All posts by Chris Cocoles

Feds Propose Plan To Protect West Coast Orca Habitat

The following press release is courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity:

Federal Rule Protects Endangered Orcas’ West Coast Habitat

15,000 Square Miles of Critical Habitat Added to Existing Salish Sea Protections

SEATTLE— The federal government proposed a new rule today expanding critical habitat protection along the West Coast for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales, whose population has dipped to just 73 orcas.

The National Marine Fisheries Service called for designating 15,627 square miles of new critical habitat, expanding current protections in Washington’s Salish Sea south along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California to Point Sur.

The rule follows an April 2019 court-ordered agreement after the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Trump administration last year for failing to issue habitat protections required by the Endangered Species Act.

“We’re happy these endangered orcas are finally getting the habitat protection they desperately need,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the Center. “Expanding orcas’ habitat protection will help save these extraordinary animals and their prey from pollution, harassment and habitat degradation. Orcas are in crisis, and we need quick, bold actions to ensure their survival.”

The expanded critical habitat proposal covers important foraging areas, river mouths and migratory pathways along the Pacific Coast from the Canadian border to Big Sur, California. Added to the current habitat protections in Washington’s Salish Sea, the total designation would be more than 18,000 square miles of marine habitat.

While these orcas spend their summers in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea (areas protected as critical habitat in 2006), they travel extensively along the West Coast during the winter and early spring, congregating near coastal rivers to rest and feed on migrating salmon.

The Center petitioned in 2014 to better protect areas off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California (see map). The Endangered Species Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat. Animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as species without it, a Center study found.

The Center has two other pending lawsuits against the administration to protect Southern Residents. A lawsuit filed in April seeks updated analysis of how salmon fishing is harming the orcas and one filed in August to establish a “whale protection zone” in the heart of their Salish Sea habitat where boat traffic would be restricted.

SRKW Critical Habitat map.jpg

 

CDFW Biologists Moving Endangered Steelhead Out Of Low Water In Santa Barbara Creek

From Santa Barbara TV station KEYT, biologists are working in Gaviota Creek near Goleta to trap endangered steelhead and get the endangered sea-run trout into deeper water. Here’s more from KEYT’s Tracy Lehr:

Trout trapping is taking place in an undisclosed portion of Gaviota Creek in Goleta where the water is drying up.

There are more than a dozen barriers that restrict the movement of the fish when they get trapped below them.

Scientists said they are an endangered due to human interference in their habitats.

CDFW Previews General Deer Season Opener This Weekend

The following press release is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

California’s general deer season dawns across much of the state Sept. 21, and hunters would do well to scout and hunt those areas scarred by wildfires two to five years ago.

“These wildfires often are devastating for us as people, but from a deer’s standpoint, they like young, new growth that comes in after a fire. That is some of the best habitat for deer,” said Nathan Graveline, big game supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

Burn scars that are two to five years old provide the best combination of forage for deer and optimal hunting conditions. The open canopy that allows sunlight to reach the forest floor and generate the young, nutritious growth favored by deer, also helps hunters move more easily through the habitat and spot deer.

“It only takes about five or six years for the brush to come back to the point where you can’t see very well,” Graveline said. “And while the deer are still doing well in those areas, it just makes the hunting tougher.”

Hunters can check for past burns at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection incidents webpage. Information on any current or future wildfire-related closures is available at www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/area-alerts.

Deer season is already underway in California’s A and B4 hunting zones along the coast, but the majority of general zones available to rifle hunters – B1-B3, B5, B6, C1-C4, D6 and D7 – open Saturday, Sept. 21.

A limited number of rifle hunters also get the first opportunities at mule deer along the eastern Sierra as the premium X9a, X9b and X12 zones in Inyo and Mono counties – tags available only through CDFW’s Big Game Drawing – open Sept. 21.

Several other popular deer hunting zones – D3-5 and D8-10 – open the following week, on Saturday, Sept. 28, as do the premium eastern Sierra hunt zones X8 and X10.

