Entries categorized "Environment"

Unitrans Ending Free Rides on Spare the Air Days for 2018

(Press release) Unitrans did its part to “Spare the Air” 15 days in a row, waiving fares for all riders July 27-Aug. 10, but, unfortunately, can no longer spare the expense and will discontinue the free-ride program from Monday, Aug. 27, through the end of the year.

Unitrans“With the high number of wildfires this year, Davis and the surrounding area experienced an unprecedented number of Spare the Air days, more than Unitrans anticipated in its annual budget,” said Jeff Flynn, general manager of the UC Davis and city transit system, which is operated by the Associated Students of UC Davis.

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Winters Putah Creek Park – Case Study of a Failed Project

Putah-creek-friends2Note: This is a follow-up to yesterday's post that described the lawsuit filed by the 501(c)3 non-profit Friends of Putah Creek; it is also authored by Friends of Putah Creek.

Description of the Project

The Winters Putah Creek Park project is a perfect example of good restoration intentions going awry and resulting in serious degradation of creek habitat by massive alteration of the natural form of the stream bed. This is being called “geomorphological engineering”.

The project was designed by the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) to alter the streambed and riparian floodplain in three phases along the entire 1.2 miles of Putah Creek flowing through the City of Winters. The first phase was begun on the upper 1/3 end of the creek in 2011 by nearly clearcutting a mature riparian forest of native and non-native trees alike, from stream bank to stream bank, and importing over 70,000 cubic yards of alien, clayey fill. The soil was graded flat and smooth with a slight 2 percent slope toward stream. The floodplain and channel were heavily compacted and stream was left with only a narrow channel through the center of the former streambed. The final depth of the compacted fill varied from about 2 to over 12 ft.

Stream and floodplain features such as wetlands, ponds, swales, back-channels, undercut banks, and deep pools that create ecological diversity and complexity were completely eliminated in this process. The newly-formed barren floodplain was soon replanted with thousands of native plants. The intention was to quickly provide a fully functional riparian habitat complete with undercut banks and creek-side shading suitable for the entire food chain to thrive.

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Lawsuit Filed Challenging Adequacy of Environmental Review of Winters Putah Creek Park Project

Putah-creek-friends(Press release) On June 18, a lawsuit was filed by Davis Attorney Don Mooney, Esq. on behalf of his client, the 501(c)3 non-profit Friends of Putah Creek. The defendants named in the lawsuit are the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) and the Central Valley Flood Control Board (CVFCB).  The lawsuit alleges that the CVFCB improperly approved an Encroachment Permit allowing the SCWA to continue to perform radical stream alterations on Putah Creek though the City of Winters and immediately downstream without doing appropriate environmental review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The lawsuit demands that the CVFCB require the SCWA to perform the requisite environmental review before proceeding with further work in the Putah Creek floodplain.

BACKGROUND OF THE WINTERS PUTAH CREEK PARK “RESTORATION” PROJECT AND LACK OF ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE - The Winters Putah Creek Park project is a so-called streamrestoration” that as initially proposed would have minimally disturbed the Putah Creek floodplain through the City of Winters by removing only invasive plant species and replanting the floodplain with native species. A Master Plan and Mitigated Negative Declaration that covers the Winters Putah Creek Park project was prepared by the City of Winters over a decade ago and is the only CEQA-related environmental review of the project.

These original plans were to be the guiding documents for all subsequent work and primarily focused on improvement of the riparian forest along the Creek by defining what plant species were to be preserved and lists invasive species to be removed. The plan stated that all native trees should be protected from damage, and only removed if deemed a hazard or “an impediment to approved renovation projects”. Annual work plans were to be provided for public review but, to date, no specific plans documenting what native trees and shrubs were to be removed have been submitted.

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Response to Rich Rifkin: Not all species are created equal, but all deserve our concern

In a recent post, I pointed out that the Endangered Species Act is under threat, and that responding to that threat requires our attention at the national, state, and local levels.  As if on cue, in a recent op-ed in the Davis Enterprise Rich Rifkin dismisses potential effects on three species at the Field & Pond site: the tricolored blackbird, the valley elderberry longhorn beetle and the golden eagle.

Blackbird_tricolored_male_summer_california_monte-m-taylor
Picture attribution: By Tsuru8 - Own work http://www.tsuru-bird.net/image.htm, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8708549

 I don’t really have an opinion about whether there should be a B&B and regular parties on the Field & Pond site.  It strikes me as a classic land use conflict, and I can see both sides of the argument.  But regardless of the merits of either side, and regardless of the motivations of either side, the impacts on those three species need to be examined. 

