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Posts Tagged ‘Land Management’

Growing up in California, and often driving up to the Sierra Nevada mountains around Tahoe, I came across a valley and ski resort with a very particular name. Sq— Valley. This valley is by no means the only geographic landscape feature to have been given this name. Sq— Harbor, Sq— Gap, Sq— Mountain, are all places to be found in one state or another.

And this is a problem because this term has been used as a racist and sexist slur for a very long time, particularly aimed at Native American women. It has been used primarily by Europeans to denigrate and dehumanize indigenous women for hundreds of years.

Having this term be so common really speaks to how ubiquitous racist language is on our society. It is all around us. It is in every state. It is on maps. It is in tour guides. It is in our conversations as we talk about these places.

Secretary Deb Haaland. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior.

It is so common to encounter racist language, and the term sq— in particular, that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, issued Secretary Order 3405 in November of 2021 which established the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force. This order recognized the term sq— as offensive. It instructed the Task Force to find all uses of the word on federal lands, and to recommend alternative names that would replace the term. A press release from Secretary Haaland that accompanied the order stated, in part: “Racist terms have no place in our vernacular or on our federal lands.”

The Task Force has just recently released their report on the use of this term. They found that this name has been applied to over 660 different features of federal land! The Task Force will be making their recommendations in September of 2022.

I am glad that this term is going to be removed from Federal lands. I am hopeful that Secretary Haaland will expand this anti-racist work to catalog and remove additional derogatory terms applied on Federal lands such as “redskin”, “negro”, “dead indian”, “jim crow”, and many more that are currently in use.

Sign bearing the new name of this famous ski resort in California. Photo: Palisades Tahoe.

In response to comments from many members of the Washoe Tribe, other individuals, and some historical digging by the resort themselves into the use of the term, the ski resort officially changed its name in 2020. The resort have had been called “Sq— Valley Alpine Meadows” is now “Palisades Tahoe.” I look forward to the valley itself getting a new name in the near future that better suits its beauty.

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My work for the Wildlife Conservation Board is to manage the Stream Flow Enhancement Program. This program has the goal of providing grants to fund projects that will increase the amount or quality or timing of water in the streams, rivers, and other watercourses of California.

One way of achieving this goal is to fund projects that change how water users use the water in waterways.

What does that mean?

Water is a very valuable, and highly regulated, resource in California. In this state, humans do not have free rein to use as much water as they want at any time that they want for whatever reason that they want from any watercourse that they want. Instead, to use water humans need to work within a system of water rights. This system serves to make sure that each water user (called diverters) along a watercourse gets the water they need, and that no other diverter takes water that is reserved for someone else.

The State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) is a state agency that was established in 1914 (a date that will be significant in a bit). The SWRCB oversees water rights, approves and tracks changes to water rights, makes sure that water users are complying with the terms of their right, and conducts other related activities.

Landowners and/or water diverters have a few options available to them for how to go about legally using water in a watercourse.

Properties that boarder a watercourse can likely claim a riparian water right. Photo courtesy of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy.

One way is to show that they have a Riparian Water Right. This means that a parcel of property has a watercourse of some kind on it or along a boarder, and the landowner has the right to use some of the water in that watercourse (how much and for what purpose still needs to be spelled out in their riparian water right, but the landowner will get to use some of that water). Riparian water rights do have some significant limitations. One is that the water that is diverted out of a watercourse under a riparian water right must be used on that same parcel of property. It cannot be pumped away to use on some other piece of land. A second is that water diverted under a riparian water right cannot be stored and used later. Many California water systems have much more water in the winter and spring then they do in the summer and fall. One strategy that some people use is to collect water during the wet periods of the year, store that water, and use it during the dry periods of the year. This cannot be done under a riparian water right. The water must be used immediately.

