huffman said in a tweet. "We have a bipartisan bill, the Daylight Act, to allow states to decide for themselves if they want to stop switching their clocks and stay on Daylight Saving Time year-round."

While Californians did vote overwhelmingly in 2018 to pass Proposition 7 to switch permanently over to daylight saving time, the measure needs to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature, which hasn’t happened yet. (A previous bill languished in the state Senate after passing in the Assembly.) And even if it did, California would simply join the ranks of a dozen states waiting for required Congressional approval to make the switch.

Among the many reasons cited for stopping the seasonal back and forth of time are health and safety concerns tied back to interrupted sleep patterns, including an increase in car crashes and cardiac issues.

Maybe next year? Until then, don't forget to turn back the clock an hour on Saturday night.
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Friday, October 29, 2021

Council to Discuss Police Chief Post in Closed Session as Text Investigation Comes to a Head

Posted By on Fri, Oct 29, 2021 at 2:56 PM

Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson.
The Eureka City Council will meet in closed session Tuesday to discuss how to proceed in the wake of Police Chief Steve Watson’s announced retirement and a case of anticipated litigation.

Watson announced Wednesday he would be stepping down from the position he’s held for four years at the end of November. With the department already facing a staffing crisis — officers are working 12.5-hour shifts and mandatory overtime with a quarter of EPD’s officer positions vacant — and a sergeant and a captain on administrative leave pending investigations, Watson’s departure date leaves the council with a tight timeline to plan for the department’s leadership, both in the immediate and long-term.

City Manager Miles Slattery said Tuesday’s closed session discussion with the council will focus both on a process by which the city will appoint an acting or interim chief to take over upon Watson’s departure and getting the council’s direction on how it wants to proceed with recruiting and hiring a permanent replacement.

Both Slattery and Watson were adamant in comments to the Lost Coast Outpost that the announced retirement has “absolutely” nothing to do with an outside investigation into a text messaging scandal among a unit of officers that spilled into public view after screenshots of the messages were leaked to the Sacramento Bee earlier this year. But the announcement comes just weeks after the city received the highly anticipated investigative report and, with that report still enmeshed in legal review, Watson may vacate his post before disciplinary decisions are made and the report’s findings are made public, to the extent they can be.

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Thursday, October 28, 2021

CalTrans Considers Alternatives to 'Armoring' 101 Against Sea Level Rise

Posted By on Thu, Oct 28, 2021 at 11:51 AM

As it faces flooding from sea level rise along the U.S. Highway 101 Arcata-Eureka, CalTrans is seriously considering a “living shoreline” instead of throwing riprap up against the tides. In a workshop yesterday, it also seemed clear the agency is going to keep the current road alignment at the edge of Humboldt Bay.

Clancy DeSmet, CalTrans' climate change adaptation branch chief, said planting a “natural shoreline” instead of “hard armoring” the highway might absorb or deflect rising waves. But because it’s never been tried and tested, the more natural alternative may not get state approval.

Relocating the entire highway inland is almost certainly off the table for consideration, said DeSmet, explaining it would be “cost-prohibitive” and entail moving communities.

CalTrans is seeking ways to keep 101 from drowning, and any suggestions are welcome between now and the spring, when the agency is set to have final reports on alternatives after analyzing roadway designs, geohazards and engineering. During the online workshop, about 65 participants, including Third District County Supervisor Mike Wilson and Eureka City Councilmember Kim Bergel, had plenty of questions, but no solution, to the problem of a major public thoroughfare facing a future of wetlands inundation.

A final plan for dealing with sea level rise on the corridor is due in December of 2025 — that is, unless the road starts flooding four times a year or more before then. Increased inundation would trigger an acceleration to the process, DeSmet noted.
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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Watson to Step Down as Eureka Police Chief

Posted By on Wed, Oct 27, 2021 at 11:30 AM

EPD Chief Steve Watson announced he is retiring. - FILE
  • File
  • EPD Chief Steve Watson announced he is retiring.
Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson announced his sudden retirement today. He will leave the post at the end of November after serving for four years.

In a city announcement, Watson says the decision comes with a “feeling of bittersweet peace” as he move onto a new chapter in life after 24 years in law enforcement, with more than 16 of those in Eureka, which he described as a great privilege.

“While my fire has not diminished, it is time for me to take a restful step back and reflect with pride on a career well spent, even as I look forward with enthusiasm to the next adventure,” he says. “I plan first to take some time to be more present with my amazing family, travel, teach, and finish my graduate degree.”

Watson was selected to take the EPD helm in September of 2017 after a nationwide search, replacing former Chief Andrew Mills, who departed to take over the Santa Cruz Police Department. The Fortuna native and U.S. Army veteran, who spent time working in the ministry, and as a school teacher, has served in law enforcement since getting his start with the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office in 1998.

He came on board as chief with an emphasis on better retention of the current force, more training, expanded community partnerships and stronger relationships with city staff.

City Manager Miles Slattery says details on recruiting a new chief will be announced “in the days ahead” and he sees the process as one that “will help us bring additional resources and opportunity to the many men and women who tirelessly serve our community as part of the EPD every single day.”