Hunters are reminded that nonlead ammunition is now required for hunting deer and taking wildlife anywhere in California with a firearm. Deer hunters are strongly encouraged to re-zero their rifles with nonlead ammunition before they go hunting.

Detailed information on California’s various deer zones, including season dates, descriptions and maps, is available at CDFW’s Deer Hunting webpage: www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/deer.

Biologists estimate California’s deer population at 459,450.

While resident mule deer and coastal black-tailed deer numbers are generally holding steady and increasing in some places – particularly in suburban and foothill areas and along the river corridors of the Central Valley – California’s migratory mule deer herds in the eastern part of the state are down as a result of increasing human activity, development, habitat deterioration and predation.

Eastern Sierra deer herds also have yet to fully recover from severe winter and spring weather in 2016 and 2017 that resulted in significant mortality of both fawns and adults.

With a limited deer population and increasing human recreation and activity in deer country in the fall, deer hunters are encouraged to explore new tactics and new country.

For hunters that need to or want to stick close to roads, Graveline suggests using pullouts to glass nearby slopes.

“Many hunters I talk to are moving too fast, whether on foot or in a vehicle,” Graveline said. “Slowing down and using your optics will greatly increase your odds of seeing deer.”

Backcountry hunting is gaining in popularity, particularly with improvements in clothing and equipment the last 10 to 15 years.

“Hunting the high country provides a great opportunity to experience incredible wilderness areas,” Graveline said.

Hunters are reminded that deer tag reporting is mandatory – even for hunters who are unsuccessful or those tag holders who don’t have a chance to hunt at all. CDFW has produced a video on how to properly complete, attach and report your deer tag.

Gov. Newsom To Veto Bill Meant Help Block Environmental Rollbacks

A senate bill (SB 1) that passed on the state senate legislature, but has been vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom. The bill’s basic premise was to potentially block environmental rollbacks of the Trump Administration as the battle for California’s water rights rages on and conservationists worry about the longterm sustainability for salmon and other endangered species.

Here’s more from Bloomberg about Newsom’s reasoning behind the rejection of the bill:

“I fully support the principles behind Senate Bill 1: to defeat efforts by the President and Congress to undermine vital federal protections that protect clean air, clean water and endangered species,” Newsom said in an emailed statement on Saturday. The bill “does not, however, provide the state with any new authority to push back against the Trump Administration’s environmental policies and it limits the state’s ability to rely upon the best available science to protect our environment.”

Here’s a statement from the SB1 Coalition, made up of several conservation and advocacy groups:

SACRAMENTO--Governor Newsom issued an announcement yesterday rejecting Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the California Environmental, Public Health and Workers Defense Act.

The bill, authored by Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins, would ensure California’s authority to preserve our clean air, clean water, biodiversity and safe workplaces in the face of unprecedented threats and rollbacks from the Trump administration. The bill is backed by a broad coalition of environmental, environmental justice, health, business, labor, and fishing groups.

SB 1 passed both houses of the legislature in the early morning hours of September 14 by wide margins.

The bill was opposed by some powerful agricultural interests and certain water agencies who helped develop Trump rollbacks of federal regulations protecting endangered species.  The opponents of the bill have been particularly focused on a provision of SB1 that would simply require the federal Central Valley Project (CVP), controlled by the Trump administration, to comply with state laws protecting endangered species.  In the past, State Administrations of both parties have insisted that the CVP is held to the same legal standards as every other water user in the state. The provision in SB 1 would have codified what has been the policy in practice and ensured fairness for all of us who need water.

To pressure the governor to veto the bill, SB 1 opponents threatened to walk out of unrelated ongoing voluntary agreement discussions about standards for water flowing into the California Bay Delta ecosystem.  

Statement of SB 1 Coalition Regarding Governor’s Announcement:

The Governor’s announcement is disappointing.

“By rejecting SB 1 to satisfy the bill’s narrowly focused opponents, he is discarding protections that SB 1 would have provided for endangered species, air quality, water quality and worker safety.

“The Governor’s action also leaves us deeply concerned about the fate of California’s most vulnerable species and the future of our salmon industry.

