Pearls in the ocean of information that our reporters didn’t want you to miss

AUGUST 2017

Like the Bay Area’s salt ponds, cranberry farming originally involved creating an artificial environment from a natural wetland through the installation of dams and weirs. The cranberries—a plant native to North America that naturally grows as a vine—were then trained to grow in mats on the water’s surface. A project on Tidmarsh Farms in Plymouth, Massachusetts included redirecting a natural stream that had been diverted into an agricultural canal back into its original channel and planting 6,000 Atlantic white cedars to “jumpstart” the native wetland restoration. The farm is approximately 10 feet above sea level, says Alex Hackman, Restoration Specialist with the Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game, so the tides aren’t yet connecting with the new wetlands. But as sea level rises, that could change. In the meantime, native fish like alewives—a river herring—and eels are already returning to the stream. Hackman says there are approximately 14,000 of acres of cranberry farms in his state that could potentially be restored. LOV

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 such as grazing and forestry. Even seemingly minor features, the researchers say, can have “roles that may be critical in the function of their broader ecosystems and the fate of biodiversity.” RM

 The suits, filed in California Superior Court, seek compensatory and punitive damages and other remedies for the ongoing harm that oil, gas and coal cause by contributing to global warming and sea level rise. A 2009 Pacific Institute study calculated that San Mateo has more property and people at risk from sea level rise than any California county, while in Marin more than 12,000 homes, businesses and institutions, with an assessed value of $16 billion could be at risk from tides and surge flooding by the end of the century. The suits claim that the companies have known about the dangers posed by greenhouse gases for nearly fifty years and sought to conceal them from the public and encourage the use of fossil fuels while protecting the companies’ own assets and developing plans to profit from a warmer world. According to some legal experts, the suits may succeed where other efforts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for climate change damage have failed, thanks to advances in climate science and recent revelations about what the companies knew about global warming and when they knew it. CHT

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 would likely include those working to re-oak the parks, open spaces, and backyards of Silicon Valley to improve habitat for native plants and animals.  KMW

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 more thorough environmental impact assessment and more clarification about what kinds of uses of the railway will be permitted in the future. DM

The day I began editing a monolithic overview of Santa Clara County’s Coyote Watershed I received a gift from my handler. He’d just thrown me for a loop by suggesting we describe not just Coyote Creek’s vast extent and myriad One Water management issues, but also its six sub-watersheds. I asked him to summarize the differences. Rather than composing a detailed memo, or searching water district literature for the materials, he logged into Bay Area Greenprint. Within hours I had six super-organized mini-reports offering maps and metrics on each creekshed. At a glance, I could see acreages, land uses, habitat extent, presence of endangered species, food production, groundwater recharge, wetland and river quality, trails, flood risk, and even climate change threats. Comparing reports gave me a quick lay-of-the-land in terms of priorities and constraints for planning and management. I imagine this kind of high-level, integrated, regional screening would also help anyone trying to make the case for a multi-benefit project. Kudos to The Nature Conservancy, Greenbelt Alliance, American Farmland Trust, Bay Area Open Space Council and GreenInfo Network for this smoothly crafted time saver. To read about another more urban version of smart-project screening, check out LA Drainage Goes Native in the June issue of ESTUARY News. ARO

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