Category

Pearls

Beaver dams may offer wildfire protection to western watersheds, in addition to providing better-known benefits such as groundwater recharge, wetland and habitat creation, and riparian restoration.

A new study by California State University Channel Islands professor Emily Fairfax analyzed satellite-derived vegetation indices of riparian areas and beaver dams mapped via Google Earth. At the same time, Fairfax analyzed data for large (over 30,000 acre) wildfires that had occurred between 2000 and 2018 in California, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Oregon, and compared the fate of beaver-dammed areas to areas without dams. Fairfax found that riparian corridors within 100 meters of beaver ponds were buffered from wildfires. “In...
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Smack in the middle of the unprecedented disruption of normal life brought on by the Covid-19 crisis comes a new report detailing the challenges sea level rise might bring to the Bay region without proactive planning.

 Released on March 26, Adapting to Rising Tides: Bay Area compares the effects of rising waters on communities, natural lands and critical regional systems. “Shoreline flooding from sea level rise and storm events will impact everyone in the Bay Area because the transportation systems we rely on, schools, childcare, and hospitals we depend on, jobs at which we work, and beautiful natural areas we love are at risk, and interconnected across the Bay,” says Dana Brechwald of the Bay Conservation and...
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A new project should dramatically improve conditions for endangered steelhead trout in the lower reaches of Alameda Creek.

The project is part of a long-term effort to restore steelhead to Alameda Creek. Last year, for the first time in decades, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission began releasing water from a newly retrofitted dam, effectively reviving an important tributary stream. Also in 2019, the Alameda County Flood Control District began construction of a key fish ladder at the BART line crossing that will allow adult steelhead to access the river’s headwaters. The new fish passage enhancement plan focuses...
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A resurgence of dinoflagellates, which can cause harmful algal blooms, may be in the cards for some bays along the U.S. West Coast.

A resurgence of dinoflagellates, which can cause harmful algal blooms, may be in the cards for some bays along the U.S. West Coast. Scientists at UC Santa Cruz have been monitoring phytoplankton weekly at the town’s Municipal Wharf since 2002. In 2018, Alexis Fischer, then a postdoctoral fellow at UC Santa Cruz, augmented these observations with an Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) that photographed wharf phytoplankton hourly. She also developed a machine learning classification algorithm to automate identification of the organisms. In...
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New archaeological evidence from the South Bay strengthens the case that Chinook salmon spawned naturally in the Guadalupe River.

Albion Environmental, a Santa Cruz research consulting firm, and researchers from Santa Clara University analyzed thousands of fish bones excavated from a 19th century indigenous village on Mission Creek, a historical Guadalupe River tributary long since buried under modern urban development. In an abstract of their research, which has not yet been published, the authors describe using DNA sequencing on 55 confirmed salmonid bones. They identified 52 as belonging to steelhead trout and three as Chinook salmon. Whether Chinook occurred...
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A grassroots effort to move migrating newts across a Marin County road has drawn to a close, but organizers hope it leads to a more permanent solution.

For roughly half a mile, the two-lane road in a hilly rural area west of Petaluma travels alongside a large, natural body of water called Laguna Lake. On the other side is an oak woodland: the perfect place for California and rough-skinned newts, which spend the dry season in moist terrestrial habitat under leaf litter and wood debris or inside animal burrows. After seeing a number of native newts flattened along the road on rainy winter evenings, a small group...
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The parallels between the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change—threat, shelter, sacrifice, inequity, resource limits, and inaction despite strong science—are striking, and that may be good news.

“We’re seeing profound changes in habits and behaviors, the mobilizing of massive resources and a level of global coordination that we haven’t seen before,” said Otto Scharmer, a social change advocate and lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a recent radio interview for PRI’s The World. “This is highly relevant to climate action.” Since nobody is going anywhere, carbon emissions from transportation are down worldwide, giving us a very real glimpse of a greener feature. Some world leaders, meanwhile,...
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Dennis McEwan finished work on the 430-acre Yolo Flyway Farms Tidal Habitat Restoration Project in September 2018. A month later, he retired.

The timing was no accident; he’d delayed his departure from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to see the project through after helping to launch it ten years earlier. But even from the very beginning of his career, McEwan had been committed to doing all he could for declining species in and around the Delta. That “calling,” as he put it, began with 25 years at the California Department of Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) supporting Pacific...
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A career spent monitoring imperiled fish has given Randy Baxter a strong sense of the vulnerability of aquatic ecosystems.

“We’ve overtaxed the system,” he says. Baxter officially retired from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife last August, but still works two or three days a week as a “reemployed annuitant”—a big change from supervising a staff of 14 studying the threatened longfin smelt and other native fish. The reduced schedule gives him more time to fish, in California and on British Columbia’s Skeena River, and tend his orchids and carnivorous plants. Chicago-born Baxter grew up in Pacifica with...
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Jan Thompson has always been most interested in what happens down at the bottom of the Bay.

The zone of interaction between the critters in the oozes and the water column above—where specks of sediment, nutrients, and fish food cycle through clam siphons into the Estuary—is the particular specialty of this US Geological Survey scientist. “I’m most proud of the research I’ve done establishing a solid connection between bivalve grazing and phytoplankton growth,” she says. When USGS first hired Thompson, who retired in October 2019, most women in the Menlo Park office were secretaries. She’s since trained...
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After nearly 30 years in refuge management on public lands, Anne Morkill is leaving government, but not wildlife, behind.

