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Bay Area Bird Blog » government

Archive for the 'government' Category

12th 2010
Army Corps of Engineers goes to war against habitat

Posted under government & wildlife (general)

The Chronicle has a story about the recent order to clear all vegetation — everything but grasses — from every levee in the country. It’s absurd.  It’s also a huge, huge waste.  After some big floods on the Sacramento River in 1986, there was a study about what parts of the levee system did better or worse than others.  The sections with trees did a lot better: the trees protected them from erosion. They did better than sections that were reinforced by rock, in fact.  And there have also been studies about animals burrowing into levee banks (which weakens the levees), and the levees that only have grasses have more burrows (mostly from ground squirrels).  Basically the Corps is implementing a hugely expensive system to make the levees weaker.  Of course it will also be absolutely devastating to riparian habitat—huge, huge swaths of it mown down.  What a terrible, terrible thing.  As the Chronicle article describes, some state agencies are trying to avoid complying.  Good for them!  But if the Feds want it done, it’s hard to fight.

You know, I’m used to the idea of one side losing and the other side winning, and all too often it’s the environment that is on the losing side. In this case it’s even worse, both sides lose.  The Army Corps of Engineers really needs to reverse this decision.


6th 2010
Sage Grouse, endangered but not on Endangered Species List

Posted under birds (general) & endangered species & government

The New York Times reports that “The Interior Department said Friday that the greater sage grouse, a dweller of the high plains of the American West, was facing extinction but would not be designated an endangered species for now.”  It goes on to say “Residential building and energy development have shrunk the sage grouse habitat over the past several decades, causing its population in 11 Western states to dwindle from an estimated 16 million 100 years ago to 200,000 to 500,000 today.”  That means it’s down to about 3% of its historical numbers, and falling fast.  And yet, still no federal protection.

I find it very sad that people don’t care more about things like this.  Here’s a quote from Jason Chaffetz, a U.S. House representative from Utah: ““The only good place for a sage grouse to be listed is on the menu of a French bistro,” he said recently. “It does not deserve federal protection, period.”  To be indifferent — or, in this case, happy — about the prospects of the extinction of a charismatic species…well, it makes me sad and angry that there are people like this at all, much less serving in Congress.

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13th 2010
Tidal marsh recovery in SF Bay: good news, bad news

Posted under government

An article on SF Gate today discusses plans to restore a large swath of marshland (currently used for producing salt) in the South Bay.  The 15-year planning/publicity/political/regulatory process is finally over, so they have a good plan…but no money to implement it.  The article doesn’t really explain what would cost money, or how much; perhaps some of the plan can be implemented simply by breaching some levees and letting the shallow ponds gradually silt in.  Or perhaps not, I dunno.  At any rate I hope it gets funding somehow.

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30th 2010
Antioch burrowing owls…cease and desist order on construction!

Posted under activism & government

Scott Artis, who has done a remarkable job monitoring and advocating for burrowing owls that are being evicted for a house construction project, reports today that California Department of Fish and Game is issuing a “cease and desist order” for the project. The developers are required to remove all of the “one-way doors” that had been installed on the owl burrows so that owls could leave but not return. This is fantastic news! I assume — Scott didn’t say in his email — that this action is prompted by the fact that fumigation to kill ground squirrels was, illegally, taking place even though burrowing owls are still on the site. If that’s the case then the developer will work quickly to come up with a new approach, but at least this buys some time for legal action. At this point it’s probably too late to stop the development, but at the least the developers should have to provide mitigation for removing burrowing owl habitat.

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5th 2008
Election 2008: What does this mean for birds and nature?

Posted under government

Iraq, banks, Wall Street, Main Street, Afghanistan, blah blah blah.  What about the really important question: what does this mean for birds and nature?  National Audubon Society President John Flicker (good name!) says: 

Presidential Appointments:

·      President-elect Obama should start by appointing to key environmental positions within his Administration qualified leaders who will defend our clean air and water, protect habitat and endangered species, aggressively address global warming, and steward our great natural heritage for future generations.

 Scientific Integrity:

·      The Department of the Interior should systematically review and reverse decisions made by the past Administration under the Endangered Species Act that were influenced by political considerations and not based on sound science.

·      President-elect Obama should send a clear signal to everyone in his administration to restore and respect scientific integrity in all environmental decisions.


Global Warming and Renewable Energy:

·      President-elect Obama has said that: “We cannot afford more of the same timid politics when the future of our planet is at stake.”  He’s right.  We welcome the opportunity to help him deliver his promised $150 billion plan for clean energy technologies that would protect our environment and stimulate the economy, creating up 5 million new green jobs.

·      The Congress should pass legislation providing significant incentives for development of renewable energy such as a strong Renewables Portfolio Standard and a long-term extension of the Production Tax Credit, and pass significant legislation to address global warming with a comprehensive cap-and-trade program.

·      The new Administration and Congress must lead a transformation in American energy production and use through investments in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies. This can minimize the fluctuation of gas prices while protecting our beaches, coastal ecosystems and the Alaskan landscape from the threats of oil and gas drilling.

