Hopeful Outlook for Pacific Herring

Hopeful Outlook for Pacific Herring

Cold water, essential for the life cycle of Chinook salmon, is all too often in short supply along the Sacramento River. A primary cause: California’s massive water conveyance system, using reservoirs, dams, and hydroelectric plants to divert water and deliver power to farms and cities. “When we started releasing water in spring, we let cold water out too early. None was left by fall, when salmon really needed it,” says USBR hydraulic engineer Tracy Vermeyen. Two clever innovations have been...
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A wide-ranging Habitat Conservation Plan that could eventually protect up to 4800 acres of endangered species habitat in the Bay Area is the linchpin of a November agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Under the agreement, FWS issued the utility a 30-year incidental take permit for operations and maintenance activities in the nine Bay Area counties. The HCP includes strategies to avoid, minimize, and offset potential direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of PG&E’s O&M and minor new construction activities on 32 threatened or endangered species. The parties are hailing the landscape-scale plan as an improvement over the project-by-project process they previously operated under, as it will enable PG&E to complete projects more quickly...
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In Humboldt County’s coastal dunes, a multi-agency partnership is restoring the native plant community to build resilience to sea level rise.

The project, along with four others in the Bay Area and Southern California, is featured in a new report, Case Studies of Natural Shoreline Infrastructure in Coastal California. Much of the state’s dunescape was built over or hauled away before its value as habitat for unique species and a buffer against climate change was recognized. San Francisco’s dunes are long gone, and with them the endemic Xerces blue butterfly. Humboldt’s 32-mile stretch still shelters endangered plants like the Menzies’ wallflower...
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Smart Plover Predators

The South Bay’s salt pannes, bleak unvegetated flats left behind by commercial salt works, seem inhospitable to life. To western snowy plovers, though, they look like home. Still, the plovers are in trouble themselves. Considered a California species of special concern, the Bay-wide snowy plover breeding population sits at about 250. As Karine Tokatlian explained in her State of the Estuary Conference presentation in October 2017, efforts to boost their breeding success in the remaining salt pannes have encountered unexpected...
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Cold Curtain

Cold water, essential for the life cycle of Chinook salmon, is all too often in short supply along the Sacramento River. A primary cause: California’s massive water conveyance system, using reservoirs, dams, and hydroelectric plants to divert water and deliver power to farms and cities. “When we started releasing water in spring, we let cold water out too early. None was left by fall, when salmon really needed it,” says USBR hydraulic engineer Tracy Vermeyen. Two clever innovations have been...
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Small Natural Features, Big Ecological Benefits

One of the beauties of the Bay Area is that the landscape is rich in remnants of the wilderness that was once there. Journey through the ancient salt marshes and freshwater seeps of the tidal flats, to the grand old oaks casting shade over deep pools along seasonal streams, and even the precipitous cliffs of Alcratraz island. Every one of these has vast ecological benefits and comprise some of the Bay’s small but key natural features.
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Table Set for Snails

Several months ago, Mike Moran of the Delta’s Big Break Regional Park got a call about a cluster of unusual looking eggs. “We thought we might be looking at this channeled apple snail thing,” he says. Native to the Amazon and Plata river basins of South America, the snails are now officially identified and documented in northern California by the USGS. “What we are worried about is the snail’s voracious appetite for aquatic plants,” says Moran. How the snails ended...
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Searching for a Few Good Weevils

“They’re pretty charismatic,” says Julie Hopper of the tiny herbivorous weevil N. bruchi. Native to Argentina, these weevils were first brought to North America to combat the spread of the invasive weed water hyacinth. Like the weevil, Hopper also started far from the Delta. Originally a student of marine biology, she became interested in parasitology and discovered the value of biological control. “Biocontrol can make a huge impact, from reducing disease transmission to controlling invasive species, you name it,” she...
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Coyote’s Cache of Intermittent Riches

There’s a common perception in California that more water is always better for fish. Yet many native species possess traits that allow them to persist through harsh, dry summers and cyclical drought. Over the long run, summer releases from reservoirs and urban runoff can harm local fish by laying out a welcome mat for non-native species adapted to perennial flows, Leidy says. “In areas where streams have been altered by humans, where the natural hydrograph has changed, that’s where you...
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The number of Chinook salmon returning to Central Valley rivers is near record lows as a result of water management decisions made during the recent drought.

Returns of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon this year will be the second lowest this century—according to the Bay Institute’s Jonathan Rosenfield, the final 2017 estimate is likely to be less than 1,000 fish total, of which more than 80% were hatchery-spawned. Returning fish represent the survivors of the 2014 incubation period, when the US Bureau of Reclamation did not provide adequate cold water, and poor juvenile outmigration conditions during winter-spring 2015 resulting from reduced Delta inflow and outflow standards. Despite all this,...
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In hot water due to climate change, many ocean fish are moving to higher latitudes or deeper waters to find the conditions they need to survive.