“The next few months will test the state’s authority. The ‘Voluntary Agreements’ will now be analyzed by all as to whether they meet the standard for threatened fisheries.  We’re committed to protecting California’s natural resources and communities.”

The coaltion features the following groups:

Natural Resources Defense Council * Defenders of Wildlife  

Sierra Club California * Golden Gate Salmon Association 

California Coastkeeper Alliance * Audubon California

The Nature Conservancy * The Bay Institute * San Francisco Baykeeper 

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations  

Environment California * Coastside Fishing Club * NextGen California

Some reaction on social media:

 

 

Wildfire Threat Prompts Closure Of Riverside County Reserve

The following is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has announced the immediate closure of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve in Riverside County as a result of the Tenaja Incident (fire). Although the fire was largely under control as of Friday, Sept. 13, CDFW staff has closed the reserve to public access in order to perform repairs to critical infrastructure and allow firefighters to completely extinguish parts of the property that may still be smoldering.

The 7,500-acre reserve will be closed to all public access and activities, including biking, hiking and equestrian use, until further notice.

Hot Weather, Cold Bite In Old Stomping Ground

The following appears in the September issue of California Sportsman: 

By Chris Cocoles 

EL SOBRANTEI was the passenger in my sister Charlene’s SUV as we drove north up San Pablo Dam Road, and I felt a bit distracted. 

 Maybe it was the three impatient  dogs – highlighted by the youngest of the trio, hellraising puggle Nala – or what we were listening to on the local sports talk radio program during our drive from San Mateo to the East Bay. But really, I was anticipating what I hadn’t seen in so many years, and that was the shoreline of a special lake. 

San Pablo Reservoir was something of sacred water when I was a kid. It was a place that even in the urban sprawl of the Bay Area felt like a wilderness getaway when I was lucky enough to get across San Francisco Bay to try my luck for some of San Pablo’s trout.

 This has always been one of the local go-to spots for rainbows. I remember multiple opening-weekend trips here, when promises of trophy trout plants almost always resulted in at least a fish or two. 

Sometimes we’d simply fish from the shore next to the parking lot; on other days we’d rent a small motor boat and head across the lake to one of the most popular spots to anchor, Scow Canyon. There, you can anchor in a cove and cast some inflated nightcrawlers and lazily spend a morning in solitude despite being a few miles away from the clogged freeways and bumper-to-bumper chaos of the Bay Area. 

But I’d probably not seen that postcard view from San Pablo Dam Road for decades. Now I was back. I’d brought my sister, our three dogs and an August heatwave along for the ride. 

Photos by Charlene King/Chris Cocoles

DO YOU KNOW WHEN you’re older and haunts you once frequented as a youngster don’t seem as big and aren’t as dynamic as they once were? Confirmed. This was a letdown.  

We thought we’d missed the turn to get to the lake’s main recreation area until we found it. And my reunion with San Pablo Reservoir wasn’t what I hoped for. I envisioned a summer Monday morning with a bunch of boats leaving the marina; kids and their dads unpacking tackle from their cars; other dogs for ours to geek out over the potential of meeting and interacting with; a long line in the tackle shop and fish tales being swapped. Instead, I found Tombstone  a fishing ghost town. 

The parking lot was darn near empty and the store was until I walked in and gave the poor woman working her shift with a sale to make (the park entrance fee, a required East Bay Municipal Utility District fishing permit and some bait). 

I asked what the catfish were biting on – trout fishing usually slows down in the summer after the plants end in June – and she convinced me that a container of frozen chicken livers was as good an option as any other. Sold. 

Needless to say, we didn’t have many anglers to crowd once we somehow got the pups, my German shepherd/Lab mix Emma and Charlene’s puggles Nala and Angel, leashed and somewhat controlled enough to transport them and our gear to down to a spot a short walk away. Just one other brave soul was already fighting a rising sun that would spawn a high of about 83 degrees that day. 