 Endangered Species Conservation:

·      We’ll work with the Administration to secure reversal of the Bush administration’s weakening of the Endangered Species Act, such as the controversial decision to allow agencies to self-consult regarding the impacts of federally-approved projects on endangered species.

·      Congress should pass new tax incentives to encourage private landowners to work toward recovery of endangered species.

 Bird and Habitat Conservation:

·      The Administration and the Congress should reinvest in the National Wildlife Refuge System and address the unacceptable $3.5 billion maintenance backlog crippling this critical tool for conservation.

·      The Congress should pass legislation to conserve neotropical migratory birds and address the steep declines in America’s common birds that are disappearing from parks, farms, and backyards across the country. 

 Ecosystem Restoration:

·      The Administration and the Congress should fund significant new restoration projects to improve the status of America’s great natural ecosystems: The Mississippi River, the Everglades, Long Island Sound, and the Great Lakes.


The man (Flicker, I mean) talks a good dream, doesn’t he?  Let’s hope some of this happens!

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29th 2008
Farewell, Martinez Beavers, we hardly knew you.

Posted under government & local wildlife

It looks like curtains for the Martinez Beavers as we’ve known them (type “Beavers” in the search box to see more blog entries about these wonderful animals): the City is planning to remove their lodge in order to do creek bank stabilization (which means, in this case, putting more concrete and rocks into the east bank of the creek).  It’s an all too typical story, stretching back a few decades in this case: first, property owners hem in a creek by building closer and closer to it on each side.  Then, the creek floods, and the property owners and/or the city build retaining walls to contain the creek.  During non-flood years, the walls give the property owners the sense of security they need to justify building even closer to the creek; eventually they’re right on top of it.  Then, something happens — a high water year, or some beavers that build dams and a lodge, or just aging of the infrastructure — that threatens the retaining walls.  The property owners sue the city, the city caves, and public money is spent to mitigate the problem.  We’ve seen it in New Orleans and Galveston on a large scale, and we’re seeing it in Martinez on a small scale.

Personally, I can’t say one way or the other whether the beaver lodge is actually undermining the retaining wall next to the creek.  I can say that I think it’s ridiculous that people were allowed to build a building four feet from the creek bank, as they did. A better solution than trying to maintain a permanent wall there would be to add some meander to the creek to take it away from that wall.  Apparently that isn’t even being considered, I’m not sure why.

There’s no plan to kill the beavers, just to wreck their home so they have to move elsewhere.  I hope they move somewhere else where they are more welcome; although they have had many great, great fans and helpers in Martinez, the city as a whole has treated them badly right from the start.  It’s sad.



19th 2008
We need to bill for water as if it is worth something, which it is.

Posted under government

In an unsurprising court decision, a judge has just ruled that taking millions of gallons of water out of rivers is harmful to the fish that live in them. According to the SF Chronicle, “it was the latest in a string of rulings ordering state and federal regulators to fix a water system that supplies millions of Californians with water but is all but dysfunctional when it comes to protecting fisheries and the environment.”  That’s good, but now the question is, what are we gonna do about it.  The biggest problem here isn’t the wasteful water use of city suburbanites with their big lawns, nor the water-wasting personal habits of just about everyone, it’s the wasteful use in agriculture.  California farmers grow water-intensive crops in the desert, use extremely inefficient irrigation practices, and just generally treat water as if it is abundant in a state where it isn’t.  Farmers pay very little for water, which is provided via a highly subsidized water system (and the groundwater they pump isn’t even measured, much less billed) so they have almost no economic incentive to conserve.

As with carbon dioxide emissions, the best approach to resolving the problem includes simply charging more: we need a tax for water that “internalizes” the cost of environmental harm, just like we need a gas tax for the same reason.  In either case, this needn’t increase the total tax burden: in the case of agricultural water, they could charge each farmer for the water he uses, and then refund all of the money by sending every farmer a check proportional to the number of acres of crops. This would transfer money from farmers who use a lot of water to those who don’t, and provide a powerful incentive to use less water.  The fee could start small and gradually ramp up over five or six years, to give farmers a chance to install new irrigation systems and switch to less water-intensive crops.  I’m dreaming, though: the agriculture lobby is way too strong for this to fly.


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15th 2008
Farewell, Dona Spring

Posted under Uncategorized & government

Very sad news yesterday, Berkeley councilwoman Dona Spring died.  She was a great champion of environmental protection, in spite of the fact that her severe disability — she was wheelchair-bound and often in pain — made it very difficult for her to travel at all, so she really never saw wilderness and rarely was out of the urban environment.  (In an article a few months ago about wheelchair-accessible vans that are available for rental, she was quoted as saying that she had a lifelong dream of visiting Point Reyes.  My wife and I had decided to arrange a trip for her in the fall. Very sad that she’ll never make it).  I was Dona’s appointee to the Berkeley Parks and Recreation Commission for a couple of years, and also encountered her in other political settings.  I really liked her, and I’m very sorry that we’ve lost her. 

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