These include lobster, black bass, and Atlantic cod, all of which have supported iconic fisheries along the Eastern seaboard of the United States. “Ocean animals are moving ten times faster than animals fleeing climate change on land,” says Rutgers University marine biologist Malin Pinsky, whose Rutgers OceanAdapt website enables visitors to explore changes in marine species distributions over recent decades. These range shifts are causing headaches for fishing fleets, which are forced to head farther out to sea or hundreds of miles further from...
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Sturgeon Surgeons

“White sturgeon are a popular species, so we want to keep a close eye on contaminants in their tissues.” Recent RMP studies have unearthed a few new interesting things about sturgeon - first that selenium keeps turning up in specimens from certain areas, and second that testing may not have to be deadly. Growing up to 20 feet long and living up to 100 years, today’s living fish have become valuable for the stories that they tell.
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Toxic Summer for Sea Lions

The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito is wrapping up a busy summer. A potent neurotoxin called domoic acid, propagated by toxic algal blooms, poses a threat to California sea lions. Originally called “Amnesiac shellfish poisoning,” domoic acid targets the hippocampus and can have devastating effects on sea lions.
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Sport Fish Still Not Squeaky Clean

Toxic flame retardants quickly declined in Bay-caught fish, once banned, but legacy mercury persists, according to the most recent year of sampling. As the region’s collaborative monitoring program for Bay contaminants — the RMP — arrives at its 25th birthday, its long-term commitment to consistent data collection for the purposes of targeted environmental management is showing its mettle. The RMP has been catching and testing a wide array of species of popular sport fish, ranging from giant sturgeon to tiny...
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Man’s best friend is being enlisted in efforts to detect the soil-born pathogen responsible for sudden oak death and other rapidly spreading plant and tree diseases.

Phytophthora is difficult to detect in nurseries, plant materials, and planting sites until it has done its damage. To develop early-detection options, H.T. Harvey and Associates are training a female cattle dog/border collie mix named Bolt to sniff out Phytophthora. Part of the Harvey Dog ecological-scent detection program, Bolt has accurately identified four species of Phytophthora in the lab. If her training in a natural setting is successful, Bolt could get to work helping minimize the spread of Phytophthora. Potential beneficiaries...
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Advocates for Alameda Creek are concerned that a new proposal to beef up passenger rail service between Stockton and San Jose would jeopardize water quality and wildlife habitat.

Niles-based Alameda Creek Alliance says the proposed expansion of the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) passenger rail service might also bring increased freight train traffic to narrow, steep Niles Canyon, creating a situation that could lead to possible derailments and creek-contaminating spills. (A passenger train derailed into the creek in 2016.) Niles Canyon is the critical mid-point of complex watershed-wide work to reduce erosion, improve flood control, and restore steelhead to the creek. The Alliance and others are asking for a...
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Small-scale conservation can have outsized ecological impacts, says an international group of researchers.

Among the small natural features that can have disproportionate ecological value are the bark of grand old trees, which has nooks and crannies that provide microhabitats for wildlife; patches of native plants alongside agricultural fields, which can provide some species with their only remaining natural habitat; and rocky outcrops, which nurture unique and diverse flora and fauna. Other benefits of conserving these modest yet influential—and often under-appreciated—landscape features include relative ease and affordability as well as compatibility with land uses...
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Caspian Push and Pull

The origin story of a project to lure Caspian terns to several barren islands in the South Bay Salt Pond Habitat Restoration Project stretches all the way to the mouth of the Columbia River in Washington. This bird story that turns out to be a fish tale shows what can happen when multiple agencies and states work together to protect the numbers of an endangered species by changing the patterns of another species. In this case, the robust population of...
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Options for Orphan Species

Off a bustling Delta highway, next door to a branch of the California Aqueduct, sprawls a tidy collection of shipping containers, humming pumps, and cylindrical tanks. Paved in cracked asphalt and encircled by chain link fencing, it resembles any number of light industrial sites at the margins of many communities. In fact, this resolutely artificial site is devoted to preserving a disappearing piece of natural California: the Delta smelt. “Our fish are a refuge population,” says Tien-Chieh Hung. Director of...
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Teachable Moments

The Ocean 102 lab at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill is a proper marine biological laboratory. It smells faintly of seaweed and formaldehyde, while fearsome, plastic versions of marine predators (sharks that happen to squeak) hang from the ceiling. A somewhat functional soldering iron sits on the counter in the supply room next to an open box of Girl Scout cookies. The Peterson benthic grab, a heavy jaw-like affair attached to a long rope sits in the supply room....
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