 “Chief Watson has led the city of Eureka’s Police force through several years of important transition and we are thankful for his service,” he says in the release.

Meanwhile, the department has been roiled by controversy in recent months after the Sacramento Bee published an explosive report detailing vulgar, misogynistic and dehumanizing text messages sent between a group of officers that someone leaked to the paper.

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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Time to Dial it Up to 10 for Local Phone Calls

Posted By on Sun, Oct 24, 2021 at 11:23 AM

The days of seven-digit dialing for local calls in the 707 area code — as well as 81 others across the country — came to an end today. From now on, the 707 will need to be included.

Why? Well, it’s because parts of those areas use “988 “ as the first three digits of some numbers and that has been assigned as the dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, just like there’s 911 for emergencies, which becomes available nationwide by July of 2022.

“To help facilitate the creation of ‘988,’ area codes that use ‘988’ as a local exchange, or the first three digits of a seven-digit phone number, will need to use 10-digit dialing,” a Federal Communications Commission consumer guide on the subject.

While the 988 line is transition is underway, those who need help can continue to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) and through online chats. Veterans and Service members may reach the Veterans Crisis Line by pressing "1" after dialing, chatting online at or texting 838255.

Read more from the FCC below:

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Friday, October 22, 2021

Watson Releases Statement Saying He is Entering a Rehab Program

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2021 at 6:58 PM

Arcata Councilmember Brett Watson issued a statement this evening saying he was entering "a 30-day residential rehabilitation program to focus on depression and personal issues."

Watson, who was replaced as mayor at a special meeting earlier this week, states that he informed the council and staff on Oct. 11 that he intended to step down from the position and seek treatment. He did not say whether he was resigning from the council.

"My goal is to get myself better before making any decisions on how I can continue to best serve my community," Watson's statement reads. "I'm very grateful for the outpouring of support I've received and I’ll inform the community of my decision as soon as possible."

The Arcata City Council voted unanimously Wednesday evening to appoint Stacy Atkins-Salazar to replace him as mayor and selected Emily Goldstein as vice mayor before following up the decision with a no confidence vote on his ability to serve as a councilmember.

“We have no legal ability to remove him from the city council. However, I believe we owe it to the people of Arcata to make it clear — we do not align ourselves with the actions of Councilmember Watson," Goldstein said before the no confidence vote. "This last week, information came to light regarding alleged behaviors of Councilmember Watson that negatively affected the city and some of its staff members."

Watson was first appointed to fill an open seat on the council in 2017 before being elected to serve. In August, Watson was arrested for driving under the influence at a controlled traffic stop conducted by the California Highway Patrol on L.K. Wood Boulevard.

He later released a statement saying he was having a difficult time dealing with the year anniversary of his father’s suicide.

Read Watson's statement below:
Arcata, CA, October 22, 2021 – Over the last 4 years I've worked very hard to serve the people of Arcata and it's been the greatest honor of my life. On Monday October 11th, I informed the City Council and staff I would be stepping down as Mayor and entering a 30 day residential rehabilitation program to focus on depression and personal issues. My goal is to get myself better before making any decisions on how I can continue to best serve my community. I'm very grateful for the outpouring of support I've received and I’ll inform the community of my decision as soon as possible. 
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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Arcata Council Casts 'No Confidence Vote' After Removing Mayor for 'Alleged Behaviors'

Posted By on Thu, Oct 21, 2021 at 12:01 PM

The Arcata City Council voted unanimously Wednesday evening to remove Brett Watson from the position of mayor and followed up the decision with a no confidence vote in his ability to serve as a councilmember.

Watson was not present “due to personal reasons,” according to Stacy Atkins-Salazar, who was selected to serve as mayor until December of 2022.

Vice Mayor Emily Goldstein, who was also appointed to her post at last night’s meeting, read a somewhat lengthy but vague statement about alleged actions taken by Watson that she said had come to the council’s attention in the last week before moving for the no confidence vote. Watson, she said, had been made aware that the votes were going to take place.

“For the public listening in, this means that I move to hold a vote to determine if the council believes Councilmember Watson is fit to serve on our Arcata City Council,” Goldstein read. “We have no legal ability to remove him from the city council. However, I believe we owe it to the people of Arcata to make it clear — we do not align ourselves with the actions of Councilmember Watson. This last week, information came to light regarding alleged behaviors of Councilmember Watson that negatively affected the city and some of its staff members.

“It is our responsibility now, as the council, to protect the well-being of our employees and the ability of our city  to run smoothly,”  she continued. “While to some of you it may seem unfair that we are moving forward with this vote of no confidence when Councilmember Watson is not present, we did feel it was important to be transparent with the residents of Arcata and share that this decision of leadership rotation and this proposed vote were made based on a body of information, although some of this cannot be shared publicly at this time. I have previously conveyed my thoughts to Councilmember Watson and he has been made aware that this vote would move forward at this evening’s council meeting. I do not take this decision lightly. I have shared all I can at this time and the city will address the alleged actions in a confidential manner.”

The four council members then cast their unanimous votes of no confidence.

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