If a riparian water right in not available, a diverter needs to secure an Appropriative Water Right. These come in two forms. If water has been diverted since prior to 1914 (see I said that date was going to come up again) without any interruptions that lasted for more than five years, then that water use could be claimed under a Pre-1914 Appropriative Water Right. The water could have been used for different purposes and at different locations over that time, but it does need to be proved to have been used. A Pre-1914 Appropriative Water Right does not need to be approved by the SWRCB. Also, the diverter can change the exact location where water is being pulled out of a watercourse (called the Point of Diversion), the location of where the water is being used, and the purpose to which the water will be used for, all without requiring prior approval from the SWRCB. A downside is that is may be difficult to prove continuous use of water since before the year 1914, and so Pre-1914 Appropriative Water Rights are more often challenged in court.

Water diversion structure along Battle Creek in northern California. Photo courtesy Aaron N.K. Haiman

If continuous use of water cannot be proved to date back to before 1914, a Post-1914 Appropriative Water Right will need to be obtained from the SWRCB. Post-1914 Appropriative Water Rights get complicated and nuanced. They can be acquired in one of two ways (registrations and permits/licenses), and each have numerous possible paths and varying requirements. However, while they are the most complex, difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, Post-1914 Appropriative Water Rights are also the most secure method for someone who wants to divert water out of a watercourse. These water rights are obtained from the SWRCB and are supported by various legal documents which make them difficult to challenge or overturn.

All water rights holders, regardless of the type of water right, must submit an annual Statement of Diversion and Use form with the SWRCB. These are publicly available documents that allow for the tracking and enforcement of water rights throughout the state.

Sometimes, changes need to be made to an existing water right. There are several paths that can be followed if a change is needed, and they depend on what type water right is involved and what type of changes are being sought, but that will be material for another post.

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While I worked at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (Delta Conservancy) I managed a grant funded by Proposition 1 that sent money for improvements to the water management system of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. The organization managing the project was a nonprofit called Ducks Unlimited, and they worked with the wildlife area staff, several other funding agencies, and other nonprofit organizations to make these improvements happen.

Image showing a small drainage pipe that existed before this Ducks Unlimited project was undertaken. The pipe is small and easily choked with vegetation and debris. Photo courtesy of Ducks Unlimited.

The improvements that were needed all focused on allowing the wildlife area staff to be able to move water on and off the wildlife area when they needed to. To manage a site like the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, a lot of water needs to be brought onto and off of different sections of land at different times of year so that the different areas can be flooded to different depths for different amounts of time and in different seasons. All those differences mean that to move water around a lot of canals are needed that trace their way across the wildlife area, and a lot of pumps are needed that are scattered along those canals.

The particular issues that this project set out to fix were two points along some of the larger canals in the wildlife area were water flow was limited because of small pipes and shallow canals. These pipes were taken out and replaced by wider bridges and the canals dredged deeper. Further issues that this project addressed were the moving of one pump and the installation of a new one.

All this work took on the order of $5 million and about five years, but it is now complete! In early December of 2021, I joined a group of people including Ducks Unlimited staff, funders, other agency staff, elected officials, other nonprofit staff, etc. to take a tour around the wildlife area to see the improvements that were built! It was pretty great to see the completed project and think back on all the effort that went in to bringing the project to a successful close. To learn more about the project with really nice visuals that allow you to really get a sense of the work that was done, check out this YouTube video that Ducks Unlimited created.

Image showing a bridge that was built as part of this Ducks Unlimited project. The bridge is wide enough to allow for higher water flow to occur uninhibited by vegetation or debris. Photo courtesy of Ducks Unlimited.

This project is a great example of how changes to an area can sometimes be very important, yet not very exciting or dramatic to look at. These improvements are not as beautiful as planting oak trees along a stream, nor are they as interesting to look at as installing boulders in a river to create more habitat diversity, yet without improvements like this thousands of acres of land would not be providing the food, shelter, and other resources that are needed by thousands of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, etc!

So, congratulations to Ducks Unlimited and all the other organizations and agencies that were involved in this project for getting a lot of hard and complex work done and allowing this wildlife area to continue to be the amazing resource for wildlife that it is!

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I have been working at the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (Delta Conservancy) for about five years, now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help form the competitive process by which organizations can apply for this funding, and then to manage the grants that fund the selected projects.

