Sunday, November 24, 2013

The $2.1 Billion Dollar Question

Environmentalism, stewardship of the land, ecology and the Endangered Species Act. These are all words, concepts, and laws that have become more or less entrenched within left leaning circles. The "bleeding heart liberal" with bumper stickers that say Keep Tahoe Blue on his/her Prius is more of a posterboy for environmental concerns than the guy with the NRA sticker on the back of his Ford Pickup. But this modern political separation, this bipartisan split, is not historically reflective of environmental attitudes in this countries past.

As Rick Meril at the excellent blog, Coyotes, Wolves, and Cougars.....Forever!!! pointed out in a recent post bipartisan support of endangered species acts and clean air, water and land conservation efforts were at one point in this countries past supported by both republicans and democrats. Remember that it was Nixon who signed the Endangered Species Act into existence. So when did the schism occur? Blame Reagan, who in the 1980's elected James G. Watt as the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
James G. Watt. wiki

Now not only did Watt posit environmental regulations and concerns as a chief deterrent to economic wealth and prosperity but openly cited his Dispensationalist Christian faith as informing his environmental methodology. The alleged quote "After the last ree is felled, the lord will return" is attributed to him. Although there is no actual proof he said this, the quote is not too far off the mark with regards to his track record. Together with the head of the EPA, Anne Gorsuch Burford, the duo set the standard for Republican attitude towards environmentalism. A standard that, unfortunately, continues to this day.

What often gets lost in the discussion, when acts such as the endangered species act are cited as a deterrent to economic vitality is this: That the endangered "little fish" or "stupid frog"  is actually an emblem for an entire ecosystem. These canaries in the coal mine are just the first in a whole network of species to show outward signs of distress, while in reality it is the whole biological network- the community as a whole- that is in decline. Secondly industries shift, move, and go extinct themselves. Take the city of Detroit for example. So if the air, water, and soil of a land is poisoned in the name of industry, when that industry moves, implodes or disappears- now that land is good for nothing. No hunting, fishing, hiking, recreational sports, or agriculture. Good for no one.

A little less than a year ago this article ran in the local free paper, The Ventura Reporter: Restoring Steelhead to Cost Up to $2.1 Billion Over Next Century. Now the fun part about this article is, of course, the comments section. Having a strong republican flavor here- Simi Valley and several naval bases call the county home- you can well imagine the furor such an article would stimulate. One of my favorite pro arguments is that the 1.2 billion dollar price tag is the equivalent of a B-2 stealth bomber, but unlike the bomber- steelhead are edible.

But again what gets lost is that $2.1 billion is actually about not just the steelhead- but restoring the ecosystem as a whole- there are several other state and federally threatened/endangered species that would benefit from the steelhead recovery effort. And if you want to take a look at the recovery proposal from NOAA here is the link.

What should be apparent to readers of this blog is that the watersheds that house steelhead and are proposed as recovery areas are the exact same watersheds I and others advocate for beaver restoration efforts. Now you  would not need $2.1 billion to restore beaver into these watersheds. Hell, $2.1 million might do the trick just fine. I'm just saying, bang for your buck, beaver restoration- coupled with some nice dam removals and Arundo donax round ups might be the best bet.

Matijilla Dam in Ventura County. Scissor graffiti is real
If you want to restore steelhead- you have to restore the whole watershed. And if you have to restore the whole watershed the most economic and pragmatic approach is to let beaver do it for cheap. They for sure have the lowest bid among the government contractors. They don't have a union. They will do it better than the government and will do it for cheap. And isn't that what republicans always claim to want: less government and cheaper?

From the NOAA paper:

"Recovery of viable, self-sustaining populations of southern Steelhead will require a shift in societal attitudes , understanding, priorities, and practices and ultimately the reintegration of the species into a highly altered landscape that is home to more than 22 million people."

A little touch-feely but good vid by EDC on Santa Barbara based Mission creek steelhead restoration with groundbreaking culvert retrofit.

Restoring Steelhead to Cost Up to 2,1 Billion Over 100 Years. VCS. 1-12-12

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reclaimed Water for the Win?

Looks like a nice little meandering river, no? Nice riparian vegetation- loads of willows, cottonwoods, sycamores- good flow for a southern Californian stream deep into the fall before any rains have commenced. Surely such an inviting scene is miles away from the machinations of modern man. But that little road way may tip you off otherwise...

What you are looking at is a section of Conejo creek downstream from the Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant of Thousand Oaks. Of course I have mentioned this watershed before. Conejo creek has received some press recently due to the revelation that the federally protected southern steelhead has begun to recolonize these waters. The cities of Thousand Oaks and Camarillo both discharge treated wastewater into the creek. And in light of the fish's presence in the creek both municipalities may now be required to sustain these discharges in order to maintain the habitat. And this is much to the ire of at least Camarillo, because that city had begun construction of a pipeline to use their reclaimed water for agriculture (probably sod farms as I don't think reclaimed water can be used for food crops).

And this whole debate is one which we have visited upon before: In a landscape that has historically been robbed of water flow through dams and diversions, is it now our obligation to recoup some of the  losses by taking advantage of outflow from wastewater treatment plants? I know it is not a pleasant thought, concentrating wildlife restoration efforts in essentially treated sewage. But as I said before, in a water parched landscape, beggars can't be choosers. And ultimately, it is not our choice to make- wildlife is already making the choice to live in habitats made possible through reclaimed water discharge- such as the steelhead recolonizing Conejo creek or the waterfowl I photographed in some of the tanks for the treatment facility in the picture below.

And I mean, it really is a nice looking stream when you get over the "treated sewage" aspect of it...