I went to college in Fresno,  worked in the Southland high desert of Lancaster and also in the humidity of northwest Arkansas, so I have a history of living in the heat. But about 30 minutes into this fishing foray it already felt like a scorcher. 

My companions on this day? Forget it. Charlene has spent her entire life on the Peninsula, where it rarely gets above 72 degrees. The dogs struggled to sit still and quickly tripped over each other to suck down the bottle of water we poured into a bowl. Sister and canines hung around for a while but retreated to a nearby covered picnic table for some shade.

I was going to carry on. 

Pups Nala, Angel and Emma did their best to keep cool in the summer heat. (CHARLENE KING)

MY FIRST SIGN THAT this wouldn’t be a turn-back-the-clock day to past San Pablo Reservoir glory was keeping my chicken livers on the hook. When I first opened the container their frozen state made them difficult to get on the hook. Still, I was teased into thinking there was some hope. 

My line tugged ever so slightly before straightening out just as fast. I reeled in, noticed my naked hook and convinced myself it was must have been a clever catfish that stole the bait. As the weather got warmer, the bite would also heat up. My sister and the pups walked back down to me, sweated a bit more and then fled. Who could blame them?

The guy down the shoreline near me looked as bored as I was and eventually waved his white flag and departed. Flies invaded the ground when a piece of chicken liver fell off my hook as I reeled in. One boat cruised by, invoking some memories of past trips to Scow Canyon. But this wasn’t Once Upon a Time in El Sobrante. There would be no fishing fairy tale or Tarantino-directed revisionist history on this day. 

By 11 a.m., we gave up and settled for eating an alfresco burrito lunch at a taqueria just down the road in Orinda. 

Still, it was a great morning. I went back to my roots, something that just never seemed to be in the cards during all my return trips to the Bay Area since I’ve moved away. I’ll go back sometime, most likely when the weather is cooler and the trout are active. 

That’s what I remember most about this place. CS

Photos by Chris Cocoles

 

Lake Camanche Angler Catches Massive Bass

Photo courtesy of Andrew Schmidgall/Facebook.

The Stockton Record has more on a 14-plus-pound bass caught earlier this month at the Mother Lode-area’s Lake Camanche:

After returning from a six-week road trip, Andrew Schmidgall of Lake Camanche Village had an epic fishing day on Sept. 2 when he caught and released a 14.71 lb. largemouth bass at Camanche. He was using a Wicked Weights jig on a ledge in the main body at 25 to 30 feet deep when he hooked the monster fish.

“This is my new personal-best bass,” said Schmidgall. “It took about 10 minutes to bring in. It was the fish of a lifetime; I don’t know if I will be able to beat it.” …

…While this was a huge bass, it was the second biggest landed at the reservoir this year to date. Tim Wells of Clovis caught and released a 15.01-pound largemouth while using a drop shot rig on March 16.

New Lawsuit Fights California Hunting Regulations Involving GPS Collars On Dogs

Animal rights groups filed a lawsuit challenging a California regulation that allows hunters’ dogs to wear GPS collars. Here’s more from the Associated Press:

The Animal Legal Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit last week in Sacramento Superior Court, called the hunting method “unusually cruel and unfair.” Tracking devices allow dogs to chase prey to the point of exhaustion, and then hunters follow the GPS signal to find an animal that can no longer flee and is easily shot, the group said.

The lawsuit was joined by the Public Interest Coalition and Friends of Animals. It targets the California Fish and Game Commission, which didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

Conservation Groups Applaud Plan To Clean Up Central Valley Habitat

The following press release is courtesy of various conservation groups via the law offices of attorney Stephan C. Volker:

On Friday, September 6, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed commercial and sports fishermen, biologists and conservation groups a major victory in their efforts to clean up contaminated discharges from the Central Valley’s Grasslands Bypass Project.  Owned and operated by the federal Bureau of Reclamation and local irrigation districts, the Project collects wastewater from 97,400 acres of farmed and unfarmed lands within California’s Central Valley.  The Project discharges substantial quantities of selenium and other pollutants into state and federal wildlife refuges and thence the San Joaquin River, the Delta and San Francisco Bay.  The Court unanimously reversed Federal District Judge Kimberly Mueller’s dismissal of their lawsuit against the Project, ruling that a Clean Water Act discharge permit is required for the Project despite the Act’s exemption of return flows from irrigated agriculture so long as any part of its wastewater is generated by activities unrelated to crop production.