Following her February 2020 retirement from managing the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which she led for nearly a decade, Morkill is taking the helm at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, a nonprofit that stewards one of the largest freshwater wetlands complexes on the northern California coast. Morkill believes that San Francisco Bay provides unusual potential for restoring habitat for wildlife in a highly urban environment. “That’s what makes it so special,” she says, citing the Bay...
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Bob Fujimura spent his entire career with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Bob Fujimura spent his entire career with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. From 1987 until his retirement in late 2018, Fujimura served in a variety of roles at the department—but he is likely best known for heading up its long-term monitoring of native fishes in the Bay and Delta. Beginning in the mid-2000s, he oversaw annual smelt surveys with far-reaching implications for management and conservation, including the Spring Kodiak Trawl, which determines the relative abundance and distribution of...
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“The Bay is a jewel ― can you imagine if it stunk like it did in the ’50s or if it was green with algae?” asks retiring Executive Director of the Bay Area Clean Water Agencies (BACWA) David Williams, reflecting on his work over much of the last decade to address nutrient pollution.

Working with the 37 wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the Bay, as well as with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, Williams helped establish a science-based regional permit for nutrients from the plants. The forward-thinking permit includes nature-based solutions like using wastewater to nurture horizontal levees or create wetlands, buffering the Bay shore from crashing waves as the sea rises. “We have a very enlightened Water Board,” Williams says, “because of that, instead of fighting, the...
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Rainer Hoenicke is optimistic about the changes he saw in his five years as the Delta Stewardship Council’s Science Director.

“People are coming to the table and realizing we need to be anticipating and forecasting how to adapt,” he says. Prior to joining the Science Program, Hoenicke served for nearly a decade as deputy and executive director of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, where he managed two Boards of Directors and reorganized the Institute’s program areas. “I felt challenged to do something different,” he says of the move, “since the Delta is much more controversial territory.” In Hoenicke’s eyes, the...
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A new system for treating agricultural drainage water in the Delta could also help rebuild subsided islands.

The approach—known as a Chemically Enhanced Treatment Wetland—combines chemical treatment with natural wetland processes; researchers tested it on Twitchell Island, which features corn and rice crops, as well as wetlands. They dosed agricultural ditch water with dissolved organic material (DOM), then treated it with a coagulant to precipitate the DOM, forming flocculant. The resulting water then passed though treatment wetlands, where the flocculant settled and blended with plant detritus in the sediment. The study, reported in the September 2019 San...
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Manmade features in the Delta, including riprap-armored banks, water diversion pipes, pilings, and woody debris, may be sending juvenile native fishes into the jaws of finned invaders.

“We know from a decade of doing survival studies that migrating juvenile salmon are dropping out of the system pretty much everywhere in the Delta,” says UC Santa Cruz fisheries biologist Brendan Lehman. “Physical habitat features are potentially aggregating predators and prey in ways detrimental to salmon smolts and steelhead.” The scientists report in the December 2019 San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science that artificial light and submerged aquatic vegetation pose the most severe and widespread risks to native fishes....
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Levels of pyrethroid insecticides spike sharply in the North Delta’s Cache Slough during winter rainstorms, rendering the water so toxic that it decimates laboratory populations of a half-inch crustacean called Hyalella azteca.

However, according to a study reported in the September 2019 San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, Hyalella collected in the wild from Cache Slough are resistant to pyrethroids. Genetic analysis revealed that, collectively, Hyalella in the slough have four mutations for pyrethroid resistance. They also have a fifth mutation for resistance to organophosphates and likely carbamates, two additional major classes of pesticides that are applied extensively on agricultural and urban lands. “Hyalella are special,” explains co-author Helen Poynton, a molecular...
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Researchers hope new computer models will help clarify the effects of entrainment on the population of endangered Delta smelt.

Entrainment at the South Delta pumps of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project has been a concern for years, but disentangling its impact on the dwindling smelt population from those of other environmental and water management factors isn’t easy, and operational differences between the SWP and CVP facilities complicate analysis. Now, US Fish and Wildlife Service statistician Will Smith has developed computer models for entrainment effects on different smelt life stages, part of a larger Delta Smelt...
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While the acreage of wetland restoration projects is growing throughout the Delta, scientists are still working to understand how best to help these areas become fully functioning, complex habitat as quickly and successfully as possible.

A study published in September’s San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science shed light on some essential questions about what triggers seed generation in wetland habitat. “Wetland restoration practices can be enhanced by a solid understanding of basic plant life history and species ecology,” says co-author Taylor Sloey of Yale-NUS College in Singapore. The researchers looked at three questions: what seeds are present in the seed bank (the viable seeds that accumulate naturally in the soil), and how exposure to cold...
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An emergency barrier installed to protect the state’s water supply from saltwater intrusion during the recent record-setting drought had little effect on the ecosystem.

In spring 2015 the California Department of Water Resources dropped 150,000 tons of rock into False River in the Central Delta to halt encroaching tides that had little freshwater to hold them back. A few months later, it was clear the barrier worked, as salinity rose on one side and fell on the other. But what were the effects on local plants and animals? Through six overlapping yet distinct projects funded by the state Delta Science Program and NASA, and...
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The San Francisco Bay-Delta is named in the federal Clean Water Act as one of 28 “estuaries of national significance." For over 20 years, the San Francisco Estuary Partnership has worked together with local communities and federal and state agencies to improve the health of California’s most urbanized estuary.

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