One such project is the Dutch Slough Tidal Habitat Restoration Project. This is a project being organized by a team including staff from the Department of Water Resources (DWR), the local reclamation district (RD 2137), and several consulting firms.

This project is a huge one! About 1,160 acres in size, this project represents one of the larger habitat restoration projects occurring in the Delta. And it is restoring extensive amounts of tidal habitat, which makes it an even bigger deal since tidal restoration is difficult from both technical and political standpoints. These difficulties help to explain why it has taken about 15 years for this project to go from concept to implementation. Since it is so large, funding has come from several different sources with funds from the Delta Conservancy awarded to cover the costs of the revegetation phase.

Partly as a result of how high profile a project this is, DWR has created some great materials for telling people about the project. One of the best is a short video about what the project is, how it came to be, and what the hopes for the project’s future include. I highly recommend giving this video a watch. Another amazing way to explore the project is their YouTube channel. This channel has dozens of videos. They are drone flights over the project taken over the past three years. Going and watching some of the earlier videos and comparing those with more recent videos is pretty breathtaking. These before and after videos provide a wonderful example of how dramatically, and relatively quickly, habitat restoration projects can change a landscape and create habitat.

I hope you enjoy the virtual exploration. The project will have trails that are open to the public when it is completed (likely next year), and I encourage you to head out to the site in person when that happens.

Image taken from one of the drone flight videos from 2020

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A view of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has produced a video called Restoring California’s Great Estuary that explains the EcoRestore initiative which is one of the big, state-wide efforts that is aiming at restoring some fairly significant amounts of habitat to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Being that I work for a State agency called the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy, this is something that I pay a lot of attention to. But there are a lot of reasons that everyone who lives in California, and many people who live outside the state, should also be interested in this video. A large portion of the people, farms, ranches, and industries in California rely, at least in part, on water from the Delta. That fact alone should make efforts like

Also, I work with many of the people featured in this video including my boss, Campbell Ingram. Seeing talented people that I know talking about an issue that I care about makes this video that much more appealing to me, but that probably won’t have much impact on you.

Enjoy!

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A partnership between the World Wildlife Fund and Knorr Foods has just released a list of 50 foods that we can all utilize to diversify our diets and reduce our impacts on the planet.

Future50FoodsThe report, called Future 50 Foods, is a compilation of foods of many different types (grains, root vegetables, fruit, etc.). These foods were selected because each one strikes a healthy balance of being high in nutrition, have a low environmental impact, good availability and price, and tasty!

At present, a huge portion of the human population of the world (including developed and undeveloped countries) gets about 60% of all our calories from just 3 plant species (rice, corn, wheat). That means that a huge amount of effort goes into growing all that rice, corn, and wheat. That effort often results in monocultures where a single crop is grown and covers an enormous track of land.

Instead of continuing to grow just these small numbers of species, and to start relying on a broader suite of food sources, we all can start eating more diversely. And that is where this list of foods to eat to improve the future of the planet comes in. It is a guide to the foods that we can all branch out to start eating.

Personally, I am pretty curious about the foods on this list. Some of them I have never heard of before such as Marama Beans from the Kalahari Desert or Moringa from Asia. Many others I have eaten and enjoyed such as Wakame Seaweed and Black Salsify but they certainly do not make up any significant part of my diet.

It is worth noting that there are no animals on the list of 50 foods. Eating animals is very costly, in terms of environmental impact, and so none make the list of high priority food that humans around the world should start eating more of.

So, go out and diversify your palette, explore some new foods, and help to change our food industry for a healthier planet!

Let me know if you try any of the foods on this list in the comments below. What did you try? How did you prepare it? where did you buy it? What did you think?

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The management of wild horses and burros is a topic that I have felt strongly about for a long time. I can sympathize with those who see the horse as a symbol of the American West, of independence, and of strength and beauty. However, that sympathy does not last very long or go very far.

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A group of wild horses in Nevada.

The wild horse and the wild burro in North America are invasive species. Plain and simple. As such, it is my opinion that those invasive populations should be controlled so as not to negatively impact native species or the overall health of the ecosystem.