In reaching its decision, the Court issued three landmark rulings under the Clean Water Act’s exemption for discharges from irrigated agriculture.  First, the Court held that the Defendants had the burden of establishing that their discharges were “composed entirely of return flows from irrigated agriculture.”  Second, the Court held that the exception was limited to “only those flows that do not contain additional discharges from activities unrelated to crop production.”  Third, the Court held that the District Judge erred in ruling that the exemption applied so long as a “majority” of the wastewater originated from agricultural activities.  The Court ruled that only those discharges that are composed entirely of return flows from irrigated agriculture were exempt.

 Applying these rulings to the commingled discharges of the Grasslands Bypass Project, the Court held that all of the Plaintiffs’ claims should proceed.  First, the commingled discharges from a solar project were not exempt even though they did not comprise a majority of the Project’s wastestream, since only those discharges that “were composed entirely of return flows from irrigated agriculture were exempt.”  Second, the Court overturned the District Judge’s dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ claims regarding polluted ground water that seeped into the Project’s massive drain from unfarmed lands including highways and residences.  Because those commingled discharges were not composed entirely of return flows from irrigated agriculture, they did not fall within the exemption.  Third, the Court held the fact that these non-exempt flows were commingled with discharges from irrigated agriculture did not bring them within the exemption.

Accordingly, because all of the Project’s discharges are commingled, all of the Plaintiffs’ claims were proper.  Therefore the Court reversed the District Judge’s dismissal of them.

The Plaintiffs praised the Court’s ruling.  Noah Oppenheim, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, stated:  “We are gratified that the Ninth Circuit agreed with our arguments and held the Bureau of Reclamation to account for discharging massive quantities of pollutants into the San Joaquin River, the Bay-Delta Estuary, and ultimately San Francisco Bay without the discharge permit that is required under the Clean Water Act.  This ruling will help protect the salmon and salmon fishing jobs that require a healthy Delta free of toxic discharges from the San Joaquin drainage, as well as restore the vast populations of salmon and steelhead that historically swam up the Delta and the San Joaquin River.”

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, stated: “After decades of inaction by our federal government to halt the contamination that has destroyed habitat for our fish and wildlife, it is reassuring to see our federal court issue a strong ruling enforcing the Clean Water Act’s mandate for fishable and swimable rivers.”

Stephan Volker, Lead Counsel for the Plaintiffs, agreed that “the Court’s Ruling ends over forty years of evasion of the Clean Water Act’s strict requirement for discharge permits.  We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit issued a well-reasoned ruling enforcing this vital statute and protecting our rivers.”

Gov. Newsom Acts To Ban Trapping In California; Sportsmen’s Alliance Reacts

Governor Gavin Newsom announce he was banning recreational trapping in California, the first state to do so. Needless to say, that won’t go over well in the sportsmen and -women community.  First, here’s the Los Angeles Times on the decision by the governor:

The Wildlife Protection Act of 2019, signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, prohibits commercial or recreational trapping on both public and private lands.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who introduced the legislation, said it was time to end fur trapping. “It seems especially cruel, obviously, and it’s just unnecessary and costly,” she said. …

Gonzalez said that the roughly six dozen trappers still working in the state, down from more than 5,000 a century ago, cannot afford to pay the full cost of implementing and regulating their industry.

Soon after the announcement, the Sportsmen’s Alliance reacted to the decision. Here’s part of the statement from the alliance (read the complete message in the link above:

“By eliminating all trapping, Gov. Newsome and the California legislature have removed an important wildlife management tool, and it is highly likely that residents of California will see an increase in unwanted encounters with wildlife, the possibility of increased rabies outbreaks and increased budget issues as the state will require more resources to deal with the fallout.”