Rifkin states that all you need to do to assess impacts is ride a bicycle and look.  When he went, he saw “a few structures, native trees, a large pond” as well as a doe and a fawn “chilling,” and he thinks that’s enough to determine that the blackbird, beetle, and eagle species won’t be affected.  Well, sorry, but that’s not how you evaluate impacts on endangered species (or threatened species, or species of special concern).[1]

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Thinking Globally and Acting Locally (and Beyond) for Endangered and Threatened Species

British-Columbia-eagleThere are important lessons to be learned from the case of the bald eagle.  The Endangered Species Act (ESA) – now under threat itself – is important, but as the bald eagle shows, we have to use all the tools available to us at the local, state, and national levels to protect endangered and threatened species.

The iconic bald eagle is considered a success story of the ESA, although the truth is a bit more complicated than that.  Before the ESA was passed in 1973, the bald eagle was covered by preceding legislation such as the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.  Two other actions are considered crucial to the recovery of the bald eagle in the U.S.: the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972 and the subsequent importing of eagles from Canada to the U.S. in the 1970s.  Together, these protections and actions allowed the bald eagle to be removed from the list of endangered species. 

Although the bald eagle still has some protections within the U.S., its delisting under the ESA does present some challenges; for example, prime bald eagle habitat can be developed on without facing legal challenge.  Thus, we should not rest on our laurels too much, even for a success story like the bald eagle.

Moreover, at the national level, the ESA is under attack.  As the New Yorker summarizes:

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Women for Water Research swim Trans Tahoe Relay

On Saturday, July 21, I had the opportunity to join five other UC Davis-affiliated women to swim the Trans Tahoe Relay.  The Trans Tahoe Relay serves as a fundraiser for Keep Tahoe Blue, but we also swam to support the  Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) and the Center for Watershed Sciences (CWS).  The day was sunny, the water was cool, clear, and refreshing, the mountains ringing the lake were beautiful.  It was an exhilarating, fun, tiring, and fulfilling day.

Tahoe-overlook
Just to give a sense of size of the lake and its surroundings, here I am with my guard poodles at a Lake Tahoe overlook in August 2014.

The Trans Tahoe Relay is a race that crosses the northern end of Lake Tahoe from east to west at a part of the lake where it is 10 miles wide.  (The lake overall is approximately 22 miles long and 12 miles wide – it’s a very large and deep lake!).  Teams are composed of six swimmers each, with a support boat.  (We owe big thanks to TERC for providing us with a boat and to TERC’s director, Geoff Schladow, for piloting the boat).  The rules are that each swimmer swims for 30 minutes, and then takes turn swimming 10 minutes each, until the 10 miles is completed.  On our team, after our first leg each of us did two 10-minute legs, with two members of the team doing a third 10-minute leg.  So, we didn’t break any speed records, but we were happy with our result anyway!

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Bad process leads to mediocre decision on pesticide use in Davis, and not without wasted time and effort from staff and citizens

PesticideapplicationAt its November 7, 2017 meeting, the City Council voted to change its Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy, as well as ban the use of neonicotinoids (implicated in colony collapse disorder in bees) and a phase-out of glyphosate (often sold as Roundup, listed by the State of California as a probable human carcinogen). The decision was a mixed bag, containing some good elements and some bad.  This article describes some of the events that led up to that decision.  I write now because, with a new Council just seated, I hope that some of the bad process chronicled here can be avoided for future decisions.

This piece will of necessity be a bit lengthy.  And that is part of my point.  It took far too long for this issue to come to the City Council for a vote.  At every turn certain staff members[1] sought to delay and subvert the will of commissioners, of citizens, and even of City Council members.  As Jon Li says, sometimes one has to ask, “who is in charge in Davis?”

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Deadly predators threaten wolves

Gray-Wolf-picAccording to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, this past week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it is considering a proposal to strip Endangered Species Act protection from nearly all wolves in the lower 48 states.

The FWS tried to do the same thing back in 2013.  The proposal was (as I described in a blog post for a different blog) arbitrary, capricious, and inconsistent.  It received a huge pushback from the scientific community as well as many environmentally-minded individuals.  But then the proposal was never acted on.  I have been wondering what had happened to it – was it shelved because it was so poorly crafted, or was there some other reason?

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