The Wildlife Society has recently produced a short documentary called “Horse Rich & Dirt Poor” that lays out some of the issues surrounding horse management in the USA.

One of the points that the film makes is that under current policies and procedures, everyone (native mammals, native birds, native fish, native plants, the land itself, and even the wild horses and burros) is loosing.

Give this 15 minute video a watch, and think about where we are. Where do you think we should go? How do you think we should get there?

 

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A study was published earlier this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment on the effects that invasive species have on other species around the globe. The study is by Tim M. Blackburn, Celine Bellard, and Anthony Ricciardi, and it can be found here.

The main thrust of the paper is that invasive species of plants and animals have been found to have a significant impact on the extinction of other plants and animals all around the world. Specifically, 25% of the plant species that have gone extinct in recent years have been the result, at least in part, of invasive species. Additionally, 33% of the animal species that have gone extinct in recent years have been the result, at least in part, of invasive species.

These numbers are pretty compelling components to the story of just how damaging invasive species can be. It is part of the reason I find working on invasive species control in California to be rewarding.

I am currently working on the control of Arundo (which is a large invasive reed), water primrose (an invasive aquatic plant), Phragmites (which is another invasive reed that is a bit smaller than Arundo), and Nutria (which is a 20 pound semi-aquatic rodent). Each of these species pose unique threats to the native species of California and to many other aspects of the ecosystem as well.

Hopefully, protocols can be developed to stop invasive species before they contribute even more extinctions!

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Managed retreat is a term that I have been encountering more and more frequently in the course of my work over the last few years. It is the idea that in response to sea-level rise, humans will be forced to move away from coastlines, and this can happen in a chaotic way, or a managed way, but it will happen.

Imperial Beach, CA (Photo by JC Monge).

As the atmosphere and oceans warm, sea-level will rise. This is happening now, with a rise of about a half-an-inch each decade, and this number will likely increase over time. Globally, sea-level is predicted to rise by 1.6 to 6.5 feet in the next 100 years. This does not sound like much to a lot of people. What people forget to think about is that the sea does not stay still. Storm surges and king tides account for a large portion of the damage that seas cause to cities. These surges and tides will be much more severe if the sea they are starting from is one to 6 feet higher than it is right now. Imagine some of the footage we have all seen from hurricanes as they sweep across Florida or Texas or Puerto Rice. In those clips reporters are clad in rain gear with trees bending wildly behind them as the wind and rain hammers away. Now add a extra 6 vertical feet of water! The effects then will be much more disastrous than the effects now, and now they are bad enough.

And these effects will be felt all around the world. A large percentage of people around the globe live near coasts. So raising seas will effect a huge number of people. This has the potential to cause social chaos as people struggle to move inland in disorderly and inefficient ways.

To address this impending threat, some communities, cities, and even states are beginning to consider how to move away from the sea.

It is a herculean problem. How can we move a whole city even a short distance? Even a small city is just not portable. However, they are going to have to be, and the more we as a society can think about how to accomplish these moves, the better off we will all be when they have to happen. And that is where managed retreat comes in.

The High Country News published an article on how the small city of Imperial Beach in southern California is starting to think about managed retreat. Even for this small city to move a few blocks away from the ocean will be a huge undertaking. The article is a sobering read, but well worth it since it is something that is gong to effect every person on earth who is alive in 2050 or 2100.

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This is a link to a blog post I wrote for the UC Davis-USDA Delta Region Areawide Aquatic Weed Project website. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (the agency I work for) gets funding from the USDA to control Arundo infestations in the Delta.

Arundo (which I have written about previously here) is a highly invasive plant that causes bank destabilization, increased fire hazard, increased water use, and excludes native plants and animals. The Delta Conservancy has been coordinating with a the Sonoma Ecology Center and the USDA to apply treatments of herbicides and/or insects that are specific Arundo parasites to eliminate Arundo from as much of the Delta as possible. This work began last summer/fall at the Brannan Island State Recreation Area, as site that is owned by California State Parks and which has a lot of Arundo.

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