Of course all of this talk of treated effluent begs the question: should we concentrate beaver restoration in these areas in southern California? Well I would say YES! YES!! and more YES!!!

But let me buffer my argument more with this line of reasoning. To reestablish beaver they need to get over the predator hump. MartinezBeavers talked about this issue recently here. While beaver have been extirpated from many parts of their former range, their natural predators-cougars, bobcats, coyotes, bears, wolves- have done quite nicely in the meantime. Jeff Baldwin of Sonoma State addresses this very real issue of the problem of beaver reintroduction in predator saturated lands. It becomes less to do with stream slope gradient/vegetation type and more to do with how will this beaver transplant survive in small streams before it can build dams to survive predation? There is a real potential for loss in restoration efforts especially in arid lands with small streams and abundant predators. So the real question becomes how do we maximize our chances of successfully reintroducing beaver into these lands? Well we need to look at beaver restoration as essentially a war- there will be heavy casualties beavers will absorb, no doubt about it, from people and predators.

Okinawa beachhead. 1945. wiki
But if we utilize the areas of deepest water and highest flow- often man made reservoirs, dams, and water reclamation outflows- we will stand the greatest chance of establishing beachheads. And from these beachheads beaver can then spread across the whole watershed.

N. Matijilla Creek. Los Padres Wilderness

Middle Lions Camp. Sespe Wilderness
Above are two places I would love to see beaver reintroduced. The north fork of Matijilla creek is a tributary of the Ventura river and still has steelhead while Middle Lions camp also has a stream in it with steelhead. In the case of Lions camp I have it on good record that an acquaintance of mine, Tim Peddicord a retired biology teacher, spotted a beaver there in the 1960's. Additionally numerous other anecdotal reports of beaver in the Sespe watershed suggest that this area was a final stronghold for beaver in southern California.

However the Sespe wilds might not be the ideal spot to reintroduce beaver initially, as appealing as it may seem. That name, Lions camp, is no joke- there are lots of cougars out there, and bear, and coyote, and bobcat. The flows might be low or the pools just not deep enough to establish beaver in high enough densities to get over the predator hump out in the Sespe.

But how about a place like this:

Santa Clara River Estuary
Although the lower Santa Clara river runs dry due to the Freeman Diversion the estuary forms a veritable lake due to discharge from the Ventura wastewater treatment plant. Dense beds of tules and acres of willow thickets would be ideal forage. No cougars or bears here. Establishing a viable population would be possible and from here intrepid beavers could spread up into the entire watershed or be transplanted by humans to other areas in the watershed.

We just have to get over the "icky" reaction to treated wastewater- the wildlife already has.

Conejo Creek
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Beaver Wars: the Social and Scientific

Okay, it has been a little bit of time since I have been on here. Unfortunately the interesting algae I found in the Santa Ynez river was verified as Nostoc by an algae specialist- so not a new species.
Busy with my other blog and various shenanigans. But things have been busy in the beaver world none the less.

Beaver work is as much about the social as it is about the scientific. Getting involved with beaver restoration/outreach has taught me a lot about humans and how slow and sometime incapable of change we can be. Even in light of damning evidence.

Let's go over some of the news.

Bakersfield Beaver Wars

Bakersfield is actually a quite large city in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Its most notable exports are oil, methamphetamine, and the nu-metal group KoRN. Of the three cultural touchstones that Bakersfield has produced KoRN might be the best one- but not a lot of competition there. But Bakersfield does also have beavers, which started arriving at various municipal waters most likely via the Kern river at about the same time that the well documented Martinez beavers started showing up. But this where the two cities paths diverged. While Martinez, especially through the work of Heidi Perryman/Worth a Dam/Martinez Beavers, has provided a model and precedent for how municipalities can live with beaver Bakersfield has opted to go for a less progressive and scientifically less robust method of management. While public outcry has forced trapping/killing measures to be curtailed or implemented in clandestine they have initiated a redundant policy of plastic wrapping park trees as opposed to wrapping them in wire. I'm sorry, but those incisors will cut right through that plastic.

Wikipedia Creative Commons

Chew on this: The bike path beaver is back. The Bakersfield Californian. Nov 4, 2013.

In the article above the reporter makes the dubious assertion that one rogue beaver is returning over the years to terrorize city landscaping. More likely the beaver(s) are moving on or being secretly killed while new emigrants arrive all the time. If a natural vegetation of willow/cottonwood/tule/cattails was allowed to flourish the vegetation could better cope with beaver modification through coppicing. Unfortunately, expensive non-native landscaping is insisted upon which can not root sprout. Face palm.

Beavers return to Park at Riverwalk. 23 ABC News. Nov 4, 2013.

'First Look': Beavers spotted and Scott Cox's solution. The Bakersfield Californian. Nov 4, 2013.

And it gets worse in the article above.

So what do you do in the face of such will full ignorance? At least you can connect with the links above and comment. Go for it. Heidi has done all she can to promote beaver tolerance to the city and seems to be at her limit. More voices need to chip in.

It is shame that Bakersfield is missing a golden opportunity for embracing beaver within a large metropolitan area and setting an example to other cities. But I guess they are happy being the city where KoRN came from.

KoRN. wikipedia

Martinez Beaver (c)

A Really, Really Bad Article: Rip it to Shreds

I don't know where to start with this one... Is it simply clickbait? In the information age we live in I can't grasp how so much misinformation/non-science gets propagated.

11 species that are destroying the planet. Salon. Nov 9, 2013.

If the press will not do their job and they continue to profligate sloppy, hackneyed assertion science we need to shame them into doing their job.

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